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ok ok ok.

So I think my last post was tongue-in-cheek to such an extent – I think I had several other people’s tongues in my cheek at the time, actually – that I'm not quite sure who or what was being parodied, and feel a need now to blogificate a little more in my own voice and figure that out.

My post was full of overblown us vs. them rhetoric, of course, so from a certain angle I know it looks like a cynical commentary on the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Lutes piece – but it isn’t, really. See, I’m afraid that it’s mostly a work of self-parody, and that in some trying to be clever and shooting myself in the foot kind-of-way I was overstating things I do believe, and fears I do have.

So yeah, I definitely share with Lute a fundamental faith in the potential of writing tutors and other small fry to work for institutional change. We might have an innate interest in not rocking the boat that floats us, but that “conflicted subjectivity? doesn’t have to cripple us.

I also like the idea that non-traditional disciplines –Women’s Studies, GLBT Studies, Labor Studies, etc. – ought to apply their criticality to the 'apolitical' disciplines that surround them (although I do agree with Miranda, Wendy, and the Emilias that these disciplines can have their own kinds of groupthink). What really frustrates me though, is that the kind of meddling Lucas is calling for doesn’t go beyond rhetorical meddling. Partly it’s that I don’t share her belief that the way we talk to each other is what counts the most. I want critique that goes beyond how students are oppressed by authoritarian teaching styles and stifling academic writing standards. That stuff is a sideshow to me. I even like some of it.

So where does the successful critique and subversion of this kind of “mean talk? in academia get us?

It isn’t hard to see how an aeronautical engineering department, for instance, might be made more effective if its practitioners learned how to speak and write collaboratively, how to empower students by relaxing unexamined, unnecessary rhetorical standards, etc…etc.

What Lucas appears to be calling for (and this was touched on in class, I think) is an improvement of the academic disciplines via a revolution in the way they talk and write. Beyond that, perhaps, is a call for rhetorical democratization and for more inclusive institutions.

Ok, I know I’m getting reductive here…. but isn’t the U.S. military an almost ideal example of how an institution can make itself more effective by learning the rhetoric of inclusion? Race, creed, personal rhetorical style – none of these seem to have much effect on a person’s willingness to go overseas and shoot kids in the face. When the institution in question is a university, which is implicated in far subtler forms of destruction, can we expect things to be any different? Yes, it is really, really important that we open the doors of the academy. But when our critique of the disciplines is restricted to how they talk, and fails to address what these disciplines literally do – what they build, what they invent, what kind of passivity they engender – we can’t expect any progress. A cozy deathship to nowhere is still a deathship to nowhere.

So as we bring the work of those critical, non-traditional disciplines to bear on other areas of the academy, let’s not forget that while they do have a whole lot (ok a LOT) to say about how power is expressed through language, their analysis of how power is expressed concretely and physically is just as valid – even if (speaking of rhetoric) that approach is routinely undervalued by their theory-minded practitioners.

Comments

Your last post was the most fantastic thing I've read all week. Seriously, though, I found this article frustrating for some of the same reasons you have articulated here. I agree that it's important to move beyond rhetorical revolution. In fact, I think that disciplines which choose to be rhetorically radical often have their ideas ignored by the Institution. Sometimes its easier to dismantle the controlling structures from the inside, which can't be done if the academy shuns a discipline for purely rhetorical reasons.

Personal rant: I am currently taking a course in black women writers of the United States and my instructor always talks about the "herstory" of the authors and texts. History is not a controlling, patriarchal word. It's etymology is directly Old French for "story," indirectly from the Greek "histor," which means "judge." I consider myself a feminist, but I hate this kind of crap. Can you imagine the male-dominated academy realizing "Wow, using the word herstory has really helped me recognize the controlling nature of academia and value the contributions of women. Let's love one another!"
Grrrrrrrrrrr.

yeah, what's wrong with "women's history"? at least that's not based on an embarrassing fake etymology.

it's two words, really: her...story. that's the creepy part to me, because it seems to imply that history is the story of one, specific, unchanging woman -- like she might have a few costume changes but it's always basically the same person moving through time.

There's another part of this "rhetorical revolution" thing that sort of irks me, having to do with our role here as consultants. Namely, even if we accept that the idea of a rhetorical revolution is valid (which is, as we've established, a stretch), who the hell are we to drag our consultees into it?

By and large, the people who come into the center looking for help are here with a grade in mind. I know we like to work with the "writer, not the paper" and I think that's good goal. But, we should be keeping the other side in mind here. Who are we to use a student to fight our own ideological/rhetorical battles?

I mean, it's one thing for me, in my own writing, to decide that I'm going to take on The Man by flying in the face of all the established academic conventions. But when I'm working with someone in the center, I don't think I have that same right. What am I going to do? Sit there and preach to them about the horrors of the academy? That's just wasting their time, and isn't what they came for. I can't just start giving them "subversive" advice, either; they're here expecting to learn how to write "well" (i.e. "academically") in most cases, so I'm not going to throw all that stuff out the window.

So, where can we fit in? I don't think we're nearly separate enough from the Academic University here that we can "go rogue" on that sort of thing; we'd be doing the students a disservice on an individual level, even if the larger cause we're advancing is Just.

It's fascinating to read this conversation today (tue 30 oct) in light of the Villanueva piece. Do you think that he's also focused on "rhetorical revolution" as the way out of the New Racism? I think academics particularly like the idea of our rhetorical work as subversive because that suggests we can make a difference (and I'll admit I feel inspired by such arguments), but my more cynical side thinks about what you are talking about. Isn't it just easier to talk about challenging racist, sexist, classist, etc. institutions than to actually do something (like put my money or actions where my mouth is)? Nevertheless, I'm quite confident the only tongue in my mouth is my own :)

No, I think 'Blind' makes it pretty clear that the definition of rhetoric we've been assuming above is pretty limited, and that a focus on language CAN have a real effect on power.

Villanueva makes a good point in his discussion of metonymy, in particular - pointing out how when you use it to reduce the scope of a discussion (e.g. of racism) to individual terms, all kinds of structural truths can be lost. I suppose the above discussion suffers from this - we've been talking about how individual people talk to each other, and in that light, shifts in rhetoric can seem insignificant - reduced to the realm of mere "etiquette" that Villanueva warns us against.

Challenging unquestioned language patterns can do more than just soften interpersonal power struggles - it can uncover injustice at the structural, institutional level.

"Blind" was a good reminder of that:

duh, if you want to stop an injustice, you have to *talk* other people into recognizing it!

Controversial site, I think it is great when people express their positions as vehemently as you have. Show your school pride! You are making us proud! :)