e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


race, class, rock and roll part 2

This a.m., I worked more on article about race/class intersections in Detroit memoir, cranking out about two single-spaced pages on Erma Henderson's work, but I'm still thinking about integrating more on indie rock. Thought I had a neat and tidy article in the works, but I'm liking how this connection might complicae things. Maybe a wholly different article? Maybe a component of this same one. Dunno. Anyway, this is basically continued from yesterday, more on The Soledad Brothers (whose new album The Hardest Walk I'm enjoying very much)...

In that Guardian interview I talked about yesterday, Soledad Brothers also reference gender as an interlocking component of the futility of identifying solitary markers of difference as essential signifiers. Gender need not craft a particular narrative about empowerment, in this particular worldview. But the band does not ascribe transcendence of gender disempowerment to individual achievement, but rather through connection to the music and connection to a broader awareness. The blues are transcendent in a way that the liberal notion of the individual is not. The band references Rachel Nagy, frontwoman of garage rock covers band the Detroit Cobras, who creates an agonistic, aggressive persona on the stage, performing traditionally masculine rituals like making reference to sexual conquests and swearing. As the Soledad Brothers suggest, “nobody can mess with her.” (Reminds me of the scene in School of Rock where Jack Black's talking to "Turkey Sub" about her stagefright: "Aretha's a big lady too but people WORSHIP her")

Likewise Wendy Case, the frontwoman for another band associated with the Detroit scene, The Paybacks. Case writes lyrics that reject liberal notions of propriety and decorum. Gritty lyrics are not at all unusual in the world(s) of rock and roll, but Case’s lyrics specifically take up intersecting identity markers. For example, the song “Black Girl” appeared on the influential 2001 compliation Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, produced by Jack White of the White Stripes in the months before they gained national attention. In the song, Case sings lines like “The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice,” in a build-up to a chorus that repeats the line, “She’s a real black girl.” Throughout, Case, a white woman leading a band of white males, extols the sexuality of African-American women. A moment of post-identity? A rejecting of liberal narratives about who does and does not possess cultural power.

Another song on the same compliation, “I’m Through With White Girls” by The Dirtbombs, takes up the same theme. The Dirtbombs track is filled with lines about “brown-skinned honies dancing” and “watching Soul Train on a Friday night,” all sung by a band comprised mostly of young white men, but fronted by Mick Collins, a veteran of the Detroit rock scene (formerly of great 90s band The Gories) who happens to be one of the few African-Americans associated with the movement. In their current incarnation, The Dirtbombs also feature an Asian-American woman playing bass.

So whose perspective does a song like “I’m Through With White Girls” come from? From the perspective of the white band members? The African-American band member? From the perspective of the primarily white audience? Is the song racist and/or sexist? Detroit garage rock likes to distance itself from earnest, socially conscious pop music, yet the Dirtbombs track foregrounds race and gender, stressing difference, emphasizing that both race and gender signify something. To liberal ears accustomed to platitudes about equality, the lyrics sound harsh and bombastic, more than a little offensive, perhaps reminiscent of Sly Stone in the 1960s, singing “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” Key for the Dirtbombs lyric is the subversion of point-of-view, as the band calls attention to markers of identity (that of the multi-racial band, the “white girls” they sing about, the audience) in order to juxtapose shifting loci of attention. The song references Collins’ own African-American identity as well as the racist mythology of black men as a threat to white women. In the meantime, the lyrics highlight the white identity of much of the indie rock audience, allowing them to live vicariously the stereotypical markers of black life that the song outlines.

