the sound of something living

the entirety of your weight

crashes down beside me


affection from the glances

I didn’t want to be touched.

so you sent me miniature


wrapped in sparkly asterisks

they greeted me where i had








blameless ash

feathering my fractal exterior:

absent observations


from what never made itself


Those are the bootsteps


in the sand.

“The only evidence I was left here to dust.”

you smile anyway


though you don’t.


because “what is there to do anyway?”

it’s not whether art is life, or likewise

                                                            ———–    it’s because we make the living within our eyes.

blog post for class: the students of speech

Much of our practice of tutoring, as tutors, comes down to the negotiation of identities. Every and each one of us are meeting in a tutoring conference over the practice of writing. We work together, tutor and student, over a specific composition, the professor’s requirements (or lack thereof), the institutional demands of academic writing style, and, most of all, over who the student wants to be in the paper they write. In a lot of ways, this textual construction is the most visible representation of identity. Perhaps that is why it can be such a highly contested practice.

I relate here to the idea of visibility because of how sorely misguided our sense of sight can be. Denny mentions in his chapter “Facing Sex and Gender in the Writing Center,” that “These components (“race and class, our sex, our gender, and the politics attendant to them”) of our identity are among the most legible on our bodies and faces we present” (87). I completely do and do not agree with him. Whereas I know that we judge one another based on our perceptions of gender, sex, and race, class is a much different classification. For me, I think it fashions all the others, but only because politics is what is actually fashioning all of our faculties of identity judgments.

Denny discusses, “Television (e.g. Leave it to Beaver) and moral education campaigns (e.g. A Date with the Family) served to casually instruct codes of proper suburban behavior etiquette, even as the first media firestorms about delinquent youth, rock-and-roll music, and subversive culture underscored problems in paradise” (96). It may very well be this imposition of ideological functions within mainstream media that has culminated into what our contemporary subversive groups term “the sleeping public.” Coined as “sheep,” our counter-culture believes that the dominant modes of culture-branding has turned us into citizens that are no longer public, people that no longer know how to think critically.

Now I know that is largely just another identity construction that limits our ability to think of ourselves as anything but. Here we have commercials from corporations like Mary Kay promising liberation through purchasing lipstick highlighting girls protesting in the streets (I cannot find a link to this to citation, but I can say that my recent accidental stint in watching television exposed me to this commercial rendered blithely staring in shock at the appropriation.). On one end we are sheep; on another, we are promised freedom through consumption. Each argument seeks to define our identity, and tell us who we are. So we construct. We brand ourselves through clothing, through makeup, through our careers, through our life choices. All these things help tell others who the person they are looking at is. As projectors of the identity-construction gaze, we interpret race, gender, sex, and class as well on everyone we encounter. Why?

We do this to figure out who people are based on the way they brand themselves, and in light of what they “naturally” appear to be. We do this to see if we can see eye-to-eye with a person, or to note them down as enemies or not worth our time. All that is politics. And all that politics is fashioned by our codependent relationship with media.

Our reading of each other can usually be wrong. We cannot always guess a person’s race, class, gender, sex, and political affiliation. Oh, but we do it anyway. And to what ends? Where does this judgment get us? Usually wrong, and offending. But it does something more. To judge one another based on brands of identity, we are upholding the most dominant of all models of discourse: judgment.

Does it really matter what a person’s physical appearance hints at us? I can tell you one place it does matter, and that it matters for a reason not entirely obvious.

A person’s physical appearance matters in a writing center. It matters in the text they compose to negotiate who they are in a dominant culture that will certainly tell them who to become. When we write anything (and that includes me now), we are responding to the world, and its every construction of our identity it has. Go ahead, world, speak us. Our writing is our chance to speak back.

That is why writing is so contested. That is why it is hard for a student to say what they want to say. That is why we struggle with our texts, mostly feeling a lack of confidence in what we say. Because we have to respond to every single ideology of identity. That’s a lot of speech. It also isn’t easy when, in academia especially, even the way we speak is a brand. That is where all these semi-invisible markers show in our discourse. Our words speak our gender, class, sex, politics, and race. Sadly, and more often than not, composition courses tell students to filter these things out, to lose their selves in the use of standard academic discourse. Cause that’s not political.

Yea, it is entirely political. These are the students that hopefully come into the writing center. (if they aren’t completely discouraged). Imagine having all of those “markers” of identity at once and being told none of them are mainstream enough to being accepted. No wonder some students drop out. No wonder most students think so low of themselves that their voices don’t matter. No wonder they turn to the media to hear good things about themselves—if only they spend $x on y. They’re being beaten down ideologically because of who they are. I’d run to the solace of a lipstick too.

Or I’d just teach more liberatory pedagogy. Wait, that’s what I do. So what it comes down to is this: we need to breach all these ideological functions of discourse. We need to help students use the voices they have. We need to find methods of teaching and reaching that let them be whoever they want to be. We need to teach and tutor them ways of finding out who that is. No more blame. No more labels. Just speech.


When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow mountaineers.” ~ Muir

Are they full of rain—

Those gray pockets in the sky?

separate entities

breaking for mountains

dodging from light.

sweet dew

invisible mists

a dance of smells

there’s no other time of day:

birds begin to fly,

shadows dim.

life was not all asleep

recesses of moments

when sky brightens.

day for some,

night, others.




the worm will dash

home, but not before

the ants find him.

a twist of decadence

woven around fate—


food for the day

already won,

at a cost of one.

a simple surface

no less complex

under [her] shifting beams.

All is subject

to one brutal force.

at six am, the leaves

look their brightest


poised, posed, wavering.

they thirst for a matter

not liquid.

they inhale with every


the only music they hear

is a breeze, but that’s

all they need to dance.

Absorbing, all




follow the wind

push against air

and give back

to everything

every      thing


they look up

to pink bellies

of clouds

hungry, waiting,

feeding time.

heaping drink

so patient

as the rain falls

into the woven woods

of grass stalks

tapping at the roots

no knocking of rocks

no pleas to come inside

a symbiosis

of desire.





O, trees can be selfish

in all that they want.

life need not ask


to fight.

the battle makes a turn

from midnight.

she rises

with a brilliant scream;

the brilliant interlocutor jumps,

“turn your attention to me.”

yet they need no command

language doesn’t demand words

growth doesn’t deem care.


Good morning,

and good night.


Time isn’t as fickle as all that.

he’s comfortable, and scary

resistant and precise.

the oak knows him as well

as his wife.

Light: abdominal acid

fire orange, purple entrails

slip, and fall.

the trunks of trees don’t meet

their meal with their mouths

they sip softly

they wait their turn.

A beg is silent;

a taste, inevitable.

once the risen is risen

explosion gone


hours of liquor

pour from the skies:

the drink of the gods—

a negotiable fruit

most essential

taken for granted

save for the leaves.

A need for what is base.

a reverence

a prayer

a moment for thought

nature of the heavens. 

You can’t touch this…this me through the screen

Thinking cyborg, posthumanism, and other assorted connective ideologies elaborating on how we are wetwared with technology is no easy venture at the moment, but I’m going to try.

My knowledge of this topic all started when I read Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.” I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy and your eyes in her mind for a few. But I’m not gonna quote any theorists tonite. Tired of the use of dominant minds right now, needing a little more me in my head.

