Thursday, February 1, 2007


A mighty smiley hi and hello to you, February. I successfully defended my comprehensive exams this morning, gathering around with my committee for an hour-and-a-half as we wound our way through the exam answers and associated quandaries. About those associated quandaries: holy smokes. I started to wonder if the climate controls for the much-trafficked Gilyard Seminar Room (where it all happens) were accidentally bumped to 80-degrees, because, for more than a few minutes, phew. Can I simply explain it that way? Phew. To stay focused and to humor myself regarding focus, I brought in one of those pinkish kiwi-something A-lutein Vitamin Waters, the kind with "focus" on its label. But during one stretch I must've forgotten to take a sip because I might have approached a record for the longest answer-avoiding utterance (I'm still talking?) in the history of oral defenses.

While the successful completion of qualifying exams might, in itself, be enough to give a satisfying lift on any other day, today's not just any other day. It's also Is.'s 6 Mos.-Day. Almost grown! On top of that, Ph., who is battling the flu, stayed home from school on my insistence (It's the flu, kid; take a day). This meant we were able to stop in at Erawan for Gai Pad Kra Pow (I'm hooked on the sweet basil) and then run by the shopping mall to spend a few dollars from the generous and ever-surprising Future Professoriate Program funds disbursed late each January to participants.

So I guess that's it. Tomorrow, onward with the diss. prospectus toward a goal of proposing and defending it before April is up. Also, I've been thinking that rather than updating Exam Sitting to Exams Sat, I'd give the exam notes blog a new moniker, convert the old keywords into MT tags, and rejuvenate some of the note posting rhythms that worked so well for me throughout the fall. That's my plan, anyway.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

X-timing Parataxis

I first thought I would call this entry "Two-timing Parataxis" so I could get at the different relationships parataxis enjoys--simultaneously!--with syntaxis, on the one hand (cheek?), and hypotaxis, on the other. But as I try to get a better handle on parataxis in anticipation of Thursday's defense, I'm starting to think parataxis is more than two-timing. Patsy Cline: "Your cheating heart will make you weep." Heh, weep. Only I'm the one in a fix because of parataxis's scandal and infidelity.

Thus far, I'm finding a couple of more or less common distinctions, one grammatical, in which parataxis is positioned as a dance partner with syntaxis, and one rhetorical, in which parataxis is paired with hypotaxis. The tabloids will be all over this.

My most significant exam-writing error (more a matter of confusion or partial understanding than of unrecoverable slip-up) was to set out from an idea of hypotaxis and parataxis (and syntaxis) fused together in this line from Fuller's Media Ecologies:

"Parataxis (a sequence of this and that, 'ands') always involves a virtuality that is hypotactic (concepts and things, nested, meshed, and writhing). It puts into play a virtual syntax" (15).

From there, I keyed on a distinction between parataxis and syntaxis, arguing, basically, that tagging practices can be considered as a distributed aesthetics, that wrapping/inscribing new media objects in tags resonates with database logics more than with narrative (we're not exactly storying the new media objects when wrapping them with word-length semantic tags; I reffed Manovich, Lyotard), and that metadata, because it suspends (as if in crisis?) in a state of always-available multiple pathways is effectively, though perhaps not exclusively, paratactic.

The etymology is relevant; it's primarily what I used to justify the series of arguments I worked through related to distributed aesthetics, taxonomy, folksonomy, net art, on-sendings, tags as wrappers, the life cycle of tags, and so on. Here:

parataxis: Gr. to place side by side. Para-beside; taxis-arrangement or ordering.
syntaxis: Gr. to arrange in a sequence. Syn-with or together; taxis-arrangement or ordering.
hypotaxis: Gr. to arrange under (hierarchically). Hupo-under or subordinate; taxis-arrangement or ordering.

I could and probably should go much deeper with this. It wasn't so much a case for exclusivity (might they be complements rather than opposites?) as for distinction. What makes authoring tags (tags as micro-writing; tags as method) distinct from writing sentences? However we generate an answer, I think it must take into account this cluster of concepts. While a case could be made for database logic as hypotactic, so too must we take into account that the unordered list be understood paratactically, as is the case for Fuller in his emphasis on a methodology of lists, the detonation of associations ("a cascade of parasites"), and his child-like imperative to follow multiple paths at once (a hyper- poly- hodos).

I have more work to do if I end up revising the take-home essay I wrote for minor exam two. I need to reconsider whether the preference for parataxis is the best way to think about tagging practices, specifically, and metadata more generally. This certainty isn't shocking: there will be more reading, more research. And it very well might come around to whether or not notions of parataxis, syntaxis, and hypotaxis, in addition to taking root in well-established traditions of rhetoric and grammar, must also be updated in consideration of writing new media.

