twelfth blog post

Thoughts on Eli Goldblatt’s Don’t Call it Expressivism: Legacies of a “Tacit Tradition,” an exploration of the role of the writer in writing.

I was drawn to the point that Goldblatt makes about Adam Banks’ tone and diction in his Digital Griots, an argument for what Banks calls “old school ethos.” Goldblatt says of Banks:

“There is, the very distinctiveness of his tone and diction, a statement of pride in a hard-won and much-tested Discourse—not only its words and deeds but…a compendium of its habits and gestures, its values and attitudes—in short, the way a historically rooted people express suffering, desire, and hope” (452).

This brought to mind the close reading techniques of New Criticism that reign supreme in contemporary secondary school English literature classes. Students are taught to look at the text itself for meaning, and nothing else. Examine tone and diction, but do not say what the author thinks or means. Now, I do not purport to know authorial intent. Nor do I think that anyone can. But, isn’t talking about tone and diction pretty darn close? Yes, by talking about tone and diction, we take an effective approach – examining the effect that the words have on the reader, instead of the author’s intentional affect. But, we still acknowledge that the author chose those words for a reason. The words are put on paper in a specific order not by luck or happenstance, but by a person.

Now, I understand the reasoning behind the New Critical approach, and the general movement away from expressivism in academic writing norms. As Greenblatt points out, it was a natural progression bolstered by professional climate. And by foregrounding social constructivism, “the shift made possible a view of writing that could address race, class, gender, sexuality, and other social categories so crucial in debates over the next decades throughout the academy” (445).

I suppose my point here is in line with Goldblatt’s. That even in taking an effective approach to interpreting writing, a reader is tacitly (to use Goldblatt’s word) addressing authorial intent. I may not know what the author was trying to say, but I’m still going to make claims about what they are saying. I’m just examining it from the back-end instead of from the front.

Goldblatt’s essay is refreshing and provocative. I can see how “the man” of academia might marginalize his views. Strangely, or perhaps interestingly, I read the piece without looking at the name of the author, knowing nothing about him, and I assumed he was a woman because of the nature of the conversation with his colleague and his subsequent views on expressivism. I wonder if I am being sexist if I say that expressivism seems to be a feminine way to approach writing, and the dominant way its masculine counterpart.

Yeah, that’s probably super sexist. Forget I mentioned it.

eleventh blog post

Let’s take a look at some of the “medium or modality” choices in Horner, Selfe and Lockridge’s Translinguality, Transmodality and Difference.

Since the intermezzo essay (too long for a journal but too short for a book) examines the boundaries of “translinguality” and “transmodality” in modern composition pedagogy while commenting on its own relationship with various modes (in both the multi and the trans sense), I found myself thinking about the extra weight that the modal choices in the essay itself bear on the argument. The essay is not as unconventionally transmodal or multimodal as it could be. The footnotes reveal some abandoned aspirations of left to right scrolling, moving backgrounds and audio/video components that don’t appear in the published version. However, the piece is still strikingly different than anything I’ve read before in an academic setting.

I found the unique layout and organization to be helpful. The sections marked with the contributor’s name aid in the presentation of the argument as a dialogue. The occasional bolded summary of the argument to follow clarified some of the abstract and wordy arguments and expositions (P.S., I’m trying really hard to sound like them in this response). The lack of paragraphs was interestingly reminiscent of web-based writing like blogs. Maybe it’s a conscious choice to make the text more legible on a screen – too many words too close together get mushy faster on a screen than on a page – at least to my eyes. Or maybe it’s a reflection of the impact that technology has on the way our brains produce and make meaning has shifted. Maybe the authors thought that presenting a few sentences at a time would be easier for the reader than a paragraph, or maybe that’s how their brains produce thought now. Sorry Bain, but your precious paragraphs are losing ground.

Lockridge explains the choice to publish the essay as a scrolling, printable pdf because of the inherent “simplicity, familiarity and comfort” of the mode (29). Yet, I can’t find the page number to cite this quote (that I jotted down in my notebook – for those who don’t know, a notebook is this thing made out of lots of sheets of paper) without using a “control f” function, which not every reader/user knows about, because a pdf is really hard to flip through.

