Attempting to break the non-silence

April 15, 2008

I wanna be in a band/when I get to heaven/anyone can play guitar…
-Radiohead

I mentioned in a post somewhere lost to the archive that I have a course taught through video conference this semester. I’ve actually done this before with a larger lecture course, but never on the small scale. One of the problems I noted early on was that there’s a real sense of disconnection between the groups. I also think there’s a bit of animosity (maybe the class needs a third space!).

In another post I talked about speaking space in courses. I have long thought that the biggest problem with graduate pedagogy is that instructors seem to forget what we do with our first-year students (or in the case of some remember all the bad things and forget the good things). For example, a “professor” should faciliate discussion. As an instructor, that’s what I do. I don’t lead, but I don’t allow trainwrecks, either.

In the video class there are a few people on the other site– where the professor is– who like to perform. I certainly don’t begrudge them that. I know there are students among us who enjoy speaking for long periods of time and being heard in spite of the topic. The more quiet, I-want-that-in-my-notes people like me sort of need them. But they create a situation where I feel the professor MUST intervene.

I’ve tried to be extremely careful and courteous about this course. I’ve mentioned to the professor that we feel alienated at the remote site and feel like we don’t have a space to speak (and that we’re received harshly by the students in the actual classroom in some cases). The professor did mention it to class, but there was not real change.

So today, I decided to try to turn what I do in a regular classroom into something that works with a camera and speakers. In a normal class, if someone is rambling off-topic and I want the right to speak, I make “ready to speak face.” Those of you who have taken grad classes and have been the person who doesn’t shout over everyone else know the face I mean— eyebrow darted, hand on chin, lips curled slightly… maybe one eye squinting if it’s just critical that you get the floor. This look doesn’t work on TV.

But mumbling into the microphone does.

I started innocently enough. Someone made a REALLY outlandish metaphorical comparison, and it wasn’t working, so I mumbled “the metaphor is falling apart.” I hoped someone in the other room would say “what?” and perhaps someone else could speak, but no one did. Later someone contradicted the book, and I said to the person next to me, over the mic, “that’s not what the book says.” Again– I was trying, in a subtle way, to work my way into conversation.

Eventually I’d had enough, and I interrupted someone to make my point.  I felt bad, but I did it. Because my point (illustrated in my previous post) needed to be made. It was quickly buried by people who were positive that there had to be all sorts of slack in spaces 1 and 2, but at least I got the idea out there.

But the story doesn’t end here. If anyone’s heard the Dane Cook joke about cutting in line, this one goes like that. One of the other students in our remote classroom tried to speak. And was ignored. And she tried again. And she was ignored. A third time, someone raised their voice to speak over her. So I mumbled, into the microphone, “Just talk if you want to talk. They aren’t going to leave a space.”

Finally the professor intervenes, giving me the usual response to a smart-ass: “Phill, do you have something to add?” tacking on “we can hear everything you’ve been saying,” as if I should feel some sense of intense shame for mumbling about course content while one person monopolized a three hour seminar. I also found it funny that he asked if I had something to add while clarifying that they heard everything I said, but that’s just because I like riddles.

Without pause I responded with “no, I don’t, but *name removed to protect the innocent* does. People keep talking over *person.*” And though she blushed out of talking in that moment, she FINALLY got to say what she wanted to say a few seconds later as people reacted in confusion to the class being derailed.

It seemed obvious to the others in our classroom that I had offended our professor. I hope that isn’t the case, but I have to be honest: if I did, I am not sorry. All of us in that class paid money to learn the material and to discuss it. We didn’t pay to listen to a single voice rant about off-topic personal politics while bashing the book and the concept of the course. I don’t ever want to be remembered as the Bart Simpson of a grad program, but if someone had to snipe and snicker to get the conversation to be an actual conversation and not a monologue, I’ll gladly take the ire of a professor for the sake of everyone.

Don’t have a cow, man.

