Archive for the ‘dissertation’ Category

How and Why I choose my dissertation topic

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

During my comps reading this summer, I finally decided on the topic of my dissertation. It is no longer the idea I once had pre-Computers and Writing, though I think that stuff will definitely play a role and may end up to be one chapter, if my layout of chapter ideas is to be believed. (I like planning. Do not judge. I am also very flexible.) At any rate, I think the comps process has been incredibly useful to me so far since I’ve come up with a few arguments already for my dissertation, some useful sources to integrate, and I think I chose my areas of study wisely.

I thought about the different ideas I had for my dissertation for a long time because there is so much I am interested in that it is hard to choose. But I also know i had to pick something that A. I could do in a relatively short amount of time, so I didn’t want to take on too much that was completely new, B. I wanted to choose something that wasn’t too narrow, where I would be pegged as “oh, she is the one who does underwater basket weaving” and just leave it at that, and C. something I would enjoy since people do “peg” you based on your dissertation work, which makes sense because you have spent an enormous amount of time on that work.

Some ideas I considered involved looking at the pedagogy of other art degrees (a whole new field, really, and I don’t have time for that) and new media studies (this will play a role, but it is no longer the focus. Plus, again, I have to learn a whole new area along with the creative writing). While pedagogy and some aspects of new media will play a role, my dissertation will be focused on areas of critical theory, creative writing studies, and gender. I chose these things because of the A, B  and C considerations above. I felt I could get this done in a reasonable length of time, it didn’t strike me as as narrowly focused as underwater basket weaving (though let’s be honest and say most dissertations are narrow in focus, though interdisciplinary as well, which is helpful) and C. I would enjoy being seen as the person who does creative writing studies, pedagogy and gender.

Is this the right choice? Yes. Are other parties who have the potential to hire me going to agree? I don’t have any idea, but I hope so and I think I could make arguments toward their needs, as long as I choose which jobs to apply for wisely myself. I just want to write something where I could say something like “oh, you are looking for someone who does equity studies? Well, my work with creative writing and gender has taught me…”

I mean, I know the realities of the job market. I’ve read what Rebecca Schuman wrote about “thesis hatement.” (I usually console myself by repeating, “I teach writing. I teach professional writing. We will always need writing.”) I’ve read the articles by William Pannapacker AKA Thomas H. Benton and in fact they were assigned to us during my first semester in my program (I had honestly already read them. I knew the story. I knew that I was getting myself into some potentially hot water, but I am grateful the professor had everyone read those and talk about them in class). I follow someone on Twitter who tweets quite a bit about the suckitude of the academic job market and try not to take it to heart, but at least learn from it. I’ve also worked as an adjunct, as many have, and still have nightmares about canceled classes and faculty members suddenly deciding they want to teach my online world literature course, but I wouldn’t mind teaching composition II, would I? (Disclaimer: I like teaching composition. I do not like teaching composition online when you fill it with 40 students and I’m also teaching at another university and taking classes at a doctoral student. That semester was a nightmare.) I’ve read about alt-ac tracks and how to transfer “soft skills.” But I still want a teaching job, like hundreds of others out there. But I’ve also seen how bitter people can get, and I do not wish to be bitter, though I am sure no one sets out to be bitter.

So, in choosing my dissertation focus, I took the job market into consideration as well. I guess you could say that was my D. criterion.

Some people may read this and say, what a list of stupid reasons to choose a dissertation topic and maybe that is true. But passion and love don’t pay the bills or get you jobs all the time, either. What I can tell you is that I will enjoy the topic and enjoy writing it, though I know the whole process will have its moments of suckitude since I still very well remember my five to six hours a day writing my MA thesis, which came to five chapters. And, to be honest, I didn’t put the same level of thought into my MA thesis before I started writing it. I wanted to think about it more this time and luckily I had the luxury to do so. I suppose if nothing else, I can say I took the time to really consider my options and weigh them and I think weighed them well, considering the knowledge and experience I had at the time.


The crazy graduate student self

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Now that I am done with my coursework and working on studying for my comprehensive exams and have built somewhat of a good reputation in my department (I say somewhat here because I don’t think people know me very well, which is really my own fault and something I plan to remedy), I have had opportunities thrown my way and also have had to make some decisions I don’t particularly enjoy making. I’ve also been thinking of how to approach this coming semester regarding my comps along with all the other responsibilities I have, such as teaching a new, and challenging, class and traveling to a conference to chair my first panel on authorship.

All this has had me thinking about how I feel I have two lives, or at least two distinct personalities that I’ve developed during graduate school, or perhaps I should say because of graduate school. Now don’t think I am meaning to sound crazy, though I know the way I phrase that may sound crazy, but what I mean is that in reality, I’m a very calm, collected, rational, and practical individual. A friend once said, “everything you do is deliberate.” He is right. I think through every possibility and examine the consequences of each decision I could make. I always do this. In fact, I’ve been doing this for the past couple days regarding my comp schedule for the coming semester. I haven’t completely made my decision yet, but I am certainly thinking about each action and the consequences and opportunities of those actions to figure out which is more beneficial to me.

