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February 27, 2007

Updated list

I've updated the list of programs and how many years each guarantees its assistantships. In the meantime, Clancy asks some good questions about the ways that programs spin their placement statistics.

Two things occur to me: first, our answer to some of those questions is to keep our alumni page relatively up-to-date. We don't track selectivity or search length, although some of that information would be fairly easy to track as well.

The second thing that occurs to me is that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for us to put some pressure on the Consortium to develop a central location for information like this (and like my list). For better or worse, we don't always do a great job of understanding exactly what it is that prospective students want to know about a program. I never shopped for a PhD program, for example. I fell into mine largely by accident. I've gotten better as a DGS of identifying that data, but as of yet, I know of no attempts to gather it together, given that our programs don't overlap completely with the programs tracked by ETS.

So if I'm still missing info, please let me know, particularly if it's online and I've missed it. If it's not online, encourage your programs to put it up there. And give some thought to what kinds of information it might be good to centralize.

February 24, 2007

That's what I'm talking about...

From Jeff's talk on the Networked Academic:

And my blog MAY be the site of personal anecdotes, professional work, rantings, misgivings, connections. It may be viewed as an individual identity. But I don’t view it that way nor experience it that way. The blog puts me into a network: with other bloggers (academic or non) with other ideas (academic or non) with other experiences.

And why does this matter? Because this network is a becoming process and it is a transformative process. I change. I change each time I am helping extend and shrink this network of social relationships. The relationships are not just personal, they are conceptual, material, ideological, and compositional.

Blogs are by no means the only places that this kind of net-work takes place--a big part of the point of a residential graduate program is precisely this kind of networking.

One of the big differences, though, is an important one. I am a part of various taxonomic networks: I teach at Syracuse, I received my PhD from Texas-Arlington, I do most of my work in computers and writing. In blogspace, the net is a lot more folksonomic--it's not based on a static place, but on an aggregation of connections, each one personal, but many of them overlapping. Jeff reads (I'm guessing) more Detroit bloggers than I do, and I'm sure that all the various design and comics blogs that I follow don't show up in his aggregator. We each define our network according to our interests, building them up and pruning them down over time. But we share work with each other, and with dozens of others as well, and cite each other, and read each other with interest. And it spills over into our physical and disciplinary spaces as well.

I don't think blogging's for everyone, but I would argue that it is for anyone. And it involves a lot more than simply typing on a daily basis, even if that's all that most people think they see.

February 23, 2007

Going out with a whimper

Although I still use them from time to time, as their affordances are useful for a particular context, I don't spend much time anymore on listservs. And today, I unsubbed from my last holdout, a disciplinary listserv ostensibly devoted to my specialty. As with the blog, I go through phases of listserv fatigue, but over the last few years, the fatigue periods seem to grow longer and longer, punctuated more by silence than by activity.

My unsubscription was prompted by a message today which, under the auspices of continuing a discussion from earlier this week, launched into what, as best as I can tell, was a largely unprompted invective against blogging. I won't repeat it here, both because I'm not sure the list is public and because I'm not interested in dignifying it. Long and short, though: blogging, the message suggests, "atomizes, isolates, and individualizes knowledge." A few more sweeping generalizations, and a strange fascination with the idea that blogs are assholes, or like assholes, or bloggers are assholes. I don't know.

And honestly, I don't really care. My experience with blogging is so different--of course, it could matter that I actually maintain a blog--that the message could have been in another language for all the sense that it made to me. I was sitting in Panera today, reading Amanda Anderson's The Way We Argue Now (Amazon), and in it, she has a chapter on ethos in the Foucault/Habermas debate. Anderson is accounting for a comment from Foucault that he is "a little more in agreement" with Habermas than Habermas is with him. By saying this, Anderson explains:

Foucault implies that there is no external perspective from which one might adjudicate their differences or agreements, precisely because one essential element of agreement stems from the attitude of the thinker towards the other's work.

This stuck with me, because it fits nicely into the network-y/visualization thinking I've been doing, particularly when it comes to thinking about ways to map conversations and/or disciplines, and to chart changes. One of the things that Anderson's doing in that chapter is shifting the relationship between Foucault and Habermas, undoing the knee-jerk binary through which that relationship is frequently viewed. The link between the two is still there, but its character is altered, assuming that Anderson's various interpretations are persuasive.