 

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Trying to get back on track– more third space

April 15, 2008

I could/I/I could… turn you inside out…
-R.E.M. (it continues)

Okay, before I start what is going to end up being a rant, a simple concept. I think it’s simple, anyway. It’s entirely possible I’m an idiot. 🙂

We read, as I mentioned in my previous post, Third Space

The author starts the book by proposing that two spaces are essentially “us” and “not us” or “in” and “out” or however you’d like to express it. This is a staple of American (US) Political Philosophy, as the whole of this nation’s under-culture is a huge binary. Good guys and bad guys. White hats and black hats. Vader and Luke. Lex and Clark. Binaries.

The third space, then, is the abstract area where things exist outside that.

Image time:

image of 3rd space

Bear in mind I quickly whipped the image above up in Photoshop, so I know it’s not beautiful. 🙂

But here’s how *I* saw those relationships. I mentioned Ventura and the fishers/hunters in the post before. That is a binary. It’s fixed and situated. Ventura basically said “you’re one of us or you’re them.” Those aren’t areas that allow for gradation. They are bounded boxes. If I say “you’re Phill, or you’re not” there isn’t a way for those of you who are not me to enter the box of “Phillness.” It’s closed to you. You’d have to remove my skin or steal my identity to get into the box, and then you’d change it.

So 1 and 2 are “closed.” They’re solid states, fixed within the greater system of this concept of third space. I didn’t designate which is the United States and which is the independent tribe, if we’re using the book’s binary. I think attributing the number shows bias. But those are fixed. Sure, those which constitute the group could change their definition of “us,” but in so long as we theoretically believe in an “us,” they are fixed boxes.

The third space is everything in the middle, but it isn’t fixed. It’s gradation. It’s fades and mixes and violations, and those who would hope to be both (in the construction the author addresses, one cannot be both– us or them, not “us and them”). I chose to represent it triangularly, instead of as a straight line, because the spacial movement indicated by the triangle is more indicative of how this would work than a bar is.

So in class, what seems like a pretty simple idea basically fell apart. Someone placed the “first space” of this system inside her head (which is fine on an individual level, but it violates the rest of the system if that person wants to talk about spaces with everyone else) and we somehow ended up talking about how the US forces want to take the souls of Muslims who they torture.

I maintain my belief that sometimes as powerful as theory is people do bad things with it. The author of this book is a Political Scientist. In the Poli-Sci world, this sort of concept makes good sense, as the binary is the enemy of true political understanding (us/them has dominated much of human interaction). If we yank away the Poli-Sci frame and don’t pay attention to what the author is saying, suddenly third space becomes really confusing when it actually isn’t. It would shift, depending on the binary (there is no “third space” we can always assume; we can only assume that every binary creates a third space of some manner).

Or maybe I just don’t get it.

 


Sometimes I just don’t get it…

April 8, 2008

…pour my life into a paper cup…

-RHCP

We had an “interesting” discussion in class today. One person dominated (look back over the blog for my thoughts on this) and I’m not entirely sure we discussed what was a very interesting text (Blood Narrative by Chadwick Allen), but there was a long breakdown interdisciplinary debate over this:

Should a “minority” writer identify as a writer, as a minority, or as both.

I felt like saying “this is shockingly similar to the dilemma I’ve been batting around on my blog, as to who can write about what, and I think it’s important to think about perception,” but I was mostly silenced by someone who needed to point out, among other things, that human beings just “deficate excrement.”

Yeah– I didn’t get that either.

This was a moment where I think the view of the rhetorician was really useful. Let’s say, just as a random example, that bell hooks were to stand up and say “I am a writer.” She is (she’s more than JUST a writer, and she’s fantastically talented), but her neglecting to say “African American” wouldn’t have nearly the impact that some of the other students in class thought it would. Anyone in the room, with the ability to see, would identify her as such, and her subject matter would also illustrate this point. It’s not like her author functionality (can we employ that term this way) can erase race. Of course I don’t think hooks would ever try, but I wanted a well known example. It might have been more ironic to choose Morrison, now that I think about it. 🙂

That is, of course, not to neglect the relevance of how one wishes to package and present herself (himself). There are many “minorities” as it were who “pass” (I’ve often asked people if I qualify as either one of these things– it’s not clear that I’m part Cherokee if I don’t point it out, unless people notice that I’m acting like a Cherokee, and that becomes a long performative argument for another post). In some sense, it becomes powerful for those people to declare themselves to be “X type of writer.” We see much more of this with gender/sexuality issues (the power of being “out” as it were, or declaring that one is transgender).

