Thursday, June 28, 2007

Moving on

Yes, I'm moving on. You'll still be able to read my rants. I've joined - my blog will be hosted as a part of that site from now on.

The URL:

Thank you.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I know - it's been a while. I'm not done yet, either. But, I had to share this. It's a photo of an iPod vending machine that was forwarded to me. Look at the screen.

iRonic, no?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Anxiety about a Rhetoric of Scholarly Inquiry

I think that of the many pages of John Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald McCloskey's The Rhetoric of the Human Science (University of Wisconsin Press, 1987) that I have read in the past few days, the first few pages of the first chapter are among the most thought-provoking (as introductory essays frequently are). The first sentence, "Scholarship uses argument, and argument uses rhetoric," followed shortly thereafter by "In matters from mathematical proof to literary criticism, scholars write rhetorically. Only occasionally do they reflect on that fact. The most common occasion is the manifesto, which seeks to expose the rhetoric of an earlier line of scholarship, demonstrating how ... [it has] misled us," points out the inescapable reality - and paradox - of scholarly rhetoric and the anxiety thereof: to conduct the business of the academy - scholarly inquiry - we must use argument (rhetoric); yet, when we argue against the "rhetorical devices" of the past, we must also use rhetoric.

While revealing, rhetoric may also conceal, a fact that has led to our cultural disdain of [choose your adjective: empty, mere, only, just, simple] rhetoric. As Nelson, Megill, and McCloskey point out, many scholars have realized that it is impossible to completely avoid Bacon's Idols (Cave, Tribe, Theater) when conducting inquiry. They label this the "mask of methodology," and write that to see beneath that mask "is to replace simple acceptance of their reports with insightful scrutiny of their reasons." Furthermore, by treating the claims of others as arguments rather than findings, scholars can further reveal (rather than conceal within rhetoricized claims of "objectivity") the "underlying issues and better ways to consider them responsibly."

It is easy to see why the rhetorical construct of objectivity took precedence over the rhetoric of inquiry in the study of the human sciences. We fear the mutability of language, which is at the heart of all human communication, scholarly or otherwise, because to acknowledge the absence of determinate meaning is to acknowledge that there is no such thing as "true" or "pure" objectivity. We create a structure of objectivity because within a structure we find comfort in the fact that, as Derrida reminds us in "Force and Signification," "within structure there is not only form, relation, and configuration [but] also interdependency and a totality which is always concrete" (5). If we bound the linguistic/rhetorical structure of scholarly objectivity with enough rhetorical reasoning, we create a false structure which serves as the "formal unity of form and meaning" (5).

The difficulty with the fear of rhetoric, Derrida writes, is that "anxiety about language . . . can only be an anxiety of language, within language itself" (3). Imposing a structure ignores the tautology of language, that meaning must await utterance or inscription in order to become meaning, because the structure is imposed after the fact, avoiding the realization that meaning is "always and already" occurring in a discursive artifact. To become truly objective within argument would require our stepping outside of language, which is impossible, because language is unable to "emerge from itself in order to articulate its origin" (27). Becoming freed from language - as a theoretical subject distilled into sounds or further into text - is impossible because we cannot then express our findings without "creating" a language in order to distill our ideas in a manner comprehensible to ourselves and others.

By embracing a rhetoric of inquiry, we can expand our understanding of the vagaries of discourse in the human sciences, and escape the false construct of objectivity that has - for too long, according to Nelson and his colleagues - concealed the rhetorical nature of scholarship.
Sources cited (in order of appearance)

Nelson, John S., Megill, Allan, and Donald N. McCloskey. "Rhetoric of Inquiry." The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences: Language and Argument in Scholarship and Public Affairs. Eds. John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald N. McCloskey. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987. 3-18.

Derrida, Jacques. "Force and Signification." Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978. 3-30.

currently on miPod - Symphony no. 8, mvt. 1 - Ludwig Van Beethoven

Monday, January 22, 2007

Religion in the Public Sphere: The Incursion on Science

It's been done to death in the news and in the courtroom, and repeated setbacks in both the public eye and the legal sphere have yet to deter proponents of "intelligent design." In case you haven't heard, the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit, is claiming that parts of the ruling of Judge John E. Jones III against the inclusion of ID in science classrooms was copied from a series of ACLU motions filed on behalf of the plaintiffs. The spokesman for the institute claims that the use of ACLU text undercuts the credibility of Jones's ruling.

As of when? It is standard legal procedure - two hundred years of American legal precedent - for presiding jurists to cite motions made by attorneys in cases over which they preside. This aside, why are people still giving this idea credence as "scientific?" It is creationism couched in scientific terms; however, the use of a set vocabulary does not render a statement scientific, rather, it makes it propagandistic: use scientific-sounding language to fool people who don't know better, rinse, and repeat. You now have a movement! Congratulations!

The underlying premise of ID is that life is so complex that its design had to originate from some higher intelligence. Science requires that theories be testable based on observable criteria. Believe in evolution or not, you cannot observe or test for the presence of a higher intelligence. You can (theoretically) observe fossil changes, document the state of existing organisms, geography, geology, and wait for a few million years to see if they change - the nature of data storage being what it is, it's not impossible.

This is my first post in a while - so I won't run off at the word processor forever. I'll be back with more soon.
currently on my (new & improved) iPod - Carl Orff, "Chramer Gip die Varwe Mir" - from Carmina Burana

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'm back!

I'm sure some of you are sorry to hear it, but I'm back from my six-week hiatus and ready to bait you once more. Posts to follow are guaranteed to piss someone off.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sorries & Apologies & Waaah.

In case you haven't guessed by the date and my graduate student status, I've been (and will continue to be) taking a hiatus from blogging until after I've handed in all of my final projects (and handed back all of my students' final papers).