grammar, spelling, systems, rhetoric

I want this Slashdot link on file: Slashdot | Hackers, Spelling, and Grammar? As one of the first commentors states. “Can … open … worms … everywhere.” The very long thread shows that The Great (Ethos) Debate of Good Grammar & Spelling = Good Writing is alive and active. via Kiarosnews.


return to eveleth

Last fall, we visited Eveleth, MN, and saw the hockey stick – because that’s what you do when you visit Eveleth.

We were so impressed and awed, we went back for the 4th of July and saw The Eveleth Clown Band.

And that’s how I spent my summer vacation. More pics here.


it’s parody, got it?

While listening to Live8 at Hyde Park, I had a quick look at some text generators this morning.

SCIgen generates computer science jargon – complete with graphics! What’s interesting about SCIgen is not what it generates but that the MIT grad students who are working on it are using it to spoof conferences – with only moderate success. The text falls apart when it tries to work from cause to effect, and when it tries to bring in people.

Another structured intent in this area is the development of concurrent technology. The basic tenet of this method is the evaluation of interrupts. This outcome at first glance seems counterintuitive but has ample historical precedence. The usual methods for the synthesis of superblocks do not apply in this area. Indeed, A* search and RAID have a long history of colluding in this manner. This is a direct result of the understanding of hash tables. This combination of properties has not yet been harnessed in prior work.

But the authors know the limitations of the generator and – in one of the papers I generated – openly parody the conference paper / academic essay form.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows. We motivate the need for courseware. Continuing with this rationale, we place our work in context with the related work in this area. Third, we place our work in context with the existing work in this area. Ultimately, we conclude.

Closer to FYC home is this essay generator. It comes up with a fair parody of five paragraph theme intro (on slavery) –

An essay on slavery
To delve deeply into slavery is an exciting adventure. At one stage or another, every man woman or child will be faced with the issue of slavery. Given that its influence pervades our society, it is impossible to overestimate its impact on modern thought. Often it is seen as both a help and a hinderence to the easily lead, who are yet to grow accustomed to its disombobulating nature. Keeping all of this in mind, in this essay I will examine the major issues.

– and outro (this time on sexism) –

We can conclude that the sexism must not be allowed to get in the way of the bigger question: why are we here? Putting this aside its of great importance. It brings peace, ‘literally’ plants seeds for harvest, and is always fashionably late.

Let’s finish with a thought from star Beyonce Schwarzenegger: ‘I would say without a shadow of a doubt: sexism ROCKS!!! [3]

The themes are (predictably) divided into three factors – social factors, economic factors, and political factors – and each section develops as a micro-parody. Here is a consideration of Economic Factors on my topic of birdbaths:

There is no longer a need to argue the importance of birdbaths, it is clear to see that the results speak for themselves. The question which surfaces now is, how? Even a child could work out that the cost of living plays in increasingly important role in the market economy. Perhaps to coin a phrase birdbathseconomics will be the buzz word of the century.

The paragraph follows the same pattern of non-development as the entire essay. Because the generator can’t give evidence or bring support to an assertion, it asserts that there is no need to make an argument: the answers are clear, so there’s no need for development. It’s a common rhetorical move in five paragraph themes: writers seek to defer argument by asserting that “everyone has a different opinion” on the matter, or that it’s “a matter of personal opinion.” The assertion deflates the rhetorical need for exposition. And given that way of defining the rhetorical situation, any old set of commonplaces will work – even a theme generator.

Ulitimatly, I conclude.


when wiki works

Apropos the LA Times wikitorial experiment, MattBarton gives us one of those generative, guiding insights that finds a home in the classroom:

A wiki that hopes to be successful needs to find a subject matter that people can relate to on another level besides the personal.

I’d changes that a little to “an approach to a subject matter,” but Matt’s way of thinking is going to make life on the wiki easier and more fruitful.