So that is the calm, collected, rational part. The graduate student part of me is downright crazy. She is concerned more with what the CV says, than what may be best for her at that time. While I think sometimes I think she is right because, yes, my rational side says it would be possible to do it that way and be OK, that doesn’t exclude the desperation the crazy graduate student side demonstrates. As one of my friends would say, “that girl is just cray” and she kind of is sometimes.

Though I could give tons of examples, I am going to focus on the comps, which I know is a huge surprise to you all who have been reading this. One thing I have learned about the comps is that it is like having a newborn and listening to all the advice other people with children give. Everyone has their own ideas of how you should read for the comps. I’ve heard everything from “just take notes on two points from each article. Only worry about that” to “take good notes because it will help you with your dissertation.”  Some people also treat the comps as if it is just “something to get through” and while you will gain something from it, the meat is the dissertation. While I believe that is true to an extent, I know that if I take good notes and pay attention, I will be able to write a dissertation in a year or less. I know my work ethic. I know I am highly productive, even in the summer months. I also know that because I have not always taken classes in all of these areas, I need to pay close attention to my reading.

The point is that all this advice will drive you half-mad, to the point that crazy graduate student self is trying to tell you to pick the “easiest route” so that you can “be done quicker.” But the more mature side of me knows that probably isn’t the best idea, particularly because I am taking a route with this work that isn’t something I’ve been studying in classes as a student here. It is something that I’ve studied previously and worked on a lot and even have a life outside academia where I do work similar to this. (Wow, did I just say a life outside of academia?) So I know that while I can ask for advice until my head pops off, I need to follow my own best route.

And I have had other examples of this, too. Most recently is when I felt that I shouldn’t take (but didn’t receive anyway) a position after I had applied and interviewed for it because of how open-ended the position was and where I was at in my program. Knowing my own work ethic and thoughtfulness, I know how consuming that could really be, and at a time where I couldn’t have time for it. There is also the time I took three seminar classes while also teaching as a Master’s student because then next semester I wouldn’t have such a load and could work more on thesis research. That was crazy and probably not wise, but I survived. I received my first B because of that semester. And yes, I’ve done similar, crazy things as a PhD student just so I could make sure to finish coursework “on time,” whatever that means.

It is as if as a graduate student, there is always a clock running in the background that you are constantly aware of, and you are worried you are not up to par against that clock. It is a silly thought, really, my rational side says, because there is no such clock and everyone has their own levels of determination and momentum. Intelligence, really, has little to do with it. Being super smart helps, but it certainly isn’t necessary. And I know that sounds hilarious to some of you who are probably not in academia, but it is the truth. It is really just about getting the work done, being competent, and knowledgeable in your area. You do not have to remember everything, though I am sure it is helpful if you can, though I am not sure how you could, frankly. You simply have to know where to find the information you need. If you have that down, you are golden.

In sum, as a wise friend on twitter said, this is really just all about choosing which hill you want to die on and I have encountered some hills recently that I know I should not die on. I’m sure I’ll see others that I have to avoid in this coming year.

Reflections on comp reading and women in creative writing

Monday, July 15th, 2013

A lot of graduate students tend to bemoan or fear the comprehensive exams portion of their study. I do admit there is stress involved, for sure, and perhaps a little fear, so far I have learned quite a lot from my reading for comps. And while I don’t feel I have made as large a dent in the reading as I would have liked, it seems the more I read, the more manageable this work becomes. It is also nice to be able to go through a very long list and cross out a recent reading. I also enjoy reading something in the morning and then reading something later in the afternoon and being able to already draw comparisons and synthesize the two readings, even when they are very different, such as how I was able to draw comparisons between my Kant reading and later my reading about the creative writing workshop. I know that sounds crazy, but there were comparisons, mainly around the idea of how the mind creates cause and effect.

To be honest, I’ve been reading mostly from my pedagogy list for creative writing because that is the one area I have not had a class in. While I have sat in plenty creative writing workshops, I have not sat down and read about creative writing as pedagogy and creative writing as a discipline. What I have found is while there aren’t very many good histories written about creative writing as a field, most people seem to argue that creative writing is often easily linked to composition and literature, and in fact came to exist at the University of Iowa because of these reasons. At the same time, many feel it needs to be considered its own discipline, distinct from literature or composition, and everyone has their own theories for how to do that. And this fact also explains why creative writing has so many problems with site identity in the university.

