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).


Red Sox Hot Stove

With the exception of the postseason, hot stove is my favorite time of the baseball year. This off-season is particularly important to the Red Sox, after the Valentine debacle and the great salary purge. This year has a very weak free agency class, so the Sox will likely have to be creative with solutions. Here's the positions they need to address.


Jason Varitek's loss most directly impacted the pitching staff--which felt increases of over a run a game across the board. Couple this with Salty's apparent deficiency behind the plate, and you've got a great need at catcher. They just signed David Ross, who is solid behind the plate and mediocre against both right and left handed pitching. I've read that the Sox are still interested in Napoli and are actively trading Salty. There's really nothing on the market outside of Napoli that could impact the roster. Minor league wonder kid Ryan Lavarnway had a terrible showing in September, but he could factor into the mix at first base or catcher (.295/.382/.511 in 2 AAA seasons).

First Base

This could be the biggest whole to fill--or the place where the Red Sox make the biggest mistake. The free agent market is quite thin this year, and only mediocre players like Swisher or LaRoche topping the list. If the Sox are able to get Napoli, then I'd prefer them to give Mauro Gomez the at bats in a platoon. His minor league numbers (.307/.363/.551) suggest he'd at least provide replacement level production, and his small MLB sample size last fall supports that projection (.275/.324/.422).

Left Field & Right Field

This will rest on Ross's asking price; he is a serviceable offensive player with a proven track record. But let's not get crazy--this contract shouldn't be more than 3 years, 30 million dollars. Given the shallow pool in free agency this year, Ross could see his offer sheets growing to Jason Werth territory. Buyer beware.

What puts the Sox in a bind with their outfield is the loss of Josh Reddick last season. Granted, I was a huge Reddick fan (he is the king of Spring Training, after all), and we don't know yet how effective a healthy Andrew Bailey could be in Boston. But the minor league cupboard seems pretty bare at the moment--Daniel Nava is clearly just a replacement player and Ryan Kalish hasn't returned to the form that anointed him the next coming of Trot Nixon in 2010. Kalish figures to get a chance here, but he's probably competing for Nava's job, not the starting right fielder position.

I've heard the Justin Upton rumors, too. I am torn. On the one hand, Upton is a proven hitter, with a manageable contract. But, while 2 of Upton's last 4 seasons have been incredible, the other two have been merely good (respective war: 4.8, 3.0, 6.4, 2.5--would you pay 20+ million a year for 2 and a half wins?). I won't cry if we acquire him, but its not like he's the second coming of Man-Ram.

I'm hoping that the Sox bring in Torii Hunter on a 2 year deal. They've got the money to over pay a bit, without locking into the kind of 5 year deal that Nick Swisher will command. I also wouldn't be too surprised to see the Sox throw a bid at Michael Bourn. We all know Ellsbury is out of Boston after this year, so they could move him to right field next season and have an elite defensive center fielder in place for the future.


I thought the only bright spot about Epstein's departure was that I wouldn't have to hear about Jose Igelsias any more. Seriously. I realize he is (supposedly) the greatest glove since Ozzie Smith. But he hit .118 last season. Oh, that was only 77 at bats you tell me? Fine. he split .266/.318/.306 at AAA, and .235/.285/.269 at AAA the year before. Again: .235/.285/.269. At AAA.

Losing Aviles to acquire Farrell means shortstop becomes a central area of concern. Stephen Drew is the only "name" out there, but he comes with some injury question marks, and is a Scott Boras client, so the price in years might be too steep for the Sox to commit.

There's the possibility of Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima, although the track record on offensive Japanese infielders is very, very bad. Given how weak the market is this season, I might say roll the dice. Otherwise, give the job to Pedro Ciriaco (and recognize that he will never hit .293 again).

The good news here is that the Sox's best prospect, Xander Bogaerts, is only a year away. So, starting in 2014, the position should be locked down for the foreseeable future.

Starting Pitcher

On paper, Zach Grienke seems a must. But there's questions as to whether his personality and psyche would match up to Boston. I would roll the dice. He's the lone All-Star calibre pitcher available this season and the cost will be high--but the Sox desperately need someone else at the top of this rotation; assuming:

1. Lester
2. Buchholz
3. Free Agent
4. Morales
5. Lackey/Doubront

Grienke could slide into the 2 spot, giving the Sox at least hope of competing in the now ridiculously strong AL East. Morales was a pleasant surprise last seasons; a .262 BABIP suggests he should regress a bit next year (his xFIP was 4.19, only slightly higher than his 3.77 ERA).

There's also 3 very strong prospects in the Sox's system--but I don't know if any project to have "top of the rotation stuff." There's Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, and Rubby De La Rosa. De la Rosa is 23 and likely ready for the majors, Barnes and Webster, who pitched in A and AA respectively last season, likely need more minor league experience. De La Rosa was the only asset the Sox acquired in the mega-deal with the Dodgers. He spent most of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery; he threw 60 MLB innings in 2011--striking out 60 but walking 31. He could make strides and develop control, but, then again, he could be heading to the bullpen.

