On Sirc, Reaching for the Serial and the Pithy

For today's Expository Writing class we read Sirc's 2010 essay "Serial Composition," which asks why writing instruction has remained tied to the same form for the past 150 years. Sirc imagines whether writing instruction could have followed architecture, painting, sculpture, and music--the other compository arts--and embraced minimalist methods. The move offered by Sirc reminds me of Ulmer's move toward "Haiku Logic" in Internet Invention.

Inspired by Sirc's essay, and its reach for the pithy, I gave my students the following prompt:

In five sentences (serially arranged, rather than sequentially) tell us about how a place (or building) generated an epiphany, thought, question, or change.

Please refrain from using conjunctions. You many use no more than 2 commas.

I don't assign assignments that I have not tried myself, so here goes:

A machine beeps in the background, administering medicine to my one-year old daughter.

A nurse carries a tray with vacuum packed sandwiches and generic potato chips.

Outside, wafts of cheap pizza carry me toward the concession stand.

Her crying never sounded so real, so reassuring, so necessary.

We merge onto Alligator Alley for another long ride home.

The students reflected that this kind of writing ends up producing something more like poetry (and, hey, I'm a pretty bad poet). This, I believe, is one of Sirc's points--to ask why writing instruction has remained committed to utility, to the "properly subordinated, proportioned, and progressive sequence," instead of imagining and developing how to write otherwise.


Expository Writing, Postpedagogy, Summer 2013

This summer I find myself teaching another section of Expository Writing, an upper-division writing course and graduation requirement. For the past few years I have taught the course in a fairly eccentric way, one that matches up with my proclivities for postpedagogy. Students choose a topic in which they have a personal investment and read and write about that topic for the entirety of the course.

This semester, spurred a bit by boredom and a bit by fresh research interests, I decided to add in a wrinkle. In addition to their topics, students would write in-class on some assign readings. These readings all deal with the history of the essay, and on whether it is a viable form for digital writing. We read a short piece (perhaps a list of which will follow) and craft responses. We started with Christy Walpole's "The Essayification of Everything." That essay led me to Montaigne's "On the Education of Children," and my students first in-class writing prompt: to craft a post that uses Montaigne as a relay for thinking through the idea of "On Writing."

I appreciated Walpole's characterization of Montaigne (who she contrasts with Bacon) because of her emphasis on how his trepidatious style can be used as an ethic for life--an ethic that shares much with my interest in Levinas and his ethical prioritization of the other. So I approached his essay on education with enthusiasm.

While the name "Montaigne" resonated on the back of my memory, I couldn't remember reading anything of his. I was happily surprised to find my favorite quote from Cicero near the start of his essay:

The authority of those who teach, is very often an impediment to
those who desire to learn.

Postpedagogy in a nutshell. I also appreciated Montaigne's analogy between learning and eating--that the brain of the student resembles her stomach. Both must be given time to digest. Both should avoid regurgitation.


Latour and "Delegation"

I'm researching Latour's views on Christianity for a revise and resubmit and came along this passage near the end of We Have Never Been Modern. I don't know how many times I have read this book, but I never recognized the simple and elegant significance of this passage:

I call this transcendence that lacks a contrary 'delegation.' The utterance, or the delegation, or the sending of a message or a messenger, makes it possible to remain in presence - that is, to exist. When we abandon the modern world, we do not fall upon someone or something, we do not land on an essence, but on a process, on a movement, a passage- literally a pass, in the sense of the term as used in ball games. We start from a continuous and hazardous existence - continuous because it is hazardous- and not from an essence; we start from a presenting, and not from permanence. ( WHNBM 129)

In Pandora's Hope, Latour will amplify this conclusion, stressing that something is only as real as its connections to other entities in a network (and Harman emphasizes this metaphysical postulate in Prince of Networks). It reminds me of Levinas, and Levinas's insistence that existence does not begin from essence but rather from a relation to the Other. The difference here is that Latour's metaphysics is interested in material relations, while Levinas's metaphysics involve the enigmatic relation to transcendental alterity. But both forbid a sense of security or positivity, and I like that.


CCCC's Recap #1: Expanding Rhetorical Publics: the Zoo, the Cemetery, and the Chapel"

While at CCCC's, I had the pleasure of attending Steven Mailloux, D. Diane Davis, and Michelle Ballif's panel "Expanding Rhetorical Publics: the Zoo, the Cemetery, and the Chapel."

Mailloux's talk "Human Acts, Divine Publics" wonders whether it is possible to imagine how a human might share a rhetorical relation with the divine (rhetorical, here, stipulating the potential for a two-way relationship). To me, the most engaging part of his talk concerned his discussion of the role of pathos in Heidegger, that, via Heidegger's reading of Aristotle in "Existential Constitution of the There" in Being in Time, the first work of rhetoric isn't necessarily identification (ethos), but rather the establishment of a mood (pathos); an affective register from which we can share a world.

Davis's talk "Human Acts, Animal Publics" challenges the Cartesian distinction that self-referentiality, in the form of autobiography, distinguishes the Human. Besides the fact that science increasingly acknowledges the self-referential capabilities of other species (an aside she makes in her conclusion), poststructuralist conceptions of language reveal we are never in command of our own self-image, but always in the process of chasing "the animal that therefore I am." This line of thought isn't primarily intended to achieve animal rights (which would simply lead to another conversation and drawing of lines--which animals? etc.). Nor is it a matter of eliminating the desire to draw lines (echoing Derrida's distinction between the necessity of human laws and our obligation to honor the absolute Law of hospitality). It is a matter of drawing so many lines that the act of line drawing diminishes Humanism's power to cause epistemological and material violence.

