Tag Archives: scifi

The Rhetoric of the Background Hum

Click play on this sound and let it play while reading:

[audio http://trekcore.com/audio/background/tng_engineering_hum.mp3]

It’s the sound that plays in the background during scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation that are set in Main Engineering. The sound is hosted over on the remarkably complete page for “Star Trek Iconic Sounds” at TrekCore.com.

Here’s what got me thinking about that innocuous little background hum: a line from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, which a friend dropped off over here the other day after cleaning his house:

Most privileged visitors to our main engine room set are duly impressed with the sense of “really being on the Enterprise.” Even so, there is still something missing. That “something” is the almost subliminal ambience added through background sound effects. The viewer is rarely consciously aware of it, but the characteristic low thrumming sound of the engine room or the instrument sounds of the bridge are a powerful part of “being there.” (87)

I was struck by the passage for a couple of reasons:

1) First, it jumped out because I’ve always been a watcher of DVD special features and a listener to commentaries. Yesterday while doing the dishes I was listening to Joss Whedon’s commentary of the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and he used language similar to the Technical Manual‘s when describing the effects he was trying to have on the audience: things like immediacy, emotional power, and the sense of being there all speak to what must be part of the fundamental task of the television creator, or of the composer of any audio-visual text.

That’s right: we’re solidly in the category of rhetoric here. Ambient sounds are purposefully crafted to bring about a desired effect in audiences who will read/hear the cues and respond accordingly, whether they realize they’re being driven that way or not. Obvious, I know–but it’s still wild to me to think about, how subtly and multimodal our communication is. Unwittingly, this passage in the Technical Manual hints at the different rhetorical situation when touring a set and watching a show, how the identifications you’re asked to make are in a fundamentally different realm.

2) The passage also struck me because I’ve been thinking so much lately about ambient sounds and music that is purposefully designed to be either in the background or foreground of our attention. I wrote about this a bit the other day when discussing Thomas Rickert’s brilliant Music@Microsoft.Windows: Composing Ambience. But it’s a topic I’m rather obsessed with these days, as it keeps popping up everywhere I go:

  • In one book, I read Stravinsky’s claims that the radio would bring listeners to a point of lousy, inattentive listening (and wrote about that, too).
  • Then in another book (Andy Hamilton’s Aesthetics and Music) I read that “Muzak is an evil because it is ubiquitous and so erodes people’s aesthetic capacities–their ability to listen actively to anything–and degrades their response to music. . . . Muzak . . . belongs under the heading of sound-design, and while sound design can have an aesthetic purpose, muzak does not” (54). That is, music’s very classification as aesthetic or not has something to do with how it’s deployed, how much attention it’s designed to be given–and perhaps even how lousy it is.
  • Then there’s R. Murray Schafer, who insists on spelling it “Moozak,” presumably to distance it from any phonetic (wrong word?) similarity to the word music. In his discussion, he takes Stravinsky’s tack and claims that “Moozak resulted from the abuse of the radio” (98), as another instance of our filling the world with ambient noises that we don’t like or want or need. And one way to take the offensive, according to Schafer, is through our power of attentiveness: “By creating a fuss about sounds we snap them back into focus as figures. The way to defeat Moozak is, therefore, quite simple: listen to it” (98).

There’s something simmering here that I want to think more about. In what ways are rhetorically created soundscapes different than other rhetorical situations, when it comes to the amount of attention that may or may not be given to them? Do we have theories of attentiveness in rhetoric? Is this really the same thing as when a speech-listener drifts off to sleep to the rhythms of the speech, or when an essay reader starts thinking about something else while skimming a piece of written rhetoric, or–this is the best parallel–when the visual design of an advertisement affect us in ways that we don’t even realize?

In the end, I think the Technical Manual, however ridiculously geeky it is for me to be talking about so cavalierly, makes a good point. There’s a lot of ambient sound that goes into a show set on a spaceship. Listen to how much sound there is in this computerized walkthrough of the Enterprise:

Even a show like Firefly, which makes such a point during its outdoor effects shots to emphasize that there is no sound in the vacuum of space, uses the ever-present engine “low thrumming” when inside. Listen to all the effects in this clip:

As Schafer writes, “there is authority in the magic of captured sound” (90). By attending to it and wielding it, even when it’s as subtle as a background engine hum, we take hold of a magic that not everyone knows how to use rhetorically, like Harry Potter walking around London with a magic wand in his back pocket that no one suspects can do the things it can do. (That’s right: I found a way to insert one more geeky reference into this post. Sheesh.)

