e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


live from san pedro, ca.

On location in sunny southern California. No sign of humidity and temps in the mid-80s. Nicole and I eat breakfast outside along the bay, surrounded by moored boats and the sound of waves against the rocks. Post-breakfast stroll reveals starfish, crabs fighting one another, and amoeba-like schools of fish traveling close to the shore. It's no Detroit, but L.A. has its advantages.


studs terkel: the musical?

Is this as bad as it sounds? A *musical* based on Studs Terkel's classic piece of oral history, Working? Terkel's book came out in 1972 and drew praise from the left as well as the mainstream for its diverse set of commentaries/rants/narratives about what people "do all day and how they feel about what they do." Working-class studies, as an academic discipline, probably would not be possible without Terkel.

But a musical?


fear of falling, formal correctness, and blogs

Thinking out loud here. Excuse the randomness and the highly questionable connections I'm about to make...

In the newest issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Amy Lynch-Biniek describes the popularity on her campus of the grammar guide Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, which sat on best-seller lists for months last year. I was interested in her suggestion that one of the causes for the popularity is what Barbara Ehrenreich elsewhere calls "the fear of falling," an insecurity among members of the (shrinking) middle/professional class, an anxiety (a justified one at that) that they might fall out of their comfortable positions. Lynch-Biniek suggests the cultural obsession over "correctness" in writing (she argues that--at least on standardized tests--comma errors trump ineffectiveness in terms of what damns a piece of writing) reflects this anxiety. Grammar guide as self-help book. Grammar guide as means to (maintain or achieve) social position.

In my own research, I've critiqued ways that open-admissions colleges institutionalized (via curriculum, obviously, but also in representations of college mission and particularly in its communications with working-class community members) this use of language as class marker and "achievement."

But I'm thinking about the present moment, the burgeoning popularity of blogs, for example, and moments where the culture maybe chipping away at a middle-class sense of formal-correctness-above-all. I know the party line is that blogs, like any other textual phenomenon, build their own conventions which are just as rule-bound as any other. But I'm not so sure. Doesn't blogging, at the very least, break down notions of middle-class decorum inherent in what books like Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

The grammar guide revels in its ha-ha titular pun, which is a warning about the lack of "clarity" that arises from a punctuation mishap. But don't blogs revel in something quite different...a reveling in language that's messier than the "1) learn the rules, 2) become part of the initiated crowd, 3) make fun of those on the outside of the club" assumptions of grammarians? Blogs revel in language play that doesn't necessarily require the initiation process? Join in the reindeer (language) games and take part in appropriation, error-making, tentativeness, randomness, and incoherence.

And yet, blogging requires access, so we get a new version of elitism and exclusion.


working-class rhetorics vs. working-class poetics

In addition to farming a plot of land in Mantua, Ohio, my great-grandfather spent the Great Depression writing sarcastic poems about FDR. He published a chapbook called "The New Deal" that collected eight of his ditties, each a deliberative meditation on rural, working-class libertarianism.
The Grounded Ear

We have a President Roosevelt,
the thing that makes me madder,
Is how craftily he sneaked around
And climbed up Teddy's ladder.

If you politicians would succeed,
Yes? Well then, here's the moral!
He rode up to our White House chair
Astride a whiskey barrel...

To his country stuck in banker mud
His order pedagogic,
"Lift yourselves by boot straps,"
Just simply is not logic.

All partisan, sectarian content. Political discourse. Quintessential deliberate rhetoric, tackling specific, context-bound, civic concerns.

And yet I'm fascinated by grandpa's use of poetry as not only a means for engaging in civic discourse, but also as a means to articulate his own class status. I see The New Deal as a statement of working-class identity.

Is a "working-class rhetoric" even possible? Our culture doesn't have a vocabulary for having non-fiction discussions about class status. We lack terms with agreed-upon meanings. Statements about class (especially working-class) status are politically divisive, perpetually contested. And yet here's a book of poetry that serves a rhetorical function and a self-defining function.

Julie Lindquist, in her ethnography of a working-class bar in Chicago, found that among her respondents class stood out as a "felt identity." Lindquist writes, "they are unable to name themselves as a sociopolitical entity…[and] have no conventional language in which to articulate a shared political predicament." Her thesis involves the notion that political debate at the bar becomes a performance of class identity, a substitute for a meta-cognitive language for articulating class status.

I think poetry functions in a similar vein for my grandpa. A performance of his working-class identity, a stand-in for a critical vocabulary for saying 'this is who I am.' I'm thinking poetics (and maybe by poetics I mean "performance") allows for this in a way that "rhetorics" can't.