It sticks with me not because I can really disagree with the specific charges leveled against blogging in that message, because I'm sure that there are plenty of examples that anyone could trot out to validate them. What irked me most is the foreclosure of any sort of conversation; it was almost beside the point that it was initiated by someone with little to no direct experience of our community. Almost. Anderson explains that this comment from Foucault is consistent with his "dislike of polemic":

The polemicist...proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue.

There's something to this for me, not the least reason for which is my own general avoidance of confrontation. And it's also not to say that I don't fall back into polemic myself. I do. But I've got a lot more interest in figuring out how my ideas connect to, diverge from, and/or relate to someone else's than I do in waging a polemic/war. Even though, I suppose, it could be argued that my entry is doing just that.

Or it would be, were I to do two things, both of which are equally tempting. I'm tempted to refute those claims, drawing on my own experiences, talking about all of the collaboration, networking, and working-with that maintaining a blog has prompted in my academic life for the past three years. I'm also tempted to critique the listserv post, and perhaps even the list itself.

But I think I'll refrain. Which isn't to say that my entry here is snark-free--that'd be some sort of record, I think. It is to say, rather, that a community where someone feels comfortable (much less justified) in making those sorts of comments is not the kind of community I have any interest in being a part of.

That's all.

Teaching Assistantships and Time to Degree

Update 1/19/08: I've updated the list below based on a conversation at WPA-L, and I'd be happy to fill in the 20+ schools listed below that don't currently provide this information to prospective students. I want to stress that the data below lists the number of guaranteed years of funding (assuming satisfactory performance of duties, of course), not "actual" or "possible" years. At Syracuse, for example, a number of students are supported beyond the 4th year, but the 4 years are guaranteed.

Also, I'd like to recommend, as strongly as possible, two things: if you are a faculty member in one of these programs, particularly one for which I couldn't find data, providing this sort of information is an ethical imperative--you owe it to incoming students to tell them, up front, what they're getting into. Seriously. Secondly, I'd love to see us as a field have conversations about these kinds of data, and to provide them in a centralized (online, updatable) location, whether it's attached to the Doctoral Consortium, NCTE, Rhetoric Review, or whatever. It's not the kind of project I have the time or energy to initiate, but clearly I've already contributed my fair share.


In light of Steve's mention of the Consortium list (which was painstakingly mapped by Derek last year), I thought I might share some information that could be of use to those shopping for graduate programs. One of the factors that prospective students should consider is not only the fact of financial support, but its amount and length.

One of the things that we've been working on here at Syracuse is the amount of guaranteed support we can offer to students. Currently we guarantee 4 years (as with most places, that guarantee is contingent upon adequate progress and performance), and as almost anyone who's gone through a PhD can tell you, that places a pretty serious burden on both incoming students and on that 4th year, when the equally full-time activities of the job search and the dissertation coincide. The prospect of being able to uncouple those activities is an appealing one, particularly if we heed Semenza's (Amazon) advice, which suggests no less than 2 publications, in addition to having drafted a substantial chunk of dissertation prior to sending out applications.

One of the questions that's come up in our discussions about funding is a field-related one. Namely, we've asked what other programs in our field guarantee and/or expect of their students. So I did a little digging, and came up with what follows. It's a list of programs and how many years each guarantees. Some caveats:

  • I only looked at assistantships, assuming (rightly, I believe) that this is the most common form of financial support for PhD students
  • Because we only offer a PhD, I restricted myself when possible to information about PhD students only
  • I made a good faith effort to locate the information, but I didn't perform an exhaustive search of each site.
  • "No Data" means that I located information about TAships, but that I couldn't readily infer information about how many years were guaranteed
  • "Couldn't locate" means that I was unable to find any page that provided information about TAships. That may be my fault.

If there is a program missing, let me know, and I'll add it. Likewise, if you know where a page is located that I've missed, please leave the URL in the comments for me. If there's more up-to-date information than can be found on the web, ditto. I've tried in each case to link to the webpage where this information either is or should be (imho) located.