I’ve been forced to come full-feelthought with the way we are and are not our selves in the Internet. Up until a few days ago, I really thought we were inexplicably connected with our technology. Now I’m not so sure. A few people I’ve talked with tell me that any interaction that we have with each other via text is a lesser reality. I had read some theory on this, and know that is a common view/assumption. However, I was apt to hope—to dare—for something much more social and interactive. I verbed the social aspect of technology because I wanted it to be true. So I acted like it was; I pretended.

These wonderful humans say you can’t know a person till you can touch, taste, and smell them too. The whole all the senses thing I guess. Welllll I thought that touch was something more than fingers, often we can feel each other through the state of the inside. What did I tell one of my new friends today? Hmm…oh yes: {system echo pulls}.

The meaning of this is in my inability to translate what I’ve been physically feeling within sometime I mistakenly thought was connection. Not to say that the translation of this touch is incorrect, but I will say it is incomplete. However, this is the closest language has brought me to articulating the experience of feeling I had often felt. It was a nervous system pull that pushed against everything inside me, took my breath away, made me sigh, and left me feeling like I had fully breathed.

Odd. Enjoyable. Other whatevers.

Now that time has passed, and I have been gifted the sense of speech—real speech—I have to say I’m starting to go backwards in the theory a bit. Our interactions with each other are fully dependent upon multiple ways of reaching. Text is not enough. Seeing words are just one tiny sliver of meaning. No wonder it didn’t mean anything, how could it? All that feeling was thought trapped in text without any other sense to quantify it. Simple arithmetic: subtraction.

Sure we can put our selves in contact with one another through hardware, but we must attend to the acts as the acts are. There are significant limitations with them, unnaturally.

One is that some of us do not feel comfortable sharing our selves in the first place. Text is that simple subtraction of self, purposely—rhetorically—limiting connection based on several possible reasons. ( I won’t digress unless you ask. ) We keep power and control over others by how much we text-speak. The communication in this fashion is the most ours any communication can be. We cannot control how an other will read our text, but we can imply meaning in our word choice. An other has no other means in which to interpret us. We own almost all of our self in text-speak.

Once communication moves to audible voice, we lose a little of our control. An other can read sound and tone in our words. We can also be (usually, not all) less aware of the visual look of our words when we speak, though they do have very real appearance even in speech (another blog post, perhaps). The control we had in simple text-speech lessens because we’ve chosen to share more of our physical self with an other. We are gifting them the access to knowing us through an extra sense.

If the communication adds another textual layer, sight, our control lessens yet again. In order to keep authority of the interpretation of our self, we must command our facial movements and gestures to rhetorically influence an other. This can be tiring. It can also fail us because we may fail ourselves. At any moment, a certain sight-sound-speech of an other can render us unto our feelings. Those moments where someone says something to you, and you are caught off guard, then lower your guard—those moments. These reactions are our laughter, our sighs, our gestures, and all the other things that only become more human if an other is there to witness them.

The lean on witness is critical here in my process. To witness an other in sight, sound, vision, and text means that we are privileged to be in an other’s presence. That person trusts enough to give us the opportunity to see them in ways they might not be able to control. If we are hesitant or scared of such an act of giving ourselves, we are intimating that control is more important than communication and connection. That is not necessarily a negative thing, but it does say a lot about the person who does not share or gift. Again, silence is the loudest of languages we humans exploit.

There are three more senses: touch, taste and smell. I know I brought it up earlier to recall a tangible memory, yet touch needs to change into a new thought now. I need to ask: what is touch, really?

Touch is just that—touch. It is a hug, not the virtual kind  of *hug* safely tucked in between two asterisks. It is not the act of touching keyboard keys to say text-speak to an other. Touch is a real human move. The fingers say a lot. As do those accidental knee or elbow grazes we may share with an other unexpectedly. Knowing, guided, and unbridled touch tells the other that we are gifting the intimacy of a very human boundary: skin.

Recognizing an other in their skin leads us to the other two senses. Smell is the chemical reaction of internal and external forces upon the body. We can learn more about an other in the way they adapt to these forces. Without going into detail of positive and negative smells (and how subjective they are), I want to focus on memory. Those of us in the know of stuffs know that smell is the strongest trigger of memory we have. For something we often take for granted, smell has a power we could attend to more. We may also want to gift an other smell, too, if we are going with the thread of gifting. Think perfume, sweat, my lip gloss ;)  (here I am getting tired, and it is showing in my discourse). Moving on…

I’ve put off taste until the end because it is the most human of communications. Taste is a completely sensual essence of sharing. To taste tells the other that you want to consume them, to know them internally. Allowing an other to taste us, we are gifting all control to them; we are surrendering all communication to being subsumed. Do I even need to explain what is significant—meaningful—in that speech act? No. You all probably know exactly what I mean, and what it feels like.

I’m gonna leave it at that. Leave you all to your various speech acts with others.

What I will say at the end of this is that speech is of utmost importance. Each level of communication is a gift, a gift outside of hardware. No theory, no approach has yet to permit us to break those human boundaries that reaffirm our humanity: meeting an other as an other. Explains so much.

Good night friends and foes.

lecture notes on chapter 4 of Derrida’s ‘The Gift of Death’

Chapter 4 Notes: “Tout autre est Tout autre


  1. Shibboleth- a test word; password; or “a secret formula that can only be uttered in a certain way in a certain language” (88).
  2. Dictum- a formal statement; judge’s opinion that is not a legal precedent.
  3. Tautology- needless repetition of an idea in a different word or phrase.
  4. Homonyms- two words with the same pronunciation, but with different meanings.
  5. Heteronym- a word with the same spelling of another, but with different meaning and pronunciation, for instance “tear”.
  6. Dissymmetry- symmetry in the opposite direction, like a person’s hands or a lack of symmetry.
  7. Heterology- consisting of different elements, parts of different organisms in the same organism.
  8. Alterity- the quality or condition of being other, or different; otherness.
  9. Aporia- difficulty caused by an indeterminacy of meaning.

Responsibility is dependent upon 2 contradictory movements: to respond as oneself, and to answer for what one does, says, gives. To be good through goodness, one forgets the origin of what one gives.

“Every other (one) is every (bit) one.” Tout autre est tout autre.

°         This is a source of trembling.

°         To simplistic that it can be generally looked over.

°         “One uses it to play with the rules, to cut someone or something short, to aggressively circumscribe a domain of discourse” (80). So, it is political!

°         “It becomes the secret of all secrets.” This isn’t just a double-secret like in chapter 3; this is the secret to all secrets—the reason for every tremble we will ever feel.

The sentence is almost too simple; but we need to see how complicated it really is. The tautology here has a duality that we cannot ignore, and one that complicates our interpretation of it every time we try to grasp it singularly. The emphasis of this is on the tout. We can see them each as homonyms, which emphasizes the syntactical order of equality that he details in the exceptions between parentheses. This defines us as universally one. However, Derrida also remarks on how the repetition of the tautology dilutes the impact of the homonymal distinction of tout. This awareness, once applied, results in seeing them as heteronyms.

Tout is both an indefinite pronominal adjective (some, someone, some other one) AND an adverb (totally, absolutely, radically, infinitely other). To see them as such, we need to look at autre. “If the first tout is an indefinite pronominal adjective, then the first autre becomes a noun and the second, in all probability, an adjective or attribute” (83). This changes the tautology a “radical heterology.” What does this mean? Well, the copula (est or is) implies the quality: “the alterity of the other is the alterity of the other.” This is certainly true. And it lends itself to the simplistic reading. But it also second guesses itself. Derrida states, “The hetero-tautological position introduces the law of speculation, and of speculation on every secret” (83). This means that to see the sentence as working in both ways (homonyminal and heteronyminal), the duality exposes secrecy.

