G.W.B. on Dred Scott

We watched the debate with friends last night, quasi-Superbowl-party
style.  I wasn’t impressed with the town hall model, particularly for the
way is positioned the audience members as dupes–mere question-readers, polite
listeners (to say nothing of the homogeneity of the sample of folks from the St.
Louis metro area).  I know the candidates simply wouldn’t allow for follow
up questions, but what good is a town hall forum if the questions are safely
sanitized (which we can expect in all of the debates) *and* the question-askers
don’t get to ask for clarification, nuance, specificity?  I want answers.

For a few minutes this morning, I’ve been reading these
entries on the
debate.  Good points all around. The two strangest moments of the
debate–for me–were the small business, lumber company setup (Want to buy some
wood?) and the reference to Dred
Scott as
an example of justices failing to perform a "strict" reading of the
U.S. Constitution and instead to render a decision clouded by personal
opinion.  Relative to the Dred Scott reference, the live events in the debate, however, were neither clear nor
understandable as GWB spoke; as I looked back at the transcript
this morning, I thought the record, as formatted with sentence and paragraph
breaks, was generous to the President’s fumbling of "slaves as personal
property" as a matter of "personal opinion":

I would pick somebody who would not allow their
personal opinion to get in the way of the law. I would pick somebody who would
strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States.

Let me give you a couple of examples, I guess, of the
kind of person I wouldn’t pick.

I wouldn’t pick a judge who said that the Pledge of
Allegiance couldn’t be said in a school because it had the words "under
God" in it. I think that’s an example of a judge allowing personal
opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict
interpretation of the Constitution.

Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is
where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of
personal property rights.

That’s a personal opinion. That’s not what the
Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we’re all
— you know, it doesn’t say that. It doesn’t speak to the equality of
[emphasis added]

And so, I would pick people that would be strict
constructionists. We’ve got plenty of lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Legislators make law; judges interpret the Constitution.

And I suspect one of us will have a pick at the end of
next year — the next four years. And that’s the kind of judge I’m going to
put on there. No litmus test except for how they interpret the Constitution.

A few critiques of Bush’s resorting to the Dred Scott case to address his
criteria for justice selections have–as you might expect–already made it to
the blogosphere.  Particularly thoughtful takes turned up here
and here
I’m sure the reference to the case was a grab at local resonance (much like
Edwards’ reference to the number of U.N. workers running the Afghanistan
elections as fewer than it would take to setup polling stations in Cleveland);
the judgment about slaves as citizens stemmed from St. Louis some 150 years ago. It resulted from Missouri’s slave-state status set against Illinois, a free state, just across Mississippi River. 

The most ironic aspect of Bush’s reference to the case is that Justice Roger
Taney–in 1857–rendered a judgment against Dred Scott and his fundamental human
rights because–as I understand it–Taney read the U.S. Constitution as a
"strict constructionist," which explains the Fourteenth Amendment
(1868) as a correction to the dangerous mis-applications of constitutional law
along strict, "that’s what the words say" readings of
"property" and "citizenship."  With "strict
constructionist" justices, then, I suppose you get readings of the law that
are so narrow and rigid that constitutional amendments are required to ensure
equal rights for all people.

Under Ten Minutes

So if you had to do a ten minutes or less talk on Foucault and
rhetoric as epistemic and it had to push off from The Order of Things,
what would you be sure to mention?  Just curious.

Newer habit: fashionably tippling water from a Diet Pepsi bottle.  Can’t
believe the ugly habits that emerge from being stacked-up busy.  I call it Aqua
Pepsi–free refills at the hallway fountain.

Dodged an Eagleton-Williams one-two on C|culture|s in class this
evening.  RayWill–for good reason–got the hog’s share our attention, but
I left wondering whether Eagleton, in his coup de gras was joshing around
when he says, "It is time, while acknowledging its significance, to put
[culture] back in its place."  Hedging, I say.  Er, or so I
said in hunk of my mini analysis paper.  Note for later:  bask in
Williams’ chunk on "The Structure of Feeling" just a bit more. A warm
feeling in there.

