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CCCC 2010 Thoughts

I figure it’s time that I post a few basic thoughts on some of my experiences at the 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville. But like everyone else, I’m wide-eyed at the amount of things waiting for me back home, so I’ll try to be brief.

Best Panels

  • In A19, Bump Halbritter and Jenn Fishman stepped back and let two students (J.R. Hammond and Casey Miles) share their multimedia work with us. It was a perfect example of how we might continue to remix the traditional academic paper format–lots of A/V goodness. Also interesting was their insistence that filming, editing, mixing, is all “writing.” But why not follow John Logie (K24) and call it all “composing,” including the alphabetic-based stuff we do on paper?
  • In C1, Bronwyn Williams became my new hero. He interviewed lots of students about their online activities, expressions of self, expressions of pop culture love, and shared some intriguing results, especially on students’ attitudes toward pop culture artifacts as authorless, and how appropriation blurs the boundaries between reading and writing. And shoot, his book is called Shimmering Literacies, and that’s just as cool as it gets.
  • D18 was my most pleasant surprise: I went to hear my buddy Dan Richards collaborate with Josh Mehler on “the active potential of metaphor” in the classroom, expecting to be a good supporter of a friend but not overwhelmingly interested in the material, but I left with a rich contemplation of the complex metaphors we use to help us make sense of things like writing and argument. And even better, they came across like two TV hosts, passing the proverbial mic back and forth with humor and just the right touch of silliness.
  • It was refreshing to end the first day hearing Rebecca Lucy Busker talk casually and persuasively in E08 about her experiences as a fan fiction composer, and how all the things we teach in comp are enacted in fic circles. Sweet.
  • My favorite overall panel was F12. Randall McClure, summarized: “There are tons of studies about the overwhelming amounts of information our students process every day, so let’s see what it can teach us.” Rebecca Moore Howard: “I used to say that patchwriting happened because readers didn’t understand the source material. But now I’ve got data that says it’s more complicated, and probably related to students’ lack of time.” Jim Purdy (who wins my Best Slideshow Award): “Let’s actually talk to student researchers about how they research. Here’s the beginning of my results.” Janice Walker: “Look at this video of what a student actually does when faced with a research task! Telling, huh?”
  • In the generally awesome I7 panel, I was most intrigued by Tim Laquintano’s points about the pressures felt by composers of online poker-playing manuals–this complex rhetorical situation of wanting to help other players (and thus make money when they buy your book), but not wanting to help them so much that they stomp your elite status as a player, and not wanting to alienate your buddies who also want to keep their reigns secure. Tricky!
  • I already mentioned K24 above, with John Logie and Martine Courant Rife. This was where I saw the Best Multimedia Presentation (Logie clearly breathes music through his pores and eyes, and it shows in his exuberance) and where I had the Best Discussion. Shall we replace the word author with composer? How about as long as there isn’t a reason not to?
  • Finally, I was glad I stuck around for P14 to hear some awesome applications of the inspiring work of The Citation Project. I was especially pleased to meet Crystal Benedicks, who spoke partly on her university’s attempt to complexify a “draconian” intellectual honest policy, and who told me about the book-length poem The Beauty of the Husband, which I will try my best not to read when I ought to be reading other things, but which I will certainly read in all the in-between times.

Best Experiences

  • Finding out that the roommate I randomly found on the WPA list was awesome, nice, and cool. Good Saved by the Bell conversations.
  • Wandering all around downtown Louisville on my own on Tuesday, and successfully navigating a few different bus routes.
  • Having Cindy Selfe sit down with my group at O’Shea’s pub.
  • Randomly chatting at the airport with Kathleen Yancey and Geoffrey Sirc about all kinds of stuff, for like half an hour. I love meeting nice people who know what the heck they’re talking about.
  • Feeling part of a Twitter conversation. Even though some lamented that the #cccc10 hashtag wasn’t very active, it was the most real-timey I’ve ever been on Twitter, and that was exciting.
  • Getting the idea for a Fandom SIG. Excited to see if that will play out for next year!

