Archive for February, 2008

So what?

A response from a student upon reading Peter Elbow:

“Secondly, upon reading this article, I found myself becoming angry. I don’t think this has anything to do with Elbow himself or his methods, but more to do with the insignificance of the matter. After losing a high school classmate this week, I realized just how trivial this entire topic really was. It really baffles me that people can take such a great concern for how they teach writing when there are so many more important things they could be spending their time on. Who really  cares how you teach writing or how I teach writing? Does it really matter? Obviously this is an emotionally charged opinion but I think it’s more important what we use our writing for than how we learn it in the first place.”

Of course, in a way, she’s right. There’s nothing life or death about my job–period. I’m not a cop or a doctor or a firefighter or even a psychologist, I just teach people how to write. I think up better ways to make sure that people know how to write by the time they leave college, and hell, I run a Writing Center to ensure that people have support in learning how to do it. That’s my job. And in the end of things, I’d bet that 99% of people out there would agree with her–it really doesn’t matter.

Maybe my original response was knee jerk anger: “How dare you take this out on me.” She found out her friend died when she was in class with me (essentially). Her friend told me. I told her that they could all go. Was I supposed to hug her? Let her know I cared? Yeah, I care. I also realize that drawing attention to the situation may not have been what she wanted and in the presence of other students I chose the safe path.

This is actually the second student I’ve had informed of a death in my class this term. The other time, letting them leave and deal with it around friends and family was the right choice. Did I mess this up?

But no, she’s essentially saying that’s what I’m doing wrong–it shouldn’t be about me, or my Center, or my class. Well.. okay.

So let’s make it about somebody else, several of them in fact. My job in the Writing Center is primarily scheduling, training, and support. I make sure that everything’s going smoothly for everyone. I live tied to the e-mail that feeds the online Writing Center. And I watch, and I read (and crack jokes to break the tension). It’s not in any way a glorious position.

If this were a TV movie I’d go into work tomorrow and make this great Ron Clark-esque speech that would change everybody’s lives forever. But instead, I’m the person that’s going to answer the voicemail and deal with the Monday morning crazy.

I was told over and over my first year here to avoid the heroic narrative. That’s okay, I don’t have a heroic narrative.

Since I started work at the Writing Center we’ve seen nearly 1000 students. I’d say I’ve probably sat through, in the room with, 500 of them (that’s students, not appointments). Now, of those 1000, I can name 4 that are probably truly miracle stories.

One’s pretty open about her involvement in AA. She came to us first as a mess, but she’s slowly learned to shape her truly creative prose into something that other people can read and understand. Her creativity is now working for her and she smiles a lot when she gets help. The difference? Amazing.

Another student was only passingly functionally literate… and now writes A essays.

I’ve also gotten to sit and watch as natural bonds were formed amongst the new GTAs as they started to teach for the first time. I’ve seen natural leaders emerge from them, at least one who will eventually (probably) be the new Writing Center co-director next year.

And a few of my old students from five years ago are now in grad school themselves, with their own students.

If anything, seeing those small changes in people occur over a 2-3 year period is the joy in this job. There are no one term magical instances, no whole classes full of failing students who become geniuses, nothing like that.

I don’t ever get to see what most students use their writing for.  This girl is asking for service learning that does something now, not just service that might pay off later.

And oh, I understand. I think. It’s not life or death now. But for those few students that come in and really learn, I’d argue, it might be later.

Now they have words, you see, that other people can understand. And that means something, I think.

But I don’t want to say she’s wrong, because she isn’t. Petty infighting amongst lit vs. comp, expressionists vs. critical pedagogy folks–yeah, I’ve sat in lecture and wondered if it really mattered. I don’t even tell my students about that crap (although we do read some basic pedagogy articles as part of training to work in the Center). After all, those are all just labels we give to the things we think are important or do naturally anyway, aren’t they?

