Tried again…

April 15, 2008

I am just a worthless liar/I am just an imbecile…

This is more the effect I wanted, but it’s still not quite there. I love this Joker image. It’s originally from the cover of The Killing Joke.


Still sickly after all these days: but on with the bloggin’ about third spaces

April 14, 2008

I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven/when I awoke I spent that on a necklace…
-Kanye West

So apologies again if you’re a regular reader; I cannot, for the life of me, get well, so I’ve been devoting my time to resting, doing things you don’t describe on the blog (and jogging to and from the restroom), and trying to keep up with my scholarly work.

I took a mulligan on an assignment this weekend because of one of those beautiful “you can drop one” policies that some professors put in their syllabi, but I feel like doing the thought work now (late) so I figure I’ll blog it.

We’re currently reading a book called The Third Space of Sovereignty by Kevin Bruyneel. The main thrust of Bruyneel’s argument is that scholars (and everyone else, for that matter) have to resist the idea that there’s a binary relationship for indigenous people in America (i.e. “part of the United States” or “independent nations”). He illustrates this tension in the introduction by using the example of Jesse Ventura and the Mille Lacs Band regarding hunting and fishing rights.

The third space, then, is somewhere in the middle. And it’s relevant.

This makes me wonder why there’s been so much flack given to my considerations of mixed bloodedness, as I would define mixed-bloods, in particular, as the vanguards of this third space.  In fact it seems that mixed blood– as a theoretical concept– gets to the heart of at least one of the issues that dominated the last book we read, Blood Narrative by Chadwick Allen.

Allen creates a triad (Blood, land, memory) that he uses to explore indigenity. I don’t personally agree with his comparisons across hemispheres (though I’ve already been criticized for criticizing), but I do see a dual-point intervention to be made for a mixed blood (like myself, part Cherokee and part European). Blood, obviously, is our major point of contention (we have SOME native blood– in many cases not enough, or not proven by enough paperwork, to be enrolled). Mixed bloodedness also touches on the idea of memory, though, as our histories and our understandings of tradition are skewed and modified– they occupy a third space of their own.

I see all these triangles emerging (curses, Aristotle!). Blood-Memory-Land. United States-third space-Tribal Government. Authentic-dependant-massmarket.

I wonder if my scholarship is turning into “native rhetoric”-Phill-“the field of rhetoric” and “native rhetoric”-Phil-“the field of native studies.” Perhaps I hover so much in the third space that no one can really figure out exactly where my work belongs. “gaming rhetoric”-Phill-“gaming studies.” “pop culture rhetoric”-Phill-“pop culture studies.”

It’s maddening!

But triangular.


Virtual presentation/virtual A to virtual Q

April 7, 2008

In my room/on a pad/is written a letter/return addressed to you…
-For Squirrels

Me and my peeps got some pub! (warning: if you click here, you’ll see my full name and might get beyond the thin disguise of me not identifying where I’m a student, so read at your own risk).

First of all, a sincere thanks to Mike for giving the panel some attention, and again a thanks to Doug for toting my video around New Orleans. I wish I’d been there to see everyone.

But Mike asked a good question. Allow me to quote:

The point of contention, I guess, is over reasons for bringing it into the classroom. I can see a games studies course as a cultural studies course, certainly. But what is the compelling argument for the connection between games studies and composition? What does game studies as an area of scholarly inquiry help us teach writing students to do that other areas of scholarly inquiry cannot do? There was some discussion of this in the Q&A, particularly in the concerns expressed about colonizing our students’ culture and appropriating it into a school genre, but I’d be curious to hear from the game scholars out there: why are games important to writing?

This is a familiar question for me, coming from an MA program where I faced a fair amount of skepticism. My first response is always this: we’re in a new moment. We now accept that it’s fine to subject a student to Moby Dick or The Dubliners, but there was no doubt a time when someone said “wait, is it fair to ask writing students to read this?” During my MA, the most popular text taught in first year comp was Fight Club; there would SURELY have been a moment when someone would ask if we should be teaching that.

So my first argument is that assigned texts don’t really “define” a writing course (unless someone’s assigning something like Stephen King’s On Writing, in which case I think that person is doing it wrong). Texts in a composition classroom open the discussion and provide a place where the class can have a common experience and see a common discourse. But the writing course is about the students writing first and foremost, and not nearly so much about what we have them read so that we can then ask them to write. If anyone wants to see what this sort of gaming comp class would look like, I’m going to present one of my syllabi with some notes at the upcoming Computers and Writing conference. I’d love to see anyone/everyone in the audience.