Best Food

  • The Mayan Cafe
  • Kashmir (Indian food)
  • Za’s (pizza)

Other Blog Posts on CCCC 10

I’m glad to post more, of course, but this is all that have naturally flowed my way so far.

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Žižek at Rollins

Last night, I heard Slavoj Žižek speak at Rollins College (where I got my BA), as part of the Winter Park Institute‘s speaker series. I didn’t take notes (my pen was dry!), so I can’t give anything approaching a full recount or analysis–but I can briefly discuss some lingering impressions. (Is “lingering impressions” a cliche? Not sure.)

I think his talk was ominously titled, “Is There an Ethics of Psychoanalysis?”–a title that I admit almost kept me from coming. I’ve read excerpts of his work in literary theory class, with a generally favorable, “I should read more sometime!” impression, but I’m not an expert by any means in psychoanalytic criticism, Lacan, etc.  But I was happily surprised: he spoke meanderingly on porn, obscenity, neighbors, international politics, and God, only really leaning on his title in a strong way toward the end.

Here’s how I would summarize his main points. (Again, keep in mind that this is all from memory, and I’m surely missing many crucial bits.)

  1. Westerners increasingly feel the need to keep a sadly polite distance between themselves and others. The idea of surface-level tolerance has become problematic.
    • One piece of evidence for this: cultural portrayals of sex, which either (in popular movies) tell a complex story of romance but don’t show the details of sex, or (in porn) tell a stupid, surface-level story of romance but show all the details of sex.
    • Another example: all the surface-level talk we do when we meet people–“I’m so glad to meet you!”–which actually keeps people at a distance, as opposed to opening relationships by sharing obscenities with each other, which suddenly lowers boundaries and creates friends.
    • This touches on the idea of political correctness, which he says has the effect of actually supporting racism, sexism, etc. Making sure we say the “right” words carries the cultural implication that doing so erases inequality, which hides the deeper structural problems that need addressing to create real change.
    • Breaking down these kinds of polite boundaries is a way to be true neighbors.
  2. And discussing what makes us true neighbors brings us to God. (Žižek, an atheist who nonetheless theorizes about what he thinks Christianity should be, recently coauthored a debate-style book called The Monstrosity of Christ.) In short, he calls for a vision of God that is weak, which inspires humanity to take radical responsibility for themselves and their neighbors.

In this section, he cites G. K. Chesterton‘s reading of Job: Chesterton (a devout Christian) reads God’s final speech as supporting the idea of a God who is baffled by all the craziness he has created. (I’ve never read Chesterton, but I’d love to; a good friend sees Orthodoxy as the best thing since Desktop Tower Defense.) Here’s a snippet of Chesterton’s thoughts:

God will make Job see a startling universe if He can only do it by making Job see an idiotic universe. To startle man God becomes for an instant a blasphemer; one might almost say that God becomes for an instant an atheist. He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things, the horse, the eagle, the raven, the wild ass, the peacock, the ostrich, the crocodile. He so describes each of them that it sounds like a monster walking in the sun. The whole is a sort of psalm or rhapsody of the sense of wonder. The maker of all things is astonished at the things He has Himself made. (Source)

At this point, this post could get away from me; I could go on about the different arguments theologians have made about the absolute sovereignty of God and the exact amount of responsibility left to humans; I could dive into the ending of Job and decide just where I stand on it (right now: undecided); I could bring in personal stories about God in my life and read them with or against Žižek’s reading of sovereignty, bringing in the question of just how much a devout atheist can really comprehend divine mysteries. Instead, I want to move briefly into another direction:

When Žižek brought up horrors that people have done to each other in the 20th century, I was reminded of Gary Haugen’s The Good News About Injustice, a pointedly evangelical Christian perspective on evil. (Haugen was director of the U.N. genocide investigation in Rwanda; he’s seen human nastiness up close.) And in some ways, these two very different authors from very different theological perspectives come to a similar conclusion: that humans have a lot more responsibility to stop evil than we tend to imagine.

