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Demolition, man

It's probably been upwards of 10 or 15 years since I've heard the Police song "Demolition Man," but my favorite line from the song was "I'm a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom/I kill conversation as I walk into the room." I'm not sure why I latched onto it--something about the idea of killing conversation just stuck in my head.

I think about this again tonight because last night at about this time, I de-lurked on one of our professional listservs, and apparently managed to kill the conversation. Without getting into too many of the details, it was a thread on how sprawling our field has become, and how difficult it is to keep pace with everything that comes out, given so many different areas of study and venues. As you may gather, it's an interesting problem to me because it's an inevitable feature of any organization that grows beyond a particular size--the visible horizon for any single member stays relatively constant, but once the organization grows beyond that horizon, it has to respond in ways that help orient its membership to the sprawl.

Did I say I wouldn't give too many details?

Anyhow, my post offered what I thought was a fairly elegant mix of a centralizing vision combined with broadly distributed responsibility. The problem is a laughably simple one to solve, honestly, with a small change in collective behavior and a little bit of organizational leadership.

Yeah. If I were teasing myself, I'd say that they were all stunned by the profound simplicity of my proposed solution. Truth be told, though, I think the real problem, the conversation killer, was that I had a solution at all. The thread wasn't about coming together to solve a problem in our field; it was about identifying YAAH ("yet another academic hardship"), with which we could all hop on board, about which we might pat ourselves on the back, and regarding which we could commiserate. Silly me.

In this, I am a boy. My gut reaction to a discussion of a problem is to consider how that problem might be fixed. Sometimes I am sensitive enough to recognize that fixin isn't what someone is after (not always!), but I still have to stifle that gut reaction.

Even now, I know that this will probably get back to some of the people on that list, who (a) won't recognize my description of the conversation, (b) will resent me for poking fun at YAAH, and/or (c) treat my attempt to speak of our organization as an organization (as opposed to a club or community) as evidence that I'm a socially purposeless, amoral te(a)chnocrat. Don't laugh. That's a near-quote, although not a recent one. And I know that the way to "fix" those reactions is simply to delete this entry before I post it.

Who am I kidding, though? Most of them will just glide on past, and in six months or a year, the issue will come up again, and they'll run the cycle of permissible responses, and that'll be that. And who knows? Maybe I'll bring my arsenal of doom along again...


Dude, you're being too hard on yourself. You didn't kill the conversation at all! It was a good post.

C, Maybe they just didn't know how to respond to a smart, throughtful post. Next time, try telling them what colors you want to paint your office.

Twas a terrific response on-list, Collin--a clever, practical solution to an easy-to-fix problem of cataloguing the field one better than CompPile (which has served its purpose, but is now tested by the scope and scale of the field). And why shouldn't journals attached to comp/rhet embrace it, even take it up? Would definitely be worth the five bucks you proposed. Probably the !whoomp! of brilliance begat the silence (like at fireworks shows)--in applause hands lifted from the keyboards throughout WPAland. Can't think of what else it could be.


I really wasn't fishing for compliments...really.

The ultimate usefulness of my idea will come at a smaller scale, I think, when we get some version of it implemented in the department as a distributed newsletter, and people get used to using it after a couple of years.

In terms of the "field," it's been a low-roar frustration of mine for a long time. I'm old enough to remember all the really interesting plans we had for the CCCC web site, the ways that we planned on really changing the way the field approached the conference, only to watch interest in such initiatives flag consistently year after year to the point where it's at now, a supplementary distribution mechanism. And the same can be said of nearly every other electronic initiative associated with all of the major landmarks in our field.

It's kind of sad, to think that the field doesn't really look that different 10 years later. There are so many ways we could improve things, and so little vision to take them up, outside of Dave's Parlor Press and a couple of ejournals. Ah well. That's the manifesto chapter of my second book for you...


Well, you know my feelings about this. I don't think you killed the conversation so much as the conversation just ended-- assuming we're talking about the same thing, and I think we are. It's easy to complain and it's harder to try to do something about it. But I'm convinced that putting together some sort of resource powered by something like drupal or wiki software or something would not be that hard to do. You in, demo man?