The pdf format also makes the footnotes function different than they do in print. I wonder why they didn’t use something like the “sticky note” tool in Adobe Acrobat instead of the traditional footnote. I found the essay extremely abstract and difficult to contemplate on any real level, but the footnotes were engaging and enlightening. I suppose I could have scrolled down to read them more often, rather than waiting and reading them all at once, but the scrolling made this more difficult than it would have been in print. I can’t just stick my thumb in to make sure I don’t lose my place. I was losing my place often enough without scrolling around looking for footnotes. Maybe there’s a thumb function that I don’t know about.

By publishing in pdf, the opportunities to accentuate transmodality abound. Yet, what the essay gains in accessibility, it loses in attainability.

tenth blog post

Clueless

This blog post is late, and will therefore benefit from the brilliance of everyone else’s posts and Professor Pandey’s lecture on Monday. It will also probably garner less traffic than it would have if I posted on time. Maybe two views instead of three. 🙂

I had a hard time blogging this week because I wasn’t able to get fully on board with Xiaoye You’s proposal in Cosmopolitan English and Transliteracy. I wanted to. It sounds great! But idealistic. Like ending racism or sexism, or actually going to the gym. I’m not here to argue its efficacy though. It’s a tall order, but I don’t want to throw shade because the root of the theory is the very real problem of the prejudice that diverse English speakers face, to which I realize that I contribute. As a white person that speaks (basically) Standard English (unless you consider the Clueless lilt to be a vernacular), I participate in oppressing those that don’t sound like me. I judge a person’s intelligence on their ability to use English – unintentionally of course, and without recourse – but judge nonetheless. I’m not proud of this, and now that I am aware of it I will try to change.

The awareness of and desire to change my outlook on language prejudice did not start with You’s theory of Cosmopolitan English. When I was introduced to vernaculars in an introductory Linguistics class, I had a revelation about language and challenged myself to accept each version of English as equal. I also learned about phonology and that some language speakers simply cannot hear the sounds that others hear, a physical gap that gives us accents and that final scene in A Christmas Story in the Chinese restaurant.

It’s really hard to stop judging people. And it’s really hard to see how your judgments actually make an impact. I was raised to think that as long as you don’t treat people differently, it’s okay to think stereotypically or with prejudice. I think it might be part of human nature to compare.

But the older I get, the more people I meet, and the more I read, the more I see that it’s NOT okay as long as you don’t act on it. Small things, as seemingly inconsequential as the words we choose to describe people (non-native speakers, ESL) – these small things matter. And I have a choice when it comes to using these words, just as I have a choice about the judgments I make.

I started thinking about my prejudice again while listening to NPR report on North Korea. I couldn’t find the specific story when I searched through their archives from Monday, April 17, but it may have been because of the snafu. The host of the show introduced a clip of a North Korean general’s speech by saying that the speech had been translated. I don’t recall exactly what the general said, but it wasn’t praise for America. I found it odd that the translator would have such a strong accent and use such strange phrasing. Why didn’t they use a translator who speaks Standard English? After the clip, the host corrected himself, saying that the voice we heard was actually the general himself speaking and not a translator. This changed things entirely, not only because I no longer doubted the production choices of NPR, but because this anti-American sentiment was crossing the radio waves in English. He speaks English, for whatever reason, and this changed my perception of him.

I’m sorry that this blog has turned so personal. Most of my classmates have taken a more academic road in this assignment, and I enjoy reading their posts very much. But I tend to think that the value of an education isn’t in what I know, but in how I apply it to my life. That’s why this blog has been helpful to me.

Just one more post to go I think.

ninth blog post

 

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Ninth Blog Post

 

Xiaoye You’s Cosmopolitan English & Transliteracy is a culmination of the material that we have read in this class so far and deals with a lot of the themes that have come up in discussion. It challenges the core of the English degree that we are all working toward, and negates the value of the English language as we know it.