But creative writing is also very masculine and why it is so is partly because of when creative writing came of age. When the workshop at Iowa opened, it was right when WWII vets were returning to school because of the GI Bill. And the writers who entered these programs, and why the creative writing MFA came about in the first place, was to give support and a place for experienced writers. But what many scholars, such as Vanderslice, Ritter, and Bizzaro, note is that the demographics of creative writing programs has changed. For example, there are undergraduate programs in creative writing and often writers who are still at the beginning stages of writing are entering MFA programs. Thus the traditional workshop model that is masculine and based heavily in fictive bloodshed is not a good pedagogical tool for these students. Critics of the workshop, such as the late Wendy Bishop, proposed instead the “transactional” writer’s workshop, and this idea was later addressed and revised by Stephanie Vanderslice. This workshop often has three aspects:
1. it demystifies authorship so that students understand what a writer’s life is really like and how there is no such thing as a muse or anything similar to that. It also helps to demonstrate the real work that goes into a piece of writing.
2. the new workshop provides reflection on one’s writing and creative process so that students, particularly those beginning writers, understand what drives their creativity and where and how they are most creative.
3. This type of workshop also provides reflection on one’s own writing process. Bizzaro himself notes that number three, to him, is most important since student writers need that space, in class, for reflection. He also adds that having students look at published poems and help them to imagine what a writer may write next or talk about the possible writing process for that poem is also helpful in regards to numbers 1 and 2.

As I was reading in my office this morning, I kept thinking about a brief exchange I had with a friend who has a PhD in Creative Writing. He has commented a number of times about how the poetry workshop always seemed like a “happier” or more feminine space since his fiction workshops were often like a Bobby Knight school of workshop and composing. I don’t remember saying too much in response, except maybe more or less agreeing or mentioning how there were some moments in poetry workshops where things got tense. But what he was really commenting on had nothing to do with the distinctions between poetry or fiction workshops, and everything to do with the reasons for creating the workshop in the first place during the 1930s-1940s, along with those who were his teachers, along with the reputation of the program itself. Creative Writing, whether we like it or not, has a largely masculine influence.

When I was in my early 20s I had my first in-print publication. It was a collection of writing from three different female poets, all under 25, since women under the age of 25 are the least published in creative writing. I just remember thinking it was cool and not really realizing the significance of the work we were doing. As I continue reading, I keep thinking about creating a press, digital or otherwise, that would focus on publishing only women writers. Even though I think this would be great, and though I am sure similar avenues exist, I also feel that the small press has created a voice for women in creative writing, the small press has also confined women writers to those areas. It is still easier to get published if you are male and writing fiction. Most women seem to publish in poetry or in the fields of creative nonfiction or get published because they wrote a really great romance, or perhaps something akin to 50 Shades and none of these are considered to be “serious” writing. I know this isn’t always the case, but often it is. I know J.K Rowling exists, obviously, but she also published a more “serious” novel under a male name, didn’t she?

Or maybe I should just start telling everyone I am working on a novel.

The privileged Marginality of Creative Writing

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

I’ve been reading Tim Mayer’s book “(Re)Writing Craft: Composition, Creative Writing, and the Future of English Studies” for my comp exams coming up this academic year. While Mayers does a decent job of giving an overview of why composition in the university became a field in the first place, his discussion of composition and creative writing joining forces to create a more solid space for Creative Writing is not the greatest argument I’ve ever seen. In fact, I feel some of his claims, such as by combining creative writing with composition, the field can become even stronger, is a bit idealistic. Sometimes in his book he even sounds a little like Mr. Rogers telling me it will all be ok and to be a good person. And his statement that “composition studies has reached an important stage in its development and is possibly ready to expand its scope to encompass territory commonly thought only to belong to creative writing” just made me say whut? Isn’t that the other way around, sir?

What I did find interesting, however, was his discussion regarding the marginality of creative writing. In my readings, I am trying to find a way to create a solid, academic space for Creative Writing in the university so that CW can have some “site identity,” a problem described by Graeme Harper and Jeri Kroll in their introduction to the collection Creative Writing: Practice, Research and PedagogyA big target, admittedly, but one that allows me to examine roles of authorship in CW and how new media and multimodal practices can benefit creative writing studies.

When it comes to CW and its marginality, Mayers left me some interesting ideas to think about. For one, he argues that because CW is so marginalized, it can almost do anything and become anything within the university. Of course, this is also a problem, as we see from the lack of site identity CW has in the university. (Again, where do you find CW depts? Almost anywhere and sometimes well-hidden.) He also argues that because of this marginality, the issue of scholarship in CW is something misunderstood. For instance, CW need to publish a lot if they want to have university jobs. (At this point, he also says something awful–he equates CNF with drama and then terms it, “so-called creative nonfiction.” So called? No. Drama? No.) But he states because of this, that CW scholars need to think what they mean by scholarship. He feels that the publishing of short stories, poems, etc would be and should be considered scholarship for the CW.