Tomorrow:  Office hours teeming with visiting students (What do you
want, exactly!?); Resnikoff’s NUC-MLC newsletter from 1969, Sondra Perl on
"The Composing Processes of the Unskilled College Writer," C. Wright
Mills, "Letter to the New Left," Jerry Farber and Louis Kampf, and
MaCrorie’s Uptaught; and touching up a few teaching details, as in what

On "snooty
intellectual debate"
(scroll to bottom): check out the letter to the ed
in today’s Post-Standard responding to new chancellor Nancy Cantor’s
invitation to the community for a visit to campus as part of the "Soul of
Syracuse" campaign.

Mortensen/Kirsch, 1994, “Authority”

Peter and Gesa Kirsch. "On Authority in the Study of Writing.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 321-335.

Big Idea
Clearly enough, Mortensen and Kirsch set out to complicate conceptions of
beyond the autonomous, paternalistic, heavy-handed sort long
understood to be the source of oppression, as in a hegemony of control and
order.  This essay emphasizes the role of ethics and care in
contextualized authority systems, where power is understood through community
assimilation and distrust of autonomous authoritative forces are out in the
open.  Mortensen and Kirsch urge a shift away from long-accepted connotations of authority
as the continuation of autonomous and paternalistic legacies. 
More complex variations of authority look at knowledge sources as contextual,
assumable, provisional, situated (or locally distributed), and ethical.  By
turning to feminist critique, the essay seeks to loosen and re-associate the
significance of authority in relationship to discourse, power, and
community, the buzzwords of the 90’s
in writing and rhetoric.

Wondering About
"On Authority in the Study of Writing" leads with a note about Barthes and
dead authors, followed by mention of modernity’s unraveling of authorship
resulting in language re-styling English Studies, followed by the
question, "How are we to account for the theoretical erasure of the authority
that constitutes the writers–the authors–we face every day in our composition
classrooms?".  Authors are dead; authority is dead.  Right?  That’s
the linch pin for Mortensen and Kirsch, since authority is alive and well. 
But where?  They’re certainly not faulting Barthes for his excise of
authors; in fact, his move gave us good cause to look at all of the other,
perhaps more complex manifestations of authority, various forms wrapped in
power, discourse, and community dynamics.  I’d say this essay does a
terrific job of sizing up those forms, pointing them out, and reminding me that
they aren’t all evil (which is often my suspicion).  In fact, M&K’s answer
to the question is that there are at least two predominant perspectives on
authority–assimilation and resistance–and we (with our students) ought to know
both of them as well as other, subtler forms.

I’m not ready to answer M&K’s question about "theoretical erasure" because
I’d prefer to ask it just a bit differently, replacing "erasure," I think, with
"complexity."  Of course this kind of critique can give way to endless
tinkering.  I won’t do that.  But just this one turn–complexity
rather than erasure–would allow the question to point out what I think this essay does. 
Old, autonomous authority isn’t dead; it’s just buried (read: nested, resting). 
And maybe we should be just as distrusting of new authority (contextual,
assumable, provisional, situated, ethical) because it’s more elusive, harder to
know, but potentially as controlling, power-wielding, and uncaring. 
Potentially.  And then "how are we to account for the theoretical [complexity]
of the authority that constitutes the writers–the authors–we face every day in
our composition classrooms?".  Rhetoric: running the range of persuasive,
effective, compelling postures in variously authority-laden situations. 

Continue reading →

Glenn, 1995, “sex, lies, and manuscript”

 Glenn, Cheryl. "sex, lies, and manuscript: Refiguring Aspasia in the History of
Rhetoric.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 336-351.