In reality, however, the Sox's immediate future rests on John Farrell's relationship with Lester and Buchholz. They are the core of this franchise; their best seasons came under Farrell's leadership. If anyone can make up for Varitek's departure, it is Farrell (I hope). If the once young wonder twins are merely mediocre, as they were last year, then the Sox cannot compete for wild card spots, let alone championships.

The Sox are set at second base, third base, dh, and center field, but virtually every other position is in play. I'd love to say that I'm optimistic about next year--but I don't see this pitching staff returning to form. If they do, then I'll readily admit I was wrong. I know that the clubhouse was a disaster last year, and the change in atmosphere could lead to a change in performance. Comparing our pitching staff to the rest of the league, it better.


CUNY and salvaging the "doomed project"

And just like that pedagogic expertise is crushed by economic and political efficiency. At CUNY Queensborough the administration has sought to reduce composition to a 3 hour course, instead of its traditional 4. The faculty refused, on the grounds that composition requires 4 hours. Apparently, to increase systemic efficiency, the state has adopted what they call the Pathways plan, "designed to create a curricular structure that will streamline transfers and enhance the quality of general education across the University." In short, from what I can tell, this requires any course to have the same number of credits and class hours from school to school.

When faculty refused to adopt this change, citing student need, they were hit with a letter from Queensborough's vice-president, which made its way to the Internet via the Student Activism blog. The letter threatened to freeze all hiring, terminate all adjuncts, and cut up to 19 of the departments 26 full-time faculty. A shot across the bow.

Today, the Chronicle reports that the president has stepped in and called off the dogs of war:

That message set off alarms that continued sounding over the weekend. On Sunday, however, the college’s president, Diane B. Call, said in an e-mail to faculty and other leaders that Ms. Steele’s letter was meant as a “worst case scenario—one we are prepared to work mightily to avoid.”

“It is my belief,” Ms. Call wrote, “that through continued communication and collaboration with our faculty, a constructive resolution to ensure student learning will be achieved.”

Of course, another reason for the president to soften the situation is that the vice president's threats clearly overstep their legal limits. But, as Aaron Barlow of the Academe Blog put it:

None of this would be happening had the CUNY administration shown respect for the faculty and had worked to build a Pathways program with the faculty, instead of in spite of the faculty.

For those who believe Universities should operate like businesses, (top down hierarchy, competitive environment), the faculty probably look out of touch. For those that believe Universities should operate like educational institutions (bottom up development, cooperative environment), the administration look incompetent and draconic. Given our economic woes, it is natural to expect Universities to look for cost cutting measures. But cutting credit hours and increasing class sizes should be the last thing on the board. Working with faculty to develop solutions should be the first.

The incident reminds me of the discussion of professional University administrator's in Academically Adrift, particularly their assertion that "contemporary higher education administrators experience institutional interests and incentives that focus their attention elsewhere" (11). In CUNY's case, their president has educational experience, but one has to realize that reducing the credit hours for a composition program that serves a large number of underprepared writers is disastrous. Even under the best of circumstances, FYC can be considered a doomed project (Sirc's essay comes immediately to mind, but I know there are others out there too). Teach students, many of whom come from secondary systems that almost entirely reduce writing instruction to a formulaic five-paragraph essay, to write lucid, structured, supported arguments in the span of 16 or maybe 32 weeks. Throw in research methods, citation styles, grammar, and, increasingly, new media technologies. A difficult, if not impossible, task indeed.

Last week, in my graduate class, we read Heidegger's essay "The Question Concerning Technology." In a class lecture, I claimed that our educational system, from kindergarten to graduate school, is increasingly realizing one of Heidegger's worst nightmares--that we would become so overwhelmed with the technological spirit, the desire for profit, efficiency, and utility, that "he comes to the brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve" (332). Grist for the mill. Raw material for the factory. I skeptical that education can find any way off of this path, especially given the rise of the for-profit University and disappearing industrial economy. But those of us who teach, and especially those of us who teach a vitalist, complex art such as writing, know that learning is a messy, inefficient process that takes time--time to try, to fail, to try again, to talk, to muster up the courage one more time.


First Day, Fall 2012

Somehow it is already the first day of classes for 2012. I am not sure where my summer went.
I am excited to teach a new grad class this semester, New Media Production. The course differs from the other grad courses I teach, where the focus is on traversing and networking a complex set of readings and ideas. This course emphasizes production--learning how to use tools to do new things. If I am nervous about anything, it is that the class has over 20 students in it, with different comfort levels regarding technology.