I wonder, though, if the other disciplines represented at the table (history, anthropology, American studies, Native American studies, architecture and library science) don’t give a little too much authority to what the author claims. Several people were trying to claim that one could erase ethnicity by claiming to simply be a writer.

That doesn’t work, I don’t think. Maybe small scale. Perhaps I could, in a gaming studies article, erase my Cherokee-ness (I tend to think I’d more be leaving it dormant than hiding or removing it), but if one is talking about issues of ethnicity, and is an ethnic minority, the audience is going to figure it out/construct that.

That’s why Aristotle created that triangle, isn’t it?

I really didn’t get why it was such a savage argument. It sort of distressed me, since there were a number of great things in the text (including a triangular relationship I’m going to try to write about here tomorrow– I need Photoshop and I’m too tired to Photoshop right now).

*sigh*

If anyone from that class is reading, sorry to dog it. I just don’t GET it sometimes.


And now, a little ranting…

April 6, 2008

You do it to yourself/you do/and that’s why it really hurts/you do it to yourself/just you/you and no one else…

-Radiohead

I recently received a few response papers back with comments. Now I know it’s taboo to talk about comments from an instructor to a graduate student, as all of that is supposed to be kept under wraps, but two things came up. They were “term” corrections.

One was when I said “America” which prompted “Do you mean The United States?”

Another was when I said “Native American” and was told “American Indian.”

Mundane things, right? Yeah… not earth shattering. I’m not going to cry myself to sleep over such “errors,” nor do I feel particularly slighted. But… it reminded me of a presentation I gave last semester on John Locke. The philosopher, not the awesome bald dude from LOST.

Locke had a lot to say for politicians and for other social scientists, but for rhetoric, his grand contribution is his sense of language. Now I’ve been told by some that I’m not reading Locke right, so feel free to slam me in response (as if you’d hold back had I not given you permission! :)), but this is what I took away from Locke’s work as being important.

We have words, in our language. We seek, through those words, to express things to each other. But our words lack precision, and our attempts to say things in attractive– or high minded– ways often clouds understanding. As academics we might be the worst offenders of all. We say “heuristic” when we could say “tool” in many cases. We claim something is “structural linguistics” when no one needed to know. We pontificate upon how something has “concrecience” (did I spell that right, Dr. Latour?) or is “polemic.”

Clarity, Locke claimed, would lead us to much easier communication. And to get to that clarity, we had to know what words mean.

Right now I’m having a word war with my own mind over the term “practice.” I know what it means… generally. I also know that in high school I went to both basketball and speech team practice. I know that David E. Kelly wrote a fantastic TV program called The Practice. I know that practice makes perfect. I know that De Certeau is concerned with The Practice of Everyday Life. 🙂 But when we talk about practices… what do we mean?

The answer– which I find maddening– is that it varies wildly from scholar to scholar.

Which is why it’s funny that “America” and “United States” didn’t parse across a set of two academics.

I think Locke was being idealistic (and that he had lots of other problems), but I’m thinking that the desire to have clear, concise language might be the smartest thing anyone ever asked for.

Or as my tenth grade honors English teacher said, “Phill, brevity is the soul of wit. You witless punk.”

 


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.

 


Come on, Vogue!

March 29, 2008

And that’s when I know/she’s gonna be pissed when she wakes up/from terrible things I did to her/in her dreams…

-Ben Folds

 

Okay, before I say much, here’s an image, linked from http://concreteloop.com/2008/03/comment-spotlight-lebron-the-vogue-cover (interesting mix of comments there, btw… well worth your time to read).

 

lebron

lebronquestion.gif

I’m a fan of LeBron James, though he’s not one of my once beloved Pacers. I’m not so much a fan of Gisele, as she dates that Brady fellow, but I’d like to think LeBron didn’t mean to be presented the way Vogue presented him on their current cover, and I’m not entirely sure Gisele should be comfortable with it, either.

