Category Archives: Professional Stuff

Glum but cheerful

I moved offices at work. The new office was just fine until the ceiling started leaking sometime today before I got to work, soaking through stacks of current student papers and a pile of papers that I’d just scanned for my tenure file. Oh well. You can’t win every day. Aside from the leak, which is still dripping, I’m fairly cozy here with my new window (which also leaks, unfortunately).

Putting together my tenure file has gotten me into a quiet and reflective mood concerning the last five years.  I’ve taught ten different courses (two graduate) and fifty overall, published five articles, one book chapter and an edited collection, with two articles forthcoming, and served on quite a few university and departmental committees, all on a 4/2/3 teaching schedule (the first year was 4/2/4). For the unfamiliar, these numbers refer to courses taught per semester, so 4/2/3 means 4 courses in the fall, 2 in the summer, and 3 in the spring. I always teach in the summer, through June, by choice.

So I’ve been busy and I think the tenure file, as it currently stands, reflects that. So far, it’s been an easier job of assembling the necessary files than I thought. Keeping everything is a minor obsession of mine – I have an overstuffed office full of papers to show for it – so I’m not missing anything crucial.

New publication

Well, the title here is misleading. I have a new article forthcoming on moderation (see the About page) but I co-wrote it four years ago.

It has been quite the journey to get it published. For a long time I considered it an example of how peer review occasionally doesn’t work, because I and my co-author are at that point in our careers when we can smell whether something is publishable or not. And this piece has always had that distinctive smell, but no one was biting. I’m glad that it will have an audience now.

Fall 2014

So I have four classes to teach this fall. Three are my bread and butter – ENG 3302 Business and Technical Report Writing – and the loner is ENG 3318 – Studies in English Grammar.

While I teach 3302 virtually every semester, I haven’t taught 3318 since 2010. It is a welcome return. It is a very meaty course, in the sense that there is a lot of material to cover in a very brief time, and it is a general delight for me to teach grammar.

I’m going to concentrate on teaching this semester, so some writing projects are going to have to rest on the back burner, as they say. But, you never know. Some of my most productive writing has been during semesters when I was managing a heavy teaching load and the mounds of grading that accumulate. It’s odd how that happens.

I hinted in my last post that I had done a lot of writing over the summer. That is true. I’m not yet ready to share what I did, though, so I’ll continue to be enigmatic.

Update

It has been awhile since I updated this site, so I should probably say something now that the situation has come to my attention.

I have two forthcoming articles now; the one in Rhetorica and another, co-authored, in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly.

This semester I’ve been working on a new article about Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric. It has been a very difficult piece to write, quite possibly the toughest I’ve encountered. Normally it takes me about a semester to write a new article, but as this spring is almost over, I will have to admit defeat in this case. The difficulty lies not in finding a line of argument, which I have found and I’m confident about, but in the supporting materials; there are very few people talking about what I’m discussing due to certain assumptions in the very core of the discipline of rhetoric. This translates into a disturbing lack of citations that I’m simply not used to. My first article had over 100 citations, and I’ve come to think that I need at least a decent fraction of that to proceed further. More simply put, I am feeling alone in the woods on this one and progress is slow. It may take me until the fall to finish, as I typically don’t do much writing over the summer for various idiosyncratic reasons.

In other news, this is the year that I go up for tenure. I turn in my application in early October. I have been pretty proactive in gathering up materials in the last year or so, so it should be a relatively simple matter of scanning documents (the file is completely online these days, as I understand it) and placing them in the proper order.

This semester is almost done, but I am scheduled to teach in the summer once again (June) for my usual two sections of Business and Technical Report Writing. They are both early morning classes, M-TH.

Reading again

I ordered a bunch of scifi books to read last week, because the gaming front has been slow (mostly waiting for the new Thief in late February) and I felt like it. I haven’t exactly been plowing through bestsellers in the last ten years, so it is going to take me awhile to discover who among the current crop  is good and who isn’t. That is always the most frustrating part of reading books for me – the uncertain quality of authors I haven’t read. Will the experience be worth the three-four hours it takes me to devour a novel? Reading journal articles is a little more profitable in that light, because they’re shorter and I can read the beginning and the end near-simultaneously without feeling cheated.