Well, duh.

But here he is also ignoring the idea of scholarship within the university. Scholarship is often original research. But then, stories, poems, and “drama or so-called creative nonfiction” (Mayers) are often thought to be original, that is unless you are following in the vein of Marjorie Perloff or Kenneth Goldsmith. And we all know that the university system is slow to see change. I mean, look at Blackboard and the technology available within that and then go elsewhere on the internet and see what is available. Yep. Like that.

He does mention, however, that the scholarly analysis of creative production is beginning to emerge, and this can be helpful to Creative Writing as a field. An example of this kind of scholarship is Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice, which is an interesting examination of poetry writing in a culture saturated with other types of media. Another example is Timothy Clark’s The Theory of Inspiration, where he attempts to demystify what it means when writers feel “inspired” which is cool, and I book I want to read even though it isn’t technically on my reading list, but it just sounds so cool, if a little Burkean or even impossible.

What Mayers wants people to realize here is that creative writing is, in all academic terms, serious writing and should be considered so in the academy. But in the same breath, he argues that “creative writing cannot be taught” because “it is so intrinsic to the writer.” Again, I go whut? There is a big problem if you want to create a space for Creative writing in the institution, but then say it cannot be taught because we are all beautiful, unique little snowflakes and no one can define us or what we do. No one.

What a mess.

I still have a little over half of this book to read and I am not quite sure how I will feel by the end of it. I mentioned to my former poetry professor and “drama, or so called Creative Nonfiction” professor that I was reading this book for my comp exams and he just gave me a look like, oh yeah, that book. I now understand why he wasn’t so sold on it. While Mayers makes some interesting claims, he also contradicts himself and makes claims that I feel are misaligned or not well articulated. Hopefully, by the end of this book, I will feel a little better about it. Granted, he does make some interesting observations and got me to think more about the privileged marginality of creative writing, as he so terms it.

Either way, I am glad I got it from the library and didn’t buy the book. Hooray for libraries.

Computers and Writing nOOb

Monday, June 10th, 2013

First of all, this post really doesn’t at all convey my true excitement about all that I learned at C&W 2013. It only tries to get at the big picture points, as most of my blog posts do.

‘This past week I attended my first Computers and Writing (#cwcon on Twitter) conference. Before I tell you more, I have to confess one thing:

I do not write code. I am not a programmer. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

And at first, I thought this might be a stumbling block, or a complete dead end in the road, especially as I participated in the Graduate Research Network and met a ton of coders and computer programmer types. I just sat there through most of the conversations and wondered WTF, am I in the right place? What am I doing here? These people are great, I thought, but I have nothing to contribute to this conversation. My only knowledge of any code is basic HTML knowledge that I picked up in the mid and late 90s and by now that is probably so old it is akin to ancient rhetoric, though admittedly I still use it when I need to. And I mean, anyone who had a livejournal account and/or an angelfire site had to use some basic HTML. You want to bold and italicize, don’t you? You want to insert that link. You need that cool graphic on your livejournal. But do I code? Oh, hell no. In fact, I have some interest in coding, but not enough to get me started fully right now. I have started codeacademy, but my progress is slow, mainly because of everything else I am doing. But that is probably more or less an excuse.

But as I continued to participate in the conference, I felt more at ease. For one, no one was bothered that I was tweeting or using my phone during panels. People always assume I am not paying attention if I am on my phone or ipad or macbook, but normally I am and in most cases I was actually tweeting the conference panel. I also was able to participate in a number of discussions about social media and teaching, about creative writing and new media (and by the way, I met a ton of people who are creative writers and do use social media to distribute, promote, and work on their writing, so haha), and there was even some really fun and nostalgic discussions about angelfire, livejournal, and even Homestar Runner. In fact, I think a few of us got really nostalgic about Homestar Runner via Twitter. In some ways, these folks were speaking my language, even if I did not know Javascript or Python.

Along with that, I learned a lot, especially about multimodality. A lot of the panels I went to focused on multimodal pedagogy. Probably the most useful thing I came away with in terms of teaching was how to better my multimodal assignments, particularly the professional blog assignment. I realized I need to almost completely revamp that, particularly the rubric. Students have been kind of awful at the multimodal component of the blog, and after attending computers and writing, I understand why. I realized I need to make these things much more explicit to them and maybe eventually work to teach them some code, once i start to learn it. I also need to talk with them more about “hacking spaces.” I need to get them to use Google Drive, Google+ hangouts, etc more, especially in my online classes. What people discussed and presented on inspired me not to do more with technology, because I already do a lot and don’t want to start the Creepy Treehouse, but to do better with technology.