But the thing is, unless people learn to write, they’ll never use their writing. I think, perhaps, the very first day of the term next year will be discussing this. Maybe I’ll try and find some published miracle stories from other WC’s for readings. After all, our book is pretty morose (lots of dealing with challenges chapters).

Maybe a reading response wasn’t the right place to say it, but really maybe the student here had something important to say, and regardless of what she thinks of my response to it (asking her what she wanted to USE her writing for) she has, unintentionally perhaps, probably used it for something good.


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I <3 Manuel Castells

I’d actually forgotten how pleasant it is to read Manuel Castells. Really, what’s wrong with me? Why have I been putting that off? (Oh yes, 400 page volumes are kinda heavy to lug around, but really, I’ve got no excuse.)

Castells recognizes the power of groups in the information age over states and nation-states in The Power of Identity. He feels the tension between institutions of state and society and more than adequately describes how groups like feminists, Al Queda, and even the Militia have come into being. These groups either stand in favor of or against globalization and the changes taking place in society because of new informational tools and networking strategies. In some cases, these groups are trying desperately to hold onto an older, more conservative patriarchal order while others support rapid globalization and equalitarianism. Furthermore, as Castells analyzed these groups he represented them more or less fairly–laying blame no where particular and suggesting that they are, instead, reactive to forces mostly outside their control. He states, “social movements must be understood in their own terms: namely, they are what they say they are” (73). I think this sort of analysis and presentation leads Castells to be much more even handed (less preachy, if you will) than other writers that I’ve read recently online about many of these same topics.

Loss of power is, at times, much more frightening to individuals than never having had it to begin with, and Castells suggests that new identities must be created for this new world and its power structures.

I have a lot of pages marked to be written about, and the only way I could tie this all together would be to write something very long, so instead I’m going to just put in some lines and respond accordingly.


“The Internet was one of the major reasons the militia movement expanded faster than any hate group in history. The militia’s lack of an organized center was more than made up for by the instant communication and rumor potential of this new medium. Any militia member in remote Montana who had a computer and a modem could be part of an entire worldwide network that shared his or her thoughts, aspirations, organizing strategies, and fears–a global family” (Stearn, qtd. in Castells 87).

Castells argues that a lack of an organized center (a globalizing constant rather than a centeredness, if you will) is a place of power in the Network Society. This is certainly true online where power is made mostly in numbers (Kelly’s “Hive Mind” principle in action). How this power is translated from other groups (such as Anonymous, AWS, etc.) into real life action is trickier. Anonymous is making that jump, claiming to only be “testing the water” of real world action against Scientology, but what is next?

However, other dispersed, non-centralized groups aren’t fairing as well in these same online waters. Why is this? Why do some groups survive decentralization and others flounder? I would even go as far as to state that some of the groups Castells analyzes aren’t doing as well now as they were back in 1997 or 2000 because their lack of any united front or message is causing internal discord and opening them to further attack from the outside.


“…a third major theme runs through the movement: a backlash against feminists (not against women as long as they remain in their traditional role)” [though some groups believe that no Western woman is any longer in her traditional role and all deserve to be rebuked] “gays, and minorities (as beneficiaries of govenment protection). There is one clearly predominant characteristic in the Patriot movement: in a large majority, they are white, heterosexual males…. Traditional national and family values (that is, patriarchalism) are affirmed against what are considered to be excessive privileges accorded by society to gender, cultural, and ethnic minorities…” (97).

Liberal movements online are very anti-conspiracy theory. Anyone suggesting a connection between racism and sexism (except Black women, of course) or homophobia is usually called out in their circles as being crazy and looking for trouble “where there is none.” And yet, hate does seem to write on networks in a single voice. Comments against women, gay men, and people of color read remarkably similiarly, seem to come from the same place, written by the same people. Castells recognizes the connections between this hate, whether or not the people on the receiving end of it are willing to.


“The implications of this networking organization are huge. How can states fight networks?” (138).