Most of the books have arrived already. I picked them by reading lists of ‘best in 2013′. I read three this weekend: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. They are three very different books, but because I read them more or less at the same time I can’t help but compare them against one another.

The Frozen Sky is a first contact story set on Europa. It is a hard scifi thriller, meaning there are more ideas and action than character. All we really learn about the protagonist is that she is determined, which goes without saying. Of the first contact genre, it is of the ‘can we talk to them meaningfully’ type. So I didn’t find it sufficiently original, though it was written competently. The challenge with hard scifi is linking it to a actual rather than puppet protagonist.

Ancillary Justice was more interesting. It is about a troopship AI that is reduced to inhabiting just one of its  many previously simultaneously operating parts – a ‘corpse soldier’ or ancillary – after the ship and all the rest of its ancillaries are destroyed. The motivation is revenge – seeking out those who destroyed the ship. Lots of discussion of ethics. Also interesting was the treatment of gender. The ruthless yet principled and music-loving AI is very bad at discerning gender, and refers to everyone as ‘she’, which can make for some frustrating but enjoyable reading. An original book, I think, with the author worth sampling again.

Brilliance was light sci-fi. Its plot is basically the X-men with a helping of Heroes. In the early eighties one in a hundred babies are born ‘brilliant’ – having some kind of advanced cognitive ability. The government attempts to control the most powerful of these with NSA-like agencies, killing some and indoctrinating the rest from an early age. The protagonist is one of these ‘abnorms’, able to see patterns, especially body gestures, with uncanny accuracy.  He works for the government but – unfortunately in a predictable way – finds himself having problems holding to that allegiance. I thought this was the best written and most enjoyable of the three books – it had a steady flow to it – but in many ways the least original and most predictable. Sakey has written some other things, which might be better.

I’ll write some more about the other books as I have time. I’m working on a very difficult article this semester, one I’m not sure is even going to get finished, and that among other problems has occupied my thoughts lately.

Temping and unions

This story reminds me of a union drive when I was a temp.

Right before I starting teaching as a TA in graduate school in Memphis, 2003-2004, I spent some time as a temp at a company called Solectron that repaired laptops, printers, and Xboxes. I made about $10.50 an hour doing warranty repair on a variety of IBM Thinkpads and some Gateway laptops. With a BA and experience as a technical editor and writer, I was taking a pretty big hit to the paycheck, but jobs were hard to find and I had retreated back to Memphis, ready to accept anything that came along.

It was a bit like I would imagine working in an medieval guild; in the middle of a huge warehouse, we sat closely together at long work benches and had the laptops delivered to us on wheeled racks throughout the day. I usually worked the 7-4 shift. The job was very fast-paced. We were trained to fix a laptop in less than an hour; we practiced by taking apart and putting back together various models over and over until the motions became second nature. To this day I could take apart a T or X series in seconds. And we needed that speed, because while I was there, we went from 8 laptops fixed in a day to 10 and sometimes 12. Older workers told me it had used to be 6. There was constant pressure to increase productivity, because as I understood it through rumors that swept across the warehouse floor from bench to bench, as well as official pronouncements, that Solectron wasn’t doing well and had mishandled its contract negotiations with IBM and Compaq and HP and Microsoft, leaving scant money for temps, especially hiring them full-time. So I figured out that speed and accuracy would help me keep my job, but the chance of a raise or advancement was zero. At one point I was the fastest repairer in the IBM section, but I deliberately slowed down, realizing (too slowly for my taste, looking back) that I was getting nothing out of it.

Anyway, at one point while I was there, a union drive started. It was limited to the full-timers; the many temps would not get a vote. In any case, FTers and temps were steered into rooms where we watched some really bad anti-union videos and were lectured on the evils of unions, including the reality that the plant would close if the union was let in – what the article above calls a “captive audience meeting.” I said nothing; I needed my job a little longer until I had 18 graduate hours and could teach, and as a temp,  I couldn’t vote anyway. In any case, the union drive failed by a huge margin.

I took another pay cut when I left; teaching as a TA at the UofM, while a lot of fun, paid perhaps half that of temping, and provided no summer employment, which I always had to scramble for.

I’m not saying my time as a temp was bad – it filled a space when I really needed work, allowed me to maintain an apartment and a car, and mostly worked with a night graduate school schedule – but I was well underpaid, as I’m sure that Amazon pickers and other warehouse employees are.

