I thought of a dream related by Leibniz, in which he found himself at a great height overlooking the world–with provinces, towns, lakes, fields, villages, hamlets, all spread beneath him. If he wished to see a single person–a peasant tilling, an old woman washing clothes–he had only to direct and concentrate his gaze: “I needed no telescope except my attention.”

Oliver Sacks, “Bull on a Mountain,” from A Leg to Stand On

Ideology of Wording

Don Angel’s viejito repertoire, it seems to me, implied a relationship to words that is distinguishable from the ideology of wording that is common in mainstream life to the extent that such life has been shaped by schooling. In this sense, there is much in schooling that encourages logos at the expense of the theatrical, distance at the expense of involvement. I am reminded of my own markings of student papers or my own student papers marked by teachers: “exact word?” “shift in diction,” “redundant,” “too wordy, tighten up,” “clarify!” “verb tense shift,” “awkward,” “dangling modifier,” “your thinking is not coherent here,” “is this logical?” “verb agreement problem,” “what?” and so on. During such practices the word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and discourse become objects of consciousness and begin to create what I am calling here an ideology of wording whose ultimate goal is the mastery of both discourse and the lifeworld that the discourse points to. An aspect of this ideology of wording is that the theatrical becomes a set of effects, important in their own right and in certain contexts but potentially deceptive in knowledge-making contexts. Indeed, much of Don Angel’s knowledge—curanderismo, stories of the supernatural, and divining practices—were so far off the professional logos map as to be considered merely theatrical. In this sense, Don Angel’s narrative style reinforced the marginalization of his narrative content from the professional and mainstream styles of the modern world. (65)

Ralph Cintron, Angel’s Town

Over the two-week break between semesters (more on the front end of it, actually), I spent a few minutes with Cintron’s Angel’s Town, mostly because I wanted to trawl back through a good ethnography to refresh my sense of why ethnography is so demanding, so time and methods intensive. The First-year Writing Program I direct now has a number of instructors who frame research as ethnography, which is another reason I felt compelled to pick this up.

Cintron’s “ideology of wording” has stuck, this passage has held on, since I read it a few weeks ago. The viejito—here set in relief against a schoolish ideology of wording—is a punning language game with so much vernacular nuance and layered innuendo that Cintron freely admits how incomplete any representation of must be. Nevertheless, this tension between viejito and an “ideology of wording” stands as a terrific example of the hard-to-mix qualities of academically situated discourse practices (i.e., writing, speaking, and “reading” in school) with their legacy logoi, and, on the other hand, the everyday rhetorics that operate powerfully and cogently elsewhere.

In both classes I’m teaching this winter, a grad seminar in Computers and Writing focused in particular on “ecologies of practice” and an undergraduate class in style and technology, I have felt like this passage is trailing me around, shadowing me. Cintron’s account of viejito parlays gets at something akin to an “ecology of practice” for how the exchanges bloom, transcending and exceeding mainstream language conventions. Grasping this, then, by studying the viejito up close, requires what Richard Coe would have described as an eco-logic, because their systemic manifestation that cannot be explained by analysis of isolated parts. And in the (online) style+technology class, there has been quite a bit of discussion wordiness (Holcomb and Killingsworth 47). Concision has its time and place, of course, but wordiness (or the charge of wordiness) constrains the kind of theatrical, involved wordplay Cintron notices and calls our attention to.

Finally, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Cintron’s contrastive pairings of logos vs. the theatrical and distance vs. involvement in the second sentence. The pairings accomplish some of the distinction that moves his analysis forward, but it also hints at a question about the tidiness and convenience of these conceptual frames. To break from this, for a second, for example, what might the combination of distance and the theatrical make possible? Is there already a distant-theatrical quality in Cintron’s (or, to be fair, any ethnographer’s) observing and filtering for insights? I’m interested in whether the distance-theatrical can advance other methods, too (or rather, by carrying out the distance-theatrical, explore other yet unasked questions). But this—as well as the tension between viejito and the ideology of wording—seems like a big deal for ethnography and especially for the kinds of ethnography attempted in first-year writing or by researchers who are just starting out in rhetoric and composition/writing studies.

Before Circulation

Alex French and Howie Kahn’s “The Greatest Newspaper That Ever Died” recounts the early 1990s sports news startup The National Sports Daily during its short, experimental, and ultimately failed run. Mexican billionaire Emilio Azcárraga dreamed up the grandiose plan for the paper, which aspired to provide national coverage and achieve widespread circulation, with much of the writing done by the best-known sports writers of the moment.

The story is worth a read for a couple of reasons. First, it offers a semi-coherent narrative woven not through co-authorial smoothing of transitions (think: prose cortisone shots) but instead by the arrangement of discrete interview snippets. That is, the story is parsed and assembled (more than conventionally written) from a cacophony of contributors who were directly involved with the experiment. Second, contributors (or interviewees?) say over and over that the failure of The National was caused not by the quality of the writing or the innovative vision but by the business side (sales and ad revenues unequal to expenses). I understand the failure was as much a matter of technological infrastructure–the fact that the publishers were attempting to route content from various cities to printing houses using sattelite transmissions that were just too slow. One anecdote has staffers accessing the sattelite equipment on the roof to knock ice and snow off of it with hopes of improving relay speeds. Basically, The National was the right idea in the wrong year. A third reason for reading: this story rolled out on Bill Simmons’ new ESPN-sponsored sports writing site, Grantland, which, considering its renowned writers and editors, amounts to a modern day equivalent of The National. Grantland is, in effect, The National twenty years later.

