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Postmodernism and Knowledge Claims: Today's Task

My task: Well, my first task is to finish up a recommendation letter for a former student. THEN, what I have to do is figure out how we go about producing knowledge anyway, despite the postmodern critiques of truth and of knowledge claims, and write a 1500-word paper about it. One of the issues I must engage is feminist standpoint theory, particularly in Susan Hekman's "Truth and Method: Feminist Standpoint Theory Revisited," and the subsequent response essays by Nancy Hartsock, Patricia Hill Collins, Sandra Harding, and Dorothy Smith. Big job...as an aside, I was talking to my Women's Studies professor about what topic I'd choose for this paper--the choices were situatedness in research, the challenge of interdisciplinarity, and the postmodern critique of knowledge (or, post-postmodernism). I said that I felt a little more confident doing my paper on situatedness, but I know I'll have to deal with the issues presented in the readings on postmodernism too. She said, "If you're not as confident about postmodernism, that's what you should write about." I grinned and said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking too."

Computers and Composition Blog

The journal Computers and Composition now has a blog! They're even using Drupal, which is now in its third year. I don't intend for this post to be so cheerleader-y; I'm not simply saying, "They have a blog! Yay!" I'm serious here: If this blog is updated often, linked to, and posted to by all the other rhetoricians and compositionists who blog or have more static web sites, that might take us closer to a new model of scholarly publishing--a true knowledge community, without the considerable lag time involved in most scholarly publishing. Peer review will still take place, of course, but it won't be blind (we'll see more accountability, and the notion of ethos will become more significant, I think), it will be more interactive, and we'll see ideas as they form and are refined by communal criticism.

In addition...I can't be the only one who's amused by the irony that C&C is published by Elsevier, yet they went open-source for their blog. A harbinger if I ever saw one--but I don't want to jinx it. :-)

Preliminary (Comprehensive) Exam Questions

Anyone got any good advice for me regarding preliminary examinations? I'm trying to assemble my reading lists now. In my program, we take one exam in rhetorical theory, one in technical communication theory and research, and the third in our specialty area (mine will be feminist rhetorics of technology/cyberfeminism). Depending on each committee's discretion, the student takes one 2-4 hour in-house exam and one 24-hour take-home exam in each area. In thinking about prelims, I'm wondering: Are there any "best practices" in selecting readings for your reading lists? How should I prepare for the exams, and for how long? Should I be thinking about questions I might want to answer? What form will the questions take? Something like this:

Response to Burke's "Semantic and Poetic Meaning"

I recently promised a response to Kenneth Burke's "Semantic and Poetic Meaning," from The Philosophy of Literary Form, and because I created an appetite for the response in your mind, dear reader, I shall now complete the form and fulfill your desire. (Ugh, that was cheesy, but I couldn't resist!) I responded to this prompt:

Toward the end of “Semantic and Poetic Meaning,” Burke comments on the relationship of Shakespeare to his villain Iago in Othello. Explain what he says. How does this example relate to the thesis or ideas presented in the essay? Is this an example of a Burkean irrelevant tangent?

Semantic meaning cannot account for poetry, motivated speech, sociopolitical context, the speaker-audience relationship, irony, attitude, implication, or moral significance. For example, the utterance “Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” has a very specific meaning for us. To understand that question fully, we must understand the chain of events leading to the September 11 attacks, the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Bush administration's rhetorical “war on terror,” in which they declared the existence of an "Axis of Evil" and claimed they knew for certain that several countries were in possession of weapons of mass destruction, including Iraq. We would have to know that Hans Blix conducted an investigation to try to find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that he has not succeeded in finding them so far. We would have to know that “Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” is a motivated utterance—left-leaning citizens and “doves” repeatedly ask that rhetorical question in an accusatory manner, already knowing the answer.

