May is a nice time around these parts. The bike trails are all muddy but still (somewhat) ridable, the vegetables and plants are growing apace with the weeds, grad students are either scattering or hunkering down, colleagues are in the midst of their in-town moves, I remain in denial about the impending out-of-town moves, neighbors are spontaneously gathering in driveways, and as June comes on the days open up like the prairie itself. I like that there is still daylight for our evening dog walks, and I like that there are lots of noisy-ass birds yakking it up in the early morning. I also like that I'm going to be around here until mid-July. Now that I've finally (just today) unpacked my suitcases, and now that it's nearly June, it's time to settle in to a laid-back routine.
I've written here before about our decision to participate in the local CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, and we have now gotten three "shares" of food. My biggest concern when joining the CSA is that I wouldn't use the vegetables because I wouldn't know what to do with them. These fears were offset somewhat by the cookbook they sell along with a share. What I wasn't prepared for, though, is the weekly emails.
Not only do we get a headsup about what the shares include for the week, as well as early word about what will be prominent at the farmer's market this Saturday (think asparagus!), that email also includes cooking instructions for the week's bounty. This week, for example, we got radishes, green onions, asian greens, and salad mix, and the email has suggestions for combining the radishes and green onions with cream cheese for a sandwich spread, which reminded me that they serve something similar at the Bread Company down the street which I love. There are also recipes for using green onions and black bean sauce to make a base for a stir fry, and instructions for braising the asian greens, along with serving suggestions. It will be a summer of experimenting, but I'm committed to using it all and not throwing anything away.
I didn't have much of a chance to blog from RSA, in part because hi-speed internet access from the room was rather expensive, and in part because I was too busy at the conference. But my conference closed on a terrific note with Jenny Edbauer Rice and Dennis Lynch's panel on "The New Pathos." They played against and with each other quite nicely. So smart and thoughtful, both of them. And the audience was full of people whose work I adore. I continue to admire how Jenny pushes boundaries of what a conference panel can do, first with our amateuring gallery/panel on opening day, and then with her paper on pathos, a set of reflective meditations on rhetoric, emotion, affect, teaching, and the impossibility of affectlessness. And to my delight we got to talk just a little bit about why the heck animals keep coming up in theoretical discussions of pathos.
I enjoyed the roundtables I was on--the one on Burke was quite lively I thought. The five of us committed to presenting short statements in order to leave plenty of time for discussion, which meant we amped up our claims, tamped down our evidence, and had at it. I am really starting to like the roundtables, with their luxuriously ample discussion time that really draws in the audience. From an audience member's point of view, it's so hard to sit through three or four 15-20 minute papers, and then there's rarely enough time to really hash through people's responses, or the issues the papers raise for them. But at the Burke roundtable, and at the Pathos panel, since its members were reduced by a last-minute cancellation, we really got to explore the corners of the room, the joints of audience members' connections. When on a roundtable or panel like that I find that I think so much more during the give-and-take, after the papers are laid down, and it's those moments of exchange that linger with me long after I unpack my suitcase.
I've heard a few people say that they don't really go to panels besides the one they present, and I just don't think that's particularly cool. It's far more important, I think, to attend panels and pose questions, to push the discussion to new places. Otherwise, how will growth or transformation happen?
I kept hearing repeatedly that RSA is unique because most all the panels had good-sized audiences. As an example, I chaired a great panel with all graduate student presenters that had about 30 people in the audience. This is rather rare for the bigger conferences (CCCC, NCA), where the audience can get diluted to the point of nearly vanishing. So thanks to those who came to the conference, who attended a number and range of meetings. We travel so far not to perform our own little shows, but to actively engage each other's work.
A little live blogging of RSA, Seattle, with a one-day delay: yesterday, in addition to all the meetings tucked here and there, starting at 7:15 (!), and the chance ones squeezed in as well, I chaired a fun panel on popular culture, attended a great panel on "The Greeks" (not named by the panelists, I feel sure), and a supercool SUPERsession on the 2008 election, featuring, among other distinguished speakers, my new colleague John Murphy. These papers reminded me a little of listening to a long-ish piece on NPR, or an amplified (in both senses) piece from Oratorical Animal (no coincidence there of course). In other words, they were accessible, relevant, and thorough. The evening treat was a reading by Charles Johnson of two short stories, one featuring Plato as the frustrated teacher-narrator getting schooled by his student Diogenes, and the other featuring Martin Luther King, Jr. having an epiphany while rummaging through the fridge: food as the ultimate connector. Note to self: you need to make an effort to attend more readings like this.