The risk here, I suppose, is that a reappraisal of parataxis could be taken as a threat to composition's investment in sentences, in syntax, and, ultimately, in discourse (a term which, as some have explained it, relies on syntaxis; without syntaxis, no discourse?). I've been searching for more recent, more disciplinarily recognizable references to syntaxis, parataxis, and hypotaxis, and although I haven't had time to follow up with everything on the list, I did find this in a CCC from 1991:

"The shifting, the disconnection or parataxis, the "rustle," as Barthes calls it, of language--these are perceived by many in composition as threats to the very control over language that writing instruction would have itself confer" (294). James Seitz, "Composition's Misunderstanding of Metaphor," CCC, 42.3, 1991.

I'm intrigued by Seitz's suggestion that parataxis is a threat; this folds reasonably well into conversations about technology, new media, and the production of anxiety. I didn't take that path in the essay I wrote back in December, but it might be something to set aside for later and, as with all of this, at the very least something to keep afloat in my grey matter at least through Thursday's goal-line stand on the matter of parataxis and tagging.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cloudifying Exams

Because I have a hearing/defense coming up Thursday morning for my qualifying exams, I figured why not run the answers for the most frequent nouns and noun phrases? And then I figured, why not post each answer as a tagcloud?

I've re-read my exam answers to prepare for each of the meetings with members of my committee over the past few days. Re-connecting with the answers has been unsurprising; I mean that the answers were what I remembered them to be. Their arguments, for better and worse, are still fresh with me. Still, the tagcloud gives me another perspective. A different bi-product.

I don't have a whole lot more to say about the questions I anticipate or the steps I'm taking to defend myself my answers. Just saying that because I have the CSS built to handle it, I'm enamored of posting more vaporous gatherings, beginning with these.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Finally, I'm emerging from the examatrix, relaxing the strainpuff closing in around my tired eyes and beginning to see the light fuzz of day. Solstice coming up? Oh.

Last Thursday morning I sat the first of two minor exams, and since that time, I've been doing very little besides writing through the final question--a week-long take-home essay (article length). This final piece is due before COB tomorrow, which means I still have another 30 hours to fiddle with it. I'm cautiously encouraged by what I've been able to do with this last question. I'd even go so far as to say that I've started to feel passionate about my answer, which has gone a smidgen longer than the 20-page goal.

Working on this final question has also helped me put the timed portions of the exam process in perspective. I'm fairly certain I produced a bona fide stinker last Thursday morning. No lie: clothespins and Vicks vaporub for the noses of any and all who dare to read it! But I understand now that these questions have been tough; they've asked me to do things I never expected, and as such, I'm closing out these exams with a (momentarily delusional?) sense of accomplishment.

Oh, right, my committee still has to read the answers. And there'll be an oral defense sometime in late January (during which I will not wear my Lions t-shirt; defenseless and indefensible). Between now and tomorrow, I have yet another round or three of revisions to work through, and then a few days to reflect on those timed answers, which I've had very little chance to reconsider.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

That Question

So-so: that's how it's gone preparing for writing an answer Thursday morning to the exam question I've had since this past Thursday. Just so-so. Throughout most of the day on Saturday, I was thinking about matching select chapters from Heskett's Toothpicks & Logos (which is built into the question) with a few of the ecology pieces on my reading list. I'd match the chapter on communications with Cooper's "Ecology of Writing" and the chapter on systems with Spinuzzi's stuff on tracing genres and the evolution of ALAS. But what about the chapter on objects?


Today, I started with re-reading Heskett and making notes on the parts I know I will use in the answer. Then I re-read parts of Spinuzzi, including his C&C article on metaphor and genre ecologies. Then I walked Yoki and started thinking more and more about Cooper, Syverson, and Nardi and O'Day. The question, which is generously wide open for the most part, invites me to not only describe how the concept or framework of ecology is used by particular people but also why it is used. How does it function for them? There's hope; I have a few things to say about this.

Next: re-read Cooper. Reading that essay, I keyed on the way she distinguishes ecology from context. Context, a concept she identifies through Burke's pentad, is insufficient to explain systemic causality. Perhaps this limitation results, in part, from tandem pairings (agent::scene) of the master terms rather than three and fours (agent::scene::agency::act). To account for the complementarity of design and ecology, then, I want to explain that, while basically dynamic or alive, each of them involves a 2+ orchestration of dramatisms as their unit imbroglio of analysis. This is, for now, a suggestion that design favors agent and ecology favors scene, while, significantly, each also reconciles with the technological imperatives that have amplified agency. From here, the answer will work through broad characterizations of Syverson, Nardi and O'Day, Fuller, and Spinuzzi both to further explore the pairing of design and ecology and to characterize ecological methods as they span across these four projects. Finally, the value in design and ecologies for comp/rhet scholars falls in with Latour's discussion of hybrids in WHNBM, with keeping the Gordian knot tied rather than falling into the trap of localism vs. globalism or methodological purification. I forgot to mention: at the outset I'll lead with a brief gloss about design as a concept that fans writing out well beyond minimalist alphanumeric rows (re: George in "From Analysis to Design" and Sirc, in "Box-logic": "student as passionate designer").

