Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sidonie Smith lecture

On Thursday night I attended a Sidonie Smith lecture at the College of St. Rose. She called the presentation, "Victims, Perpetrators, Beneficiaries: Storytelling Stances in Human Rights Campaigns." Throughout the lecture she constantly complicated the proximity of (and roles of) victim, perpetrator, and beneficiary. She used three South African "narratives" as examples: the Winnie Mandela trials, A Human Being Died that Night, and Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog.

During the Q&A the conversation turned to prison narratives. John Edgar Wideman's introduction to Mumia Abu Jamal's Live from Death Row was discussed because it addresses the idea of prison narratives so often becoming neo-slave narratives. Wideman attributes both Abu Jamal's success, as well the the controversey and fear surrounding him, to the fact that his writing doesn't do this.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Zarvarzadeh on Pleasure and Crisis 1

Mas’ud Zavarzadeh’s 1994 “article,” “The Pedagogy of Pleasure 2: The Me-In-Crisis” is both a rant against the idea of the personal and an urgent plea for students (and scholars) to engage in a “rigorous critique of their situational in history” through ideology critique (and rigorous intellectual work, producing scientific knowledge). Zavarzadeh is vehemently opposed to the idea of the individual and strongly in favor of collective; he’s against experience and for science/knowledge; he’s against “talk” and for “reading.” In other words, Zarvarzadeh defines subjectivity as historical and class-founded, as opposed to subjectivity as individualism. At this point, I am with Zavarzadeh. We are on the same page. But Zavarzadeh takes this difference in subject formation and uses is as a jumping off point to rail against experience--seeing experience as used only to illustrate difference and thereby perpetuate the myth of the individual as distinct from others (as the “me’s” experience is not the same as the next “me’s” experience). Here he argues that experience’s “main political outcome is to mystify the historicity and class-founded nature of subjectivity.” This is because experience focuses on effects (according to Zarvarzadeh) and obscures causes: “causes have to be KNOWN through CONCEPTS.” In other words, we can’t KNOW anything through experience. Power must be theorized, not “talked” about.

This stance leads him to critique feminism and feminist pedagogy, which he describes as anti-intellectual. His goal of course here (and he as much as admits this at the end of his “article”) is to antagonize, and he does it well, but while Zavarzadeh is busy critiquing students, scholars, feminists, etc. for ignoring and/or obscuring and/or failing to recognize causes and their own situational, he fails to acknowledge the ways in which the types of knowledge and idea of CONCEPTS/CONCEPTUALITY that he calls upon are training in patriarchal modes of thinking, learning, speaking, and writing. He fails to question the ways in which the formal paper that he assigned also protects the privileges of the bourgeois subject (something he accuses his student of doing)--the ways in which a formal paper (presumably written in formal academic discourse) fails to “confront the historical and socio-economic structures of the subject in history.”

Thursday, August 04, 2005


I haven’t finished reading Julie Lindquist’s A Place to Stand: Politics and Persuasion in a Working Class Bar, so I may be jumping ahead of myself, trying to question points she is making that she later in the book addresses, complicates, and/or answers.

Still, I have questions:

On page 74 Lindquist states that “Smokehouse ideologies of class are highly narratizable, yet stubbornly unnamable.” (Background: The Smokehouse is the working class bar, which Lindquist is referring to in the title. She works there as a bartender while attaining her doctorate. In part, Lindquist is looking at the ways in which the Smokehouse regulars—“Smokehousers”—express and/or interpret class/experience through their daily discussions.) What ideologies of class are nameable? At numerous points in the book (so far), Lindquist comes to the (seemingly surprising, to her) conclusion that the Smokehousers lack a language for class, yet don’t most people? Not just working class, bar regulars…?

I am constantly running into this predicament—not having a language with which to speak about class, not having a framework for the unsatisfactory language that we do have. Because, from the folk who frequent the Smokehouse to the students who sit in our classrooms—the people don’t read class theory.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

reading 2: pleasure-in-crisis

So far this summer I have not read a single book "for pleasure." Today I went to the town library to grade papers, while sucking in the AC, and I took out a book: The Book of Salt. I think I deserve to read it.

Earlier in the summer I started reading Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s. I wasn't terribly impressed with the writing, but I was intrigued enough to keep reading, so I would like to finish it.

