e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


The Queen

No time for a long post or a review or anything like that, but I wanted to say that Nicole and I saw The Queen last night and enjoyed its pulpy tone very much. Odd that one of the big Oscar contenders is essentially a gossipy, palace-intrigue-in-the-tabloids story. The film plays like a made-for-tv movie with really, really good actors. Okay, a made-for-tv movie with a sensitive (but critical) eye on its cast of characters. The royals come off as priveleged, out-of-touch, even delusional. But with the possible exception of Prince Phillip, they also end up somehow sympathetic. There's a great scene where Elizabeth--out looking for Phillip and "the boys" who are hunting on a lush estate--gets her 4x4 stuck in a riverbank. Tony Blair looks like an "everyman" next to the collective cluelessness of the royal family--and the film goes to great lengths to play up this aspect of his persona (eating toast with his kids, watching tv, making banter with his anti-monarchist wife, etc.). There's a nice dig at Blair's eventual alliance with W. and subsequent drop in approval ratings. As EVERY review has noted, Helen Mirren does indeed embody the role and surely deserves the oscar.

shameless, shameless, shameless

How's that for the title of a blog post? 'Shameless' in this case refers to the act of self-promotion, so apologies in advance...

U of Pittsburgh Press, I'm proud to say, has released the product of three years of labor: Who Says?: Working-Class Rhetoric, Class Consciousness, and Community. I've got a box of author's copies sitting in the corner of my office to prove it! I hope the book finds an audience and forwards what I think are some pretty important conversations.

A few fun facts regarding the book:
  • amazon.com already has 24 used copies! what does that mean? that a slew of folks got the book and have already decided that it isn't a keeper?
  • the book got a mention in the conservative press. this almost makes up for my sadness at not being mentioned on horowitz's 'list of threatening un-American academics' or whatever it was called. thanks to the watchdog-types over at americanheritage.com. check it out.
  • most importantly, working on this project let me meet some great people (including lots of folks in communication studies) and strengthen relationships with other great people. thanx.


If I wrote a cheesy 'entertainment news' column...

Sylvester Stallone's working on a new Rambo movie called "Pearl of the Cobra." Aren't people going to get confused and think it's a sequel to Cobra instead of First Blood.

Why so much focus on that picture of Britney Spears' newly bald head when clearly the more striking image is this still of Jim Carrey from his new horror film The Number 23.

...And, finally, in this week's bad news file, it looks as if NBC is yanking Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Witty, erudite, well-written. PULL IT! Another nice move from the folks who canceled Freaks and Geeks before the end of its first season.


Trimbur, "Should Writing Be Studied?"

A carnival of a different sort. Thanks to Donna, Jeff, and Collin for getting the party started...

Quick Summary:
Trimbur suggests that a new “discipline-defining” debate is before us: what it means to move the field into a broader study of writing, into writing-as-inquiry. We see this shift with writing majors and upper-division course development. This means that writing is more than just teaching students HOW to do something. This also also mean pushing beyond first-year comp and the pedagogical imperative. The writing workshop and process models are “epistemological stances” that keep us wedded to “historical responsibilities” like teaching skills and serving other units. Thus it seems “scandalous” or “careerist” to change our field’s geography. But worthwhile to move to the “seminar room” with its epistemology and methodology of discussion and inquiry. We might better serve undergrads if writing became a broader “intellectual resource.”

Some Thoughts:
1. We’re *already* concerned with these broader issues, aren’t we? The field has made the spatial moves that Trimbur alludes to--moving to community sites, networks and new media, etc. Published scholarship isn’t at all limited to the classroom or the domain of first-year comp. BUT, and I think this is what Trimbur's getting at, what goes on in introductory comp. theory courses, oftentimes, has NOT made that shift. We sometimes (and I emphasize sometimes) do one thing in our scholarship but another in our “intro” grad classes, where articles from the past five years of jac, for example, rarely rear their heads.

Does that mean that these "other concerns" (projects that embody writing-as-inquiry) are tangential or marginalized or undervalued or (perceived to be) overly specialized? I'm not sure. But I do get the sense that the field considers the essays in 'Cross Talk in Comp Theory' or 'Writing Teacher's Sourcebook' to somehow be "the basics." (Maybe this is because many introductory courses are framed as pedagogy courses...and maybe that fact is a good illustration of Trimbur's point.)

This past year I've written about my great-grandfather's poetry and activism as sites of identity formation, as instances of using writing for particular kinds of (class-based) identifications. I've also been working on a piece that points to Detroit garage rock bands for a similar kind of class-conscious theorizing, but with a greater emphasis on intersectionality. The question "can writing be taught?" has nothing to do with these projects, and I don't feel any of the mythic "pedagogical imperative" pressure. Nor does the epistemology of the writing workshop affect the projects. At least I don't think so.