Speaking of which, I am very happy to have discovered piroshkis (thanks, M!), savory pastries stuffed with all kinds of yummies. Yesterday, I had one crammed with sauerkraut, cabbage, carrots, and onions. Yum.
Yesterday when I checked in to my room at the Westin in Seattle, there were clouds hanging over the Sound. They went away during the lovely hike M and I took in Discovery Park. After making our way back to downtown, stuffing ourselves with sushi, and walking back to the hotel, it was sleepy time.
And so it wasn't until this morning--a clear morning--when I realized that my 31st-floor room also features a fantastic view of the Olympic Mountains (I've noticed people call these "The Olympics" here.) Those are some mighty, mighty mountains.
I have spent today in Tacoma, leading a faculty workshop on argumentation at the University of Puget Sound. The participants were all wonderful, the discussion quite lively, and my pre-trip practice pronouncing in utramque partem (the specific subject of our meeting) paid off.
The last time I was in Tacoma was for the 1989 final four, and we defeated Auburn in the championship. It was a heady time for a wee freshman with a crappy haircut who got put in the game along with some of the other freshmen as the final seconds ticked away. The sublime Puget Sound was the perfect backdrop for our first championship. I still remember having to catch my breath when I stepped on to the veranda of a house belonging to a rich booster (er, sorry, "boost-her").
As I told the workshop participants, Tacoma was also the place where I drank too much for the first time. But I didn't really drink the night we won; I wasn't a drinker at all--our team had strict rules about that--instead, I helped my bff and teammate Regina swipe two cans of PBR that were supposed to be for the adults on the bus and played lookout while she knelt and chugged them behind the seatback. I spent the rest of the night propping her up. Instead, I waited until the next night, after we went over to Seattle to watch the men's championship, and opened up the red wine someone had sent to our room.
I can recall making my way through the bottle while listening to Ton Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" and thinking it was HIGHlarious that I changed the name in that song to "Regina." At one point I laughed so hard that I spilled red wine down the front of my white tank top. Then Regina and I caroused down to another teammate's room, and I started reading her chemistry textbook upside down. When word spread to the other rooms that I was a little tipsy, my teammates decided to play a joke on me, and so Carla McGhee, that ham, knocked on the door and told me Pat wanted to see me.
I ran into the bathroom to confirm my suspicions: wild eyes and a wine-stained tank top. I was screwed.
And while I was lucky it was just a prank, it's also the case that the coaches knew I was in bad shape the next morning on the plane, but they seemed pleasantly bemused. After all, I was only eighteen, a silly little kid on quite a ride.
JM and the dogs and I are headed to a cabin in southern Illinois for a few nights to hike and watch movies and just be away for a bit. I'm going to take some laptop work, but there won't be any internet connection, so without email the work will (hopefully) go quickly. Luckily, though, there's satellite tv, so we won't miss the season finale of The Office. Catch you on the weekend.
This past Saturday, I hooded my first doctoral student, K. It was an occasion for happy reflection. Like when K came to my office many years ago, planted herself in the chair facing me, put one arm on my desk, leaned forward, and said matter-of-factly, "I want you to direct my dissertation." I was still quite new to faculty life, and I wasn't even sure if directing was something I was supposed to do, but she didn't let me protest; instead, she listed for me the reasons we were a good match. And we were.
Having been a secondary teacher before coming to graduate school, K was the kind of person who knew what she wanted, so there were many, many moments when I felt like she was training me rather than the other way around. We had our share of disagreements, but they were just disagreements, never arguments, never bitter fights. And she coaxed me to her side just as much as she capitulated to mine. She let me be tough on her, and by maintaining the frankness with which our advising relationship began, she taught me how to let someone find their way while still providing strictures. Her maturity (and my year away) kept me from becoming a helicopter mentor. She also spoiled me just a little because she is fantastic with deadlines, not something that all graduate students--or many academics for that matter--observe. She even gave birth during it all, but still didn't slow down, learning to focus and write during her son's naps, which is really amazing if you think about it.
And K can write. Oh, can she write. But even more than that, she can revise. She would internalize feedback from her writing group, from me, from her other advisor (who is also a hugely important mentor for me), sort through what she wanted to do and what needed to be done, and she would work steadily and regularly, through frustrations and breakthroughs, through to good drafts, and finally to damn good final versions. K thinks about writing as a craft, and she knows that a craft takes regular and protracted contact with that which is being crafted.
So she returned this weekend, at the end of her first year in her fabulous new job, along with her hubby and her friends A and J, who also returned from their fabulous new jobs, and whose dissertation committees I had the privilege of working on. Having them all back here, smiling in their regalia on the quad, mixing news from their new jobs (and new grants!) with sweet nostalgia for their grad school town, brought to light yet another way that this job can be, really, breathtaking.