 

We discussed the influence of the scientific revolution on the pedagogical trends that rule western education. According to You, the study of the English language has been science-ed to the point that there are “right” and “wrong” versions and Standard English has become an oppressive force. He suggests Cosmopolitan English as an alternative. I found myself struggling to imagine a world where a “correct” way of speaking does not exist outside of common usages. For instance, the verb “conversate” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary last year. It is labeled as “Northern American colloquial,” but it is defined as: “to engage in conversation, esp. with a person.” I found this interesting and a little infuriating. Interesting because the more that Americans use this word incorrectly, the stronger its presence in our lexical artillery, the more normalized, and apparently accepted it became. Infuriating because while I don’t consider myself a “grammar Nazi,” this word has always bothered me. I heard this news before I read about Xiaoye You’s theory of Cosmopolitan English, but I tried to think about the benefits of the most esteemed taxonomy of the English language, the OED, validating a word that a lot of people use. I thought about the power of people in the evolution of language and how cool it is to witness the creation of a new word. But “conversate” is so much longer than “converse.” It doesn’t make more sense to me, the way most language mistakes that follow linguistic patterns make more sense than the irregular, “correct” way to say it, but I’ll have to keep trying I suppose.

 

Not trying to understand. The postmodern deconstructionist in me does not want to understand – only to explore and accept.

 

The Derrida readings prepared us for the concept of Cosmopolitan English by advocating for the deconstruction of traditional, canonical ideals, especially pedagogical ones. Derrida says that understanding the tradition is imperative to creating anything new.

 

While I doubt that the English speakers who proliferated the word “conversate” were well versed in the linguistic rules they were breaking, or aware that they were creating a new word, it can still be argued that they deconstruct the English language and represent a facet of You’s theory of Cosmopolitan English.

eighth blog post

Hamilton as Deconstruction

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has ruled Broadway and my playlists for the last year and a half. The musical, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, opened to high expectations on August 5, 2015. It did not disappoint. Since then the play has been part of a few different politically charged conversations. President Barack Obama attended the second performance and held a Democratic fundraising event later that year at the Rodgers theatre. Donors received an invaluable gift in return for their support: tickets to the biggest show in generations. Just over a year later, the cast of the play caused an uproar by addressing then Vice President-elect Mike Pence from the stage. If I had to register Hamilton as either a Democrat or a Republican, the evidence would suggest that it bleeds blue. But its political applications are not what make the show such a success.

I am getting off track.

Why did I think of Hamilton when I was reading about Jacques Derrida and deconstruction?

Yes, Hamilton has invaded the tiny crevices of my brain at this point. I often finish people’s sentences with lines from the play (to my horror and the other person’s confusion).

But there’s something else.

Both Brooke Rollins’ Inheriting Deconstruction and Gary Olson’s Conversation helped me to understand Derrida’s theory of deconstruction on a new level. I felt like an insider, reading Derrida’s thoughts on his own thoughts. Since, thanks to deconstruction, I have the privilege to interpret Derrida’s words for myself, I feel confident enough to say that the point of deconstruction (at least as I understand it in this moment) is to take what we know, what we inherit, bury it, and make it bloom. It is a simultaneous acceptance and denial of what we are given by the world. I kept drawing this in the margins:

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In this way, Miranda’s Hamilton deconstructs America.

The play is chock-full of historical facts. Miranda wrote the lyrics and book after reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and in close consultation with Chernow. Yet, he takes artistic license with the specifics to make the story sing.

An ethnically diverse group is cast as the founding fathers. The play says “Yes, these men did great things, but don’t forget that they were slave owners.”

Aaron Burr narrates. The play gives voice to a man whose legacy in our history books is the mere fact that he killed our hero in a duel. (For those who slept through history class, the first song announces this fact without a spoiler alert). Same elements, new perspective, new arrangement.

By telling the story of Alexander Hamilton at all, a poor immigrant bastard who basically created capitalism as we know it, the play acknowledges the systems, the traditions, the canons, that suppress us as we embrace them.