Or, to return to the Technical Manual: “The technical ability to exchange data is not in itself sufficient to permit communication. A common set of symbols and concepts–a language–is equally important before communications can occur” (101). Indeed. And sound effects comprise a crucial aspect of the languages we inhabit in our aural soundscapes.

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Books I Haven’t Read

So last night I started a Google Doc of all the novels that have won Hugo and Nebula Awards, with a column listing which of them I have already read.

The answer: very, very few. (I haven’t gotten the Nebulas in quite yet, but you can see/steal my spreadsheet here. It should update automatically as I finish the list.)

Part of me is embarrassed–how can I call myself a SF/fantasy fan when I haven’t read, say, any David Brin or Neil Gaiman or Connie Willis? (And that’s just the beginning.) And how does that affect how I see myself as a scholar in these areas?

But on the other hand, it’s got me thinking about the ways communities hold expectations of standard behavior and standard knowledge. My guess is that people feel this way in any kind of context: entry-level scholars feel like they don’t know as much as their professors and colleagues, who feel they don’t know as much as the big names of the field, who probably feel they don’t know as much as the other big names. Or, in my circle of friends I’m seen as the person who knows the most about Lost and won’t shut up about it, but compared to so many of the super-fans out there, I feel like I barely even qualify as a fan! (“You’ve seriously only watched Season 6 once?! Wash my feet, Hurley-bird!”) Call it reciprocal uncertainty, or reciprocal lower-ness.

(Yes, people sometimes/often perceive this correctly, and it does matter when people really, demonstrably know more than each other. But I’m talking more about perception of knowing-ness, whether it’s actual or not.)

So how does this reciprocal uncertainty affect communication situations, I wonder? When I’m listening to someone who knows more than me give a speech, how do I hear it differently than if I think I know more? What about when it’s a sermon, or a class, or even a musical recital, or watching someone play a video game? Which situations inspire me to respond with my own work, perhaps bouncing off of or remixing their stuff? When can I, when sharing bits of myself, most inspire creative response?

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Three Musical Thoughts

I’ve been better lately about keeping my Google Reader clean (especially since I learned all the keyboard shortcuts!), which means that I keep finding more and more that I want to write about for hours. Instead, here are three goodies I’ve been saving up, all posts elsewhere that touch on music:

1) Greg Sandow’s post “Wrong Family” has been haunting me since I read it: it’s a response to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s upcoming free concert, labeled “An evening of favorite classics for the whole family!” Greg astutely wonders “what kind of family they had in mind,” which cuts right to the throat of the classical/popular music split–at least the one in my psyche.

I mean, Finlandia is on the bill, which I tend to think of as mystical and revolutionary, political and beautiful, etc. etc. “But,” I’m now telling myself, “that’s how it was heard in, like, 1910. A hundred. Years. Ago.” There is groundbreaking stuff out there that today’s families would rather hear–but they’re not hearing it. I’m not hearing it.

(And I know what my arts management wife would say: we’re not hearing it because programming contemporary music is wildly expensive, both for the music rental and for the number of players often required.)

2) Speaking of music that today’s families would want to hear, there’s a short post over at Zelda Informer on “What Makes Game Theme Songs Memorable?” It’s a response to a video (that I admittedly didn’t watch entirely) that deals in part with the comparative worth of 8-bit, NES-style game music and contemporary stuff. But the most interesting line in this post refers to Zelda fans’ hope that the upcoming Zelda title on the Wii will have orchestrated music on par with what’s been done in the beautiful scores for the Super Mario Galaxy titles. The post author, Nathanial Rumphol-Janc, writes, “Also, if Nintendo doesn’t give Skyward Sword orchestrated music, I’ll be the guy heading the lynch mob outside of Nintendo’s headquarters in Japan.”

It’s interesting to see how music that’s actually been recorded from real, live orchestral instruments, as opposed to fancy computerized fakeries, holds such a cultural status for game music fans. Like, if it were 1989 and I were writing a science fiction story about video game music in 2010, I would describe the music as a complex utilization of everything that highly evolved computers could do. As it is, there seems to be a sense of, “Whew! Finally game music can sound like typical film music–you know, Braveheart and all that!”

Which I love and am unsatisfied with, all at the same time.

