Saturday, October 4, 2008


A former student and I have been going back and forth on Facebook about how things have changed for us academically since last semester. I've started a new job at a new school and she's started a new major. Trying to describe how much things have changed, though, made me think seriously about how they haven't. Of course, there are the obvious things: I go to department meetings now, write course descriptions, work on curricular planning, and students call me "doctor." These are new, sure. But I've always had to balance teaching with an array of other responsibilities, like research, writing, and planning for the next semester. Part of me always thought that once I got a job I'd be so swamped in trying to get tenure, teaching, and whatever else the department threw at me that my life would be unrecognizable.

But that's just not the case. If I learned anything in graduate school it was productivity by way of procrastination. Which is to say, if I can't work on "x," then I'll work on "a," "b," or "c." When I simply can't look at the article I'm trying to revise for publication anymore, then I do some functional things - write observation protocols, or look up writers to invite to campus, whatever needs to be done. I strike a rhythm with my work that reminds me a lot of what it was like writing a dissertation, then switching over to teaching once I couldn't look at that chapter anymore, then switching over to some committee work when I couldn't grade anymore papers. I find dwelling on the familiar parts helps me approach all the new stuff with excitement, even inspiration. It's weird.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's So Critical About Music?

A very wise writing professor once told me, "Its easy. Just write the stuff you'd want to read." Right, easy. Similarly, as a teacher, I find myself often trying to shape courses that I'd want to take. A lot more difficult than one would imagine. And yet Byron Hawk makes it look easy. This course seems to offer critical and literary analysis in a way my students here at MC have indicated as not just cool or fun, but as necessary and relevant - to the increasing ways in which rhetoric bleeds into our daily lives. As it does in music. Props to Hawk.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Well, while I draft this Radiohead chapter, I've also been working on getting syllabi for next semester started - and I have to say: I'm seriously excited. I'll be teaching First Year Writing and using the graphic novel Persepolis as a way to talk about the course's theme: displacement. I've already got a number of ideas floating around - I think I'm going to use Scott McCloud's *Understanding Comics* to get discussions of form under way and a number of political pieces to supplement content and get discussions of academic writing off the ground - but I was wondering if any of you wonderful readers out there have taught Persepolis (or any graphic novel) and might have some helpful pointers or texts that you've used with success.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pop Goes Philosophy

So Open Court Press has a "Philosophy and Pop Culture Series" that takes various parts of pop culture (hip-hop, The Simpsons, The Matrix, etc.) and recruits writers to write in an accessible way about how that part of pop culture speaks to philosophical issues. They have an upcoming Radiohead and Philosophy volume coming up and I'm very proud to say that I'll be included in it! I'll be writing about the way the band disfigures the human voice in Kid A (through the manipulation of human voice samples) and, in doing so, recruits inarticulation in order to speak out of and about the recording technologies that shape expression. I can't wait!

Finally, years of listening to Radiohead pays off. ;)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

There Will Be Manhattan

I know this is coming a bit late, but after months of job-market anxieties and, well, all those things people write about along side job-market anxieties, I'm *very* happy to say that I'll be joining the English Department at Manhattan College this fall as assistant professor of English and Director of Composition. This was *just* the job I wanted and the folks in the Department were just the sort of people I hoped they would be: warm, supportive, curious, and excited. I really couldn't be happier. Steph and I have already made plans to sublet for our first year in NYC and things are beginning to fall in place.

On realizing that we would be moving to New York, our first order of business was to say to each other, nearly in unison: "we get to sell our car!" Then we went to see *There Will Be Blood* and relished in our first step toward curing our own addiction to oil. (We also relished in the brilliance of Daniel Day-Lewis and found ourselves wanting milkshakes...)