You think it's rough? Fine. No argument here. I have until Thursday morning to get it polished (where'd I pack away that pebble tumbling kit?). And then I have three hours to pour it, keystroke by keystroke, into this crude mold. My plan also includes another one-hour sprint during which I'll write through as much of this as I can, probably Tuesday.

Almost forgot! I can find the places where Burke talks about the five master terms using a metaphor of fingers (bound to hand and tendons) and sun spots (temporarily structured layers of lava), but I swear I remember reading something about the pentadic set as the multiply intersected shimmers of water left in the wake of a passing boat. Could've been from a class session. I'll pay ten cents for leads on this one.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Sentence-coaster Rides, Screaming Prose

Flickr photo ReneS.

I jogged out the major qualifying exam yesterday, writing one answer in a three-hour morning session and a second answer in a three-hour afternoon session. I'm still a little bit groggy-headed about the whole of the performance. I'm fairly sure that I did a better job of answering the first question than the second. By the afternoon stint what was a heap of kicky ideas in the A.M. was reduced to a wash of once-kicky ideas wanting for a nap. I'm encouraged, still: I'm not embarrassed about the answers I wrote (okay, so maybe I'd take back a couple of sentences, if I could), and I feel fairly confident that I can defend my choices, explain why I did what I did, and convince my calmmittee that I executed the two major exams well enough that I deserve, more or less, to move on to what's next. I was thinking about including a note here about how much I wrote, about word and page counts, since I've been prone to a fascination with such trivia throughout the duress of preparation. But no, for now I will withhold those factoids. Today I'm leaving out those details in protest (a protest of relief, to be sure) of word and page counts. Let's just say I wrote all that I possibly could in three hours, twice.

Starting today (last night, technically), I'm squaring off with a take-home question for the first of two minor exams. I have the question for six days before I return to campus next Thursday for a three-hour on-site writing session. I don't have my response plotted out yet, but I have read the question and picked up the new materials that the question asks me to glance. Basically, it involves reading some of Heskett's stuff on design in tandem with selected texts (I choose) that make use of ecologies or ecological perspectives/frameworks (for media, information, composition, psychology, child development). The anchoring concepts, then, are design and ecology, and so far this morning I've just been etching out a couple of pre-ideas about niches, aggregation, emergence, and orchestration. My gut-level forecast for the ecologies-answer draft looks like this: 1. Gibson, 2. Bruner, 3. Fuller, 4. Nardi and O'Day, 5. Cooper, 6. Syverson, 7. Heidegger, 8. Latour. Other maybes: Norman, Bronfenbrenner, Polanyi, and Spinuzzi. It's all a swirl of abstractions that will come clearer, because it must, in the days ahead.

I thought up the title to this entry during halftime of the major exams yesterday. It gave me a momentary chuckle to think about high-speed prose and thrill-seeking: the strange exhilaration in dashing out something so intensely wrought, so hazard-filled and messy, so alive with rawness and pulsation. Because some sentences were long and winding (even looping) and because the ride was over before I knew it, I now think of my major qualifying exams as back-to-back sentence-coaster rides--and few small jilts of pleasure both in having done it and in not having to do it again (I can get on with fetishizing it).

Nothing more to add for now besides that this is yet one more hiatus from my exam-stretch postponement. And if there's other blog-itch, I'll scratch it.

Sunday, December 3, 2006


I went ahead and tried the exam-writing sprints Krista recommended. The questions I'll be answering on Thursday, during a pair of three-hour sittings, are only approximations. The exist in partially remembered shreds from recent conversations rather than definitely, I mean, in writing. I've selected and assembled and condensed notes accordingly, committing to probable answers and probable organizations while figuring that I can bend the questions just enough to match with the answers I'm best prepared to write.

About the sprints: I wrote against the timer on my watch for exactly one hour late last night (heh, the wild lifestyle of an academic Saturday night in early December!) and did the same for the second question's area just before noon today. Granted, the writing I'll do on Thursday will be split into two-three hour sessions, but a one-hour sprint was definitely useful for giving me a sense of what I can say, how swiftly and precisely I can get to my claims, and how much evidence I can draw from my notes, memories of the stuff I read, and so on. I definitely recommend it (not to everyone, only future examinees). It's worthwhile for exactly the reasons Krista said it would be.

In one hour last night, I drummed out 1,388 words or the equivalent of just more than four pages. I went to sleep thinking that the pace and quantity were in a satisfactory range, but I was less sure about the coherence of the answers. I printed and read it this morning, giving some careful thought to the setup. The writing is raw, rough in places, and it assumes a certain understanding of the occasion for the writing. I'm not entirely settled on whether the answers should be understood as companions to the questions or whether they stand independent from the questions (explaining themselves entirely, I mean). While this wasn't a disaster, neither was it an unqualified success. I should just leave it at that. Last night's sprint: eye-opening, reassuring, and surprisingly more coherent when I re-read it this morning than when I imagined it during my pre-sleep mind-wandering last night. Tangent: I dreamt of poker, of winning--on dumb luck--a pile of chips with a 7-J straight on the final draw. Wuh?