The course also seeks to historicize the term new media, defining in light of the convergence of postmodern theory and network technology. We're opening with two staple essays for me--Ong's "Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought" and Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology." The Heidegger sets up our early work with Ulmer; I frame Ulmer's concept of electracy as an attempt to wrestle with Heidegger's provocation of technology/logos. (I flush out this strain of thought more in the syllabus' course description, "The Becoming of Electracy"). I've taught Ulmer's Internet Invention with undergraduates before, but I am really excited to teach the MyStory genre with graduate students.

I am also teaching an undergraduate Expository Writing course. Leahy and I completed a manuscript for Computers and Composition that outlines our rationale for teaching web writing. The abstract to that article reads as follows:
Collaborative digital tools, online communities, and the evolution of literacy create opportunities in which writing for an English class and writing for the "real" world no longer have to be two separate activities. We believe seizing such opportunities requires rethinking the desire to teach writing—a move toward what has been termed postpedagogy. We align the interactive and collaborative affordances of web writing with a postpedagogical model of learning focused on inventive practices grounded in kairotic interactions.
I'm going to give the students the article to read in preparation for our next class--the first half of the article is fairly theoretical, focusing on why institutions insist that writing (narrowly defined as academic essays) is "teachable." To rephrase Heidegger: "the correct instrumental definition of writing still does not show us writing's essence [...]" ("QCT" 313). The second half of the essay argues for organizing a class dedicated to the idea that writing cannot be taught, but can be learned. Learning writing requires attending to writing outside of the instrumental-institutional expectations. The dynamic, participatory web affords us opportunities to discover writing in the wild.
Working on the syllabus for both courses reminded me that I have a blog, and that it has been very lonely. Sorry blog.


Summer Reading

I know it is a bit late to be posting my summer reading list, but here's the things I have or will be reading this summer

  • Alien Phenomenology, or What It's Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost
  • How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost
  • Inter/vention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy, Jan Rune Holmevik
  • Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal
  • Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being, Thomas Rickert
  • The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson
  • Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, Ken Robinson
  • Toward a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka

I've spent the last few weeks re-reading disciplinary essays on Levinas, particularly the JAC and P&R special issues. That project is (finally) almost over. The Bogost, Robinson, and Holmevik readings are for a piece on sf0, the real world-mmo community gaming site (I'm still working on language to describe exactly what this thing is). I collected research on student participation with the project last semester, and will continue that research with a graduate class in the fall. I came across the McGonigal looking at Alex Reid's syllabus for a summer course on games and the title is enticing for that project.

I've heard a lot of good things about the Shipka; I am interested in the book's emphasis on multimodal education and placing the impetus for rhetorical decisions on students. The Rickert is more for fun- I hope it is out so I can include it in my graduate Contemporary Rhetorics seminar in the fall of 2013.


Among the Republicans

Prepping for my role as a blogger during the upcoming RNC, I read Among the Republicans by V.S. Naipaul, a reflection upon the 1984 Republican National Convention. Interesting is the extent to which Naipaul focuses on the rising New Right religion, in a sense that resonates with Burke's identification:

The invocation was being spoken, by a rabbi; and the piety seemed correct. The occasion, with its magnification of man, had a feel of religion. Not religion as contemplation or a private experience of divinity; but religion as the essence of a culture, the binding, brotherhood transcending material need. That, rather than political debate, was what people had come to Dallas for.

Of course, the "transcending material need" anticipates Thomas Frank and Andrew Gelman by a few decades. And what does this new religion offer? How to explain its success?

The fundamentalism that the Republicans had embraced went beyond religion. It simplified the world in general; it rolled together many different kinds of anxieties—schools, drugs, race, buggery, Russia, to give just a few; and it offered the simplest, the vaguest solution: Americanism, the assertion of the American self.

This echoes what I wrote in my essay on the 2004 election; that Bush's rhetorical success rested on his ability to reframe complex problems in simple terms, and especially on his ability to draw on a powerful notion of a beleaguered but stedfast "us" righteously opposed to a debase, highbrow, and/or polyvocal them (a bunch of sophists, really).


Health Care Passes

I'm sitting in a meeting, prepping to be a live Blogger during the RNC (scheduled to be held in Tampa). And, during the meeting, I've been following the anticipated Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Healthcare Act (its being covered live here). It looks like a win for the poor, tired, and yearning to be healthy.

It is a good day to be an American.

UPDATE: A Plain English Interpretation by Anne Howe:

Amy Howe: In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn't comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.


Twain on Writing Ecologies (err, Plagiarism)

I stumbled upon this today over at Letters of Note, a letter from Mark Twain to Helen Keller after he learned she had been accused of plagiarism.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Leahy and I have been finishing revisions on a piece that focuses on using technology to teach writing as an ecological, community practice. This resonates.


Kevin Smith on Digital Economics

So I just discovered Reddit's series of interviews, IAMA. There's one with Kevin Smith, in which he responds to a question on digital copyright. His response reminds me of the argument forwarded by Lessig years ago in Remix:

Here's my approach...

