Saturday, December 23, 2006

Finishing a paper

I've spent the last two days revising and cutting a paper that I plan to send out to an unnamed journal (I just realized that the blogosphere could be corrupting blind review!). I've been having a lot of success blogging my way through tough spots in papers over the last year or so, but this paper was moving along pretty nicely. I thought I was close to sending it out today, but I ran out of time, and realized that the conclusion is pretty weak.

I am applying a couple of Scott McCloud's set of concepts to Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore's The Medium is the Massage, but my ending just fizzles. I have two main sections in the paper--each one applying McCloud--so what I probably need to do is make the final section much more of a synthesis section: show how closure and word-picture relations work in the last 10 pages of the MM rather than keep the two concepts separate. I think I was stumbling towards that kind of synthesis, but I think if I really foreground what I am doing in the conclusion, that will strengthen the final section. The final 10 pages seems very much subject to subject or aspect to aspect--a distinction, I am also realizing, that could probably be strengthened in the paper. I think the final 10 pages is about subject positions and identity--that's what I am calling the scene--so the question becomes, are the transitions following any sense of chronology or inter-relatedness (subject to subject, this than that), or are they just aspects of identity: observer of the maelstrom, additional identity (who are you), get it or dont' get it? Hip or square? Probably aspect to aspect. As for word-picture relations, one of the two-page spreads has the Poe "Descent into the Maelstrom" that McLuhan loved, with an additive image--business man surfing. The image is jokey and silly, and doesn't precisely illustrate the saying, but it does invoke a later book title for McLuhan: culture is our business. The Alice in Wonderland sequence has both additive, perhaps duo-specific, although the numbered silouttes is interdependent; readers could figure out the game without the Alice quotation, but the Alice quotation brings a lot to the panels. The setting of the New Yorker cartoon adds a lot to the message of the text, making it vital to the overall message--interdependent? Very much self-contained; ending with a comic might be a strong clue to read this book as a comic.

Okay, I think I have this worked out, and am seeing other possibilities for strengthening the essay--10 a day is an amazing process.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Life list

1. Write two books: McLuhan for Compositionists: Working the Interface and Understanding Games, subtitle to be developed. Start with "Fathers playing Yu-Gi-Oh with Sons."
2. Go to Africa: try to do good work there. Follow through on Darfur E-Monument as a starting point for action.
3. Make a film about curling, quality of life, national identity, and buddies.
4. Let Griffin find his path; avoid conflict; follow zen parenting.
5. Achieve greater inner peace and happiness: live in the moment(s).

I drafted this list during the summer. Sunday November 18, 2007, I committed myself to going to Africa: Kenya then Sudan. I hope I can do some good there; just seeing how excited my Sudanese friend Joseph is about the trip helps me believe that good is already being done.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

CW proposal

Gotta find some time to write a CW proposal. Been reading Ulmer's Electronic Monuments, been wanting to do something with McLuhan's War and Peace in the Global Village, been inspired by a students' project on the forgotten war in Afghanistan, so I am trying to think through a MEmorial for the Darfur region of the Sudan and the Sudanese Lost Boys.

Been watching some videos tonight, and the narrations tend to make the same claim that Ulmer is making in EM: that issues and events get lost in the society of the spectacle. What puzzles commentators on Darfur is that this spectactle is among the most attrocious, the most violent of the late 20th early 21st century, yet it garners so little attention.

Thinking about something like "Link Farm to EM: MeMorials for the Global Village." Wondering what it is that an EM or MeMorial will do that the PBS reports and videos, websites, newspaper articles, etc., haven't been able to do. Wondering about the policy component; wondering what the state of ND can do that the world has not been able to do, because we have these boys in FM, and they are having a more comfortable life, but a very difficult life full of memories, longings, and a sense of helplessness. Seems like I need to ask this question in the presentation: what can these MeMorials do?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

collective wisdom

I asked the TAs to tell me what they needed the rest of the semester, and some complied. Others took a broader approach, and gave me some great suggestions for what would have been useful throughout the semester. I am going to try and collect some of that collective wisdom.

Demonstrate my own grading more, and earlier. I don't know why I haven't thought of doing this, or maybe I have and simply haven't been organized enough. I think I will need to make sure that I do a lot of electronic grading next semester, and save a range of papers for each assignment. I actually did this way back in 1998, but haven't done so since. I also think that even if I do this grading electronically, I need to print those documents off. I need to distribute a much more substantial "guide to the program" not just for TAs but for adjuncts, too.

Spend more time on Blackboard and the Multimedia cart. I have mixed feelings about these suggestions, but will try to come up with some better plans. My students last year said "spend less time on BB," so let's hope there is a happy medium out there. The MM cart hasn't really come up as a problem before, so either this year's TAs were more adventerous in their use of the carts, or the carts are breaking down and becoming more and more difficult to work with.

I have also been wondering if I simply should ask students to do more "practice teaching" in TA strategies. The environment, however, is so different. There is nothing quite like teaching to 22 students who may or may not want to be in class, who may or may not want to do your assignments, and who may or may not respect your authority. A bunch of really intangible things seem to be pretty important to teaching: being able to "sell an assignment," something that usually takes a few years of teaching an assignment; simply being able to explain material clearly, which is virtually impossible the first time through; being confident, which seems to either be a personality trait, or something that comes slowly with experience. I have been wondering, "should I just tell new TAs that they are about to experience one of the worst, if not the worst, semester of their lives, but I hope they survive, recover, and grow with the experience." I almost quit my MA and PhD during the first semester of both, and I don't know what anybody could have done to make them better.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

answering my own question

after I posed the question to the TAs, "what do you want? what did we miss?" etc., I of course started thinking about my own possible answers even more. I have been thinking about this in terms of "how do I know if I am on the right track?" and that has lead me to think about some key questions to ask myself. These are questions all teachers might need to ask themselves regularly.

1. Am I teaching X (reading, writing, research, whatever) or am I just assigning it? If X is important--and complex, which all these things are-- I should be teaching it?

2. Okay, so I decided I am teaching X, but are my students learning X? And what is reasonable in terms of learning expectations? I hear a lot of teachers, not just TAs, express frustration that they feel like they have covered X really well, but students just don't show any improvement or comprehension. Assessment and grading are good ways to check on learning, but this learning thing also takes time on the part of students, so it takes time on the part of teachers. Sometimes we just have to wait and see that portfolio to see if what we have been teaching translates into any significant learning. And as for expectations--only a few As, a handful or more of Bs, some Cs, and maybe a D or two is reasonable. This seems like a simple and traditional bell curve, but I have noticed during 15 years of teaching that most teachers seem to expect better from their students.

3. Am I trying to do too much? I have been guilty of this many times, and experience may be the only teacher here. Definitely a question we have to ask ourselves.