Big Idea
Aspasia, a woman rhetorician from Miletus–what’s modern day Turkey–stood
in an improbable role during the heyday of the rhet-charged Greek polis
A contemporary of the patriarchy of better-historicized–Pericles, Xenophon,
Aeschines, Aristotle and Sophocles–Aspasia affected the public sphere and
contributed, with notable influence, to the votary of male officials. 
Cheryl Glenn’s 1995 Braddock-winning essay, invokes mapping metaphors to suggest
gendered displacements while appropriating Aspasia a legitimate place in the
rhetorical tradition.  The essay is necessarily encyclopedic; it also piles
through a fair amount of best-guesses, probabilities and likelihoods in a
successful attempt to carve out historiographic room for Aspasia.  
Glenn’s work situates Aspasia in the context of heavily patriarchal rhetorical
tradition.  In doing so, she  exposes openings and possibilities in
the sketchy historical record, and ends with a call for ongoing re-readings of
the rhetorical tradition that ask questions about representation, absence and
silence, and that accept Aspasia as a beacon for modern feminist scholarship in

Wondering About
My foothold in classical rhetoric is shaky at its most stable.  Reading
"sex, lies, and manuscript" helped me see the tradition as a contested
realm, and the trick for the scholar of classical rhetoric–it seems–is to
explore the nebulous areas, to inquire about what’s missing and why, and to see
the tradition anew by refreshing it with now-relevant questions.  It’s
clear I need to spend more time with B&H’s The Rhetorical Tradition;
I’ve plans to crack it later this summer.

The "sex, lies, and manuscript" reference gets explained later in
Glenn’s essay (or is it in the afternote?).  I never saw the movie sex,
lies, and videotape
, so the allusion was a stretch.  I think it
might have come across more resolutely for readers ten years ago, but the
reference didn’t seem adequately sustained, sufficiently built-in for
me–especially for the juxtaposition of manuscript and videotape.
Probably would make better sense if I checked out the movie, eh?

I wondered how differently each of the characterizations–"[one who]
ventured out into the common land, [one who] distinguished herself by her
rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment to Pericles, and her public
participation in political affairs"–rolled together to give Aspasia a
single sense of persona.  For that matter, did Glenn find these overlapping
identities competing?  Manipulable? Exclusive?  It’s not easy to say
with precision, but especially in the places where Glenn needles at Pericles’
legitimacy (suggesting, basically, that "Aspasia surely must have
influenced Pericles in the composition of those speeches that both established
him as a persuasive speaker and informed him as the most respected
citizen-orator of the age" (342)), I had the sense that the unverifiability
of it all encroached on Glenn’s argument. And, of course, I recognize that this
also points to an imperfect historical record and the difficulties of writing
across +/- 2,500 years. 

I picked up a few terms that I’d heard before (some of them, anyway), but
that I hadn’t explored lately:  arete and homonoia.  As
Glenn casts them, arete tends toward an elite sense of governance by
virtue–a kind of oligarchic/aristocratic democracy, whereas homonoia
called for virtue by all, no matter gender or social class, for the good of the
entire democratized polity.  According to Glenn, "Thus was manifested
the complex tension between the elitist arete and a more democratic homonoia
Another useful term was panhellenism, which points to "a doctrine
sorely needed to to unify the Greek city-states, just as it satiated the male
appetite for public display."  The term is used in a way that might
allow something like diversity or heterogeneity (especially in
relationships, I guess) stand in its place.  And the last noteworthy term
is consubstantiality.  The funeral orations aspired to this
attribute of consubstantiality, which basically means that the experience–the
rhetorical effect–would be replicated throughout time, so "the shared
experience of this rhetorical ritual linked [!] everyone present even as it
connected them ‘with other audiences in the past’ (Mackin 251)"
(344).  Consubstantiality.  Consubstantiality.

"Such challenges not only restore women to rhetorical history and
rhetorical history to women, but the restoration itself revitalizes theory by
shaking the conceptual foundations of rhetorical study" (336).

"When other women were systematically relegated to the domestic sphere,
Aspasia seems to have been the only woman in classical Greece to have
distinguished herself in the public domain" (338).

"By every historical account, Aspasia ventured out into the common land,
distinguished herself by her rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment
to Pericles, and her public participation in political affairs"

"The Menexenus contains Plato’s version of Socrates’ version of
Aspasia’s version of Pericles’ Funeral Oration, further recognition of Aspasia’s
reputation as rhetorician, philosopher, and as influential colleague in the
Sophistic movement, a movement devoted to the analysis and creation of
rhetoric–and of truth" (344).