Late this morning, I read over the notes for exam approxiquestion two before walking Yoki through the neighborhood. Once I was home again, I set the timer for an hour and dashed out a wildstyle 1,574 words or, that is, roughly five pages. I'm organizing both answers similarly, and each sprint allowed me to write through the beginning section: a pronouncement about what I'll do (claim and motives) and a brief historical gloss. For this morning's answer, the gloss involved North, Fulkerson, Carlton (postdisciplinary formation), and Emig. Like I said, this is rapid-fire writing--a kind of shout-it-down with only a passing care for how it sounds, as concerned with beating the clock as with fine tuning the answer. Again, I was encouraged by the rate (worry: I'll be writing the exams on a strange computer). If I can dash through twelve pages in 2.5 hours, that'll leave a half hour for poaching the so-raw-they're-ghastly sections.

I haven't decided whether more sprints would be beneficial at this late date, and so I might spend the next couple of days tuning outlines, working the claims over in my head again and again. The sprints, as you might expect, sparked in me a fresh mania: will I be able to emulate the sprint? I'm half-kidding. I fully expect to be able to put together a happy string of sprints on Thursday, but I'm also ever-aware of the tiny variables that can too easily derail any high-stakes performance of timed writing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Again with the Exams

Again, I'm engrossed in exam preparations. The latest phase consists of revolving shifts, a rotary of confidence and dread: waves of self-assured anticipation (I'll answer this way...), shudders of doubt (What if I forget, have a lousy day, etc.). I'm not quite all frazzled and manic with the process, but because it matters to me that I do well, because I want to write answers that my committee judges intelligible and even interesting, it's not as simple as just shrugging off the anxiety. And while I can't say that I've been here before, been toe to toe with PhD qualifying exams, that is, it does help to compare the stress of preparation to a certain nervousness I felt before basketball games many years ago. When I played poorly during those early years (as a freshman and sophomore), when I underachieved, Coach E. said I was "pressing": giving in to the compulsion to do too much and therefore perform all of it at a low level. The basketball solution boiled down to a simple principle (whose alternative--fitness!--was running sprints until collapse): do just three things well: box out, defend, go to the glass (different days, different trios: no turnovers, make FTs, bruise the post scorer without fouling). Keeping to just three simpler focal-metrics, the extras fell into place, usually just accumulating in stride, without deliberate effort. For qualifying exams, the correlation to pressing is jamming, working into an unproductive (st)illness (er...stylessness). Yet, of course, understanding that whatever induces anxiety (whether pressing or jamming) can best be resolved by shifting methods (have a plan/outline, keep it simple, the clock is an ally) certainly helps. Less than two weeks out, this is where I'm at as I try to forge a work-path between making too much of exams and making too little of them.

Rel: I woke up this morning with a low-on-caffeine headache and one workable claim in mind for one of the major exam questions (like K.'s sleep-writing or somnography). Not a bad trade-off, all in all. I noted the claim, adding it to the outline I'm tacking together and made a pot of coffee.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I think I've mentioned before that the exam-prep process has inspired in me fits of number crunching in addition to the necessary obsessions with lists. For several weeks, I've been checking off each item read, adding up the remainders, subtracting them against the days left until. Qualifying exams, whatever else can be said about them, encourage managed obsessiveness. It is a phase of productively channeled bibliomania. They're designed (at least in my program) to get you do prepare more intensely than you've ever prepared for anything else. Ever. The exam fever, however, has, for me at least, had a side effect of hyper-numeracy. Where's my calculator? Where's my spreadsheet? What day is it?

And so the story goes: I'm done reading. Sort of. Well, okay, so that's not quite true (never will be). There are still a couple of books I want to revisit because I didn't take quality notes when I read them during coursework, but the first-pass stuff is in the pile of dusteds. I now have twenty days to refine notes and regroup for the two major exam questions I'll write in early December. Because the minor exams each allow me a week with the question and all notes (the first will then be written on-site in a three hour session; the other is a week-long take home), I can prepare for them differently. Tomorrow, then, begins the last leg of preparations, beginning with how best to funnel more than 290 pages of notes kept here and there into "a few pages." Nice thing about the blog is it was easy for me to look up the factoid about a seven-point font giving me the equivalent of sixteen pages of notes on just three 8.5"x11" pages.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Seven Six Five

Just one month--thirty days--now until I sit for qualifying exams. Krista explained her program's exam procedures in an entry today, and I was reminded I'm due for a report on exam-prep progress. Every tiny exam self-report adds pep to my rally.