Finally, I don’t think I have been to a more friendly, collegial conference in my life. I think I must have connected with at least 30 people via Twitter and am still getting Twitter follows. But don’t go thinking this conference was some Utopia conference, especially considering the coffee situation, though that stuff was entirely contextual to Frostburg, or seemed to be. I think some things need to be improved (for example, I heard a few complaints about gender in terms of women who don’t code and the bias that surrounds that as well as how race has been treated at the conference), but I think those conversations are getting started, or seemed to be and I hope they are and that those conversations grow and continue. Either way, C&W has a great community with highly talented people and great ideas that are already being implemented. At one point in the conference, Karl Stolley said that ‘if you aren’t here, I don’t know what you are doing.” While that may sound harsh, he has a point. I don’t feel my connection to technology is a bad thing when it is a learning and teaching tool and has given me, and all of us, the opportunities we now enjoy and will enjoy later.

New Media and Creative Writing

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

I’ve been a “creative writer” for as long as I can remember. I remember writing stories before I started writing poems. I wrote a novella when I was in elementary school in the vein of Stephen King and I’ll admit I learned about subplots from him and characterization, and I probably even borrowed some characters from him, but gave them different names, altered storylines, but nonetheless sampled, to an extent. If you care, the novella was a blend of something King-esque and influences by Audrey Rose (book, not film), which I know sounds terribly similar.

But because of this, and because of my current studies, I’m working on linking new media and creative writing in efforts to further legitimize it as a field. There are reasons for doing this, such as establishing a stronger site identity for creative writing in the university (honestly, how often do you see a creative writing department?) and giving it some sound theoretical grounding (craft criticism, using OOO with poetics, theories of authorship studies and new media, for example). I’m using the four areas suggested by Adam Koehler in “Digitizing Craft: Creative Writing and New Media: A proposal” which are 1. process, 2. genre, 3. authorship and 4. institutionality.

But my question is the following: if one were to link new media and creative writing to further legitimize it as a field of study, what should it even be called? What do creative writers think of the term “creative writing” itself? For example, the word creativity usually implies “original” and that sets off all kinds of ideas about things like the muse, voice, etc.

In thinking about this in terms of Koehler’s essay, he uses the term “Digital Creative Writing Studies.” He uses the term “digital” to imply how genres and authorship expand, mutate, an resist in digital spaces. He uses the term “studies” so we can build theory into the practice of creative writing, and link this all to pedagogy and build these bridges and expand these ideas.

While I don’t mind the phrasing of “Digital Creative Writing Studies”, I am certainly not attached and think we can find other terms as well. I’m also questioning this since there is more than “writing” done in a digital environment, so should we even use that term? Or is it still ok because we are still talking/thinking/doing writing, as a primary activity, even though we are working in new media environments. The word creative also a loaded term since it implies being original, though creative writing is thought to be creative in that it refers to being innovative, thoughtful, sampling, and using the tools available to create something as a form of self-expression or for sharing with others or both, and most often both. And creativity is one of those terms that may mean different things to different people. And in this sense, I may be oversimplifying the term “creative” and “creativity.” (Hint: I probably am.)

So today I started experimenting with others terms one could use. Such as New Media Creative Writing, New Media Creative Writing Studies (so long, I know, but it respects both new media and creative writing, which is really an important term that would be hard to get away from) and New Media Craft Studies and for a brief wonderful moment, Digital Craft studies, though there is a lot about digital craft.

But maybe terminology is no big thing, though it really is, at least in a university. Terminology is also a double edged sword in that once you create it, you cannot get away from it. But Creative Writing, as a field, does need to legitimize itself, which is why I focus (and why Koehler focuses) on the four areas that we do. By looking at process, authorship, genre, and the institution of creative writing in the university, we can build that. But terminology seems important as well, even though this may be premature.

I hate it when I answer my own questions. I think I just did there.

But all the same, if you are a creative writer, I would love to know what you think about the following terms:

  1. Creativity/Creative
  2. Creative Writing as a term/institution in the university
  3. Digital spaces/new media

Never feel the need to answer all of those things. Pick something important. Say something about it. We are in need of voices (no pun intended), scholarship and discourse around these things in creative writing departments. 

Dissertation Case Study #1: The Generative Poetry Workshop

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

For my dissertation research, I’m looking at issues of authorship in creative writing, namely how creative writing students view revision (some creative writers are notorious in choosing to not revise) and invention (where the heck does my creative work come from?). I started out thinking about voice in writing, but decided that was complicated and also figured that I couldn’t begin to talk about that unless I understood invention and revision adequately. And those two things have really become my focus in authorship theory and studies. With all this in mind, last night I attended the first class of the semester which was obviously a lot of introductory material for the course.

What I found most relevant from this first day was the views of invention we were given during class. The first video was from Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert who spoke about “the elusive creative genius”. During her talk, I kept thinking back to my undergraduate creative writing days and how inspired I would have felt after hearing her discussion about creativity and genius. I probably would have wanted to leave class immediately and start writing, which I recall feeling quite a bit during creative writing classes. And, of all the TED talks we viewed, I felt this was the most interesting in terms of her conceptions of invention and authorship.