Happy holidays

It’s a pretty lazy holidays for me so far. I’m sitting here with the dogs at my feet, doing some ancillary reading for a spring project. Tomorrow we go see my mother and stepfather and grandmother, which is good.

Some other good news recently – another accepted article, this time at Rhetorica (see the About page) – though I don’t know when it will appear. This one is particularly important as it’s the first time a chapter from my dissertation has made it to print. Previously I had a big idea from a chapter appear (the article on Origen) but not a whole rewritten chapter. So I’m pleased.

Phaedrus

Introduced the Phaedrus to my undergraduates this week. They had more difficulty with it, I think, than the Gorgias. Next week, the graduates get a stab at it.

Most of my interpretation of the Phaedrus stems from two works: Richard Weaver’s famous essay on the three speeches and my mentor’s essay on whether or rhetoric is fully denounced in the dialogue. As such, I think the three speeches represent different kinds of ethical rhetorics (as Weaver does) – a piddling neutrality (Lysias), a base rhetoric (Socrates’s first speech) and a philosophical rhetoric (the Great Speech) – but I also think the dialogue needs to be read in light of Isocrates’s work, which it may respond to, and the comparatively restrictive definition of rhetoric and rhetors in classical Athens. Plato wasn’t a rhetor; we can call him one if we so wish retroactively, but only with knowledge of the equivocation.

I’ve been thinking that I may not assign the Phaedrus in the future for either class as unlike the Gorgias, it can be summed up relatively quickly, and there is so much else to cover in the meantime. The main thing to take away from it is that Plato finally gets around to showing, via the Great Speech, the persuasive technique behind his philosophy; we get to see what a “philosophical rhetoric” linked to transcendent truth would look like as opposed, directly, to the “baser” speeches in the dialogue. The existence of such a creature is hinted rather broadly at in the Gorgias, but not delivered.

Fall rhetoric

I’m teaching four classes this fall – two sections of Business and Technical Report Writing, one section of History of Rhetoric, and a graduate course in Rhetorical Theory & Criticism. All of these I’ve taught before, but not in this particular configuration. In particular, I have not taught undergraduate rhetoric and graduate rhetoric at the same time. As such, it seems worth my time to take extra time to reread some canonical texts this semester and search out some new secondary readings.

For example, take the Gorgias, a foundational text for rhetoric if there ever was one. Both classes read it, but for different reasons. The undergraduates read it to complete a section of the historical puzzle of classical rhetoric and to put in an oar on the rhetoric vs. philosophy question. The graduates read it for the same reasons, but they are somewhat better prepared to read both with and against the text; I’m also slowly introducing them to rhetorical criticism, so the text also has to be read in that light.

My elevator pitch understanding of the Gorgias is that Plato first teases out what rhetoric is through debate with Gorgias (it’s mere flattery or a knack rather than an art), why it is bad with Polus (rhetoric aims for the pleasant rather than the good), and lastly with Callicles, why it is bad for the soul (bad acts, namely inflicting pain, i.e. rhetoric, scar the soul, which the dead will be judged by). The aforementioned interlocutors attempt several defenses, all of which fall before Socrates’s questioning, but none of them – particularly Callicles – seem convinced of Socrates’s arguments. They give up rather than keep trying, much like Socrates’s real-life dialectical adversaries probably did.

Reading the secondary lately has brought up three points I should mention. One is Bruno Latour’s observation that Callicles and Socrates both fear the demos;  it is only their solutions to the problem of the polloi that differ. For  Callicles, the weak are simply crushed; for Socrates, they are mollified by philosopher-kings.The second is that Socrates’s argument against Callicles is stronger than commonly thought (Jenks). Furthermore, Callicles’ entire hedonistic position can be construed as being artificially weakened by Plato (Klosko).

Book out – The Centrality of Style

In an earlier post I noted that The Centrality of Style was available online; now, it is available in print.

I sent off another article today, so I’m feeling relatively productive. It’s collaborative and my first, I think, piece that is solely about professional writing, rather than the multidisciplinary stuff that I usually produce.

Exams are almost over. It’s getting hotter and the lawn needs cutting more and more. We have a mini-vacation planned, to go see Paul McCartney in Memphis later this month; then it’s back to work to teach a summer session before the real vacation begins.