Alabama: No Data
Albany: 3 years
Arizona: 5 years
Arizona State: No Data
Ball State: couldn't locate
Bowling Green: 3+ years (see comments)
Carnegie Mellon: couldn't locate
Case Western Reserve: 5 years
Central Florida:No Data
Clemson: 4 years (specifies length of program, not TAship)
Connecticut: 4 years (Not guaranteed)
East Carolina: No Data
Florida State: No Data
Georgia State: 4 years (apply for 5th)
Illinois: No Data
Illinois (Chicago): 6 years
Illinois State: 4 years (see comments)
Indiana U of Pennsylvania: 4 years max (2 years asst./2 years assoc.)
Iowa State: 5 years
Kent State:4 years (see comments)
Louisiana-Lafayette: 4 years
Louisiana State: 4 years (apply for 5th)
Louisville: No Data (4 years)
Maryland: 3-4 years (Lectureships beyond 4th yr)
Massachusetts-Amherst: 5-6 years (see comments for link)
Miami (OH): 4 years
Michigan: 4 years
Michigan State: 4 years
Michigan Tech: 5 years
Minnesota: 4-5 years
Missouri: 5 years
Nebraska: No Data
Nevada-Reno: 5 years
New Hampshire: 4 years
New Mexico: 5 years
New Mexico State: 5 years
North Carolina: No Data
North Carolina-Greensboro: 4 years
North Carolina State: 4 years (specifies length of program, not TAship)
Northern Illinois: 5 years
Ohio State: 4 years (conditional on progress--see pp. 64-65 of PDF Handbook)
Oklahoma: 5 years
Old Dominion: No Data
Penn State: 6 years (MA/PhD)
Pittsburgh: No Data
Purdue: No Data (5 years)
RPI: No Data
Rhode Island: No Data
South Carolina: 4 years
South Dakota: 4 years
South Florida: 4 years
Southern Illinois: 4 years
Syracuse U: 4 years (Apply for 5th)
Tennessee: 4-5 years
Texas: 4 years (max of 5, if funding is available)
Texas A&M: 5 years
Texas-Arlington: No Data
TCU: 4 years
Texas-El Paso: 4 years
Texas Tech: couldn't locate
Texas Women's: couldn't locate
Utah: 4 years
Virginia Tech: No Data
Washington: No Data (5 years)
Washington State: 4 years (No data on site; personal correspondence)
Wayne State: 4-6 years (6 may include MA)
Wisconsin: No Data

Chains of love

It's one of those weeks where my waking moments are filled with thoughts best left unblogged, for any number of reasons. But I've been meaning for the past couple of days to link to an entry over at Tim's joint. He's speaking mostly about the whole Edwards campaign kerfuffle, but for a paragraph, he references a conversation over at Laura's about whether or not she planned to continue blogging. It motivates some reflection on the double standard operating in some folks' conceptions of blogging. On the one hand, they want what happens in blogspace to matter in the larger world; on the other, they don't always seem to want to be held accountable by that larger world. But I was especially interested in the finally paragraph (gently pruned for your consumption):

This is not just about blogging: it’s about history. The more you write, the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new–or whose betrayal is necessary should you wish to be free of your shadow....When I write it–even in a blog–it has, and ought to have, some greater weight. If that weight becomes like Marley’s chains, forged in life, it’s up to me to do the hard and complicated work of unlocking, not to complain that what I wrote was read.

I mentioned in the comments thread at Laura's that she'd articulated something that I've been experiencing lately as well. And I think that it's that notion of what I write here as a second self. When I'm feeling especially transparent, the blog doesn't feel all that separate from what I do. I don't feel like I have to police it for polysemy, worrying about whether or not what I say will be taken up in unintended ways. Which isn't to say that it's weightless--I hope that there is some weight to what I write, at least on occasion. But when it becomes a second or a third self--if my private and public meat/selves are the first two--it takes me that much more energy to tend to it. And that much self-maintenance can wear me out after a while. Right now, I'm feeling that fatigue. Part of it's the weather, part of it's the time of the year, and part of it's just the junk that happens.