Speaking of rhetorical exercises, I just finished drafting my abstracts for ISHR and CCCC, two conference cultures that, as I mention in my previous post, could not be more different. Even though I'll be presenting pretty much the same material at each conference (I have learned that it's not realistic to write brand new papers based on brand new research for back-to-back conferences), the papers will end up being very different. The difference, though, is largely because of the audience.
I'm posting these here just to highlight the differences. Note, first of all, that the Cs proposal is shorter by about 100 words. The online submission box only allows 5000 characters, including spaces (thanks to advisee, C..., for the headsup). I've gotten mine down to 1600, which is a third of that, to allow room for my co-presenters. But I'll still have to chop more, mainly because the 5000-character limit applies to the entire session, and so I'll need considerable space (relatively considerable, anyway) to set up the panel itself. So I'll probably end up cutting this one in half, just about. It's way easier for me to cut stuff, though, once everything's there.
I decided to put these up here in part because we don't often share abstracts (they feel so wee and vulnerable--they might get rejected!--and this is just a little teeny slice of a much, much larger project), but also to show how starkly distinct they are. Even though they end in the same way, they begin and, largely, reside in very different argumentative spaces. ISHR is a smaller conference, but--sorry for the overused term here--the footprint of the argument tries to be a bit bigger. Or maybe the Cs one is bigger, I don't know. Now I can't tell.
Abstract One, ISHR
Performing as Animals
Recently, critics in the humanities (e.g., Agamben, Wolfe,
Atterton, and Carlarco) have engaged what has become known as “the animal
question,” which is to say they have focused on the enduring role played by
animals in writings about human identity, values, and ethics. Most of this work
has centered on philosophical texts. Yet
rhetorical texts deserve consideration as well, not least because ancient rhetorical
treatises are crawling with animals. Aristotle finds beasts useful when
theorizing humility and shame. Cicero and Quintilian write of horses, dogs, and
birds. But the rhetorical genre with animals at its core is that of the fable.
Fables appeared early in the sequence of ancient school exercises, or progymnasmata. That animals figure so
prominently in these stage-setting composition exercises calls for more scrutiny.
What, exactly, are animals doing there, and what can their presence tell us
about rhetoric as an art?
The treatise on progymnasmata
attributed to Hermogenes asks students to consider the collective delight
experienced by humans in cities, but to do so from the vantage point of an ape.
The writer of the treatise suggests that students expand this fabulous scenario
by composing a speech for said ape. Later,
John of Sardis develops the ape example in an exercise found later in the
sequence, ethopoeia, or speech in
character. Students, that is, were frequently asked to compose in the “voices”
of animals, to perform as animals.
My paper will examine such prompts to perform as
animals in educational settings, with a particular focus on the progymnasmata tradition. I will argue
that performing as animals helps to infuse early rhetorical education with more
than low-stakes fictitious play, but that animals function more generally as an
other—an other to humans, and uniquely, an other to children. Here the stakes
of the animal question become more apparent for rhetorical studies: animals’
centrality in rhetorical education expands rhetoric from the art of observing
the available means of persuasion to an art of becoming someone—or something—else.
Abstract Two, CCCC
Animals in Ancient School Exercises
The recent flurry of attention to ancient school exercises called
progymnasmata has interested
compositionists for the way they make writing regular and habitual, and how
they ease students into the difficulties of rhetorical training. Thanks in part
to J. David Fleming’s recent exhortation to embrace the “very idea” of these
exercises, the progymnasmata are
finding their way into classrooms and textbooks (D’Angelo, Crowley and Hawhee).
This small but discernible shift in practice might usefully be accompanied by careful
scrutiny of the exercises themselves, their history, their sequence, and their often
striking content. Why, for example, are the progymnasmata
crawling with animals?
Students working in this tradition usually began by
composing fables about animals, but they were also, later in the sequence, asked
to compose as animals, to write in
the “voice” of, say, an ape interested in forming a city with fellow apes. I
propose to examine the prompts that ask students to compose as animals. If, as
Fleming (quoting Murphy) argues, the point of the progymnasmatawas to “‘become rhetorical,’” then the exercises’ more peculiar features might tell us a
bit more about what exactly that means. For starters, the prompt to compose
as animals helps to infuse early rhetorical education with more than low-stakes
fictitious play; the animals, rather, function more generally as an other—an
other to humans, and uniquely, an other to children. A look at animals in these ancient school exercises begins to expand
rhetoric from the art of observing the available means of persuasion to, more
generally, an art of becoming someone—or something—else.