cccc 2008 in new orleans: the bullet points

CCCC-2008: the crayfish

Last week, I attended my first meeting of the College Conference on Composition and Communication. Herewith, some random bullet points:

  • I gave a paper in which I outed myself as someone who suffers from (and receives medical care for) sometimes debilitating anxiety and depression. And whaddya know? I guess I’m outing myself here, too.
  • I joined the CCCC special interest group devoted to disability studies and volunteered to develop the website.
  • I learned a lot. (Don’t laugh. I’ve been to conferences where that wasn’t the case.)
  • I talked a bit with Jeff, Jenny, and Derek at the hotel bar. I chatted briefly with Donna at the airport. I saw Clancy and Byron from afar but did not get to chat. I know other bloggers attended, but I did not see them…I fell down on the job at arranging meetups, and for that I feel somewhat guilty.
  • I attended the Bedford/St. Martin’s party at the NOLA Aquarium and couldn’t stop thinking about how much my students pay for their textbooks…and felt more than a little guilty about the free food and drink those textbook prices make possible. I’m pretty sure I’m going to stop using textbooks in my composition classrooms.
  • I ate two oyster poboys, gumbo, jambalaya, and a lot of Abita beer.
  • I spent a lot of time with UMKC people, who I miss. But I returned home happy to be where I am now.
  • I did not spend enough time in the interesting places right at the outskirts of the French Quarter, in which Bourbon Street remains a kind of Disneyland filtered through Larry Flynt’s eyes. But I was glad to find those interesting places.

I’m tagging the links I find related to the conference. If you’ve written about it, or know of relevant links, go ahead and add them to using the tag cccc-2008. And I hope to write more about the conference as well as bloggers’ reactions, time permitting. However, the days are pretty busy here at the end of the semester in Sparkletonia. In a perfect world, I’d post an mp3 of my talk. We’ll see…

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methodism, orality, and literacy

Any academics out there want to read the draft of an article I’m working on? I really need some outside perspective. If you don’t have time or inclination to read the whole thing, do you have any suggestions for recent scholarly work on the interplay of orality and literacy? Here’s the introduction:

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the British religious movement known as Methodism created a sophisticated communications network. This network incorporated not only print, through the publication and distribution of millions of pages of material in a variety of formats, but also speech, specifically the highly systematized oral practice of hundreds of itinerant preachers at hundreds of Methodist preaching houses. Little scholarship on Methodists and print culture has appeared in recent years, which is surprising, given their prolific publishing and the recent growth of print culture studies. Similarly, although some have addressed Wesley’s reliance upon traveling lay preachers, we have yet to see a satisfactorily detailed picture of the preachers’ role in taking the movement’s message to hundreds of thousands of listeners. The histories of sound and of auditory culture are attracting a growing number of scholars who would do well to turn their attention to preaching.

However, any scholarship on eighteenth-century print culture or speech arguably provides a flawed, partial view of the communicative practices of the period by ignoring the dynamic interactions of literate and oral practices to focus on either independently. In fact, such independent focus risks adopting uncritically a limited conception of language first fully developed in the eighteenth century. Nicholas Hudson has traced the “slow and uncertain” emergence during this period of the concept of “oral tradition,” a belief that a “substantial body of knowledge or literature could be preserved without the use of letters.” Although, as Hudson explains, this concept gradually lost its controversial status, it leaves us with our modern understanding of orality and literacy as separate spheres of habit and thought. Counter to this understanding, D. F. McKenzie has argued persuasively that different modes of communication interact in complex ways: “None surrenders its place entirely; all undergo some adjustment as new forms arrive and new complicities of interest and function emerge.”

Following McKenzie’s lead, this essay analyzes early Methodism’s simultaneous embrace of the pulpit and the press, an embrace that placed the movement at the intersection of oral and literate cultures in Britain and that complicates any easy formulation of orality and literacy as separate cultures. For eighteenth-century Methodists, not only was the printed word enmeshed in a world of speech, but the spoken word often relied upon print in order to be most effective. What follows is an analysis of Methodist preaching, of Methodist publishing, and of the ways in which these two practices became inseparable. Finally, a discussion of one early Methodist publishing project, The Arminian Magazine, clearly illustrates the ways in which oral and literate practices complemented and competed with each other.