The latter relationship—the one between Mick Collins and his white fans—stands in as synecdoche for the contentious relationship between city and suburbs, perhaps the defining conflict of Detroit identity. Members of the Dirtbombs, like many members of Detroit’s rock scene, refer to growing up in the city (unlike hip hop stars like Eminem and Kid Rock), whereas their mostly white fan base resides primarily in Detroit’s suburbs. In the liner notes of the Sympathetic Sounds compilation, The Dirtbombs include in their list of band members Coleman A. Young. Instead of an instrument, Young’s band duties read simply “Mayor.” The liner notes joke alludes to Detroit’s long-time mayor, a polarizing figure loved by many African-Americans within city limits but despised by most whites living in the suburbs. Young utilized a rhetoric that sounded radical to most white ears, as he challenged the suburbs for siphoning resources and jobs from the black community in Detroit. When the compilation was released, Coleman Young’s successor, Dennis Archer (fair and full disclosure: I interned in ARcher's office in summer of 96), was in office. Archer used a much more conciliatory rhetoric and advocated cooperation between city and suburb. A moderate democrat, Archer embodied the liberal values of equality and tolerance. Like the Soledad Brothers associating themselves with a radical race consciousness, so too do the Dirtbombs suggest an aesthetic connection with a more radical political program, albeit in the context of a liner notes joke.

So 'whassup with all that?


race, class, rock and roll

Detroit Cobras frontwoman Rachel Nagy:
I don’t think any of us come from money, so it’s like our parents didn’t go out to dinner and dancing on the weekends, they had house parties…We didn’t grow up in the suburbs, so it’s like you’ve got [African-America] music all around you. You grow up with it and it’s just kind of an afterthought in your subconscious.
I've been working on an article about several recent memoirs written by Detroiters. Another site--one I'd like to incorporate into the article--for considering how Detroit acts as a locus for intersecting identity markers is the city’s indie rock scene, especially the most recent wave of garage rock bands. The members of the bands are mostly white but they work within a black aesthetic: southern blues. In this way they cultivate a hybrid racial identity. This movement largely rejects the values of liberalism, liberal anti-racism, and essentialized narratives of race and class. Race consciousness and class consciousness are elements of the ethos projected by these bands. They wear the dual consciousness on their sleeves, often in self-conscious and self-referential ways. For example, the band Soledad Brothers, technically from outside Toledo, Ohio, but closely aligned with the Detroit scene, borrows its name from the famous offshoot of the Black Panthers, a militant Marxist prison collective. So their name invariably invokes a radical version of race awareness. In a recent interview with The Guardian, the band, whose members are all white, pontificated on intersecting identity markers and blues music:

The blues is nothing to do with colour. It’s to do with intelligence and cultural awareness…There are loads of white guys who’ve made shitty blues music, but there are loads of brothers who’ve made shitty blues music…Women can be bluesmen, absolutely. Some of our favorite shit is by
women—Memphis Minnie, Jessie May Hill—in the 1930s, they were singing songs about “every married woman’s got a backdoor man.” They didn’t give a f***, man. In 2006, there’s Eria Wennerstrom from the Heartless Bastards, and Rachel Nagy from the Detrot Cobras—nobody can mess with her. The blues is about if you’ve been through some shit and you feel what you’re playing.

It would be easy to dismiss the band’s comments as tangents, as attempts to articulate a mythology of equality in which race doesn’t matter. But they foreground something vague that they call “cultural awareness,” certainly a signifier for musical and artistic credibility, but also a possible referent to a consciousness that exists independent of the racial identity of the individual.


march madness

What a year for college basketball. The best that I can recall, although I'm a little blue about Arizona not getting past the second round. I saw yesterday the last five minutes of regulation, plus overtime, of the George Mason-UConn game. Like a feel-good sports movie. Fluke? You don't get to the Final Four on a fluke. Remember, too, that George Mason beat three of the highest-prestige programs in the country: NC, UConn, and MSU. Having done my undergrad degree at a "mid-major," I couldn't help but cheer on a school I still know nothing about (where is their campus?). Saw part of the Florida-Villanova game, too. Was there a better player in the second weekend of play than Florida's Joakim Noah? Based on the last few days of play, I suppose smart money's on Florida edging out LSU for the championship. How'd I do with my brackets? Lousy for the most part. I did pick UCLA to still be standing, so I'm batting .250 on Final 4 picks.