What prompted this entry tonight was a conversation with D about last night's ep of Lost, which didn't jazz me quite as much as the week before. I'm worried that the writers of that show have decided not to "do the hard and complicated work of unlocking" their narrative, opting instead for more plot, more characters, and more distractions (assuming that Jack's tattoo was one of the "big mysteries" solved last night), and hoping that those of us who loved the show through the first two seasons will simply let it slide. Lost is no longer the must-see it was for me those first two seasons, and while I'm willing to ride it out a while longer, I'm beginning to feel a bit betrayed by the fact that I've watched regularly, closely, and with interest. I wonder how much the writers are longing to be free of the shadows of those first two seasons.

That's not to compare my humble blog to a show like Lost. But I had a much more concrete sense after that conversation of how even a labor of love can begin to feel like a unshakeable shadow. That's all.

And that's really all I have to say tonight.

February 17, 2007

You are watching a clever commercial. Cancel or allow?

Yes, I am a hardcore Mac enthusiast, but to be honest, I find the Mac vs. PC ads hit or miss. Part of it is that Justin Long (Mac) is a little too smug, and I think that John Hodgman (PC) is high-larious. But the new Vista commercial makes me laugh. It's a simple concept, and in a few lines, they manage to boil down a difference between the two operating systems in a really clever way. I'm certain that it's more complicated than that, but I almost don't care. Nothing in the commercial is wasted, from the visual minimalism to the final, mournful "Allow..."

Anyhow, I spend (it seems) an entry a month bemoaning the idiocy that passes for marketing these days, so it seems only fair to point out the good on the rare occasions that I come across it.

February 15, 2007

Fire vs. Ice

This is not exactly a weather entry, and most definitely not another "complain about the blizzard" entry. However, today's entry begins from the premise that it sucks to receive 2 feet of snow, 20-30 mph wind, and temperatures in the single digits.

On the plus side, I live in a building that is steam heated. Which means that I don't pay hundreds of dollars for natural gas every winter.

On the minus side, I have no control over the temperature generated by the giant steam pipe that bisects my apartment along the ceiling. In the winter, when it's particularly cold, the temperature inside can reach into the low 80s.

On the plus side, cozy. Tshirts and shorts.

On the minus side, if you've ever lived with steam heat, you will know that it is not unlike living in an oven. Or underneath a rest room hand drier.

On the plus side, I sleep with a humidifier at one end of the room and often open my window at the other. The window's old, but I have four different items that I wedge in it to let in varying degrees of cold.

On the minus side, I'm a very warm sleeper. Which is fine when the heat goes off at around 4 am, but makes it really hard for me to get to sleep (dry skin, itchy, heat, tossing, turning, insomnia) unless it's decently cool.

On the plus side, I can usually open the window early enough to cool the apartment sufficiently.

On the minus side, my building is next to a big driveway/multi-car garage. Whose owner takes some delight, I've discovered, in trying to bury our building in snow. My apartment extends below ground level, and so my windows are particularly easy to bury.

There is no more plus side. If I open the window enough, as I did last night, I end up with wind, snow, and eventually soaking wet (and cold) carpeting. Also, the books. The books!

All of which is to explain why tonight, when I go to sleep, in the dead of winter, I'm probably going to have to waste money by turning on a fan.

(And that doesn't really help with the whole dry skin thing. Nor with my mood.)

That is all.

February 14, 2007

Snow day? Really?

I've been telling folks that the winter here has been a pretty mild one, when my personal metric, the number of times I have to shovel my car free, is applied. Hasn't happened yet.

That's about to change. We're looking at close to 2 feet today, I've heard, and the winds could get up to 30-40 mph later today. For the first time in 6 years, SU declared a snow day, canceling all events (inc. classes) that begin later than noon or so.

I don't expect to make it through the winter up here without a few such days, and today will not disappoint in that regard. So it'll be a hermitty day round these parts, maybe even a couple of them.

And in other news, happy HWP Day...

That is all. Stay indoors.

February 12, 2007

Home again, home again

At least for a while, until CCCC in March. Another month, another secret mission, this time to the heart of the midwest. It's no secret, if you read last week's entry on Moretti, that said mission involved the presentation of ideas. A couple of people referenced my blog post in private, but I ended up not leaning on Moretti's work quite as much as I originally expected, so the question would have sounded a little decontextualized.

Ah, but this was Step #3 in my (toast)master plan to wean myself away from scripting my presentations, and it was perhaps my most successful step to date. I had a clock facing me from the back of the room, an hour for my session, and I started ten minutes late, due to some tech snafulery. I think I raced a little bit, but I ended up at 35 minutes, leaving a good 15 for questions, and it went pretty well from my perspective.

