To My Students

Every semester I write a letter to my students that comments on my position in relation to the readings we are working through that semester. I delivered my letter early this semester, since I am trying to get them to think about the differences between what Vitanza identifies as writing and w-r-i-t-i-n-g; the former designates what we teach in textbooks and classes, the latter attempts to signify (impossibly) the broad expanse of all possible written expression. And then some.

Any who, for a bit of background, we've been reading about the historic purpose of higher education. We spent the first six weeks reading about five historic conceptions of higher ed: Plato (to produce philosopher kings) , Cicero (to produce citizens), Petrarch (to deal with life's hardships), Kant (to increase scientific knowledge), and Americans (economic advancement and vocationalism). Its been an interesting semester for me in terms of learning of my students aspirations and the intellectual climate at South Florida. Here's my letter to my students (those who wrote Trickert papers will recognize, no doubt, a particular tone and rhythm--I'm starting to realize how much I miss the looseness of those papers):

I know that I strive to be a Ciceronian--someone who values the voice of all people, who encourages all people to participate in the political and social conversations of their time. Unlike either Kant or Plato, I reject the concept of a progressive conversation through history. Although, on the flip side, I do believe it is important to know something of the voices that have come before us before you attempt to join in a conversation. An opinion is only valuable if it is based on something more than opinion. It is in this valuing that I begin to look like a Platonist... a charge that makes me cringe.

To detail why this charge would make me cringe would take quite a bit of time. Quickly, I will say that I do place value on the ideal that everyone should be free to live their life their own way. My academic career, and personal life, is dedicated to preventing another Holocaust (please forgive the logical jump). And the root of the Holocaust, in my opinion, lies in the fundamental premise that we can know the Truth. And that we can use the Truth to judge others.

If I object to religion, I do not do so for the same reasons as Kant. Everyone, I believe, has the right to worship who or what he s/he chooses. No one can claim to have a rational answer to the question of metaphysics. None of us can ever know, with certainty, what lies beyond. My objection to organized religion stems from its moral obligation to help the “less fortunate.” The same system that identifies "misfortunate" also provides the logic for solutions. Final solutions. Answers are solutions. In the face of Right answers, I ask my God for the strength to ask all the wrong questions. Sometimes she listens. Sometimes, in silence, in passivity, she reminds me to question her existence.

As to the arts, I support them. I think they help us to imagine possibilities. It is through this imaginative exploration that we can avoid the trappings of Reason--the passion for singular answers. To Plato I say: we do not escape imprisonment solely through the employment of reason. Imagination is not simply a means to convince the masses. Imprisonment can come from blindly dedicating ourselves to any one thing. Art serves as a way of diversifying our perspective, of challenging what we "know" to be true, of opening ways of hearing.

Lately, I’m feeling a bit Petrarchian. I apply everything I read to my own life. I draw examples to my own life. I even ask my students to write about me. Such is not meant to be an egotistical move (which, undoubtedly, my detractors would perceive it). Rather, it is meant to open myself up for inquiry, to improve myself as a teacher, and to force me to reflect on whether "me" is "me." If it is egotistical, it is so in a critical sense—it is a questioning of what puts the me in me. We all narrate our own stories. We are always just before the climax. Now is a product of a future we wish to be(come). But, ultimately, the future frustrates ourselves.

If I disagree with the structure of this class, I do so for two reasons. First, the class assumes a very Kantian perspective—i.e., you write for the Great Conversation (what we call academic writing). Perhaps I could more "work" the assignments to meet my own goals. Perhaps someone can do a final project on how I might do this. Imagine how, working with this material, you would teach the course. Second, true writing emerges from complex engagements. Writing is the thought that happens when you stop trying to write a paper and just start writing. It is when you chase down the trace of something Other in a moment when you suspend the will to order. When you [can’t] become something you couldn’t be. I'd like to do more of this writing, writing that more reflects w-r-i-t-i-n-g than writing. I'm trying to (w-)r-i-t-e ((to) you) right now.


Personality Test

MZ got me to try this Keirsey Personality test. By the power of its crazy magic (accurate) voodoo, I now know that I am an Idealist Champion. Apparently, we passionately believe in things and really want to tell you about them. I can only resort to snarky sarcasm, because the results are an creepily dead-on description of my (ideal) self-image.

