Sunday, September 26, 2004

basic writers in the cw i classroom

Vinny asked me about what to read to get a handle on the problems basic writers have in the CW I classroom. Here's a response.

You might start with what Renee wrote about Malcom X: the growing awareness of language seems to be key here.

But also read, in Corbett, Myers, and Tate

- Mina Shaughnessy, ''Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing," p. 94, to get a sense of how to think about the kinds of problems basic writers encounter.
- Mike Rose, "Remedial Writing Courses: A Critique and Proposal," p. 193, and the essay following it
- Peck, Hoffman, and Rose, "A Comment and Response," sketch out what a course might look like and how it might proceed.

That's a start. I'll be looking for more.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

From Nietzsche to Bono in only 5 paragraphs while thinking about Rhetoric

A thought brought about by my literary criticism reading, which is nicely complementing my rhetorical theory class, and also remembering what Jonathan mentioned in class - humans speak in metaphor.

Nietzsche says: sensuous first impression . . . filtered through language into metaphor . . . neatly cubbied into classification . . . for a more human and conventional world. (All to sustain a lie.)

So, considering this, why rhetoric? Rhetoric comes in an effort, by the man of reason, to convince others to perceive their experiences in terms of a certain metaphor so that their attitudes and actions reinforce the world of reason or the convention upon which his human metaphor has been built. I'm thinking of the church which says, you don't have need, you have lack of faith.

All this is opposite the man of intuition, the artist, someone who according to Nietzsche, "confuses the cells and classifications of concepts by setting up new translations, metaphors . . ."

Does the artist, the man of intuition, stop being artist and become the man of reason, the rhetorician, when others begin to classify their own experience in terms of his metaphors? Does he stop being an artist and start becoming a rhetorician? Can rhetoric be stepped into accidentally? Are there reluctant rhetoricians?

I remember reading somewhere how Bono, lead singer for U2, was irritated with the way some evangelical Christians were taking U2's lyrics and using them to say his spirituality matched up with theirs, and were inspired by his lyrics to continue in their Christian way of living. I guess he didn't want his metaphors, his art, to be used to reinforce the Christian metaphors and classification system. Or maybe he didn't want to be seen as someone "with a message," but someone with an original metaphor.

Do we have here a reluctant rhetorician? A miffed-at-being-misclassified rhetorician?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

What is it? Malcom X knew.

Back to what is rhetoric. Is rhetoric what comes with an awareness of language? I can use language without being consciously aware of language. Communication is possible without really thinking about it. But when I become aware of how I can shape my communication, in the choice of a word or words or phrases or inflections or references, so that it is recieved and processed in a certain way, that's moving into rhetorical communication.

Before Malcolm X became aware of language he tried to communicate outside of his street circle. He wrote dozens of letters to politicians, church leaders, gang leaders, without a reply. Then he became aware of his limited vocabulary and studied to increase it in hopes of being able to communicate better. He gained an awareness of language and with that awareness he began to purposely shape his words to sway his audience. It worked. In 1963 he was the second most sought after public speaker in the United States. Consider his style in the following quotes taken from his speeches:

"If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country." Speech, Nov. 1963, New York City.


"It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep." "Message to the Grass Roots," speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965).

All this said with an 8th grade education. Why did he quit school? Because his favorite teacher told him that his ambition to be an attorney was "no realistic goal for a nigger."

Changing topic here, (digressing to the dogs again?) in reference to a conversation in rhetorical theory class:
Maybe what separates us from the animals isn't so much a use of language but a conscious use of language. Maybe some animals can actually gain a slight and minimal awareness of communication which at times can reflect more awareness and thought than that of some humans (college educated even) that I know.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Awareness of Language

In my class I read Coming to an Awareness of Language by Malcolm X to my students. Through frustrated attempts at communicating with others he realized he needed mental access to more words. So, he hand copied a whole dictionary and studied the pages, gaining access to people and knowledge in books and more freedom within those prison walls than he'd had in his whole life.

Here's a bit:

In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there. I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn't articulate, I wasn't even functional. How would I sound writing in slang, the way I would say it, something such as, "Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat. Elijah Muhammad--"

Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I've said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. This impression is due entirely to my prison studies.


So, he really had to learn a whole new language in order to communicate outside of his "street environment." He had to take on the commonly accepted version of English, he had to make rhetorical choices.

I'd like to examine the rhetoric he used in his speeches. He inspired and frightened people. White people and black. Enough to be assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam, the group he distanced himself from after discovering the man he thought to be a living prophet was really a scam.

Renee's CW I Blog

If you're interested in seeing one way to use a blog in a CW I class, have a look at Renee's CW I blog. What's interesting is not only can the students refer to it as the course evolves, but Renee can look back to it next semester and next year as her teaching evolves.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

On dreams, symbolic reality and dogs

Often after a particularly vivid dream I walk about much affected, I see my day world as a fog, it feels less real than my dreams. In contrast, I may be less affected by some forms of world interpretation even though the information conveyed is of much greater importance than my dreams. More than causing me to gasp or be amazed, what I see and hear on televised news causes me to question and doubt. Who is the broadcasting station? What is their aim? Revenue by snagging people with sensationalism? I am a skeptic when it comes to news, that medium which symbolically brings much of the outside world to me. But I am not a skeptic about the way my dreams seem so real and the way they make me feel. I have often thought this might be a flaw in my being. Who knows it might be, but even if it is I'm thrilled to say I was refreshed to read in Language as Symbolic Action by Kenneth Burke:

" . . . much of our "Reality" could not exist for us, were it not for our profound and inveterate involvement in symbol systems. Our presence in a room is immediate, but the room's relation to our country as a nation, and beyond that, to international relations and cosmic relations, dissolves into a web of ideas and images that reach through our senses only insofar as the symbol systems that report on them are heard or seen. To mistake this vast tangle of ideas for immediate experience is much more fallacious than to accept a dream as immediate experience. For a dream really is an immediate experience, but the information that we receive about today's events throughout the world most decidedly is not."

Now I realize that I am focusing very heavily on the "dream-real-experience" part of this statement, but I also realize that when thinking of dreams it is important to remember that the material that makes up my dreams, that information stored in my subconscious, was acquired through a reality tinted by my own terministic screen. I do not take my dreams to myself and hold them as "central" to my own or anyone else's reality. But, like I said, the reality of my dreams often looms larger than the reality of something like the news that a hurricane is hitting the southern part of my nation.

When I am feeling particularly tired I have been know to say, "I wish I were one of my dogs, look at how happy they are." Consider the dogs (or the whales). Their reality is their immediate experience: the resistance of the rawhide, the taste of the tidbit passed from the table, the caress of the master's hand, the intonation of the master's voice, the warmth of the bed. We know this is normal for a dog, to be attached to the moment. Any deviation from this "normalness" sends us cooing in delight . . . "watch my dog run at the mention of the word squirrel!" The dog recognizes the word squirrel as a prequel to a dash through the door towards a furry critter jumping out of the tree on the other side of the lawn. In his excitement at the sound of an "s" and a "q" he is actually living beyond the immediate moment. It is this kind of behavior that gives our dogs that "human" quality. And we love them for it. And yet at other times we envy their complete detachment from the life that is only available through symbols.