I try to give away as much as possible. At SModcast.com, we've got thousands of hours of my best work, as well as the funniest shit you'll ever hear: My true life's work. And we give it away free.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the First Birthday of S.I.R. - SModCo Internet Radio. http://smodcast.com To celebrate, we'll be launching S.I.T. on YouTube - SModCo Internet Television. All of it is free.

So when I do present my audience with something that requires payment? I try to make it more special. That's why I toured with Red State, rather than simply stick the movie out there in theaters alone. Anyone can access any movie digitally once it's in theaters; I accept that. But they can't digitally access me unless they're in the room.

Instead of trying to fight change, I like to adapt and figure out how to thrive in an ever-changing global economy. And as much as I like to head where the puck is going, you sometimes have to play the ball where it lays.


Cooper and Edbauer

My undergrad semniar in rhetorical theory is coming to a close--it has been a great semester, even if it involved more lecturing that I would have wanted. My students are currently working on research projects; the following is a quick response to a student question on the relationship between Marilyn Cooper's essay "Being Linked to the Matrix" (an amazing survey of how ecological and network theory is surfacing across disciplines) and Jennifer Edbauer-Rice's essay "Unframing Models of Public Distribution":

Cooper is working against what we call an anthropocentric tradition that tends to conceptualize power purely in human terms. To simplify: do guns kill people or do people kill people? The traditional answer to this question is the latter, that people kill people. Guns are just a convenient tool.

A more ecological, or networked, philosophy would argue otherwise. It would argue that the tool impacts the way the person considers their options. Thus, while the ultimate "decision" to kill might reside in the individual, that decision has been shaped by contextual factors beyond their power/knowledge. Think of the Staples floorplan discussion in Weinberger--the store is organized in such a way as to unconsciously influence a shopper's decision making process (for more of the guns vs people argument, see Bruno Latour, Pandora's Hope, 174-215; for more of the Staples argument, see Sunstein and Thaler, Nudge). In academic terms, this is a debate over agency.

Why is Cooper bringing this up in a book on technology? Because historically humanists have been suspicious of technology (see Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology"). Technology often operates as a scapegoat for social problems. Cooper wants us to realize--like Walter Ong--that writing is a technology, one that profoundly enables yet "nudges" our thinking in rational, individualistic, and anthropocentric directions. These directions have been amplified by Platonic/Kantian/Modern philosophy. If we begin to move away from these philosophies, if we being to rethink on individualistic orientation in favor of an ecological one, then we might be able to produce agents more connected and concerned with their surrounding world. Digital communicative technologies afford us a medium to implement and practice these changes.

You've got a handle on the Edbauer essay, she is interested in how publics are constructed through rhetorical activity.Think of splicing Cooper and Edbauer across this passage (from Cooper):

Writers are never separate from the rhetorical situation in which they write. They do not study the situation as something apart from them and then create in a vacuum a text that will change the situation; instead, they fully engage in the situation and respond to it. (27)

This gives us a starting point. Texts are responses to environments, not just isolated problems. Do you begin to see where I am going with this? The problem with Bitzer's model is that it freezes time, and isolates "exigency." Edbauer is interested in how things move, not what things are. Or, to be more exact, she is not exclusively interested in what things are. Rather, see is trying to trace down the complex, networked pathways through which things become--transforming/transformed by the other things they encounter; mutating and attracting, repulsing and inspiring. My best practical example for this is the 99% meme on Facebook. What started as a single photo quickly became a series of photos that, of course, inspired the conservative 52% counter-meme.

To rip Cooper and Edbauer together quickly: Things become by circulating through networks. There is no pre-relational essence that determines what something is.


Sojourner Truth and the War on Women

From "Ain't I a Woman?" December 1951:

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.


Levinas and the Sophistic Virtue of "Deception"

I'm reading this passage across Latour's insistence upon chains of translations (Pandora's Hope) and Susan Jarratt's explication of Gorgias notion of Apate (deception) as virtue); Levinas, from his interview with Philippe Nemo:

A radical reflection, obstinate about itself, a cogito which seeks and describes itself without being duped by a spontaneity or ready-made presence, in a major distrust toward what is thrust naturally onto knowledge, a cogito which constitutes the world and the object, but whose objectivity in reality occludes and encumbers the look that fixes it. From this objectivity one must always trace thoughts and intentions back to the whole horizon at which they aim [which includes the Other, the beyond Being, the question of God], which objectivity obscures and makes one forget. Phenomenology is the recall of these forgotten thoughts, of these intentions; full consciousness, return to the misunderstood implied intentions of thought in the world. This complete reflection is necessary to the truth, even if its effective exercise must in doing so make limits appear. It is the presence of the philosopher near to things, without illusion or rhetoric, in their true status, precisely clarifying this status, the meaning of their objectivity and their being, not answering only to the question of knowing "what is?", but to the question "How is what is?", "What does it mean that it is?".