I've met or corresponded by email with all of the members of my exam committee, and I have just one more meeting sometime next week to bat around answerable questions for one of my minor exams now that I've dusted through the reading on that list. All in all, I've had a reasonably solid stretch of reading. Just five articles and six books (North, Aarseth, Haas, Kittler, Elkins, and Mitchell) wait for first passes. It's been impossible to work through a full monograph on teaching days, so I've been doing my best to line up articles for Mondays and Wednesdays. Should be able to get through two articles tomorrow and the rest of the first-pass reading by the end of next week. After that, I have a short list of books that I've read but for which I have few notes aside from marginalia. This means that the last two weeks of November will require lots of notes-focusing and writing in small bursts, assembling and winding through clusters of ideas most relevant to the exam areas.

I should be able to sit the two major exam questions (each for three hours) on the day after my last day of teaching for the fall semester. After that, I'll take six days with a minor exam question before sitting for another three-hour session one week after the major exams. After that, I'll get a question for the a week-long minor exam to be written at home. So that's the pattern: two three-hour questions written on-site for the major exam, one three-hour question written on-site after prepping with it for a week, and one full-week question written at home with full access to books and notes. After that, well, it'll be December 21, and I'll take a couple of days off, go bowling with the family, watch the snowflakes, anything. Because of the holidays, I'll probably learn of pass/fail by late January or early February at which time we'll convene for an oral exam where I get to apply duct tape to the flimsy places in my written answers.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rock and a Soft Place

Because it's a stretch for me to think (or write) about anything much other than qualifying exams, I have only the following Urie Bronfenbrenner excerpt to share tonight along with a re-run of an old Scrape:

Scrape 1.03

There exists a second body of scholarly work in which external environmental contexts are described in considerable detail and their impact on the course of development graphically traced. Such investigations are carried our primarily in the field of anthropology and to some extent in social work, social psychiatry, clinical psychology, and sociology. But the descriptive material in these studies is heavily anecdotal and the interpretation of causal influences highly subjective and inferential. Here we encounter what I view as an unfortunate and unnecessary schism in contemporary studies of human development. Especially in recent years, research in this sphere has pursued a divided course, each tangential to genuine scientific progress. To corrupt a modern metaphor, we risk being caught between a rock and a soft place. The rock is rigor, and the soft place relevance. The emphasis on rigor has led to experiments that are elegantly designed but often limited in scope. The limitation derives from the fact that many of these experiments involve situations that are unfamiliar, artificial, and short-lived, and call for unusual behaviors that are difficult to generalize to other settings. From this perspective, it can be said that much of developmental psychology, as it now exists, is the science of the strange behavior of children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest periods of time. (18)

How does the exam reading garden grow this October 22? I twiddled with the calculator for a brief minute this morning and figured that I've read 130 of the 170 items on my lists. Some of those reading encounters are from a few months ago. Or more (during coursework). I have what I'd describe as good notes on ~80 of the 130 pieces. I meet with my major exam examiners on Wednesday, and I'm still clinging to the plan of sitting the exams starting Dec. 1. The upcoming five weeks: sort of like entering the fourth quarter of a close contest with no timeouts.

Friday, September 22, 2006




I officially submitted my qualifying exam proposal today. It's a formality in the sense that I've been reading for several weeks, but a formality, nonetheless, that moves me one small step closer to sitting for them in ten weeks (or quite possibly sixteen weeks).

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Note Systems

Success in qualifying exams and later with the diss depends upon a reasonably comprehensive note-taking system. It's true, it's true. Who would argue? (And so it's a truism hardly worth restating).

I took so-so notes throughout coursework, but I also experimented a little bit too much, often making do with something messy and sketchy or other times accepting as good enough a summary or some other sort of page long response to the reading. From coursework, then, I have an assortment of notes. I mean the category of notes includes all kinds and classes: stickies, composition book messes, legal pads with many-an-in-class doodle, blog entries in the reading notes category, and so on. Some are proving useful for exam preparation, but many, regrettably, must be brushed up. In the weeks ahead, I've many notes to groom. I should add, however, that much of the writing that happens beyond the edge of intelligible notes is also worthwhile. So I wouldn't say that coursework would have been sharper for me at the time had I taken more methodical notes. Yet with relatively minor effort, I could have focused my coursework notes into something that, for being more regular in form and scope, would have served me better later on (i.e., right now). So many lessons.

Of the many small bumps and ruts I passed through this summer (toward reasonably smooth progress on exams), the biggest one involved settling on a method for keeping good notes. It had to be sustainable. It had to be searchable. It had to be typed (bc my handwriting...bird-scratch illegible). It had to involve tagging and other schemes for organization. And it had to function like a robust database. Aesthetically appealing. Affordable.

