Division

I’m thinking perhaps I should take advantage of the categories in this software and separate my posts by subject, as with this post, where I simply want to babble about some academic books I’ve been reading, rather than world affairs or the many subtle intriacies of my navel.

I just finished The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth, which, as you might guess from the title, examines fiction with a rhetorical lens. I don’t think I’d ever thought about authorial decisions in quite those terms before, save in a hazy, non-conceptual fashion, as in the way I thought about metaphor before reading Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By.

Probably the most impressive thing Booth does is confirm what I’d always suspected but never got around to proving at length; that the conventions of realism are just that, conventions – and rhetorical moves at that, with limited scope. I always got peeved when I took fiction classes as an undergraduate and realism was touted as the ultimate goal, when it’s just another box. To paraphrase a phrase Booth uses over and over, the writer cannot decide not to use rhetoric, only what kind; and I think that statement, to an extent, is a good beginning to validating all fiction genres as optional means of persuasion. And if you buy Aristotle’s general disregard of effect (as I think one must), then all the tools in the toolbox are doubly valid.

I’m thinking of science fiction in particular, of course. H and I watched A.I. the other day. She’d seen it, I hadn’t. Not my most favorite movie – too long and too Spielburgian – but it struck me in the first 15 minutes that a realistic work would have a hard time approaching Kubrick’s concept. A.I. wasn’t great sci-fi, but it had the right intentions, in that it was using the genre to approach a question that traditional fiction would have to do more mundanely, instead of just choosing a novel setting.

“What does it mean to be human?” and “What is love?” are common enough themes, but it’s an interesting move from a rhetorical standpoint to shift that question onto robots – and, further, onto a young robot – and further, onto a young robot that is all that remains of humanity.

Catching up

Perhaps I should take a moment to clue in everybody about where the hell I’ve been.

The PhD grind continues. The spring 2006 semester was easily the hardest I’d had since becoming a graduate student. I escaped with a A- in one class, a scar that will surely haunt me to the end of my days. That’s my second, which keeps me at the frustrating 3.99 mark.

One more 12-hour semester in the fall, though, and the coursework is done.

I guess I did ok. I sent off my first academic paper, on paragraph theory, to a journal; I went to my first conference – CCCC in Chicago – and presented for the first time; and I won an award for being the outstanding graduate student in the English department.

I’m supposed to be revamping the English webpage this summer, but this task (when I actually get the server access to start it) will not quite pay the summer bills. However, I think a small teaching gig has appeared that will make up most of the difference.

In the meantime. I am not entirely idle. I have started teaching myself the Koine Greek of the New Testament, with the goal of getting through the Gospel of John by August. Why? Well, I have become more or less enamored with rhetorical criticism of the NT; I aim to send off a mostly-finished paper on NT agricultural metaphor by July. And I think I will try to write a history of prose rhythm teaching in the fall.

There are plenty of irons in the fire, I think, not counting at least two collaborations going on. If I am extraordinarily lucky, by Xmas I will have sent out five papers in 2006.

That would be a good thing, as when my comprehensive exams approach (spring 2007) I will not have much time to try my hand at publishing. I might get a paper out that summer as sort of a prelim to the dissertation, but I’m not counting on it. I’d like to leave the UoM in spring 2008 with 3 or so publications, and at least 1 of them being a good one in a good journal. Ideally one would be in comp, another in rhetoric, and another in NT criticism or tech writing, to show versitility.

That’s the plan. What actually happens between now and May 2008 is not predictable. But I am on schedule, one year into a planned three-year PhD, and I think it will come off mostly according to plan.

Choosing a name

In launching this site, I figured I’d start with a new domain name.

As I am a PhD student in rhetoric and composition, my first thought was to type in every rhetorical term I could think of into whois. I had high hopes for synecdoche and enthymeme. But practically every term available is taken. One wasn’t – runningstyle.com – and it’s actually highly appropriate for a blog. But it would sound like I’m a long-distance runner to most.

I am a great admirer of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, and noted stephenmaturin.com and diseasesofseamen.com were available, but I might get sued for the first, and as for the second, I imagined myself cheerfully telling someone the name of the site and them picturing a miscolored glop of semen. I already have enough trouble at parties.

Composition terms were also unavailable. Firstdraft was taken. Seconddraft was taken. Thirddraft was taken. Fourthdraft was not, but by that point I was disillusioned.

What about my name? mikeduncan.com = taken. michaelduncan=taken. mduncan=taken. mgduncan and michaelgaryduncan were available, but not snappy enough.

I returned to rhetoric. What about goodrhetoric.com? Available. Positive, too. Badrhetoric.com? Available. I’m an iconoclast (also taken) so it didn’t look bad (cough) either.

I also thought about meansofpersuasion, which is a play off of Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric. “available means of persuasion” is too long, alas. It also has a moderate/mathamathical subtext from “means” and there is a economic “means of persuasion” as well. But it’s also fairly obscure.

So my best choices after an afternoon of searching were runningstyle, goodrhetoric, and badrhetoric. Of the three, the first has a problematic double meaning and Aristotle didn’t favor it anyway. The second sounds a tad pretentious, as would bestrhetoric…

…but badrhetoric, however, has a edge to it. Especially since the difference between “bad” rhetoric and “good” rhetoric is hard to define. One man’s “bad” rhetoric is another man’s “good” rhetoric, and so-called “bad” rhetoric can be more effective than a classical speech that dots the ‘i’ in Aristotle. Plus, I kind of like starting at the bottom.

Well! I have just talked myself into badrhetoric. Both domains will work for the foreseeable future, but the title is officially now Bad Rhetoric.