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I could go on, but I would probably bore you (with Hamilton facts) and confuse myself (trying to talk about deconstruction). The essays I read this week helped me to understand deconstruction, but also helped me to feel better about not understanding it. They made me think that maybe I can do both at the same time.

It’s too bad that Derrida had to use the word “deconstruction.” I feel like it misrepresents the heart of the theory. Maybe the French word is a better match, but Derrida would say that there is no perfect match anyway right? And as luck would have it, I speak English because Hamilton and his friends decided that I would.

What will I do with what I’ve inherited?

sixth blog post

Rhetorical Devices

Isn’t it strange that we learned this phrase before we ever learned the definition of rhetoric? At least I did. Rhetorical devices were the crux of every composition after that. I learned the phrase in 8th grade because New Criticism is the dominant critical theory – the “right” way to learn literature today. Or at least it was 15 years ago. Maybe things are changing now? A high school English teacher I know added Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me to her syllabus for next semester. You can’t read that book and only talk about rhetorical devices afterward.

What does Coates’ epistolary form do for the text?

It makes it accessible to white people, who would otherwise be too afraid and ashamed to acknowledge that their very existence oppresses black people.

You can’t answer a question about that “text” without talking about what he’s saying.

That’s the tough thing about New Criticism. It’s all about the text – it exists in a vacuum. Yet nothing does. Definitely not literature – the main vehicle of cultural expression for centuries before our own. I was taught to read as if I am God, lord of the authors’ intent, interpreter of the devices that the author employs to accomplish certain things. Where do we get off? What give us the right to say what anyone else’s words mean? Much less, if they are well-written?

So if these rhetorical devices: simile, metaphor, juxtaposition – are all the means of persuasion, the IEDs that explode behind enemy lines, changing someone’s mind, why do we neglect the most obvious element of the “text:” the thing that it’s changing our minds about?

Sure, we get it. We understand why The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is important, or how Othello’s blackness impacts the play, but we don’t confront the problem, we don’t think about ourselves as part of the problem, until we read something that we aren’t being asked to dissect, only to experience. Until we read about a man who deserved so much more than I do, who worked so much harder to get where he was, before his life was taken – just because he’s black.

I’m angry that I wasn’t taught to experience these texts in their fullness. That I was given the power to make the meaning that I wanted to make with rhetorical devices by my side. I’m angry that Prince, and Trayvon, and Michael’s bodies are piling up.

But where would I be without these rhetorical devices? I probably wouldn’t be reading Ta-Nehesi Coates, or thinking about how my word choice impacts the world around me. A pretty lofty assumption, yes. But through my exposure to the power of words, the power of rhetoric, I am able to see that rhetoric does not just mean the means to persuade. It is a means to oppress. It is a means to silence others and it is a means that justifies itself along the way.

So thank you for that, Rhet/Comp Theory – thank you for that.

Hopefully, it can do the same for the other side.

fifth blog post

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Accounting for Taste

 

In this, my first semester on the staff of the Northridge Review, CSUN’s literary magazine, I encountered an unusual loss for words when asked if a particular piece of work was “good” or not. I have been a self-identifying “English” person since I can remember, never at a loss for words when it comes to talking about literature. When asked what I’d do for a living in an ideal world, reading and talking about what I’m reading rank pretty high on the list. So why was it so hard to say if that piece of flash fiction was “good” or “bad?”

I was trained by various “English” departments to talk about literature a certain way. We talk about what it’s doing and how it’s doing it, not about it’s value as art. I suppose everything we study is pre-determined “good” because it has been chosen, assigned, ordained by the anthology gods.

Yet, when I talk to people about books outside of the classroom, I find it much easier to say things like “I liked it” or “it was good.” Perhaps I’m code-switching. Not only the language I use to talk about the book, but also the thought processes behind my evaluation of it.

Professor Higgs, who cringes at the phrase “I liked it,” says that our tastes, or value judgments are based on three things:

  1. Experience with Literature – the breadth and depth that one has been exposed, the way that specific works have been taught
  2. Prejudice – personal emotional experiences/baggage
  3. Limitations – the product of the first two

My limitations are many. I have never been black, or Muslim, or gay. I have never read Ulysses, or The Odyssey. I have never been starving, or so cold that I couldn’t sleep. I have never lost anyone close to me.