Derrida thus encourages that we look at the tout, or other, as the wholly infinite other, God: “The other attributes or recognizes in this infinite alterity of the wholly other, every other, in other words each, each one, for example each man and woman” (83). This relates to the notion of “difference and analogy,” opposition and sameness. The very state of being contrasted with a different sameness (and a same difference), we can begin to think of what we really are. Derrida points out the blatantly disputable (yet indisputable?) connection between the two terms by their very heterogeneity. In their difference, the one depends upon the other for the difference to appear or exist. Therefore, like Sassure, the compatibility is alike in their mutual polarity.

This, then, brings us to reorienting ourselves with the concept of absolute duty and responsibility. Derrida uses the conceptually differing arguments of Kierkegaard and Levinas to point out that we can look at the other as God and as every other human. There are significant complications in ethics to do this. The problem is that in looking at the duality of the sentence, and the possible interpretations of the other, we are stuck in aporia. But this aporia is exactly where Derrida thinks we should be. This is the space of ellipsis, or the invisible. Derrida shows us that the ellipsis is anywhere where concrete meaning is ungraspable—the intelligible abyss. The problem, then, is to reject what we cannot know and dismiss anyone who searches for a meaning she/he will never find as one in error.

Derrida then points out the duality of Abraham’s responsibility. In sacrificing his son, Abraham keeps his secret with God, and adheres to his absolute duty, nevermind the sacrifice. In turn, God absolves him of his duty—a gift. But we are to notice the abhorrence of Abraham’s choice still; it is wrong. We can never see it in any other way because we are not privy to the secret. In this way, Derrida points out that all duty and responsibility are outside ethics, ethics as our society has constructed them.

This gets us back to the notion of substitution. The secret, as both revealed and elusive, in the sentence begets our own universal singularity. Derrida calls this the shibboleth. The syntactical construction: “the use of tout as indefinite pronominal adjective, and as an adverb, and autre as indefinite pronominal adjective and noun” (88) separated by the copula calls the secret from silence. Can we think of any other forms of speech like this? Chants, incantations, and prayers work this way. In their repetitions, these forms of speech lose their sound quality to the effort of sight.

The gaze of this secret—vision, sight, observation—is primary. Yet it is incomplete. Sight at once recognizes the secret, but is unable to penetrate its contents. Derrida ties this to our being able to see other languages, and still not know what they mean despite their being viewable. This changes the concept of invisibility, adding another dimension to a word that seems obviously singular. Derrida says that the invisible can be understood in 2 ways: 1) in the way that I can hide something that can be seen (his example of putting a hand under a table, for instance), and 2) the absolute invisibility, “which has no structure of invisibility”, like the voice, music, smells (89). Note page 90 during lecture—awesome!

Page 91 takes us into another complicated move of Derrida’s: dissymmetry. He brings back Kierkegaard-de Silentio to discuss the Gospel of Matthew, the discourse on the gaze returns. The gaze places us between God much like the syntactical structure of tout autre est tout autre. On one end, we have God; on the other, we have us; in between, we have the gaze working as the copula. It is a dissymmetrical association. We can look at each end as opposites, similars, or something much more different and complex. The gaze renders the one side invisible to us. “God looks at me and I don’t see him and it is on the basis of this gaze that singles me out [ce regard qui me regarde] that my responsibility comes into being” (91). Okay, now what does this mean? Derrida says that our responsibility is not in our actions as a solitary being, but that “whatever is commanding me to make decisions, decisions that will nevertheless be mine and which I alone will have to answer for” (91). In other words, it is our conscience. The dyssmmetry creates the invisibility between us, and our secret. This is that double secret again.

Derrida asks perhaps the most moral, ethical, responsible, pertinent question:

The question of the self: “who am I?” not in the sense of “who am I” but “who is this ‘I’” that can say “who”? What is the “I,” and what becomes of responsibility once the identity of the “I” trembles in secret? (92).

Accordingly, we are to ask this question. But, again, this question is an utmost complication. The entirety of Derrida’s argument comes together at this point (if such a thing is a Derridean possibility). The self, being the one that questions its own secret, is only responsible to itself. The gaze is this attempt at viewing its own secret that will always remain a secret. This is an act of conscience. And it is also the self’s connection to God. The move to view the invisible is a tricky paradox because of the very notion of conscience-invisibility. Derrida says, “This is the moment where the light or sun of the Good, as invisible source of intelligible visibility, but which is not itself an eye, goes beyond philosophy to become, in the Christian faith, a gaze. A personal gaze, that is, a face, a figure, and not a sun” (93). We would definitely need to unpack this.

The gaze is a source of light specialized to the self in its very otherness with itself. Sacrifice and responsibility intertwine into a form of secrecy that participates in this gaze. The self becomes ultimately mired in the paradox of sacrificing its own needs and being responsible for its needs of self.

Derrida returns to the allusion of Abraham and Isaac on page 96. I would point to this page, and discuss the way Derrida works with the story. He connects sacrifice to gift. Because Abraham is willing to give up his most beloved son as absolute duty, a sacrifice, God grants him the gift of death. The communication between them is in secret, and “suspends” until the moment of substitution, where sacrifice and gift exchange. He says, “The response and hence responsibility always risk what they cannot avoid appealing to in reply, namely, recompense and retribution” (96). This, in essence, becomes secret again. In our act of responsibility, we are only given the gift that we do not even think to ask for, and its status is kept secret from us until the instant we recognize it.

The source of this, for Derrida, lies in the heart. The discourse thusly moves again (as Derrida is a group of centers or points, rarely one) to a religious conversation. The Gospel of Matthew permits Derrida to relate that we place what is most important to us—what comprises our hearts—in an invisible place. This place is safe from everything. In true Derridean fashion, the discourse returns to the concept of visibility. He says, “As a discourse on the location or placement of the heart this cardiotopology is also an ophthalmology” (98). This sets up the binary construction of the good eye (light) and the bad eye (darkness). He then says, “The eye is a lamp. It doesn’t receive light, it gives it” (99). This is how Derrida flips the concept upon itself. The good is other-worldly; it’s source is from the invisible place. The light of the eye sees from its invisibility.

Derrida says there are 2 characteristics to the logic of this complex idea:

  1. Photology: “light comes from the heart, from inside; from the spirit and not from the world” (100).

Light = photological science

Photological = (produced by light) and (correct reasoning)

Hence another Shibboleth:

Plus de secret, plus de secret: No more secrecy means more secrecy.

As soon as there is no more secret hidden from God, absolute secrecy is formed within the conscience. Thus, “…this incommensurable inside of the soul or the conscience, this inside without any outside carries with it both the end and the origin of the secret” (101).

Economy of sacrifice is this above. “It is a sacrifice that economizes or an economy that sacrifices” (101). I can’t say this better, but I can talk about it. This is Derrida playing off words, another tautology, another Shibboleth.

  1. The concept of the economy of sacrifice thus creates a secondary clause (if you will). This move is a bit abstract and difficult (on purpose). Derrida uses several quotes from the Bible to discuss the “economy of sacrifice” in relation to what we have that is dissymmetrical (hands and eyes) is where true, “absolute loss” will occur. He says, “The logic that requires a suspension of the reciprocity of vengeance and that commands us not to resist evil is naturally the logic, the logos itself, which is life and truth…” (103). This takes dissymmetry all that much further. It isn’t enough just to sacrifice, Derrida emphasizes, but to doubly sacrifice. What is this? This is to sacrifice to one’s enemies with no expectation of repentance.