This time round, in part due to my own procrastination, I had to be briefer in the notes I was using. There were several spots where I just wrote down stuff like "Anderson - Long Tail - explain," trusting myself to say what I needed to. And what do you know? I think I did. You may think this a small triumph, but bear in mind that I've been doing this for more than ten years, and I have serious stage fright. To be able to tell myself to just explain something, in front of a group of mostly strangers, is a huge step for me.

The other thing that I noticed was that, rather than slipping off into the reading zone (where I start a paper and then don't notice anything until after I'm done), I was able to respond in some ways to facial expressions, so that if I needed an extra sentence to make something clear, I could do that. If no one seemed perplexed, I could move on. I'm definitely not perfect at it, but hey, actually remaining conscious and responsive during the presentation was a step in the right direction, methinks.

I had the chance to chat about the question of reading vs. speaking with someone there who's in a field where speaking is the norm. I tried out a little theory about why I at least have had to work hard at moving away from reading. I can't really speak for others in my discipline nor for other disciplines, but I began my graduate study at a time when there was a lot of emphasis on decentering teacherly authority in the writing classroom. The focus, we were told, should be less on direct instruction and lecture, and more on peer work and discussion. As someone who was pretty introverted already, this was an emphasis I could easily embrace. I don't really prefer to be the center of attention anyway, and so I was more than happy to decenter me. Of course, it's not that simple when there's grading involved, but that form of authority governed individual interactions rather than the classroom.

The point is that this kind of training, while it lent itself to my teaching style just fine, also left me rather underprepared to venture forth to conferences and speak confidently in a room full of colleagues without a script. I'd never argue that we should return to those halcyon days of yellowed lecture notes, but at the same time, I'm convinced that the shift away from "sage on the stage" styles has left us less able to perform well when we are on stages. I really admire those of my colleagues for whom this is not a problem, but I am most definitely not one of them.

Here's what I've done:

  • I track a few sites (Presentation Zen is my fave) that often contain advice for presentations, whether it's tips for engaging audiences, how not to prepare a Powerpoint/Keynote deck, or what have you.
  • I bought the Keyspan remote on PZ's recommendation, and so took some advantage of my gadget fetish to convince myself to try this.
  • I've been composing more in Keynote (and as I've given multiple talks, recycling slides from multiple sources has become easier), which helps split attention between me and screen (which helps me psychologically). Having roughly a slide for every 1-2 minutes also helps me pace myself.
  • I've tried to visualize speaking situations as I compose, which seems to help as well.
  • And maybe most importantly, I've tried to build up what I think of as a repertoire of 5-10 minute, modular talks, out of which I then compose longer presentations. Not only does that make signposting a breeze, but it keeps me from feeling like I'm relying too heavily on a long series of points that are tough to keep in mind as I work towards a conclusion. I start with an overview that explains how it's all going to fit together, and then I work through the pieces.

One compliment I got last week was that, each time a question was raised in this person's mind, the next slide or step in my talk answered it. This made me quite happy, as you might imagine. I don't think of myself as any great speaker, believe me, but I feel like I am improving visibly from one talk to the next. Confidence will do that for you, apparently. And I say all this not in an attempt to shame others in my field to weaning off of the script, but in the hopes that it might be helpful. As much as anyone, I understand the feeling of security that a script brings, not to mention the fact that you can "finish" a script, while I tend to tweak and tweak and tweak right up until the presentation without one. That's my next step, I think, to try and trust myself, keeping the tweaks to a minimum.

We'll see how it goes. In fact, we'll see how it goes come March.

That's all.

February 7, 2007


I'm in the midst of preparing another of this year's endless series of presentations, but I thought I'd take a short break in my preparation to address Lindsay Waters' latest offering for the Chronicle. I'd link to "Time for Reading," but the CHE has it firewalled currently. Pretty soon, Waters is going to deserve his own category if I'm not careful.