Of course, the "rhetoric" Levinas dismisses here is an Aristotelian rhetoric of the enthymeme, the handmaiden to the Platoinc syllogism; the former persuades by hiding, the latter by abstracting. It is quite different the the sophistic rhetoric Jarratt and McComiskey extract from Gorgias, a rhetoric resonating with Latour's ethics of care, meant to expose the constructions, the limitations, the supplements, the excesses, the fissures, the cracks, the associations, the assemblages, the contexts. A rhetoric that trains its attention on the emergence into being; that transforms Levinas's ontological critique from "what is?" to "what can it do with others?" Levinas's emphasis is on the "whole horizon," on the question of the Other that haunts my relation to others, and my negotiations with neighbors.


New Media Production

This fall I will be piloting a New Media Production class for our PhD program. This aims to be different from my usual "read a colossal amount of theory" approach to graduate courses; the emphasis will be on that final word, production, and providing graduate students to experiment with and learn html and css coding, podcasting and video editing, and probably photography and photo manipulation. Here's the write-up for our catalogue I submitted this morning:

Course Description

Beyond familiarity with the ethical and epistemological implications of new media, 21st century humanists require intimate working knowledge of new media communicative tools and techniques. These tools and techniques include: html, css, javascript, rss, blogging, podcasting, vblogging, wikis, and Flash. This course provides students with a rhetorically-oriented introduction to using these tools. Additionally, course readings and discussions will address how the "newness" of these tools refigure the ways we conceptualize the relationships between writers, audiences, and media.

While this course is a production lab, I do not expect any students to enter the classroom with any level of technology skill above being able to save an MS Word document. We will learn coding languages from the ground up.

Course Texts (Subject to Change)

  • Ulmer, Gregory. Internet Invention
  • Holmevik, Jan Rune. Inter/vention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy
  • Rice, Jeff. Digital Detroit: Rhetoric and Space in the Age of the Network
  • Kalman, Maria. The Pursuit of Happiness

Additionally, we will read a number of contemporary articles. Furthermore, I have a recommended list of HTML and CSS tutorial guides, most notably Karl Stolley’s How to Design and Write Web Pages Today.

Course Requirements (Subject to Change)

  1. MyStory Project: Following Ulmer’s Internet Invention and its call for Egents ready to participate in the EmerAgency, we will construct websites that unpack our participation in four different socio-discursive networks (career, school, entertainment, and community)
  2. SF Zero Project: Building from Holmevik’s theory of play, we will evaluate the potential of real world MMO hybrids such as SF Zero for post-critical, post-pedagogy. If there is sufficient interest, we will begin development on USF Zero
  3. Derive Project: Using both Rice’s Digital Detriot and Kalman’s Pursuit of Happiness as relays, we will invent new forms for research and representation that seek to better integrate our logical, ethical, and pathetic/affective relations to spaces
  4. Portfolio Project: We will all construct Professional Web Presences show casing the print and digital works produced as members of USF’s Graduate Program. These portfolios should help students think about how they will market themselves on the job market (or, if MA students, how they will package themselves for PhD programs)


Latour, Levinas, Vitanza, a Rhetoric of Obligation

A quick threading of my last few posts: Levinas, from the later essay "God and Philosophy" (a rather remarkable essay that integrates so much of Levinas's career--the discussion of insomnia from Time and the Other, the insistence upon (un)saying the said from Otherwise than Being, and the extremely difficult discussion of eros from Totality and Infinity):

Transcendence is ethical, and the subjectivity which in the final analysis is not the "I think" (which it is at first sight), or the unity of the "transcendental apperception," is, as responsibility for the other, subjection to the other. The I is a passivity more passive than any passivity, because it is from the outset in the accusative, oneself--which had never been in the nominative--under the accusation of the another, although without sin. The hostage for another, the I obeys a commandment before having heard it; it is faithful to an engagement that it never made, and to a past that was never present. This is a wakefulness--or opening of the self--absolutely exposed, and sobered up from the ecstasy of intentionality. (from Of God Who Comes to Mind 68-69).

I am reading this quote across Bruno Latour's call for a constructive ethos dedicated to protecting and caring in "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam"):

My question is thus: can we devise another powerful descriptive tool that deals this time with matters of concern [rather than epistemological matters of fact and facticity] and whose import then will no longer be to debunk but to protect and care, as Donna Haraway would put it? Is it really possible to transform the critical urge in the ethos of someone who adds reality to matters of fact and not subtractreality? To put it another way, what's the difference between deconstruction and constructivism? (232)

To embrace what Latour elsewhere refers to as a might mightier than might (Pandora's Hope225, 239) is to embrace our primordial obligation to the commandment: "thou shall respond". I read this commandment across Burke's/sophistry's/Levinas/Latour: "thou shall not be absolutely certain." The ethical transformation Latour seeks requires this kind of pathetic motivation--a reminder of our obligation to the others (networks) and Others (the question of the beyond, transcendence). The Other (God/alterity/non-negative/beyond the negative-dialectics of Being and consciousness understood as intentionality) sobers me from my "joyous possession of the world" and commands to enter into the deliberations of the other and the neighbor, to make the difficult choices, to give.

