Congrats to the Black Mask

I have a feeling things might grow silent over at Both Wearing Black Masks (are there three masks now?), so I thought I would try to commune with the spirits that reside there and throw up a thoughtful post.

What would Casey do?

How about Emerson:

Women are, by this and their social influence, the civilizers of mankind. What is civilization? I answer, the power of good women.

I hope this doesn't offend contemporary sensibilities. I guess Casey wouldn't care.

Congrats, Dad.


Steven Johnson Strikes Again

I'll take a quick second to point to an extremely important article by Steven Johnson. Why is it so important? Because in the digital/intellectual property conversations, in which so much debate over control is at stake, attention is rarely paid to media other than music and movies. But Johnson highlights another "invisible" form of control with Apple's new iPad (and not Kindle). Succintly, the iPad does not allow you to cut and paste material--or, in the case of online publications, to even select and highlight text.

What I appreciate about Johnson's article is that he doesn't oppose such a limitation in contemporary, digital terms, but rather in a far more classical matter. He connects the practice of cutting and pasting to the Enlightenment practice of the commonplace book: a running collection of interesting, inspiring, or important material from which to draw. I do this myself with a number of technologies--this blog, delicious, facebook, and even evernote. Technology should make this practice easier--but we can see how reactionary concerns over intellectual property are leading to design/technology decisions that impinge upon this potential.

Now I have even more reasons not to buy an iPad.

Tebow a Character Pick?

I have nothing against ethos, and I'm sure, after recent events, Josh McDaniels is looking forward to working with a contentious, diligent, and respectful player. As one of the many talking heads I listened to this morning said: Tebow is never going to say an improper word back to his coach. If you listen to any commentary this morning, then you are going to be fed the rationale that Tebow was picked over "better" quarterbacks because he is a nice guy.

But I would quickly like to suggest that I think Tebow was picked ahead of Clausen and McCoy because he is a dynamic player who, in the hands of the right coach, could flourish in the NFL. His unique skill set translates perfectly into a hybrid/wildcat offense. And remember, too, that Tebow trained under Urban Meyer. Belichick spent a great deal of time with Meyer to learn that offense, and that time directly translated into Tom Brady's success in the shotgun (the Pats use the shotgun more than any other team). Who was the offense coordinator while the Pats were doing all that shotgunning? Oh yeah, it was Josh McDaniels.

Of course, Tebow is a risky pick, and, until very recently, option-inspired offenses have been terrible in the NFL. But I'll admit that I was secretly hoping the Pats drafted Tebow, and I will be rooting for him to succeed in Denver, if only because it will make Mel Kiper (et al) look foolish.


Won't Somebody Please Think of the Corporate Executives?

The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a Mxrk-style annotated post up concerning the "Comments of the Creative Community Organizations."

Thoughts: I think we all agree that artists deserve to be compensated for their work and that outright stealing is wrong. But, once acknowledged, the "Comments of the Creative Community Organizations" relies on many presuppositions and premises that are anything but "natural" or "shared common sense." We don't currently allow police officers to stroll into a home any time they want (even though we might all agree that this would make their jobs a heck of a lot easier).

Working within the constraints of conservative economics, what I hear in these requests is the death-throws of an industry begging the federal government to bail it out. Perhaps, like the auto industry, we will. The EFF is certainly nervous (if a bit over the top rhetorically in a few places) that big government will continue its trend. The difference, for me, is that without government intervention the American automotive industry would have likely collapsed. Yet we need cars, and the people who need cars need those jobs. The entertainment industry, however, seems ready to transform itself in a number of different ways. To allow issues of copyright to develop without direct government intervention (such as, say, unconstitutionally extending copyright well beyond its original 20 year scope) would not lead to the death of the music industry. It would lead to its rebirth. There will still be plenty of jobs and plenty of music, even if those jobs are in different places. And that's what scares the hell out of an army of CEOs, executives, and middle-men who live off of other people's talent.


On the heels of yesterday's post, the Guardian features an article today by Cory Doctorow on the recently passed Digital Economy Act--it sounds very close to the kinds of control measures sought in the Comments of the Creative Community Organizations. Doctorow has a unique ethos for this discussion, in that he is a writer who gives books away for free and a publisher in the new digital economy. I like the tone of his conclusion:

I'm not such a techno-triumphalist that I believe that the free and open internet will solve all our socio-economic problems. But I am enough of a techno-pessimist to believe that baking surveillance, control and censorship into the very fabric of our networks, devices and laws is the absolute road to dictatorial hell.


A Not-So-Radical Approach to Teaching Final Papers

In my last post, I mentioned that I was trying something a bit different with my current expository writing class. I should say upfront that State and programatic expectations for the course don't give me too much wiggle room. The syllabus I inherited was quite traditional EDNA, and my approaching to teaching expository writing as blogging (attempting to emphasize social [ethical] practice alongside knowledge [epistemological] production) seemed experimental enough. The past times I have taught the course, the final paper has been a traditional 8 to 10 page argumentative research paper. I felt I needed to have something traditional to turn over in case my course was selected for SACS accreditation review.