Through Carl Schmidt’s argument, Derrida then takes on the concept of justice. This entire section (pages 103-107) is a bit vague and complicated. Basically what Derrida is getting at is the exercise of association. We are to associate to our others—all others—from the view that they are our brethren. No matter if they are enemies, or “aliens,” we are to see them as one in our community. To do this is to “love without reserve” (106). The ultimate dissymmetry is to love all others as we love ourselves. “One must be just without being noticed for it. To want to be noticed means wanting recognition and payment in terms of a calculable salary, in terms of thanks or recompense” (107).

Oddly, it is at this moment where we see a break with Christian rhetoric; this break isn’t a severance, but, as usual Derridean fashion, a reorienting of the concept. Instead of looking at God as this ungraspable entity, he thinks we should look at God in a different way: “God is the name of the possibility I have of keeping a secret that is visible from the interior but not from the exterior” (108). He then says, “God is in me, he is the absolute ‘me’ or ‘self,’ he is that structure of invisible interiority that is called, in Kierkegaard’s sense, subjectivity” (109). Naturally, in the Christian sense, this is blasphemous. Derrida takes this further. He brings in Baudelaire’s “The Pagan School” to show how the author intimates that in this act of sacrifice, one actually uses economy to get something back. This challenges the notion of the gift in that there is no sacrifice even in this “loving without reserve.”

Derrida brings this into a complete pagan ideology with Nietzsche. Derrida argues, “One must give without knowing, without knowledge or recognition, without thanks [remerciement]: without anything, or at least without any object” (112). It is almost that to be truly sacrificial, one must be an atheist, but not literally. Derrida ends the book with a sly, toothless grin—an emphasis in questioning. So, what do we do? I think Derrida thinks we are to keep questioning (this is such a typical move for a philosopher, hahaha).


my lecture notes on chapter 3 of Derrida’s ‘The Gift of Death’

“Whom to Give to (Knowing Not to Know)” begins with Derrida establishing the notion of the mysterium tremendum. This relates the way that our bodies react to mystery; mystery here is playing off the unknown: in the moments of our uncertainty, our body reacts to the mystery—what we do not know is coming—in the unconscious act of trembling. We can never control a tremble; it is like a reflex. Derrida discusses how the tremble is a sort of proof that an event that has incited fear has already occurred, and that may occur again. He likens this to the earthquake in that the tremble precedes it, and our feeling the tremble of the earthquake lets us know the event has already happened. The relationship of thunder and lightning is like this too.

The trembling occurs in us as a physical reaction we cannot control. Derrida says,

As different as dread, fear, anxiety, terror, panic, or anguish remain from one another, they have already begun in the trembling, and what has provoked them continues, or threatens to continue, to make us tremble. Most often we neither know what is coming upon us nor see its origin; it therefore remains a secret. (54)

This is an important connection between the outside event, and our unconscious understanding of it. Because we are passively subjected to the event, and unable to control our reaction (the act of trembling), we continue to tremble because of the inability to conceptually understand the exact nature of the event. The event is forever veiled in secrecy. Returning to the notion of the earthquake, we see how no matter what, the moment an earthquake hits is a secret. Also, the precise causes for the earthquake are unknown too. Yet we are always subject to the effect of the earthquake—the tremble.

Therefore, we tremble from our not knowing:

  1. Where did it come from?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. Will it happen again?
  4. How often will it be repeated?

This lack of knowledge of certain events will always be a secret kept from us, yet subject us to it nonetheless. Thus, we have a passive relationship with the secret. Derrida states, “I tremble at what exceeds my seeing and my knowing although it concerns the innermost parts of me, right down to my soul, down to the bone, as we say” (54). This shows us the limit of our knowledge. We are so passive to the secret that we are even unaware of the cause of our own trembling. The agitation of the body is beyond us. This is a moment where the tremble reoccurs—in our very un-understanding of the relationship between the secret and our unconscious. The secret makes us tremble in our core, and even our core is a secret kept from us, from our mind. So we tremble again. This is what he calls the “double secret” (54); and it is also tied to the notion of the “unlivable experience” which encapsulates the notion of our reaction being out of our control. Derrida ties the act of trembling to the notion of tears. No matter that we know how tears form in our eyes, and fall down our cheeks, we don’t know why they do. We have absolutely no knowledge of why we physically cry over an emotional reaction to an event. The reason for our tears is another secret we will never know, but will occur nonetheless.

~~~Derrida’s call to create a new discourse to translate the cause of this reaction is interesting. I wonder if it is possible~~~

We may find this statement, in all of its power, frightening. But Derrida believes this

…is the gift of infinite love, the dissymmetry that exists between the divine regard that sees me, and myself, who doesn’t see what is looking at me; it is the gift and endurance of death that exists in the irreplaceable, the disproportion between the infinite gift and my finitude, responsibility as culpability, sin, salvation, repentance, and sacrifice. (56)

The mysterium tremendum is our connection with God. Derrida’s language here connects it in the divine sense. He believes the causal relationship between the event and our secret reaction to it is God. In other words, this is the relationship between X and Y.

The most significant event any of us will ever encounter is death; death is the utmost secret that inevitably awaits all of us. He says, “Without knowing from whence the thing comes and what awaits us, we are given over to absolute solitude” (57). In the reflection of the emphatic terms “absolute solitude”, Derrida shows us that this is the mother of all secrets. When we usually think of secrets, there is the idea that it has been spoken between others, and kept from us. However, in this case, the secret is an un-utterance that is only shared between the divine and our unconscious. Thus, we cannot discover it until we let ourselves in on the secret. So we tremble in the possibility of death.

~~~Note that I use the X and Y reference earlier. Derrida talks of Kierkegaard, using the way the poet is “sworn into secrecy because he is in secret” (59). Our class can see that this is the experience Chad Sweeney has with poetry. I wonder, does this explain his knack for prophecy?~~~

Derrida then brings up Kierkegaard’s use of pseudonyms. The speaker in a poem is always a representation of a self—a secret self. The speaker is an invisible entity that shows itself on the page, but not as a real person. In this way, the writer is merely a house for the spirit of the speaker in the poetic act. Otherwise the speaker would be silent. To keep silent on one thing is “a whole discourse of silence” (59). “Speaking in order not to say anything is always the best technique for keeping a secret” (Derrida 59). This is so important for poetry. The act of translating our experiences into words is this move in a lot of ways; we write to name the un-nameable, yet it will forever elude us.

Of course Derrida establishes this discourse inside the biblical narrative of Abraham. Abraham is involved in a “double secret” with God. What does this mean here? To better understand this literary connection, we can think of Abraham as being in touch with his core. And Derrida uses Abraham as an example for one very crucial reason: responsibility. Abraham is so responsible that he keeps the “double secret” (i.e. silence) with God; he keeps it from even himself, though he knows it. Abraham keeps it to honor the secret, yet keeps himself in silence from the thing he fears the most: the loss of his son.