To pay a debt, Levinas reminds us, that costs more than we ever have to give.

The University has scarcely ever committed itself to such an ethical obligation. It has, in the image of Latour's Modernity or Levinas's ontology, been the center of purification, order, kNOwledge (Vitanza's skepticism toward dialectics and negation). We can, I hope, construct a new mission built around Levinas's concepts of obligation and responsibility, wound around Latour's concepts of protection and care. A new poetics, Vitanza might say, dedicated to describing the networks that help us to be, scribbled in the shadow of our perpetual ignorance of what Rightly (or Mightly) lies (in an extra-moral sense?) beyond being. A perpetual questioning of myself brought on by the perpetual question of what is Other.

Response: "Ignorance is Strength"

Here's another post coming from a Facebook prompt. QV pointed me towards Krugman's column "Ignorance is Strength" in today's NYT. My response:

There is so much to say in response here. First: I do think the turn, in the humanities and sciences, toward materialist, ecological, and rhetorical theories does directly oppose conservative economy and ideology. If everything is "indebted" to everything else, then there is no robust individualism, no invisible hand, only a collection of bodies working on/through each other.

Second, the increasing economic disparity of the 1990's and 2000's, combined with a globalized economy, has left America with more people than careers (let's say careers instead of jobs to include under-employment). No amount of education will counter this problem (sorry, President Obama). But, on the other hand, cutting funding to education is not a solution either. (Sidenote: there was an interesting article in the NYT the other day on increases in tuition, stressing that it is much easier to cut funding to schools than it is to cut funding to prisons, since inmates can't pay for their incarceration). What we need is a change in ideology such that we recognize the extent to which our economic system does not provide equal chance to everyone, such that winners recognize they have an obligation to support "losers" (as part of a system that makes possible their success--back to the ecological, material, rhetorical model).

I could probably say more, especially given the Texas-Florida (Perry-Scott) fiasco. Without delving too deep into conspiracy theory, there does seem to be a calculated assault on humanities education in higher education, no doubt driven by a belief that the industrial sciences will be far less vocal in opposing conservative economy and ideology (especially since their funding, via grants, is tied to those industries). But, I think, Krugman's post shows the extent to which we still need social anthropology, beginning at home.


Messiness as a Virtue

I'm re-reading Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous today for my New Media class and really appreciating his chapter "Messiness as a Virtue." Two passages worth sharing (i.e., remembering):

Simplicity was the only reasonable strategy before we developed machines that can handle massive amounts of data and metadata. (182)

To know a thing, thought Aristotle, is to see what is essential about it (that humans are rational animals) and not be fooled just by what happens to be true about it (that humans have their navels on the front). The definitions of those essences determine which things are in a category and which are turned away. Here there is no messiness, only an order so precise and harmonious that it is beautiful. Or so Aristotle and generations of thinkers assumed. So do we when we argue about, say, how to define race, knowledge management, or blogging. But suppose this sort of Aristotelian categorization-through-definition were shown to be an essentially artificial way of approaching the world. Suppose the neatness it strives for is impossible. Suppose messiness is not a flaw in our thinking but enables it. (183)

That second passage resonates with Vitanza's rejection of negative dialectic in Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric, that ontological categorization via the negative (definition) is an attempt to kNOw others (to either reduce them to the same or to eliminate them entirely):

While the negative enables, it disenables. As I've said, it's mostly a disenabler because it excludes. Something is by virtue of Nothing, or what it is not.
The negative--or negative dialectic--is a kind of pharmakon, and in overdoses it is extremely dangerous (e.g., a little girl is a little man without a penis! Or an Aryan is not a Jew! And hence, they do not or should not--because in error--exist). The warning on the label—beware of overdoses—is not enough; for we, as KB says, are rotten with perfection. We would No. That is, say No to females, Jews, gypsies, queers, hermaphrodites, all others. By saying No, we would purchase our identity. Know ourselves. By purifying the world, we would exclude that which, in our different opinions, threatens our identity. (12-13)

And, of course, this is Levinas's problem with philosophy--that it puts ontology before ethics, rather than recognizing that it is the "messiness" (alterity) inherent in the ethical relation that always, already precedes the ontologically-capable thinking self/subject. What Weinberger stresses is the extent to which the negative is a function of literacy (in Ong's terms), and how our new technologies afford us a new perspective to rethink our moral dedication to neatness. Can messiness be akin to Godliness (hint: I think they can, if Godliness calls upon Levinas's notion of the Other beyond Being)?

Question and Answer

On Facebook, someone asks: "Come on people, is it so hard to have manners?"