"Jarratt explains the sophistic rhetorical technique and its
social-constructionist underpinning with her definition of nomos as a
‘self-conscious arrangement of discourse to create politically and socially
significant knowledge…thus it is always a social construct with ethical
dimensions’ (60)" (345).

"Our first obligation, then, as rhetorical scholars is to look backwards
at all the unquestioned scholarship that has come before; then, we must begin to
re-map our notion of rhetorical history. By simply choosing which men and women
to show and how to represent them, we subtly shape the perceptions of our
profession, enabling the profession to recognize and remember–or to forget–the
obvious and not-so-obvious women on our intellectual landscape" (349).

Brooke, 1988, “Underlife and Writing Instruction”

Robert. “Underlife and Writing Instruction.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 229-241.

Brooke in 1998: "Now that we, as a field, understand this, perhaps the task
of the next ten years will be to imagine programs which increase the self’s
possible roles, widening the ways literacy is used in the celebration and
establishment of viable, sustainable communities" (241).

Big Idea
In his 1987 essay, "Underlife and Writing Instruction," Robert
builds on the sociological trope of "underlife" to characterize classroom
behaviors in writing instruction. Brooke’s is a comp-related rendering of
Goffman’s Asylums and Stigma bent on ethnographic studies of the behind
the scenes substrata of discourse in the writing classroom.  Brooke
contends that writing instructors must understand the fundament of "underlife"
because such scales of disruption underscore our aims in composition: attune
students to identity-staked information games, help students to ride out the
grand vacillations among systematized roles, create ways for students to try on
more transgressive, contestatory, even counter-hegemonic agilities (as opposed
to stances) toward critical literacy and toward disruptive rhetorics. Brooke
teases out an interesting distinction between contained underlife
(resistant yet functional within the structure) and disruptive (attempts
to undermine and reset the institution) underlife.  His ethnographic method
amounts to classroom observations; he taps into the murmur and buzz among
students–the hum of quiet interchange unnoticed by the

Wondering About
Reading this essay against a recent wrangle on techrhet this week, I carry
forward a strong impression that Brooke’s work should resurface more
frequently, that it might inform tendencies in writing instruction that bow to
the pressures to vocationalize students, to make them over into so many obedient
widget-makers.  I probably ought to back up and explain.  Basically, a
lister on techrhet left a link to
this article from Fox News
.  The article makes a case for the risky
messages about identity inherent in cryptic email addresses. For example,
bigballz@aol.com probably isn’t appropriate for a resume.  The article
summarily suggests that the most decorous, normal candidates get jobs:

“There’s no way we’d ever consider hiring someone
with a silly e-mail address," said a human resource manager at a major
financial institution, who wished not to be identified.

The bottom line, experts say, is that job seeking is
a sales game, and resumes, cover letters, e-mails, Web sites and voice mail
messages are all part of the ad campaign applicants put out about themselves.

"People have to remember that they are a
product," Holland said. "You are the most important product you will
ever represent.”

The article link and the exchange that followed was lively,
interesting.  As unsettled as I am by list culture, I even participated
with a remark or two.  By and large, it was far less about inappropriate
email addresses than our senses–as writing instructors–that we ought to steep
the classroom in hegemonic forces, that we ought to shape curricula to the
pressures that bear down beyond academe, that we ought to mold our pedagogies to
the market realities, and that anything short of best preparing students for
future employment shortchanges them and reflects poorly on academic programs and
institutions.  Nutshell of a much meatier issue, here.

With that, I want to return to Brooke with the question, "underlife, under
what?"  In other words, once the teacher and the students relish in
disruption, what is the glue that congeals whatever subordinates them? What is
that pressure?  Its source?  "Underlife," especially as
Brooke characterizes it through his observations, suggests students are
incredibly savvy about playing "information games" in the classroom,
about being moderately dutiful, about appealing to the teacher’s biases,
about wooing the teacher’s approval for successful acts.  And that, I
guess, is the connection between the Fox article and Brooke: 1.  Students
are incredibly adept at negotiating identities and making plays on
representations of themselves that will win favorable regard.  2. 
Writing classrooms, unlike many places, ought to be a space for tentative
explorations of identities, consequences, transgression and subversions of
convention.  3.  Rhetoric is inherently tensional.  A lack of
discursive resistance (no need to compel assent, move, affect, charge,
communicate) is more or less a-rhetorical.  Yes?  