some 4C's randomness

Best day of the conference. Rhetoricians for Peace all-day workshop, with a focus on propaganda. Illuminating discussions of LeBon, Freud, Lippman, Ellul (must read his "The Formation of Men's Attitudes"), and Lasswell. Most theoretically engaged of the three RFP workshops I've attended over the past three years. Wonderful short film: "Happiness Machines," from a four-part BBC series called Century of the Self. Film outlined the storied career of Edward Bernays, nephew of Freud, who fathered the modern profession of public relations. Bernays sought to channel Uncle Sigmund's notion of the "all-consuming self" and turn various inert desires into profit. Started out as press agent for Caruso, but made name for himself working for Woodrow Wilson's regime, crafting their WWI message. Responsible for turning public support toward entry into war by using a "make the world safe for democracy" message, a rhetoric markedly similar to that used during run-up to Iraq war. Bernays also known for breaking taboo on women smoking by creating soundbites like his famous "torches of freedom" line, meant to sell smoking to women as an act of independence. Bernays virtually invented the media event by planting debutantes with cigarettes at various civic events. Goebbels later used the writings of Bernays (notably his masterwork Propaganda) as a template. And Bernays worked with industry during New Deal era to shape a pro-business 'democracy=capitalism' message (e.g., "manufacturers built America") to try to squelch great society social programming. Must read Bernays' Propaganda, as well as Larry Tye's biography. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Wednesday Night, Arizona party...catching up with various AZ pals: Tilly and John, Sharon, Marvin, Patty, Amy, Michael, Tracy, Glo. Later, very nice dinner at Italian Village.

WPA breakfast...catching up with John and John. Both wpa grants given to research teams led by folks who used to teach in Youngstown (yeah!). Keynote address, which was enjoyable without really saying much. Great session on the rhetoric of loyalty oaths (Karen Powers-Stubbs, Cathy Chaput, and Tina Whittle), outlining mandated signed oath policy for teachers at state schools in Georgia, contextualized by interesting discussion of Horowitz/right-wing movements against academic freedom. Usually hard to take these threats too seriously, until being reminded that policies like the oaths really do exist. Another good session: "Film, Print, and Physical Embodiment: Working Through Binaries and Toward Rhetorical Activism." There, Cynthia Ryan did a kind of show and tell of her work on African-American women's magazines, tracing symbiotic relationship of individual and community identity construction. Also, Kristie Fleckenstein walked through theory of osmosis as methodology of consuming visual rhetoric, using 'women in black' peace marches as her text. My old U of Detroit mentor Hugh Culik presented with Anna Culik on a dual-enrollment program for "at risk rich kids" from Grosse Point (tony Detroit suburb), which during the 90s (shortly after I graduated) used an electronic critique curriculum to engage disaffected kids who were failing out of high school but largely turned things around during the project (most graduated, went on to college, and several are in high-prestige grad programs now).

Went to publisher's party over at Field Museum. Neat gathering, which I usually opt out of, but did end up having a good time. Later Nicole and I had burgers and drinks at Miller's Pub--which fast became the official C's late-night gathering spot--with Jay and Heather.

Misc. sessions, hanging out in book display area (staffing Rhetoricians for Peace table), pizza at Pizzano's (pretty good), prepping for presentation. Our panel went well. Roxanne had travel problems and didn't make it. Jay and Cindy talked through universal design theory and outlined anti-remediation writing course they've designed down at Miami. Stephanie Kerschbaum showed transcripts of peer review conversations that her students had during review of papers where she foregrounded attention to intersectional markers of difference. I talked through critique of Million Dollar Baby as a case study for intersectionality's use of juxtaposition and metaphor. Good feedback afterward, and we had a super audience (one of the largest audiences I've had at C's). Fun stuff.