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computer-assisted text analysis: bush’s state of the union addresses

Via Crooked Timber comes this link to a tool you can use at the New York Times website to analyze the content of all of President Bush’s State of the Union speeches.

This is a fascinating and powerful demonstration of computer-assisted text analysis. Technologies of reading facilitate traditions of reading. Think of the ways in which a book’s index, table of contents, running heads, and page numbers all contribute to your effective use of that book. These typographical features allow for and even encourage nonlinear reading: we can drop in at any point in the book, perhaps led there by an entry in the index or in the table of contents, and know where we are, thanks to the running heads and the page numbers.

Here, the NYT has created, in a visually eloquent format, an example of a new kind of reading enabled by electronic texts. It’s very well done, and not so complex that the average online reader can’t figure out what to do. However, this kind of presentation is not universal enough for all of us to agree on the best way to proceed or the significance of the results.

Here are some suggested words to search for:

  • africa
  • sudan
  • aids
  • humanitarian
  • weapon
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what we major in when we major in english

I’m teaching our senior seminar this semester, a capstone course for the English major. Here’s my description:

This semester you should conduct the most thorough research and engage in the most challenging thinking of your college career so far. There are two threads to this class. First, you will reflect on and synthesize what you’ve learned over the last four years about literature and culture, theory and research. You will also fill a gap you identify in your undergraduate education. Second, you will think and talk about what comes next for you, after you graduate. Most of our class sessions will be devoted to (and most of your grade will be based on) the research required for your Capstone Paper, which is the first thread. However, we will also discuss topics relevant to the second thread in class and in individual conferences in my office.

Because this is a seminar, the content of class meetings will be shaped and driven by you, the students. You are responsible for presenting your research as well as for responding to others’ presentations. Come to class fully prepared each and every time the class meets.

Here’s what we did for today as we started thinking about ways to imagine what an English degree looks like:

  • Print a copy of your college transcripts and separately list all of your English courses. Make some notes (from memory, if necessary) on the readings and assignments you completed for these courses.
  • Read our U’s academic catalog description of the English major and familiarize yourself with the department’s offerings and the major’s requirements.
  • Conduct the same research at other schools by reading the catalogs of at least 10 other colleges and universities. Your selection strategy should be threefold. First, choose some nearby schools: Clemson, USC Columbia, Furman, Wofford, Converse. Next, pick a mixture of the “flagship” institutions of nearby states and private schools in those state: for example, the University of Georgia, Emory University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Davidson, the University of Virginia, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University. Finally, look at schools from some other parts of the United States: for example, the University of Kansas, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Washington. How do their offerings and requirements differ from ours? Be prepared for this research process to take a few hours.

This turned out to be a pretty interesting discussion, though I’m too pooped right now to provide much detail. I will suggest that you go look at Emory’s requirements and UGA’s requirements. These are pretty significantly different ways of designing a degree.

For Tuesday, I’ve assigned these essays:

I think I’m really going to like this class.

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milton had it right…

…when he wrote Il Penseroso:

Hence vain deluding Joys,
    The brood of Folly without father bred,
How little you bested,
    Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys;
Dwell in some idle brain,
    And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
    As the gay motes that people the sunbeams,
Or likest hovering dreams,
    The fickle pensioners of Morpheus’ train.

…but also when he wrote L’Allegro:

Hence loathed Melancholy,
    Of Cerberus, and blackest Midnight born,
In Stygian cave forlorn,
    ‘Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;
Find out some uncouth cell,
    Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
    There under ebon shades, and low-brow’d rocks,
As ragged as thy locks,
    In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.

Or, in the words of another poet:

I know there’s a balance. I see it when I swing past.

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