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.

Not Every Dog

Not Every Dog

The safety officer at Is.’s school hands out safety leaflets like this one each week. Most of these “coloring sheets” concern animal safety messages on letting sleeping dogs lie, never putting your face close to a dog’s face, and so on. In a friendly gesture, s. officer always hands me two. “Take an extra one for the refrigerator.”


Kindergarten round-up.

I attended the round-up with my mom. Beal City. We visited the high school gymnasium where several partitions–lightweight, mobile wall-segments–dissected the basketball court into a series of ad hoc rooms. The figure of a badly painted pegasus spread across the wall. Home of the Aggies. And then we meandered from room-divided to room-divided, making small talk as I sweated through a battery of skills tests, typical Cold War skills tests as I recall: do a summersault, comb for lice, write your name. I was four-and-three-quarters: I don’t know what else. Maybe a short windsprint, chin-ups, balance on one leg, the other leg, marshal a few beads on an abacus, express something patriotic, and how are your teeth.

I don’t remember anyone being surprised when I was admitted to kindergarten. But I was admitted. Completed it in 1980: 79-80, a year spent tracing anthropomorphic letters (“Q”ueen), bantering at the sand table, and watching for chocolate milk to show up in the chest cooler in our classroom. And that’s the last experience I had with grade K. No more chest coolers in the classroom after that.

Ph. had already completed kindergarten by the summer of 1997 when our family, also unanticipated parenthood, sprung up out of the blue. Moved to Kansas City and within a few weeks enrolled him in first grade. The records of his kindergarten year were sketchy–whatever assembled in an untabbed hanging file folder my mom kept. And also kind of didn’t keep. Record-keeping never was anywhere listed among her most admirable qualities (although the rest of the list was so much!). Ph.’s kindergarten year was, for us, undocumented. It had happened; that much was certain. But in another way it wasn’t anything we’d experienced directly, except through the ramshackle contents of that hanging file folder.

Later today I will drive Is. to one of the schools where she might attend kindergarten in the fall. We’ll meet D. there, walk around, make open-house-style small talk, and, who knows?, suffer Is. through a battery of post-Cold War fitness testing. She’s ready with the summersaults and name-writing. Lice-free and more. Better prepared, I am sure, than I was. Still, I am nervous for her, nervous because it has been a long time since I have given kindergarten much thought. Nervous, if “nervous” is the right word, because it’s not entirely clear where we want to enroll her. Or what this “open house” is all about these days. Or whether there will be abacuses.

Added (2:30 p.m.): I had a chance to Skypetalk with Ph. this afternoon, as much to question his kindergartenal memory as to test out the free demo version of Skype Call Recorder, which I am thinking about purchasing and using for a project far at the back of my mind. There are a number of settings to tinker with in time, but the recording process was promisingly easy, and the side-by-side presentation of two callers and the .mov output makes this seem to me like a bargain at $19.95. As for the kindergarten question:

A Condition

A letter came home from Ph.’s school beginning, “Dear Nottingham Seniors and Families.” In it, a list of reminders, three bulleted items, and the third one is this:

Please beware of “senioritis”. Senioritis is a condition that happens to good kids in the spring semester of their senior year. It is contagious and the symptoms are not sometimes obvious at first. Students with senioritis are not focused, demonstrate a sudden lack of interest, and they find it difficult to complete and follow through regarding simple tasks. Senioritis will pass but the consequences may be devastating, i.e. not graduating, not being accepted in your school of choice, etc.

Were I not myself “find[ing] it difficult to complete and follow through regarding simple tasks,” the next part of this blog entry was going to be a snarky blow-by-blow analysis noting how the senioritis bullet appears next to clip art of a stethoscope and doctor’s bag. It was going to have a witty joke about how nobody is using doctor’s bags or medical instruments these days to diagnose the affliction and also something about what a damnable shame it is that the most devastating consequences from this “sudden lack of interest” are centered on the student and only the student insofar as it may keep you from your school of choice, or worse, from graduating altogether.

Anyway, beware of this and other stuff and such.

Five Minutes?

If you can spare five or ten minutes, Ph. is working on a school project for his Government class. He has been asked to develop an argument concerned with public policy, and he has been thinking about a focus on smoking in public places: specifically about recent changes in smoking bans in public spaces, indoor and out. This afternoon we spent some time together getting his questions set up on Survey Monkey.

Basically, I’m just trying to help him get word out on the survey, which you can complete here. If you can spare five or ten minutes.