3) Some quotes are worth reading from an intriguing piece by Jesse Willis at one of my favorite audiobook sites, SFFaudio, called “I Hate Music.” These are especially interesting given my thinking on the rhetoric of music lately, given his claim that . . . well, you can just read it:

If it isn’t funny, isn’t literary, if it isn’t connected to some emotional or visual memory already in me, I just refuse . . . .

Even though I don’t “hate music,” I absolutely see his point here: we respond to things when they pique some sort of existing interest/memory/experience in us. That changes the nature of the communication event (yes, I just used a noun as an adjective–and liked it!) and suggests a rhetorical technique for music composers: to purposefully refer to the old (which we all know is done in pretty much all music anyway). Jesse just seems more aware of this natural occurrence than many of us would.

He ends with, “This is probably one of the reasons I’m so passionate about audiobooks.” Intriguing to me because of a personal experience: I’ve been listening my way through all of Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Bean books. I just finished Shadow of the Hegemon, which had the most elevator-ishly bad “between sections” music I’ve ever heard–so when a post on an audiobook blog mentioned hating music, I expected that he would write about hating audiobook filler music. That’s not what he discussed–*but* it still touched on my listening, because Card ends each of these books with friendly, exclusive-feeling afterwards in his own voice. And in these audio-only afterwards (afterwords?) he often says that hearing his books read aloud is the ideal way to experience them.

So: a composer of words who prefers aural delivery of those words, but whose work is also associated (in my mind) with lousy music delivery. Huh.

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More on Rhetoric in Fiction

I wrote a few days ago about the rhetoric of fiction, musing about what kinds of expectations fiction authors create in readers, and the weird reactions that result when readers’ expectations aren’t met.

I’m thinking these days less about the rhetoric of fiction as a whole and more about examples of rhetorical appeals in fiction, as made by the characters. I think it would be fun to teach a course to English majors by using fiction (and TV shows and movies) to give examples of people persuading each other in all kinds of complex ways.

I’m writing this post because I’ve never really approved of using literature to teach rhetorical writing skills. That’s because it’s fairly common for graduate students in literature at my university to teach first-year composition for their first few years, and it seems to me that they often try to turn it into a literature class, not an introduction to rhetoric class. Like, I would rather spend my precious little class time with students’ writing as the focus of the class, not in an open-ended, interpretive, lit-class-style conversation about whatever novel or short story we were assigned to read. I’m partly passionate about this because I’ve been convinced by rhet/comp scholars who feel similarly, and partly because I see this as the biggest failure of my two years teaching high school English: I thought chatting about books would make students better writers, but it usually didn’t.

BUT. I’m increasingly interested in the idea of an advanced comp class, for folks who have already taken the required two comp courses, where we read examples of characters using persuasive appeals. Here’s where I would start:

  1. G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday (full text and excellent free audiobook): I would have students read the first three chapters, which are full of arguments between individuals, arguments given in speeches to a group, and identity-switches (which are necessarily ethos-switches). I don’t want to be too spoiler-y, but this stuff is begging to be analyzed rhetorically–and if students read the whole book, it could even be read from a big-picture angle too, as we question the big-picture argument that Chesterton makes in the novel about the nature of God.
  2. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game: I want students to read the chapter where Ender’s story is put aside as we learn about the online rhetorical genius of Peter and Valentine as they literally change politics through disguised pseudonyms in a chat room. (I’ve written about this before.)
  3. The Constant,” a season-4 episode of Lost (and probably my favorite episode of the series): Desmond’s consciousness is traveling between his 1996 self and 2004 self, and he has to convince people that he’s telling the truth or he’s going to die. He relies on all sorts of persuasive appeals with increasing desperation–and (SPOILER ALERT) he’s saved when he finally finds his constant in both time frames–or perhaps it’s not a stretch to say he focuses on his thesis throughout his essay. Just sayin’. (I was honored to give a presentation on my efforts to teach this episode from this angle at the 2009 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.)
  4. Hippocratic Oath,” a season-4 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for very similar reasons: characters disagree with each other on really sticky ethical grounds, and they argue about it in all kinds of fascinating ways. And to DS9’s great credit, they refuse to cleanly resolve the issue. Love it.

What else?

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The Rhetoric of Fiction?

No, I haven’t read Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, although it sits there on my office shelf looking at me, begging to be read.

