Now: Visual Rhetorics

The visual rhetorics course I’m teaching this semester is by now well enough plotted to pass along a link, finally. I haven’t taught the class before, which only means that its materials this time are spun provisionally from many influences–an independent study and qualifying exam at SU, Michael Salvo’s syllabus, Dànielle DeVoss’s syllabus, and good conversations with CGB just after the new year. Its large arc follows from photography to document design to infographics and data visualization. I remain cautiously optimistic that these three sub-arcs will fit together okay within the fourteen meetings we have. No surprise, but I’m supplementing heavily with PDFs and assigning as required texts only Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Handa’s edited collection, and Cairo’s The Functional Art. One project involves writing (and designing) Ch. 10 for the Cairo book–a “missing” chapter focused on visual rhetoric. There’s an ignite presentation set up to articulate in short-form one’s emerging visual-rhetorical priorities and interests in relation to one of the people interviewed at the end of The Functional Art. And then there is a loose-fitting, build-your-own-collection portfolio whose creation and assembly is spread as evenly as possible throughout.

I’m still trying to figure out the role of in-class workshop blocks devoted to self-paced attempts with Photoshop and Illustrator. And I can’t quite decide how formally and explicitly to dwell on technical matters and rationale related to different image file types. Against these uncertainties (or yet-unmade decisions), I count as one advantage that I have had all but three of the fourteen students in class before, and it’s a terrific bunch who will assert their preferences whenever I’m slow to decide.

Dawn of the New Semester

New semester dawns in a little over one week. The syllabi for ENGL328 and ENGL505 are ready (I have two sections of the first, one section of 505, plus an independent study). The grad course is also a new prep for me. Our graduate students in Written Communication at EMU aren’t obligated to follow a sequence, but ENGL505 is positioned more or less as the first course (i.e., lowest numbered course) in the Professional Writing track. We’re reading a short stack of articles, a few books, and working through a couple of different projects that ought to familiarize everyone with selected frameworks for doing rhetoric: dramatisms, stases, appeals, situation, and process/procedure (I realize the slash in this last item stands rather like a stick of dynamite, judging by Ian Bogost’s recent entry, which I’d like to come back to one day soon in an entry of my own).

ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology is a course I’ve taught 8 times in two years (twice online in the shortened spring term; you might not realize this, but 8 is actually a vertical infinity symbol). I think of it like this: if ENGL328 was a horse and my other teaching assignments were its rivals in a horse race, it would have lapped every other course seven times. Or infinity times, depending on how you decipher such ambiguous alphanumeric symbols. Oh, de doo-da day.

Between now and Wednesday, Aug. 31, the first day of classes, we are also unpacking our boxed and binned office wares in the refurbished Pray-Harrold. We can get that underway this Wednesday. And then in the week between this Wednesday and the start of classes, I have—as of now—9.5 hours of meetings showing on the calendargh. To be fair, our annual department retreat (shouldn’t retreat be set in left-leaning italics?) has the biggest share with its six hours, and the others are on different days. And there’s a good chance I will have to ditch one of the other meetings because local school children don’t have their first day until Sept. 6, and Is. starts Kindergarten. It’s a question with choices: What to do? A. Hire a sitter. B. Skype. C. Take her to the meeting with me. D. Go for ice cream.

One last note about the new semester. I mentioned that we begin on a Wednesday this fall. For Monday evening classes, such as the one I am teaching, this means we will have our first meeting on Sept. 12. The university calendaring committee adjusted for this by setting the last day of classes on Monday, December 12. Exam week begins on Tuesday the 13th and runs a full week. Just wanted to note that it feels odd (especially when figuring out a class schedule) to end on a Monday late in the semester. Call me old fashioned, but I after creating schedules for this fall’s classes, I’ve realized how much I prefer semesters with x number of whole weeks starting on a Monday.

New Forms of Connectivity

I just glanced Gerald Graff’s IHE column, “It’s Time to End ‘Courseocentrism’,” which urges greater transparency in the designing and teaching of classes and greater cross-curricular coordination, especially in the humanities. Humanities courses, Graff suggests, confound students with jumbled messages (fwiw, this rings of Fulkerson’s concerns with philosophical confusion in composition programs created by all of the mixing, borrowing, and blending). Graff would have us unmix the messages, prefer coherence, and even out the scenes of teaching.

But how?

That’s the part that doesn’t seem to me to get enough pixels in this column. Graff embraces “amazing new forms of connectivity” as one kind of solution, but connection doesn’t by natural progression bring about coherence. Also, connection demands a degree of participation: faculty ought to be putting their syllabi online. (I don’t mean for this to be a slight, but I couldn’t find any of Graff’s syllabi on the WWW). Courseocentrism–any kind of -centrism that neglects to take an interest in what is happening elsewhere–is akin to negligent specialization, perhaps a byproduct of it. There are many ways to complicate courseocentric tendencies at a programmatic level, provided teachers are willing (or made) to do so. In fact, as I prepared to teach this semester, I was impressed to find that the Writing Program had collected more than 250 syllabi and made them available online (albeit as static, unsearchable PDFs). I looked at no fewer than ten of them as I prepared my syllabus, just to develop a sense of what others had done. I ended up doing something slightly different (a courseocentric gesture?); I didn’t adapt anyone’s stuff, in other words, but this was possible because the syllabi were published online. Who doesn’t relish being able to glance syllabi for smart, engaging courses taught at all levels, whether at their own institutions or elsewhere?

