Thursday, January 28, 2010


My two Twitter accounts unexpectedly synchronized yesterday, matching in number for the first time ever. Two-hundred forty-three tweets in each. #sotta

Right-o: #sotta is a hashtag for State of the Twitter Accounts. Of course, I realize that hashtags don't help organize blog entries the way they do Twitter updates. So much runs together nowadays.

Their unplanned alignment, though not especially remarkable for everyday people (even Digg overlooked this happening), was just uncanny enough for me to justify taking a step back, a deep breathe and reflective, 24-hour pause. Could be a conductive, insightful occasion, or not. The two accounts resemble fraternal twins. One came first. They have much in common, but they do not quite look alike: different avatars, different personalities, different aliases, different habits of writing and linking.

I keep the older account around because it follows and is in turn followed by a somewhat more collegial and professorial company than the other. The second account is more teacherly; it fills a pedagogical need for the activity streams ENGL328ers write throughout the semester. In other words, the second account is more for orchestration and course-specific guidance.

Two-hundred forty-three tweets: that's nothing. Even multiplied by two, it's in the shallow end of the pool some measure away from Twitter users who have upwards of two thousand entries. So in this, my first half-year of tweeting, I'm still trying to figure out where my own writing and working rhythms blend in with the Twittersphere, whether I'm being (perhaps somewhat willfully) negligent of the accumulative effects of writing not only in a networked platform but in a networked platform with such a boundless temporality as this.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Trouble

We wrapped up our reading and discussion of Strunk and White's "little book" this week (i.e., the "little book" so tall that it lords over school style all these semesters later). When I say, "wrapped up," I mean that we ran out of time and suspended discussion rather than getting in a last word or determining, ultimately, what ends The Elements serve. I occasionally feel conflicted about devoting as much focus as we do to such a quirky, popular, and curious collection of stray thoughts on prose style. Consequently, we dwell for many minutes on just how it is we must read EOS, as historical artifact, as trusted primer, as a portrait of the ways arbitrary and capricious fixations creep into a writing teacher's sensibilities, as a partial and problematic commonplace (oddly captivating and stale, at once). Many, many minutes and yet not long enough.

Over holiday break, while on the dog-fetching sojourn in Syracuse, I chatted with a friend about the course I am these days so thoroughly concerned with teaching well. She asked, Why Strunk and White? It's a setup piece, staging for the remake project inspired by Derek Pell's NSFW The Marquis de Sade Elements of Style. I value the remake because it calls into question the plasticity of the elements, checking time honored rules against the many pop culture contexts that are, on the one hand, stylistically rich, but on the other hand, roaming on the roomier side of language's prison house.

I also appreciate The Elements of Style for how conspicuously it presents style as arhetorical, or, if that is too extreme a characterization, for how it positions style as synonymous with "grammar," falling, that is, on the side of correctness and clarity first rather than encompassing kairos and ornament (these four terms: correctness, clarity, kairos, and ornament come from the Crowley and Hawhee chapter on style). The style-grammar conflation is, of course, widespread, and EOS helps us see fairly explicitly its limitations, especially in its neglect of language acts as situated and in its inattention to figures and tropes.

The other day, when concluding our discussion of the "little book," we ran out of time for looking at a surprising turn in the fifth section, "An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders)," where E.B. White dispatches with "audience."

Many references have been made in this book to "the reader," who has been much in the news. It is now necessary to warn you that your concern for the reader must be pure: you must sympathize with the reader's plight (most readers are in trouble about half the time) but never seek to know the reader's wants. Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living. (84)

When he says "most readers are in trouble about half the time," I'm not entirely sure what he means. Surely the reader he refers to in that context isn't his former teacher, Will Strunk, right? Could the reader "in trouble" be the adolescents working through a copy of Stuart Little or Charlotte's Web? I don't want to harp on this point like I'm driven to a hermeneutic pinning down of "the reader" in this passage. But it seems to me an extraordinarily strange gesture toward pleasure and self-satisfaction at the end of an otherwise conservative handbook.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Manic Monfri

Most notable about EWM's sixth year (2009, plus a few days) is that never in a month did I write more than ten entries. I don't know whether this is more a comment on the blog or a comment on the year or a comment on their irreconcilability, their mismatch. Whatever the causes, there was less, less than any year before considering every other annual cycle consisted of 10+ monthly entries. 2009: Tweets a-bunch, blogs abyss.

Indeed, today marks another blogday, and since I haven't missed announcing any previous blogday, I feel an obligation to mention the historic occasion (everything, after all, is more impactful if "historic"). Cake? No. We will celebrate at home later with leftover cod chowder (simple, delicious, i.e., better than expected), cheddar biscuits, and if somebody else feels like baking them, brownies. Today also happens to be a Monfri to top all Monfries: the first day of the first week of the new semester at EMU and, for me, the last day of the first week of the new semester at EMU. Frenzied, manic. Monfri, the average of Monday and Friday, their median, or Wednesday, depending on how you mark it in your day planner. Monfri, the grue moon of academe. No telling whether today is also EWM's Monfri, the critical moment mid-distant between its initiation and its termination. No telling.

I'm teaching ENGL328 this semester, again unpicking the triple squareknot at the intersection of writing, style, and technology. Introducing myself in the first class this morning, I mentioned that I'm looking forward to re-establishing a regular reading and writing schedule this winter (perhaps it sounded like "irregular" as I said it). It's not that I neglected to read and write in the fall, exactly. But I wouldn't describe those four months as acceptably disciplined or scheduled. Not up to my standards, anyway. And I gather, hints and clues, that it's typical in first years of new appointments to experience an irregular stride, an arrhythmia attributable to figuring things out, getting bearings, settling.