Exams vary considerably from program to program, as you would expect. Ours involve a major area (two questions; a pair of three-hour sittings to answer each on a single day) and two minor areas (one, we have the question for a week, then write it on site in three hours; the other, we write at home throughout a one-week stretch). Add it up, and it comes to nine hours of writing in a whatever's available space in the department (often the grad office) and a week-long take home essay that, when said and done, ought to be "publishable quality." As of this moment, it still seems possible to me that I'll be ready to kick things in motion with the all-day major exam on Dec. 1 and follow with the two minor exams before the holidays. If a crappy semester, the alternate date is sometime in January.

But I set out to write about my notes system. I eventually settled on something systematic back in early June, and, aside from a few due and appropriate lulls, I've been posting notes fairly regularly. I'm satisfied that it's coming together, doing, I mean, what I think a notes system should do--keeping me focused, moving along, registering thinned and concentrated versions of what I've read. And I share it now, after close to fifty entries, because I wanted to be sure it was up and running before I pointed to it. And so it is.

Comments are closed, and I haven't made use of any internal trackbacks yet, although I might if I decide that such a thing would be helpful. I've been most pleased with the tagging system (tags-in-common trigger the "Related Entries" feature at the bottom of each individual entry). It's also tied in with a private (for now) account for other categorical clustering. The dates assigned to each entry are rough approximations of the dates I produced the notes (you'll see, for instance, that the book I'm on now is posted already for tomorrow). And the minor exams are yet underdeveloped for some of the reasons I mentioned above--many of those notes are on paper or in other places.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Examinutiae II

Days remaining if I start my three-week qualifying exam period on Nov. 22: 91.
Days remaining if I start my three-week qualifying exam period on Jan. 15: 145.

Number of pieces in the three exam lists: 169
Number left to read: 70 (44 books, 26 articles)
Number left to annotate: Anybody's guess. Some integer between 70 and 134.

As you can see, I ran the numbers again this evening. It's not hopeless by any means, given that I can still meet the Nov. option if I have a solid few weeks. The burr in my sock is that while I'm reading and annotating individual pieces, the patterns arching across the readings are perhaps best compared to a serving of spaghetti.

Dropped from a high-flying hot air balloon.

Into a turbulent ocean.

Where it's being nibbled by predatory sea creatures.

You get my drift. Thing is, while time is short enough for reading, I also have to form possible responses, give the new stuff a shape beyond a set of finely tuned but scattered notes. So while reading is going fairly well, the part where it sinks in such that I can do intelligible justice to it in a few months: a disconcerting lack.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Indexical Thinking

As I continue to plod ahead with preparations for qualifying exams, I'm becoming more and more cognizant of indexes and also more dependent on the them. I've used indexes more casually in the past, almost always involving them as an after-thought to front-to-back reading--as something merely referential, a auxiliary text ranking well below everything else, a match with its rear-most position. A mere aid to memory rather than a multiple and complex terminal for differentiated reading encounters.

It's difficult to know just how much my own tagging habits have overhauled my expectations when reading. Between Flickr,, cite-u-like, blog entries and CCC Online, I'm ever more frequently engaging with tagging systems, applying tags or using them as bumper cushions on various meanderings around the internets. Thing is, I'm finding that because of this I want more from the indexes of books. More and more often, perhaps because some kind of indexical desire is piqued by the plenty of tagging systems for reading online, the indexes of books disappoint me. Just today, in the back of Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work, I was scanning the index. Came to "Turkle, Sherry, 212." And flipped. Only an endnote in Selfe and Selfe's "The Intellectual Work of Computers and Composition Studies"; "Turkle," named in a list. That was that.

Early this summer I was trying to get up to speed with exam prep, tinkering around, trying to get organized. And one of the bigger of the hitches was uncertainty with my ever-evolving note-keeping system. Throughout coursework, I used a few different systems, some of which are posted here in the reading notes category. Other methods I've tried involve lists of phrases with page numbers and letters to locate page positioning and other combinations of handwritten or typed notes. But for exams I wanted something more indexically entangled, more integrated with tagging and cross-referencing, all managed by assigning keywords that I could pool, sort, and free-associate. It took me a couple of weeks to get it set up and running smoothly, and now I'm reasonably satisfied with the results--results I'll share early this fall provided I can continue to make reasonably steady progress with reading and annotating. If not for a flurry of new tagging habits, I probably would've been content with old-fashioned note-keeping, although I'm skeptical about my own ability to find my way through them once they pile up.