I think that one or both of these two books should join me on my three day bike adventure next week. In addition, I'll bring along Zavarzadeh's "The Pedagogy of Pleasure 2: The Me-in-Crisis." Not sure what else from the academic world will come along.

Maybe the book I'm (I've been) currently reading--the one that really does not seem to apply to my project in any way (I could say this about A LOT of the things I'm reading right now--e.g. Althusser)--A Place to Stand: Politics and Persuasion in a Working Class Bar.

Thursday, June 30, 2005


Currently *should*/could/can be reading:

The German Ideology
Marx/Engels Reader
Fulkerson article, "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century" in CCC
A Place to Stand: Politics and Persuasion in a Working Class Bar
Althusser on ideology
Mapping Ideology
Critical Dialogues (Stuart Hall/ed. by David Morley)

Friday, June 10, 2005

I've been spending a lot of time lately avoiding blogging. I'm not sure why. I spend a lot of time being afraid of blogging. It is a bit silly. I make a lot of "blog this" notes to myself in margins and on post-its, but then I never actually bring the material to the "page."

As I logged in today, for the first time in a long time, I lingered over my screenname because ofthis, after reading BitchPhD's response to the case. As a "former" Vermont resident (my heart still resides there) and friend to a number of Middlebury graduates, it makes me feel shame and sadness to read this. For me, the only drawback to Vermont is the lack of diversity. Yet I've always loved the (predominantly) live and let live mentality, along with the progressive politics and (mostly) foward-thinking residents. Reading about this Middelbury case puts a damper on some of those feelings.

So I'm prepping my summer course, 300Z Expository Writing, a class I have not taught before (at least not at this institution or this level). Creating new curriculum/prepping is always one of my favorite activities, but I also end up filled with this strange mixture of excitement and trepidation. Still, as I'm working on the prep it consumes me. I fall asleep creating assignments, shifting readings around, and thinking of discussion topics.

Here is my reading list so far:

300Z Course Packet Contents

Introduction from The Art of Truth

“How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien

The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

Kathryn Harrison from The Kiss

Mumia Abu-Jamal: Live from Death Row

John Edgar Wideman: Brothers and Keepers

Selections from A Place to Stand by Julie Lindquist

Daniel Miller “Making Love in Supermarkets”

Barbara Ehrenreich Nickel-and-Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language”

Excerpts from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well

Hmmmm...well, looking at it from this perspective, it doesn't seem entirely coherent, but there *is* much thought put into this. I hope it all comes together.
The course will begin with dicussions about dealing with the concept of "T/truth." That will be something we continually come back to throughout the six week course. Initially I am trying to cover writing about "self" (memoir); moving from there into writing about "other" (**I'm having trouble here with framing this/knowing what to call "it"--"other" seems like a loaded word to be using and I'm not sure it is saying exactly what I want it to say. Yet simply saying, write about somebody else, doesn't seem to work that well either). Finally, we'll do come cultural criticism/literary journalism. It is important for me to make it clear that these are not three distinct categories at all, and the readings I've chosen (for the most part) illustrate this "blurriness," "messiness" of genre and theme (etc.)--Brothers and Keepers does this particularly well.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

which american city...?


American Cities That Best Fit You:

60% Washington, DC

55% San Diego

55% San Francisco

50% Austin

50% Boston

I found and snagged this quiz from/at

Friday, May 13, 2005

grading breaks

I need some good suggestions for what to do when taking a break from grading. I've tried reading through my fave blogs, but my mind is too tired even for that. I check e-mail, but never have enough words left nor energy to respond.

I guess the cleaning kind of stuff is good. I have been doing laundry, and so far no colors have bled, the socks still seem to match, etc. Dishes I can handle. Eating chocolate chip cookies seems effective too....

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

blogging interview

Today my ex/friend, Kate, is coming to interview me about my blog/blogging. It's funny because I was trying to explain to her that blogging, at this point, can be/has been theorized, "scholarized," etc. There is even "blogese" and so on. I am just your basic blogger. I don't necessarily think about it (although I might like to); I just "do it." Anyhow, it'll be fun to just blather on about my 'lil blog (that could). Besides she needs to edit the interview down to a thirty second sound-bite, so there won't be a lot of room for heavy theorizing.

It's very interesting to me, though, that Kate, who is highly educated (has more degrees and partial degrees than most people I know) and is fairly handy with computers, only recently (in the past couple of weeks) learned what a blog was. And last night, on the phone, my brother, who is a computer consultant, said, "Now a blog...that's like a daily journal kept on the web????" It just bewilders me to some extent, because, in my head, blogs had their heyday and have even become the object of ridicule....

