April 13, 2008

Body Biography

Filed under: All Dog,writing — jrice @ 5:09 pm

Debbie’s Friday talk on the body biography prompted the question I was too slow to ask: how is the method generalizable? Afterwards, we discussed briefly the possibility of other “celebrity” body biography (in place of Burke, McLuhan), but now I am thinking of one’s own body biography. An auto-body biography. In place of the obsession with bodily fluids (Burke), what other pattern might emerge?

Eyes: When I complained about seeing “double” at age six or so, I got glasses. But I only wanted dark, black glasses. That’s all I would let my dad buy me. Blues Brother glasses without the shades. 1950s style. Then I didn’t need them anymore. How can one’s eyes be fixed? Today, my eyes feel less than fixed. Reading. Reading. Reading. My eyes blur. I can’t see signs at night. I struggle to read the unimportant headline news. I have glasses again, but I hardly wear them.

Knee: Without athletic ability, I jump at the chance to pretend I have it. A pick up game a few months ago blew out my knee. Finally, put in a game, and my body choked. It collapsed upon itself. It knows its limits. It wants me to look weak in front of my colleagues.

Hair: The great male problem. A running joke. An embarrassment. A sign of age. There are the different kinds of losses. The Larry from the Three Stooges side accumulation (nothing in the middle). The monk look (big plate on the back left exposed). The rocker look (so thin, but grown out in the back to look stringy and long).

Height: The desire to be tall. To tower. To look down upon others. Even at small stature, I have no problem with the last item on this list. We compensate height with attitude. Or that’s what the cliche says. Maybe one can have attitude regardless of height? is it all envy in the end? Vered loves the game: SO BIG. Me too. But my game is metaphoric.

April 10, 2008

Opening Shots: Invention Part XII

Filed under: rheto-ric,writing — jrice @ 9:57 am

Repo Man

borrowed from blogs.suntimes.com

A lotta people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a buncha unconnected incidents and things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: Suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconciousness….

Frame the moment of writing as the opening shot. A scene that begins. Snippet of dialogue. A screen shot. A pan. A zoom in. A moment in progress. The Opening Shots project motivates this idea, but only as itself an opening shot. I don’t want to explain or describe the opening shot. I don’t even want to discuss the movie. I want to make opening shots. Virtual beginnings.

Like a plate o’ shrimp. Someone says plate. Or shrimp. Or plate of shrimp. No explanations. Moments of coincidence. Moments of appearance. Ideas appear. One could describe the assignment similarly: Create an opening shot. Something, someone, somethings appear. Make that appearance the basis of your work. Around that appearance, we, the readers, get a virtual beginning for how the connections are framed or for how they form out of what is arranged in the shot. Opening shots are very much arrangements of images, text, moments, emotions, and so on. All framed in a scene.

Open. Don’t explain. The pedagogy itself may function as such. Moments left there for you to frame. Introductions without being an Allyn and Bacon set of instruction regarding how to write an introduction. “A lotta people don’t realize what’s going on…” Opening shots are not explications nor are they expository writing. Nor are they arguments (or nor do they have to be any of these things). They are moments. Experiences. I don’t know what’s going on…..yet I do. I’m reading an opening shot. I’m experiencing a virtual beginning. That’s it. We don’t go anywhere else. We just begin.

The blog post feels like an appropriate medium to write opening shots. Each “post” serves as a frame. An annotated Flickr image too. Web 2.0 makes the opening shot a possible form of writing and invention.

April 9, 2008

Spatial Stories: A CCCC Call

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 11:48 am

Continuing with the previous posts. We are telling spatial stories, what de Certeau calls “proliferating metaphors – sayings and stories that organize places through the displacements they ‘describe.’�

Weburbanist hosts pictures and descriptions of abandoned buildings. Detroit, represented on this page by Highland Park, is known for its ruins and abandoned spaces: homes, movie theaters, restaurants, hospitals, auto plants, retail stores. The abundance of abandoned spaces makes Detroit’s topos that of a city abandoned. True or not true, leaving space is as important as entering space. Abandonment is as much a metaphor as a physical thing. Metaphors displace, as de Certeau notes, while they also organize experience. Some abandoned spaces lure us in through the metaphoric experiences either described to us or described by us.