Nap, followed by working-class studies special interest group. Irv Peckham and Leo Parascondola did short papers, but mostly sig co-chairs Bill Thelin and Jen Beech had participants discuss in small groups competing definitions of class and their respective usefulness within the academy. Important stuff, to be sure, though class studies often gets bogged down in the definition mud.

Miami U. party that night, and those cats at Miami are goodly enough to invite even *former* employees! Lots of catching up with my former grad students there (no fewer than four students from my 'rhetorics of social class' course last spring were presenting versions of their seminar papers from said class...good job guys!). Spririted conversation with John Heyda about the art, ethics, and general ins and outs of CD reissues...when outta nowhere the fuzz busts in. Yes, the fine security crew at the Palmer House--same folks responsible for the Being John Malcovich-esque only slower elevators?--shut down the fiesta due to noise complaints. We adjourned to the over-priced hotel bar and vowed to spread wild, hyperbolic rumors about why the party was broken up. Nicole and I went up to the rock and roll party (hadn't been to that in years) where the band that I'm pretty sure played at my brother's wedding in 1984 was wowing the crowd. Seriously, folks, if this mother's ever held in Detroit, I must convince the fine folks at McGraw Hill to show this crew what real rock and roll is (I'm thinking Detroit Cobras). We danced for about an hour (am I making stuff up, or did the band seque from Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" into "Like a Virgin" at one point?), and turned in.

Saturday, made the drive back to motown in the a.m., thinking about Edward Bernays, intersectionality, and possibilities for next year's working-class studies sig.


intersections, part II

Speaking of intersectionality, a taste of the introduction of my 4Cs paper:

Above all, there is an ethical imperative to pursue intersectionality as both theoretical lens and methodology. Intersectionality provides nuance, complexity, and synergy to socially and politically engaged scholarship in and out of composition studies. A broader and more compelling understanding of oppressions, identities, and justice movements.

But, aside from the transformative ethics of intersectionality, I want to focus on what is pragmatically useful about intersectionality. First, intersectionality fosters a collaborative and dialogic spirit. Even a superficial review of recent literature in the area of intersectionality reveals a great deal of collaboratively written scholarship, and oftentimes these collaborations represent multiple disciplines. Likewise the theories and bodies of research this literature draws upon is varied. Less myopia, less in-breeding. More exchange between disparate perspectives.

Second, looking at multiple identity markers as they intersect can facilitate breaking down persistent, problematic essentializing moves. Moving in and out of race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability and disability, and so on, can offer an alternative to linear and reductive narratives about identity—indeed intersectional analyses can create useful, theoretically engaging narratives of post-identity.

Finally, intersectionality provides specific counters to essentializing: juxtaposition and metaphor. It seems to me that identity markers can interact with one another in the context of intersectional scholarship as metaphors. Class as metaphor for race. Queerness as metaphor for disability. And so on. That is not to imply that one identity is more or less important. Metaphor does not necessarily—and in this context, should not necessarily—subordinate. Rather, the use of identity markers-as-metaphors opens up generative possibilities. Queerness opens up new understandings of difference and transgression. Class opens up new understandings of power.

Hear more:

J.16 Friday, March 24, 2006 3:30:00 PM to 4:45:00 PM
Mobilizing Intersections of Difference in Composition Research, Teaching, and Activism

Jacqueline Jones-Royster, Chair
1. Stephanie Kerschbaum, "Beyond Categorization: Using Markers of Difference to Enable Intersectional Analysis"
2. Roxanne Mountford, "Vertigo in the Field: Difference and the Ethnography of Relation"
3. Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson & Jay Dolmage, "Intersecting Identities: Theories and Models of an Inclusive (Dis)Composition"
4. William DeGenaro, "Disability, Class, and Million Dollar Baby: The Possibility of Intersectionality"

intersections, part I

I was reading the new College English yesterday and finding Jill Swiencicki's "The Rhetoric of Awareness of Narratives" tremendouly interesting. Yet I was also wondering why Swiencicki glosses the race-class intersection. Writing about stories of coming to (race) consciousness, she quotes an internet discussion in which a participant says: "Nothing is going to change so long as white people feel they can evade the real issues with tangents about class and blithe proclamations about how they're certainly not racist..." What I find puzzling is that Swiencicki doesn't engage with this statement, nor with the whole race-class intersection.