I wish I could interview Kate about *how* you can be an active part of this computerized world (she has, afterall, done the online dating thing, does research on the web, and has two active e-mail accounts that she checks 25 times a day) and not know what a blog is.

I'm so confused....

Saturday, April 30, 2005

TV consumption

some days (particularly saturdays) i just need to take in hours of mindless TV. it isn't until i can literally feel the brain cells start to fall away that i will get up and start my day. so far today i've watched:

-tennis: Kim Clijsters v. Svetlana Kuznetsova the J&S Cup Warsaw, Poland.
-Vh1's top 20 countdown
-the last 15 minutes of Shallow Grave
-a few minutes of each morning show
-a few minutes of the Travel Channel's Haunted London
-a few minutes of MTv's Made

it feels like it has been years since i've actually seen music videos--more than one in a row, in their entirety. maybe that is because they don't really show them anymore. it scares me a little--how sucked-in i am by the frangmented images and flashing lights. i can just stare at the screen--slightly comatose. plus i've been so detached and distanced from what is popular in pop music these days. i feel as though it used to be the center of my universe for so feels a little weird to not know who the killers are. or not to know that gwen stefani ain't a hollaback girl.... maybe i'm better off....

now i really need to "get serious." it is the end of the semester, after all.

Friday, April 22, 2005

postponed exam girl:(

So it is official. I met with my committee yesterday. I won't be taking my exams in two weeks as originally planned. I am just not ready. I want to write and articulate more about this lack of "readiness," but for now I just need to retreat a bit. I need to take care of some grading and go see FeverPitch. Then maybe I can start to sort things and elsewhere.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

no academic "fun" for the exam girl

Today the CHATS conference is going on at SUNY. I'm feeling a little left out. I'd love to be there, but I need to have an revised outline of my dissertation chapters out to Rosemary and Bret by tomorrow evening, and I have stacks of student papers just waiting for my attention. Sometimes it is so hard to balance. I was at the "kick-off" of the conference last night for the JAWBONE reading, which I hosted, with readers Kazim Ali and Judy Johnson. The reading was followed by a fabulous round-table discussion on (inter)disciplinarity and the public sphere--organized, in part, by my wonderful friend Tara. It was a wonderful experience of interacting with friends and strangers--graduate students from both across the country and the oceans. Tonight everyone will be at DeJohn's for Judith Johnson's second reading of the weekend, "What ‘Is’ Is When there is no ‘There’ There." Again, I'll be home grading papers on 1984. But I'm not bitter.... No, but I am grateful that I was part of last night's discussion, even if I didn't actually participate--'cuz the heart races and the sweat formulates. No, I just come home and talk my girlfriend's ear off as she falls into sleep.

consumer/producer and re/production (texts)

Many composition scholars (and others in education, cultural studies, etc.) have argued for the goal of changing students from passive consumers to active participants in the writing classroom (and their educational process as a whole). "They" have made it sound as though, if we remove students from their role as consumer, we have somehow found "the answer" (to a more informed, thoughtful citizenry; a more decentered, and therefore, less "corporate" or capitalistic classroom). Some, Alan France, among them, have argued that student texts need to become "something" more tangible, more purposeful than simply a grade in the gradebook. He argues for the publication of students texts. And yet, taking them out of that consumer role (which ultimately is actually impossible--they *are* paying for these classes; we are being paid to teach them) and "empowering" them or "centering" them, is only to put them in a new role within the University setting--that of the worker (which they also were always already--it's just a matter of emphasis). So for me, this is not simply a question of consumer or producer, it is a question of re/production.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

foreign language translation exam

I just got home from the taking the required foreign translation exam. I think my brain has about reached the saturation point for today, and yet I can't stop thinking, planning, printing, writing, e-mailing, etc. I guess that is kind of a good thing, though I feel like my productivity must be a wee bit on the shabby side at this point. I have a very full day ahead of me tomorrow, including a meeting with Bret to go over the revision of my outline for my dissertation chapters. I should get ironing and organizing. But no, I want to say more about the exam. I think that my reader will have an entertaining experience, as there are complete sentences in there that make NO SENSE. non sense. nonsense. I "translated" two pages entitled "Madame Bovary ou Le Livre sur Rien." This is lit. stuff that I can't even understand in English, much less French. *Sigh* At least I now have a general idea of what I'm in for, and maybe I can work with a tutor over the summer.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

textual identities

In studying the noticeable silence within composition studies surrounding class as a writing/classroom issue, I've become hyper-aware (neurotically maybe) of this little classification system found on the back upper left-hand cover of books. I'm not sure if there is a name for this bizarre, seemingly arbitrary labeling system, nor do I understand who chooses the categories. What system is used for this? But I do find it interesting...:

Bruce Horner's Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique = "Literary Criticism": This is one of the few books that actually argues for a correlation between the teaching of writing and the material conditions of that teaching/writing. He does not shy away from concepts of labor, work, and class (even if the Library of Congress subject headings do). Yet, this book, that clearly addresses composition within its title is classified (somehow, somewhere, by somebody) as lit. crit. ?

??? Where/when does the split happen between socioeconomic? As in, when is it "just" social? When is it "just" economic? I only ask this--driven by the Library of Congress subject headings that simply refer to the book as addressing "social aspects" and "social conditions"--What does that mean???

Donna LeCourt's Identity Matters: Schooling the Student Body in Academic Discourse = "Education": While LeCourt, focuses on identity politics in a more general sense that Horner does, her text still manages to address "class" issues. She even labels herself as working class and writes from that perspective. But again, while the book is devoted to the subject of writing and the writing classroom, its "identity" is not aligned with composition.

Lisa Ede's Situating Composition: Composition Studies and Politics of Location< = "Rhetoric and Composition": Indeed Ede's text proudly professes, in the upper-left-hand corner of the back cover, to be a text situated within the field of rhetoric and composition. Ede who begins the book by making claims about situating composition materially does not mention class, economics, materialism, Raymond Williams, Karl Marx (and here I am generalizing, but still...). Whatever sort of materiality she is writing from, within, or about is never made explicit.

Am I just a conspiracy theorist here? Maybe. But I doubt it. Something is up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

which western feminist icon are you?

Judith Butler
You are Judith Butler! Your postmodern queer theory
has shaken up people's ideas of gender,
sexuality, and sex. Your work has blurred lines
between what it means to be a womyn and what it
means to be a man. Queens and transbois all
over the world worship your Birkenstocks!

Which Western feminist icon are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thursday, March 03, 2005

student texts and Bartholomae's prompts

Composition studies/theory tends to focus on the way that skills-based courses are complicit in capitalism and has tended to view social constructionist folks as somehow outside of that or probing it in some analytical way. But the question still remains--Why Foucault? Why Freire? Why do we prompt them to think like a teacher? (By this I’m referencing Bartholomae’s Ways of Reading and its prompts/assignments that have students “pretend you’re Foucault”; “think like a teacher.”) Also, wrapped up in this is simply the fact that a textbook with Foucault and Freire sells. Another part of this is the fact that while situating the student writer in the context of a long line of other thinkers/writers (as opposed to the autonomous creative individual of the expressivists), we have maintained student text production as “useless” nothing more than an assignment to get a grade. It doesn’t operate in the world the way a text by Foucault does.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

beyond "yes"

i'm sitting here going back and forth and in circles in my head over what could be a huge problem with my project, but maybe not...the more i think about it. i'm thinking about how i'm situating my project very specifically within the site/context of the corporate University. and i'm claiming that this economic base of the University is directly affecting the writing classroom. furthermore, i'm claiming that composition studies/theory may still be in complicit in this relationship--even after various arguments and pedagogical theories said to have moved away from it. but my problem lies with the specificity of University as economic base. i mean is the University only one formation that is shaping subjectivity in the writing classroom? i guess that ultimately that is a key question for me. and now i'm stuck. damn. i mean, yes, i want to argue yes, but i guess i have to work on the answer--beyond yes.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

the apprentice

The season--The Apprentice's third season--I began watching the Donald Trump "reality" show. I started watching because the concept had changed from gendered team division to division based on education (it is not street smarts versus book smarts)--and this idea very much interested me (for various reasons). Anyway, I've seen two episodes, and I find myself getting very much irritated by this show founded on the greatness of capitalism. On Thursday night, the winning team (book smarts this week) got to go for dinner on Steve Forbes' yacht--a boat bigger than most (if not all) of their homes. As they floated past the statue of liberty, the wind blew through their hair, the lights around them twinkled, and some of the contestants were nearly moved to tears. Here, they said, was a man whose passion was the American Dream. Here, they said, was a man who knew better than anybody the tenets that this country was founded on. As, he flew away in his private helicopter, the contestants wished to have one of their own one day. This, they told viewers, is the embodiment of what this country means. I want to throw up and scream and pull out my hair, and yet, I'll watch again next week. And though, I resist it (mentally and maybe even in writing), I still contribute to its ratings. And even though I read their vision of the "American Dream" as a sham, I am still sucked into the drama of the show.