The way the workshop will be run is also going to be extremely useful in what I am studying. If you know anything about the traditional writing workshop, which honestly has not changed dramatically since the late 19th century, the workshop is primarily peer review. It is critique. It is about teaching yourself how to correctly write a poem or any piece of creative writing. It is about fitting in, you could say. This workshop is different in a number of ways. This workshop is far more generative, for one, since it commits students to writing as much work as they can during a given semester. The workshop is also focused more on the writer. For instance, in a traditional workshop, the writer has to be quiet, not say anything, and listen to what each person has to say about his or her writing. When I was telling Dr. Strand about this process yesterday during our meeting about my research, he looked at me as if that was the worst possible and craziest idea for creativity he had ever heard, and I think he is probably correct in that assessment. But this workshop gets away from that. Instead, the writer has time to talk about what he or she wanted to do in the poem, about problems he or she is having in writing the poem, about how inspired the poem, and other questions regarding the writing process. Other students listen to this and instead giving a “cold reading” of the poem in class, they get five minutes to ask further questions of the writer, of which the writer can choose to answer or not answer. Then, within five days, the other writers respond to the work via a blog and let the writer know how they can further work on the poem.

Will this work, you might ask, especially if students are so used to and comfortable with the traditional workshop? I don’t know, but I don’t see anything wrong with making students uncomfortable since people tend to learn a lot when they become less comfortable in a situation. You learn a lot from doing old things in new ways. I think the time in class will definitely be useful where I, and other students, get to hear about the actual process of invention, revision, and creativity. That part is the most exciting element of this, at least for me as a creative writer and a researcher in this class. I confess that as a creative writing student I wanted nothing more than to explain what I wanted to do with my work, why I wanted to do that, and how it even got to this point. I wanted to say something during the workshop process. And with that in mind, I think this whole idea is liberating.

I also confess that it is liberating to sit in a class and be able to participate and not have to be evaluated on my participation. As a researcher, my participation will most likely be minimal, but I think this is an exciting idea, and so I do want to participate on some level. Plus, as the researcher, I think it will only benefit my work if I do take part in these activities. That way, I have a first hand experience with it and can better articulate how to better the process and/or discuss why it works or doesn’t.

Either way, I am excited for this opportunity and I am glad I took it, even though I am going to be busy and exhausted, but I am sure I will learn quite a lot through this process. And I hope to learn a number of things: 1. I’d like to learn how we can combine, or at least build a bridge, between CW and Composition pedagogies and 2. I’d like to learn how we can improve CW pedagogy through the workshop process. Really, I think this is a promising start.

Poetry and Object Oriented Ontology

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I’m working on a paper on how one can perform an object-oriented ontology on poetry. While I won’t say much more about it than that, I’ll share one of the poems I am analyzing through OOO and give you a little information on how I did that from the paper I am working on.

THE CRATE by Francis Ponge 

Midway between cage and cachot, or cell, the French has cageot, a simple little open-slatted crate devoted to the transport of fruit that is sure to sicken at the slightest hint of suffocation. Devised in such a way that after use it can easily be broken down, it never serves twice. Thus its life-span is shorter even than that of the perishables it encloses.

So, at the corners of every street leading to the market, it gleams with the unassuming lustre of slivered pine. Still brand new and somewhat aghast at the awkward situation, dumped irretrievably on the public thoroughfare, this object is most appealing, on the whole — yet one whose fate doesn’t warrant our overlong attention.

In this object prose poem of Ponge’s, human perspective does not exist. Instead, the reader only knows the experience of the crate as a crate, which makes it open to an object oriented ontological reading. In this poem, the object laments how it is only used once, for the purpose of containing and transporting fruit. The crate in the poem can be read through OOO as Bogost writes that this type of reading, “illustrate[s] the perspective of objects” and the poem focuses solely on the perspective of the crate (Bogost 109). In other words, the reader of this poem never learns of any human perspective regarding the crate. In this poem, the crate carries its own perspective, which it shares within the poem.

The object is also related to its purposes and other objects around it, which is what invites an OOO reading of the poem. After all, much of Bogost’s descriptions of what OOO is relates to the experience of objects in regards to purposes and how that object relates to other objects around it. Part of the idea of flat ontology is that “all objects equally exist, but the do not exist equally” (Bogost 11). In Ponce’s poem, the crate and the fruit equally exist. Each is an object and so each exists in a similar way. But in the poem the crate laments the fact that it will not outlast the fruit it carries, which will eventually spoil. The lines “[d]evised in such a way that after use it can easily be broken down, it never serves twice. Thus its life-span is shorter even than that of the perishables it encloses” remind the reader that the crate is simply a secondary object in comparison to the fruit it holds.  In this sense, the fruit seems more important than the crate. The crate is simply the mode of transport for the fruit and that is all that there is to it.