My second argument would be that while “reading” a game, students are much more active than they are while reading a book. *Phill ducks the lit scholars throwing things*. While I’m a fond, fond reader (I think all of us have to be in order to survive in this field), I think we can all agree that the agency for a reader in most of the texts that would be used in a composition class is limited, at least during the initial reading.  In a gaming environment– at least the multi-player games I personally promote and study– the reader/player must interact and make choices from the very beginning. In that sense, I believe the student has more agency and hence experiences something more robust than just leafing through a standard text. Students are starting to write as they read a game; I’m not sure we can claim that in the same way about most other texts.

My third reason for thinking gaming is valid in the composition classroom is that the idea that we’re “colonizing” a student genre to make it a school genre– which I know many use as an argument against it– doesn’t work IF certain criteria are met. For one, I think you really should be a gamer if you’re going to teach with games. That’s not to say you have to be a lifer (though many in my generation are); but you shouldn’t be someone who just started playing two weeks before the course. In that sense, you’re not “colonizing” the student’s discursive space– you’re visiting. The second thing is that moreso than with traditional texts (though I think we should all be open to this when we teach anything) one has to allow for the students to be better/smarter in the area. Let them own it. And if we’re not worried that we’re “colonizing” a space, we suddenly have an intricate digital media space that allows us to quickly move to video, to audio, to visual rhetorics, to digital identity or simply identity studies. Gaming is a rather solid hub for issues that can lead to unique and interesting writing.

And the last reason I’ll offer here, for now (I have many more justifications :)), is that gaming is fun, and all too often we squeeze the fun from academia, particularly for our first year students who we bombard with grammar rules and MLA/APA citation formats and invention and revision and “don’t write the five paragraph essay” and “this is a good source/this is a bad source.” I’d like to think that most of us came to writing because we love it, and we had fun doing it when we were younger (there are better way to inflict torture), so why should we allow our classes to become stale, boring places? I want mine to be fun, and students tend to respond well to it.

So… there’s a bit of an answer. 🙂 I could go on, but it’s almost 1:30 in the morning and I have a full day o’ classes tomorrow. More later, if anyone wants me to keep ranting.


MacGruber Version Web 2.0

April 6, 2008

Read the scene where gravity is pulling me around…

-R.E.M. (again)

I bought a new laptop. It’s huge, which is both good and bad. It’s good, because it can handle my digital media demands (I’m still downloading WoW to see if it runs well). It’s bad, because the thing weighs like 10 pounds.

But my reflection here isn’t so much on my new machine (which I’m calling Orange Crush– a big ol’ Gateway PX from Best Buy), as it is on the lack of the machine. I know Lac(k)an talks about the phallic lack, but this isn’t quite the same. I’d compare being a digital rhetoric student without his laptop to the cliche nightmare about being naked in front of a bunch of people.

I have one class, in particular, where I use my laptop as a sort of “defense.” Due to the devisive nature of the people in the class, sometimes in addition to needing my reading notes and the ability to type (I cannot “write” notes anymore– I’ve lost the ability to write quickly enough to keep up with my own thoughts and a professor’s speech), I need a place to sort of hide/shield myself.

But it goes deeper than that. I am not personally a fan of some aspects of current cyborg theory. I think it’s fascinating, and that in some applications it’s brilliant, but before last week I would have called user-to-computer a relationship that cannot be seen as cyborg. I’m rethinking that now.

I read most of my class materials in PDF. I use Microsoft OneNote to record my thoughts while reading, my thoughts from class. I have folders on my desktop for each of my courses and each of my projects. My academic life essentially happens on this screen.

So maybe I AM a little more cyborg than I thought.

I felt an instant comfort when I started configuring my new system. Even if it is really heavy and part of me wishes I’d spent the extra money on the lightweight Mac. Because tomorrow is Monday, and I have a 3 hour class. A three hour class where I’ll have all my materials at my disposal and won’t feel naked in front of everyone.

Because really… naked Phill does no one any good.


My name is not Nathan

March 26, 2008

This dizzy life of mine/keeps hanging me up all the time/this dizzy life/is just a hanging tree…

-Counting Crows (great new CD out today—check it out)

I’ve been thinking about writing this entry for a while and worried that it might offend a few people, but given my stellar track record of late… let’s just say I don’t mind if it offends anyone now (that ship–sailed :)). But to be at least a little subtle, I’m just going to hint to the piece of scholarship I am responding to instead of stating the exact name.

At any rate, during my MA, I took a fantastic class on research methodology with one of my thesis committee members. One of the pieces we read early in the semester was a study by a pair of doctors who watched as their students became integrated into “professional” discourse.  Part of this article’s data—and the analysis of this data—was the slow tracking of one student’s frustration as he essentially lost his voice to become an academic.

