Monday, July 24, 2006

quote of the day

This is my favorite quote that I read today. Taken from "The Writing Class" by John Carlos Rowe.

The rhetorical power of postmodern capitalism is its capacity to translate its products into different discursive registers and achieve even a limited proliferation that opens markets for yet other acts of representation. In this context, the traditionally defined proletariat is defined less by the theft of its physical power [ala traditional Marxism]—labor power per se—than by its exclusion from the diverse media through which the economy produces its effects. The primary basis for formulating class interests and articulating class consciousness would thus have to begin with redefining what we mean by rights to the mass media and the technologies they embody. Such rights or competencies would have to be understood today as the political and economic refunctioning of the narrowly educational rights to cultural literacy.

I love the way Rowe manages to pack into one powerful punch—the debate around cultural literacy, the debate over theories of class, a reformulation of class theories, and a critique of mass/corporate media control. Rather than simply falling into the trap of seeing cultural literacy issues as purely social issues, Rowe ties them to the economic.

Today I ended up getting wrapped up in this article, and while I had difficulty getting through it, ended up taking almost three pages of notes. I didn't get to the other two scheduled article/essay. And I have to get ready for tonight's tennis match. Hopefully I'll have enough energy when I get home to cover the Bizzell piece.

debate: student blogging: proprietary vs. open/free

On Wednesday I attended a workshop at the institution where I will be employed full-time this coming year. The workshop was a Blackboardtraining, focused specifically on some new additions that CSR has purchased for this software (though these additions were purchased from a different company—Learning Optics (?)): “journals” and “team sites.” “Team sites” are supposed to be the equivalent of wikis, and “journals” are supposed to emulate blogs.

While I am philosophically opposed to using proprietary software, I have been using Blackboard and WebCT over the past few semesters, because with teaching four courses/semester and working toward exams, I had little time to construct an alternative. This coming semester I want to begin having students blog and assumed I would use wordpress or blogger for this purpose, but thought I should check out this workshop anyway. Unfortunately, the lure of using Blackboard is strong once again—the “journals” option is so eeeaasyyy. There is very little “set-up” time involved. No teaching students how to use RSS feeds in order to easily read each other’s blogs. Etc.

Here is what I am wondering/thinking about: If the students don’t know the difference between keeping their blogs on blogger versus keeping their “journals” on blackboard, does it really make a difference in terms of where they keep them? The way this question is worded is kind of a cop-out—a kind of “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” concept. I guess the more important question should then be—do we make explicit our choice and explain the difference to them?

Overall, I believe all of this sounds a bit weak on my part—like I am trying to rationalize the easier route. I’m not. I just want to know a bit more about how or if we should involve—in a pedagogical way—the debate around proprietary vs. open source/free source/open knowledge. And also to get the views of others on the differences between using University sanctioned (but closed/privatized) software and other open/free versions.

In other news...
Yesterday: did 31.3 miles on the bike--Lake George, NY

Saturday, July 22, 2006

plan of study--two more weeks

Week Three 7.24 – 7.30

Monday 7.24
France, Alan “Assigning Places: The Function of Introductory Composition as Cultural Discourse”
Rowe, John Carlos “The Writing Class” from Politics, Theory, and Contemporary Culture ed. Mark Poster
Bizzell, Patricia “Marxist Ideas in Composition Studies”
(also finish notes on Judith Goleman’s Work Theory)

Tuesday 7.
Crowley, Sharon Composition in the University

Wednesday 7.26
Ohmann, Richard The Politics of Letters

Thursday 7.27
Grossberg, Lawrence “Formations of Cultural Studies”
Althusser, Louis “Ideology and Ideological State Apparastuses”
Adorno, Theodor “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”

Friday 7.28
Williams, Raymond Marxism and Literature

**Saturday = catch-up, catch-all day—finishing notes, organizing lists, etc.
also, go see alix olson at the Hooker-Dunham Theater in Brattleboro, VT
**Sunday hit my old stomping grounds--The Brattleboro Food Coop on our way back home…. And back to work.