4. Am I doing too little? You saw that one coming. I worry about not intervening enough. I think I have the workload more of less figured out (see above), but I am not sure I always intervene sufficiently. I don't collect work every day, I don't have a lot of students stopping by for additional support. Can I do some additional interventions that might help? Gotta keep asking myself this.

Oh, and just to go a different direction, I was thinking of a schema that would look something like this:
1. Am I addressing the textual elements of this assignment?
2. Am I addressing the cognitive elements of this assignment?
3. Am I addressing the social elements of this assignment?
4. Am I addressing the affective elements of this assignment?

Jennie wrote in her blog that she was looking for some concrete answers, not more fuzziness--ooops.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What have I missed?

We are at the point in the semester where I am wondering, "what have I missed?" "what didn't I cover?" "what do new TAs need that I haven't provided?" I can take a couple of guesses, but I hope they just tell me ; )

1. More direct discussion of teaching writing, teaching rhetoric, teaching genre. I worry that I assume too much--I assume that a rhetorical approach to writing is familiar to TAs, when it probably isn't.

2. I worry that we don't do enough in class. We discuss and talk, but I am not sure what everyone / anyone takes away from class.

3. I also worry that there are just so many things about teaching that can't exactly be taught. My 110 class last Thursday was a talk-around on zero drafts. My students were a bit sluggish, and not precisely responding to each other, so I filled a lot of silence with questions and ideas for their papers. I have been teaching "new literacy" for quite a while, and this is my research area, so that was easy for me to do. Probably not the case for others, which is why TAs and other teachers want to teach material they are familiar with. The class was more or less successful, and the general principal of circling up and talking is easy enough to teach, but a whole bunch of other things had to happen to make things work.

Okay, that point has got me thinking about the need to get material into the hands of TAs so much earlier than I currently do. I was jotting notes on this yesterday--I should probably prepare a welcome letter / package as soon as somebody is accepted, I should probably have CTW and any supplemental texts ready, I should probably have some technology suggestions ready. Don't know if anyone could feasibly start to prepare themselves in May, June, or July before teaching, but it might be worth a try.

Getting the materials into hands sooner does not, of course, entirely answer the question, "what have I missed?" I will need to get the TAs to tell me.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Thinking tetrads

Thinking about the paper we are working on, and the value of the tetrad. Also how to represent it. The list of blogging characteristics at the start of Bonnie Nardie et al's paper is good--keep in touch with others, thinking through writing, express ideas, follow issues--but if we think about a tetrad as the electrate version of the list, it provides us with four lists occupying roughly the same space, with items on the list interacting.

I have been thinking about our paper sections, and toying with the idea that we tell our stories chronologically, but we highlight, or do something interesting, with our key ideas--bold, different font, etc.--and then end the section with our personal tetrads, finishing the paper ultimately with a really complex tetrad. We would need to include in that final tetrad the possibility that some items might be both obsolesced (serious academic work--obsolesced by extensive and intensive blogging), yet retrieved by strategic, ten-minutes-a-day bloggin.

This final image might seem and feel a bit like a data cloud.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The rhythm of the semester.

If I were a better blogger, if I were to keep the journaling / notetaking up more consistently and be more precise with my observations, I bet I would find that every semester has a predictable rhythm. Because I am a sporadic blogger, I will just have to trust my memory, and record the rhythms of this semester.

1. Good (even high) energy start: students are excited to be at college, I have a pretty good set of icebreaking exercises--I've gotten off to a good start in the fall the last 4 years--memory starts to fade after that.

2. Energy drop about week 3 or 4. Students get overwhelmed and over-extended, the fun icebreaking gets replaced by the work of the class, they don't really trust me until they get grades. Then they just hate me ; )

3. Weeks 5-10 have ups and downs, but generally smooth sailing. Everybody gets in a rhythm, the occasional class goes "clunk," but overall, these weeks seem low maintenance.

4. Weeks 11-14 are tough. Everybody is exhausted, some people bail out. I might have lost 2 who were attending with some regularlity. I know I have lost three who have exceeded the limit. Even though students might be enjoying their work on PPT videos, they are tired in class. I worry that the videos might actually wipe a few of them out. I try to stay positive and upbeat here, but this stretch is tough.

I'm going linger here for a bit, because this exhaustion is what motivated me to write this entry. I see the exhaustion in my students, in the TAs, and while I am little tired myself, that is mainly because I couldn't sleep worrying about others' exhaustion. This collective exhaustion makes me question some of the work I am assigning, and the courses I am designing. Are there ways I can alter this pattern, or are the larger social factors--declining sunlight, absence of a fall semester break, first semester for 110 students and TAs--simply too great of an obstacle to overcome? We talked about assignments in TA strategies class yesterday: are there too many? Are some too difficult or simply too boring?

I have noticed another factor that plays a role in our teacher's rhythm right now--spring book orders. Two years ago I just locked up--I couldn't decide what to do in 120, which lead to my worst semester of 120. This year, I can't decide whether to stay with White Like Me or try out They Know What You Want. I think making this decision is incredibly difficult and anxiety producing when the fall semester is at such a tough point. And in thinking about these choices, I am trying to think about the rhythm of the spring semester. This year, I am also trying to think about the Fall 2007 TAs, and what their semester might look like. WLM would be the more familiar kind of text--memoir, substantial issue, a discussion generator. That is probably a good thing to keep in mind. Rebecca was talking about the troubles her students had rhetorically analyzing WLM, and 110 students had lots of trouble with FRC. Maybe a tweak to the assignment would be to pick a story within a chapter--every chapter has multiple stories. I think the commentary to follow WLM also needs to be supported by some fairly concrete, operational activities. Maybe I need to go back to a genre choice: memoir or commentary, with memoir defined as 80% you and 20% argument, and commentary as 80% argument and 20% you?

Okay, I think I just wrote myself into a decision, which is what these blogging things are all about, right? So, you are now wondering, what happens during weeks 15-16?

After thanksgiving, students come back surprisingly upbeat. They know that if they make it back, they will be okay. They realize that even though they might have received a D or two, they can now revise, and they can drop one assignment. In a good semester, they feel like they have really accomplished something--you offered them a challenge, and they made it. They might even feel like they have learned something.

Friday, October 27, 2006

ideas get away

wow, I am down to posting once every two weeks--not much of a model blogger, am I?

It's not that I haven't wanted to blog--I have just been a bit wiped out. Very groggy in the evening; I wonder if the lack of sunlight has something to do with my grogginess? Better get outside this weekend, even though I am trying to write three papers right now.

My memoir unit in 110 went smoothly. Students seemed to enjoy the "talk around" almost as much as last year's students. A nice low-key day that also has lots of learning potential. Students get to hear each other's topics, I get to try and stress the argument, I get to give them 30 seconds of feedback, and sometimes their peers give them great feedback. I didn't use the talk around with the commentary last year, but I think I will this year. The peer review day wasn't well-executed, but we listened to one student read--he was getting really positive feedback from his peers--and we looked at one student's paper on the projector. We were able to give him some decent feedback.