Anywho, give it a whirl (it only takes about five minutes):HumanMetrics Jung Typology Test


Rowan Update

We're down in Miami for chemo visit number 3. Everything with Rowan's cancer looks good--her tumor reduced to the point that she didn't even require preliminary laser treatment this time. She will lose her eye during our next visit, November 14th.

I can't say it gets any easier, necessarily, to do this, although we have developed a sense of what to expect--essentially we're better at coping. Cancer is difficult; you leave pieces of yourself all over the place--in waiting rooms, along the side of the road in traffic jams, in the grocery store while searching for good string cheese. As the disease grows, you fragment. But, luckily, you meet other people who give you replacement parts in the form of kindness and concern. Thanks to all of those people who help us hold it together.

And can you believe the Sox came back from 7-0 in the 7th? Crazy.



Watching the Red Sox play in the playoffs is comparable to sitting in a crock-pot for me: a slow, agonizing, gut wrenching cooking of my nerves. That will be intensified tonight with Dice-K on the mound. I know he doesn't have the greatest stuff, so he has to mix up his pitch selection and location to keep hitters of guard. Still, he so pitches to the edges of the plate and throws ridiculously bad pitches when he's ahead of the count that it pains me to watch. But watch I will.

I wanted to throw in a quick two-cents on the MVP races this year. I'm a fan of "money ball"; for those who don't know, its a statistical approach to baseball that steers away from many traditional stats (particularly batting average and RBIs) in favor of a few other, more influential statistics (like OBP and SLUG) and some completely new stats (Runs Created and Value Over Replacement Player).

I bring these up because in the NL this year many people are calling Ryan Howard the MVP. Certainly, he led the league in home runs (important) and RBIs (almost meaningless). But his batting average is only .250, and this on-base percentage--an even more important stat--is a less impressive .333. That's ridiculously low for a guy with his power since so many pitchers are going to refuse to throw him a single strike. Perhaps that's why he struck out almost 200 times this season! Instead of Howard, I'll go with Pujols (OPS: 1.114, Runs Created: 160, Total Bases: 342, at bats per HR: 14.2) over Howard (OPS: .842, Runs Created: 113, Total Bases: 331, at bats per HR: 12.7). Chipper Jones is a close second place. To me, the MVP stands for the one player who, if removed from a team, would leave their franchise worthless. I think you could make a very strong argument for CC Sabathia this year, because the Brewers would have never made the playoffs without him... maybe I just talked myself out of Pujols!

Slim picking in the AL this year--no one really had the monster year. Perhaps I'm a homer, but I'd give it to Pedroia for the Sox. With all the injuries the team had, he and Youk were the only two consistent players. And Ped stole 20 bases on top of 54 doubles-- that's getting yourself into scoring position. Oddly enough, most of the AL batting leaders in the important categories played for lousy teams this season, so Ped has a chance...


When Economics Become Espionage

I just came across this story in /. on a new Chinese policy demanding that corporations importing electronics into China provide the government with all source code for their products. The story, of which I've heard nothing in our country, has become a point of contention in Japan--where companies such as Sony are worried that the Chinese government will pass sensitive information on to Chinese corporations (which, um, are owned and operated by the Chinese government).

In his recent book Source Code China: The New Global Hub of IT Technology, Cyrill Eltschinger argues that today's companies are missing out on China as a potential resource (and cites a number of companies who are shifting their outsourcing from India to China). He gives a number of reasons for considering China, most of which would make someone interested in global human rights cringe. What he doesn't comment on (at least on the website), is the dubious position the Chinese government holds regarding Western intellectual property laws. (I admit that I am relying on the website--I have not read the book. I use it as an example).

I am no expert on global relations. But to this outsider, it seems that China is practicing global economics as the USA and USSR practiced espionage during the Cold War. I might be paranoid. I might be disillusioned. But if I were Bill Gates, I wouldn't be pushing Windows into China under these conditions.

The American economy is fragile--as we are now all aware. The decimation of the American dollar isn't primarily tied to our inflated real estate market (the current crisis). The underlying problem is our massive trade deficit. Or so tells my stock broker every week as he laments our demise and warns of worse times. For those who don't dabble in the market, let me assure you that its worse than you think. Here's how to tell, the price of gold. Gold is an international standard, to see that gold prices have tripled means that, on a fundamental international level, our dollar is worth a third of what it once was. It doesn't help (as some might assume), that other countries are experiencing a similar state. It means that a bigger market correction lies on the horizon, a global correction. It means things could get much, much worse.