Seeing the Bible as far more authoritative than would Žižek, Haugen sees God as making four affirmations about injustice in it: 1) that he stands on the side of the suffering and hates injustice, 2) that he feels (yes, actually feels) a real compassion for the suffering, 3) that he is prepared to punish the perpetrators, and 4) that he seeks active rescue. That obviously leaves a huge question: where is this active rescue? As Žižek pointed out, 4 and half million people have died unnatural deaths in the Congo in the last 8 years.  Here’s Haugen’s answer:

If you think about it, two truths apply to everything that God wants accomplished on earth: (1) he could accomplish it on his own through supernatural power; but instead, (2) he chooses for the most part to limit himself to accomplishing that which he can achieve through the obedience of his people. . . . By some great mystery and enormous privilege, he has chosen to use his people, empowered by his Spirit, to complete this task. He simply does not have another plan. (96-97)

Zing! To me, that’s a game-changing perspective: evil in the world continues in such horrifying, heart-crunching ways because Christians refuse to get off their butts and do the work that God has called them to. It’s a terrifying, humanity-honoring sort of responsibility. I think I’ll let that idea sink for a while….

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Yancey on Information Literacy

I just got back from the 6th Annual Georgia Conference on Information Literacy in tree-lined, square-happy Savannah. Proof that this is a lovely place for a conference: a brief Tweet that I was there (which updates my Facebook status as well) received 7 dreamy-eyed, jealous comments on Facebook in 4 hours, which for me is pretty high traffic. (My favorite: “I love Savannah! My stepfather’s twin brother is a Benedictine monk, and there’s a military school there where all the monks taught.”)

(If you’re saying “Your conference was on what kind of literacy?” you could check out this handy page from the Association of College and Research Libraries. Their short definition: “Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.”)

I’ll write later about my presentation on remix literacies; here, I’d like to respond briefly to Kathleen Blake Yancey‘s boundary-pushing keynote address (handout). (By the way, I wish I had Yancey’s delivery: a clear, crisp voice, with punchy sentences and never any hesitation. Maybe she’ll give me delivery pointers when she visits USF this spring. Probably fewer parentheses would help.)

Much of her talk contrasted two models of access to information:

  1. The Victoria and Albert Museum model, which, though awesome in its own way for its own time, is inherently restrictive: readers take the time to go to its “cathedral of knowledge” on its terms.
  2. Our entirely new world of information online, which requires new maps and new education and new searching strategies, and which is inherently open, unstructured by time, and accessible.

To this conference crowd of mostly library faculty (with plenty of rhet/comp folks sprinkled in for good luck), perhaps Yancey’s most provocative point was her insistence on teaching content along with information literacy skills. It doesn’t make sense to teach someone how to search a database as though the topic of the search were meaningless, much as it doesn’t make sense to teach someone how to organize a paragraph as though the purpose, audience, and context of the paragraph were meaningless. She pointed out that without content, students don’t see the whole “map” of the information they seek, and therefore don’t learn the big picture–they only learn how to get from point A to point B.

But for me, of all the things I could go into here, I’m especially interested in her 3 categories of sources that might make up an information ecology: there are academic sources (from journals, scholarly books, etc.), mainstream sources (from Time, Malcolm Gladwell, USA Today, etc.), but also alternative sources–anything from The National Enquirer to a blog about science–i.e., anything that doesn’t fit comfortably in the first two categories.

Research these days is necessarily going to encounter all of these types of sources; we can’t simply say to students, “You can only use sources that are academic, from .edu websites, with no advertisements, with reputable authors.” Sometimes the info on mainstream and alternative sources is provocative, worthwhile, and (gasp!) even correct, reputable, important, etc. The trick is that–get this–the reader actually has to read the sources s/he finds and make judgments about them–it’s not a simple one-size-fits-all process!  And that is where students often miss the boat.

I think I’ve been waiting for someone (reputable…*grin*) to say this for a while. After all, when I research online, I blend these kinds of sources all the time; like Chris Anderson, I go to Wikipedia a lot, and don’t feel bad about doing so. I’ve struggled to teach students ways of research that more closely mirror the “real-world” stuff I do all the time, but it’s been hard. Yancey’s paradigm will help, methinks.

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