In a roundabout, courseolliptical way, this brings me to my larger point (and unavoidable concern): When will the MLA develop a robust relational database for the systematic archivization of syllabi? Why not provide a platform for indexing (pre-coordinate and folksonomic), storing, and interrelating course syllabi (and materials, assignments for that matter)? Looking for a course on contemporary rhetoric? The platform would return a few by direct search and also suggest near-misses, following a “feeling lucky” algorithm. I understand that such a database is something that’s been on several people’s wish lists (and it’s also been technically possible) for some time. No telling whether it would narrow curricular gaps or level out the disjointedness in any curriculum, but it would be a start toward a more systematic use of “new forms of connectivity” to address chronic “courseocentrism.”


Arrived home from MLA via Detroit on Thursday. Since I’ve surrendered almost three full days to gluttonous lazies: home-made fried chicken, NFL playoffs, afternoon naps, a nightly Wolavers’ oatmeal stout, a breeze through Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and darn near nothing else.

Today I can feel the low, resistant grind of changing gears–from no gear to anything-chug productive. Spring syllabus is due tomorrow–or Wednesday, depending on who you ask (this would be easier if I didn’t read *all* of my email). I’m penciled in for a section of WRT205: Critical Research and Writing, a course that more or less picks a topic (invention by topoi) and then gets on with research a la “critical inquiry”, which I take to mean “examined” or “deliberate” inquiry: self-reflective inquiring.

Did I mention that it’s an online class? I still thinking about whether to heave Blackboard into the weeds (where it belongs?): bypass it altogether and instead channel all of our encounters through a wiki-blog-delicious-youtube mash-up. The former is, if you can stand it, a cinch; the latter is far more interesting and also more work coming at a time when, well, there is already plenty enough work. Tonight, I can’t decide. Tomorrow I’ll flip a coin. But if the coin comes up “Blackboard,” that just might be enough to jolt me back over to the mash-ups.

The course itself–as planned–is a dance with pop culture and media valuation. We’ll read Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You, contemplate his handling of the good/bad reversal, and think/write/talk about his book–what he calls “an old-fashioned work of persuasion” in the first sentence–as a dissoi logoi, or strengthening of the (presumed to be) weaker position.

In keeping with program-level expectations for the course, the first unit will be something of a reading of Johnson and his work with sources and evidence. It’s a sort of parlor inventory with a hermeneutic slant, viz. who’s saying what, what it means, and so on. The second unit in the course usually involves some sort of annotated bibliography, but I’m thinking along the lines of a collection/annotation aspect (rel. Sirc’s “box-logic”) that might involve a playlist/compilation in YouTube or Seeqpod. Will put that alongside a more recognizable batch of article/chapter annotations and ask students to speculate about their complementarity. Unit Three is that well-run horse, the sustained research project, 10-12 pp. By that time, I’d like to have the dissoi logoi well-enough in hand that students will be developing arguments rel. to popular culture that complicate status quo views of brain-rotting media. And the fourth, final piece of the course will be some kind of semester-long foray into “serially immersive” new media writing: blogging, annotated social bookmarking, etc. The point here: to again insist on the generative, associative collusion between immersive new media writing and its (still) eventful counterparts in the academy. It’s an online course: this is the both-and set up to bridge the institutionally recognizable (and desired) and peppy, alt-logic digitality.


A draft of my fall syllabus was due on Friday, so draft it I did. I’m slotted for a section of WRT195: Studio 2 for Transfer Students. It pitches itself as a “best of” blend, a rip-and-mix that puts the best of WRT105 and WRT205 into a single course for transfer students.

For several weeks, I mulled over using Pink’s Whole New Mind. I read Johnny Bunko, too, and thought about how I could fit that stuff into the course. But at the last minute, I went with another plan focused for now on the latest greatest literacy crisis and also on Googlization (while taking up some of Vaidhyanathan’s blogbook-in-progress). So we’ll read about and write around some of the stuff that happens when we ‘do a Google,’ size up some of the apps, and forage around for research projects concerned with Google’s construction of the web or the world, grand databases and privacy, Knol, directed and serendipitous search, and so on. So far, the course opens with a digital memoir of sorts (not quite a mystory, but maybe not too far off), some summary and critique work, a researched argument, and a translation (switching the argument into a 2.5 minute audio short or a Pecha Kucha slide-improv, I haven’t decided yet). Here’s the current plan, subject to minor revisions until I hear back from a coordinator later this week about whether it will fly.

I’m also slotted for ten hours per week in the Writing Center, or, I should say, doing Writing Center work online, as we continue stabilizing some of the consulting options piloted this summer. More on that when the batteries in this cordless keyboard are recharged.

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