Instead, she uses that quotation to posit the "tangents" as being somehow opposed to "self ... experience ... authentic antiracist work." Huh? Class as a tangent?

There's much that's useful in the article. Swiencicki analyzes the limits of "liberal antiracism" and "liberal social projects" (and the attendant tropes of guilt and shame--tropes which provide a kind of comfort and catharsis, but don't affect change). But I think she misses an opportunity, I think, namely the possibility that a critical, working-class consciousness can sometimes mediate the same limits she speaks of.
The shame/guilt tropes can provide a productive starting point, Swiencicki writes, when they lead to "self consciousness of how one's notion of self is contingent upon others in a power dynamic."

Yes, and understanding power through the lens of class (understanding class AS power) can aid in that consciousness.



Busy getting ready for 4Cs, but I always make time for March Madness. Tucson nostalgia, as always, clouds my picks, and so I root for the Arizona Wildcats. And while the current crop of 'Cats lack the star power of the first few years of the milennium (tireless point guard Jason Gardner who used to average like 39.75 minutes-per-game, Gilbert Arenas now the all-star Wizard, Richard Jefferson now with the Nets, Loren Woods who broke shot-blocking *and* goal-tending records, old school Gene Edgerson who famously red-shirted so he could complete his student teaching and who now plays for the Globetrotters, Luke Walton who regularly beat up on his dad's alma mater)--my final years in Tucson--they go into the tourney with a record nearly identical to the record of the 1997 national championship Wildcats. So who knows?

Four early upsets: NC State over Cal, Bucknell over Arkansas, George Mason over MSU, UW-Milwaukee over Oklahoma. Stay tuned!


conference travel

I'm getting ready to go to 4Cs next week, the first conference I'll attend as a representative of U of M Dearborn, and I'm thinking of the ways that academics must document their attendance at conferences for their home institutions.

At my former school, I got a per diem reimbursement for food, so no need for meal receipts, but I had to present receipts for conference registration, airline tickets, and the hotel. Okay, easy enough. But if you paid by credit card--and who doesn't use plastic when paying for such expenses?--you had to have a receipt AND the credit card statement with charges corresponding to the receipts. That meant 1) waiting to turn in paperwork until you received the statement the next month, 2) gathering multiple statements (the pre-paid conference registration charge from back in October, the "live" charges made at the conference during March, etc.), and 3) feedling your whole credit card statement into the University's bureacratic works (I blacked out the number with a marker, but there were always a weird array of charges listed on the statement that had nothing to do with the conference--yeah, yeah, I know, I could have gotten a credit card just for conferences, but I didn't, ok?). I always kiddingly gave the office manager a hard time, asking her if she thought I had worked out an elaborate plot to cheat Miami out of $400.

UMD doesn't have such a requirement, happily, but they *do* require that I save the conference badge, in order to prove there really was a conference. Yes, Margaret, there really is a 4Cs conference. And, really, how could anyone possibly fake a self-adhesive white sticker with his/her name typed on it? Not that I'm mad about it. It's a benign, albeit strange, request with which I'm happy to comply.


toward historical memory

Neal Lerner in the current issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College reports on a progressive writing laboratory that was an integral part of the U of Minnesota's General College in the early 1930s, narrating how the lab's writing-as-civic-action mission and process-oriented pedagogy reflected and contributed to the ethos of the new open-access campus. Those doing historical work in comp should have a look: "Laboring Together for the Common Good: The Writing Laboratory at the University of Minnesota General College, circa 1932."