At any rate, I thought I'd respond chiefly because it will be entirely possible for a member of my upcoming audience to raise a hand and ask whether or not I've read this piece and what my response to it is. You see, in this essay, Waters criticizes the work of Franco Moretti among other things. Moretti is guilty by association with, among other things, fast capitalism, the sinister forces of bureaucracy, speed reading, Cliffs Notes, and in a slightly bizarre reading, outsourcing:

But Moretti is now promoting what he calls "distant reading," which seems to me to suggest that scholars of literature outsource reading of books to lower-level workers.

Lest we think it a momentary metaphor, Waters continues it later, faux-apologizing for running the "risk of sounding like the commentator Lou Dobbs going on about outsourcing jobs." You see, this kind of outsourcing "is more dangerous in the long run. It's like killing the plankton in the ocean."

Umm. Okay. Waters objects to Moretti's efforts to tabulate data across centuries and countries and languages, a collation of data that might provide us with broad-scale insight into the rise and fall of particular genres or literary strategies. Fair enough. But it's odd to see this work contrasted with his earlier "superb analyses of literary works," when you actually go to the bother of reading a book like Signs Taken For Wonders. STW analyses literary works, yes, but it does so under the sign of rhetoric, viewing literature not simply as a triumph of linguistic and aesthetic expression, but as strategic interventions into culture. The former would be the "wonders" and the latter "signs." At no point in Moretti's work have I personally detected the assumption, which seems to underlie Waters' contempt, that Moretti is arguing for signs at the expense of wonders.

Waters is clearly hostile to Moretti's work, and in such a case, one might justly assume that such criticism deserves some sort of evidence. In an essay where Waters attacks the notion of distant reading, the apprehension of literary work through the distillation of that work into themes or keywords, the only citation of Moretti's work that appears is a parenthetical reference to the subtitle of a talk that Moretti delivered in Germany: "How to Talk About Literature Without Ever Reading a Single Book." Yes, that's right. A subtitle. The parenthesis is preceded by the mock-horror of Waters' characterization of Moretti: "What we need to understand is the system. The professor need not read books at all!" Apparently, the critic need not actually attend the talk to know that the subtitle "says it all," either.

Am I getting a little snippy? Perhaps. Perhaps it's the irony of Waters' own distant reading getting under my skin. Anyhow, he continues:

It is impossible to understand the rationale for such a relegation of reading to graphs and charts except as a way of institutionalizing large-scale bureaucratic analysis of literature. That is poison.

There's an invitation to dialogue for you. But here's my attempt. If you read Steven Johnson's Ghost Map, you'll learn the story of John Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead. What's cool about the story is that the two of them approached the problem of cholera from different scales of activity, and each played an invaluable role in changing the way society understood that disease. Whitehead knew the people of Soho in the same way that Waters here urges us to understand literature, by taking interest in and savoring individual words, lives, texts, events, at ground level as it were. Snow, on the other hand, approached the problem from the large-scale analysis of death records plotted against location plotted against London's various water suppliers. He used the same methods that made him London's premier anaesthesiologist, the relentless gathering and interpretation of data. And at one point, it is not difficult to imagine Whitehead making the exact same objection to the work of Snow--at one point, he argues that it is impossible to understand people's lives by looking at charts and maps. Whitehead's convictions play an important role in confirming Snow's hypothesis, eventually, and the "felicity of scale" that blends the two men's work is, for me, one of the most interesting and important points of Johnson's book.

This proves nothing, but it suggests that a difference of opinion, mapped across what is instead a difference in scale, might not be a difference at all. Another point I'd raise about STW, and that's that its subtitle is "Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms." And there's a strong case to be made that Moretti should be read not alongside other literary scholars, but with others working in the sociology of knowledge, those same writers (Merton, Urban, Collins, Abbott, et al.) that Waters takes Stevens and Williams to task for ignoring. This critique of Moretti, honestly, feels more like a category error than anything else, poison, plankton, and outsourcing aside.

The problem with reading and literary studies is not and never will be the work of Moretti or speed reading. The problem that Waters never really discusses is that the kind of literary experience he advocates is fundamentally incompatible with the institutional demands that are politically expedient right now. I love reading, but schooling did its best to beat it out of me. And it's far worse now than it ever has been. You can't test for love. But you can sure test a love for reading out of us. The "graphs and numbers" that Waters should be railing against are the ones generated annually by the national testing oligopoly, not the products of a single research team at Stanford.