Read the whole thing: LA Times Yanks Wikitorials — My Reflections | Kairosnews

Or, again from Matt, with more exposition:

As I see it, the “problem” that wikis pose is not how to write, really, but how to collaborate with other writers–how to be rhetorical without being Rhetorical. In other words, just as Renaissance painters worked hard to “efface” the evidence of their artifice and present a “seamless” picture of reality, wiki authors work to “efface” evidence of their political strife and “voice,” even though we all know it exists no matter how innocuous the subject matter. Just as we know a painting is artificial no matter how natural it looks, we know a wiki can never truly represent consensus. The *best* wiki pages are those that *look* finished and complete–perfect. However, this perfection is an illusion. With a click we can trash the page. Sure, it might return a moment later, but we remind ourselves of the medium. We don’t see truth, we see a very easily edited representation. There is no real effort in wiki to deceive. It’s more honest. Obvious exceptions aside, Plato might find it groovy.

And the difficulty in collaborating is learning to reign in that personal voice for the project, learning to speak from the chorus sometimes.


as close to glastonbury as you’re gonna get this year

It was a quiet day here. So in the afternoon, I watched Roisin Murphy at Glastonbury.

glasto on mac

Maybe next year.


syllabus comics

Ok, I’m not really sure how this is going to be read – how it might change not only the meaning of the course but its tenor – but here’s a comic version of the Elements of E-Rhet course statement. It’s a draft right now, but I’ll overwrite versions as I revise it. For comparison, here’s a wiki text version.


mid-zummer reading aiming a new direcction

Since the start of the summer – actually, since end of spring semester because summer begins tomorrow – I’ve reading in and working with visual rhetoric and new media writing:

– Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, Selfe, and Sirc, Writing New Media
– Horn, Visual Language
– Hocks and Kendrick, Eloquent Images
Multimodal Discourse and Reading Images by Kress and Van Leeuwen
– Handa’s collection Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World
– for remediation Bolter and Grusin

and re-reading a couple on e-rhetoric

– Crystal, Language and the Internet
– Baron, Alphabet to email

I started reading to design Elements of E-Rhetoric and to re-design of the web design and web writing courses. I want to shift the emphasis from the rule-governed and towards the rhetorical, from the strictly functional and towards the semiotic: “Ever thought about what the menus mean rather than just how they look?”

But the more I look into new media and visual rhetoric, the more I think about bringing visual composition into FYC. This year’s default text for FYC has some elements of visual rhetoric in it – not a lot, and what it does have is mainly about interpreting images rather than creating them, but it’s a beginning.

Then, this morning I was reading TechRhet comments this years’s C&W. Lots of mentions of “the end of composition” (aka bringing visual into the first-year classroom), and new media and visual rhetoric. Even a mention of a second-semester required course in multimedia literacy. There was a similar buzz during C&W in 1988, I think. HyperCard had been out for a year, so we were talking about students creating multimedia hypertextual productions in HyperCard. Saw a couple of interesting ones. And I remember “the end of compostion” being discussed even then. Maybe this time it will be different. Maybe we can help it along.

At BSU, we have a required “oral component” in our FYC requirement. A few years back, the required speech course was cut from lib ed, but the lib ed committee thought that practice in public speaking was important enough to keep – in some form, in some course. So it was bolted on to FYC. It makes sense. First-year comp is, at root, a course in public rhetoric, although we tend to emphasize invention, arrangement, and style rather than delivery; and we tend to focus on the written rather than the spoken.

When I work with the oral component in ENGL 1101 and 1102, I ask students to put together a panel presentation. In the past, it’s been dominantly oral and modeled on the kind of public panel the students would use in classes or in public: each person presents, then the panel takes questions. But there’s no reason not to add a visual component to an oral presentation, or to shift the presentation completely to a multimodal presentation. I’m not talking PPoint mode: the strict bullet-list presentation of bullet-list thinking. I’m thinking more on the line of what some of the students in Teaching Writing with Technology presented as finals: poster sessions; illustrated discussions; piss-takes of PowerPointing… One semester, a group of students in ENGL 1101 to the presentation into a new area when they wrote and acted in a skit called “The Terrors of Themewriting” by parodying South Park.