Brooke’s essay helped me think about recent recastings of  backchanneling–the
fuzzy ring of communication that carries off through media channels (blogs, IM,
conversation) following a formal speaking occasion. He notes students who work
on assignments during class or who "disrupt" the teacher-centered
classroom by talking with peers while the teacher is also talking.  So I
want to tuck Brooke away for his ethnographic methods and his conclusions about
"underlife"–a term that, perhaps, has been left back in 1987. 
It seems to be a useful term in application to blogging.  For my own
recall, I want to drop in bell hooks and Antonio Gramsci, too.  Teaching
to Transgress
and Gramsci’s Notebooks on hegemony seemed to run
faintly (and without specific mention) through Brooke’s essay.  And I
probably ought to look up Goffman’s Asylums and Stigma.  I hadn’t
heard of it until now; rings of Foucault and Bentham. 

One last note: Early in the essay, Brooke drops in mention of "real
academic success."  It involves the development of a particular kind
of identity according to the line that follows.  But this idea of roles and
disruption doesn’t get framed in terms of "real academic success"
later in the essay.  And I wondered about that.  Lots of side issues
might attach to it: grade inflation, WAC, the parsed worlds of
academe/outside.  But the adjective real stuck with me as I read,
especially as I read Brooke in light of the sanitized self arguments
churning through the techrhet list.  


"Writing involves being able to challenge one’s assigned roles long enough
that one can think originally; it involves living in conflict with accepted
(expected) thought and action" (229).

"My understanding of ‘underlife’ stems from Erving Goffman’s books Asylums
and Stigma
, although the concept has long been accepted in sociology. 
As presented in these books, the concept of underlife rests on three assumptions
about social interaction. First, a person’s identity is assumed to be a function
of social interaction.  Second, social interaction is assumed to be a
system of information games.  Third, social organizations are assumed to
produce roles for individuals which imply certain kinds of identities" (230).

"In Asylums, Goffman studies the underlife of a major American mental
hospital, and comes to the conclusion that underlife activities take two primary
forms.  First, there are disruptive forms of underlife, like those
engaged in by union organizers, ‘where the realistic intentions of the
participants are to abandon the organization or radically alter its structure.’
Second, there are contained forms of underlife, which attempt to fit into
‘existing institutional structures without introducing pressure for radical
change" (231).

"No one but the complete fanatic completely associates herself with only one
role–instead , the self is formed in the distance one takes from the roles one
is assigned" (232).

"The purpose of these evaluative comments, it seems, is the same purpose as
the other underlife activities–to assert one’s fundamental distance from the
classroom roles" (235).

"In ‘Reality, Consensus, and Reform,’ Greg Myers shows how wanting to teach
writing as a freeing process has historically been in conflict with (and
undercut by) the ideological purposes of the educational institution, and argues
that writing teachers need to recognize that ‘our interests are not the same as
those of the institutions that employ us, and that the improvement of our work
will involve social changes’ (170)" (237).

"Alongside these suggestions for classroom reform are powerful indictments of
the traditional writing classroom for being teacher-centered rather than
student-centered, focused on the product rather than process, being oppressive
rather than liberating" (238).

"When we look at writing instruction from the perspective of underlife, it
appears that the purpose of our courses is to allow students to substitute one
kind of underlife for another.  Instead of the naive, contained form they
normally employ, we’re asking them to take on a disruptive form–a whole stance
towards their social world that questions it, explores it, writes about it"

Porter, et al., 2001, “Institutional Critique”

James, et. al. "Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for
Change." CCC 51 (2000): 610-642.