We return to the notion of absolute solitude again, both with Abraham and with poetry. Derrida says,

The first effect or first destination of language therefore involves depriving me of, or delivering me from, my singularity. By suspending my absolute singularity in speaking, I renounce at the same time my liberty and my responsibility. Once I speak I am never and no longer myself, alone and unique. It is a very strange contract—both paradoxical and terrifying—that binds infinite responsibility to silence and secrecy. (60)

Language is the most interrelated exposure of the secret, upon which the paradox is placed. To speak is to expose the secret. But to keep in silence is another act of speech. It is un-speech. The paradox also lies in the way we connect with others. Speech is the act that dissolves that which makes us a separate person with a special identity into a collective all. The speech act best for this is poetry. One that dispels otherness by keeping all of us in the state of otherness.

We can begin to see Derrida’s argument on responsibility as this connection with others. We are not singular in our sense of self, but universally singular. Speech, then, is the moment where we transcend the denial of the singular self, and reach out to the universal self. We are the singular that connects to the collective through our speech acts. It is our responsibility to honor that when we speak. (this will connect to the next chapter so much because we will realize the fullness of the tautology: tout autre est tout autre; all others are all others.)

The next significant move Derrida makes is the application of absolute duty. This is where he gets a bit more complicated. He defines it for us:

Absolute duty demands that one behave in an irresponsible manner (by means of treachery or betrayal), while still recognizing, confirming, and reaffirming the very thing one sacrifices, namely, the order of human ethics and responsibilities. (67)

I have an odd moment here where I stopped translating his text, and summed it up in this way for myself: The gift of death is all around us—in cases and places we are a part of in everyday circumstances. When we give someone or something our time and attention, be it to work, a person, ourselves, it is an act of duty to our life. But that duty is a double-edged sword. No matter how dutiful we are being, it is always a sacrifice to all else who are not being given the same duty.  Derrida talks of grieving after a death. Sure, we are honoring the loss of a beloved person, but we are denying others our attention while we honor the one. This is a duality of guilt and respect. No matter what, we are entrenched in this paradox. Alas, to know this is to be responsible. We must be responsible and ethical in our choice of duty.

We see the paradoxical concept of duty and responsibility play out in the story of Abraham and Isaac. In every choice Abraham makes, he plays one of the other. In his ethical responsibility—his absolute duty to God—he sacrifices himself in the sacrifice of his son. He does this by keeping himself in silence. Incidentally, Abraham also carries the weight of the mysterium tremendum in the most magnificent of fashions. Abraham knows God—the secret none others are consciously aware of. He could break this secret by telling anyone, thus revealing the horror that awaits his son. And, in doing so, he exposes his communication with God, which is in itself knowledge of the divine mystery. Abraham does not do this. Instead he keeps his secret.

This lets us see that silence is the only language we share with God. Therefore, it is the truest of all speech. Unfortunately, it is one that we cannot share with others. Paradoxically, it is one all others share with God, too. Again, we return to the sense of a double-secret at play, and the connection to otherness via our otherness. Silence is so powerful for this very reason. It necessitates all absence. Silence, as a language, is invisible, unhearable, unsharable, and most importantly temporal. Silence will always break into speech. It will always lack conveyance. We can never fully explain something realized in silence to others, and, in turn, never be fully understood. What role does this play in poetry? Do you see the connections? The ellipsis is that moment where silence is speaking. Erasure is that moment where speech fails, and wants to return to its realm of truth. This makes the use of language ethical, and holds us accountable always to our responsible use of language to each other.

But! But, this also makes us accountable to God for our silence. As the act of absolute duty participates in a conversation with God (and this is a stretch we would need to discuss in class as it is different for all of us), we are essentially sacrificing our duty to God in using speech to each other. Therefore, we must make our language work for it. Our speech must earn its loss of duty in the move to connect to others. Every time we try to speak to one another, we sacrifice our mutual otherness to the move toward unity. Yet, this is not unity. The paradox here, then, is in the differing of what makes us alike. Is it our shared language, or is it our shared silence? Derrida is hinting toward the latter. We all may “prefer not to” along with him ;-) This is the irony that Derrida brings up on 76 and 77. The act of not knowing is the essence of responsibility. We will never know what actions our choice will bring, but we act anyway.

The next part of why irony is so significant turns back to paradox. In the phrase tout autre est tout autre, Derrida upturns and reasserts Kierkegaard. He says, “It implies that God, as the wholly other, is to be found everywhere there is something wholly other…” (78). In our sacrifice of silence (which is speaking with God), we actually speak with God as well. The speech acts with others connects us to God because God is the otherness between us. How is this so? I take this as the critical understanding (that totally makes me tremble, for real) that we internalize our conversations we have with each other, and return them into our discourse with God—that discourse is our silence. This is when we think through things to ourselves. So, constantly we are in conversation with God in order to be in conversation with each other, which is also a conversation with God.



i would be lying to you if i didn’t lie to you

Hi all! :-)

I’m working on this at one of my jobs and my friend Efren put this song literally in my ears with headphones, and I thought it went with the topic of discussion for today.

Okay, here we are. I’ve been thinking a lot about truth and lying lately—trying to wrap my head around who we are versus what we say. Is speech relational to action? Can we be honest in places like twitter where there is not enough (and way too much) space to say what we want to say? Huhm.

At any rate, my friend on twitter told me that he is struggling with the issue of truth, and that he has yet to confess some sort of he lie has made to someone in his life. I felt deeply for him and his struggle, knowing that we all will be in this situation if we have been there not already. I also know what it feels to lie and be lied to.

As we search for ourselves within our world, sometimes the line between truth and lies is fine, if not invisible.

The reason for this comes down to an analysis of philosophy. Philosophers have struggled with the notion/proof of truth since they began thinking; it is age-old. Once postmodernism hit us, we are starting to realize that there is no one truth in the world; that everywhere is made up of little truths all smashing, crashing, and pushing on each other to help us confuse reality into understanding. Boeyhaoihdgoaihgeoa! Yea, exactly.

So I’m going to do what the philosophers do and start talking about truth. I shall look at it with my biased eyes, and my biased heart. My goal, to be self-referentially subversive, is two-fold: I want my friend to find ease in his walking of the fine line; I also want the lie I am living at the moment to come forth and reveal itself as truth to me.

The power of judgment in general is the faculty of thinking of the particular as contained under the universal. If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, then the power of judgment, which subsumes the particular under it (even when, as a transcendental power of judgment, it provides the conditions a priori in accordance with which alone anything can be subsumed under that universal), it is determining. If, however, only the particular is given, for which the universal is to be found, then the power of judgment is merely reflecting. (from ‘Critique of the Power of Judgment’)

Like I said, philosophers have been dealing with the concept of truth since the beginning. I could have quoted anyone. The reason I decided to use Kant is because I never agreed with that dude. I felt he was lying, always. That doesn’t mean I can’t look at his words and find use for them; it means I’m going to subvert them to my own means—a form of lie, too. (hahaha, it is all a lie) Kant is working under the positional frame that we can know truth, that the “universal” is ever-present and dominant. He does problematize this a bit when he says “If the universal is given.” The dependent clause here denotes that truth, or the universal, is a state of interpretation, or judgment. He uses two gerunds (verb forms ending in –ing) to show that there are two acts of judgment: determining and reflecting. These are worth considering. Damn, I may have to agree with Kant. Continuing (ha, gerund)…

The goal here is always in whether we judge truth as a “given” universal or a “particular” universal. According to Kant, it can only be one or the other. He stipulates that depending on which one we choose, we are participating in an act of making truth. Determining truth under the presence of the universal mandates that any judgment can be “subsumed” under the universal truth—that there is only one way to know something, and that our perception of what we judge is a line to the ultimate truth. How often does that occur? We may find ourselves looking at a particular issue, experience, or situation as a piece of something larger that we will understand fully once we put the pieces together. Humans at our logical best, eh? While this could happen, it is equally possible that this judgment is completely false, and that we often find ourselves more lost from what is because of a judgment we made that has no relation to how things are.

