Clancy's blog

Drupal'll be right back is down for the time being for some maintenance work. From Charlie's Kairosnews post:

Note: At the moment, is down due to maintenance issues at the computer center where the server is hosted. In the meantime, those looking for information about download mirrors and more information about the recent security issues should visit

For my part, I can't wait to upgrade to a newer version (I'm running 4.5); that will give me a good excuse to do a redesign!

Representations of the city in Toni Morrison's Jazz

Ever since I listened to Toni Morrison's Jazz on tape, I have intended to get a print copy and type out some of the passages on the city. Yesterday, the book finally came from library recall, so here they are; anyone interested in studies of the city, intersections of geography and rhetoric, etc. should enjoy these:

The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves. And in the beginning when they first arrive, and twenty years later when they and the City have grown up, they love that part of themselves so much they forget what loving other people was like -- if they ever knew, that is. I don't mean they hate them, no, just what they start to love is the way a person is in the City; the way a schoolgirl never pauses at a stoplight but looks up and down the street before stepping off the curb; how men accommodate themselves to tall buildings and wee porches, what a woman looks like moving in a crowd, or how shocking her profile is against the backdrop of the East River. The restfulness in kitchen chores when she knows the lamp oil or the staple is just around the corner and not seven miles away; the amazement of throwing open the window and being hypnotized for hours by people on the street below.

Little of that makes for love, but it does pump desire. The woman who churned a man's blood as she leaned all alone on a fence by a country road might not expect even to catch his eye in the City. But if she is clipping quickly down the big-city street in heels, swinging her purse, or sitting on a stoop with a cool beer in her hand, dangling her shoe from the toes of her foot, the man, reacting to her posture, to soft skin on stone, the weight of the building stressing the delicate, dangling shoe, is captured. And he'd think it was the woman he wanted, and not some combination of curved stone, and a swinging, high-heeled shoe moving in and out of sunlight. (33-34)

More below the fold:

More on Fulkerson

In comments over at Collin's latest Rhetoric Carnival post, Jenny writes:

The problem is that [Fulkerson's criticizing Critical/Cultural Studies approaches to composition pedagogy for stressing content at the expense of teaching writing] basically reduces writing to little more than a format, a formula, a genre. I don't like this argument much, but I might slightly revise his argument: one of the promises and potentials of composition is that we can re-imagine and re-create what "writing" is. . . or can be(come). So, for example, this leads us back to the technology question. Writing as digital design, etc.

Here's my honest question: Is it fair to say that CCS approaches (and lit, for that matter) don't emphasize this creative potential as much as the content of cultural critique?

In my post, what I meant was that CCS approaches (as well as lit-based composition courses, like those Jonathan teaches, who inspired that part of my post) don't necessarily do away with the basic grammar, style, coherence, structure, rhetoric, etc. (What's more, Jonathan would probably say that phrases like "the correct interpretation*," which Fulkerson uses, are horribly reductive.) So my answer to your honest question is that many teachers likely do emphasize the creative potential. I think Fulkerson knows this -- he clearly understands that writing courses can include a unit that could be described as CCS, another that could be described as expressivist, another that could be described as procedural rhetoric. That would be kind of fun, actually, to see which approach got the best response from students.

But yes, Fulkerson does have some pretty formalist assumptions about what "writing" is, and I'm glad Jenny brought that up.

Now for my honest question: So what? Fulkerson has that handy-dandy "Forecast" section of metacommentary explaining his argument. We know he has some pretty strong reservations about CCS, that he thinks expressivism is a stealthy, Senator Palpatine type that is quietly gaining power, and that procedural rhetoric has been divided into three approaches. All right then. I'm wondering what the implications are. Fulkerson apparently thinks the implication is that we're about to have us some theory wars, but I'm not quite making that inductive leap. What does he mean by "theory wars," exactly? That we're going to argue for or against specific theories, or that it will be a more general anti-theory v. pro-theory disagreement?