One experience regarding abandonment is despair. Note the outcries regarding Katrina and New Orleans. Despair can be accompanied by outrage. Another experience is nostalgia. Same example, but now the tone shifts to “authenticity,” “what once was,” “this is where such and such was…such good memories.” Another example is disdain. The “serves you right” motif. Detroit is no stranger to this rhetorical gesture. A rhetorical gesture is “filling in the space.” The Stalking Detroit collection treats Detroit in this way. How can we fill in its spaces, the various contributors ask? Digital Detroit works somewhat from this position; every space, the book so far seems to argue, is already filled in. Networks work that way.

And me? I tell spatial stories all the time. I can’t help it. Blog posts ago, I sketched out stories via McLuhan and Burroughs, two of Missouri’s notable writers. My work on Detroit is all a spatial story that I cannot stop telling. In class yesterday, I was fascinated by folks’ descriptions of Missouri town names: Mexico, Paris, Cuba. Cuba, Missouri? “Where is that?” I asked. Nobody knew. But they knew it is somewhere. What is the story of Cuba, Missouri? What is my story of Cuba, Missouri? I don’t want to pull up Google Maps, though I could do that. I want my own map. Maps – the metaphor for spatial stories – trace and organize the iconic so that experiences can be had or noted.

So why not walk down the street in New Orleans and tell its current story about a hurricane, a disaster, racial discrimination, and bad engineering? No reason not to tell that story. But once it circulates to the extent that it is too familiar – like a sitcom or action movie plot – I want another kind of story.

Next year’s CCCC is about a story: 60 years of CCCC. And it will take place in a storied space: San Francisco. Many of us enter and leave the CCCC, San Francisco, and even composition on a regular basis. What kind of story might we tell that is spatial, not representational? In other words, a panel that maps in spatial ways. 1949. College Composition and Communication. San Francisco. Three points on the map that can be connected to many others. Anybody want to do a panel on spatial stories and the CCCC?

April 7, 2008

The End of the NWE: Stories of Nostalgia

Filed under: legacies,writing — jrice @ 8:28 pm

Pedagogical Nostalgia Part I

I cut my pedagogical teeth at the NWE. As Bradley writes, it is shutting down. I heard the same thing at CCCC. In the five years I taught at UF, I think I only taught two courses outside of the NWE. My understanding of teaching, technology, and writing came out of my experiences there: working with HTML, open source software, video projection, and few constraints regarding what I was allowed to do. I could, as Ulmer writes, invent new practices. My research owes a lot to my experiences there. I was interpellated through that space. At one of my first MLA interviews, one of the interview team said to me regarding my teaching with hypertext, “But students can’t do that.” “But they do,” I responded.

Pedagogical Nostalgia Part II

What is lost should be replaced. Or should it? If the NWE was being replaced by something better, I wouldn’t feel so bad. But that it is being eliminated is sad. Other schools are maintaining and building networked environments: Texas, Michigan State, Clemson. Florida is shutting down its space, one of the first of its kind. In that empty space, I am told, will go regular classrooms with an instructor terminal. We remove student production. In its place, we put the lecture, the talk, the observation. “Look at this website,” a future instructor might request. Look. Don’t touch.

Pedagogical Nostalgia Part III

My first experiences as a professor were often framed by my NWE work. “But that’s not how we used to do it,” or “We had such better options in the NWE.” With the rise of social software and database driven applications, I am no longer speaking in such ways. I don’t teach webpages as much as I teach web writing, writing to a variety of online spaces. The nature of the link has changed, too. Link page to page? Social software links everything. The applications are themselves built out of links. The need to learn HTML is not gone; it just doesn’t play the same role it once did. In fact, I recall being on the NWE staff that second to last summer in Gainesville and arguing for the new way of making websites, blogs. “We need php,” I said. “It’s a security problem,” the main Geeks responded. “Every web host provides it,” I retorted. “They do ok.” No need to respond. The conversation was over. Maybe the NWE, with its lack of technological growth, did itself in. Is anybody still working in a MOO? Are they still using ASWE to make webpages? Animated GIFS? That’s so seven years ago.