So if someone raises hir hand on Friday, to ask me about Waters' assault on Moretti, that's my answer. At its very best, the inclusion of Moretti here is misdirection, a strangely distant read of the situation.

That's what I got. Light blogging over the next few, most likely.

February 5, 2007

No fairweather fan, I

I have to pay my proper respects to the Colts, who beat my Bears fair and square. As gloaty as I was after the first, and perhaps ugliest overall, quarter, I knew that there was going to be trouble if the Bears couldn't control the ball. And trouble there was. The only realistic scenario where they were going to win involved special teams (check) and ball control (not so check). If they had been able to string together some drives, then the Colts' strategy of letting them start at the 40 every possession would have been a mistake. As it was, it just meant deeper punts.

My personal vote for MVP would have gone to the Colts' running back tandem. They're the fellers who won the game, honestly. Peyton had a nice game, but Addai caught more than a third of his passes, and between them, Addai and Rhodes almost gained 200 yards on the ground. Kind of depressing that they waited until the Super Bowl to exorcise the ghost of Edgerrin, but good for Colts fans, I suppose.

So congrats, Colts fans. Now, please just suck, so that the Bears can make it back next year and win.

That is all for football, for a while at least.

February 4, 2007

So repugnant even a caveman in a burger suit at the UPS whiteboard would say so

Speaking of commercials, as far too many people are this time of year, I present to you the four most shudderingly foul words I can imagine:

Maple Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich

I'm no fan of bad commercials, goodness knows, but at least most of them are bad commercials on behalf of pleasantly mediocre products. I'll be honest: the very notion of the MCBS makes me want to avoid the business in question. Not that I go there more than once or twice a year, but still. Yuck.

Go Bears!

February 3, 2007


It occurred to me last night as I was putting together my last entry that there's a deep need going unfulfilled here at cgbvb. When I linked the phrase "event model" to one of the pages from my course blog from a few years ago, it was a little more indirect than I'd hoped. And there are a couple of other posts that might do just as well. In other words, as I've been working slowly on the second book, I'm also polishing up concepts that in some cases are variations on others' terms and in some cases are my very own.

I'm planning this summer to do a fairly elaborate site redesign, and as part of that, I'd planned on doing some "Best of cgbvb" linking, fronting some of my favorite posts and some of the screencasts that I've done over the years. I'm thinking that maybe I should also put together some synthesizing posts on some of the vocabulary that I've been taking for granted, both my own and others'.

This occurred to me also recently as I was finishing up Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map (Amazon). I'm in the habit of talking about fallacies of scale (which you'll find as part of this essay), but Johnson's book has me thinking about a corresponding "felicity of scale" that might be worth making similarly explicit.

I really don't mean for this to sound as arrogant as it probably does--I don't mean to suggest that my thinking is so important that what's needed is a glossary so that people can understand me better. Rather, I'm coming to realize that the invention and/or development of concepts is pretty important to my own work process, even when I move past them or ditch them in favor of other ideas. Phrases like "event model" or "fallacy of scale" feel like pieces of the puzzle I'm working on, and I think it'll help me to start pinning them down a little bit. As I write about this, though, I think that this is something worth doing over at Rhetworks, even though I'll still talk about them here. It occurs to me as well that what I'm talking about here is the same kind of thing that Kenneth Burke did in his earliest books, including local glossaries in both Counter-Statement and Attitudes Toward History, and that recommends this idea to me even more.

So we'll see. There's only a few entries that I've got planned so far, but it may be worth picking up some related ideas from some of what I'm reading, and glossarize those as well. And who knows? Maybe a full fledged Brookapedia will make more sense after the third or fourth book. Heh.

That is all. Go Bears!

February 2, 2007

Something old, something new

As you know if you agg or visit Derek's blog, he passed his exams yesterday. So in part, you might read this entry as congratulations, which it most certainly is. Interestingly enough, three of the four members of his exam committee, myself included, are active bloggers.

Which is something of a segueway into what I want to point out. The examination process, while it has a fair number of virtues (time set aside for reading, self-definition, synthesis, etc.), is also a holdover from a much different time. At SU, we've tried to mitigate its Academy 0.5 qualities by offering different kinds of "exams" in place of making them all "sit down for 3 hours and type as fast as you can" sessions. And we've very intentionally streamlined the proposal process, which at one time was so problematic that we had students taking waaaay too much time and spending way too much energy on formal, article-length exam proposals.