By the way, has anyone emailed him to tell him about the carnival?

*Correction: Jonathan tells me this is a "composition-based literature course" and points out that he teaches a lot of different kinds of courses, not just lit-based composition courses, which I already knew and should have said here.


Has all the computer use finally caught up with me? All day yesterday, and off and on the day before that, I've had this pain in my right forearm. Could it be repetitive stress injury? I'm guessing not carpal tunnel because the pain is located mostly around my upper forearm, in the muscles closer to the elbow. Jonathan says I should take a break from the computer for a day or two and read some books instead. As I agree that it's a sensible precaution, I might not be blogging for the next couple of days.

Rhetoric Carnival: Composition Theory, "Good Writing," and -- Impending Theory Wars?

The second Rhetoric Carnival is in full swing, and I'd like to weigh in on the article we're all reading (yes, article, it's more realistic than discussing a book, I believe), Richard Fulkerson's "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century," from the June 2005 (56.4) issue of College Composition and Communication. The article is a comprehensive overview of some major pedagogical theories and approaches in composition studies: critical/cultural studies [CCS], expressivism, and procedural rhetoric. From the introduction:

I shall argue that the “social turn” in composition, the importation of cultural studies from the social sciences and literary theory, has made a writing teacher’s role deeply problematic. I will argue that expressivism, despite numerous poundings by the cannons of postmodernism and resulting eulogies, is, in fact, quietly expanding its region of command. Finally, I’ll argue that the rhetorical approach has now divided itself in three.

More on the argument shortly. First, I want to explain where I'm coming from: my personal history as a writing teacher, the experiences I'm bringing to my reading here.

I'm glad Collin suggested this article, because if nothing else, it's going to be a big help to me as I revise my teaching philosophy statement for the job market this fall. To be honest, it's going to be hard for me to identify my own teaching philosophy, because like most graduate students, I have been required to comply with institutional course designs to a significant extent at all three of the schools where I've taught. Starting out, I was in a program where, to use Fulkerson's abbreviation, CCS approaches were favored, at least tacitly; maybe we didn't have to do it that way, but many of us felt we did, and for my part, I didn't have any big ideas or designs of my own. CCS pedagogy, as Fulkerson describes it, involves "having students read about systemic cultural injustices inflicted by dominant societal groups and dominant discourses on those with less power, and upon the empowering possibilities of rhetoric if students are educated to 'read' carefully and 'resist' the social texts that help keep some groups subordinated" (659). We did a lot of analysis of cultural artifacts, including, yes, advertisements. Fulkerson's musing, "Whether cultural studies is as widespread in composition classrooms as in our journals is actually an open question" (659), was to me a welcome one; I know some of us at times felt a little ridiculous doing the kind of hermeneutic unveiling of the text-behind-the-text. But hey, what can I say, we were wet behind the ears, and we did the best we could at the time.

Then I taught at a school where the required textbook was The Prentice-Hall Reader, which we were expected to follow in our syllabi. The edition I used set forth a basic prose models (modes) approach, so, for what it's worth, I have some experience with that.

Now I teach in a department of Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication, and I recognized a lot of my institution's pedagogical approach in what Fulkerson describes as procedural rhetoric of the genre-based composition variety. You can see this influence in the course overview, the required textbook, and especially the course requirements. I've always taught at schools that wanted consistency across sections of first-year composition, and as a result, I don't have much experience designing courses or experimenting with approaches, although looking back on it, I recognize that I've learned a lot working with the three approaches I have used.