There is always too much to do and say in TA strategies, so we rushed through a discussion of Anne Wysocki's chapter in WNM. I don't know how much others got out of it beyond what we discussed, but reading her critique of McLuhan, then her implicit agreement with McLuhan, helped me see that whether McLuhan or a technological determinist or not doesn't matter very much. However we use or draw on him, we, in 2006, can do our best to NOT use the logic of technological determinism. Wysocki does a nice job of pointing out that we strive to support our students' (and our own) agency when we write the new media, but we also need to acknowledge the ways in which the technologies structure (or limit, or massage) our uses of them. Some version of this discussion will need to make its way into McLuhan for Compositionists.

Back to students. I asked them to bring in storyboards for their PPT videos. Last year it was like pulling teeth to get the storyboards, but this year, I made it worth 25 points and I asked them to bring the hard copy to the conference. They all brought something except one student, and she ended up doing a nice job on the spot, in my office. It was fun to see her work. I also had a student do some really good revising as we conferenced today--I guess the last two days of conferencing have been very good!

Friday, October 13, 2006

thinking about portfolios

Reading rhetorical analyses, seeing lots of potential, but worrying that many students won't revise. Also worrying generally about the "blow-off" factor--ignore one assignment, only three need to go into the portfolio, etc.

That got me thinking: maybe I should have each "pencil draft" be worth 50 points (which would add up to 200 points total) and then have the portfolio be worth 500 points--the revised papers plus letter. That would encourage stronger drafts (perhaps), but not destroy someone's grade if he / she did poorly on a draft. It would also result in lower grades overall (likely), but would also perhaps discourage me (and others) from giving really honest feedback (would I give out 30/50 if it wasn't erasable?).

Quick thought I didn't want to lose--back to grading.

Monday, October 09, 2006

You know you are writing a paper when . . .

it's 12:58 am and you are typing in your blog. That means a) you can't sleep because your brain is on fire, and b) you don't really want to write, because you'd rather be sleeping, so you blog instead.

Doc and I are messing with the classical trivium and trying to apply it to new media. I was actually dozing when I got hit by the so what, but I am not sure I caught it in my haze. I was working on this earlier in the evening, and it does seem like a number of people have identified various educational tensions, but they always identify those tensions in twos: rhetoric and philosophy (fish), orators and philosophers (kimball), rhetoric and poetics (Berlin), but the trivium suggests 3 ways of dicing and slicing research, teaching, and curriculums: grammar (now literature, linguistics, even history), rhetoric (still pretty much rhetoric), and dialectics (philosophy).

McLuhan often ends up blending rhetoric and grammar, and he more or less suggested in his diss that grammar (the collecting, sorting, categorizing, and interpreting of texts, including the book of nature) is necessary to support both rhetoric (eloquent wisdom) and dialectic (the pursuit of truth). Maybe what struck me as I was trying to fall asleep was that grammar (in the classical senses) has indeed been under attack in two ways that we need to articulate in this article:

1. the dialecticians pick away at the limitation of grammatical categories and labels, and
2. the rhetoricians of the 20th century teach their subject (our subject, my subject) as if we don't need all that wisdom, all those texts. We teach writing without Literature, and we teach "new media" without giving ourselves (in some cases) and our students a grounding / history / sense of the scope of new media.

We rhetoricians need the grammarians, and, despite what McLuhan thinks, we need the dialecticians. Or we need to be able to play all three in our classrooms and in our curriculums.

On a metanote, writing in a blog, ten minutes a day (as metaphor, not literal), is liberating. I have been grinding and hacking away at that essay when I can over the weekend, but the writing is slow and difficult when done within the essay as a whole. I came to the nice open space of the blog, and the dialogue box was mine to fill-up. This essay started with a blog note, developed through other notes, and will undoubtedly need get stretched out via blogging along the way.

Monday, October 02, 2006

More collections of thoughts

Not blogging enough to keep entries to a single topic, so here go a few more note(card)s:

1. Michael Ferris, MA student at Oregon State, dropped by Ten A Day and seemed interested in the teaching blogs collected at my bloglines account. I'm still a little freaked out when people stumble across my blog, because I don't have many identifiers on it, and I am not part of anybody's A, B, or C list, but it was nice that Michael found the site. I have enjoyed reading his blog as much as any other blog on my blogroll.

2. I noticed that Paula had a weekend away from teaching and school in general, and the same was true for me--sort of. Gave me a chance to do some scholarship: the relevance of the classical trivium for new media. I wrote about that on the blog way back in August, but haven't had a chance to do anything with it since then. Writing is good, writing is therapeutic, writing is my job--if only I could do it for 10 minutes a day.

3. The TAs are working on literacy narratives / memoirs. They seem a little bit nervous about the assignment (asking me what I am looking for, how long (just kidding), and stuff like that), but I am really excited to see where their memoirs go. I have seen some drafts and talked to a few people: great material.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Catching up!

It's been a while since I have blogged, and I have missed the process. Perhaps because no blogging = too busy.

I have been storing up some teaching observations, however.

1. My son is taking skating lessons--Beginner Level 1. Not unlike English 110, right? So what's the pedagogy? In a 45 minute session the instructors must have asked the kids to try 10-15 different things: arms out, knees bent, in and out, push and glide, etc., etc.. No "drill and skill." No "keep doing it till you get it right." More of a "try this skill, then this skills, then this one--have some fun. Week 2 they actually did slow down a little bit, and tried to be more interventionist--the instructors in Week 1 were doing some informal evaluation, looking for strong skaters and weak skater, and now they were trying to address specific issues with individual students. Proud Canadian Dad moment: when an instructor worked with my son 1-on-1 a few times, she asked him to demonstrate a couple of different skills, then asked him to move up to the next level for week 3. Just like being invited to skip 110?

2. I just came back from teaching in SE 314--NDSU's first really flexible, wireless, classroom. What a blast. I had notes on the north and south chalk boards, I was displaying CTW with the document reader up front, then I showed a little PPT, and we finished up with 25 minutes of group work, where the students did a decent job of moving tables around and really working together. This classroom isn't huge, but I was able to be much more mobile, and the students had more room and flexibility than Minard 204. The medium is the massage; the room massages the pedagogy and learning.

3. TA blogs sounded the theme "I have failed my students!" Most were able to recognize that they hadn't failed their students, but what an interesting response for so many of them to have. Being a TA is really "stepping behind the curtain." As students, they were all good writers, but probably didn't realize how others were doing in class. Now that they see the whole picture, they are finding the 1, 2, or 3 students who were like them, but also finding that 18-20 have skills that range from "okay" to "yikes"!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Teaching ideas

I just thought to myself: why don't I use a highlighter when I grade? Highlight passage that I want to talk about with students when we confernece, make a few notes, cut down on the writing, get them to make the note when they are sitting with me at the confernece. Makes sense--let's hope I can break my old habits of writing too much.