I doubt this will raise many eyebrows, but I don't find it the least bit preposterous to suggest that book indexes should be resituated. Move them to the front of the book, I say. Add indexical information for each chapter (especially for edited collections). After all, for me at least, indexes are the new table of contents. I'll grant that this is probably more of a personal revolution and not something bigger (or it is, whatever). But consider the possibilities in a variant of cite-u-like that would offer a book's indexed terms (by chapter, also) and would allow you to select from them while also pulling from the tags of others and adding your own. Sort of like what you can do with the site for CCC Online when fold a link into your own collection. You get the prefab, auto-indexed stuff plus your own. Today's what if: the index of R&C as Intellectual Work available online in such a way that it cooperates with other web 2.0 apps. A more fanciful wish: an uber-linked, comprehensive (books, journals, net), dynamic, disciplinary concordance system.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I count 110 days until I'm taking qualifying exams. Over the past 24 days, I have read and annotated 19 units--books and articles combined. I'm not making any distinction between books and articles for now, even though I know that I need an hour for an article and ~6 for a book. My notes for each are roughly equivalent coming out at around 1-2 pp. The first 19 units fit in while teaching two online courses together enrolling ~50 students (my fall will not be so engorged...with teaching, but, of course, the fall will be babyful, so the formulas are all amiss). Because I'll lose my mind if I work constantly, I took fifteen minutes to monkey around with my lists as a bar graph. When I paste the sets into a spreadsheet, Excel tells me there are 169 items in my three lists combined.

I think of it like a fundraising chart:

Holy smokes. Bleak friggin' outlook for being exam-ready by November. Unless! I glanced through the remaining 150 items (remember, 110 days or 2,640 hours, however you want to break it down) and I have read 56 of them. I know 56 out of the 150 remaining. I simply need to dash out a few reliable notes. Remainder: 94 units in 110 days. If one-third are articles and two-thirds are books, then I'm amping up for 403 hours of grindstone. Tack on another 50 hours for annotating the familiar 56 units and it comes to 459 hours. Just over five hours per day, not counting weekends. Or, more my style, eleven hours one day followed by a day on the couch reading fiction and watching television...and again and again. Well, and I have some expendables built in, so I could drop ten units without offending anyone or read super-selectively, etc. But given that I haven't had what I would characterize as a remarkable working month (even take it to six weeks), I guess that it still seems possible to be exam-proof in the fall.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Re Collection

Walter Benjamin, in "Unpacking My Library," writes

The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them. (60)

Today, I'm thinking of my exam areas and the respective lists--collections, really--as temporarily locked items in magic circles. I'm semi-officially in the exam phase of my program of study, and although I have yet to type up a reflective essay (a post-coursework "Stuff I'm Thinking About") and get thumbs-ups from the grad committee in the fall, my lists are reasonably well set. With a streak of good, steady studying, I hope to examine in November.

I filled two hours this afternoon with shelving toward what Benjamin calls the "mild boredom of order" in a book collection. I'm still missing a few; they should arrive from various sellers in ten days or twelve. My library hunts are complete, and I have nearly all of the article length stuff in pdf, html or paper. And a couple of (bold) books on my list are neither in Bird Library nor in the collections of my examiners. For these, I'll wait a few weeks before deciding what to do about it. I have a slim margin of excess in my lists. That is, they're built to withstand subtractions. And I should expect, as I would with any reading, that a few items in the collections will peel off and drop away while other shadow texts will be recruited into the sets along the way. About the "mild boredom of order": I tend to keep books loosely organized into chaopiles. But ten-book stacks were beginning to wall in my desk space, so I picked up a cheap shelf and dedicated it to housing exam items.

I've half-joked before that exam lists could just be randomizations of titles from the book collections of our committee members. In such a system, each examiner or committee member would provide a long list of books, an idiosyncratic list of books ever-before-read. Examinees (or computers!) would determine student's exam lists by running a randomization rule on the larger list. And then read. Eccentric, sure. But I'd bet you a quarter that the stuff I'm reading (collections more or less of my own design) wouldn't diverge in drastic ways from randomizations pulled from my examiners' collections.

There is still more work to do with the formal statements defining each examination area. I have rough starts, but those will have to be polished before the first grad committee meeting in early fall. Although there's no provision to allow for such a thing, I'm tempted to break precedent and submit a photo for my exam proposal. I doubt it would fly. Maybe just for the exam on visualization and new media. Might improve the proposal's odds if I appeared in the photo, reading or even posed-as-if-about-to-start-reading.

Qualifying Exams

Friday, May 26, 2006

Coursework Retrospective, or What Just Happened?

I've been thinking about coursework for some time this afternoon. I finished coursework two weeks ago, and I've been roughing out some of the materials in preparation for exams. My program requires a brief reflective essay as a step toward proposing qualifying exams. Basically, the process of writing the essay is meant to crystallize, for us and our committees, favorite theorists/ies, intellectual sparks/combustibles, trends and patterns, habits of mind, formative identities as scholars and teachers, and the like.

I could work from unaided memory on such a piece, reaching back, as well as I can, to account for the overarching effects and the various minutiae shaping the past two years. I can remember most of it, most of what I've read, written and discussed, that is. But I'm equally interested in reflecting on the coursework phase using the data available to me. And so I've started to pull together some of it here, on down in this entry. Two aggregative lists: first, all of the assigned reading from twelve courses, and second, a compilation of the works cited in the seminar papers I wrote during these two years.