the transfomative comma

So the other day (Wednesday) a number of us from the department are having lunch. We were talking about the teaching of writing. After reading Susan Miller's book (Textual Carnivals) and John Schilb's article "Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, and Composition," it was interesting to see the way that even the most well-meaning and progressive of instructors/professors continue to view (inadvertently I hope) composition as a service course--as Schilb puts it "a plodding servant of other disciplines" (apparently--according to this lunch conversation--also as a servant to the English Studies). Composition is often seen as doing its best job when it focuses on basic writing skills. It's interesting because I know that these same professors see the classroom as an inherently political space, and yet when they lament the fact that their students can't write they say things like: "Why don't they know how to write? They don't know MLA or proper sentence structure. We should have a required composition class to teach them how to write. What am I supposed to do teach them to write in the middle of a literature class?" The implications in these statements are numerous: Certainly it is implied that skills-and-drills should be the focus of the composition classroom so that literature instructors don't have to "waste their time" with such things. It seems as though the implication could be that literature teaches will cover the politics, the exploration, the "enlightenment" of their students. They will take care of opening student eyes (so to speak), while writing teachers simply prepare students for those more intellectually rigorous tasks. And yet, I'm sure these same professors if and when assigned to teach writing make it into the political and contextual/politically contextual task that it is. I'm sure these instructors, when teaching writing, would want to/need to stress the interrelations of discourse, culture, and society. Because what is also being overlooked in these statements is their root(s). Where does this push for "knowing how to write come from"? What does it mean to produce students who "know how to write"? And within what kind of system is this particular production of students overwhelmingly helpful? We are producing students en masse as workers for capitalism. They will be easy to train and efficient producers because they know how to write. They may not know who to think, but they'll know how to write--perfect. In terms of the University--"sales" will look good as student consumers (and their parents) can purchase necessary skills in order that they can enter the workplace.

BUT, then during the lunch coversation, Helen brought to the table this wonderfully subversive idea--a semester-long course on the comma!!! In Fiske's book Understanding Popular Culture I've been reading about the ways that resistance always embodies the thing that it is resisting, and the comma course seems a marvelous example of this. Present a study of slowness, deliberate close-reading, a study of politics through language-use, an examination of society through the use of punctuation--present this in the "disguise" of a back-to-basics skill course. I love it! It's brilliant. This could be just the thing that composition needs. I can also envision arguments against this idea of resistance as manifesting the thing it is resisting, but we need to pay close attention to the way that capitalism tends to subsume resistance for its own purposes. Consumer capitalism appropriates the things that tried to be antifoundationalist. And so it is possible that donning a similar "disguise" to the one that capitalism wears, we may be able to avoid that within this example of a semester-long comma study.

While thinking about all of this today at Uncommon Grounds, I was looking around at the artwork adorning the walls. The contemporary pieces sported images of men in suits placed against funky, slightly psychedelic backgrounds. On the pieces, overlapping with the images, were words: "My mom's proud of my corporate merger" and "Capitalism is contagious--catch the fever." And I had to wonder whether these pieces were subversive or were they just art. By this I mean that "As Peter Burger observes, 'If an artist today signs a stove pipe and exhibits it, theat artist certainly does not denounce the art market but adapts to it....since nwo the protest of the historical avant-garde against art as institution is accepted as art.'" If, in teaching writing, we can circumvent the avant garde, but supposedly going "back-to-basic," maybe we can avoid corporate appropriation. Maybe?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

subject, space, and specificity

I feel soooo tired right now--still recovering from yesterday, and I must leave for campus shortly, but I just want to try to force myself to flesh out some ideas (which I probably won't be able to, but...).