Also gotta remember not to write too much in the rubric, and then just repeat myself in the end comments. Big time suck. I could put numerical scores in the rubric, or actually add more lines to the rubric.

I've also been thinking about the difference between "teaching the course content" and "teaching with the course content." I feel like I have been giving my students a lot of information, but not necessarily teaching with the content as effectively as I could. I am trying to limit my use of "tell me what I am thinking" comments and "tell me what I have told you" comments, but I don't always break those old habits.

Where did all these old bad habits come from? Why are they still lingering? : (

Those highlighters should brighten my teaching day! And conferences were a really positive point in my semester last year--hope the same is true this semester.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

RE-presenting McLuhan

Got my acceptance to CCCC--March in NyC. The title is "Re-Presenting Marshall McLuhan," and the session title is the ultimate wanker session title: "Imporant Men in 20th Century Rhetorical Theory" or something like that. As Betsy pointed out, however, it is good to call it what it is--not important rhetoricians in the 20th century, but important men who do rhetorical theory. Nice touch by the conference organizers--Cheryl Glenn's influence, no doubt.

So I was taking some notes on Eloquent Images and got distracted to thinking about how I want to do this presenting. I was thinking earlier this morning that the real things I have to say/ do include:

1. complicating the whole modern-postmodern binary by working in the anti-moderns and / as McLuhan. I have a tetrad like representation of this that could be a one page handout to talk through. IE. Exhibit 1: if we take McLuhan seriously, we should also take seriously the need to understand a wider range of responses to the last 150 years--since the photograph, since movies, since massive technological shifts (the age of invention).

2. I have also been working with hot-cool and the McCloud big triangle: that could be another slide Exhibit 2.

3. Two might be enought, but my third most interesting image might be the McLuhan map.

Just getting some response to these images would be really valuable for my book project. These would also be good, challenging design projects for me to be working on, and they might look good on my website! I suppose a bibliography with McLuhan in Composition Studies might also be a good handout as a way to re-present my literataure survey. I could organize it in revers chronological order, and change font size to indicate how much of McLuhan gets used.

Oh, and finally, I could present these images at our faculty lunch scholarship sessions to get some initial feedback. Good goal!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I wonder if DDV is reading this?

Two reasons for posting; as I read NSC's post at English Teacher , I couldn't help but wonder if your mutual friend, DDV, has taken to reading NSC's blog. DDV hates blogs, she hates reading about people's days, but I bet she would be pretty interested in reading NSC's blog--unless she has heard it all before it hits the blog.

Second reason--I am trying out the "blog this!" feature for the first time. Right click on any item and presto, a publishing box pops up. I've known of this feature for a while, just slow to use it. I am also trying out a new browser, Flock. I read blogs where people are always trying out great new internet software, and I think--I wish I had time to just mess around with applications.

Crazy busy this week with lots of classroom visits and meetings and my own classes, but if I stay calm and focused, it will go smoothly. As a brash 20 something, I figured experience wasn't all it is cracked up to be. As 40 looms, I'm kinda digging the experience. I wish I could teach experience to the TAs as I see them / read about the class conflicts they are dealing with. My class may look bored at times, but I don't get no guff and resistance--at least on the surface.

Or maybe I just wish I had designed more interesting classes for them to work with. Sorry team!!

: (

PS-- Blog this! didn't work so well.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

We are what we do

I got some feedback on the Trivium project I wrote about a few posts back, and a reader understandably resisted my connection between Dialectic and Deconstruction. McLuhan's history is in part an affective history, a Burkean "attitudes toward history," perhaps, and for him the categories of grammarian, rhetorician, and dialectician are defined largely by what people do and how they do it.

A dialectician, like Aristotle or Aquinas, is not only defined by their use of probable reasoning to solve a problem, but their larger project of close analysis, division, some might say, hair splitting. These attitudes are evident when dialecticians, grammarians, rhetoricians are discussed informally, but seldom included in scholarly accounts--as far as I can tell, at least. When they are applied, the (mis)characterized party is heartily offended.

But I digress.

I am what I do: I increasingly teach the production of new media (rhetoric), typically in the context of a broad understanding of new media / models (grammarian), and find myself increasingly drifting away from the critique of new media (dialectician). I feel the critique can be absorbed into the grammarian / rhetorical aspects, and that critique on its own is something I used to do, but found increasingly unsatisfying and untennable. Untenable? Where's the spell check!?

Contemporary dialecticians, undoubtedly, don't see it my way, and will continue to privilege critique, although also exploring production through innovative presentation of ideas (Derrida, Glas; Taylor and Essanin, Imagologies, and Ulmer, if he hasn't already switched over into the grammar / rhetoric camp).

As a publication directed at a journal on rhetoric, I suppose the way to approach this project is to acknowledge the ways in which most of are approaching New Media as rhetoricians, and then make an argument for the importance of not looking exclusively at the work being done by rhetoricians. Not an earth-shattering pronouncement in a field that is frequently interdisciplinary; I guess my angle here is actually that us rhetoricians have frequently been dialecticians even as we call ourselves rhetoricians--we offer more critique than production. Old argument too--is there anything new under the sun? Is anybody in the field a grammarian? That might be interesting? My sense here is that when we teach topics like "digital rhetoric" we rely on anthologies of scholarship, rather than anthologies of production. We teach from theory rather than practice. That might be a point to push and press.

Sooooo, what does the trivium offer us: a tradition of balance, a recognition of attitude, a way to acknowledge that we are what we do. Can anybody spell "circular"?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A blogging community forming?

Last night, after I read 2 or 3 blog posts by the new TAs I am working with, I felt a palpable sense of relief. I could see them thinking through the challenges of teaching, and I could see them coming to insights (read yesterday's entry for more details).

Tonight, I went to Bloglines and there were 7 new entries--I was pumped, and enjoyed reading all of them. Chester followed up the dream talk with his epic dream of leading troops / students across the Alps, just like Hannibal. Meghan and Jenny both had great insights about not trying to do too much. DS found that Klosterman woke his students up--a good thing--but wondered: has he woken them up for the right reasons? KD is worried about how her students are perceiving her; she is wondering if they believe what she is saying. I remember those doubts, and I remember actually not knowing what I was saying, my first few years of teaching. I might be missing one or two entries here, but overall, reading their entries really helps me feel in touch with how their teaching is going, and while none would say "perfectly," all are doing quite well for the first semester.