I would say "yes" because having manners rests on a recognition and prioritization of the other person. So much of our contemporary technological life aims at the obfuscation of other people (iPods, iPhones, e-readers, nintendo DS, etc), at filtering the external world out and amping my internal world up. It takes more and more effort to keep oneself tethered in reality, to acknowledge the face-to-face with others.

I am thinking of D. Diane Davis' discussion of Nancy in the introduction to her Inessential Solidarity. She reminds us that Levinas's primordial concept of the face-to-face "is a relation of nonindifference, Levinas tells us, that pivots neither on shared meaning nor on identification but on an obligation, an imperative that precedes understanding [...] You might whip out your Blackberry or plug into your iPod or feign sleep or complete absorption in your magazine, iPad, or Nintendo DS, but the active refusal to be responsive is a response and so no longer simple indifference" (11). I am tweaking this a bit, suggesting that our contemporary technologies obliviate the other--such that the encounters that trigger the "conscious" responses of avoidance (of avoiding my responsibility toward the other, my hospitality, my repaying the debt) Davis articulates do not present themselves to consciousness. Of course, we still are left with the conscious decision to put these technologies away, and to invest our time in the presence of others. But such investing can be hard, hard work. Worthy work, though.


Help Stop Crippling Budget Cuts

Yesterday we learned of Florida State senator JD Alexander's proposed budget, which would cut USF's state funding by 58%.

Today I am asking all my readers to consider the following articles:

If so moved, then please follow this link to "urge your legislator not to enact massive cuts to higher education."

I would stress that the legislative branch already has enacted massive cuts to higher education; over the last three years, USF's operating budget has been cut by $100 million dollars. That's about 33% of its total operating costs. Massive increases in tuition have off-set some of those costs, but not all. Students are already outraged and feel over-extended. The only way these cuts help stimulate our economy is buy further entrenching our students in debt. This is not a long-term solution.

But there is a strategy to Alexander's madness. To set the discussion at 58% means that accepting a "mere" 25% deduction feels like a fair compromise. It isn't. The Florida system has taken massive cuts for 3 years. It cannot tolerate more, unless one doesn't care about crippling the quality and availability of education. How can you argue that education is central to the future of the economy and simultaneously gut funding to your education systems?

One might argue that education should be left to the free hand of the market. I would argue that the last few years has shown us the extent to which the private sector knows how to operate efficiently and ethically. If anything, investing in education should be seen as a presupposition to the idea of a "free market" because it at least ensures that everyone has equal access to the tools for success. But, again, the strategy here is called "positional bargaining," by setting the initial position at such a ludicrous extreme, it almost ensures that the opposition will have to compromise far more than they feel they should.

We can see Alexander's perverse strategy already playing out. Take, for instance, change.org's web petition to "Have equal budget cuts across the Florida State University System". This is not the argument to make--as one of my graduate students, Dan Richards, so keenly pointed out, we should not approve budget cuts for a fourth straight year that will leave all our Universities in deficit.

I am on my best behavior here. I am trying, very hard, to avoid any mention of a conspiracy theory, of considering what is happening in Florida across what is happening in other states, such as Texas, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Apparently, given those sentences, I can't quite try hard enough.

I remember a verse from my youth, one that helped get me interested in "critical" education in the first place. Zack de la Rocha:

They don't gotta burn the books
They just remove them;
While arm warehouses grow as quick as the cells,
They rally round the family,
With a pocket full of shells


Colbert, Citizens United, and Irony

Apparently I live under some kind of rock, because today was the first I heard of Steven Colbert's PAC. There's a short article over at Slate documenting Colbert's attack on the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision. A few random thoughts:

First, I thought of Gregory Ulmer's theory that in electrate culture, entertainment rises as a dominant apparatus to challenge the authority of religion, science, and the state. Couple Colbert's campaign with the recent success of Wikipedia's blackout and you get a picture of how "entertainment" is rapidly massing political clout. From a sophistic/Latourian perspective, this is a good thing, since it collects more actants into the multitude to contribute to the social drama that constitutes our reality.

Second, I thought it interesting how the author explores the effectiveness of Colbert's strategy--is it leading to authentic change or is it merely more evidence of our "irony fatigue," our cynicism. FTA:

At one level, this is all just comedy, and it’s hard to measure whether Colbert’s sustained attacks on the court’s campaign finance decisions are having any real impact, beyond making us laugh. On the other hand, when the New York Times declares that Colbert’s project is deadly serious, and it’s just the rest of politics that’s preposterous, something more than just theater is happening."

That last sentence reminds me of Baudrillard's riff on Disney World in Simulation and Simulacra, that Disney World isn't the fantasy, but rather the hard kernel of the Real, a representation of our fantastic desire, that makes the rest of the world (the illusion of that world) keep on running. Just a thought there.

