Here, Hear Ulmer (Or, U Might Learn Electracy, Really)

Today professor Ulmer visited University of South Florida to give a talk on electracy and have a discussion with our graduate students. I had the pleasure of introducing Professor Ulmer. Here's my introduction (I have some notes from the talk that I will post tomorrow).

Here Hear Ulmer, or U Might Learn Electracy, Really!

I consider it an honor and a pleasure to introduce Professor Gregory L. Ulmer.

Professor Ulmer visits us from the University of Florida, where he’s a professor of English and Media Studies and participates in a number of critical, aesthetic, and institutional projects concerning electracy, a term he coined to target the transformation of agency and the public sphere by television, hypertext, new media, and digital communicative technologies.

The explication of electracy and generation of inventive methods for electrate netizens are the central concerns of his two most recent projects— his 2005 Electronic Monuments and 2003 Internet Invention. He offers an anecdote early in Internet Invention I find particularly relevant to our own kairotic moment (as scholars and teachers in the humanities living during the political, economic, and social challenges in Wisconisn, Michigan, Ohio, and likely coming to a Florida near you).

In the opening to Internet Invention, Ulmer relates telling his pragmatic father (proud possessor of a degree in Civil Engineering) of his decision to change his major from Economics and Political Science to English. The decision was not well received. For his father, “real work added value to the world by taking something and making it useful to society,” something to which the poet had no claim. This personal scene provides a sense of the purpose that unites all of Professor Ulmer’s work—the line between art and instrumentalism, between exploring our values and creating objects we value. This search continues to inspire scholars and teachers in rhetoric and composition; Ulmer’s post-pedagogy and electracy influence recent projects by Thomas Rickert, Sarah Arroyo, Byron Hawk, Jeff Rice, Bradley Dilger and others. [Learning and discovery only begin when we stop teaching, when we allow students to write and stop telling them what’s right.]

Ulmer’s electrate methods explore the relation between the personal and the public: exemplified by the two genres central to his electrate EmerAgency: the MYstory and the MEmorial. His methods are reflective of feminist research methods elaborated by Sullivan and Porter; they work in hopes of a new discipline of H/human(ities) that, instead of aiming at the work of self-fashioning, invites a playful self-exploration (what I might call, channeling Levinas—self-de/Facing).

Aristotle's theory of argument (the topoi) is built around the idea that we inhabit common "places" of argument. And, of course, one thing that 20th century theory, philosophy, rhetoric, sociology highlights is that, peeling back the layers of our psycho-social onion, we are arguments “all the way down” (or, as professor Ulmer puts this, that “Problems B Us”). Ulmer's work in Internet Invention stresses this--the four components of the Mystory [career, home, entertainment, school] interrogate four different personal-cultural domains (to stick with the geographical discourse). Ulmer's mapping of the subject points to the places common to our childhood, our school, our entertainment, our neighborhoods. The question his work poses is: where else might I have gone? Where else might I go? Where else might I will-have-been?

The value of such a “geographic” approach is that it allows introspection without the immediacy of critique. There is no default command to criticize in Ulmer, and those with more traditional expectations of cultural studies often object to the work on these grounds. Here I would agree with Thomas Rickert, who emphasizes that the questions brought to Ulmer's work by those in Cultural Studies "demonstrates the extent to which Ulmer has achieved a real advance" (Acts 116).

His methods can be disorienting at times, involving complex networks of anagrams, acronyms, puns and neologisms. But disequilibrium is the goal—only by transgressing commonplace expecations (rhetoric’s insistence upon the Aristotelian topoi) that we can move to inhabiting new (dis)positions (vital possibilities of the Timaean chora). Get off the beaten path. Rhetoric makes spaces, for welcome, confrontation, creation, relation. Ulmer argues in Applied Grammatology, how Derridean deconstruction aims “to submit ‘reality’ to the extremes of human imagination” (27). Such a re-imagination “might have” Ulmer qualifies, “the power to guide transformation of the lived, social world” (Of Grammatology 27).