In John Schilb's essay "Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, and Composition" he writes that theorists in both cultural studies and postmodernism stress that "discourse operates i particular conjunctures: in other words, that specific discourses specifically affect specific people at specific times in specific places." I know that this idea alone could be debated, but for the purposes of my cultural studies project, I want to attempt to fill in the "specifics" w/ regard to composition in order to better see what specifics I still need to explore: The specific discourse is academic discourse (or I might get even more specific and say the academic discourse as found in the community of a writing classroom--or something to that effect). The specific people are the students in the time and place of a corporate university setting.

"In criticizing Jameson, Spivak calls for attempts to "specify the postmodern space-specific subject production." Is my project my attempt at doing this I wonder.... The writing classroom housed within the contemporary university producing student subjects.

Many days I just want to avoid dealing with all the PoMo arguments. I mean if NOBODY even knows what it is/what it means, how can little old me deal with it?

And yesterday things just got worse after talking with Mark about this death of the subject, which I know nothing about. If the subject is dead, then who or what am I dealing with in this writing classroom?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

old news in the field of composition studies

In my head I am trying so hard to make all of this (the cultural studies and the composition studies) come together, but it's not. I figured it would be easier in writing. Not really. Maybe if I don't write in a way that makes sense. Maybe if I write messy it'll clean it self up--magically.

As Susan Miller addresses in Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition, there are really two things going on here: 1) the status of composition classes and studies within English departments--that is, marginalized, subordinate, "the women in the basement" (as Miller describes it) and 2) the subjectivity of the student subject in the writing classroom--that is univocal, self-contained, writing intransitively ("as, to, and about nothing in particular"). The two, of course, clearly reflect each other. Miller writes, "What is needed additionally is the articulation and critique already suggested, disclosing connections between specific social and textual superstructures and highlighting how writing situations construct their participant writers before, during, an after they undertake any piece of writing" (198). So I want to look at these "social and textual superstructures"--the social superstructures I see as #1 listed above--the context of the writing classroom as situated within the department AND the larger context of the contemporary University--a University I eventually hope to argue as corporatized (in more ways than one). What are the textual superstructures? Maybe the relationship between (academic--in this particular instance) discourse and power?

I suppose that it is in these instances that I see cultural studies as--not necessarily saving the day--but being helpful and relevant to pedagogy/theory within composition studies. (This isn't what I thought I was setting out to do--which was to look at compositions (mis)appropriation of cultural studies and the ways in which composition studies perpetuates academic capital. I suppose the latter part still fits into what I'm addressing here, but the first part seems to say that composition studies hasn't appropriated cultural studies enough .

A bigger gap: A bigger split seems to exist between Miller's take on the subordinated role of composition studies and arguments that John Fiske (and others) make about the role of subordinated positions within society. (Or on second thought--maybe they are both saying the same thing. I'm not sure right now). Fiske's exploration of cultural studies, in his book Understanding Popular Culture, focuses a lot on the power of subordinated groups. He writes, "A text that is to be made into popular culture must, then, contain both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them, the opportunities to oppose or evade them from subordinated, but not totally disempowered, positions" (25). In the case of compositition we have two supposedly subordinated positions--the student and the field/discipline (I have to use field and discipline interchangeably for now). Sooooo....let's see: If I understand Miller's argument(s) correctly she is holding composition teachers accountable for perpetuating the "negative myth" about composition's "low" status in English departments "by assuming as assigned self-sacrificial cultural identity." To move out of this "by precisely acknowledging how it is a culturally designated place for political action" (186). Okay, so I guess she is implementing a kind-of cultural studies framework in this way. She and Fiske are on the same page so to speak. Ultimately, it seems, she is arguing for an active politicization of composition both inside and outside the classroom w/ the one reflecting and influcencing the other. And yet, I feel, this is kind of old news. I believe composition has made moves to become increasingly politicized (here is where critique needs to come in). Ah, I'm getting nowhere new with this. I could cry.... "An actually improved status depends on openly consolidating the field's internal, existing resistances to the cultural superstructure that first defined it" (186). But what are these "resistances" Miller speaks of? And we must take into account Fiske's idea that resistance must embody the thing that it is resisting. So what does this look like in terms of composition and the writing classroom? I feel so dumb. The answer is already out there. Well, first of all, the composition classroom has always been the sight for "civilizing" incoming students, initiating them into the world(s) of academic discourse(s), and "regulating otherwise questionable, nontraditional entrants to the academy" (187). So here we're (back to) using writing for social change, using writing to subvert some corporate University dominant paradigm, but again, this is old news. I need to be coming up with the new news here. And I'm failing terribly.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

marxism and lack of guarantees--manipulating language

In looking back a couple of posts, I have this total "duh!" moment: I still need to read Marx as a primary text in order to answer my questions re: Larrain and Hall's readings of Marx. *rolls eyes*