But still. The process of taking exams is in many cases and at many programs (a) something that coursework in no way prepares you to do (although ideally it helps with the reading) and (b) something that in no way prepares you for any of the writing that you will do for the next 10, 20, or 40 years as a professional. The exam process, as I've told many people, is the apotheosis of the event model of writing, and in some ways, the single worst way to prepare a student for work on a dissertation. To read that much, you almost have to hide yourself away. My own experience of exams was highly antisocial, as no one else was reading what I was, as quickly as I was, or for similar purposes. The reading we do for coursework, both as students and as professors, is by contrast a pretty social reading, enough so that many people I know (myself included) don't feel like they've really read something until they've taught it.

But this is an Academy 2.0 post, and so I should turn to one of the things that Derek did in preparing for his exams. If you haven't visited his Exam Sitting site, you should do so. If you're faculty, and supervise students preparing for exams, or if you're someone who'll be taking exams sometime in the future, you should be thinking about adopting this model. Each entry simply records, categorizes, and tags the reading notes for a particular text--the entries themselves do little more than what our graduate students across the country do on a daily basis as they read for courses or prepare for exams. But the site itself, among other things, provided a measure of his progress, a way for me and other committee members to peek in on his progress, an opportunity to see the larger patterns among his readings, connections among the readings, and finally, a resource that is going to be useful for him for years after the exams are a distant memory.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that Exam Sitting is the most important webtext to be published in our field last year. It's a great example of applying a personal database to the work that we do in graduate school and more productive and useful in the long term than a file box full of notebooks. For the last couple of years, I've been evangelizing just this kind of use for blogs to our students, using them as a place to store notes, making them searchable, and to tag notes, making possible the kinds of operations that happen on Derek's site. I'd love to see this kind of work made collaborative as well--notes like these are no substitute for the actual reading, but someone can go to ES and figure out pretty quickly whether something is worth reading or not. And they can trace a given reading out into a network of related texts. Multiply what Derek accomplished in six months of reading and writing by an entire program's worth of graduate students, and you'd have a resource more vital than anything that currently exists in our field.

Not to name names, but as the field marches on, certain resources have passed on to the Great 404 in the Sky, and others spring up to take their places. And over and over, I've seen electronic resources created to conform to a vision of the field that hearkens back to the time before such resources were possible. I'd love to see us instead start imagining the field according to the possibilities such resources present to us. And that's the gentlest way I know of putting it.

So join me in congratulating Derek for passing the Academy 0.5 step of comprehensive exams. But he deserves congratulations as well for putting an Academy 2.0 spin on that process, and making it his own. I know that it wasn't easy, but I have no doubt that it will pay off for him in the long run.

That is all.

The Raw and the Cooked

I've been awake now for about 20 hours today. Had to be up early, with a couple of 2-hour sessions spread somewhat inconveniently across the day, and somehow, I missed my window of opportunity for healthy sleep-when-you're-tired sleep, and now, I'm cruising on the fumes of bleary-eyed, zone-out exhaustion. Rats.

One by-product of today's energy level was that my normally cooked self was a little raw in places, and when that happens, I don't filter my reactions nearly as much as normal. Without getting into specifics, I made a comment today in conversation that was one of those off-hand remarks, putting words together in a slightly different way, that both resonated in a foundational, soul-deep way and was probably borderline clinically depressed.

Yes, lovely. I don't feel any real regret over it--I certainly don't want to take it back--but I'm thinking that it would be easier to get to sleep tonight had I not forced myself to look at things differently today with that stupid crack. I'm not worried what anyone else thinks--in fact, I'm relatively certain that those who heard this remark didn't really notice it for what it was. But like a self-imposed earworm, it's returned to me over and over ever since.

Ah well. Maybe I can read a bit and push it to the side long enough to get some sleep. On the plus side, it's been a fair spell since I endured the full-blown, wheel-spinning insomnia, so maybe tonight will stay an exception.

And no, don't ask. The point isn't what I said so much as the fact that sometimes a thought gets lodged in between me and sleep, and sometimes a good navel-gaze is part of my strategy for dislodging it. That's all.

Good night.