In this sense, the poem “The Crate” is a perfect example of how the universe is organized. While both the fruit and the crate exist, they do not exist equally. The fruit serves a greater purpose since humans rely on it for nourishment. The crate is simply the object the fruit arrives in. With this, object-oriented ontology demonstrates to readers how perspective is gained. If one examines the role of objects in comparison to other objects, one can better uncover preconceived notions, values and ideals that human beings hold. In other words, we order the world according to the objects around us and how we use and understand those objects and how those objects relate to other objects. But only through disseminating this information can we begin to articulate what Bogost means when he states, “all objects exist, but do not exist equally” (11).

[rough draft] Steampunk: Abstract

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

This is just a rough draft of the abstract I am working on for a paper about Steampunk. I wrote it just today, so I realize a lot of this needs to be fleshed out more. The deadline is November 10th, though, so luckily I have some time.

Abstract: “Steampunk in the Posthuman World: Insecurity and Transcendence”

Marshall McLuhan believed in the future of the humanistic machine and, as a culture, we have seen this with the visionary actions by the late Steve Jobs and others at Apple. McLuhan wrote of how we dwell in our machines where tools become an extension of the human. As one examines the world today watching people interact with cell phones and Apple products, McLuhan becomes a prophetic voice. One of the most interesting aspects of the human and technological inventions comes forth through Steampunk.
Steampunk, in a sense, has become a cultural instrument. Steampunk suggests a way where a person can literally inhabit a “humanistic machine.” But what the question arises as to what is Steampunk besides just an aesthetic or cultural movement? In my perspective, Steampunk responds to and represents our insecurities about our human selves in the face of technology. Will we lose ourselves to the machine, one must ask?
Looking backward to Victorian culture through Steampunk helps answer this question considering Victorian’s emphasis on ghostly tales. In Victorian ghostly literature, such as in Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, it becomes clear that the ghosts are not outside of us, but that we are the ghosts. In other words, the man walking into the haunted house is himself haunted. My question is that what does this say about self and what does this say about the human self in a posthuman world through the Steampunk movement? My paper will focus on how themes within Steampunk speak to our insecurities in a posthuman society.
Posthumanism does not just speak to insecurities, however, but also represents a presumed lack of balance between human and the machine. My paper will further articulate how Steampunk represents our lack of balance in regards to culture and the global arena. In a world where we can connect instantly with others from around the world, how do we maintain our sense of self, of our own culture, with so many emerging influences? In a sense, it is interesting we have turned to Victorianism (in this case Neo-Victorianism), since Victorianism focused on control, both self and social control. But with so much technology, how can we enforce that sense of control, how can we regain balance? Steampunk seems to give us answers to this and this need for control is one thing my paper will discuss. (My own comment: I know. There is work to be done.)
Despite these negative readings, one cannot ignore how Steampunk also represents a powerful movement toward making a positive and powerful use of our technologies. My paper will end discussing how Steampunk can give a culture lost in its machines a voice. This portion of the paper will focus on the transcendence of Steampunk—how steampunk can help the human transcend the hold of the machine and cause human and machine to meet with mutual purpose. (My own comment: I don’t really like the last part of this last sentence–I’m working on this. I need to do some more thinking of the transcendence idea anyway.)

Using literature to teach writing, Part 2

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Here is my handout for my co-teaching in English 759. I’ve probably already talked about some of the strategies for using literature in the composition/writing intensive classroom in part 1, but many of these are new. If you find these interesting, I highly recommend you check out the book edited by Art Young and Toby Fulwiler. The citation is below.

When Writing Teachers Teach Literature: Bringing Writing to Reading. Art Young and Toby Fulwiler (eds). Heinemann: New York, 1995. Print.

Overview: This collection of essays focus on pedagogical tools that can help teachers with writing instruction through the use of literature. The book is divided into parts that each has a particular focus. This handout gives emphasis to each part and describes some pedagogical strategies from each section. Note that I haven’t discussed every essay/pedagogy in the book.

Part 1: Conflicts in the Contact Zone

These essays talk about how to deal with difficult topics in the classroom. These can include difficult themes to discuss in literature (e.g. rape) or misconceptions students carry about what English means.