I was saying to Betsy the other day that having 10 new TAs does make me nervous; I don't know if I can give all of them the individual feedback that would probably help them more than general discussions of teaching. The first time I taught the course, there were 12 new TAs, and a few were struggling in ways that I didn't realize until too late. Last year there were only 4 new TAs, and the semester went quite smoothly. How d'ya like that: teacher-student ratio probably makes a difference. Well I don't want to sound like some pie-in-the-sky technophile, I do think encouraging everybody to blog might be one way I can give more individualized feedback. And, if this isn't being similarly overly adjectively optimistic, I bet that a lot of them will figure out ways to improve their teaching via blogging--I think I see it happening already.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teaching dreams

Paula wrote about a teaching dream she had, and it made me laugh a bit, although the laugh of sympathy. I frequently start the semester with any number of teaching dreams: forgetting where my class is, trying to teach two classes at once, completely forgetting what subject I am teaching, etc. Teaching can be stressful business.

But I also really like Paula's analogy with parenting: you worry that you are doing everything wrong, but your children turn out to be alright in the end. I would add, that if they don't turn out alright, it isn't necessarily the parent's fault ; )

As teachers, we need to believe in what we are doing, and trust that students will meet us half way. It is good to question, reflect, and improve upon our teaching, but we need to be careful not to try too hard. Sometimes we twist ourselves in knots trying to teach the perfect class or cover all the bases, and what is need is less, not more. Sure the postmodern architects like to say "less is a bore," and we need to keep that in mind too, but sometimes less really is more.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Time to reflect on teaching

My blog has been all McLuhan all the time as of late, but I have asked students in both of my classes to start blogging, so it might be a good idea to reflect on teaching instead of research.

After only a week and half, I am having to juggle the schedule in one class and explain a short assignment in another class. Both are really typical teaching moves, and they highlight two of the hardest things to master with teaching: pace and clarity.

Pace. I definitely err on the side of speed, thinking that it is better to get off to an energetic and ambitious start than a sluggish meandering start. Classes usually find a rhythm after a few weeks, and they always have their ebbs and flows throughout the semester. It took me quite a while to learn this--experience really is good for something.

Clarity. I wrote really short directions for a short writing assignment on my class schedule, and after I got a few emails from students, I realized that I was asking students to do about 4 things, all of which needed more explanation than the one sentence description I put on the schedule. These moments are really fascinating examples of just how hard it is to communicate effectively with people, especially with people you are just starting to get to know. I bet a one sentence description like that one might work late in the semester, when students are familiar with me and the assignments, but I can see how I was asking students to do too many new things all at once. Pace.

I will slow down in both classes on Thursday. We will talk, we will breathe, we will try to achieve clarity.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

David Byrne understands Marshall McLuhan

There is lots of evidence that David Byrne understands Marshall McLuhan, but a recent blog entry makes the point that the medium is the massage beautifully.

MM's diss. ends with an analysis of how Thomas Nashe was influenced by the grammarians, dialecticians, and rhetoricians of his education. A similar analysis of many new media artists would uncover, I suspect, McLuhan's influence (grammarian/rhetorician). Some would uncover Derrida's influence (the dialecticians), probably the postmodern poets and novelists, perhaps Michael Joyce). If it weren't late, I would try to generate other names and connections. Gotta flesh out the web of relations.

Slightly related note: Sketches of Gehry, a documentary about Frank Gehry, illuminates creativity, collaboration, experimentation, and some beautiful buildings. Worth checking out!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How container ships changed the world

Three books on shipping contains reviewed in the New York Review of Books. McLuhan is probably never cited, but these books illustrate "the medium is the massage" beautifully.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

From Cliche to Archetype: McLuhan's composition text?

I have actually been telling those who will listen that From Cliche to ARchetype is McLuhan's neglected masterpiece, but perhaps more relevant to us compositionists is the possibility that the book is a kind of composition text, in the philosophical tradition. McLuhan even makes a hint in that direction: "The banishing of the cliche from serious attention was the natural gesture of literary specialists. . . . The writers of composition texts have made much of the cliche as they understand it. They are right in saying that the cliche ought to get great crical attention" (55).

I suspect McLuhan is implying that the composition texts spend a lot of time advising writers to avoid cliches, while McLuhan is in fact suggesting that writers / scholars / artists (because the cliche is not simply verbal) spend a lot of time working with cliches. Cliches, McLuhan argues, are probes, a term he uses often and loosely, but what I think he is getting at is the fact that cliches used unreflectively can reveal all sorts of personal and cultural biases (embedded ways of thinking), while cliches that are carefully and self-consciously retrieved can be powerful means of communication that bring with them rich and evocative histories, having been retrieved from Yeates' "rag and bone shop of the heart."

Okay, so the whole cliche as probe thing needs some refining, but it definitely seems like it has potential for compositionists. McLuhan and his co-author, Wilfred Watson, have laced the text with many other composition tools to be used. For example, they essentially offer up a version of Peter Elbow's "believing and doubting game" and put that into the general set of perceptual tools they call probes. The book as a whole is concerned with the problems / challenges of creativity, which I wrote about a few days agao. This process of retrieval, as I also suggested the other day, is an approach to language and literature that assumes agency and action, rather than study and analysis. The book offers up McLuhan's standard argument that the role of art is to provide an anti-environment through which we can reveal the invisible environments we live in, the water we fish swim in. The chapter on genre is genre ecology and media ecology all roled into one and offers a nice critique of Frye's literary approach to genre. The chapter begins with the subtitle: "Talent rides in a hackneyed vehicle" which seems to me like a beautiful and under-used aphorism in genre studies.

I suppose there is a whole article just on McLuhan as anti-environment for genre studies: why are we just now (36 years later) coming to roughly the same conclusions McLuhan and Watson arrived at in 1970? Not because they were geniuses ahead of their time, I suspect, but because we are living through a long age of interface, a long age of literacy and electracy overlapping, and the transition will be slow, the "progress" meager, the theory hope and claims of radical transformation extravegent.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

McLuhan in a different context

I keep writing about McLuhan and Ulmer, but last night, reading From Cliche to Archetype, McLuhan really clarified his difference from Northrop Frye, his nemesis. In defining "symbol," McLuhan quotes Frye's formalist / scientistic definition of symbol as something like (paraphrase here) 'any unit of meaning that can be isolated for examination of significance.' McLuhan's own definition of symbol draws on the etymology of the word, which means "thrown together," and McLuhan sees symbols not as static units to be analyzed, but the process of making symbols, the throwing together of images in order to create new meaning, or in the context of the book the throwing together of cliches (retrieving them) to make them fresh, to establish archetypes (which also happen to be "in play" and not static). In short, McLuhan sets up Frye as the formalist, and presents himself as the rhetorician.

This book also seems to be very much in concert with Derrida's thinking about the role of traces and marks that accumulate and that become part of the instability (or dynamism) of how we communicate. McLuhan even has a paragraph that sounds very much like the deconstruction of metaphysics, the notion that the cliches of the center and transcendence has been / is being replaced, in this era of discontinuity, by humans as, he wonders, "the missing link" or "hairless ape". I didn't understand what he was getting at when I read this passage last night, and why he was offering up the new cliche as a question, but I think I now see that he was documenting the same phenomenon as Derrida--the deconstruction of metaphysics, the replacement of humans as the center of the universe, as connected to or capable of transcendence--but he is questioning (because of his faith, perhaps) the emerging, evolutionary cliches--missing link, hairless ape. He seems to know and understand why those cliches are so prominently in play in the 20th century, but he is not likely excited by or inspired by those cliches.