Indeed, at least one argument that I’ve made before, and indeed may again (albeit in different language) is that they can’t. Only networks (or groups) can even begin to take on other networks.


It is worth noting that as I sit here, thinking about racism and sexism and networks and terrorism, two blonde female undergrads that work in the Writing Center this term are sitting within earshot having a lovely conversation about how fat and ugly I’ve gotten since the beginning of the term. Irony–don’t you love it?


“However, new, powerful information technologies might indeed be put to the service of surveillance, control, and repression by state apparatusess…. but so might they be used for citizens to enhance their control over the state, by rightfully accessing information in public data banks, by interactin gwith their political representatives on-line, by watching live political session, and eventually commenting live on them” (341).

Clearly, the last part of this quote has happened already–the youtube live debate was considered a “big deal.” Again, however, the groups who stand to earn the most from participating in reverse data gathering against the state and for their own purpose are, at times, the least likely to do so. I was once on a message board (about race, I believe) when someone suggested that the Patriot Act could be used to shut down white supremacist organizations. The idea was immediately shut down not because white supremacist organizations help keep extreme conservatives in power but because “We don’t want to be like them. Two wrongs don’t make a right.” By dismissing the power of moves available to them, anti-racist allies remain weak and unavailable to the very people they try to help.

I need to go teach, and as such, will stop here from now, though I do have a little more to say (I think).

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In Avatar Bodies, Ann Weinstone lays out a theory of human interaction for posthumanism that focuses on the connections between people instead of the connections between human + computer (as Haraway, Hayles, et al are more concerned with). She then goes on to develop a number of thought exercises aimed at bringing together an ethics of self-other interaction that critiques humanism and positivism in some of the same ways that posthumanism critiques self-technology interactions.

She does this through ample application of the Tantra, and what seems at first like an extended metaphor seems to grow to be something else entirely. The connections she draws between Deleuze, Guitarri, and Tantra suggest that this isn’t just a metaphor, this isn’t just a researcher interested in Tantra that writes about it because it’s a part of her life, instead, I’m lead to believe that there is some reality to Tantra’s influence on critical theory. That’s pretty cool in itself, it’s always good to get a chuckle out of pulling out my Deleuze Critical Theory Trading Card and imagining him engaged in a Tantric embrace with Guitarri–hot stuff.

Regardless of that, reading through this text was an experience. She constructs any number of short chapters, never withholding the payoff of getting another one done more than a page or two until the chapter entitled “A Tantra for Posthumanism.” This has to be a rhetorical move; after hearing so much about the good of holding off release for longer pleasure, after so many chapters that ended quickly, this single one that lays down some of her main ideas being so much longer made her point rather clearly.

 Unlike some of Weinstone’s critics, I don’t think that the personal letters, stories, and so on that she includes take away from the “seriousness of her project.” Rather, if this book were all theory all the time that would take away from her project itself. Other reviews I looked up seemed confused about the use of italics (not recognizing that some were quotes, and were used in place of quotation marks) and disliked the short chapters.

However, I think that Weinstone’s book is a good textual (print) example of what Jeff Rice asks for in The Rhetoric of Cool. The short chapters can, in many cases, be read in many different orders. I first came to that conclusion when I noticed the chapters weren’t numbered. Although the chapters do develop over the course of the book into a cohesive whole, a different cohesive whole can be made by reading them in a slightly different order, by skipping around, etc. but none of these cohesive wholes is explicitely against Weinstone’s project.

As I said to begin with, I think this book is more than an extended metaphor, in fact, I’d argue that the book juxtaposes Tantra, critical theory, and posthuman ethics in such a way that she discovers links in the same way that Rice suggests by “cool writing.” Weinstone’s entire book functions by juxtaposing these ideas and communtating meanings of rhetoric and bodies to come up with something entirely new and different that is completely appropriate to the topic of posthumanism. Using this form of “new media” “cool” writing to discuss what is essentially usually a topic of technology to turn it into something more about people and their connections just works even if it isn’t ordinary academic prose.