For whatever reason, I feel less concerned over this matter this semester. Not that what I am proposing here is "radical" by any means. But its a new approach to teaching research and scholarship that I am trying out, and I figured I would share. The influences on this approach are, I think, people like Geof Sirc (his essay from Writing New Media), Pat Sullivan (her discussion of feminist research methods in Writing Spaces, and Gregory Ulmer (pretty much everything he's ever written). And, of course, there's a good bit of Levinas and his intersubjective ethics (over, might I call it, institutional epistemology) operating in this one too. I also used ed. Sherry Turkle's recent collection Evocative Objects as model essays for approaching the project (particularly Jenkins' essay for the way that it folds together reminiscences on childhood comic books with an exploration of our relation to death). I've also discussed Foucault's genealogical approach to history as a particular inventive method for approaching the project.

For the final project this year, I am asking students to construct 8 to 10 page essays that fold five different requirements into their writing.

  • Research: The paper must present attention to something(s). Think: I looked at A (and B and C) in X.
  • Personal: The paper must disclose/explore a personal investment in/relation to the research. Think: I looked at A and B and C in relation to X.
  • Argument: The paper must include some kind of argumentative proposition directed toward a particular person or idea. Think: X says A and B but C or D is better in relation to X.
  • Theory: the paper must move outside of the particular object or idea at hand to offer a more philosophical exploration of what it means to be a human being.
  • Kairos: The paper must offer some rational for why it is particularly important for us (and "I" from bullet two and an audience identified through this very articulation) to read the paper now, at this time, at this crucial, reflective, boring, tense, vital, transitory, resistant, opportune time).

As I said, I don't think I am recreating the wheel here. It is the theory bullet that I think is the most compelling--and the most difficult to "teach." But, in working with several students in drafts, I've seen the proverbial light-go-on--a moment where an investigation into X produces a deeper understanding of Y or when investigating X requires us to consider how we are already invested in Y or... well, I hope you (and my students) get the point. This kind of approach speaks to the writing I have been doing lately--writing on Levinas's potential benefit to Rhetoric and Composition in a political-curricular era evermore concerned with standardization, [mass] assessment, and accountability. Rather than connecting writing with the will-to-master, I'm looking to connect it with an obligation-to-alterity. I've been downplaying the Argument section as much as I can, but still feel compelled (both by State expectations and personal orientations) to teach some kind of thesis. Perhaps this too shall pass.

PS. Theory bullet. Irony alert?


Foucault for Thursday

Most of my leisurely writing lately has been dedicated to baseball, but I spent some time this morning preparing the following for a undergraduate student reading Foucault for the first time. Her project this semester has been dedicated to queer rights, and this is her first encounter with queer theory. I suggested she start with either Foucault or Butler, and she chose Foucault. My undergrad students are required to do am 8 to 10 page final paper on any topic of their choosing, so long as it meets specific criteria (more on that later). Here's what I gave her to help her think of how to use Foucault for a project inline with her semester long project.

Foucault and Sexuality

Here’s a few specific passages to help you think your way through this material. First, from page 105 of the 1990 Vintage Books edition (Part 4, Chapter 3 “Domain”):

Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power. (105-106)

These long sentences essentially say the same thing—that “sex” isn’t something either a) completely natural or b) entirely cultural. Hence why sex isn’t something “real” and “really hidden” that we can uncover. Rather the act of trying to “uncover” sex produces (or, if I was using Foucault’s language, discursively constructs) sexuality itself. Hence his statement of a “great surface network.” In short summation, we can’t really know anything about sex, but we can pay close attention to the ways in which people talk about, represent, practice, and contest sexuality. This work was written in France in the mid-1970’s. You might want to look at sexual politics and representations in the 1970’s and then compare them to today.

The second passage comes from page 56:

The important thing, in this affair, is not that these men shut their eyes or stopped their ears, or that they were mistaken; it is rather that they constructed around and apropos of sex an immense apparatus for producing truth, even if this truth was to be masked at the last moment. The essential point is that sex was not only a matter of sensation and pleasure, of law and taboo, but also of truth and falsehood, and that the truth of sex became something fundamental, useful, or dangerous, precious or formidable: in short, that sex was constituted as a rpblem of truth. What needs to be situated, therefore is […] the progressive formation (and also transformations) of that “interplay of truth and sex” which was bequeathed to us by the nineteenth century, and which we may have modified, but, lacking evidence to the contrary, have not rid ourselves. Misunderstandings, avoidances, and evasions were only possible, and only had their effects, against the background of this strange endeavor: to tell the truth of sex. (56-57)

The “they” in the opening sentence referes to early psychoanalysts such as Freud. They were exploring “pathological sexual deviance” and other such “problems.” We might ask ourselves, 25 years after Foucault’s writing—is/are there still (a) "truth(s)" to sex? Where does it/they emerge?