But what thrills me about this article is the attention to history. TETYC has remained a largely ahistorical source of scholarship. (There are complex reasons for this, not the least of which is the relatively sparse archives at most two-year colleges and open admissions branch campuses. Many of these campuses began offering courses before the institution had a permanenet physical plant, so records, often, were lost. Plus, workload of course. Many practitioners at these institutions have heavy teaching loads, leaving little time to dig in the archives anyway.) The first peer-reviewed article I published appeared in TETYC about five years ago--Social Utility and Needs-Based Education: Writing Instruction at the Early Junior College--and I had a kind-of grad school fantasy at the time the piece would spur along huge amounts of historical research in the journal.

Didn't really happen and I subsequently had work (work that I succesfully placed elsewhere) rejected by TETYC for "not connecting enough with the two-year college classroom of now." Historical work provides context, serves as a starting point for praxis, fosters institutional memory, and helps us move beyond what Mary Soliday calls our notions of "always newness." Bravo to Lerner, and to the journal, for being receptive to such possibilities.


what i did over spring break

Back to school tomorrow. So why not do a wrap-up...

Part I: Academic Stuff

1. Completed marketing report for Pitt. First book project's now in press at Pitt (finally!) and I had to complete a *lengthy* form. Didn't realize this would take so long, but I was glad to give a bit of input into the business side of the process.

2. Planned "Working with Sources" writing workshop for our master's in liberal studies students. Workshop this coming Saturday, and I'm ready to roll.

3. Graded a big 'ole stack of term papers.

4. Wrote two letters of recommendation.

5. Wrote most of the 4Cs paper. Not done yet, but I've got a few weeks.

Part II: Non-Academic Stuff

1. My buddy Lew visited from Ohio and we did Detroit-y kinds of things: Heidelberg Project (see photos below), Windsor's Little Italy, The Solanus Casey Center, Eastern Market/&subsequent cooking.

2. Played some guitar.

3. Enjoyed some Titan basketball.

4. Reading: Wicked (bad, but I had put this down a few weeks ago and for some reason I had to get through to the end), Chester Himes' Third Generation, finally finished Made In Detroit, which I had also put down for a while.

5. Rented Bride & Prejudice. Postcolonial critique, served up with a little bubblegum. Gurinder Chadha's follow-up to "Bend It Like Beckham," and this was almost as enjoyable as predecessor.

Heidelberg Street, Detroit

In its wisdom, the city of Detroit has dismantled much of artist Tyree Guyton's installation on Heidelberg Street, but some displays remain. The noted "Heidelberg Project" resides on Detroit's eastside, just off Mt. Elliot, south of Mack Avenue.

Graveyard of vacuum cleaners, ironic commentary on the "clean up" rhetoric of gentrification.

Collage of shoes.

MLK iconography

Kwame Kilpatrick iconography.


you tube

Via Culture Cat, the joys of YouTube. Amateur video and film, juxtaposed with obscure tv/movie/music clips of everything and everyone, searchable by tags. I suspect content--eclectic but low-in-volume--will continue to grow. Two worthwhile clips:

Beefheart on Letterman. Two clips from early 80s appearances on David Letterman's show. Captain Beefheart's talents don't lie in the arenas of the glib or flashy or self-promotional, so he and talk shows don't play together nicely. Could somebody like Beefheart get booked on network tv today?

The Gories: "Nitroglycerine." Detroit rock and roll, '90s style. To call this music video lo-fi would be an understatement--the band performing on what looks like the "Reservoir Dogs" set while a go-go dancer shimmies in, on, and around an old car. Before Mick Collins started the Dirtbombs, he headed up The Gories, the band that influenced the turn-of-the-milennium scene out of which The White Stripes rose to fame and fortune. This clip comes from what appears to be an English-language cable-access show in Germany, although the host is Hispanic. Also featured in the clip, an interview with Gories contemporaries the Oblivians.