Week Four 7.31 – 8.6

Monday 7.31
Marx: Capital

Tuesday 8.1
Marx: German Ideology

Wednesday 8.2
Eagleton day
“Base and Superstructure Revisited”
“The Contradictions of Postmodernism”
“The Rise of English”

Thursday 8.3
Jameson, Fredric “On ‘Cultural Studies’” from Social Text no. 34 (1993)
--- “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”
Williams, Raymond “The Future of Cultural Studies”

Friday 8.4
Morley, et. al Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues….

**daily goal of 2-3 pages single spaced summary and integration of other notes, blog entries, etc.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

brief update

Stayed at parents' house an extra day--so difficult to leave the water in a heat wave--so I've really thrown myself off in terms of my study schedule.

Yesterday after traveling back home, I did twelve miles on the bike.

Today I will devote myself to Amy Lee's Composing Critical Pedagogies. Plus at some point I'd like to read the latest College English cover to cover.

Oh...and I thought that while I was visiting the 'rents, I would be able to finish House of Leaves. No such luck. I still have to read it in spurts, which is not ideal for this particular novel, but regardless, it really messes with a person. I swear the book writes itself while I'm sleeping or something.

Friday, July 14, 2006

call for a critical critical pedagogy

As Berlin argues in Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures, no category of investigation can ever “be given an unquestioned first place in analysis” (76). Here he is borrowing from Teresa Ebert’s idea of “resistance postmodernism”—meaning that even modes of investigation (and my interest is primarily those of composition pedagogies) need to realize their situatedness; that their methods are never transhistorical/universal, but historically specific. My fear for much of composition theory/pedagogy is disciplinary/intellectual stasis. It is not enough just to examine and offer critique, which is what, I contend, too much of cultural studies and critical pedagogy does, but instead it is necessary “to inquire into the power relations requiring such suppression” in the first place” (Ebert qtd. in Berlin 75). In this instance Ebert is referring the suppression caused by/created by hierarchy and binaries (the focus of much postmodern inquiry), but I believe this can be extended to the work that cultural studies and critical pedagogy attempt to do when in their “unveiling” mode—the uncovering of social injustice. The goals of critical pedagogy are, according to Amy Lee, to do this kind of rewriting that Ebert points to in her rendition of “resistant postmodernism.” Lee writes, “Critical pedagogy does not propose that we tell students about democratic possibilities or espouse radical empowerment. Rather, it proposes that we work toward these goals with our students, reflecting on and working to alter the conditions that impede them” (106). This is also what Ebert insists “resistant postmodernism” can do—work for “equal access for all to social resources and for an end to the explitative exercise of power” (75). But too often, I’ve found, cultural studies and critical pedagogy get caught up in mere ideology critique; thereby inadvertently (I believe) avoiding the conditions of the historical moment. Because I believe that the University as TNC would certainly impede both “democratic possibilities” and “radical empowerment,” I hold critical pedagogy, particularly that critical pedagogy of the writing classroom, as responsible to and as in need of responding to the bureaucratic University that Readings lays out for us. And instead critical pedagogy, with its explicit reference to the act of critique and/or critical thinking and/or analysis, ends up adding to the vocabulary that is, what I describe as the “vocabulary of ‘excellence.’” That is, “critical,” has become empty in much the same way that Readings has described “excellence” as empty—lacking a referent or signified. “Critical” and “excellence” are both terms we, particularly in academia, assume to be uncontestable ground. But “excellence” is the language of accounting, which is the language of businesses and corporations—pointing to critical pedagogy’s complicity in the University in “ruins.”

But all of this also points to the ability of critical pedagogy and cultural studies to help us read and respond to the “ruins.” As Berlin puts it, “resistance is always possible, since the contradiction between signified and signifier…continually provoke opposition to hegemonic ideologies” (75). It is this continual opposition that we can see as a possibility for Readings’ idea of the open-ended dialogue and community of dissensus. For example we have our signifiers—“excellence” and “critical” let’s say—and then we have the actual conditions of the University as corporatized—and possibly in the conflict and struggle between these signifiers and the actuality of the University’s contemporary situation we can create the resistance to excellence that Readings so strongly calls for.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


In going over all of these Berlin texts for the past few days it is interesting to note that while I often feel resistant to reviewing the history of English Studies, rhtetoric, composition, and their relationships (because I feel like I'm missing out on the pulse of what is currently happening), it is so important (and often scary) to remember the ways in which history repeats itself in our field. Frightening to note the lack of change in attitudes and the debates.