Still, it's extremely difficult for me to know, much less explain, what my teaching philosophy is, what I think "good writing" is, how to teach it, and what the larger goals of rhetorical pedagogy are. The one constant for me is the Classical paideia model, with its aim of making rhetors more thoughtful, socially responsible, and literate citizens, in which "literate" is taken to mean a few things. First is the ability to make meaning -- to convey a message to an audience: to have a message in mind to communicate, and to lay it out there for the audience clearly, so that a reader could, if asked to restate the message in his or her own words, do so in such a way that the writer would reply, "Yeah, that's exactly what I was trying to say." Second is the basic ability to evaluate evidence for an argument: what's credible, and what isn't? Third is the ability to engage and inhabit provisionally all points of view on an issue in the Elbow believing/doubting sense. Notice that the first one is more focused on writing, and the last two are focused more on reading, which is part of rhetoric too, a point not quite emphasized enough in the Fulkerson article. It seems Fulkerson would argue that in pedagogical approaches that emphasize reading (CCS, procedural rhetoric/genre-based), the teaching of writing is automatically compromised, that you can't have a good balance. I believe one can, and should, have a balance between form and content.

This leads me into some quibbles I had with Fulkerson's representation of CCS approaches. I find some of what he said about CCS to be sensible, especially his assessment of the Berlin/Hairston debate (665-666):

The standard response [to Hairston's contention that CCS teachers were indoctrinating students] accused Hairston of ideological naivete, arguing that she assumed her own pedagogy to be ideology-free but that since all pedagogies are always already political, she must be incorrect (and thus also unenlightened). Therefore, her critique of CCS courses could be denounced as well as ignored.

Logically that argument means no pedagogy can be accused of indoctrination, because the accuser’s hands would necessarily also be unclean. In other words, there could be no grounds for distinguishing between a teacher who overtly forces students to echo his or her politics in their writing and one who tolerates alternative positions. All education becomes equally indoctrinating; I take such a position to be an obvious absurdity.

Using Toulmin's logic, one could of course be more temperate and qualify it by saying that some teachers could legitimately be accused of indoctrination, and some examine, in Fulkerson's unfortunate terms, "the holy political trinity of class, race, and gender" quite productively without quelching divergent thinking. Only a Sith thinks in absolutes. Still, I think he has a point.

Anyway, one of my contentions is with Fulkerson's "content envy" observation: "Both the lit-based course and the cultural studies course reflect, I suspect, content envy on the part of writing teachers" (663). As I said before, I think that having a balance between form and content is a Good Thing; having a nice, coherent course theme grounds the writing and gives it some context. Maybe he's not arguing against having themed writing courses, but his criticism of mimeticism in writing courses leads me to think otherwise (662):

What we come down to is that the writing in [a CCS] course will be judged by how sophisticated or insightful the teacher finds the interpretation of the relevant artifacts to be. In other words, papers are judged in the same way they would be in any department with a “content” to teach. This is just the way a history professor would judge a paper, or a chemistry prof, or a business prof. Thus the standard of evaluation used is, I assert, actually a mimetic one—how close has the student come to giving a “defensible” (read “correct”) analysis of the materials.

But for an argument to be persuasive, doesn't a writer always have to provide a "'defensible' analysis of the materials," no matter what those materials may be? Fulkerson seems to be conflating CCS with procedural rhetoric here (though he admits that the distinctions among these approaches aren't clean and neat). Besides, there are practical reasons to have a defined theme in a composition course: preventing plagiarism, for example (read that post; it's excellent).

The other minor beef I had was with Fuikerson's representation of the goals of CCS and of expressivism. He claims that, rather than having the basic goal of helping students improve their writing, CCS has as its goal "to empower or liberate students by giving them new insights into the injustices of American and transnational capitalism, politics, and complicit mass media" (661). Expressivism's goal, Fulkerson suggests, is to "foster personal development," in other words, to improve students themselves rather than help students improve their writing. I just don't think it usually works this way in practice. I think that helping students improve their writing is always there. The people I know, for example, who teach "literature-based composition courses," do not simply evaluate writing for a correct interpretation. They attend to a host of other matters related to clarity in style, coherence at the level of the essay, the paragraph, and the sentence, and felicity in language (is that current-traditional?). The goals are more complex than Fulkerson's selected quotations would lead one to believe (I realize that my disagreement could be related more to Fulkerson's sources than to his representation of them).