The lists are not inclusive of everything I've read since August of '04. I should be clear that works cited in conference papers, for example, won't appear here. I've done nothing to indicate reading undertaken on the edges of formal coursework, either, so you won't find Sirc's English Composition as a Happening or Barthes' Camera Lucida on either list (their absences, though, do make me wonder why they didn't have places in seminar papers). You also won't find any of the materials I've taught: McLuhan's Medium is the Massage, chapters from Mike Davis or David Sibley, or The Cluetrain Manifesto. The lists are merely samples, illustrative collections maybe.

Posting such collection to the web runs the risk of misrepresenting my program's curriculum. That said, the list of readings from coursework is, well, reflective only of the courses I took. While not necessarily indicative of my program's curricular consensus or grounding, all of the readings were assigned. Eleven of the twelve courses I took fell within the department. Yet, because of the range of course options, the coursework readings wouldn't be an identical match with one kept by any other student (it's my idiosyncratic thumbprint, in other words, as singular as a retinal scan). And for subsequent cohorts of students, the selections will morph, shifting shape at the hand of the respective faculty member. By no means should either list be understood as determinative on a programmatic level. Still, the lists tell me something about what I've been doing over and above my memory and present vantage point. What else might aggregative lists tell? How else might such collections be useful?

Beyond the introspective, reflective uses for such lists, I wonder, too, how they compare to other programs of study in rhetcomp or other disciplines. More reading or less? More rigor or less? Greater or lesser theoretical, historical, methodological, pedagogical or political orientations represented in the lists? Adequately coherent or alarmingly diffuse (i.e. you read what?!)? And how might lists like these corroborate with the felt senses or intuitive knowledge of faculty members, faculty teaching in comparable graduate programs, prospective students or others in my cohort?

Let me say just a bit more about the lists themselves. I've marked items making multiple appearances. Appearing more than once in coursework: Roland Barthes, Ann Berthoff, Kenneth Burke, Judith Butler, Amy Devitt, Janet Emig, Keith Gilyard, Andrea Lunsford, Carolyn Miller, Alondra Nelson, Louise Wetherbee Phelps, Jim Porter, Paul Prior, Barbara Rogoff, Louise Rosenblatt, Geneva Smitherman, and Mark Taylor. Oddly enough, none of the repeat figures from the assigned reading match with the repeat figures in my seminar projects: A. Suresh Canagarajah, Johanna Drucker, Anne Ruggles Gere, Franco Moretti, Donald Norman, Raymond Williams, and Kathleen Blake Yancey. Multiple appearances in the seminar projects might refer to the same work; this just means that I used something--Williams' Keywords, for instance--in more than one project. In fairness, the reading lists from early coursework aren't as detailed as the citation list. I've glossed at least a handful of articles and shorter pieces from that first semester and, perhaps, even missed a couple of pieces since (optional readings, items in collections/anthologies, etc.).

I hope it's clear that I'm not posting these to satiate a deep-down narcissistic desire or to put my program out there in any way. If scrutiny or critique is due, you're welcome to share it. For now, I'm simply interested in raising the question: What might such lists tell us that we don't already know? What kind of evidence is this? I compiled the lists in Excel, and I have columns with other criteria like course number and semester (1-4) for easy sorting. But what other metrics w/c/sh-ould apply? What might it suggest, for example, to triangulate these lists with the lists shaping up for exam areas? With the works cited in the diss? Or to sort by date, length or other typologies (genre, disciplinary orientation, web-based-ness, article-or-monograph, and so on)? What will be the value in glancing through these collections in five years? Or ten?

Or in circulating--among faculty and students--a similar sort of record for all students in a particular graduate program? Too much transparency? Needless transparency?

The lists: one for coursework; one for seminar paper citations.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Coursework ended today. One month ago I wasn't sure how it'd go getting to herenow, turning out three twenty-pagers (on three disparate areas) along with presentations ranging from formal to informal attached to each. I was unnerved, anxious. Felt the time slipping away. But I managed, plodding through several sprints of reading and notes capped with focused two-hour writing sessions, drumming out four pages in each block. And the papers are, well, done at least. Turned in.

A busy summer is up next. Tomorrow, yard work (rain! rain!). In the blurry short-term just beyond tomorrow, I'm helping Ph. line up summer work (lawns mostly), teaching summer courses, moving CCC Online along, finalizing exam lists and beginning to dig on that reading. I also have a mini-seminar to attend next Tuesday. In the name of professional development, two mini-seminars are required of us each semester; this one counts for the fall. There's also a trip next week for a two-day retreat to Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks and a trip to Phoenix for a few days in early June.

Now I also need to think about forcing a few days of leisure. I've already read up on Ex Machina (1-10) and Y: The Last Man (1-36). Watched Scratch the other morning when I was ODed on revisions. I haven't been denied much of the NBA Playoffs, despite the end-of-semester crunch.

I'm anticipating a bit more vim for the blog, too.