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Archive for the ‘Rhetoric’ Category

In a recent interview, I forgot to say what should have been at the tip of my tongue, namely that yes, of course I am familiar with motivating people who are not sufficiently engaged in the tasks at hand in the office: I was an English professor!  Rare is the student among hundreds who really latches onto assignments in freshman comp, eager to push their abilities to research, articulate, and argue according to the conventions laid down by Aristotle centuries ago.

Lady Rhetorica

I didn’t say that.  I didn’t say “I taught required courses for many years before I got to teach classes filled with students who chose to be there, deliberately choosing my sections, my topics, degree track, etc.  I said a few other things, and maybe those will lead to other interesting things; we’ll see where it all leads.  Hopefully forward, but at the moment there are so many, many things looping back again I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m told “no, not now, but later”…

Another example of scenarios looping around [other than Watergate and liberation theology] include the evergreen lament that students “cannot write”, which really is “students do not practice what x person remembers as prose style” and “teachers don’t seem to be making students do what x person recognizes as hard enough work”.  See the latest infuriating article here. That writer is shocked to find ‘little high-quality research’ on teaching writing, but doesn’t look hard enough to see that what she values is exactly what research over the last 35 years very specifically fails to support. In fact, based in part on the compilation of studies by George Hillocks in Research on Written Composition, we used to use grammar-driven writing lessons as our control groups because it was really well demonstrated that those had no lasting effect on writing quantity or quality.  Sentence combining does have evidence to demonstrate its success, but if you aren’t citing the Christensens, you’re missing the connection to both tradition and experiments.

<sigh>  But every so often, the “if only we drilled them on grammar” will come around again, and we’ll need people like George, Mina Shaughnessy, and other dogged, data-driven people to turn that tide back again.

 

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Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 11.10.51 PM.png

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Years ago, a friend of mine was trying to make a casual reference to his wife, who he loved dearly, and I knew from the church fellowship we were all attending at the time. The phrase he was trying to avoid was “the little woman”, but then it was immediately clear that saying “the big woman” wouldn’t do either, and so what he ended up with was the awkward and funny [even to her] “woman of moderate size”….

So here, in a somewhat similarly awkward vein, is someone trying to decide if poetry is a lively art, a hobby, a craft, or, by a particular definition, a “minor art”: a craft whose audience is mostly other practitioners of that art…..

Poetry in the twenty-first century is like pottery, woodworking, or the making of carrot carnations. Sophisticated verse was never a major art, and having lost even a small non-practitioner audience, it has lost its status as a minor art. At hobbyist conventions, celebrated practitioners of a craft address an audience made up of other practitioners of the craft, who will then go home and work at the art themselves. Poetry has more residual cultural prestige than carrot carnation making and other hobbies, but that is only because most of the poet-hobbyists are professors with MFAs, while there are no professors of table-setting.From Poesey to Carrot Carnations

I suppose he is talking about “pottery” in the sense of the craft practiced in studio art programs, and “woodworking” in some sense that is similarly rarified — but if you walk around fine craft shows, there seem to be quite a few non-practitioners who come to admire, gawp, collect, and natter. The audiences for these items still do include outsiders: There are people who love a beautifully-sculpted chair arm whether or not they’ve ever picked out a spokeshave from the Veritas or Lie Nielsen. There are degree programs in interior design. There are blogs featuring elaborate tablescapes and business models based around floral sculptures made of fruits and vegetables.

The population of people who talk about politics may be larger [that’s Mr. Lind’s main audience and source of income], and it may be that these days you can get more notariety [or more dates] if you perform in that arena rather than in poetry. But I don’t think the system of political pundits talking about/at/with each other is any less insular [and potentially prone to omphaloskepsis] than specialized communities of discourse in other segments of life or art.  I remember my piano teacher, who traveled around the world on the basis of her skills, telling me once that she had started reading business magazines [Forbes, Fortune, etc.] to see if the world of finance was any less ‘silly’ than the music world….and she came to the conclusion that it wasn’t. If the inhabitants of humanities departments get more mileage [tenure, grants, etc.] by making pronouncements about pop culture than about poetry, that’s not just a “sense of cultural responsibility” owed to one genre over another — it’s just a human desire to be wherever the action is….

Until, with typical human perversity, it becomes more interesting/authentic/hip to be running off in some other, probably opposite, direction. I believe that’s what the Smart Set aims for in its articles most of the time, anyway: a provocatvie contrarianism that reifies the status quo of some earlier time.

And yes, that was a rubbish previous sentence.  Time to get some sleep!

Music: “She’s Actual Size, but She Seems a Lot Bigger to Me”, They Might Be Giants

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Oh, the best laid-plans… For instance, when you’re running a meeting and it turns out:

  • You printed out the wrong agenda
  • Two of your key attendees have to leave one hour earlier than expected
  • A rapid decision on a complicated topic has to be made while both these attendees are able to participate
  • Another of the key attendees cannot be at the meeting at all

OffTheRails

At that point, you have to juggle the Order of the Day pretty severely, and as one string gets pulled from the warp, a bit of the weft goes wonky, and the conversations loop and swirl like water currents splashing over rocks in a mountain stream.

Or maybe it's a bit more like THIS...

Or maybe it’s a bit more like THIS…

Whatever the metaphor, the meeting was effective.  Work gots done. People got to have their say.  People who had to leave, didn’t feel left out, and the meeting still ended 30 minutes early.

But ’twas mighty hard on the notetaker.

“Why not organize the agenda in the order you actually plan to say things?” asks said notetaker, who is a reasonable, organized person.

I pointed out that some of the docket-juggling was due to the needs of the moment that I couldn’t have planned for, but I get the feeling that wasn’t viewed as sufficient justification.  Honestly, my goal is to get enough committees functioning that I just ask them to give me reports of what they’ve accomplished, and I don’t have to provide both the structure and the content for these sessions….but it’s a work in progress, and most of the group understands this.

<sigh>

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….we would have saved ourselves a world full of stupid arguments….

Yes, it’s cold right now.  And it might have been a mild summer around here.  But that doesn’t change the underlying trends, and…..

Oh, it’s exhausting.

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