So I'm toying with the notion that "working-class rhetorics" are impossible, whereas "working-class poetics" instead provides for opportunities for self identification, identity construction, and political discourse.


Bloc Party show last night

Still getting accustomed to my new job and finding a productive and humane work schedule, difficult tasks with four consecutive weekends with out-of-town commitments. More frequent blogging in the very near future...I guarantee.

In the meantime, a few thoughts on last night's Bloc Party show at the Royal Oak Music Theater. The band came out and performed a lean, fast-paced, Buzzocks-like set. No more than thirty-five minutes, but nearly the whole crowd was shakin' it (and that included college kids as well as older, music-geek types). Amazing energy level, more punk than how they come off on their CD. They flew through the better part of their record, with nearly every track paced notably faster. Even with the speedy, thin pace, the band maintained the dance vibe that earns them Gang of Four comparisons in the media. Oddly, they left the stage and returned with a slowed-down encore that was a bit anti-climactic. But they're a young band and pacing might be something they work on as they build a larger catalogue of material.

The Kills opened the show with their usual loud and suggestive approach to blues-punk. I saw them headline a show in Cinci. last year and the full-length set really allowed them to create a kind of narrative (one involving the duo acting out a love-hate relationship that seemed to involve climbing on amps and using fret boards to simulate firing rifles) within the scope of their performace. Last night they had to shorten the set to play the opening act roll. They rocked out (ears still ringing a bit) but I missed the Captain Beefheart cover ("Dropout Boogie") and their breakout single "Cat Claw" last night, when they concentrated on material from their newer album No Wow.

Good time, and home by 11:15...my kind (read: geezer) of show.


class of '92

Alright, just taught my first class of the semester and ought to blog students and all of the exciting projects of the semester, but I'll pick up on the thread (here and here), and have a bit of fun while I eat my yogurt.

Here's the deal: go to Music Outfitters and get the list of the Top 100 songs from the year of your high school graduation. Paste them into your blog and identify those that you like or dislike. I've bolded the ones I like and italicized those I disliked. I've left alone those that I don't remember. Yeah, this is way more important right now than working...

Top 100 hits of 1992:

1. End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
The year Nirvana breaks, and my senior class (along with every other
senior class) chooses THIS schmaltz as its song.
2. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A-lot
One word: awesome
3. Jump, Kris Kross
Of backwards clothing fame.
4. Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams
5. Baby-Baby-Baby, TLC
6. Tears In Heaven, Eric Clapton

7. My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue
8. Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. All 4 Love, Color Me Badd
10. Just Another Day, Jon Secada
11. I Love Your Smile, Shanice
12. To Be With You, Mr. Big
embarassing, but I found this catchy at the time.
13. I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred
14. Black Or White, Michael Jackson

15. Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus 16.
16. I'll Be There, Mariah Carey
17. November Rain, Guns N' Roses
18. Life Is A Highway, Tom Cochrane
19. Remember The Time, Michael Jackson
20. Finally, CeCe Peniston
21. This Used To Be My Playground, Madonna

22. Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, Patty Smyth
23. Can't Let Go, Mariah Carey
24. Jump Around, House Of Pain
25. Diamonds and Pearls, Prince and The N.P.G.
26. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John

27. Masterpiece, Atlantic Starr
28. If You Asked Me To, Celine Dion
29. Giving Him Something He Can Feel, En Vogue
30. Live and Learn, Joe Public
31. Come and Talk To Me, Jodeci
32. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
33. Humpin' Around, Bobby Brown
34. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins
35. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do, Teven Campbell
36. Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, TLC
37. It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men
38. Move This, Technotronic

39. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
40. Tennessee, Arrested Development

41. The Best Things In Life Are Free, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
42. Make It Happen, Mariah Carey
43. The One, Elton John
44. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, P.M. Dawn
45. Stay, Shakespear's Sister

46. 2 Legit 2 Quit, Hammer
47. Please Don't Go, K.W.S.
48. Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), Mint Condition
49. Wishing On A Star, Cover Girls
50. She's Playing Hard To Get, Hi-Five
51. I'd Die Without You, P.M. Dawn
52. Good For Me, Amy Grant
53. All I Want, Toad The Wet Sprocket
54. When A Man Loves A Woman, Michael Bolton
55. I Can't Dance, Genesis
56. Hazard, Richard Marx

