a Portrait of the Blogger as a not-so-young-Rhetor

Nail in my hand/from my creator/you  gave me life/now show me how to live…-Audioslave, almost always misquoted 

Today I want to get semi-deep and reflective. I’ve been thinking about something and resisting saying it to much of anyone because I’m afraid of how it might be received, but I’m quickly finding that in my field, at this level, it’s the time to say things without worrying so much about how people receive it. To comment back to someone who responded to one of my posts, I guess I just don’t “know better.” 🙂

I’ve been trying to decide lately what sort of rhetorician I am (will be). People keep saying that as a first-year PhD I probably shouldn’t know. I should be experimenting and digging into things and becoming instead of claiming I have become. My response to that is this: I am what I am.

I don’t talk much about my past. The truth is it’s not a story I think anyone really needs to dwell on, but if one wanted to write my biography, it’d read a lot like the story of the kid from a bad neighborhood with an absent father and a working single mother who learned he was good at basketball and rose up. Only when I learned I was good at basketball, I learned I was good at basketball… for a six-foot-tall slowish guy. I’m good with words, so I’m told, and I pick at the right things when I do research (so I’m told). Because of that, and a lot of work, and a lot of help from people along the way, I’ve made my attempt at rising up. But people should make no mistake; when I identify myself as a mixed-blood Cherokee poor kid from Indiana, the product of two broken families and a broken city, that is not an identity I take lightly or wear as some sort of plumage. That is who I am.

In much the same way, I think I know what sort of rhetorician I am. I have found over the course of the last year that elements of what I do upset many in the field (there’s some evidence of that here on this blog, and there are seeds for much more). I am generally unapologetic on that point; I never mean to insult someone personally, but no one says “with all due respect” before mocking the things I value, so if my criticism of some idea any of you hold dear feels bad, that’s academia for you. 🙂 I find it interesting, though, that all of the “legends” or “celebrities” I’ve met in the field find my ideas either interesting, “fascinating,” “exciting,” or tolerable. It’s people who are just a bit ahead of me—or people who are doing the same sort of research in ways I would characterize as sloppy or incomplete—who seem to take such issue with me. People have presented to me theories for this breakdown in who is angry with me, but I’m not going to speculate.

Here’s where I “live” as a rhetorician:


1.   I think it’s important to investigate popular culture, specifically video games, television/film, and comic books. I do not, however, see a particular use in creating academic versions of these technologies (though I enjoy researching those products and respect the people who create them).


2.   I think there is a great deal that academia in general is missing about digital technology and fans of popular culture because so many researchers stand at the outside and lean over/peer in instead of diving in. There’s too much privilege still being granted to “high” culture in a world where America, at the very least, ditched high culture for “git er done” a long time ago.


3.   I want to help to expand the smallish field of Native American rhetoric, but I think it’s useless to try to generalize it too much (beyond building frameworks). There is no singular Native American rhetoric.


4.   I’m mixed-blood, so furthermore I want a mixed-rhetoric.


5.   I think the use of theory just for the sake of packing it in is pointless and anyone who does it should be ashamed. The same is true of jargon. Rhetoric doesn’t need to be hard to read to be “smart.”       


6.   I think we need to dig beyond “the tradition” (western rhetoric) to find the actual “tools” that constitute rhetoric so that we can use them to look at new things instead of constantly going back to Aristotle as if he’s the origin point.


7.   We need to blend more; hybridity and remix aren’t just buzzwords. These are things that create new understanding. We won’t re-create Aristotle’s wheel, but we’ll shy away from riding in Judith Butler’s car? Why?


8.   We need, as a field, to start saying “oh, I don’t know,” when we don’t know. Since I study things that people don’t know in many cases, I hear all manner of hedging and attempting to characterize things incorrectly. I won’t tell you Sassure is wrong if you don’t claim that the gamer community I’m studying isn’t a community, m’kay? Note: I don’t know if Sassure is wrong; I don’t know him well enough to make that judgment. It’s an example. 🙂


9.   Sometimes ambition kills. We’d all be better served by smaller, well-crafted studies than attempts to totalize by doing over-blown, super-crazy research projects. Don’t try to talk about anything “in America” or “In this century” or “on the World Wide Web.” We tell our first-year students to focus. Why don’t we? 


10.                  We have to embrace the sad possibility that we’re wrong about a few things. I see so many scholars who won’t entertain ideas that challenge existing structures. I also see people who think it’s “weak” to change their position. No one is going to sick the Swiftboat Vets for Truth on any of us. We need to, as a field, start saying “whoa, I totally got that wrong” when we totally get that wrong.


11.                 The “paper” is dying. It might not ever vanish entirely, but we’re quickly learning that all the things we ask for in a paper can be created virtually allowing for interesting new affordances (sound, video, image, more control over text shape and where the eye goes, color, etc.) and less dead trees. I know that many people want to burn me at the stake when I say that the traditional double spaced, Times New Roman essay isn’t long for our world (at least as a mainstream genre), but it’s important, as Cindy Selfe says, to pay attention. The newest generations communicate in such ways that email is becoming too formalized and restrictive for them. The way they perceive communication is changing, and pinning them to a sheet of paper for our sake would be akin to stunting their growth. The concepts behind writing an academic paper will live on to evolve, but the paper itself… I don’t think it’ll last.


12.                 We are going to fail at understanding communication and rhetorical practices in 2008 and beyond if we resist entering new digital/technological spaces. IDK, my BFF Jill might not be positive what is happening, but IIABD (it is a big deal). Much like we need to consider underlife in our classrooms, we need to consider “underculture” in our academic world. There are people  reading and writing as much as a lit grad student without ever touching a sheet of paper. If we miss that, we neglect the nature of reading and writing.


13.                 There is no “literacy.” It’s “literacies,” and they’re interdependent and recursive. We have to understand that or we’re just boxing people in.


14.                 To understand how certain people in this world of ours think, we have to collapse “space” and “place.” Sometimes geographical location becomes entirely secondary to an imagined/virtual space.


15.                 The same buzzwords that impress people can make one look foolish. If you claim, for example, that you’re a “digital rhetorician,” you better know what that means. If you don’t, you insult yourself and you insult me (as a digital rhetorician). And if you write a book called “Digital Writing in France,” it better not be based on five case studies of people who send email from cybercafés in Paris. I know it’s a rhetorical choice sometimes to overblow (I do it here), but some things shouldn’t be fodder for that.

 So that’s me. It’s too blunt to be part of a professional document, like my teaching philosophy (contrary to what some might think, I DO understand the field and how to behave within it), but that’s what I’m about. I don’t see this changing dramatically as my education progresses. I’ve been around 31 years, and I’ve seen a great deal. I’ve had to survive, and I’ve had to fight and claw. I’m fairly set in my academic ways, just as I’m fairly set in my personal politics and my spirituality. I will flex and bend, as we all have to in order to survive, but this is who I am. I ended up here, where I am right now, because I feel this way about things.

If this place, and the process of finally being ushered into the field, takes these major points from me, I don’t think I did it right. I’m rough around the edges, to be sure, but I didn’t come here to be smoothed. I came here to get sharp.  


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