moving forward

Thanks for the kind comments on the previous post. To be honest, I’m not all that happy with it myself, simply because it is more negative than I really hope to be. Nevertheless it is a record of my frustrations, so there it stands. Meanwhile, I will make an effort to be more productive. I can see where Don is coming from with his comment. If I were to create an ideal program it would be one that was deeply theoretical/philosophical and addressed the challenges of writing and contemporary (new) media on a conceptual level. However, as Don points out, many of our students don’t feel that way. They are overwhelmed by the theory they are asked to deal with as it is. If I could, I would point out the relationship between abstract philosophy and effective rhetorical practice, but it really isn’t very easy to see, especially when one’s grasp on the philosophy is fleeting at best.

For example, in the recent debates in my department over the direction of our curriculum and our new hires, I have written a slew of memos and e-mails arguing for a particular perspective. My arguments have often relied upon my facility with deconstructive methods as I have sought to dismantle disciplinary barriers between writing, teaching, and literary studies. Understanding how language does and does not work. Understanding how institutional practices and histories serve to support certain “commonsensical” notions. Understanding how to find these things in an argument, take them apart, and shift them to make room for thinking otherwise. These are the practical abilities that come from a deep conceptual understanding of rhetoric and language. They can never come from any practical instruction in writing.

When Paul and Jessica write about their own challenges as grad students, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Clearly some departments are more forward-thinking or experimental than others, but English Studies, in practice, is a culturally conservative industry. Obviously as grad students, you may not be in much of a position to do much about your professors’ ideas (though I must say I have plenty of students who take issue with the things I say and I am happy to hear it if their opposition is thoughtful). However, trying to sway your graduate colleagues might be worthwhile. At least it will be good practice for the future.

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