Spinuzzi on Bakhtin

In my Modern Rhetorical Theory class, we just read a few works by Bakhtin, including "Discourse in the Novel," "The Problem of Speech Genres," and "Discourse in Dostsoevsky." I was pleased to see that Clay Spinuzzi recently blogged about Bakhtin. I'd blog about Bakhtin too, but we are now reading Burke, heh, and I'll be posting a response to "Semantic and Poetic Meaning" from The Philosophy of Literary Form in the next couple of days.

Silence of the Blogs

This article in Salon helps to remind me why I study blogs. I tend to get asked a lot of questions about blogs and blogging; usually people want a list of good resources on blogging, or they want to know what a blog is, or they have questions about software tools or how they can use blogs in their teaching. It's not that I'm not happy to answer these questions--really! In fact, I'm flattered that those who ask consider me to be a resource. But...sometimes it feels like when I worked as a hostess at Logan's, and I had to repeat the same sentences over and over, all day long:

Taking guests by case of raw, red meat because I had to do this for everyone who came in:

"Did you know that our meat is cut by hand every single day by our own meat cutters? Then it is seasoned and aged three days for tenderness!"

When we got to the table:

"Our soup of the day is chicken noodle, and our catch of the day is halibut."

But this article in Salon reminds me of what the right questions are. Of course you have to know something about blogs before you can ask such questions, and I have nothing but love for newbies. I think that in the future, I will throw in with my informational responses a little taste of why blogging is so important to me. The article describes a pro-democracy protest in Iraq that at least one Iraqi blogger wrote about, which didn't get picked up by The New York Times:

"Here is one young man in Baghdad equipped with nothing but a camera and a keyboard who reported on news better than established media worldwide," says blogger Jeff Jarvis. "This shows what citizens media can accomplish." (It was Jarvis who put the digital camera in Zeyad's hand, sending it to him via Federal Express to Baghdad at a shipping cost half as much as the $200 camera.)

"My guess is that it would take years for Westerners to understand Iraq and Iraqis," Zeyad tells me, "but we're working on it and that's what my blog is mostly about." As it turns out, the first step may be convincing Westerners that their own press isn't always (or even usually) the best authority on the subject.

That's what I'm talking about: Blogging brings up issues of hegemony, disenfranchisement, and marginalization. It presents implications for understanding social structures and maybe even effecting social change. I wish I had more specific claims to make, but I'm learning. Those more specific questions and claims are what I'll be working on for the next few years. I know the instrumental questions are necessary, but I'm more interested in the effects of blogging.

Thanks to Jen for emailing me the link.

A Gender Specific Fetish

Amrita Ghosh has written an incisive column on gendered colorism in India. She describes the damaging classification of darker-skinned, or "dusky" women as not marriage material and generally undesirable. The makers of one product, "Fair and Lovely" skin-lightening cream, are particularly egregious (but, as Ghosh points out, are just making explicit undercurrents in the culture that were already there):

In 2001 they ran an offensive ad claiming that darker skinned women are incapable of getting jobs in the corporate world. I was shocked during one of the trips to my hometown, to see the advertisement flashing several times on one of the mainstream television channels throughout the day without respite. A 'dusky' girl goes for an interview to be an air-hostess for a reputed airline. She is obviously rejected because of her darker complexion. She returns home forlorn and sad, and faces her father who wishes he had a son who would have taken care of the parents in their old age; instead all they have is a dark daughter who is only capable of causing misery to the family.

Book Review: Feminism and Composition

I am supposed to write a review of Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook, edited by Gesa E. Kirsch, Faye Spencer Maor, Lance Massey, Lee Nickoson-Massey, and Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau. The problem is, I want to hide when I think about its behemoth-like length (589 pages of maybe 9-point font!). It's not that I'm such a tenderfoot that I can't read a long book, but I'm also taking courses this semester, working constantly on the blog collection, presenting at 4Cs and maybe another conference, teaching, etc. etc. So. I've decided to blog about essays in Feminism and Composition as I read them--at least one or two a week. I intend to be done with this review by the end of March. I'm going to try my best to blog like Clay. Hold me to it, now!

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