Pedagogical Nostalgia Part IV

During that last year or so, I was the web person for the Romance department. The chair asked me to host a series of talks on making webpages so that faculty could update their own homepages. I applied much of the logic that I used in the NWE: quick tutorials on the basics with the reminder that a little knowledge can go a long way. The workshops were a disaster. Faculty insisted that I teach them Netscape Composer, the tool that they had “learned” in the previous year’s workshops. “But if that method works,” I said, “you would already know how to make a webpage. You already learned Composer.” “We don’t want to know how to upload pages or make a link. Just show us Composer,” They insisted. “Editors come and go,” I insisted. “The way to make a page will remain the same.” It was a no go. I did one workshop and canceled the next. Except for a couple of people, they wouldn’t work with me. “Your faculty are like children,” I told the chair. “They are babies.” “Yes,” she agreed. “They are.”

City Tales

Filed under: city,writing — jrice @ 8:40 am

City narratives often depend on disaster. New Orleans’ narrative will forever be centered on Katrina. That narrative has already become fixed – government inefficiency and racism allowed the storm’s effects to be far worse than they should have been. We should feel bad for New Orleans. New Orleans needs our help. This narrative is now the narrative of New Orleans.

And there’s nothing untrue about either the narrative or the response. But criticize New Orleans for what it has always been, pre-Katrina and now, and anger may be the response. Think of the other narrative: A city whose sole identity was based on cultural tourism is still a tourist center. The tourism survived. A city that serves as Mecca for college kids so that they can drink all day and on the street is still the same space. A city whose lifeline is the service industry is still the same city. You can still eat crappy food (Creole, not Cajun), buy purple boas, and stop into a small, neon-lit, side daiquiri shop and drink something toxic or order a slice of warmed over-once frozen pizza. Since my first visit to New Orleans in 1996, this has been the city I know. It still is.

Enjoy Detroit. Detroit, too, has a narrative of disaster. 1967. Since then, every story told about the city is about the riots. Like Katrina, Detroit’s disaster is told via race; the riots developing out of a racial incident at a blind pig. Like the circulating New Orleans’ story, there is truth to the story of ’67. And like New Orleans’ story, a lot is left out. Other cities who have experienced disaster, but who aren’t tied to one thing (tourism, the automotive industry) let the stories play out and fade and do not become bound to disaster. I was in Miami a week after Andrew. The destruction was intense. Neighborhoods I knew were leveled. There were curfews. There was looting. There were ruins. The city moved on. Today, Miami’s stories are not about Andrew. They are more likely to be about a TV show, fashion, a hip club, or other such things. Miami doesn’t forget its disasters are tied to race (Haitians suffered the most during Andrew). It merely admits to its own superficiality and allows that superficiality to continue on. New Orleans pretends it is not superficial and guilts you into spending money in its over-priced setup.

But enjoy New Orleans. This is the symptom! Cheesy places to eat (Acme), urine, bad coffee (available in cans in most Southern groceries, so it is not that unique or special), trash, and “jazz.” New Orleans obviously holds a different kind of cultural position in our national narratives about entertainment, high culture, and cuisine than other suffering urban spaces. Nobody laments Gary, Indiana, of course. But nor do they flock to spend their dollars in Cleveland, Newark, and, my pick of the mix, Detroit.

April 6, 2008

New Orleans, Meet Mark Bauerlein

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 9:20 am

New Orleans is dirty. That is what I repeated to anyone who cared to listen. Jenny finally came around to my side after an obligatory tour of the French Quarter. Sitting outside Cafe du Monde drinking the watery coffee and eating the over-fried beignet, she said: It really is dirty here. And the food? Awful. Like eating in a Disney park. Another po’boy? More etouffee? How about some fried oysters? Restaurant after restaurant. The same thing. And the same thing done badly. Imagine the salesman who shows up at one of those crappy New Orleans-French Quarter stores selling junk. He addressed the owner: “Looks like you are low on purple boas. I’ll send you a thousand. And you need more shirts that say “I got Bourboned on Shit Face Street.”  Such is the fare of tourism. If Ray Kroc hadn’t invented fast food, city tourism would have.

Crawfish etouffee at Mothers; Evelyn’s Place: I felt sick the moment we sat down.