At the time, I raged a little in class, and I suggested that perhaps this wasn’t the most healthy thing. Alas, this was the beginning of a full year of discussion in that program of “professionalization.” I whole time we talked about these things, I tried to balance my sense of what was being said and what I see out in the world.

This strikes me as one of the many places where our field has a bit of an identity crisis. I say “a bit,” because I do NOT feel the pressure from my current institution to become a tie wearing, jacket-with-the-elbow-patches, jargon spouting academic (I know this pressure does exist in some places, and I think it’s sad).

But let’s look at this for a second, from a logical perspective. We tell our first-year students to find their voice, to write in interesting and unique ways.

We praise the idea of being creative and innovative.

Then the suggestion is that we should beat a PhD student into being a sort of “disciplined” academic?

Someone actually implied on this blog, in a response, the same sort of mentality. FWIW, I don’t think there’s any specific behavior that defines PhDness or professionalism. I will always teach in shorts in the summer (unless I end up someplace where it’s not miserably muggy in the summer). I will always make pop culture jokes. I will always be who I am.

This is not to say I don’t think there is “a” professionalism. I show proper respect to other academics, I am careful about how I interact within the professional network, and my work does what my work needs to do.

I would argue, though, that the idea that there is some universal “professional” behavior, that we could/should shape every PhD student into a specific product, is ridiculous. I look at my heroes in our field, and they don’t all look and act the same. They don’t speak the same or write the same. They don’t even get along in some cases.

To claim we should all be the same is the very definition of hegemony. And that’s bad, right?

Behold: The Lester Faigley Gargoyle Cometh!

March 23, 2008

I set out on a narrow way/many years ago…

-Rascal Flatts (and yes, I’m a little worried that I hate country music and have found myself listening to a country band twice during my writing time this week, but I like these guys)

It hasn’t quite been a year, but I think I’m finally ready to deconstruct one of the most amusing dreams I’ve ever had. So let me tell you, dear reader, about the Lester Faigley Gargoyle.

Should Dr. Faigley find this entry by Googling himself or some other happenstance, know that I’m a huge fan of your work. I loved Fragments of Rationality. You could even say it got in my head. LITERALLY.

So here’s the story. At the end of my MA, I had a thesis defense/reading exam. This is, I believe, quite common in the field (though I envy some of my peers who wrote 40 pages and defended it—I read approximately 40 scholarly works and wrote almost 150 pages). My exam was scheduled, however, at a time that would work for all three of my committee members, and some of them were leaving the university for the summer. So the week of my exam, my mother had surgery and was laid up in the hospital AND I had three full day sessions of portfolio evaluation.

I hadn’t finished all of my reading when the week started. Yeah, I’m a bad boy. I was reading The Braddock Essays collection, and I figured “oh, I’ll be fine finishing this up!” and I hadn’t received one of the Jay David Bolter books I was reading a chapter of (I love that book, btw—it’s called Windows and Mirrors, with Richard Grusin, I believe, as the co-author. It’s oft overlooked in our field). But I had a pre-defense meeting with my chair, and she gave me a few sample questions. One of them was about Faigley’s book and a point I took issue with (wherein the doctor details online classes where he felt he couldn’t speak—I mentioned that as a longtime digital student/instructor I knew that one just had to take agency).

My chair mentioned that this same question might come up in my defense and that I’d want to have proof ready if I wanted to claim Faigley was wrong (which I’m not sure I was saying; it’s not about right or wrong, but rather it’s about perception of a moment. Chatters, particularly at that moment in internet history, wouldn’t grant space to anyone. It was a “take your spot” time). So I decided I better re-read that book.

The night before my exam was rough for my mom (not an excuse—I still passed with high distinction, and I only fumbled one question because I decided to be honest instead of lying and BSing about a text I couldn’t remember due to my mind just blanking on me out of panic), so I fell asleep in a chair at the hospital reading FoR. In my dream, I was in the room where my exam was to happen, and there was a gargoyle in the corner.

The gargoyle spouted lines and ideas from FoR in the voice of Patton Oswalt impersonating Tom Carvelle. It was a mix of terrifying and comforting, but in the dream my committee members couldn’t hear it, and at times I was using it as a citation.

The question didn’t come up in my exam. In fact no one brought up Faigley’s work in particular (though I used him myself to justify my postmodern stance). But some nights I am still visited by the Lester Faigley Gargoyle. I wonder if he’s not protecting the roof of my intellectual house, insuring that the water doesn’t seep in and cause damage and warding off evil spirits.

Or if maybe my imagination is too wild.

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

March 22, 2008

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.