English 737-Welcome

January 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I love watching Drum Corps International performances. Though I could have chosen from an infinite number of classically good performances, this genre immediately came to mind. I dispatched at once to find a You Tube video and so thoroughly enjoyed watching this performance I looped it another four times before going to bed. What do I love so much about these shows? I think I am drawn to them because they amalgamate many contradictory symbols. On the surface we see a group of people in uniform animating non-descript forms while playing music. With the corps in the video, all the performers are men and their corps symbol, the fleur-de-lis, is taken from the Boy Scouts of America’s insignia. This scene is reminiscent of military bands; the rigid formations evoke images of rank and file lines (though now the lines undulate), and the players wearing full plumed and corded regalia are disciplined. This is pageantry. This is pomp and circumstance. This corps is as serious as a United States Army band, which takes as one of its duties the provision of security for a command post. Can I say these all-male corps secure masculinity’s post with safe and congenial homosociality? It’s thinly veiled, I assure you.

For as these corps takes up the imagery and instruments of a military band, they trouble these sacred symbols. The rigid line breaks under the impossible strain of hyper-masculinity and forms a softer, more curved form. A sequined dancer alights upon the 50-yard line and takes up a rifle, a flag, a hoop. A streamer. The performance space, typically a bastion of masculine aggression, is electrified by male dancers, blaring trumpets, tinkling xylophones, gesticulating drum-majors, moves termed “park and blows,” and “power wedges.” The men blowing horns, the men dancing, the orders given, the shapes flowing like waves—these signs crash into each other and exceed their original meanings. I am attracted to this excess and its inability to mean one thing at a time.

For me the 1988 Madison Scouts’ arguably definitive arrangement of Malagueña is particularly important because I first watched it during a complicated part of my life. To offer a bit of context, my family used musical performance as an affective conduit; it was the only comfortable way to show emotion. Upon entering my second year of marching band at Illinois State University my parents divorced and the conduit was severed. Marching band became a surrogate means of externalizing emotionality, I think.

One of the pieces the band took up for the 1996-97 season was the ’88 Madison Scouts arrangement of Malagueña. To prepare, we watched the video from the DCI championship, which included the piece I’ve clipped on my blog. This song somehow became the soundtrack to my semester. Which seems right—at once bombastic and raucous, its unceasing cadence and strident soprano trumpets create a cacophony that I cannot vouch for, aesthetically, nor deny its power and beauty. It matched perfectly how I felt inside.

And really, like a divorce, the whole operation is absurd. Young men dance in one-piece uniforms, performers wear glittery sashes–the flailing flags, the seemingly nonsensical field formations; it’s almost asking too much for you to watch it. But all I have to do is click ‘play’ and these ridiculous tears spring. This performance circumscribes many other performativities: masculinity, sexuality, race and class. Taken holistically, it is the perfect metaphor for my life as a 19-year old college kid trying to negotiate these waters with a newly broken family.



My sister used to play with this program all the time when we were younger. Our favorite game was to get Eliza to say “rattlesnake.”

Maybe this is the future of digitally mediated “empathic teaching?”


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Class reflections

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I want to say. With this class I feel I have a better handle on some key conversations in rhetoric and composition studies. For example, I never really understood this form/content debate. I mean, I understand it, intellectually and historically (not that these two are separate), but I never really understood what the big deal was. After reading the articles on invention, coding, democracy, and control I started getting a better understanding of the power of creative design. These articles prompted my thinking about labor arts and aesthetics, which further solidified my understandings about form/content addressed by  many of the readings from the 737 class last year.

I also learned how to think differently. Not only think, but compose differently. This was a huge shift for me. I reflected earlier on feeling like I was a kid learning how to hold a pencil. This is because I am in the process of learning a new way of creating–using the Prezi and the mindmapping software to write was challenging, but useful. Sometimes I felt like different parts of my brain were tweaking–like I’ve been using certain neural connections and networks that have become routine over time. Whenever I felt a strong resistance to something I tried to push past it and sure enough, a new “tweak” would happen. It’s funny because at first I wanted to use these technologies to present my research and my argument(s). I’m thankful for our class discussion around weeks 10-11 because reading peoples’ experiences and watching their presentations made me realize I was going about this wrong. Once I tried composing with this software (if that’s even the right word) the Prezi, for example, clicked into place.

I had a hard time a few aspects of the class, however. While I tried my best to push past some resistances to digitally networked learning, I think they rumbled underneath the surface enough to encourage me to put off participating in discussion until the last-minute. I became very involved with presenting my research ideas to my union members and pretty invested in making sure I was prepared to “speak” to the readings on my blog. But I had a hard time wading through all the conversations–I would get lost and confused and run out of time. I eventually learned to manage my time a bit differently, but ultimately I was not satisfied with my participation in class. This was a shift for me, because in ftf environments I’m almost always participating. Here I would just read and read–kind of an equivalent of staying quiet! I’ve never been the quiet student in class! I would lurk and read, but always felt out of the loop or never quite a part of the conversation. I remember perking up when we talked about which games made an impact on our lives growing up. This was my favorite discussion thread.