Which brings me to Mark Bauerlein’s obsession with rhetoric and composition. His short Chronicle pieces are brief attempts to critique or foreground deficiencies in rhetoric and composition as a disciplinary field. Like any good disciplinary or political obsession, Bauerlein’s reveals insecurities. What is rhetoric and composition, he asks? Why is it supported? What does it do X? Why do we have it. Why, we wonder, are you so obsessed with a field which isn’t even represented in your department at Emory? What is missing in your work? Why do you feel that lack of substance in your own area suggests lack of substance elsewhere?  Fast food criticism.

What is more cliche than sex? Fast-food sex.

Why indeed. These are the questions of a professor in a field that is rapidly shrinking and finding less reason to justify its own existence. Even more so, the major reason to study English (i.e. literature) has always rested on values, high culture assumptions about taste and cultural status. Bauerlein, it seems, fears losing such values to people who write about things other than literature. Bauerlein is the last great championship of high values, great taste, less filling, study. Without his calls to literary arms, he must feel, literary study will vanish. It will become less authentic. Bauerlein needs his own literary New Orleans to keep the image of substance alive.

Bauerlein’s fast food criticism is also why people visit New Orleans. To reaffirm highbrow culture: jazz, European street design, Cajun food. Isolated, each is not necessarily a highbrow concept or iconic marketer. Put together, like any space that evokes the history of literature or culture (San Francisco near City Lights, Key West near Hemingway’s home, New York in Greenwich Village), highbrow sentiment takes over. Baurelein has to cling to highbrow values. If he doesn’t, writing – the lowest of all university values – will dominate his professional identity. This position, too, is fast food. It’s quick to deliver. The hope is it will be quick to digest. Binaries work that way. Regarding institutional criticism, then, Bauerlein might be the Ray Kroc of English. Reading his short little Chronicle pieces is like watching the Sonic commercials that pop up every other hour on TV. Catchy. Quick. Without substance. Like a bad hamburger or super-sized fries. Like walking in the French Quarter and believing you are experiencing Cajun culture. Like spending lots of money at the Hilton Riverside or in the Quarter and believing you are contributing to New Orleans’ economic return (as opposed to the Hilton’s continued stay or the maintenance of five dollar an hour jobs in the service industry). Read Bauerlein and believe you are experiencing a critique that has substance. This is the pleasure of fast food culture. This is the pleasure of fast food life. It feels like something of value.

We love fast food, don’t we? Not me, of course, but people in general. Why else would Bauerlein command so much attention; why is his position assumed to have authenticity? Why else do people continue to walk up and down Bourbon street telling themselves they are experiencing the authentic?  It feels good. Disney feels good, too, to both children and adults who remember being children. Tourism feels good. Fast food life feels good. It probably feels just as good to get all hot and miffed in the comments section of a Bauerlein piece as it does to be Bauerlein. Fast food goes both ways: produce and consumer. Fast food criticism? Criticism as tourism? Maybe both.

April 2, 2008

Vered Road

Filed under: Vered — jrice @ 9:36 am

Coming soon to stores everywhere, the new album, Vered Road.

April 1, 2008

New Orleans?

Filed under: cccc — jrice @ 8:54 pm

New Orleans? I’ve never liked it. Actually, I liked it once. The first trip, during the Gators’ national title run in ’96. The city felt exotic, unique, adventurous, intriguing. Maybe Florida pouncing FSU was a part of the overall high; maybe it was the little bit of money made on a riverboat casino, but things felt good. Subsequent trips have revealed other sides of New Orleans and its teenage magnet, Bourbon Street. The saturated smell of urine. Strip clubs. Overpriced food for tourists. Bad beer. Is there a state with worse beer distribution than Louisiana?

You have to leave the Quarter to experience anything of value in New Orleans. The food does get better, and Jacques-Imos is a fantastic restaurant. But the beer is still bad.

Yet we still will go again. And we still watch Hell’s Kitchen. The show has settled in to its formula: bad cooks, bragging by the incompetent, a midget, a line cook. The new additions are non-cooks: The stay at home dad, the electrician, the receptionist. The electrician? The producers’ trick is over. Obviously, they are picking the worst of the bunch. Maybe I feel the same about New Orleans’ French Quarter. The worst of the bunch. Overpriced.  Disney styled fare. This show is no different. It’s the Disney of cooking shows. It’s entertaining, but predictable.

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