i hate disclaimers

So I’ve spent a day and half (yesterday and today) getting off track/schedule. Yesterday I hardly made a dent in the coverage of Cultural Studies in the English Classroom that I wanted to accomplish. I did spend a lot of time reading blogs and writing. The night before, I had sat up reading my new book, and in it she talks a lot about simply accumulating pages (much in the vein of freewriting); she encourages a lot of writing in order to think and putting down on paper (or screen) every glimmer of an idea. These are all things I know, of course, but sometimes reading a book like this is like giving yourself permission to actually do these things. My committee members have also given me this advice/permission, but it seems that for much of this experience I’ve remained paralyzed by the thought of writing.

I also know that many of the blogs I read are comprised of seemingly well thought-out and carefully constructed entries containing bits and pieces of that particular writer’s project, and maybe that will come, as I’m further along in my own process and have accumulated all of these pages of text that Bolker talks about, but for the moment, yes, this is my disclaimer; this is that start of glimmering ideas and following them no matter how seemingly silly and/or irrelevant; and this is what I thought about yesterday:

At this point much of the argument that I want to be making about cultural studies and critical pedagogy (within composition studies) is, that even with their Marxist roots, they seem primarily interested in ideology critique (the idea of “unveiling”) as opposed to focusing on the present conditions of the corporate University within which they are working. But what does the classroom in ruins—the classroom that acknowledges those ruins—actually look like? What does it mean to have a classroom that creates present value in writing? Maybe it is that the text is no longer a reader or writing handbook, but the campus and its policies—the construction of the campus itself—or a study of NAFTA, or of corporations and their increasingly trans-national tendencies. I’m just not sure…. Does picking some sort of social investigation equate to a cultural studies approach? But what about giving that investigation value in the present? This seems to be the point at which publishing student texts comes into play, but that also has its own ties to capitalism and the system that is the corporate University. Another aspect of acknowledging the “ruins” would be to work toward changing the immediately oppressive circumstances within which we work and teach: “such as the way part-time faculty and students are successfully silenced within our own departments” (CS in Eng Class 21).

I also have this idea that creating a composition classroom in keeping with a Marxist/materialist philosophy would be to have (harken back to) a current-traditional approach (and this is not a positive/answer). Here are some similiarities between Marxist though and current-traditional rhetoric:

  • the “real” is located in the material world and truth exists prior to language
  • rhetoric as science
  • truth is to be discovered through “correct” perception, through an objective examination of the material world

Here really is the problem with notions of Marxism within rhet/comp theories: Current-traditional rhetoric does seem to share these philosophies with Marxism, but of course the outcome, as Berlin tells it in Rhetoric and Reality is that “the doctors or lawyers or engineers or business managers—having been certified as experts, as trained observers, in their disciplines—felt they were surely correct in discovering that economic and political arrangements that benefited them were indeed in the nature of things” (37). Then we have the expressivist rhetoric, which could potentially be looked at as resisting the corporate structure of higher education, but which ultimately is complicit in it through its focus on “rugged individualism,” autonomy, and the private. These are two of the approaches to writing that have withstood the test of time and are the basis for much of what is thought within composition studies even today. Though there have been the alternatives: social/poststructuralist/rhetoric of pubic discourse, cultural studies, and critical pedagogy. These alternatives have come along to say—hey, what about the cultural and the social, and with CS and CP’s ties to Marxism, I expect them to say—hey, what about the economic? Only, they often fail to acknowledge the most immediate economic structure within which they are located, and that is the corporate University.

The similarities too between the social constructionist/poststructuralist/rhet of public discourse that Berlin describes in Rhetoric and Reality and his definition of cultural studies in Cultural Studies in the English Classroom are also striking:

  • preparation of students for participation in the democratic process
  • “While social reality is bound by the material, it is everywhere immersed in language…. [Reality] is the result of the interaction between the experience of the external world and what the perceiver brings to this experience” (R&R 47).
  • While subjectivity is understood differently than this (last bullet) within CS (where the subject is comprised of multiple constructions shaped by myriad signifying practices), CS is described as the “study of the ways social formations and practices are involved in the shaping of consciousness, and this shaping is seen to be mediated by language and situated in concrete historical conditions. Signifying practices then intercede in the relations among material conditions, social arrangements, and the formation of consciousness” (CS in English Classroom ix).