I haven’t developed the skills to read quickly through this much text. I am a slow reader and get very distracted when I read. I find my eyes jump all over the text and somehow the printed page has helped slow me down and focus. I’ll be thinking of the strategies I stared developing in this class when I start reading for my preliminary exams. I think they’ll be helpful in that context.

I also like being challenged. When I started feeling wierd and resistant I tried to tune in to that discomfort. I’m rarely one to shut these moments down because I think they can be generative.

If I were to take this class over again, I’d do the following differently:

  • I would take it in a semester where I had a lighter course and teaching load. I am on the fence whether there was too much work. I know some of our class discussions centered on this point of contention, but I feel once I figured out that I’d need to shift my learning strategies the workload felt easier to manage. Still, I didn’t have enough time to get everything done on time.
  • I would work harder to balance reading and writing about the readings on my personal blog with reading other peoples’ work.
  • I might try to experiment more with the presentations. While I feel I got a lot out of what I did, I would have liked to make the PK20X20 work.

I like that I now have a project with a future. As I mentioned in my paper, I’ve taken these ideas to my union and there’s a real possibility we’ll reconsider the role of art, technology, and “critical play” in how we organize. This is pretty exciting, and one of the first times I’ve actually used a seminar project to do something real in the world. Part of why I chose this project was because many of the readings encouraged us to rethink audience. When I write seminar papers it’s mainly for myself and my professor. With this project, however, the form of the Prezi or PK 20×020 forced me to think about audience. This made me want to address more than a couple people; I felt encouraged to get creative about the possibilities this project has for the future.

We’ll see if these technologies make it into my own classrooms. I am in love with teaching ftf, and many of my scholarly interests are centering on ways of teaching. The “ways” I’m interested in would not work online and I’m not interested in cultivating them in the online world, but I think I’ll have my eye out more for discussions, theories, and philosophies about ways of teaching in digital space.

Categories: English 753

Version 4: Paper

May 15, 2010 2 comments

Hello world. The final draft of my paper (project draft 4) is up!


Categories: English 753

Version 2: the mind map

April 29, 2010 1 comment

So I’ve been working on the PowerPoint and it’s going slowly. I decided to also do a mind map based on one of Anne’s suggestions on the Ning, and it’s been a huge help. I can’t seem to find a way to embed the XHTML version I exported to my computer (because it’s not server-side or something like that, right?). I used the Jing to take a screen shot and uploaded it here.

The mind map is helping me visualize my ideas for the paper. Version 1 of my project helped me figure out some of the gaps in my thinking. Version 2 is helping me organize those thoughts and think about which threads to take up in my final draft, what the order might eventually be, how much research I have left to do, and where I may wish to insert a visual appendix, or embed the pictures as color photos, or try and “publish” the paper through a digitally mediated technology. We’ll see–these are things I’m working on.

If anyone has any idea about how I can embed the mind map into my blog, I’d love to hear it!

Categories: English 753

More reflections on Prezi v.1

Thanks to all who commented on my presentation. Your questions and comments were helpful, and I should mention that the video is by the Critical Arts Ensemble. The works at the interstices of  art, theory, media, technology, and political activism. I take their practice as inspiration for different ways to talk about, create, act/react, and organize labor-as-life-art-practice. This is a concept I may try to develop, but knowing I need to make these links clearer helps.

I think what I tried to think through with the Prezi is that the labor movement in the U.S. has a long relationship to art in the printed form. Because printed text is cheap and easy to produce, portable, and connected to one of the earliest union shops in New York in the late 1800s, I think labor has been reticent to transition to other forms of artistic expression. Also, there is a deep suspicion of the historical and present-day connections high (and I might argue, conceptual) art has to bourgeoise ideology. If art doesn’t work, that is, labor in the service of the revolution, art thus exists for its own sake.  Art prints (banners, fliers, union labels, sidewalk imprints, posters) work–they take art seriously as a means to communicate, educate, agitate, and empower. I think the movement is reluctant to interact with digital art as agitation because the message is often disorganized. This runs counter to the movement’s goals to organize, organize, organize. Rhizomatic forms of experiential, spontaneous, flash-mob (dis)organization like the message in the video seem to go against the grain of labor’s work. I want to argue with Raley, Flanagan, and Wark however, that  “critical play,” through “tactical media” is serious work–work the movement better take seriously to stay relevant.

Whew. That was helpful to work out. Thanks.

Categories: English 753

Preliminary Examinations

I don’t think I mentioned my new blog here, but a few weeks ago I set up a site where I could start archiving reading notes for my prelims.

The idea came from Katt Blackwell-Starnes , and I’m thankful for her inspiration. This site is modeled after her own preliminary exams site. I didn’t mean for mine to look so similar, but it turns out we have similar taste in WordPress template designs.

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Prezi in Progress

April 24, 2010 4 comments

Yeah, it’s kind of like learning how to use scissors and glue. This was a lot harder than I anticipated.

Behold: (dis)Organize Now!

Categories: English 753