I also have very little experience writing. What right do I have then, to say that someone who is brave enough to write has not done a good job of it?

David Hume says I have at my disposal a set of principles, standards and models of good writing to help me pass my judgments. He makes the evaluation of art into a science, with methods and terminology to try to define and refine the process. Aside from moral convictions, I can look for plausibility, the parts working together in order to reach an end goal, all while considering my personal prejudices. He is generous with his judgments, in a characteristically Enlightenment way, allowing for differences in culture and religion. His theories on taste are careful not to allow too much Colonialism in. Despite his progressive, enlightened rhetoric, I did not feel any more confident in my ability to judge a literary work after reading Hume.

But Hemingway said something else about taste:

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector.”

Perhaps the same can be said of good readers.

fourth blog post

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Hey you guys!

The Texans could tell that I wasn’t from their neck of the woods because I said “you guys” instead of “y’all.”

I always thought that people were being too sensitive when they complained about the use of that term to include women. I mean: it’s obvious that I’m not claiming that these women are men, nor trying to degrade them in any way. I’m usually the overly sensitive one. Like the time I asked my manager not to call the boys “ladies” as a motivating tactic because it implies that being a lady makes you a less productive employee. Yeah, I’m that person. But I never thought that calling a group of people “guys” was a bad thing.

In Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class, James Berlin uses Therborn’s “adaptation of Althusser” to illustrate how ideologies shape rhetoric (668). Berlin asserts that “ideology is thus inscribed in language practices, entering all features of our experience” (669). The linguist Ferdinand Saussure wrote that language is not the mere act of human speech, but “both a social product of the faculty of speech and a collection of necessary conventions adopted by a social body.” If we think of language as our connection to the world around us, the filament through which ideological current flows, it follows that Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses (religion, education, family, etc) influence language and vice versa.

So if the patriarchal values that are prevalent in most, if not all of the Ideological State Apparatuses that Althusser defines (not sure how the trade union is patriarchal, but it probably is) influence language, is that why we say something “sucks” or “blows” when it’s bad? Because fellatio is stigmatized and we are conditioned to believe that the giver (traditionally a woman) is less important than the receiver? If the ideologies flow both ways, does using those words reinforce the ideologies behind them? I didn’t used to think so. What about “gay” or “fag?” Those are words I never used, but I can definitely understand how using them in a derogatory way reinforces the relegation of homosexuals. If I call a group of people “guys,” does it reinforce the same ideologies that led Chinese parents to drown newborn daughters?

Althusser also writes about “interpellation or hailing.” He says that ideology, through language, “recruits, or transforms the individual into subjects,” the way that when a policeman calls “hey you there!” you turn around. You may not be the person that he was calling, but you are now – because you turned around. If ideologies have the power to interpellate us as subjects, and language is the main weapon of ideology, as Berlin points out, then the words I chose are more powerful than I thought.

Of course, Althusser complicates things by saying that people are “always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects” and are called by ideologies to be certain things before we are even born. Does that mean that the words I chose are already chosen for me?

This is getting too deep for a blog post. He gets all Freudian and shit after that anyway.

third blog post

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Disclaimer: This isn’t any good.

Granted, I haven’t finished the introduction to Martin Bernal’s Black Athena yet, as I am attempting to slide in under the “post by Sunday” deadline, but as I read his would-be revolutionary work, I have already written “is that true?” in the margins several times. The professorial tone of his work lends mondo credibility. But to be honest, if he made up the names of the linguists that agree with him and the “great” scholars whose work supports his theory, I wouldn’t know the difference. I don’t have the means to verify every claim he makes, and his citations are noticeably minimal.