In Rhetoric of Cool, Rice uses 1963 as a jumping off point to talk about things that happened (or didn’t happen) in composition/rhetoric as a field and how going back to that moment and seeing the paths not taken might, indeed, be useful to develop a new new media theory. 1963 marks the point when the “4th C was dropped,” when racial tensions ran high, when we started on our current path as a discipline. Pairing composition and 1963 and seeing what happens, of course, very similar to pairing posthumanism and Tantra.

Rice uses the rhetorical method of chora–taking one word with multiple meanings (perhaps only cultural ones)–and using all of them to form a new idea. He does this with cool, of course, and traces out several different ways the term has developed over time. He mostly dismisses the most popular one in favor of more culturally situated meanings that can be used for composition’s purposes.

In addition to Weinstone’s book being a potentially good example of what Rice is talking about, I think that there are some interesting things here that can be said about plagiarism and “remixing.” I know that in another article about Hip-hop Pedagogy, Jeff has mentioned having students write as though they were remixing others’ ideas. Although only mentioned directly once, there are echoes of that earlier article here. I think that the idea of re-mixing and juxtaposing sources to “see what happens” is a pretty cool one, and one I might be willing to pick up for a midterm paper in my course this summer. I think having one not writing center related assignment in my class would “jazz” things up a bit, so I’m willing to give this a try. I think it would help my students with the critical analysis and reflection I ask for in their final paper as well.

Anyway, I’m off to deal with craziness related to one very rude student who refuses to check their junk mail folder for an e-mail I sent — have a good day. 🙂

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This is one of those strange connections I’ve made that I feel is worth documenting, it might mean something later, and it’s tangentially related to the other reading I’ve done this week (I swear).

I’ve been researching the way women use blogs for a bit, and the ways in which they feel threatened on them through embodiment. One of the comments that comes up often is a lack of “safety” when writing about “dangerous” topics such as feminism, abortion, etc. as these topics are likely to lead to a lot of flaming and ad hominem attacks (all the while the attacker claims they aren’t ad hominem at all, but we’ll get back to that later).

I had to read Margaret J. Finders Just Girls for a research design class this week and was struck by the description of one girl’s literate practices. These girls were in junior high, and they quite honestly faced some of the same challenges to writing as do adult women online today:

“As a sixth grader, cleo wrote a deeply felt piece about women’s rights, a topic that bhad been assigned. While the piece was well received by her sixth-grade teacher and many of the sixth graders, in seventh grade she was still on occassion referred to as ‘the one who wrote that woman lib stuff last year.’ I heard such comments made to her during passing time between classes and occasionally during lunch. Now more constrained by their roles as adolesents, tied to the romantic aspects of being teenagers, the same girls who had praised the piece in sixth grade ridiculed her in seventh grade. Haunting her for over a year, this one piece of writing about women’s rights may have limited her ability to compose another issues piece. Her seventh-grade peers on multiple occasions reminded her of the consequences of becoming ‘that women’s lib girl.‘ A teacher’s assignment, granting it sanction, might have ‘freed’ Cleo of the social consequences of which seh was reminded in the hallways, in study hall, on the bus, and at lunch” (Finders 112).

 There are serious consequences both in a junior high school and online for being “the women’s lib girl” or, if you extrapolate further upon what Finders says in this chapter, a woman with opinions about “issues” (the student in question, Cleo, didn’t feel she could write papers about issues, and therefore wrote stories during free-writing time in her language arts classroom).

The internet today seems stuck in the same sort of negative feedback loop Cleo experienced–is the internet stuck in a permanent state of adolescence where gender roles are rigidly enforced? It certainly seems so in some cases, as also may be the case with race. A writer has free speech, it seems, an open invitation to write about whatever he or she wants, but certain topics are likely to draw extreme criticism from just about anybody who wants to be seen as conformitory.