This first part focuses on why students “take literature” courses. Most students expect to bring them further “awareness” of cultural issues and, more broadly, make them “better people.” (like the rhetorical question—“Is the good speaker a good person?”) Trimbur focuses on why students “take English” and gives some good ideas to have students explore what literature means by having them describe their prior experiences with literature and what they expect to learn in a literature course. (You can easily turn this around and ask what their previous writing experiences are and what they expect to learn in a writing course. It will help get the course off on some solid ground.) Essays that follow discuss pedagogical strategies for teaching writing and literature and I have highlighted a few of these below:

  • After students read a work of literature, ask them to rewrite that work of literature in a new way. I currently do this in my world literature course where students will write a poem retelling Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” for example. This demonstrates to students that literature is not static, but malleable.
  • Ask students to write a letter to the editor (or some form of more formal or informal writing) that places themes from the story/poem into a contemporary setting. For example, if they read Yeats poem “Leda and the Swan” a student could write a letter to the editor of the student newspaper about rape on campus.
  • Use literature in a way to challenge students’ current misconceptions. Have students Freewrite on their past experiences with a certain (perhaps difficult) topic and use these to lead into discussion. Works well in classes where you are talking about difficult themes/ideas.

Part 2: Student Writing and Teacher Learning

In this section, student writing is the main focus where students can use their own experiences to guide the classroom situation.

Pedagogical strategies:

  • In one class, students created their own “textbook” for the class of their own writings. This would be a good thing to do in a 120 class or in a creative writing course. You could use this textbook for other classes so they could learn the genres or have it be a sort of “class portfolio.” All students would contribute their own work or work collaboratively on this as a class. (Group writings, for example with an “editing group.”) This gives students power over the class and their own writing.
  • Reader response is a focus of this section, so another pedagogical move would include having students write their own interpretation of a story or poem. I know we, as teachers, sometimes step over students to correct interpretation (especially if we feel strongly about a work of literature or author), but the goal here is to let students express their own reading of the text and contribute to a “critical edition” of that work. (I think Dr. Totten has done this kind of assignment in 358, so he would have an assignment sheet on this if you were interested.)
  • For exercises in imitation, students can mimic the sentences of an author. (We have talked about this.) Students can also practice summary by writing a summary of the plot of a novel read in the course.

Part 3: Writing and Rewriting Literature

Self-explanatory title. 😉

  • This was an example from a poetry class: The teacher assigned multiple genres of poems (rap, sonnets, etc) and had students write their own versions of these forms of poetry, along with talking about how the “form fits the meaning.” This gets students to think about genre as well.
  • One teacher in this section discussed how he had students “rewrite” a story or poem in a way that it fit modern times (or however the student wished to rewrite it.) Students also played around with writing alternative endings or adding new characters. This would work well in a creative writing class. You could also use this in 120 by showing how literature can be made relevant today (rewriting a story/poem into present day) and also teach about genre and how genre is culturally constructed (something I make a point to do in 358 and 120).
  • When critiquing literature, have students talk about the writing too. Why the writing works or doesn’t work. Use this to teach students about diction and descriptive writing. (I have an exercise on a Robert Hayden poem I did where I taught them about using diction and descriptive writing. I also showed them his multiple drafts to show how the poem changed via the word choice and descriptions. I’d be willing to share.)
  • Have students write personal essays in response to literature. This can work well (but also potentially backfire) if a student has a strong reaction to a work of literature. The example used was Maya Angelou’s Why the Caged Bird Sings rape scene. A student wrote about her own experiences on this topic. (Would be good for creative writing or 120, but I also think this is a very delicate subject, but if done well could be a very forceful and successful assignment. But you would want to know your class well and make this a later assignment.) This also shows them that literature isn’t an “outside” entity but something they can relate to on a personal level.

Part 4: Writing for Personal Knowledge

These essays all discuss ways students can discuss literature in a more personal way, mainly through journal writing (I felt the last essay from Part 3 fit more into Part 4.)

  • Have students keep a journal or blog where they write about their personal responses to the readings. Journals or blogs will offer a safe haven for students to talk about their personal reactions to a given creative work.
  • A problem with journals is that they can be “unfamiliar territory” to some students, so you could use journals to show how they are private discourses to better understand a story, poem, or novel. Students would use these to discover ways of understanding the reading (writing to learn) and bring these ideas with them to the next class period.
  • In using technology, you can set up an email listserv to talk about the literature. (This may seem outdated today, though.)

Part 5: Writing for Critical Literacy

These essays focused on more comprehensive ways students learn through literature and writing. It discussed ways to get students personally and critically engaged in the readings.

  • Portfolios. We already do this here, so it would easily fit. With portfolios, students would have their personal responses (a response or journals) to a reading and then have a critical piece of writing on that reading following it (analysis, close reading assignment, etc). This way a student could see how his or her knowledge of the readings changed over time.
  • Another teacher discussed the possibility of grading student freewrites at the start of class. He called these the “ten minute writing assignment” and 40 percent of the student’s grade was based in these assignments. They are basically like informal response papers to the readings due for that day. I thought it was an interesting idea to make sure the students were doing the reading and giving credit for that in a tangible way. This also easily helps bring about discussion of literature in the classroom.