(Random side-note: do books want to be read, or does it annoy them? Like, when I reach down and pick up Booth’s book, does it start silently squealing, “Yes, pick me! It fulfills my purpose to be read!” or is more of a, “I was sitting here, relaxing and enjoying myself, until YOU had to come along and start bending my spine, riffling my pages, all touchy and creepy”? And what about food–does it want to be eaten or left alone? Oh, I’m off-topic….)

In fact, I don’t really have a solid idea of what Booth’s book is about, exactly. But here’s an example of what his title makes me think about:

In my last post I brought up Jack McDevitt’s Time Travelers Never Die, which I’m listening to on my commutes to Tampa. I’m on CD 11 of 12, and I admit my excitement with it is rapidly dwindling. Here’s why:

I can’t figure out where McDevitt stands on any of it. Not that authorial intention/purpose is ultimately knowable or even to-be-searched-for in a text, I know. But on the level of tone, purpose, audience, I admit I’m confused about where he stands–what he wants to criticize, which characters’ actions and motives are ultimately laudable or laughable, where he hopes we’ll land on our (inevitable) judgments about how characters acted in given situations.

I bring up Booth because these seem like rhetorical issues to me. If McDevitt is trying to make points with this book, even the complex and ambiguous and undefinable points that abound in fiction and art, they’re largely not coming across to me. The communication that could be happening isn’t happening. And again, I’m not saying that I want every author to preach at me in crystal-clear terms, a la Robert Heinlein or something. But I’m not even quite sure what general areas I should contemplating.

The easiest example is the main characters themselves. Both of them are rather similar to each other, flattish guys in their 30s who are dissatisfied with life and hope to find it through adventure and women and money. I know I haven’t finished the book (which might force me to totally change my estimations here, I know), but I don’t have any grip at all on if there’s a general suggestion about the kinds of things that really do lead to satisfied lives, or if McDevitt agrees with the protagonists’ choices, or what.

It reminds me of when we watched Hustle & Flow in Dr. Pamela Fox’s course “Class Fictions” at Georgetown. She said something like this: “The first time I watched the movie and saw the prostitute sing, ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,’ I figured it must be ironic. I mean, here’s this woman who is being oppressed by this man, singing about how hard life is for him! But then I watched the DVD commentary, and the director was like, ‘This is the heart of the whole movie. Women need to get behind their men and support them, just like she’s singing here.'”

In other words, she read a certain rhetorical message in the scene that the director, it turns out, didn’t mean to be there. The communication event didn’t happen.

So when I actually get around to reading Booth, I hope he has something to say about this kind of non-communication, about the rhetorical expectations readers have when they come to fiction, and what happens when those expectations lead to confusion.

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Faking Out Your Readers

I’ve been listening to Jack McDevitt‘s Time Travelers Never Die on the way to and from campus these days. (I was slogging through Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, which I think would be an excellent book to read on paper but which wasn’t the best for listening.) McDevitt’s book so far, after listening to half it, is a fun romp, but I can’t quite tell yet if it’s more. But this morning I heard an interesting chapter that I wanted to think through here:

The time travelers have traveled to the library in Alexandria, hung out with Aristarchus, and scanned a few of Sophocles’ lost plays. When they return home to 2019, they send one to a scholar, who reads it to try to discover its authenticity–she knows nothing of the time travel. McDevitt summarizes the play, the Achilles, for his readers, but he doesn’t give any of the actual dialogue.

The layers of fiction here are intriguing, no? The scholar is reading the play trying to discover if it’s really by Sophocles, and as she does so we readers think, almost simultaneously,

  1. “Come on! The plot sounds so Sophoclean because it is Sophoclean! They really got it from the past, so it’s totally valid! Believe it!” And,
  2. “Wait, this play doesn’t actually exist in the real world–I almost forgot! It sounds real to us in summary, but that summary was carefully constructed by McDevitt to sound authentic as part of his novel.”

In other words, the summary sounds so much like Sophocles that we’re supposed to root for a character to believe that it’s real, even as we know that it isn’t real. We’re rooting for ourselves to be faked out by a forgery. And the fact that we’re carefully given a summary but no actual dialogue helps ensure that the summary will succeed in sounding valid; we’re given only so much information on which to judge.

Is there a connection here to teaching composition here? I’m not sure . . . but I’m reminded of Candace Spigelman’s “Teaching Expressive Writing as a Narrative Fiction,” which I read two or three years ago. She tackles the question of students inventing life stories when writing assigned personal narrative essays, reminding us that all personal narratives are constructed, dishonest in one sense or another. (I’m oversimplifying.)