So, what does it mean to re-read ALL of McLuhan? His texts provide an anti-environment from which to re-read all of the dominant scholarship of the last 50 years. In Cliches to Archetype, he quotes a long passage about the I-Ching being comprehensible in the west since we came to understand the computer. I think we are in a better place to understand McLuhan now (for Bakhtinian reasons, for technological reasons, etc), and when we understand him, we shed new light on more familiar faces.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ads for each chapter

I just read McLuhan writing about ads at the end of From Cliche to Archetype, sounding very much like Ulmer on the logic of ads and the need to tap into that logic in a post print era, and I thought: "I essentially have ads (or at least images) to start every or most chapters of McLuhan for Compositionists. The map and tetrad for historical and intellectual context, the big triangle (which is feeling more and more like hot and cool all the time), and undoubtedly other tetrads or collages or interfaces (which I am seeing more and more in his work).

Not 10 minutes, but it's late, I'm tired.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

McLuhan and Ulmer, ad naseum

Just looking at page 15 of Ulmer's applied grammatology again, trying to puzzle through the distinctions that Ulmer is making between Derrida and McLuhan, or actually, Heidegger and McLuhan, because Ulmer is saying that Derrida turns to Heidegger rather than McLuhan to work out grammatology, the study of writing. Ulmer says Derrida does this because McLUhan "projected the return of an oral civilization" while "Heidegger located the essence of modern technology in the family of terms related to Gestell (enframing). . . . Derrida took up the question of enframing, as indicated in his exploration of all marginal and paragonal phenomena, in order to prepare the way for the shift away from, or the deemphasis of, speech in favor of writing" (15).

Okay--big breakthrough in understanding here, maybe. While not versed in Heidegger and the subtleties of enframing, it seems to me that McLuhan's "the medium is the massage" is very much a mantra for paying attention to enframing. It also seems to me that McLuhan (and Ong) did not so much project a return to oral civilization as simply notice, and in some ways document, the return of orality, a pattern that is increasingly clear especially when images are understood as "acoustic" in their orientation, or perhaps more precisely, if images are understood to be closer to speech and orality than they are to writing and inscribing. The flip side of this argument would be simply to say that it is increasingly clear to me that we are not culturally making a shift towards writing.

That said, I believe there are probably some Derridian nuances to tease out of "writing" and the shift Ulmer says Derrida favored. Later on the page, Ulmer does write "before grammatology can attain its applied status by working in the video medium, whose audiovisual capacity seems to fulfill the requirements of a double-valued writing (phonetic and ideographic . . . ), certain theoretical problems must be resolved" (15). This "double-valued" writing--phonetic (oral) and ideographic (image? inscription) might actually be a another way of saying that Derrida, like McLuhan, was actually trying to work on the problem of "interfacing" as much or more than "enframing."

My new working title. McLuhan for Compositionists: Working at the Interface.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cronenberg and Warhol

David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors; Andy Warhold is a fascinating Pop Artists; these videos show DC talking about AW. I had the good fortune to see the Warhol exhibit, Supernovas, in Mpls this spring.

McLuhan and Ulmer, again

I just read this in McLuhan's From Cliche to Archetype: "How to elicit creativity from these middenheaps [the rag and bone shop of the heart] has become the problem of modern culture" (184). "Eliciting creativity" is one of the central goals of Ulmer's Internet Invention, although Ulmer foregrounds invention, rather than retrieval, as the primary means of achieving / being creative. That said, Ulmer's popcycle seems to be something very much like a "rag and bone shop of the heart," more personal than cultural, although blurring that line. Ulmer, in fact, is much more concerned about the student and the personal than McLuhan. McLuhan consistently acknowledges students' environments, but he seldom addresses anyone's personal history.

So, in making one more micro comparison of McLuhan and UImer, I also need to figure out where all these comparisons lead. An article for Computers and Composition, in which I compare these two literary scholars and literary pragmatists who haunt Computers and Composition, but were not identified in the "big survey" as among the most influential of the theorists, losing out to the New London Group and Lev Manovich. What do M and U give that the NLG and Manovich don't? Creativity would be a great place to start. A signifcant concern for composing in the general sense, perhaps? I do like this angle--I just need to read more NLG to see if the contrast is significant. Kress certainly makes the right gesture from "analysis to design," but he is making this gesture in the shadow of McLuhan and Ulmer, and "design" isn't quite the same thing as creativity. And of course, creativity is a hot word; companion to affect, perhaps.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A magical discussion

This discussion of magic and rhetoric is something I will need to come back to in the future.

The classical trivium and new media

Just finished McLuhan's The Classical Trivium and have some ideas for the special issue of Kairos--classical rhetoric and new media. McLuhan's thesis is that the branches of the trivium have historically jockied for position--rhetoric pre-eminent in Sophistic and Ciceronian educational scheme, grammar sustaining the middle ages, dialectic pushing grammar and rhetoric aside during the renaissance of the 12th-15th century, rhetoric re-emerging in the oppulent and lay-educated 16th century. Underlying this struggle is a bias against dialectics on McLuhan's part, although perhaps also a desire for unity--each element of the trivium playing its role in a comprehensive, encyclopedic education.

Mapped onto 21st century education and new media studies specifically, it seems possible that the classical trivium can help us think about how to approach this "field." Or, how English studies might approach this field. Wait. for Kairos, the issue is what do the rhetoricians do with new media. My sense is that the rhetoric and composition often draws its circle too tight (McLuhan says Cicero complained about the narrowness of the professors of rhetoric), so how do rhetoricians both adjust their own field to new media, as well as embrace the other two components of the trivium.

Grammar = connections, the editors and enclopediasts, the collators. Grammatical exegesis or hermeneutics looks for the unifying links in texts. The grammatical task facing those who study new media is to try and hold onto a graps of this moving target. There are multi-disciplinary readers (Multimedia from Wagner to Virtual Reality; the New Media Reader, etc.), encyclopedic-like texts that can be employed, and should be employed, rather than providing our students (especially u-grads) with rhetorical collections only (PP, New Words for a New World, etc.). Rhetoricians need to include a broad range of new media texts in their classes / in their research: television, film, games, web, video, etc. and understanding the interconnectedness (the transmedia, the interplay, the influences--as McLuhan notes in C-to-A). They need to practice the hermeneutics of the grammarians: seeing the connections, building eloquent knowledge, making use of taxonomies.