I've been writing about Latour today, specifically his emphasis on concern in "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?" and its relation to the desire for ontological purification in We Have Never Been Modern. I'm thinking of Latour's emphasis on a compositional public, transiently organized around matters of concern, through Richard Lanham's Strong Defense of rhetoric, which insists upon viewing truth as the fragile, fluid, and flexible products of an ever-ongoing social drama. To do so dismisses the notion of "just theater." Theater, performance, hypokrisis, lexis--its all we got.


Gmail is Awesome

Today I discovered that gmail prompt you with the question "did you forget to attach a document" if you write "attach" in an email and then hit send. Neat stuff. I was telling a student that I attached a reading to our course site--but there's plenty of times I need that reminder. Point for Google.


Discrimination or a Bad Day?

Via Facebook, a story from Native News Network about a student suspended for using her native language in class. FTA:

"The teacher went back to where the two were sitting and literally slammed her hand down on the desk and said, "How do I know you are not saying something bad?"

As a former high school teacher, I get it. There are days when you just are on edge. I once through a persistent problem child out of class because she sneezed. I just didn't have the fight in me that day.

I am hoping, based on the quote, that this teacher was having one of those days. Too bad for her it has become a meme on Facebook. There might be a context to this story beyond the article.

This reminds me that ethics is something to which we work because, put simply, we need less of this in the world. The default reaction to what we don't know is often fear, but that is something we can work to overcome.


Dear Football Gods

Please, don't let us lose to the Giants. I've had the pleasure of Super Bowl wins. They were dandy. That loss back in 07 really humbled us. I could lose to any other team and say, "wow, its been a great year." But not Eli. Not the Giants.

That is all.

EDIT: The game didn't quite go as planned. But at least the commercials were solid this year.


Education in Ruins; a War of Nerves

I've talked about my love for Bill Reading's The University in Ruins on this blog before. Today I came across a disturbing news item on Facebook that made me think of Reading's warning, a warning echoed by Mark C. Taylor in The Moment of Complexity: that if, after the decimation of the Modern Enlightenment project (Lyotard, etc), educators failed to provide a robust and compelling justification for education, then one would be constructed for them. Kant's institution sealed faculty from public scrutiny, provided they obeyed State laws. The old motto: "think but obey." That was the deal Kant and Humbodlt struck for institutions of higher learning in their seminalConflict of the Faculties--the public stays out of curriculum, and the educators stay out of politics.

Increasingly, however, the State (the polis) has rescinded this contract. The fiasco in Texas regarding history textbooks in 2010 was a clear shot across the bow: no longer will faculty be free to determine what gets taught in classrooms. Those decisions will now be made outside the discipline. With the deconstruction of the Modern University, and its goals of universality and assimilation, goes the forcefield that shielded academics from the realm of politics. Of course, there's more going on here: the radical shift in Universities from centers of conservative values to liberal critique, the massive increase of students attending University, the increasing polarization and invective of political discourse in the electric era, etc. My point is simply that the classroom is no longer isolated from politics. In fact, the classroom is a political hot spot, if the events in Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida tell us anything.

Now we can add New Hampshire to the list. Huffington Post:

The Tea Party dominated New Hampshire Legislature on Wednesday overrode the governor's veto to enact a new law allowing parents to object to any part of the school curriculum.

There's a small part of me, a Levinasian part, that argues we could interpret such a law as inviting alterity--forcing educators to consider different perspectives. But that voice is drowned out by another part of me, screaming that school is supposed to be a center for challenging beliefs, encountering difference, and inspiring change. Again, we call them the liberal arts for a reason (and have all the way back to Cicero, who saw oratory as the art of adjusting the convictions of the republic).

But there's another aspect here that really bothers me--the lack of respect it affords educators to determine what should be taught. The article indicates that parents are responsible for paying the costs of alternative curriculum--but think of the amount of time and energy that will be dedicated to Intelligent Design (which, I would argue, is one of the real intentions here--not "whole language" or "everyday math"). FTA:

Hoell stressed the new law could allow parents to address both moral and academic objections to parts of the curriculum. The lawmaker said he could imagine the provision being utilized by parents who disagree with the "whole language" approach to reading education or the Everyday Math program.

"What if a school chooses to use whole language and the parent likes phonics, which is a better long-term way to teach kids to read?" Hoell said to HuffPost.

What about the fact that education, both curriculum and pedagogy, is an intense area of study and that those who shape curriculum have years, if not a lifetime, of training? As if we needed more evidence of how little respect some people have for the difficulty of educating well. As if education didn't require expertise. The emphasis placed on standardization and assessment by No Child Left Behind and the Spellings Commission influences, at least implicitly, how we teach. But, to me, the events in Texas and now New Hampshire are much more invasive--directly assaulting what we teach.

We should see this for what it is. Burke would remind us that this is war, a logomachy over the logos guiding our nation's identity. It is a war from which the Modern University provided academia amnesty. In the 21st century, it is a war we must be willing to fight.

Let you alone! That's all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

Fahrenheit 451