I suppose that’s why I can’t buy that power is free and equal online. After all, if conforming is so gosh darned important (to how you design your site–no more tables, you have to use CSS!) then really being online is a bit like being stuck in junior high forever, unless you can find a welcome nice homey community that’s closed to most strangers where you can “be yourself.” Cleo, the girl Finders writes about, was able to be more open about her feminist beliefs at home with her mother. Women and people of color experience this same “at homeness” in closed safe spaces online. 

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Hegel me this….

Having just read a “gob” of Hegel in a little over a week, I feel overwhelmed. I have most definitely determined that in the future I’ll be writing several small responses throughout the week as time allows, because otherwise cramming everything into one post is sort of difficult. (Also, a question to the general blogosphere: is it just me, or when you read theory does your mind wander sometimes? This past week has very much been “Hegel Hegel Hegel GROCERY LIST Hegel Hegel Hegel THAT ONE EPISODE OF MYTHBUSTERS Hegel Hegel Do I have to pee? Nah, not really. Hegel Hegel Hegel…” Indeed, I was tempted to write this response in that style then decided my teacher would probably (rightfully) kill me. Oh well.)

 The first idea that really caught my attention in this Hegel: The Essential Writings was Hegel’s concept that Being is not a process with a finite end, but rather is a constant state of Becomming. I like that concept for a lot of reasons. The mathematicalness of it particularly strikes me as fascinating: life as asymptope. The beginning of something is not nothing, rather, it nothing and being all at once in the moment before being becomes becomming. (Clearly, I can’t define this much better than Hegel himself.) Fortunately, because of the math connection, I can google-image an approximation of it….

Alright, so the line that extends along to your left isn’t nothing, however, its limit approaches zero as you go toward negative infinity. However, it never reaches zero, just like Being in Hegel’s system is never truly Nothing.

Likewise, the equation is constantly in a state of Becomming, always approaching infinity but never getting there. It always is approaching a state of pure Mind, pure attachment with Spirit, and yet never quite gets there for any variety of reasons that Hegel explores elsewhere.

The mathematical simplicity and beauty of this idea reminds me a lot of Kelly’s biomechanical systems–biology resembles a machine resembles biology. There is no either/or of that system either.

I’m also curious as to the connections between Heidegger and Hegel. I’ve only studied Heidegger’s “bringing into Being” in the sense of man and technology (God and son? Is that going too far?) but I do remember (and it was long long ago now, I should reread that) that nothingness shapes Being. How would Hegel deal with Heidegger’s Standing Reserve?


In Objective Spirit, Hegel describes how poverty happens . Particularly, he describes that after the masses begin to decline into poverty we might help them out by donations from the wealthier classes or by other “public sources of wealth.” However, he also says that neither of these systems actually helps in that neither of them raise a person’s self esteem or likelihood to drag themselves out of poverty. To my amusement, however, he also notes that the only system that does seem to do anything is allowing people to beg without public subsistence.


One of the things I found most interesting in looking at Hegel websites as I was reading his text is just how multinational his influence has been. Just the first page of this Hegel blog http://philosophieohnegnade.blogspot.com/ has posts in 3 languages (as of Feb 6, 2008), and other wikis and blogs devoted to his work are just as bi- or tri- lingual. That’s pretty fascinating in itself, and is an aspect of online culture that I don’t run into often.

In discussing many matters of technology, society, culture, etc. we really limit ourselves online to discussions in a single language (of all the communities I belong to, “Abandoned Places” at LJ is one that does not, but as members mostly post pictures of abandoned structures this makes sense–there’s no need for words there. Also, our Europeans members really do have the most interesting posts, as they are able to get to buildings that have been abandoned since before many US cities were even built).

Although in trying to figure out what a philosopher “means” that’s pretty annoying, I think that using the web as a place for sharing for everybody–not just people who share X language–is pretty damned cool. However, the “HegelWiki” itself (http://wiki.hegel.net/index.php/Main_Page) is primarily in English. Shame.

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