Dialectics = divisions, the deconstructions, the skeptics, the inventors. Recognizing critical theory / deconstruction as the heir to dialectics, and recognizing the ways in which dialectics has marginalized grammar and rhetoric since the late sixties, highlights in part why new media studies did not immediately follow from mcLuhan's work, and it also parallels the flight from comprehension by the lay public. That said, rhetoricians don't need to abandon dialectics completely. We need to break down and question our complicity with media outlets, with corporate softwarew giants, with corporate university plans; we do need to stay vigilant to both the material digital divide and the ways in whith the new media continue to repeat the binary biases of the old media. We also need to recognize that the dialecticians have been engaged in both hermeneutics and invention: Derrida's texts, Ulmer's work, Mark Taylor. But we cannot end with analysis: we must move to design, and generally I think the field wants to move out of obscurity and towards relevance again.

Rhetoric = production, persuasion, design. Rhetorical analysis as reception obviously still has a place in new media studies, as we break down not the binary bias of a new media production so much as its strategies, purposes, and techniques. In asking for and teaching production, we have new tropes and schemes to learn: camera angles, stategies of closures, the concepts of design, etc. We must also be careful not to limit our productions, and our student productions, to academic and technical communication, to argumentation. We must also explore self-expression and analysis (Ulmer), we must be willing to let students produce ads and MTV-like products as ways of understanding them, and we must teach them to design games, drawing on their understanding of myth, narrative, and ethical representation of the other.

Seems pretty do-able, except for the fast approaching deadline--October 15.

Friday, August 11, 2006

hot and cool, implicit or explicit

Thinking about how to teach genre, implicitly (though reading) or explicitly (through identifying of conventions, labels, etc. The former cool, the later hot. More generally thinking about approaches to composition--and learning. The hot approach prevails even in writing: work on skills, skills, skills--a narrow range of skills that students have difficulty mastering because that level of skill achievement is not possible or desirable. Even thought I am explicit in my genre instruction, I prefer the overall cool approach of teaching a wide range of skills, exposing students to the whole game of writing, and then encouraging them to keep playing, to develop their mastery as they go along. I think it is easier for them to understand the narrow set of skills that they are learning once they see the full range of skills that can go into writing. Students might be convinced that the specific set of narrow skills they focus on really are the right skills (not just the idiosyncratic preferences of their teacher), and then engage more fully in those skills. This model of education is not so different from what McLuhan proposed when he looked at the Hutchinson/Adler vs Dewey debates: stay broad through U-grad, get specialized when you are ready to specialize.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Still talking / thinking about New Media

If B&G add to MM the social, political, and gendered constraints and affordances of new media, and LM adds the truly digital components, as well as the centrality of database (a searchable and usable archive?), but all of them are still more or less grounded in hot and cool, what we get is a 40+ year history that has been reasonably consistent and constant even thought it keeps changing its terminology. We also get a history that is making some progress, although progress primarily means "filling in the picture." Is this an argument worth making? A picture worth painting? I think I prefer painting pictures to making arguments.

What does happen to Barthes, Derrida, Ulmer, others in my other narrative?

Ulmer looks more and more like MM to me: the same kinds of projects (making the humanities relevant, acknowledging that the environment has changed, encouraging creativity in balance with logos). He is actually more pedagogically focused, and does in deed think of the classroom as the space of experiment and invention. Duh. Teletheory, in particular, seems like McLuhan revisited: the Bacon connection, the oultine of projects, etc.

Does all of this add up to an intellectual history of new media studies and practices? Within English studies, have we chosen the tech comm / usability of new media over the creative / inventive new media? Probably not, but a lot of that action seems to come out of Art, only some out of English. Is English still all about the Blog?

Fog settles in...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Talking about NM: Are we getting anywhere?

I am always thinking about this:

hot and cool (and dry?)
immediacy and hypermediacy: what do B&G add: social, political, gender. See their article.
film and database: an unironic terminology, a use-based terminology, nice literal and metaphorical dimensions. Front and back: out of database comes film. Out of hypermediacy comes immediacy. Out of abstractness comes concreteness.

only McClould gives us the third term:

resemblance, iconicity, abstractness.
Although he is missing a fourth term: concreteness, which starts to look more like hot and cool, with resemeblance and iconicity being styles of achieving. But it ain't quite that simple yet.

Hypermediacy doesn't assume iconicity (although there is certainly a lot of it there.

We are probably getting somewhere, but we need to do a better job of building on existing scholarship.
We might need to get out of binaries.
And we might benefit from trinities that are not dialectical: no third term.

Is this where the Wysocki articles gets hung up?

What we might need next is symplexity, reversed.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Revising assignments

I just finished teaching English 120 in the summer, and was generally happy with how things went but I keep wanting to get a Photoshop visual commentary assignment worked in, and I need to give the "taking the lead" collaborative assignment a bit more of an edge.

For the former, i think I can probably focus on WLM more, and develop a visual commentary that might function more like a poster or an ad, although it has to be informative and have a substantial textual component (I'm guessing). Cindy Selfe's chapter in Writing New Media has some good ideas: a visual essay (or commentary) that would focus on a single issue like "White Privilege: Use it or Lose it" (a satire), or an ad for a diversity class (what would it take to make the class look interesting?), or maybe just a white face / black face side by side, with biographical information. I could imagine one of myself that might say something like 90% of professors are white on my white side and something like 2% of professors are African American (I would need to look this stat up). I could find additional stats. I could even try to layer in pictures from various points of my life, with tags like "Teacher's Pet" and "First one blamed" or something more subtle than that. How about this one: never learned to code switch -- code switching since 7.

For "taking the lead" I think I want to switch to "what's your issue" and include a video component--an ad that could run on television or the web; it could be produced in PPT or a video editing program. Future Tense reported on something like this--need to look that up.

Friday, April 21, 2006

What does McLuhan add to composition studies?

A real awareness of the environment children emerge from, and the effects that environment has on schooling. I guess we have some of that in comp studies, but I love his description of how children love to find things. He isn't a theorist in the way that Derrida, perhaps Foucault, others are theorists. He didn't very often start with an argument about a text--he started with an observation about the world. He started with where his students were at--compositionists should find a kindred spirit, a generous pedagoical spirit in his work.

A comprehensive vocabulary. I am not sure that anybody else in the field has offered such a comprehensive vocabulary. I am pretty consistently able to draw on his extensive vocabularly to understand a technology or genre and why it works, why it presents challenges, why it needs to be understood in the context of a media ecology. Blogging: hot genre, largely visual space (which means textual), the potential for acousitic blogging is hard to reach (where's the conversation), time consuming, better social networking software available, return on investment low for all except the writers, not likely to draw in and enage the non-writers, except those who see its social / therapeutic dimensions rather than writerly dimension. Blogging a figure on the educational / media radar for a while, now receeding into ground, getting used in ways that aren't about "blogging." Just getting used as a tool.