When this happens, we can attend to Kant’s other enacting position: reflecting. To look back upon an issue, experience, or situation is hindsight. And hindsight is useful. Once time passes and we’ve gained additional pieces of truth, they can shed light on what that moment was in ways we couldn’t have foreseen until we lived a bit further. However, this does not mean that truth has been acquired. Quite the contrary. (t)ruth is still out there waiting to be found.

Or is it?

Is it time for Nietzsche? We could definitely use a whole lotta nothing here and now. Because we’ve been arrogant; we think we know what truth is. Us silly, insignificant humans. Alas:

Rather, the intellect is human, and only its own possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housed the axis around which the entire world revolved…The arrogance inherent in cognition and feeling casts a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of human beings, and because it contains within itself the most flattering evaluation of cognition it deceives them about the value of existence. Its most general effect is deception—but each of its separate effects also has something of the same character. (From ‘Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’)

Nietzsche reminds us of our flaws as humans: we are wholly engrossed in ourselves (as
individuals, and in our human condition). We believe that the world revolves around us and the constructions of reality that we have made. Look around at our buildings, our art, our established languages all telling us how these things are. They are, certainly. And they are not. We are merely looking at our world and each other through our pathos—our feelings. Our feelings are perhaps our most necessary tool to realizing our world. It is through them that we see what we see; it is through them that we form our thoughts, that they control our cognition. This means that we will forever be subsumed by this truth: that we are feeling participants first, before thinking actors. Whilst we think we are important, and we very well may be to the people who love us, we are still feel-thinking our way through life from the stance of self. You see where I’m going with this?

I’m saying, along with Nietzsche, that we can never fully know truth—not in the determining or reflecting sense—because of our inability to put ourselves outside of our selves. Of course I am aware that most of you are knowledgeable about Nietzsche’s polemic. But I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, something that Nietzsche hints at here.

Nietzsche wants us to disagree with him. Nietzsche knows he is wrong too—that his text is no more near the truth than the lie that is truth is truth. What?! Yes. In his last sentence, we see that Nietzsche understands the inherent identity of deception; everything we know is a deviation of the truth as seen through flawed human eyes. But Nietzsche attempts to renounce his own arrogance here that he may be giving us a truth in this statement by allowing us to not even take his word for it. We are not supposed to see truth in Nietzsche’s words.

Uhhh, now what do we do? We go to Derrida, naturally ;-)

Before we do that, I am happily going to point you to two funs. These links will send you to two texts that I used last fall when I taught both Nietzsche and Derrida in an advanced English undergraduate course. Here you go, look if you want:

Death Cab:

Ron Howard’s docu In the Shadow of the Moon:

I used these to highlight two significant points of praxis in our attempts at truth. One, the Howard documentary reminds us how the lunar landing completely altered our understanding of who we are in the universe as people inhabiting Earth. The shots taken on the Apollo missions forced us to see the pale blue dot (Hey Sagan, how are ya?). We were made painfully, sublimely aware that we are isolated on this beautiful surface. We were made aware of how fragile life is. Two, the Death Cab song emphasizes the limits of our language. Not only do we all term things differently across languages and countries, but even words hold different meanings for each of us. How can truth even be truth if we have no consensus of what truth means? Ah…

Derrida makes four large moves in his text The Gift of Death that I won’t necessarily go into, but merely mention here. In his first chapter, “Secrets of European Responsibility,” Derrida establishes his epistemological analysis of Patoĉka’s lean on mysterium tremendum, the terrifying mystery, as a way to see the duality implicit in every move we act upon, and the responsibility—the care—taken with each. Of the way we interact with one another in a theme of gazing, he says,

The inadequacy of this thematization comes to rest on the threshold of responsibility. It doesn’t thematize what a responsible person is, that is, what he must be, namely this exposing of the soul to the gaze of another person, of a person as transcendent other, as an other who looks at me, but who looks without the subject-who-says-I being able to reach that other, see her, hold her within the reach of my gaze. And let us not forget that an inadequate thematization of what responsibility is or must be is also an irresponsible thematization: not knowing, having neither a sufficient knowledge or consciousness of what being responsible means, is of itself a lack of responsibility. In order to be responsible it is necessary to respond to or answer to what being responsible means. For if it is true that the concept of responsibility has, in the most reliable continuity of its history, always implied involvement in action, doing, a praxis, a decision that exceeds simple conscience or simple theoretical understanding, it is also true that the same concept requires a decision or responsible action to answer for itself consciously, that is, with knowledge of thematics of what is done, of what action signifies, its causes, ends, etc.

This is lengthy and dense, and I apologize. Truthfully, this first chapter took me a month to read the first time. I can dissect it for you now. What Derrida is emphasizing is that truth is not necessarily what matters. What does matter is how much we are conscious of the acts that we do in light of who they affect. (t)ruth is irrelevant because no one can speak for another what being responsible means; responsibility is always irresponsible. Thus, it is up to each one of us to take into consideration how each move of action, doing, praxis, and decision has direct relational and causal effect on another. To be conscious of this is to be as responsible as we can be.

I hope that this sheds light on what lying and cheating means to the larger concept of truth-making. If we take Derrida at his words here (and I immeasurably do), it is imperative that we recognize the ethics implied in every single thing that makes us human. For we are always in contact and interaction with one another; therefore we must recognize who we are in each other we encounter. Did I just mention the phrase? Hinted, more like. We will get there, but first…

Derrida takes on a largely political and religious moral dilemma in the Bible: the story of Abraham. Are you all familiar with this? The story concerns itself with how Abraham is told by God that he must sacrifice his son, but he is also required not to speak of this action. Silence. I will save all the delicious analytical moves that Derrida makes in the text because you should definitely read it. The lesson to be learned is thus:

I can respond only to the one (or to the One), that is, to the other, by sacrificing the other to that one. I am responsible to any one (that is to say any other) only by failing in my responsibilities to all the others, to the ethical or political generality. And I can never justify this sacrifice, I must always hold my peace about it. Whether I want to or not, I can never justify the fact that I prefer or sacrifice any one (any other) to the other. I will always be secretive, held to secrecy in respect of this, for I have nothing to say about it.

So much here, my goodness, so much. Did I mention that I adore this man? You know this already. But I digress…Derrida makes a point that blew my mind the first time I read it. We are constantly preferring and sacrificing people when we decide to do anything. If I choose to pay attention to my son, I sacrifice my attention to the world. If I submit all my consciousness to another, I sacrifice my consciousness of my son and the world. Regardless of anything, we are sacrificing in making a preference. This can subsume us. It can make us crumble in the realization that we hurt another no matter what we do. But it can also be uplifting and powerful.