Final thoughts, for now: In my feminist theory courses, we sometimes talked about "post-postmodernism." Fulkerson's article made me think about the return -- if they ever really left -- of some notion of voice, of emotion and affect, and of writing about personal experience, especially in light of composition's recent focus on studies of violence, trauma, and mourning. I agree with him that expressivism, in one form or another, is widespread and will continue to be (not that that's a bad thing). Also, are theory wars really on the horizon, as Fulkerson suggests? I don't think we'll ever agree on what "good writing" is; should we? Isn't it possible to use a procedural rhetoric/discourse community approach while still respecting students' own languages? Does this approach necessarily have to be hegemonic and disrespectful? Don't all these approaches have merit? At times I felt that Fulkerson's persona in this article was that of a real crank. As I read it, I wanted to defend these pedagogies against his charges and explain the virtues of each, then I wondered if that could be the reaction he wanted. (Now I'm expecting someone to leave a comment saying, "Ummmm, I think you were reading a different article, honey.")

Other carnival posts so far: Derek, Donna, Jeff (twice), Collin, Jenny, and Robert.

UPDATE: Two more posts from Donna.

UPDATE: A post from Amardeep.

Related links: WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition and a recent-ish Kairosnews discussion, which again saddens me that John Lovas isn't here to provide his rich, intelligent, and insightful observations with us.

Miscellany: I find it odd that Peter Elbow isn't mentioned in the article, not even in the list of works cited. Seems to me a somewhat conspicuous absence.


I was hoping I'd get "Southern Slang" by a wider margin. Oh well.

Your Slanguage Profile

Southern Slang: 50%
British Slang: 25%
New England Slang: 25%
Prison Slang: 25%
Victorian Slang: 25%
Aussie Slang: 0%
Canadian Slang: 0%

Via Scribblingwoman.


Okay, looks like Medicare and Medicaid are not only not going to cover erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders; they won't be covering them for anyone. The article doesn't mention this, but many feminists have pointed out the disparity in prescription drug coverage for years: birth control isn't covered, but Viagra is. I'm wondering, haven't birth control pills and condoms been available at county health departments in the past, if you have an examination there? Is this not the case anymore? I went to the Hennepin County Health Department's site and searched for birth control and other euphemisms I could think of: family planning, women's health, and I didn't find anything. Scary. Maybe they just don't want to talk about it on their web site?

Anyway, from the article:

"It's a terrible precedent, to knock out a whole class of drugs from a formulary," Representative Nancy L. Johnson, Republican of Connecticut, said. "Is the next round going to be hormones for women?"

I'm guessing she's talking about hormone replacement therapy after menopause? Or could she be talking about hormonal birth control insofar as it's available in free clinics? Maybe the government shouldn't cover hormone replacement therapy drugs, especially if there might be a link between too much estrogen and breast cancer. On the other hand, the HRT is supposed to help prevent osteoperosis:

[Rep.] Inslee [D-WA] likened banning payment for impotence drugs to barring arthritis medicines that might help older people continue to play golf or the piano.

I guess that comparison works if you're talking about HRT, but not medicine that relieves physical pain. I don't know firsthand, of course, but I don't think impotence is (edited to add: physically) painful. On to the last paragraph:

But Mr. King said a better comparison would be fertility treatments, which Medicaid does not cover. "I argue that sex has only two reasons, one of them is for procreation, and we don't subsidize procreation in the form of fertility drugs," he said. "And the other reason for sex is recreation, and we should not be funding recreational drugs of any kind, be they psychedelic or for sexual impotency."

Hmmm. The pharmaceutical companies invoke the "compassion" argument, pointing out that impotence is often a side effect of other health problems. I don't know, I'm still forming my opinion on this. If you believe, as many do, that sex is a basic human need, then it does seem kind of harsh to make the means of sex accessible only to those who can afford the drugs. But part of me definitely thinks there are better uses for that $15 million a year. What do you think?

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