Misunderstanding Ethos: Revenge of the Guy Who Knows X

Don’t call me a zero/I’m gonna be hero/like Phil Esposito/or the Kennedys…

-BNL

So my recent adventures with a number of people—not to name names—have brought me back to something I started discussing back in the first incarnation of the blog but tangled my feet up in not wanting to name names and sort of tripped over. I feel like maybe today is a good day to revisit it.

Is there something about having to write a lit review that makes some people in the academy think that if they can catalog that they know X,Y,Z suddenly their opinion and theorizing is superior? I consider it a broken attempt at establishing ethos, but apparently some people think it’s the best way to handle a discussion.

A point in case: discussing texts in a graduate seminar. Now I mean no disrespect to my peers. I’m really glad that some of the people I work with have read exhaustive amounts of specific scholars, but just as  I don’t think it’s useful for me to point out my exhaustive reading and research of Jay David Bolter before commenting on a Deb Brandt book, I don’t think it’s all that important that some people are in love with articulation theory.

We did a reading for material rhetorics this week on the Imperial Archive. One of the points it made over and over is that knowledge—in that archived form that never really, truly existed—was viewed as a fantastic power. It makes me wonder if that’s not what some people in the academy do. Maybe they create a theory-rich blanket to carry, Linus style, so that when they engage in conversation they have something that will protect them?

I wouldn’t mind this tendency, IF it didn’t seem to stifle conversation (and hence learning). But if I’m discussing something with a group of people, I want to know what they think of that thing. I don’t want to hear yet another interpretation of Latour (I can read Latour’s work) UNLESS it works in an interesting way to make new sense of what we’re discussing.

Now for those who don’t know me or my life at this point, please realize that what I’m saying is a direct response to people I am currently working around/with; I am by no means trying to cast judgment on those of you who have a favorite theorist that you carry around with you and dust off for important projects. I owe many of my ideas to the tools provided by people like Cindy Selfe, Carolyn Miller, Stuart Selber, Jim Porter, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Danielle DeVoss, Heidi McKee, Malea Powell and others.

But I don’t just randomly toss Dr. Selber’s triad of digital literacies on the table while we’re discussing Isocrates to deflect the fact that I’m not all that well versed in Isocratic scholarship. Instead I stay quiet until I see an entrance into the conversation. It’s not a performance piece, and I doubt anyone is keeping score.

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