In an era when our exports are tied almost exclusively to digital/intellectual products, we must protect this property as if it were our land.

Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I think of this shit and it makes me want to scream. I can't wait for that next wave of meaningless presidential ads.

On a side note, the /. forum discussion is quite interesting and some of the best public dialogue I've seen in awhile. Sigh.


New Course in Rhetorical Theory [Real]

First, let me say that Rowan is doing fine. She's sort of rejecting the concept of sleep today (its 11:30 and still no nap--a very bad sign), but otherwise o.k.

In Marc news--official Marc C. Santos news--I've been asked to design an undergraduate course in Rhetorical Theory. I spend some time Googlin' around the net to see what I could find, and basically saw two approaches. The first relied heavily on either Bizzell or Hawhee; these courses offered a pretty broad/historic survey. The second approach was heavily (heavily) steeped in 20th century pomo--but often looked more like a literary/cultural studies theory course than a rhetorical theory course. I'm going to try to split the difference (which means I bound to fail) and go for something like this:

  • Week One: Plato's "Gorgias," Republic VII (emphasis: the split between rhetoric and dialectic, rhetoric is too risky)
  • Week Two: Aristotle's Rhetoric, Books I and II (emphasis on traditional appeals, relation to the audience, kairos)
  • Week Three: Cicero selections from De Oratore (emphasis: defense of rhetoric, response to Plato) and De Inventione (stasis)
  • Week Four: Lanham, "The Q Question," Nussbaum intro to Cultivating Humanity, Jarrett intro to Rereading the Sophists
  • Week Five: Paper Week One
  • Week Five: Kenneth Burke selections from Permanence and Change (piety, perspective by incongruity); Blakesley's Elements of Dramatism Chapter 1 (pentad)
  • Week Six: Kenneth Burke Rhetoric of Motives 17-65 (identification); "Definition of Man" essay; Corder's "Argument as Emergence" (rhetoric as narratology, not persuasion)
  • Week Seven: Rhetoric (returns to?) Composition: Bitzer "Rhetorical Situation," Ede and Lunsford "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked," something by either Toulmin or Lauer on invention (not sure yet--might do both).
  • Week Nine: Paper Week 2
  • Week Ten: Grassi, "Philosophy as Rhetoric"; Levinas "The Thinking of Being and the Question of the Other"; Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"
  • Week Eleven: Derrida "At this very moment in this work here I am" (ethical relation between writer, audience, and knowledge) and Learning To Live Finally (pomo relation to audience)
  • Week Twelve: Ulmer, selection from Heuretics or Internet Invention; Davis, "Preambulatory Emmissions from Breaking Up [at] Totality
  • Week Thirteen: Rickert, "In the House of Doing: Rhetoric and the Kairos of Ambiance, "Edbauer "Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies," Hawk "Toward a Rhetoric of Network (Media) Culture: Notes on Polarities and Potentiality" (pomo complexification [sic] of r/c bedrock)
  • Paper Week 3
  • Week Fourteen: Rheingold selections from Smart Mobs, Porter, "The Chilling of Digital Information: Technical Communicators as Public Advocates"
  • Week Fifteen: Projects
  • Week Sixteen: Projects

I've taken the "paper weeks" from Rickert who took them from Frank who took them from ????: on a paper day, everyone in the class distributes a short paper and reads it to the class. I'm interested in this pedagogically in terms of delivery and kairos--two elements that are often a bit more muddled (Rickert might say) in traditional academic [for class] writing.

As far as the final project, I believe this will be on a per-student basis. I will allow traditional papers, disciplinary annotated bibliographies, wikipedia projects, multimedia projects (perhaps something out of Ulmer)--just about anything the students can offer.

I've still got to write up the course description, but I know I'll be leaning toward providing students with a thorough understanding of the history of rhetoric and of the principle rhetorical concepts and techniques. Such historic understanding should help them to understand the fundamental positions underlying the work they do as technical writers. Familiarity with traditional rhetorical concepts and conventions should help all facets of their writing process, from invention to revision. I'll have to clean this up and look at the other new course proposals in my department to get a sense of length/depth/sophistication. But I think I've got a legitimate course brewing here...


New Course on Rhetorical Theory [Fake]

I usually leave the political comedy commentary up to others, but I had to share this. Via the Blogora (via 23/6):

Biden Debate Training

That was a direct quote.