With a Little Help from My Friends

I have other things that need to get done. Deadlines that have passed. Deadlines that approach. But I'm going to take 30 minutes to write something. This has been brewing for awhile, but I have neither energy nor time to allow it to mature. I'm thinking this will be quick and painful.

The immediate exigence for this post is quite commonplace: another massive, sweeping educational cut. They are everywhere these days. One doesn't have to read the Chronicle to find them. They have become commonplace in the worst way. Today's comes from Las Vegas, where UNLV plans to cut 300+ total jobs, over 100 of them faculty positions. Additionally, they'll lose 77 graduate students. Entire departments will be eliminated in the process.

Yesterday I read an article on gambling in Las Vegas. Apparently, lawmakers there do not think casinos should be held responsible for gambling addictions.

Louisiana approves layoffs for faculty.

In Florida, we face an over 3 billion cut to our state education fund. Additionally, the state is voting to wipe out tenure at the primary and secondary levels--teacher retention will be tied directly to test scores. This is considered good for learning. No wonder why people don't want to be teachers anymore. And no wonder why, supposedly, students don't want to learn.

I'm not even going to touch Wisconsin. There's more going on in Wisconsin than my brain can handle. Friends pass me articles such as this one, by Ed Kilgore entitled "Republicans want Wisconsin to Become Just Like the South," and a piece of my soul dies. I want to vomit in my mouth. Or break something.

I'm not even planning on going pedagogical here; I wasn't planning on sending you to watch Sir Ken Robinson's excellent animated lecture on education in the 21st century. You probably should watch it. But that's not what this post is about, not today.

Today is more about showing a graph I found while collecting visualizations for my Visual Rhetoric class. This graph has been haunting me for quite some time, since I first saw it last week. I can't get away from it. I came across it through a friend's feed on Facebook--part of a series of 11 visualizations exposing income inequality in America over at Mother Jones. All 11 of the visualizations are telling, but one is specific stood out to me:

I never thought I'd say this: but lets go back to 1945. If you make more than a million dollars, then its time to pony up and pay to support the people around you. Sharing is fundamental to existence (seriously, metaphysically, it is--that's the kind of writing I'm supposed to be doing right now, a review of this book).

On a melodramatic note, I'm reminded of Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous statement:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Maybe I am speaking of Wisconsin after all. Maybe they are speaking not just for teachers--but for Americans--men, women, and especially children everywhere who deserve a quality education, doctor, home, and dinner. More than anything, children deserve a chance. In terms of education, a chance requires attention.

I'm sick of hearing that we can't afford education. I'm sick of hearing we can't afford "Obama Care." We can't afford not to care. We need to care. And we need to stop putting greed ahead of sharing.


Help Save the National Writing Project

David Beard called attention to the killing of the Striving Readers and National Writing Project over on the Blogora today. I repost an email posted by David:

David Beard,

Federal legislation for Striving Readers and the National Writing Project passed in both the House and Senate and signed by the President zeros out funding for these two important programs. Unless legislators are convinced by an outpouring of outrage, these programs have little chance of being restored.

NCTE members need to call or write their Representative and Senators NOW to explain the importance of funding these programs in the final budget.

  • Striving Readers enables the currently established 44 state literacy teams to apply for federal funds; then each state's neediest districts can apply to the state for funding for local literacy projects in preschool, elementary, middle, or secondary schools.
  • The National Writing Project provides summer institutes in local communities that reach 65,000 students annually and other professional development activities for 130,000 educators who reach 1.4 million students each year.

Call or write immediately for the most impact. We need thousands of NCTE members to take action.
Restore funding for the Striving Readers Program.
Restore funding for the National Writing Project.

Millie Davis
Division Director, Communications and Affiliate Services
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
1111 W. Kenyon Rd.
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: 800-369-6283, ext. 3634, or 217-278-3634
Fax: 217-278-3761
E-mail: advocacy@ncte.org
Web: http://www.ncte.org

Join NCTE in Celebrating Literacy Education Advocacy Month!

If you teach in an English department, then you likely know that these are crucial programs we cannot afford to lose.

Please take the time to write your senators and representatives in support of these programs.