I left off on Hall's use of more recent theorists/theories in relation to Marxism. In this regard Hall tends to address theories of language and discourse. This depends on language as the vehicle for ideology. Language is not fixed; it is multi-referential. Hall argues that this is implicit in Marx's beliefs about market exchange--"It would be distinctly odd if there were no category allowing us to think, speak, and act in relation to it." Hall believes that the two approaches to understanding theory (discursive versus...what is the other approach called? materialist???) are not necessarily contradictory, as the latter could be said to be about displacing the discourse of the bourgeois political economy and to replace it with a discourse that fits into the Marxist schema.

I think that Hall goes on to argue for this discursive approach because he feels it "means that our grasp is concrete and whole, rather than a thin, one-sided abstraction." He says this because "the economic relations themselves cannot prescribe a single, fixed and unalterable way of concpetualizing it"--it being the market. The market, he argues, can be "'expressed' within different ideological discourses. And while I tend to agree with him, I feel as though his argument is a bit flimsy in that it is kind of an illusion itself--a slight of hand. He takes issue with Marx's use of the terms "real" and "false," arguing that it is misleading in an all-or-nothing way between True and False, and yet he doensn't support Marx's use of them in such a way. How to say Marx didn't allow for the variations of meaning in "true"/"false" (i.e. "partial" and "adequate") that Hall argues for?

Hall follows this by dismantling the idea of ruling ideas as being those of the ruling class. He does this by referencing Laclau's work, which claims that classes are not the subjects of fixed and ascribed class ideologies. Laclau also argued that particular ideas and concepts do not belong exclusively to one particular class. This argument is also built of ideas of language and discourse. Again, returning to the idea of langauge as fluid and "multi-accentual," language is constantly intersecting variously oriented social classes. Volosinov argues, "Sign becomes the arena of the class struggle." Hall writes, "This approach replaces the notion of fixed ideological meanings and class-ascribed ideologies witht he concepts of ideological terrains of struggle and the task of ideological transformation." But Hall also tries to hold onto the problem of the class structuring of ideology (he doesn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water and seems careful not to do this). And he achieves this by drawing on Gramsci who argued that "ideological struggle does not take place by displacing one whole, integral, class-mode of though with another wholly-formed system of ideas." Hall writes:
Certainly it is not a form of vulgar materialism to say that, though we cannot ascirbe dieas to class position in certain fixed combinations, ideas do arise from and may reflect the material conditions in which social groups and classes exist.
I like this take, though I do see that it relies entirely upon the arguments of Laclau, which can also be argued against. Hall sticks with Gramsci in his reading of Marx's relationship between ruling ideas/ruling classes by writing that this relationship is best understood through Gramsci's concept of hegemonic domination, which Hall makes clear is about the process of attaining that domination. This historical bloc which has acquired power is the object of the exercise.
Hall closes "The problem if ideology: marxism without guarantees" by stating what the economic cannot do:
  • provide the contents of the particular thoughts of particular social classes or groups at a specific time
  • fix or guarantee for all of time which ideas will be made use of by which classes
  • effect an final closure on the domain of ideology
  • cannot secure correspondences between particular classes according to their place within a system

In the end he puts it this way: It would be preferable to think of "materialism" through determination by the economic in the first instance (as opposed to the last). Again, I like this idea and its escape from the reductionism and determinism of an orthodox Marxist perspective.

24 hours each day

is not enough for me. I feel as though I should be reading every waking moment, as that is what Alisa did. And yet, as part of my project, my work, my research, and my own sanity I feel the need to study the culture to which I refer when I say I'm doing working in "cultural studies." I can't "do" cultural studies without paying attention to the culture. And yet I can't keep up. Not enough time to take in both independent media and mainstream media. I need to pay attention to lefty pop culture, as well as Mtv and VH1. And sometimes my brain just gets tired from reading everything I see. Sometimes I just want to turn off, be passive, let it all wash over me without judging and analyzing. I don't read sports, so there is one refuge, but while I like football, it is not my most favorite of seasons. And if I'm not careful, I could easily start reading athletics as well. But I suppose that is enough complaining for one day. Ultimately though my exam reading suffers.