By making a choice of who gets our attention and consciousness, we are gifting ourselves to the other that has our preference. We have the power to decide who gets that gift—who deserves the gift of us. When Abraham chose to stay in silence, chose not to warn his son that he was going to kill him, he kept his secret with God. He gifted God his consciousness, and conscience. But he did this to sacrifice himself too. Knowing he would have to kill his son was killing him on the inside. How could it not?! And what happened in return? God granted the gift back upon Abraham; he did not have to kill his son after all. Derrida goes into great detail of the ethics involved here. Do read it if you are interested. Here it is easier to note that even our silence can be attention, even our sacrifice is a preference, even our treachery is a gift.

You are asking me how. You are also probably tired of reading. I know this is long, but we are getting there. Thank you for being patient. I am having trouble deciding how to detail the last chapter of this text, tout autre est tout autre (translated: all others are all others, a tautology of epic proportions!). It is intense. I am thinking I should post my lecture notes on this book, to follow when I am home.

Derrida gets on Kant:

According to Kant the unconditionality of moral law dictates the violence that is exercised in self-restraint (Selbstzwang) and against one’s own desires, interests, affections, or drives. But one is driven to sacrifice by a sort of practical drive, by a form of motivation that is also instinctive, but an instinct that is pure and practical, respect for moral law being its sensible manifestation.

Derrida challenges Kant because Kant missed something important: the duality of sacrifice. Like I said earlier, choice cannot be limited to two gerunds of action. There is something bigger than us (our mere arrogant selves) at play. That is each other. If we are irresponsible/responsible humans conscious of the sacrifice and preference in everything that we do, we are respecting the moral law that manifests (no longer latently) in our every action. Praxis becomes activated when this occurs. What do I mean? Well, I am saying that to be aware of the cost of every gift of ourselves, we are embracing our feeble attempts at being morally sound, ethical humans. There is little more important than that, I believe.

One last one:

We should stop thinking about God as someone, over there, way up there, transcendent, and what is more—into the bargain, precisely—capable, more than any satellite orbiting in space, of seeing into the most secret of the most interior places.

O, Derrida, you delightful man! (oops, I digressed again) You want to know what to do with this, do you? For starters, this is a mythic tradition that dates back to the origin of origins, Homer and hospitality. Derrida plays on the belief that we should treat anyone we interact with as a god in beggar’s clothes, for we may never know how deeply they can touch or crush us. Better to take caution than to not. There is more. Derrida also draws on the notion of economy with the word “bargain”, explaining my adoration in this paragraph. He’s a tricky linguist, and I like it. The economy implied is the cost of our choice, like mentioned earlier. But the end, doesn’t the end leave you touched within the nothing? I hope so. Derrida is urging us to realize that no matter how secretive we are, how deceptive, how utterly immoral (amoral) we may be, our secret is in a place that can be seen.

By whom?

That answer is yours and yours alone. Derrida and I call this the light. He says, “This is the moment where the light or sun of the Good, as invisible source of intelligible visibility, but which is not itself an eye, goes beyond philosophy to become, in the Christian faith, a gaze. A personal gaze, that is, a face, a figure, and not a sun.” And I agree. I have often referenced the light, given the light, taken the light. The light is a metaphor (plus de metaphor) for all, and nothing, and everything. We are often under the assumption that our lies and secrets are invisible, unseeable, to others. But they are not. They are actually reflected in our actions. Just as Derrida and I discuss above, all that we do—our praxis—exposes our ethics. It is inseparable from us. And those who are best able to see the light within us are those who we hold in a gaze. Consider that a moral question, then, when you go forth in the world truth-ing, lying, determining, reflecting, and being. The most ethical and truthful acts may, essentially, come down to courage.

Courage to face another and be who we are.

Pedago-ing the polemic, sign one

~~I’m posting my blackboard post for class below to show in what ways a teacher of discourse and rhetoric can begin to implement more critical pedagogy in the classroom or tutoring session~~

What are we doing when we work with language?

I ask this of myself as a tutor, an educator, a human being. I feel this is the most important question to ask, and keep asking. This question has no easy answer, nor is it ever fixed. The meaning for praxis, which is, essentially, the term for asking this question here in this class situates itself in the center: the center of the writing in academia as well as the center of who we are as people. For me, these are one and the same.

I feel Denny when he says that the writing center is the center of the university because it is where all meaning-making occurs. I say this without a specific page because I feel this is in his entire work. In the writing center, we are always (and never without) positioning and negotiating between who we all are as people, as individuals, and as writers. The writing center is where people make themselves—we are what we are writing and sharing. Therefore, it is essential that we begin to accept this truth, not as a simple polemic written by some unaccounted-for graduate student here in English 530, but as an entire community of educators who genuinely—honestly—care about the work that we do with people who matter.

Non-coincidentally, the practice of community is not lost on us compies and rhetors. The Everyday Writing Center takes up Etienne Wenger’s theory of communities of practice to relate to the specific liberatory pedagogy that we, as tutors and teachers, can adopt to lessen the appropriation of race upon identity. They imagine,

When we imagine our writing centers as learning cultures, we enact a hopeful, participatory model for education, one that is poised to engage in transformative institutional work. As we change our own understandings of ourselves in relation to others, we become change-agents in our other, overlapping communities of practice. Wenger writes, “[L]earning—whatever form it takes—changes who we are by changing our ability to participate, to belong, to negotiate meaning” (226).

There is something to this way of being optimistic, utopic, I find here. As the quarter has progressed, I’ve consistently challenged myself to find modes of waxing and unwaxing the utopic toward initiating—sparking—change. This has been a struggle of thought. Yet, the more I read for this class, the more I realize that I have been implementing the very practice of the pedagogy I seek: enthusiasm.

Waking up every day knowing that I get to interact with students and their composed selves is one of my most positive traits. I am lucky to get praise for my enthusiasm from teachers, mentors, friends, and students, alike. And I cannot help myself. I truly love what I do; it shows in the ways I approach my work. EWC is speaking directly to this type of enthusiasm. Once we position ourselves within our various ways of being—our myriad of identities—we become conscious of how every one of us compose ourselves in our discourses and literacies. And when we are conscious that each one of us are composed selves, we (hopefully) can be more apt to care for assisting one another in how to negotiate our multiple identities in our writing.

The practice of writing and tutoring meet at these moments in the very negotiations between who we are, who we need to be in our papers, and who we can make ourselves become. Existential positions.

There is a road-block to this thinking: how can we do this; how do we negotiate ourselves; how do we become conscious? Composition studies tells me that I cannot provide any hard-fast rules here. But I like to argue with rules, so I’m going to polemicize (there’s a post on my blog about this). Harry Denny can come in at this time to help me explain what it means to teach social consciousness to our students whether we are tutors, teachers, or students ourselves (or pieces of self). He relies upon Gramsci’s term “organic intellectualism”: “To commingle a pedagogy of empowerment with community building and consciousness raising was a praxis not entirely different from conventional activism” (22). To be socially conscious of the construction and reappropriation of our selves means becoming an activist. Yes, an activist. (:D ßa great tutor-human made this while I stepped away from my desk; and I’m keeping it because he is a lovely person to know)

What does organic intellectualism mean in light of social consciousness toward the construction of race, and the imposition of it upon our bodies? It means that we need to actively seek understanding of the how/why/when/to what ends we use language to commit institutional, ontological appropriations on each other. What does that mean? It means that we are either proponents or deconstructors of racism depending on the way we negotiate discourses and identities. We either work for the Dominant discourse of racism or we dismantle and subvert it when we see it at work. Denny argues, “Having diversity isn’t enough or a necessary end; instead, we need to process whether and how it happens and to what consequence” (38). We are always going to have diversity. I think we all can agree on that. So it is time we pull off those middle class bootstraps and figure out how to accept that. We need to really look at racism, and see who we are.