57. Mysterious Ways, U2
58. Too Funky, George Michael
59. How Do You Talk To An Angel, Heights
60. One, U2
61. Keep On Walkin', CeCe Peniston
62. Hold On My Heart, Genesis
63. The Way I Feel About You, Karyn White
64. Beauty and The Beast, Calms Dion and Peabo Bryson
65. Warm It Up, Kris Kross
66. In The Closet, Michael Jackson
67. People Everyday, Arrested Development
68. No Son Of Nine, Genesis
69. Wildside, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch
70. Do I Have To Say The Words?, Bryan Adams
71. Friday I'm In Love, Cure
72. Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe
73. Blowing Kisses In The Wind, Paula Abdul
74. Thought I'd Died and Gone To Heaven, Bryan Adams
75. Rhythm Is A Dancer, Snap
76. Addams Groove, Hammer
77. Missing You Now, Michael Bolton
78. Back To The Hotel, N2Deep
79. Everything Changes, Kathy Troccoli
80. Have You Ever Needed Somone So Bad, Def Leppard
81. Take This Heart, Richard Marx
82. When I Look Into Your Eyes, Firehouse
83. I Wanna Love You, Jade
84. Uhh Ahh, Boyz II Men
85. Real Love, Mary J. Blige
86. Justified and Ancient, The KLF
87. Slow Motion, Color Me Badd
88. What About Your Friends, TLC
89. Thinkin' Back, Color Me Badd
90. Would I Lie To You?, Charles and Eddie
91. That's What Love Is For, Amy Grant
92. Keep Coming Back, Richard Marx
93. Free Your Mind, En Vogue
94. Keep It Comin', Keith Sweat
95. Just Take My Heart, Mr. Big
96. I Will Remember You, Amy Grant
97. We Got A Love Thang, CeCe Peniston
98. Let's Get Rocked, Def Leppard
99. They Want EFX, Das EFX
100. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt


Non-Academic Stuff I Read During Summer Vacation #9

I guess since I start teaching tomorrow morning (UM-Dearborn started classes today but I've got a Tues/Thurs teaching schedule), my summer vacation is coming to a close. So here's one last installment of my run-down of this summer's reading-material-only-tangentially-related-to-rhetoric...

Philip Roth's great novel The Plot Against America is in part allegory, and a brilliant one at that, a story that mirrors the regressive policies of the current neo-con regime. But Roth goes beyond polemic, beyond partisanship, and creates a nostalgic and vivid dystopia.

A speculative historical novel, Roth's book imagines a 1940s U.S. in which Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR's re-election bid and builds diplomatic ties with Nazi Germany, institutes anti-semitic public policy at home, and effectively keeps the U.S. out of WWII. The story centers around a Jewish family in New Jersey, named "Roth," and most especially the Roth's youngstest child, "Philip."

Roth creates a dystopic world with as much chilling detail as Margaret Atwood's best novels. And like the scariest dystopias, Roth's world looks awfully familiar. I'll avoid giving examples, as I don't want to give anything away. Rest assured that the fictional Lindbergh's demagogue, the-world-is-black-and-white rhetoric uses the same tropes as the rhetoric of George W. Bush (put America first!). Great piece of work.

One of the ways Roth goes beyond simplistic polemic is by turning the tables on current right-left distinctions. In Roth's world, the left advocates U.S. entry into foriegn war while the right opposes such action. This creates more than a little ambivalence in the reader, and Roth uses this switch to ironic effect.

Roth's meandering style is in full effect here. Roth writes,
It went without saying that Mr. Mawhinney was a Christian, a long-standing member of the great overpowering majority that fought the Revolution and founded the nation and conquered the wilderness and subjugated the Indian and enslaved the Negro, one of the good, clean, hard-working Christian millions who settled the frontier, tilled the farms, built the cities, governed the states, sat in Congress, occupied the White House, amassed the wealth, possessed the land, owned the steel mills and the ball clubs and the railroads and the banks, even owned and oversaw the language, one of those unassailable Nordic and Anglo-Saxon Protestants who ran America and would always run it--generals, dignitaries, magnates, tycoons, the men who laid down the law and called the shots and read the riot act when they chose to--while my father, of course, was only a Jew.
Holy macaroni, what a sentence. And what a voice.


the mouse on Bourbon Street

New Orleans, LA., 2000. Enjoying tasty fried oysters in the French Quarter at a less-than-four-star establishment, while a mouse scurries across the floor along the restaurant's rear wall. Customers--bourbon-sipping lawyers on lunchbreaks, college-kid tourists, seafood lovers of every stripe, Nicole and I--remain oblivious to the mouse, sipping beers and raw oysters, talking over jazz licks and noisy strangers, happy in the big easy. Nicole in the restaurant's ladies room, startled by either the same mouse or one of his friends, jumps, bumping into a stall door. Woman in the stall, opens the door, sees Nicole but not the mouse, looks Nicole up and down and says: "I'm not interested." God bless New Orleans.