Not As a Trusted Guide

Halfway through Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects, one of the many wishlisted titles I picked up at last month’s Networked Humanities conference. Stewart’s slow jumps aggregate to an “idiosyncratic map of connections between a series of singularities” (4). A colleague, when he saw the book at the edge of my desk late last week in a place where I would be sure to remember to carry it home for the first interlude of Winter Break, characterized Stewart’s writing as “prose poems.” I can see that. Similar to ornamented essays, i.e., stylistically adven-turous felt-arguments.

And like I said, I’m only halfway through. Slow jumps read slowly. As much as by anything else, I’m struck by–affected by–Stewart’s reconfiguring of pronouns.

I write not as a trusted guide carefully laying out the links between theoretical categories and the real world, but as a point of impact, curiosity, and encounter. I call myself “she” to mark the difference between this writerly identity and the kind of subject that arises as a daydream of simple presence. “She” is not so much a subject position or an agent in hot pursuit of something definitive as a point of contact; instead, she gazes, imagines, senses, takes on, performs, and asserts not a flat and finished truth but some possibilities (and threats) that have come into view in the effort to become attuned to what a particular scene might offer. (5)

To write not as a trusted guide seems at first to go against professionalism and rhetorical ethics, but instead of turning into fanciful indulgence, because it finds gravity in description, it shifts ethos to ethos-oikos, a kind of redistributed or network-strewn, banal registry. A contagious style, Stewart’s.

He noticed frost on the Honda Element outside and put off a morning jog, wrote a blog entry, ground beans for pressed coffee. “March was always warmer than this.”

“You Don’t Change Your Narrative”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Are You Ready for Some Midterms? – MSNBC’s Political Narrative
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

What if remix culture (and concomitant sampling practices) are to blame credit for the willfully negligent truncations of context? Whether such truncations are on the rise, it is difficult to say, but they do seem to be more frequently in the news: 1) absurd fixations on narrative preservation/continuation, and 2) a bandying among television networks over how adequately a clip represents, synecdochically, the situation within which it arose. Samplers all, we cannot avoid the negation of context, can we?, so perhaps the best we can hope for is some rhetorico-ethical insight into why (and how) this happens, and, after that, some relief in laughter.

Can Writing Studies Claim Craft Knowledge and More?

Robert Johnson’s recent CCC article, “Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies,” argues that “craft knowledge” can function effectively as a warrant for disciplinary legitimacy.  He sets up “craft knowledge” against an Aristotelian backdrop of techne, or arts of making, and advances a view of “craft knowledge” as a solution to still-raging disputes over the disciplinary status of writing studies (notably not “rhetoric and composition”).  “Still-raging” is casting it too strongly; unsettled and ongoing are perhaps better matches with the characterization of those disputes in this speculative discipliniography–an article that imagines felicitous horizons for the field. As I read, I wasn’t especially clear whose conflicted sensibility would be rectified by invoking craft knowledge. Among Johnson’s concerns with the status of writing studies are 1) that it does not carry adequate clout (or recognition, for that matter) necessary for grant writing and 2) that it does not influence neighboring fields whose inquiries would be, by the input of those trained in writing studies, enriched.

On the problem of disciplinary status for grant writing, Johnson writes,

When the traditional disciplines–the so-called established fields of inquiry and production–work in an interdisciplinary manner, they in most cases still hold onto their disciplinary identity. This is painfully evident for those in writing studies when applying for external grant funding.  On the application forms from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), for example, applicants must identify their resident discipline in order to be eligible. (680-681)

Continue reading →

For The Third or Fourth Time

From today’s IHE,
a piece on
double-dipping conference presentations
. This is a practice that has been on
my mind somewhat during this, the most conference-intensive stretch of my
current program of study. Of course, the very idea of "double-dipping"
resonates with the bucket (or well) model of invention that, at its best, smacks
of individualism and zero-sum economics and, at its worst, echoes of such
horrifying social
(and professional) improprieties as standing over a vegetable tray at a faculty
gathering and using, re-using, and re-re-using the same celery stalk as a salivated
dipping stick for that zesty ("Maybe dill?") salad dressing. The views included
in the short article range from the cynical to the more generous-spirited.
From the cynical camp, a shot about dumbfounded graduate students who are
oblivious to the ethics of reperforming (revising, retooling, redelivering,
etc.) one’s work:

As Nelson C. Dometrius, a professor of political science at Texas Tech
University, writes in his introduction to [the debate featured in PS:
Political Science and Politics
], when he raised the question with senior
faculty members, he received mixed reactions, with people quickly outlining
special cases where they viewed such "double dipping" as justified. When he
posed the same question to graduate students, Dometrius relates, "the modal
reply was a blank stare — a lack of comprehension that presenting the same
paper as many times as you wished would be viewed by anyone as an unusual or
questionable practice."