Big Idea

Institutions can be changed through rhetorical activism.  Porter and
company develop broad model for institutional critique driven by rhetoricians as
agents for change and pomo geographical interrogations to stage institutional
dynamics (needing change).  The authors juxtapose "despair" as
the unsatisfying alternative to a more hopeful and upbeat, even (re)visionary
empowerment:  the field must vigorously imagine its potential for
changing institutions, for transforming them through language, and for thinking
about rhetoric and writing as activisms beyond academe. 
The essay sets up a macro-micro paradigm for thinking about institutionality,
then, invoking a model of "boundary interrogation," the
space-made-over institutional critique ventures into the space between the
macro-micro and into the "’zones of ambiguity,’ or spaces that house
change, difference or a clash of values or meanings."  

Wondering About

My impression is that this article and the premise it advances are much more
compelling due to the group authorship.  A team-authored article suggests a
formidable solidarity, a banding together of credibility and force–the very
sort of coordinated leverage that makes institutional critique possible. 
As I read the essay, I had questions about whose agency is staked in the
critique.  Is rhetorical-discursive institutional critique most potent when
it is pressed by clearly recognized members of the institution?  Membership
and stability can work both ways; institutional critiques, I suppose, work best
when they are formulated by stable bands of respected participants
members in the
institution.  Contingent faculty, like new students or new workers,
have a more challenging time leveraging such critiques against
their own proven records for longevity and loyalty. Hear this: "You haven’t
been here long" or "You won’t be."  So I wondered whether
this is a workable plan for all comp/rhet folks or whether it is much more
realistic for WPAs and groups of faculty with a shared sense of how the
institution should change.  Even if, as the article suggests, we rename
"composition teachers" as "writing experts" and fashion thereby a public
sensibility about the broad applicability of rhetoric and writing, we (must)
continue to feel the tug of unsavory labor practices.  In other words, it’s
not easy to promote the *new and improved*  "writing expert" toward a
public role when the writing program (employing said experts) relies on
contingent and contract labor to cover courses. "Writing experts" like
"composition teachers" can’t be remade publicly until they are remade
materially, validated and stabilized by the institution’s commitment to capital
support–all of which is why this works wonderfully at an institution with a
well established writing program and works less swimmingly in places where the
writing program is already in the institution’s cellar (free of despair, not
tribulation).  In such places,
routing institutional critique through a writing program (in the name of
rhetoricians for change) can be risky business–even riskier, perhaps, where
comp/rhet is a subset of English.  So leaving behind the name "composition
teacher" because it reflects the field’s history of inferiority and subjugations of labor doesn’t alter
the legacy or the lingering (even prevalent) realities of exploited contingent
faculty. That said, I’m sure Porter et al. don’t take the plights of lesser
established U’s or contingent
faculty lightly. 

The essay outlines the avenues of institutional critique, categorizing
critique into administrative, classroom and disciplinary areas.  And in the
administrative area, the WPA can make great strides toward institutional
critique by 1.) establishing graduate programs in writing and rhetoric and 2.)
establishing a writing major.  These in-house steps affirm the validity of
the writing program; they give body to the power necessary for such
critiques to be taken seriously. 

In a few places, I wished for clearer examples.  The critical geography references are terrific: Edwards Soja, David Sibley, Doreen Massey, Michel de
Certeau and David Harvey figure into this essay, and for composition, I suppose
this essay is attempting something new by calling on spatial analysis postmodern
mapping and boundary interrogation–both of which play heavily in their
analysis.  The single diagram in the article–a map of a site for
institutional critique–is included without much of the boundary analysis said
to be so promising. It maps the space "where Institutional Critique operates,"
but it left me wondering why the map wasn’t subject to the interrogations
promoted in the essay.  I
also wondered why the space of institutional critique didn’t bear out a
productive tension with the composition classroom (in the map-diagram) the way it did
with the discipline and the macro institution. I didn’t pick up on much boundary
interrogation of their diagram nor any acknowledgement of the problem that
mapping (unanalyzed, two-dimensional) tends to be oversimplified for any complex

