Must Begin with I

Along with several other colleagues in my department, I was invited late last fall to be posterized as a faculty researcher at EMU. It’s part of a banner campaign devised to connect campus and Ypsilanti, and to make abstract-seeming faculty more real-seeming, I guess. And it is an honor to be invited. Humbling, really. Like others, I had a couple of photos taken in late November. The email arrived yesterday asking us to choose the best one. I let D., Is., and Ph. weigh in; two-thirds of them agreed on #122. I think I look slouchy, tired, and over-stressed (i.e., like a first-year WPA!) in most of them and so didn’t quibble with the rec. #122 it is.

Next comes the harder part: along with formalizing a preference for a photo, we’re supposed to send in a one-liner–five words or less and must begin with ‘I’–that will function as a public research profile. Officially, it’s called an “integrated power statement”–but I’ll think of it as a bumper sticker-sized CV.

I’ll be the first to admit that my 4.5 years at EMU in research terms has been spasmodic at best–due in large part to a constantly challenging orchestration of service responsibilities, institutional and departmental dynamics, and herky-jerky, stop-start bursts of writing with more change of speed and more spills than bad Olympic figure skating. Whoosh! Whoa! Oh sure, I get it: that’s the nature of this work in many places.

But how does such a pattern of activity translate into four or five words of banner material? And what’s a more appropriate gesture–something with a university-ambivalent public in mind, something true to the specifics of a research agenda, or something attuned to undergraduates, prospective students, and their families? Fun to think about from a university outreach standpoint, but not especially helpful for settling on the best four or five-word string.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • I create clouds, graphs, and maps.
  • I visualize discourse networks.
  • I trace disciplinary networks.
  • I make scholarly networks visible.
  • I make rhetorical connections visible.
  • I map scholarly networks.
  • I practice digital rhetorics.
  • I strengthen weaker arguments.
  • I write in code and light.

I’m open to other suggestions and will wait for a few days before sending in my power statement. Comment away if you’re so inclined. Give me a better five words, starting with I. I’d considered tipping the statement toward directing first-year writing, but I have yet to root that work in what I think of as my research (so much heft in getting some Venns to overlap, you know?), so the power statements would be things like, “I fight the textbook-industrial complex” (five words?) or “I dream of budget” or “I large-scale assess.” Nothing especially powerful or integrated or researcherly in these statements. Of course, maybe if I come up with something really catching, really, really inspiring, they’ll invite me to be on another poster in a few years, just about the time I get the hang of more research oriented WPAing.

Moon: Green Cheese

Whether or not the moon is made of green cheese is of no concern to my dissertation. Because I make other claims, however, Latour’s account of the performance of statements and things in Science in Action (1987) applies:

[W]e have to remember our first principle: the fate of a statement depends on others’ behavior. You may have written the definitive paper proving that the earth is hollow and that the moon is made of green cheese but this paper will not become definitive if others do not take it up and use it as a matter of fact later on. You need them to make your paper a decisive one. If they laugh at you, if they are indifferent, if they shrug it off, that is the end of your paper. A statement is thus always in jeopardy, much like the ball in a game of rugby. If no player takes it up, it simply sits on the grass. To have it move again you need an action, for someone to seize and throw it; but the throw depends in turn on the hostility, speed, deftness or tactics of the others. At any point, the trajectory of the ball may be interrupted, deflected or diverted by the other team–playing here the role of the dissenters–and interrupted, deflected or diverted by the players of your own team. The total movement of the ball, of a statement, or an artefact, will depend to some extent on your action but to a much greater extent on that of a crowd over which you have little control. (104)

Must every statement be written as if it will endure the perpetual jeopardy Latour names? Not necessarily. But–and this gets at the challenge of making statements–“the total movement…of a statement” should be, to the extent possible, anticipated, even if this requires granting too much clout to the crowd (i.e., audience in action).

Assorted Preparations

Making preparations for the fall, I have posted the
and in-progress schedule
for the course I will start teaching later this
month. Most of what is posted
comes from the shared syllabus for new
TAs. I decided to use the shared syllabus because it connects with a lot
of the extracurricular programming throughout the fall, it synchs up in
explicit ways (demanding very little justification) with the program’s goals for
this particular course, and it will mean for me just the second time in seven
semesters (since Fall ’04) that I don’t have to prep a course I haven’t taught
once before (the two WRT205s I taught two years apart were very

Yesterday I fused two accounts into one. I set up
dnmexams last summer so that I would
have a dedicated space for tagging and exploring linkages among my notes entries
related to qualifying exams. At a much slower pace, I have continued to
post notes to the Dissarray blog
(formerly "Exam Sitting"), but the separate account no longer made
sense. Reading for exams was relatively contained; reading and notes for the
diss–at this stage–feel somewhat more sprawling and dispersed. Plus,
it’s more convenient to keep just one account and, with it, just one
login. I’ve also switched from subscribing to individual accounts to
subscribing to one feed for my
. With this switch there has been a marked improvement in the
steady flow of materials into the aggregator over the past few weeks.

Finally, in anticipation of a narrow job search in the year ahead, I have been
mulling over my web site at the
behest of our job seekers group. I’m fairly satisfied with the site and all that
it includes, but I would be tremendously appreciative of thoughts anyone is willing to share–recommendations, critical asides, feedback about design,
presentation, navigability, and so on. At the next job seekers meeting we will be
taking a look at
teaching philosophy statements
, but I won’t be able to attend, so I’d love
to hear your reactions to what I say there, too (either in the comments or via