I don't say this as a critique of what Trimbur has to say, but rather to illustrate that I wish Trimbur's piece was more precise about what situation it responds to. What am I missing? I know, for example, that there is still *some* sentiment that suggests we should only be doing (classroom, or case study, or quasi-experimental) research on sentence combining and the like. Is such sentiment materially affecting members of the field when they go up for tenure? Like I said, what exactly does Trimbur see as the context for his argument?

2. A phrase and a notion that interests me very much is "[We can] organize the study of writing as an intellectual resource for undergraduates.” I like the way Trimbur doesn't dismiss pragmatism or even the notion of "service" but rather frames writing's contribution as one that is intellectual. I like what this suggests about broad constituents (not just fy comp students or those who supposedly can’t yet do what we want them to do) coming to writing for a broad array of reasons and uses. And here Trimbur is drawing on the introduction to Coming of Age, a text he cites and that seems to inform his analysisin significant ways. Community activists; those invested in writing as career; those interested in technology, culture, politics, media, and other areas of liberal studies, etc, etc.

3. Where exactly does the shift toward writing-as-inquiry leave first-year comp? I'm wondering, for instance, how we can foster both institutional awareness of writing-as-inquiry and a shift toward writing majors/upper-division course development/etc. without furthering reliance on contingent labor. (I know I'm treading close to waters where the inquiry possibilities become "scandals" and that I'm playing what potentially is a zero sum game, but here goes anyway.)

Here at UMD, we're working on these very initiatives while being mindful that they take "us" (the four tenured or tenure-track rhet/comp-ers) out of more sections of first-year comp. Develop and teach an upper-level writing class: great, but it means you'll teach one less section of comp. This affects our (already troubling) ratio of full-to-part time instructors in the comp classroom.

My point is just that the shift (sorry to be all monolithic there!) affects some very practical administrative matters at our institutions. And, more broadly, it makes us ask a question (a good questions, a questions that we SHOULD be asking) about where we ought to expand our energies. This site or this site? Appopriately, it's a question of our professional geography.


Want to experience carnival in New Orleans even though you find yourself under snow and ice in the motor city? Of course you do. Experience the festivities vicariously by checking out Randy's blog. Randy's my colleague here at UMD, currently on sabbatical working on a book about representations of New Orleans. Enjoy his coverage of the party.


the role of critique

I've been thinking a lot about the House of Representatives' resolution on troop build-up. Excuse me, their *non-binding* resolution. Part of me finds the resolution to be a waste of time. It's toothless. It doesn't affect public policy. All critique, no action. How many more tax dollars did this resolution cost us? Why spend all the time and money and resources on a resolution that's "symbolic," as all the press coverage keeps reminding us.

Nicole reminds me that the resolution represents a moment to debate (finally) the on-going Iraq quagmire. Bush and his cronies so effectively silenced debate (a staff member called me un-American for organizing a panel discussion on the war in 2003 at my former institution) that this kind of open dialectic is long overdue. But is it open dialectic? The democratic leadership stifled GOPs who wanted to offer alternative plans, after all. So it's hard to see this as an open debate. Seems more like a "we're in charge now, ha ha!...and we're going to get even by engaging in non-binding resolutions."

And I'm also thinking of Jeff's posts about critique. My graduate program emphasized rhetorical analysis as the core of writing instruction. Analysis, as an alternative to "take a position" strategies of argumentation. Analysis, as a way to develop a critical perspective in response to texts and other artifacts. But, similarly, that version of engaging with issues often seemed toothless. Seemed like a deliberate eschewing of *production* of texts. First-year comp students as ("critical") consumers. And now, the legislature in a similar position: being critical, but not really doing or making anything.

Just thinking out loud.


winter term blues

Something about the winter semester. The cold seems to slow everyone down and make folks on campus lethargic at times. Temps in Detroit have mostly stayed in the single digits and I've passed accidents on the freeway each day this week. Hard to escape the feeling that I'm playing catch-up on the paperload (more sets of first drafts! help!).

Also hard to escape feeling somewhat annoyed while going through those drafts: ideas that sit on the page waiting for illustration and example, problems with MLA citations, drop-in quotations. What have we been talking about in class for the past month? Okay, take it easy. They're first drafts. Discovery drafts. Don't get all curmudgeonly about student writing. Ask questions. Intervene. Help them revise.

Another winter term moan: absences. One section of comp yesterday: five students missing. The other section: three students missing. This never seems to be an issue during the fall semester. Bad roads, flu bugs going around...I know, there are reasons, but still, those winter blahs make it harder to be understanding.

Guess what I'm saying is, glad that I'm looking Friday afternoon in the face right now.


clap your hands say yeah

"All this talking. You'd think I'd have something to say. But I'm just talking, like a siren getting louder and farther away."