I wanted a few more examples of a "zone of ambiguity."  The
article leads with one example in which a usability expert and former CWR
student pushes for the term usability in a Microsoft development
chart.  Is a space
between macro and micro ambiguous to the extent that it is contested or
institutionally unstable?  In such cases, institutional critique from all
directions (not just from WPAs and faculty) inevitably continue to refigure the
zone.  Its contestation is discursive and material, but can we say the
same of an unambiguous zone?  Or are all institutional zones–all spaces,
even–ambiguous to the degree that they are rhetorically charged?  Is this
true more so when we conceive of space as, in Harvey’s terms, "produced." 
One example brought in is Purdue’s OWL, which is atop the heap of online writing
labs.  The essay describes the scientific appeal of a lab space (sig.
of naming), the ongoing battle in an
English department about the usability of space.  Question: how, if at a place such as
Purdue, the tension rages on, might smaller, lesser established writing programs
venture into such perilous matches.  Must they?  What are the risks?


"[I]nstitutional critique is an unabashedly rhetorical practice
mediating macro-level structures and micro-level actions rooted in a particular
space and time" (612).

"But we have a particular spin on institutional critique.  Our spin
is more locally situated, more spatial, and more empirical than most theoretical
discussions of institutions" (613).

"We are frustrated, however, with the gap between local actions and more
global critiques (which are far more common in our disciplinary discourse). We
are frustrated, in other words, when global critiques exist only in the form of
ideal cases or statements, which all too often bracket off discussions of
materiality and economic constraints in favor of working out the best case
scenario–which, all too often, does not come to pass" (615).

"Talking about institutions at this macro level is extremely important (as we
argued earlier in respect to WPAs) because it is one way to discuss how our
public lives are organized and conducted (both for us and by us). But limiting
our analytic gaze to macro institutions also encourages a level of abstraction
that can be unhelpful if it leads to a view of institutions as static, glacial,
or even unchangeable (i.e., if it urges us to see change as requiring
large-scale action that few people rarely have the power to enforce). If
institutions are conceptualized exclusively on this macro level, we may be
restricted to visualizing an abstraction of institution that makes change
difficult to imagine" (621). 

"Our discussion raises an important question about the relationship
between institutional action and reports of action. Can dissertations and
other publications themselves be instances of institutional critique? 
Maybe, but as with idealized goals statements, we are suspicious of publications
that do no more than recommend or hope for institutional
change.  To qualify as institutional critique, a research project has to
actually enact the practice(s) it hopes for by demonstrating how the process of
producing the publications or engaging in the research enacted some form of
institutional change" (628).

Agentic Shift

*clicking persistently, feverishly because this stupid computer is so slow*

Not really. That was one example of Milgram’s
"agentic shift" from class yesterday. It was one of the more
interesting sessions we’ve had this semester. I referred students to
chunks of Postman’s chapter on "The Ideology of Machines: Computer
Technology." They collaborated to generate questions for their chunk,
which, after fifteen or so minutes, was passed into the hands of the next group
who took up the work of mustering a response. A rich discussion spun out
of this simple arrangement: "computer" as it referred to a
who computes (pre-1940), voice bots and sometimes-undetectable
artificial intelligence, the technopolist ideology that relishes human-as-machines
models of efficiency, generally subscribing to the view that we are at our best
when we are most functionally productive (no excess) and refined in our acts
(without waste or deviation).

I’m still trying to get a grip on the idea of "agentic
shift." I haven’t read Milgram’s Obedience to Authority: An
Experimental View (1974)
. So it’s only a best guess that agentic
is a rhetorical event. Is it more than displaced agency?
Shirked responsibility? Does it flourish in the technological high

I’m wondering about this especially as it seems to relate to video
gaming. I want to be careful what I say because I’m not up on the latest
buzz in video game studies–only know that they’re here. But if agentic
is, as Postman calls it (acknowledging Milgram), the name of the process
"whereby humans transfer responsibility for an outcome from themselves to a
more abstract agent," then video gaming, and maybe all encounters with
technical machinery, fit. So maybe it’s possible to have a group agentic
(a collective of transference?), in which the group *thinking social
software here* transfers responsibility to an abstract agent-authority: the
software. Is this too much of a reach from Milgram’s Yale experiments or does this simply affirm–in a modern context–what Milgram proved forty years ago?