Well, H and I have moved together over the last week into an old but very well-located townhouse. I’m sitting here at my desk upstairs, taking a short break before I go finish cleaning out my old hovel and doing some overdue work at the office.

After almost a solid week of moving, with me taking 2 or more truckloads of our junk each day – one day we took 4 – we’re still not done. But it’s getting there.

All art is manipulation

It’s the day for astute quotes by intellectual luminaries, I guess. Ken Burns on editing his new documentary:

“And you have to be very careful. All art is manipulation. That’s a huge responsibility; we’re manipulators. We have to be sure that this manipulation is done in the service of honorable ideas. We were all committed about it. We thought about it every day. And we wept ourselves.”

Or, as rhetcomp would say, all texts are rhetorical, though Burns’s comments have a Platonic/Isocratic vibe to them – “in the service of honorable ideas.” – and an assumption that emotions are the primary appeal.

The importance of a first draft

There is a very good, if a little star-struck, article in the NYT about Justice Stevens, who is apparently gotten riled enough, sitting on a packed court at 87, to speak a bit more freely to the press. He also has some astute things to say about writing:

Since Stevens joined the court, he has also been the only justice routinely to write the first drafts of his own opinions — the other justices have generally relied on clerks to write their first drafts and then rewritten (or at least edited) the drafts to various degrees. “Sometimes the draft is pretty short,” Stevens told me, “but at least I write enough so that I’ve had a chance to think it through.” Stevens said writing a first draft was “terribly important” because “you often don’t understand a case until you’ve tried to write it out.”

Amen to that. I’m in a workaholic mood today, which is good, because the last week has not been that productive, but I thought I’d share an englightening piece.


Today was productive. I made a series of bizarre post-its on the edge of my desk, detailing everything that needs to get done in the next two weeks or so – crossed off quite a few of the minor ones, did two medium-sized ones, and resolved to do the rest ASAP.

There was some time for some relaxed reading. The new CE came today, and there were two particularly good articles in it. “We Won’t Get Fooled Again: On the Absence of Angry Responses to Plagiarism in Composition Studies” by Amy Robillard and “The Stakes of Not Staking Our Claim: Academic Freedom and the Subject of Composition” by Mary Boland.

Robillard’s article perfectly describes the samurai’s dilemma of morals vs. duty that plagiarism exposes in us; our identity as caring, understanding teachers is threatened, and when we turn in our students to “the authorities,” we self-contradict ourselves as we’ve stopped teaching and being involved. This can be rationalized away by saying that such punishment is in the student’s best interest, but that doesn’t explain the deep sense that I did something wrong a few semesters ago when I did report a student for plagiarism.

This actually ties pretty closely to Boland’s article, where composition’s past and current inability to sell a progressive social model of writing and its teaching to anyone but composition scholars is demonstrated quite well – this is why execution-style plagiarism policies, such as the UoM’s, remain in effect., all based on a simple model of “writing=skill.” This seems to be a public relations job for a few good rhetors – to do a whirlwind tour of college presidents/deans/administrators and divest them from their ignorance of rhetcomp scholarship, as they’re not listening, apparently, to the writing experts that they have. The definition of an expert is someone from out of town, anyway.

This apparent disrespect for rhetcomp scholars worries me. I’ve never been good at hiding what I feel, and apparently the structure of academia requires that I be as quiet as a mouse for the first six years if I want any more than six. That might not work too well – would I be content to engage in “tactical” operations, as Boland describes them, rather than “strategic” ones? We’ll see.

In other news, I had a really exciting idea for the diss, but it will have to wait until I finish translating the Gospel of Mark to see if it is doable.

Busy, busy

The semester is moving along briskly already. I have been spending quite a bit of time prepping for the sole class I’m teaching, probably too much, as I should be working more on my dissertation prospectus and getting the prose rhythm article out. But that balance, as with any semester in the past, takes time to negotitate. I’m moving soon, too, which complicates things, even though I’m looking forward to the new venue.

I have been reading Helmut Koester’s Ancient Christian Gospels lately and I’ve had a difficult time with it. When my students were engaged this morning in a scavenger hunt for sources I’d prelocated over the weekend in the UofM library, I tried to keep reading, but it’s too Q-ish for me. Q, Q, Q, this driven hunt for primary sources is tiring. His unrelenting focus on how Thomas “preserves” the “original” versions of this or that pericope is so Q-laden that I was flipping my left hand about in protest while reading, and emitting various animal-like bleats, as involuntary responses. Just because Markian Priority is well-established doesn’t mean that the shortest version of every parable in Thomas represents the oldest and most primitive one; it is just as likely that the synoptic parallels in Thomas are a straight summarization of some synoptic material, stripped to the essentials via the tribulations of recollection. I’ll keep reading, but the pauses for complaining are getting more frequent.