So I find myself approving of McDevitt’s complex rhetorical move, wondering if there’s a lesson there about constructing layers of meaning and truth in writing of any genre, layering sources with reports about sources and my own narratives about sources in a way that constructs the reader’s understanding exactly as I want it to. And that’s something worth giving students practice in . . . somehow.

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Delpit’s Question

In Fall 2006, I took a course that was co-listed with Georgetown’s English department and the Georgetown Law School. I admit I can’t remember what the course was called, but it had to do with understanding the legal angles of the failure of U.S. primary and secondary schools. As part of the course, we volunteered with reading and homework help at a nearby community center, and as prep for considering the politics of reading, we read a lot of children’s books and wrote one ourselves.

Mine was a sci-fi story about a boy raised on the moon going to Hogwarts school on an elite space station. The story is called Delpit’s Question, and I figure this blog is as good a place as any to post it–partly because I’m excited to see the kinds of things Scribd can do in a blog setting. We also wrote an explanatory essay about what we were trying to do in the story; here’s a blurb:

The central question of the book, however, revolves around Delpit’s interactions with his teachers.  This conflict of understanding is designed specifically to demonstrate the structural, legal barriers to students trying to learn the curriculum and social codes of power in an unfamiliar setting.  Delpit’s question (“What do I know?”) is a tool for me to bring these underlying legal issues to the surface in his first two days at School in the Stars (SIS).  After all, I don’t want readers to walk away from this story only annoyed at the teachers’ close-minded attitudes; the corporate and government sponsors of SIS structured the school as elite setting designed to train elite children, and such goals (though unspoken) result in teachers being hired with certain blinders.  For a teacher to survive at SIS, he or she needs to be either White (American or European) or non-White but steeped so thoroughly in academic discourse that he retains no sense of identification with the discourse of his home culture (as with Mr. Amalendu).  It’s only natural that the things Delpit knows (the science of colors, music, predictive logic, ways of interacting) aren’t in line with the knowledge his teachers expect him to have.  In her article (pdf), Lisa Delpit quotes a Black principal taking doctoral classes who expresses her frustration with teachers who, when hearing her descriptions of racial and cultural bias, will only “look and nod.  The more I try to explain, they just look and nod, just keep looking and nodding.  They don’t really hear me” (124).  Ms. Merino is the prime example of this “silenced dialogue” in Delpit’s Question: when Delpit first approaches her she answers glibly and “smile[s] as if she had solved all of his problems” (26).  After Delpit goes beyond his comfort zone to push for a better answer, she still does nothing but dismiss his problems.  “That just can’t be helped,” she says towards the end of their exchange, exclaiming, “They all started talking just like the rest of us in no time!  I’m sure you’ll be no different!” (28)  Not only is Delpit’s knowledge not accepted as worthwhile at SIS, his ability to question that fact is squelched by a discourse that doesn’t allow room for his participation.

Enjoy! (Maybe. I wrote this a while ago, so I’m not completely positive of its quality. But it’s worth sharing.)

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Inventing “Art”

I keep thinking of ideas for posts, trying to decide what to write about, and then not writing anything. Oh well–my thoughts on Christianity in science fiction and fantasy will have to wait. For today, then:

I’ve only read one chapter of Martha Woodmansee’s The Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics, but I think about it constantly–driving to work listening to the Xenocide audiobook, watching cheesy westerns while eating lunch, and multiple times in the English department as I overhear intersecting ideas.

Her thesis so far is pretty simple and compelling: we’re used to thinking of “art” as a concept that connects visual arts, poetry, literature, dance, and music. (What did I forget?) We’re also used to thinking of art as something that is valuable for its own, intrinsic sake; its value doesn’t have to be related to how popular it is or if it “does” anything in the world. Art can just be there and we like it for its own sake–say, when we look at a painting and say, “Hmm, yes…” or when we sit in masses of people to silently listen to a symphony or watch a ballet.

But Woodmansee points out that this way of thinking about art isn’t just “the way things are” but is a historically situated frame of thought that first arose in mid-18th century Germany. As capitalism and the middle class grew, economics put new kinds of pressures on artists, and it was in their best interest to dream up a vision of “low art” that the masses liked and a “high art” that didn’t have to please anybody except elites who wanted to feel like they were elite because they knew about the fancy, less crowd-pleasing stuff. Now there would be an audience for more obscure stuff too–whew!