I’ve read many comments around the net, so I won’t claim I have some brilliant observation, but my first thought was “oh, great, LeBron is King Kong stealing Tom Brady’s girlfriend.”

But let’s take a look at this cover, visually. The “real” cover, obviously, is the image to the left, while the alternate cover image uncovered by ConcreteLoop.com is  the tasteful photo on the right. On the actual cover, there’s brighter lighting (which brings the skin tone differences into starker contrast), and there are wildly conflicting facial expressions. LeBron looks angry, or beastly, while Gisele looks like she might well have been caught laughing at how ridiculous the image is. LeBron is hunched over, simian (also like one might drive with a basketball, to be fair), and he’s handling a ball. It’s a confusing composition, as I suppose we’re supposed to think we see the “essence” of the two (the intense athlete and the smiling model?) or perhaps that LeBron Kong has taken a woman as he streaks down the court. It’s also interesting that Gisele is wearing a dress that is roughly the same shade as the Statue of Liberty, not that anyone would be playing up the King Kong thing.

Contrast that to the other image, which looks like an actual fashion shoot. The colors are muted, the poses are relaxed and seem human. LeBron’s muscles are highlighted, as is his face (which doesn’t look animalistic in this shot) and Gisele’s figure is showcased without her being presented as if she is being seized and controlled (as a male, I have to say I think she looks better in the white dress, too). The composition has good lines, and other than the awkwardness of placing  Vogue’s header on the page, the spaces for the other cover text are all natural. If the image were cropped right at LeBron’s knees and some extra space were airbrushed in at the top, it’d be a perfect cover.

It looks like Vogue dropped the ball.  So to speak.

 


What we do

March 29, 2008

I don’t wanna feel so different/but I don’t wanna be insignificant/I don’t know how to see the same things different now…   
-Still Counting Crows, still new album, still awesome   

So I’m about to rush over to a reading group about De Certeau (Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty). I’ve been looking at his work, thinking through the tiny chunk we read for today (and planning to finish The Practice of Everyday Life over the weekend). And I’ve been thinking about the field I’m in.

Rhetoric.

 I wonder if many of us don’t have it “wrong” on a certain level.  If you talk to a scholar in our field, he or she could probably say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if you asked “is this rhetoric?” and rambled off a list of potential topics for discussion. We know what’s in our field. Mostly. Some people argue that some of what I– and what my mentors– do is not “really” rhetoric, but I think of those people the same way I thought of myself when I, upon entering my first algebra class, pointed out that X is not a number and shouldn’t be part of math. Sure… there’s a logic to it, but it’s a little short-sighted and immature. 🙂  

I made this argument in my history of rhetoric seminar last semester, and it was received with a mix of horror and interest. So… I’m going to toss it out again for my readers. I think in rhetoric we do ourselves a disservice by not acting like our field IS a field.  

Here’s what I mean.

Go watch Stephen Hawking speak. He’s not going to spend the first half of his presentation tracing physics from the start of the field to his particular brand of science. He’s not going to explain to us how gravity was “discovered” and documented. It would be foolish; that crowd KNOWS that physics is a thing. They came to hear a genius speak about his contributions.  

If you saw this recent news story about the near-retirement-age math genius who solved the “directions to anywhere” problem (I’ll link this later– I have the bookmark at home), you won’t catch him starting by saying “once upon a time there were two numbers, and *insert name* realized that by placing a plus sign between them one could indicate a desire to join them into a single number that was the sum of the two.” In fact if someone started a lecture by doing the basic “here’s six apples. I take two. How many are left?” math explanation we all get in elementary, we’d feel appalled and cheated.  

So that makes me  think that perhaps the answer to many of our problems is to simply stop trying to justify what rhetoric is. Stop tracing back to Plato and Aristotle, and stop charting through the Roman era into the enlightenment. Instead of trying to link everything back to the origin point, let the fact that the field exists do some of the heavy lifting for you.  

I get the feeling this will still be received poorly, but I ask you to consider it. A little field confidence could go a long, long way.