So ultimately the social turn of the 80s with its poststructuralist bent (e.g. Bartholomae, Bizzell) is entirely relevant to the social turn that can be described through the rise of cultural studies and critical pedagogy. Yes, CS may use the vocabulary of Marxism, but it has a particularly poststructuralist slant, which might be part of why it has been taken on by composition studies (and probably also explains why I am drawn to studying/working with it).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Today I came up slightly short of my goals; yesterday I was right on:

--three articles
--three pages single spaced notes/musings
--tennis match

--3/4 of Rhetoric and Reality
--1 1/4 pages of notes
--threw frisbee ("disc") for about an hour

I am leaving Friday morning open as a kind of "catch-up"/"catch-all" time.

For my birthday I received a Barnes & Noble gift certificate (online purchases only) from two of my friends. I went ahead and purchased myself a copy of Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, as recommended by culture cat, who gives a number of helpful tips for the dissertation writing process.

TVland: Very, very excited tomorrow kicks off Project Runway

reading/study schedule

I've set up a two week schedule of readings/texts for my comps. I guess this week is Berlin week...

Week One 7.10 – 7.16

Monday 7.10
Bartholomae Day
“Inventing the U”
“Writing with Teachers…”

Tuesday 7.11
Berlin, James Rhetoric/Reality

Wednesday 7.12
Berlin, James CS in English Classroom

Thursday 7.13
Berlin, James Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures

**go home for mom’s b-day Fri.-Sun.

Week Two 7.17 – 7.23

Monday 7.17
Lee, Amy Composing Critical Pedagogies

Tuesday 7.18
Durst, Russell Collision Course….

Wednesday 7.19
Fitts and France Left Margins….

Thursday 7.20
Crowley, Sharon Composition in the University

Friday 7.21
Greenbaum, Andrea. Insurrections

Saturday 7.22
Hardin, Joe Marshall Critical Pedagogy and Resistance Theory in Composition

Sunday 7.23: bike ride

**daily goal of 2-3 pages single spaced summary and integration of other notes, blog entries, etc.

So far it is proving more difficult than the way I had romanticized it. This is actually the first time--since I began studying for exams (a long, long time ago)--that I've had a block of time when I'm not teaching and able to dedicate myself completely to my research/exam/diss project.

I find that I start each text with a burst of energy, taking copious notes, finding a good amount of useful (relevant to my work) information to highlight, think about, comment upon. And then, I am not sure if it is me...or just every text I have on my reading lists, but about half way through, I am completely uninterested and/or lost and/or falling asleep. This happens much too often with my reading, and I have way too many half read texts lying around my home. I am not sure if it is simply burn-out, or is it that most texts of this kind are strongest in their first and last quarter?

In other news, I’ve taken up Ultimate Frisbee…or, rather, Ultimate, as those true Ultimate players call it. I’ve been biking, playing tennis and Ultimate, and lifting quite a bit. My “down days” are spent mowing the lawn, gardening, etc. I hope to keep this up and avoid running all together.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

no phone, no computer

I just spent a glorious four days disconnected. We were in Provincetown--biking, dancing, ocean swimming, football throwing, walking, people watching, Spiritus Pizza eating, etc.. At the bottom of the street that our B&B was on is the Wired Puppy-- Ptown's free wifi coffee shop. When I'd go in for my "hair of the dog" coffee, the thought crossed my mind to check my email, but I was able to resist. It felt amazing.

Now I'm back. The garden is monstrous. Pics to follow.... Looking at the garden, it is hard to believe that it was only four days.

I'm back to work now too. The piles of student writing are monstrous. My goal though is to get through the grading by Monday, and then embark on a whirlwind study schedule for the next two months. I will post a weekly schedule/reading list--"public" accountability might do me some good. I will also use DevonThink to get myself outlined by academHacK.

I've just been informed that my blog does not format properly in Internet Explorer for PC. I apologize for those of you using such a browser. I really don't know how to correct the moment...but I'll work on figuring that out. Though I am slightly amused and entertained to realize that I've never opened up a Internet Explorer PC window in order to come to this realization myself.