Now, I find this hard to dispute (because I’m not really a scholar of aesthetics or anything) and compelling in a lot of ways. But there’s that little part of me that rebels, saying, “Okay fine, the way I think about ‘good art’ is part of my cultural heritage, not something that just appeared in my heart. But there’s still something beautiful and worthwhile and important in art that is beautiful for its own sake, reflecting the hard-to-explain goodness that echoes through us when we’re in its presence, hinting at things bigger than our fleshy bodies.”

But the more I think about her book, the more it resonates with me too. I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard between 3 creative writers who were going to present at a conference on “teaching genre in creative writing classes.” (I somewhat rudely pointed out that what they called “literary fiction” was as much a genre as sf. Oops?) They insisted that literary fiction focuses on character (and is thus “good”) while popular fiction like romance, fantasy, and sf is focused on plot. Now traditionally, sf has always had a strong sense of social critique to it; i.e., we’re supposed to get lured into the story by the spaceships and then leave with a better understanding of diversity or racism or war or religion or whatever. And when I apply Woodmansee here, it reminds me that “art” of this type, which we could call rhetorical because of its insistence of making change in the world (and not just leading readers to be engaged by characters), was set up for dismissal by the highbrow art world starting back in the 18th century.

In other words, sf is too popular and too rhetorical to be considered “art” by culture snobs, and it’s been that way for 250 years (and only 250 years).

And then when I start to think of art that excites me, it’s so often those rhetorical kinds of art that get to me–those stories and images and music and community-driven initiatives that pull people together to create change in the world, not just to be created for their own sake. I do enjoy hearing people somberly play classical music on their Stradivarius instruments, a whole whole lot, but it’s a two-plane enjoyment, on the levels of “This is beautiful, all on its own” and “This moves something that was surely put inside of me when I was born.” But I want to seek out art that has the third plane, too: “This can change the world.”

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May I Teach Ender Books, Please?

So until this year, I had never read the scifi wonder-hit Ender’s Game.  (All people can be neatly classified based on if and how much they are horrified by that statement. To some, it’s like saying I’ve never seen Top Gun [I haven’t] or that I don’t like chocolate [I do].) Actually, I’ve still never read it–a buddy listened to the audio book and insisted I listen too, so I did. (This was the buddy who wisely suggested we read The Brothers Karamazov together as well, so he’s earned a few points in the book-suggestion area.)

Of all the wowzer-ish things I could say about Ender, I’m most haunted by the book’s incredible applicability in a course on digital, public rhetoric. There’s that stellar mid-book chapter where Ender’s story is suddenly, surprisingly set aside for a conversation between his two siblings, Valentine and Peter, who discuss things as varied as deliberately hiding one’s identity online, how public blogging can affect public policy, and the role of honesty and dishonesty when persuading someone to do something you want–both on a worldwide and one-to-one scale.

I was particularly intrigued for 2 reasons:

  1. I sometimes (not always) find myself frustrated with literature-lovers who want to inundate composition courses with fiction and poetry. Though I love teaching literature, and I (increasingly) see tons of important conjunctions between poetics and rhetoric, I often suspect that these teachers are going to take important focus away from the crucial task of teaching writing by spending days and days in class talking about the literary techniques used in novels. But this passage from Ender makes me seriously reconsider this stance; in moderation, in fact, and with the right focuses, it makes me want to argue that we start breaking down boundaries between poetics and rhetoric in composition classes, using stories like these to spark deep-level understandings of the complex uses of rhetoric. And indeed, this might be practically a required position for me to adopt if I want to continue argue that we study the rhetorical messages that live in the “art” created by remixed material. . . . But that’s a discussion for another day.
  2. I talk a lot about trying to find intriguing ways to gel my disciplinary focus in rhetoric with my love for scifi and fantasy studies. So far, the most exciting crossroads between the two has been studying fan fiction, but this passage opens new doors. What would it look like to catalog/study representations of digital selves (and even better, digital writing selves) in scifi lit? Yowza!

And even more intriguing, as I’ve moved onto the first sequel to Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, I’m increasingly dying to teach the very different concepts it raises, about ethnography and research and culture–again, topics that are appropriate questions in a course in rhetoric (especially a research methods course). My wheels are turning. . . .

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