Ballif's talk "Human Acts, Dead Publics" explores how we might derive a post humanist rhetoric and ethics from the figure of the vampire. Working from Derrida's claim that we learn to live, finally, not from life but from death. First, like Davis, she urges us to let go of the chimera of representation and strain to listen to our spectral borders, unsure of the certainty of ourselves and our ears. Furthermore, she strives to make us recognize how much our conception of ourselves is tied to the horizons of our being, to death and the beyond. Finally, Ballif advocates that learning to live finally is an ethical move that necessitates stepping to and beyond the impossible border between life and death.


Red Sox Hot Stove Season

After last year's disappointment, I guess it is not too surprising the Red Sox have had such an active off-season. My biggest fear after 2012 was that the Sox would aggressively overpay for free agents after the Dodgers trade out of a sense of obligation to immediately re-stock. There wasn't really a marquee player available this off-season--Hamilton might have been the best player, and he came with big question marks. Greinke might have been the best player, but there were questions as to how he would perform in Boston's insane media market.

While the Sox haven't given out a mega-contract, they have signed quite a few players to mid-level deals. Here's my rundown in order of appreciation from best to worst.

Joel Hanrahan- A strong acquisition, since the Sox didn't give up a top prospect to acquire their new closer. It will be interesting to see if they can close a deal to keep him, since he is scheduled to become a free agent after 2013.

Ryan Dempster- A two-year deal for a productive middle of the rotation guy. He doesn't quite replace Josh Beckett, even if he takes his place in the rotation. The real question here is whether Dempster can stay healthy at age 35, but he hasn't missed more than a handful of starts since becoming a starter in 2008.

Stephen Drew- There's not much to dislike about this deal. Drew gets a one-year deal for a tolerable 9.5 million. It gives the Sox time for Xander Bogaerts, their current uber-prospect, to mature in double AA. Drew has always played solid defense and is a productive line drive hitter, even if his plate discipline leaves something to be desired.

Mike Napoli- The real question for me is "where will Napoli play?" I must admit, I am not a terribly big fan of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's ability to call a game; I don't think it a coincidence that the pitching staff's ERA went up over a whole run in his first year as the full-time catcher without Jason Varitek around to mentor him (of course, there were other coaching issues with this team last year, too). John Farrell is outstanding at handling pitchers, especially these pitchers, and so perhaps he can improve Salty's game. That said, Salty is still a part of this team, so does that mean that Napoli's primary position will be at first base? His offense numbers are strong for a catcher (.275/.379/.552 over the last two years with Texas), but only mediocre for a first baseman. Still, it looks like the everyday job at first will be his for the next three years (unless Salty gets traded or Papi retires).

Koji Uehara- Uehara's been a solid short reliever for the past 4 years. But he's 38 with a recent history of injury. Hence, a safe one-year deal for just over 4 million. Nothing not to like about this one.

David Ross- With the departure of Shoppach, the Sox needed a back up catcher. Check.

Jonny Gomes- What have we done to deserve this? I don't understand. Gomes isn't a quality fielder. Since turning 30 he's put up a line of .234/.349/.437. He's a strike out machine. Sure, he's got a bit of home run power and the outfield market is pretty weak this off-season. But a 2 year deal? Really? This just makes the Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey trade look even worse. The worst part--with Ross leaving, he might actually start.

Shane Victorino- O.k., the Gomes acquisition is aggravating. This one is infuriating. The Sox give a player clearly past his prime a 3 year, 39 million dollar contract. Ugh. What is worse: this contract ensures that Ellsbury will be playing his final season in Boston.

Ultimately, I don't think these moves are as critical to the 2013 campaign as the potential resurgence of their established players. John Lester and Clay Buchholz need to demonstrate that last year was an aberration if the Sox are to have any chance of competing. Farrell's hiring should help with this. It would also be help if David Ortiz can rediscover the fountain of youth that returned him to MVP form last season. Perhaps he can share it with his teammates.


Spring Book Order

As we put another semester in the books, its time to place the book orders for the Spring. Here's what I have on order:

Rhetoric and Gaming

  • Bogost, Persuasive Games
  • McGonigal, Reality is Broken
  • Fille and Platten, The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design

Visual Rhetoric

  • Golombisky, White Space is Not Your Enemy
  • Stockman, How to Shoot Web Video that Doesn't Suck
  • Williams & Tollett, The Non-Designer's Photoshop Book
  • Adobe InDesign CS5 Classroom in a Book

The Rhetoric and Gaming class is under-development; it will hopefully be a permanent addition to our major. I haven't taught VisRhet in a few years; this time around I built my syllabus around Meredith's version of the course (adding a derive project for some good ole self-indulgent navel-gazing).

Yes I appreciate the irony of not developing a CSS sheet for the VisRhet webpage. It will come, it will come. And, yes, I realize that Pac-Man is disappearing on a few browsers. That one actually bothers me more...


Petition Against Tuition Scaling

A quick post today; Governor is attempting to scale tuition increases based on major, with non-STEM majors paying more tuition. This proposal is built on faulty grounds. Increasingly, our economy is driven by creativity and innovation. The humanities supply these abilities; hence why, for thousands of years, higher education has sought to educate the whole person rather than focus on a few select skills. No one in education supports this movement--it is the product of the worst kind of politics.

Please take a moment to sign this petition against Scott's proposed plan. Feel free to copy/paste my response (above).