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Quality of Thought

This weekend I presented at MMLA in Cleveland. The panel was great: four Rhet/Compers trying to press on some of the (new? new-er? new-ish?) tensions between theory and practice in Composition Studies. Given that our panel was at 8:30 Sunday morning, I was surprised to find three people in the audience—and awake and alert, to boot. (I’m actually not complaining about this; the discussion that followed was smart and thorough and pretty rewarding—probably because of the modest size (something I’ve posted about before)). I presented on a topic central to my dissertation (music-in-rhetoric) and felt, more than I have in the past, that I was actually presenting original work that had some bearing on the field. It was a moment of professionalization that I—oddly enough—hadn’t been expecting as I drafted the presentation. I had an idea I felt was “original.” People were interested. They had questions. Conversations spilled into the hallway. I felt like my work as a graduate student was finally, so to speak, getting the show on the road.

Another kind of professionalization followed my presentation. I went to a workshop on the MLA report on tenure and promotion in the field. As a graduate student currently on the market, I thought it’d be wise to at least go and listen to what the report found and what departments around the country might be doing in response. Perhaps unsurprisingly, MLA’s report found that most of the work that folks are hired to do in departments doesn’t accurately reflect how they are assessed when it comes time for tenure. Even more than this, a lot of research considered “nontraditional” has a hard time finding a home in recommendations for tenure. Pitching hybridized research, it seems, is difficult when those deciding on tenure don’t know what to make of your work.

Recommendations abounded. Departments should be clearer—from the beginning of the hiring process—about just what is expected for tenure. Perhaps provide something in writing. Yielding important new research often requires a new kind of scholarship—we should have new methods, then, for assessing such new scholarship and scholars. I sincerely believe that what the MLA is doing here is good and healthy not only for English Studies, but universities in general. What surprised me, though, was my personal reaction to the concluding question.

The discussion had leaned quite heavily (based on the MLA report) on the idea that large scale revisions were required in order to make the tenure process more fair, and even relevant, in today’s scholarly climate. The moderator asked the two presenters, in light of these progressive claims, what, they thought, were the most intelligent responses arguing for tenure processes to remain the same.

One of the presenters mentioned something that he called the “quality of mind” argument. Essentially, requiring folks coming up for tenure to be of a certain unnamable “quality of mind” is just nebulous enough to be a very sound argument against nontraditional scholarship. But that’s just what I want to cultivate as a graduate student! I’m trying to develop a certain quality of mind! None of this is to say that I think the MLA is right or wrong or that there is just one way to understand what it means for someone to have “a certain quality of mind.” But, perhaps because of its nebulous nature, the “quality of mind” argument could be an important ally for those interested in revising tenure processes. After all, it’s just nebulous enough to include several new ways of cultivating “quality.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Motet: Poem or Song

There's something about the poetry of theory:

"Mmmmmm continues: repeats its murmuring, mouth closed, not even Om, the holy syllable opening the jewel in the lotus of meditation that empties itself of itself: not even the muted utterance in which Hegel heard the lack of articulation between vowel and consonant, like the defect of a night in which the cows are as black as from a blinding light, similar, yes, to the mooing of cows in the night, similar to the vagueness in which the concept loses its own differentiation, in which it wholly consists, similar, yes, to the furrow left in the air or on the paper by the withdrawal of the concept, by a vanishing of difference that does not produce identity, but the buzzing, the humming, the muttering and borborygmus of the consonant that only resounds, articulating no voice. Mmmmmmmmm resounds previous to the voice, inside the throat, scarcely grazing the lips from the back of the mouth, without any movement of the tongue, just a coloumn of air pushed from the chest in the sonorous cavity, the cave of the mouth that does not speak. Not a voice, or writing, or a word, or a cry, but transcendental murmuring, the condition of all words and all silence, a primal or archiglottal sound in which I give my death rattle and wail, death agony and birth, I hum and growl, song, jouissance and souffrance, motionless word, mummified word, monotone where the polyphony that rises from the bottom of the belly is resolved and amplified, a mystery of emotion, the substantial union of body and soul, body and ammmmmmm."

That's from Jean-Luc Nancy's _Listening_.