I’m thinking more like box-logic, or a full-page image and text layout, or an image and text comic that makes a logical argument (we have the software for this), or an infomural poster, or small website or a single web page, or a photo/weblog design, or a multi-media presentation in iPhoto or iMovie … any number of forms that provide some practice in bringing word and image together. Some of the weblog projects from Blogs and Wikis illustrate what I have in mind.

The most demanding side of this idea – swapping out the oral component for something multimodal – is not the technical stuff; enough students come with enough technical expertise to make it work, and we have the technical capabilities to do this. The most demanding part of this is developing a way of talking about, thinking about, the relation of image and text – exactly the issues the work I’m reading are working through. The emphasis would not be on aesthetic design but on rhetoric and meaning… That’s going to stretch us all (me and the GAs because I know senior faculty wouldn’t go for this) into looking closely at both classical and contemporary rhetoric.

Tomorrow’s solstice. I have a long day to think about it.


bsu email down again

Frustrating. BSU’s faculty email is down for the second time in a week. Last time, we were out for a day and a half and lost the mail. Those trying to contact me can use the alternative: mcmorgan at paulbunyan dot net


a phish devoid of content

Stanley Fish has a new one in the NY Times: Devoid of Content.

His main assertion:

Most composition courses that American students take today emphasize content rather than form, on the theory that if you chew over big ideas long enough, the ability to write about them will (mysteriously) follow. The theory is wrong. Content is a lure and a delusion, and it should be banished from the classroom. Form is the way.

Hear the spiritual overtones in that last sentence? Fish’s way of addressing fyc, then, of helping students find The Way, is to teach it as an introductory linguistics course. Students devise a language, creating the linguistic principles of the language along the way.

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students. The language you create cannot be English or a slightly coded version of English, but it must be capable of indicating the distinctions – between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like – that English enables us to make.

This is nothing new. British scholars did it with English in the 17th and 18th century: that’s why Teaching Grammar has become an exercise in applying Latin grammar to Anglo syntax. And, at bottom, it seems like an interesting course to teach – if tedious to take.

Here’s the twister. In taking on this linguistic construction project,

the students will naturally and effortlessly conform to the restriction I announce on the first day: “We don’t do content in this class. By that I mean we are not interested in ideas – yours, mine or anyone else’s. We don’t have an anthology of readings. We don’t discuss current events. We don’t exchange views on hot-button issues. We don’t tell each other what we think about anything – except about how prepositions or participles or relative pronouns function.” The reason we don’t do any of these things is that once ideas or themes are allowed in, the focus is shifted from the forms that make the organization of content possible to this or that piece of content, usually some recycled set of pros and cons about abortion, assisted suicide, affirmative action, welfare reform, the death penalty, free speech and so forth. At that moment, the task of understanding and mastering linguistic forms will have been replaced by the dubious pleasure of reproducing the well-worn and terminally dull arguments one hears or sees on every radio and TV talk show.

I’m pretty certain Fish is having us on. He’s irked with the level of discourse in fyc when it’s done as recycled thought cast as clever or insightful. And fair enough: there really is little to be learned by mindlessly reiterating the tried and true, putting on the pose and posture – just as there’s little to be learned from mindless drill in comma use. But Fish knows he can’t separate the form of articulation from the idea meaningfully; that function bangs into meaning at the sentence level. He knows that.

Fish is phishing, or at least trolling. He’s seeing what kind of deep sea creatures and bottom feeders he can bring to the surface for air. He’s unbalancing the stock-in-trade favorites of thousands of comp instructors. As an antidote to a course that focuses on the five paragraph theme, he’s proposing a course entirely on grammar. And that’s calculated to send a few comp instructors out of the shoot like a pinball.

Here’s more bait.

And when there is the occasional and inevitable lapse, and some student voices his or her “opinion” about something, I don’t have to do anything; for immediately some other student will turn and say, “No, that’s content.” When that happens, I experience pure pedagogical bliss.

Gonna bite?


now, with randomness

Spent a long, quiet, rainy afternoon adding (and recoding) a wordpress plugin to randomize the banner. Why? Because sometimes changing the banner changes the sense of the posting. If the expression is just right, the banner can provide commentary on the posting. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s just illustration.