Bernal’s work seems like the type of argument that could easily be tossed aside as “cranky” as he calls it. I’m only halfway through, but I’m already unnerved by some Trump-esque rhetorical moves. The initial disclaimer, revealing his status as newcomer and positing himself as the A. L. Wegener of his time (who?), frees him of the responsibilities of true scholarship, which he must know all too well, since he has studied China for twenty years. The word “great” to describe a scholar whose ideas support his theory stinks of Trump and the list of adjectives that we can never use again.

Tremendous, terrific, incredible, unbelievable.

He even sets up enthymemes just to point out that they “would” support his claim (21). On page 17, he sets up an “if that, then this” stating that if his other theories are true, then so is this one. He does a good job of it though. For the first few pages, I forgot to think about why this piece was assigned in this class. I just wanted him to prove everything he set out to. I wanted it to be true as much as he does.

Maybe it is true. I dunno.

But I definitely got a “cranky” vibe that I can’t seem to shake.

Of course, not everything that contains rhetorical devices is trying to trick me, right? I don’t want to be cynical and suspicious of everything I hear or read, but I also don’t want to be a fool. How does a semi-intelligent person navigate the post-truth world? Which, it is becoming clearer to me, has been around a lot longer than the Word of (last) Year.

This week in English 457, we read The Lifespan of a Fact by Jon D’Agata and Jim Fingal.  It is a compilation of seven years of correspondence between D’Agata, the author of an essay about suicide in Las Vegas, and his relentless fact-checker at an anonymous fancy magazine, Fingal. It’s a hilarious look at how facts and truth aren’t always the same thing, and it will make you question everything you read that is labeled “nonfiction.”

But don’t take my word for it. 😉

 

second blog post

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I don’t practice Santeria – but I do do stream of consciousness

Longinus’ On the Sublime got me thinking about the relationship between speaker and audience, or between writer and reader. Thinking about audience plays a pivotal role in the way one writes. Who are you writing for? Yourself? Academia? Your friends and family who will love you no matter what you say about them in your scalding memoir? For instance, this blog is supposed to be more colloquial than an academic paper, per Dr. Pandey’s instructions, so I’m trying to make it colloquial AF. I’ve always felt that I only do well in school because I write what the teacher wants to hear.

In eighth grade, the first time I liked English class, you could write whatever you wanted, as long you supported your claim. In ninth grade it was all about following a formula: plug in supporting text, appropriate transitions and summaries. That was the year I got my first (and only) D on an essay. The rest of the year, I followed the formula. I was happy to move on to tenth and eleventh grade where my teachers were hippies and thought I was funny. But there will come a time (hopefully) when I am not writing for a captive audience. What happens when I’m not writing for a specific person any more?

I have always been told that I am a “good” writer but have never felt that way. Sure I enjoy stringing words together on a page, or in a word document, more than attempting to articulate a verbal sentence, but I still find writing to be extremely difficult. I labor over every word. I average about an hour per page on the first draft of an academic paper. Writing is just so personal. I wish I had more friends whom write. Then I could ask them if it’s really supposed to be “whom” or not. I prefer texting to talking because it gives me the chance to look it over before I send it, much in the way that I usually think about what I am going to say before I say it, which usually results in not saying anything at all because by the time it has been through the “extreme vetting” of my mind, it is too late to make the goddam point. But thinking about an audience makes writing easier for me.

As a child, I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to make other people feel the way I felt when I read a sentence that moved me. I wanted to share Longinus’ sublime with people: that moment of “distinction,” as Longinus calls it, of “excellence in expression,” when the writer and the reader touch outstretched fingers in a da Vincian ET moment. It wasn’t until recently that I started to believe that maybe I can actually do that. Just because I’m not a “creative” writer, doesn’t mean I’m not creative and a writer. I want to be in the word doc where it happens. I want to mitigate the sublime, to bridge the divide between writer and audience. I don’t know yet how to do that, but I’m hoping to learn and I’m hoping to make a career of it. In a time when computers can compose more grammatically correct sentences in seconds than I can in a lifetime, I’m hoping that my hour-long pages will add up to something that the computers can’t. I’m hoping that they will move someone the way I have been moved by words. And I hope that I don’t give up.