I suppose “The Greatest Newspaper That Ever Died” will not be all that surprising to anyone who remembers The National‘s hype. But the story of The National is promisingly rivaled, to my mind, by the subtext here about the forces inhibiting fast, large-scale circulation for news. Sure, hindsight makes it easy for us to know all about this now, but the story (a play-by-play, really) condenses and suspends that tension–right idea, wrong year–holding it up like a Jordan-era floater for a compelling sense of that-was-then.

Certeau’s Sieve-order

Lately I’ve been puzzling over de Certeau’s theorization of maps and what they risk
obfuscating (e.g., stories, minutiae, detritus, etc.) in The Practice of Everyday Life. His pedestrian rhetoric affirms the viewpoint of the "ground level" over the observation
of the whole from the 110th story of the World Trade Center, from which he once
experienced a curious pleasure while looking onto Manhattan–seeing it as a "wave of verticals" hovering
distantly above the city’s "paroxysmal places" (91). De Certeau wonders about the
pleasure he felt and, as well, what this bird’s-eye viewpoint, with its "scopic and gnostic
drive," obscures: "When one goes up there, he leaves behind the the mass that
carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators" (92).

From the observation deck, De Certeau says the mass is left behind, that it
"carries off and mixes up." Reasonably true. Looking down on the ant-like taxis,
the city appears different–further away. But in another sense, the urban
observation deck is not less local than the sidewalk, is it? Also, marveling at
the city does not make its streets more readily navigable (whatever compels you
to go out and about).

Certeau goes on to critique maps, traces, place-names, and flattened
projections, lumping them together as totalizing devices: "The surface of this
["suspended symbolic order"] is everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses,
drifts, and leaks of meaning: it is a sieve-order" (107). The sieve-order favors
stories and localization, and these are thwarted by intervals of distance, from
those viewpoints at which the "world’s debris" disappears.

Later he admits an oscillation between the local stories and "rumors"
(presumably reinforced by a desire for totalizing representations), he is
concerned that the relationship between the two has become stratified: "Stories
diversify, rumors totalize. If there is still a certain oscillation between
them, it seems that today there is a stratification: stories are becoming
private and sink into the secluded places in neighborhoods, families, or
individuals, while the rumors propagated by the media cover everything and,
gathered under the figures of the City, the masterword of an anonymous law, the
substitute for all proper names, they wipe out or combat any superstitions guild
of still resisting the figure" (108). The overwrought substitution of the one
(i.e., totalizing view) for the other (i.e., everyday practices) is troubling:
"The trace left behind [on, say, a map] is substituted for the practice. It
exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able
to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in
the world to be forgotten" (97).

Might the projection–and even the written account–also rejuvenate the action, renew its circulation, and cause it to be remembered again? Specifically, I am thinking about this in relationship to distant reading methods that translate large volumes of data
(mined from texts or activities) into visual models–projections in which we can
apprehend patterns not identifiable at other scales of contact (such as the
"ground level").

Maybe there is a place for de Certeau in Chapter Five. I haven’t decided
yet. But I am discovering the faint separations between my dissertation and the
walking rhetorics he advocates. Something tells me these can be bridged (or filled),
but I am still reaching for ideas about how to do that (and also still thinking about
whether it is even necessary).

Close Modeling

Flower and Hayes refer to their studies of talk-aloud protocols as "close
modeling" (53) ("Designing Protocol Studies…", Hayes, Flower, Swarts, 1984).
Close modeling suggests models that are slotted at a certain scale. For
protocol studies, the scale is the solitary writer who is given a specific (if
dull) writing task, who then executes the writing task, and who reports on the
writing process according to a pre-determined processual scheme.

The famous visual model (from the CCC article in 1981) plays only a
minor role in this discussion of close modeling. The visual model is
presented once more in "Designing," reiterated with so little explicit treatment
that its structuring function is more or less obvious and settled.
I mean that it has not changed in the three intervening years. The visual
model is static, inert, a monument.

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Clouds, Graphs, Maps

A couple of days ago Mike posted notes on

CCCC talk
from late last month, and I was reminded that I’m at least ten days
past due on the video
I said I would
following the conference.

I recorded the talk to an mp3 yesterday afternoon and went to
campus last night where I planned to use iMovie to sync the audio with jpegs of
the slides. Because the slideshow includes text, I needed to get the
resolution right, but, well, it started to get late. I started to get impatient.
I was able to output a reasonably readable mp4 file, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t get
Google Video or
Daily Motion to encode it.
Finally Jumpcut accepted the file, so it’s
available below the fold (even if much of it suffers from jaggies). The original mp4 is available for download

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