Attempting to break the non-silence

April 15, 2008

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

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.



The RickRoll is dead…

April 6, 2008

You wouldn’t get this from any other guy…

-Rick Astley

You must click play. Nothing in the universe can stop you. It’s amazing.

You’ve been ChuckWagoned! Tell a friend! Sometime in the next 24 hours, something chain letterish will happen and you’ll be completely happy or sad or scared or hungry or something.


Comcast fail. Life Fail.

March 29, 2008

Shout out to Bill O’Reilly/I’ma throw you a curve/you’re mad at me because I’m a thief/and got a way with words…


I came, I saw, I hit ’em right dead in the jaw.

So I apparently can’t use the Comcast website to pay my bill. *sigh* Luckily the phone works.

Julie has had a rough few days, but she’s such a trooper. I’m about to catch up my posts for the last few days. This one is just to offer one of these fun little modules from I played with several, but I ended up deciding to post this one because it’s just perfect. It’s my band name. I haven’t had the time to do this sort of study yet, but these little plug-n-chug modules are an essential part of digital identity. We need to pay attention to ’em. I’m also a comma, but I lost the code for that one in a “need your password” WordPress wipe. OOPS!


Your Band Name is:

The Supersized Androids
Band Name Generator

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.  

Dane was right about this and my desire to name my son Optimus Prime…

February 14, 2008

She turned away/what was she looking at?/she was a sour girl the day that she left me…


I want to rant about something, but I want to be fair to the here and now, so I’m going to rant about an example from the past. I consider myself, to some degree, a “student of people.” I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I was a quiet kid (I’m a quiet adult).  I think (too much—often to the point that I feel stupid for over-thinking), and I listen. I’m like some sort of dime store constant ethnographer (the constant ethnographer– wouldn’t that be a cool movie title?).

And I’ve noticed something about the academy. There’s always… well, I’ll just say it… there’s ALWAYS a D-bag. Any group, any class, any function, you will find a D-bag (yes, I know this sounds a little like a Dane Cook joke about Karen, but I borrow from him only to say that if you’re saying “no, there isn’t always a D-bag,” it is, indeed, probably you).

In the time before I was a PhD student, I studied at a few places, learning a few things. In one particular class, there was one fellow student—this student who shall remain genderless (and who I hope cannot identify itself from the context here)—who was in several of my classes. This person was a complete and total jerkwad and needed to be the center of attention. I tried, for the most part, to ignore this person. But one day… things escalated.

We were discussing genre. Genre theory is something I am relatively comfortable discussing (two graduate seminars, three sustained projects and a full 30 page thesis chapter of research make me think I know at least a little about it), and we turned to a discussion of hip-hop/rap. This person, for reasons I will never understand, felt the need to somehow draw directly to Northrop Frye while discussing  rap music. I made reference to a Ludacris interview in which Chris (not as Luda) talked about how he didn’t own any of the “rapper” stuff that appears in his videos (the spinning rims, the lowrider Caddy, the outrageous bling, etc.). He talked about how it was all formulaic application of a genre of “thuggishness” (his word). I then said “and Chuck D, though I realize he’s not a theorist, wrote recently that…”

D-bag didn’t let me finish my sentence. Instead the next fifteen minutes were a campaign to point out my embedded racism in calling Chuck D—a career rapper and producer—“not a theorist.” The point I was trying to make was that Chuck D claimed, in 2004, that no “real” rap had been made since 1989 or so, and he cited the internal genre shift away from “socially relevant” songs (starting with “The Message,” and I believe Chuck was calling PE’s own “Can’t Truss It” the last really subversive rap track) to songs about women, sex, drugs and money. After a while I stopped defending myself, and as the only person of color in the room gave in to the label of “intellectual racist.”

Two weeks later, the same student claimed bell hooks wasn’t a real scholar. I jokingly said “because she’s black?” and another explosion occurred.

I should have known better than to trade blows with the one D-bag that has to be in every class or program. I knew better, and had I not at the time been a scared MA student cowering before a crowd of PhD students, I’d have just said “you’re not stupid. You know EXACTLY what I meant.”

Why share that, you might ask as a reader.  One reason is because I’m trying to rant, and the whole art of the rant is talking about something that made you mad. But the other reason is that I COULD tell a very similar story about almost every class I’ve taken, but since I don’t want to step on any toes I only mentioned a situation I don’t think anyone who reads this blog would remember (if anyone does, please don’t out the person I’m talking about). But more importantly I say it because I see other quiet(ish) students, and other students at lower “academic level “ suffering at the hands of similar situations. I now know to ignore the D-bag or to cut the D-bag down in due time with one of the many passive aggressive attack modes I’ve fashioned over the years. But for the others…

Don’t worry about the D-bag. There’s loathing, deep in his or her soul. That’s the reason for that behavior. It isn’t that you don’t understand what the D-bag knows, or that your ideas aren’t of merit. Don’t be silenced. Don’t be afraid.

And there is one at every University. Sometimes several.

Don’t let them get you down.


OMG. Am *I* one, too?


In a dream I had…

February 4, 2008

In a dream I had/I was on the stage with Queen/Michael Stipe and Elton John/Bono, Springsteen…


I’ve been thinking a great deal about “spirituality” these last few weeks. I feel like it’s all “postmodern” and “selfish” to claim that I’m a beautiful and unique snowflake, but I feel like my spiritual exploration comes from a weird spot.

I was born and raised in a “Christian” house. My “grandmother”* was Catholic, but my mother wasn’t, so we ended up bouncing from midwestern church to midwestern church. My uncle was a holy roller (literally– he thought he was taken over by the spirit and rolled about at times), but he was also just a tiny bit insane. I never really, truly bought into what I was hearing about God and the universe, but I knew there was something. Something bigger.

Because of my upbringing, I still sort of fear “hell,” even as I’m not sure that I believe in it, and I worry about disappointing God, though I don’t think the thing I worship would claim that name.

I’m what I guess would be defined as a “mixed blood.” I’m part Cherokee. I’m part German. I’m not entirely sure what my mother is, though we believe she’s mostly Navajo. As such, I’ve always felt a tie to nature and the Earth. I never felt quite right adopting a religion like Wicca, but it made good sense to me when I went through that period in high school where midwestern kids experiment with Wicca.

I’ve been reading a great deal of Indigenous theory. As I read about connections to origin myths, tradition, and land,  I find that I’m… mad. Not like raging, freaking out mad, but I wish I’d realized what I was missing in my life a long time ago. I feel like many of the hard lessons I’ve had to learn over the years could have been easier to learn if I’d read some of this stuff sooner.

I’ve come to understand that peace is happiness, and that happiness and peace comes from understanding and accepting the self/moving forward with the struggle.

I’m a lucky man, but I still find myself wondering what, exactly, it is that I believe in. I know something is looking out for me (trust me– I’ve had amazing luck of late), and I meditate/pray every night. I just wish I could put my finger on what I’m talking about when I talk about faith.

Or to quote Freedy Johnston:

I’m not saying you’ve gotta believe me/but something’s out there.