I don’t know whether this says more about Dometrius, about the graduate
students at Texas Tech (less likely), or about advanced graduate study in
political science (even less likely), but it’s a take that doesn’t carry all
that well over into my own experience developing and giving conference talks in
recent years. If we are not to be flavor-of-the-week-ademics, isn’t some
return inevitable? What’s implied here is that carry-over is suspicious, an
indication that someone is slacking off or falsifying a work record.

On a more nuanced note, the exec. director of MLA–who was quoted in the
article–suggests that re-use is smart and appropriate, especially when you take
audience into account. If the audience is not the same from conference to
conference, the matter of "double-dipping" becomes less a question of
conferencing ethics and more a question of growing one’s vita by dubious means
(i.e., double-dipping as the HGH of higher ed). I would guess this works
very differently when, for a dissertating graduate student, the list of life’s
work is fairly short and centered on a small number of projects than it would
around year six or seven of an assistant professorship, after the chance to give
the dissertation a rest, pour your heart into a couple of different projects,
and perhaps even land a book contract. Artificial vita cultivation and re-tread
scholarship: who really believes there will not come a day of reckoning for
these practices?

One of the messages I return to from early in coursework: you can write
insightfully and meaningfully about your work from any point in it, whether you are just beginning
to find a research question, whether you have written full articles on the
matter, or whether you have dedicated twenty years to this or that interest.
Could this be construed as a kind of one-trick-ponyism? Perhaps. But
it is not easy to decide without knowing better the work in question. Of
course it’s possible to re-use one’s own stuff lazily, but all re-use, all
"self-plagiarism," need not fall into that category of suspicion.

I am tempted to leap to personal anecdotes as a way to wander through this
question a bit more. Those (i.e., the three of you) who have heard more
than one of my conference papers in recent years will recognize overlaps,
recurring interests, and ideas that re-appear because they click. But I am not
giving the same paper in any two cases. Not exactly. Neither am I
writing what I think of as purely original conference papers, since they all
rise from an accumulating slosh of ideas and clusters of interests (providing
copies of them is one measure of verification, but what about those
extemporaneous talks?). The conferencing record is like a listing of
cousins, not strangers, not siblings (most certainly not twins, which seem to be
the concern of the article). But then again,
perhaps I am merely invoking (to the point of abusing?) that graduate student
exemption that grants greater leniency to experimentation, to trying ideas and
presentational styles on for size, while trudging through all of those
pre-professional uncertainties.

I have to stop here, but there are a couple of other matters of interest
touched off by the piece:

  • Self-plagiarism as a concept (closely related: self-citation).
    Also as a hypocritical practice (i.e., teachers forbid undergraduates from
    re-using papers across the curriculum, but themselves–allegedly–do it).
    The article does not provide examples, and the only ones I can think of
    (aside from the obvious sharing of curricular materials, syllabi, etc.) are
    where an article evolves into a book chapter, but this practice is, as far
    as I know, widely accepted.
  • Whether publishing formalities apply to the conferencing circuits.
    If published articles have much greater purchase for tenure, wouldn’t
    self-duplication in formal publications reflect the lackadaisical attitudes
    toward re-used conference materials? Some of this goes back to acceptance
    systems, double-blind peer review, etc.
  • What of the practice of re-using conference proposals? Some lore
    about this circulates–the conference-goer who got in [to XYZ national
    conference] using the exact same proposal. Ethically objectionable? Change
    the title, re-submit the proposal. Does it matter whether the
    conference presentation was "original" if the proposal was a duplicate?
  • Do political scientists study Bakhtin?
  • The table, "Duplicate Presentations, by Year Doctorate Received," is
    fascinating in the trend it projects: by the year 3,000–for better or
    worse–all conference
    presentations will be double-dipped.