That's the aural imagery that opens Some Loud Thunder, the new record from indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Taken from the record's friendly, poppy title track, the lines become a credo for the whole album. CYHSY singer and lyricist Alec Ounsworth brings an urgent gravitas to his siren songs but at the same shrugs off what he's saying.

That opener is a highlight. Full of melody and bounce, "Some Loud Thunder" worries about something cataclysmic looming in the future ("a cannonball as big as the ocean could come from the sky and slap us all on the teeth"), articulates a smidgen of hope ("there's always more unless I'm mistaken"), but finally advocates retreating ("when do mouths close and people gracefully retreat?"). Ounsworth plays the siren whose voice is ignored.

It's a provocative warning sign that you can dance to, a song that would have fit on an early Talking Heads album. Of course Talking Heads are the band that CYHSY is constantly compared to. Ounsworth sounds a lot like David Byrne and the band brings an artsy sensibility to its punk sound.

But while the Talking Heads embraced world beats and new wave, CYHSY draw on more basic genres like blues and funk. "Arm and Hammer" is avant garde blues and begs Captain Beefheart comparisons. "Satan Said Dance" and "Yankee Go Home" both have threatening , old-west-invoking guitar lines and slow verses that build toward climactic refrains; thematically and sonically, both sound like they could be taken from a Pixies record.

An outstanding rock record from a band for whom "indie" means something more than just a genre. As was the case with their debut two years ago, CYHSY have self-released the record and maintained creative and artistic control over all elements of production. In a musical year that's sure to be dominated by high-profile reunions (The Police! The Stooges! Crowded House!), CYHSY is a band that's doing something new and fresh and authentic.



From today's Huffington Post comes this juxtaposition. Conservative pundit William Donohue next to a delicious snack. Run your mouse over the image and you'll see that the editors named the file "dips." Oh, those cheeky editors.

Donohue's back in the news to demand that John Edwards fire two of his website's bloggers for being anti-Catholic. The Huffington piece reviews some of Donohue's greatest hits--including the time he called an advertisement for onion dip an "atrocity."

For those keeping score at home, other things on Donohue's anti-Catholic list: ebay (hear that, Mom?), Hollywood, Disney, most museums, and Ted Turner. Interesting that the same pundits who decry the supposed "victim mentality in the U.S." seem to love Donohue. Critiques about pervasive income inequality are examples of whining; a critique of onion dip is not. Clancy links to some interesting analyses of the Edwards story.


feeding frenzy

The wall-to-wall media coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith would have surprised even Andy Warhol. This media moment assumes its place alongside the O.J. car chase and the Long Island Lolita as an "event" surely to inspire multiple made-for-tv movies, a tabloid moment that seems to have some longevity.

So I'm wondering, what other women in the public eye would inspire this much media attention if they died? Assuming the details were relatively similar (dead in a hotel room, mysterious circumstances, etc.), would the death of, say, Pamela Anderson be as big an event? How about Gwyneth Paltrow? Lyndsay Lohan? Hillary Clinton? Condaleeza Rice? Madonna?

I'm not talking about cultural significance, or integrity, or any such abstraction. I'm strictly thinking of which of these figures could attract the same volume of media coverage.


out of shape

Last term I didn't teach first-year comp. Now I've got two sections and I'm finding myself short on the stamina required for extended sessions of paper grading. Last week I collected drafts on Tuesday (both sections...which meant 45 papers) and returned them on Thursday with my comments. This week I collected final drafts on Tuesday, thinking to myself, maybe I'll repeat my two-day turnaround again this week. Not so much. An afternoon yesterday at Caribou Coffee only got me through half the stack. I forgot how draining this process can be.


ain't it strange

Sometimes, just sometimes, mainstream culture makes room for something completely unexpected. And youtube lets us remember those moments. Here's Patti Smith covering "You Light Up My Life." But wait, there's more. She's performing on a children's show. But wait, there's more. After her performance, the announcer says, "Coming up, we have Count Dracula and Adam Rich." Huh? Are they together?

The "D"

Detroit: shiny, sleek, and metallic. This is the Convention and Visitors Bureau's new logo, meant to attract 20-somethings to the D. The image references cars, certainly, with the sheen that looks something like a newly built engine, but the five words go beyond autos into other realms: culture, gaming, music, sports.

I like the catch-all of the word "culture." From "cars" to "culture," the concrete to the abstract. And then back to the concrete, if not exactly material, realms with "gaming" (Greektown Casino!), "music" (The White Stripes! Aretha!) and "sports" (Tigers! Red Wings!).

A connection: the scene in "Roger and Me" in which Michael Moore confronts the bureaucrat from Flint's CVB for suggesting that a lint roller or an auto amusement park can replace the industrial age's biggest industry.