The medium is the massage. I can't believe how the "cutting edge" of new media studies is currently "discovering" the materiality of new media, and never discovering it through McLuhan, never pushing it past where he was at in 1964. All they are discovering is media ecology, sort of, and that the medium is in fact the message. Wow! So how do I make this point without just loosing my cool? I gotta go back and figure out what he really adds beyond what these contemporary scholars are saying. focus on KH and AFW? Others?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Cicero, McLuhan, Kairos

Thinking about the Kairos call for webtexts on the relevance of classical rhetoric to new media composition. Reading McLuhan on Cicero, the notion of encyclopedic eloquence, the training of citizens / princes, McLuhan's reading of Machievalli and Ramus as a narrowing and instrumentalizing of that tradition, in contrast to Cicero, Erasmus, and Nashe. McLuhan cites Joyce, Eliot, and Pound as the great rhetoricians / poets in the 20th century, so where does that leave us in the 21st century? David Byrne, Hillman Curtis, Laurie Anderson? I just went to Laurie Anderson's site for the first time and found out that she was NASA's first "artist in residence" in 2005, and that her newest work comes out of that experience. Without knowing any more than that, i know that there is a McLuhanesque article on the "two worlds," on Anderson translating the scientific experience, on tuning the public to the scientific endeavor that increasingly seems dangerous and perhaps pointless rather than exciting, brave, new.

For Kairos: as Sirc has shown us, we need to expand out understanding of composition beyond our narrow and specialized conversations or we risk losing the range and variety of human expression. I worry about offering up Byrne and Anderson because I worry about the "genius" status, but I don't think either would accept that label, but they both exhibit 21st century encyclopedic eloquence, an eloquence that is not high brow although not always accessible. To the extent that they can teach us and our students anything, Byrne's PPT has clearly shown us that the medium is the massage--students just don't massage in the same ways. Anderson is perhaps less accessible; i'll have to revisit her work. What does it mean that at 37 I am re-learning all that I new at 17? Look at the roadblocks my education and myself put up.

Students in the sciences, engineering, even business exhibit the same kinds of passion, curiosity, and amateurism as students in the humanities, who are equally susceptible to specialization, narrow-minded ness, and fragmention.

Anthony has been talking about the canons of skills, derived from Scholes canon of methods. Scholes is probably working in the Ciceronian tradition; collaboration with Ulmer on TextBook, I believe.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

McLuhan and ulmer again

Ulmer, in his very first book, immediately distanced himself from McLuhan because he felt like McLuhan was privileging / encouraging a return to orality. The point you are making about Ulmer distancing himself from Ong is pointing out the same kind of positioning move--Ong was McLuhan's student, and both Ong and McLuhan are more conservative than Ulmer, and part of that conservatism is manifest in a certain nostalgia for oral cultures. Ong and McLuhan have more faith in the immediacy of the oral word (to bring Bolter and Grusin in) than does Ulmer, and Ulmer does not want to see the "literacy" of the 21st century return to an easy acceptance of immediacy and transparency.

That paragraph might have more background information than you need. What's relevant for our unit and our course, however, is understanding that Ulmer is trying to help us think about a new kind of literacy that is not fundamentally "oral." The MyStory, as you hint, shouldn't just be a "familiar telling of a tale," it shouldn't be just another story about the clear and easy coherence of your identify. Instead, it should be a story of the ways in which you perhaps have to force or yoke "discourses" (career, family, entertainment, community) together to find a coherence that you probably will acknowledge is accidental, social, and fragile, rather than natural, unique, and solid.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Labeling McLuhan

McLuhan is often labeled "postmodern" or "proto-postmodern," or more accurately, I suspect, a modernist in reverse, but I think I want to label him "anti-modernists," not because the label is important but because working through and with McLuhan means working on or through a particular kind of response to "the modern," which also needs to be clearly defined as the mechanical, the objective, the fragmented. McLuhan preferred the organic, and saw organicisim in the electronic, although didn't celebrate the electronic just because he saw echoes of the organic. McLuhan never took the distanced, objective, scientific stance, until he adopted Popper's definition of science as that which can be disproved. His science was the Science of Bacon and the Science of Vico: a human science. Pomo is often used a label to describe someone or some movement that celebrates the fragmentation of modernism (although Modernism is often wrongly associated with wholeness and integration, it seems to me), but McLuhan understood that in the electric age, people seem primarily interested in seeking integration.

This labeling of McLuhan, explaining where he is coming from, will likely come early in the book.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Natural Language Theories; retrieving cliches.

All ideas this morning.

Just helping MV with her facebook paper, and I was sketching some "ideal" scenarios. Even as I sketched them, however, I seriously doubted them, and kept thinking: Bad money drives out good. I think this law applies quite frequently in the high tech communication world: the early promise of a democratic web (good money) has largely been driven out by bad (commercial / pornographic / non-democratic bad--a value judgement, I realize); the early promise of intellectually rich blogging driven out by daily blabbing (again, I see my own biases her); Facebook seems to have great potential for creating community among students and faculty, retrieve the small college feel, but instead becomes "StalkerBook" and popularity contests.

McLuhan's laws of media try to remain value-neutral, but Gresham's law seems like a value-laden version of reversal.

Oh, and NLT: McLuhan was the master at using the vernacular to theorize: hot and cool mediums, the medium is the message / massage / mass age. I find myself increasingly drawn to aphorism like Gresham's law, and it seems like a retrieval of these cliches--retrieval is enhancements, as new application, as remediation--is one, potentially interesting, way to go about theorizing the world of media ecology (another NLT). I see in this one more way in which Derrida distinguished himself from McLuhan, one more way in which I distinguish myself from Ulmer.

School of Rock

This article got me thinking about a project that came to me this summer. The articles says students who can read complex texts are likely to succeed in college, and those who cannot, are not.

This summer, as I was reading CK's FRC, I was seeing in this text some pretty amazing levels of complexity. Okay, maybe not amazing in the big picture, but much more complex than the cover, the subtitle, the subject matter would suggest. When my student read the text and attempted a rhetorical analysis, the most common complaint was "he is all over the place, it doesn't make sense." While of course I would prefer that they love it and see its beauty, this complaint also confirmed for me that the text is college level worthy--this is the kind of complex reading text that will, hopefully, challenge students and prove to be a good lesson in reading complex texts.

I also imagined a paper this summer, about CK, about FRC, about CK as the "affective scholar," and more generally, after reading this particular article, about the value of using other complex texts about rock. But complex in the CK, affective way, not the middlebrow way that Sirc rightly complains about in "Box Logic." Greil Marcus comes to mind. Some of the documentaries. Interestingly our students who listen only to Xian rock don't find this writing about popular music to be valuable--for so many reasons. I wonder if there is good writing about X'ian rock? I am sure many people use readings about rock, rap, etc., but I haven't seen a fully articulated argument about the right combination of things: subject matter, complexity, relevance. Reading Don't Fix No Chevys seems relevant here too. Gotta bring Amy into the picture.