Note to readers

This is a blog that I'm required to keep that's full of unedited, near stream-of-consciousness reactions to similarly required and related readings in a graduate course in N.C. State University's Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program. The way these posts are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings. I'm identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but the posts aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start with contestation, then spend heavens only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from these source for use in my own work's contributions back to the field. Comments encouraged, but please, you'll likely need a thick skin if your work is quoted here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Alexander on Closets and Networks

(Note: I doubt Brendon's reading, but if you are, I appreciate the link and will respond just as soon as I put a few more assignments to bed. *sigh*)

Okay, let's get something up earlier than later...

There seem to be two clear ways to respond to and critique Jonathan Alexanders "Out of the Closet and into the Network". The first is to enter, by virtue of the topic, into a political discussion about the disservice he does to identity politics by assuming that the set of "all students" can be split into two neat categories -- "both gay and straight" (216). You can have any color you like, as long as it's one of my two favorites. The second is to point out the clear appropriation of the ostensible topic of this collection. There's nothing about computers or digital media in here beyond the possibility of chat rooms enabling/lowering the barriers to a specific style of role-playing exercise.

I'll concentrate on the second critique, that there's no strong connection to computers in the classroom, as it's the least controversial. Before I do, though, so as not to shy away from the hot button topic, let me say that there's good reason Alexander's subconscious can't let go of the criticism from "the student who accused me of 'promoting sexuality'" (209, 216). If sexuality is constructed, the rhetorical classroom, made up of, I assume, students who are not primarily interested in studying identity politics, could just as appropriately benefit from a study of the construction of what we might label "hedonistic heteronormality". Why are there social pressures to latch to a member with whom one can most likely reproduce? Yet if heterosexual monogamy is so strongly socially promoted, why is it so often undercut in practice? What are the appararatus[es? ii?] of sexual normalization? Who do they benefit and why? If these socially reinforced practices are so natural, why is there such a long and complicated tradition of laws forbidding acts that do not comform? (Hello, Leviticus, but more helpfully divorce law in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, iirc, in the Pentateuch.) And, if you want to put the hedonistic spin on things, why does sex sell, and furthermore, why continue sell with sex? Why isn't marriage simply about reproduction and protection [in a very practical sense] of those wonderful machines of controllable labor, your own flesh and blooded hoodlums? Get to scythin', girls (hint: start about 24 seconds in and stop soon thereafter, according to taste, though her swinging it over her head on top of a tractor around 6:30 is an interesting political image).

Allow your students to discover the controlling ideology and the ways they already contest it, and have that discovery invite the consideration of the multiplicity of sexual practice outside of that same normalization. Guess what? They'll "discover" homosexuality soon enough. Putting homosexuality as point two in the contestation (1.) Normalization 2.) Consideration of homosexuality 3.) Hope that the lesson exposes the multiplicity of sexual roles Butler's "Lesbian Phallus", among others, suggests) instead of third (1.) Explain normalization 2.) Find ways you and other contest normalization 3.) Discover antidisestblishmentarianism positions) is like forcing a kid to dress up in 18th century garb and prance around Williamsburg for Labor Day because your parents enjoy that sort of thing. Ah, but now my own politics and personal identity crises are becoming too obvious. ;^) (And lest you think I make light of identity politics, recall that my MA project was on Cotton Mather.) Don't have students ask themselves "Will you try to turn gay?" Ask them, "How are you already !heterosexual?"

So let's move on. I'd be happy to talk about the way personal politics can all too easily influence composition courses in ways that invite ethical interrogation ad infinitum. Suffice to say Alexander is exposing a certain flavor of politics that is open to critique in ways he neither addresses or even completely admits. The following critique of the erasure of the topic of the collection in which he publishes may very well be -- and I'd suggest likely is to some degree -- another symptom of a not critical enough politics. Ruffin's non-stop mantra: Own your bias.

(Heard outside office, one prof to another: "I really enjoyed the kind of press you're picking up." *sigh* I guess that's good.)

Part 2 in progress...

Okay, I've spent too long already. Let's wrap up the second critique very quickly. I'm surprised that Alexander begins describing the benefits of a "computerized classroom" but then says that its benefits are "information, voice, and community". Is the classroom producing the very inexactly measured "sheer amount of material about homsexuality on the Internet" (211, 208) [1]? No. No it's not.

Practically speaking the computerized classroom in this piece is only affording a virtual space with the possibility of creating pseudo-anonymous facades for the homonormative (please, remove the knee-jerk negative connotations of normative activities. You're already teaching folks how to write or speak the Queen's Bernanke's English for heaven's sake) role-playing assignment on pages 213-216.

Or is the goal of allowing social repercussionless (minimized repercussions?), convention-deconstructing role-play the only use of computers for Alexander, or even the primary one?

There are some telltale comments in the chapter about surveillance that deserve recognition. "In examining the transcripts" (213) and "analyzed the transcripts, a procedure that should be de rigueur as it allows everyone to become aware of assumptions made during a conversation" show us what's really happening. Instead of losing "conversation" to the academic ether, we're, via computers in and enabling the classroom, capturing each word, creating audit trails for discovering, identifying, constructing (that is our goal, right, to discover construction? What, we're suddenly immune in this exercise?) bias. Computers don't just lower the barriers to entry for taking on new personae and roles, but allow us, the instructors, to silently capture, manipulate, and represent texts to further our own ends -- our professional speciality. The poor saps never saw it coming. Heck, they probably think shrink wrap EULAs are binding and still ignore them. Lemmings, them and us both. You think "gay and lesbian lives are socially monitored and proscribed" (213)? Try an online composition student's. "It is just where we think our personal lives are most natural and untouched by outside forces that we are most blind to the ways in which our society has conditioned us to think about ourselves and understand our identities." (211)

I'd love to make that a more nuanced critique, but I've spent waaay too long already. See you in class.

Now playing: The Chieftains & Sinéad O'Connor - The Foggy Dew
via FoxyTunes

[1] Look, there's s#!tloads of material on the Atari 2600. Units of measurement, please.

You Scored as Stan Marsh

You're Stan Marsh! Probably the sanest of the group, you're the mastermind behind the good plans and can easily resolve problems. To you love is amazing, and you're probably already in it. You can be a smart ass and don't have a problem saying what's on your mind. And you're probably an activist. Dude, this is pretty f#&ked up right here.

Stan Marsh
Kyle Broflovski
Eric Cartman
Kenny McCormick


Kathy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy O said...

I think you and I have a similar view as far as your fisrt critique goes... the whole "yeah, you can be gay or straight, the end" was myopic (or biopic?). Perhaps thats why the student thought he was promoting homosexuality... he was definitely promoting sexuality... is that really important to everyone? In a composition class?!