Denny uses Omi and Winant to define race:

…race, like any other form of identity, needs to be viewed as a primary means by which society is organized. Put another way, our discourse and practices can’t be understood without the role of race factored into any analysis; that any understanding without it is partial and incomplete, that race is irreducible to other historical features of identity and domination as well as they to it. (39)

We can begin to look at race by knowing what we are dealing with, and how it imprints itself on our bodies. Learning this makes us what Gee calls powerfully literate (you all remember that?). Once we know what race is and how it operates, we can begin to teach modes of subversion at best, or its properties at worst. Denny ends this chapter on that idea. He provides, “To empower students means giving them agency and opportunity to interact with all worlds possible through a range of terms and devices” (55). This is where all ambiguity lies therein; we may never fully know what our students take or learn from us—that’s sorta impossible. However, we can always approach our tutoring conferences, lectures, class discussions, and even daily conversations as pedagogical, didactic moments.

Indeed, I am suggesting that we teach inside and outside of the center—everywhere. I am a public citizen, thus I believe that change needs to be implemented in every practice we do. But as a tutor and a teacher, I know that the classroom is a great space to show the discursive properties of race and the modes of subversion. We can make a focus on language the point of our days; we can instruct our students on how to notice when language is working against us; we can discuss how our lives are appropriated by race; we can agree to disagree; we can share our stories of oppression; we can be our selves.

And if we dare to can, we will become…

Fight with Me

Why polemic? Why now? It seems that I’ve been belaboring my thesis proposal for a week now. It isn’t because I don’t know what to write. Nah. That sucker is as good as written. My problem is that I have to write the proposal and have it passed by the graduate committee first, which stipulates that I fit my composition into a specific academic genre. How I resist fitting into genres. I break genres; I don’t fit in them. My dear mentor (who I love unconditionally) also told me that I need to refrain from pulling the polemic in my thesis. Apparently my current views and participation in them may come across to the committee as a bias—a negative bias. Huhm. This made me hesitant to write. But then I thought about what I’m doing with the thesis, and though I am very interested and invested in my topic (to the point of sheer excitement every time I talk about it), I am still very much coming from an ethnographic stance. This is because I am not that which I write (unless you count the Derridean sense, and, well…). Therefore, I can and shall write that thing.

But what about a polemic?! I want to be argumentative about something. It is damn healthy. And I’m good at arguing.

Oh, yea, I’m talking Marx and Harry Denny tonite. Yup. There’s a theme with this.

I had this short, but enjoyable conversation with someone a few days ago about what makes for lasting change in activism, and in what ways we can participate in making such change. I’ve been reading Harry Denny’s Facing the Center for a class, found this, and sent part of it to that person:

“A new language and ways of thinking were turning me into a new kind of activist, not one who touted placards or bumper stickers, not one who would march on offices, but one who would discover everyday teaching and learning moments led to change every bit as important and sustainable as the more dramatic forms of protest in the streets or speeches from podiums. During those undergraduate years, I was discovering my own identity as a working-class person, as a queer, as someone who never viewed the world without being attuned to the lenses that constituted my ability to see. I would not have a self-awareness of this intellectual growth and change in me until much, much later in life when I moved from advocating for change in often abstract terms, removed from local tangibility…I would finally learn that consciousness-raising, advocating self-empowerment and fostering critical awareness of social, cultural, economic, and political forces on institutions, communities and individuals, might reap rewards in ways material and beyond. I came to realize identity wasn’t merely about self-discovery; I also began to understand its rhetorical dimensions, that how identity was invoked (its presentation) mattered and that, when well-executed, could make social change happen, maybe not monumental change, but local shifts or micro-successes, that might culminate in a tipping point.” (Denny 7-8)

Denny is a good man and thinker, I say. I also say that there is a lot going on here. Denny subverts common assumptions about the activist identity, one who didn’t fit in the “norm” during the 80s and 90s because he is a white, queer man. The assumption then was that he didn’t know oppression.

Polemic #1: We all experience oppression. All of us do. If we accept that every human hurts, feels slighted, loses out on enjoyment of experience because someone else imposes ideology upon them, we’ll be much more conscious of how we participate in encouraging acts of everyday oppressions.

So, yea, back to Denny. This is what is at stake, always: identity. This person responded to the first part of this quote with a statement about how this is one way for an activist to show their maturity. I was intrigued and enlightened by this person’s statement. What does it mean to be a mature activist?

In the normalized sense, it could mean that one fits under middle class values as Denny goes on to discuss later in his book. Here:

“Respectability is the assumption that students should not display attitudes that transgress mainstream beliefs, whether radical leftist or conservative ideas (Bloom 659). The goal is to always be polite. Connected with not offending any audience’s sensibilities is the importance placed on moderation, to appreciate a reasonable range of perspectives on any given topic. Thrift and efficiency connect with both labor—working quickly—and financial mindsets—saving for a rainy day.” (74)

Sure, to be a normal, respectable activist could mean being polite and not challenging too fiercely the status quo. Wait, what? That seems like an oxymoron. I struggled with this when I thought of it. Are we more effective as activists if we challenge authority with in their face austerity (I suppose this could relate to the “anarchist” actions on May 1st), or is it better to work within the social confines of behavior associated with middle class values? Yea, I don’t know quite yet. What I think, though, is that both are necessary and effective in certain circumstances.

During a protest, it is perfectly reasonable to be respectable to our comrades also participating in this speech act. It is also productive not to incite violence on the police. That is, until, they become violent themselves. Then what? Now that I’ve seen this first hand, it is invaluable to react in specific ways to violence of the police. Collectively shaming them for their actions is one. Filming them is another. (they sure don’t like that.) There are more.

Polemic #2: the most effective and affectively mature activist knows when and how to act depending upon the circumstance. A mature activist is literate of all rhetorical forms of subversive behavior. (we can teach these :D)

However, sometimes it is absolutely necessary to be subversive to each other. Sometimes we need to adopt oppositional stances with one another in this revolutionary movement/moment to show care for them.

You may wonder why I say such a thing—how I can say such a thing?! I did, and I believe in it (for now). Do challenge me if you have ideas.

Polemic #3: there are times when we have to tell someone else that things are not quite the way that person may think they are. Given that our lives are made up of many truths, it is imperative that we cross, contradict, oppose, challenge, flat out fight one another to get to knowledge and/or change.

We can do this with care. Taking into account of 1 and 2, we can approach one another in an oppositional stance to say “No” (or whatever needs to be said) respectfully, while still remaining focused on the bigger picture: our petition to the governments for our grievances. It is ethical to take care when we disagree, but it can also be ethical to simply disagree. I bid you all take care when you do. Yet, if strife need occur, remember that person may feel oppressed for some reason, and keep that in mind. We can ask them about this before getting angry, maybe. Or we can fight, and know that in the end we are just feeling strong emotions that have little to do with each other and everything to do with our situation. Just ideas here—more than happy if you all have suggestions.

To continue.

Where the heck is Marx? Oh, he’s here. First, let’s look again at Denny’s comment: “I would finally learn that consciousness-raising, advocating self-empowerment and fostering critical awareness of social, cultural, economic, and political forces on institutions, communities and individuals, might reap rewards in ways material and beyond” (7). Denny is focusing on how learning these things challenges material production. This is important. This is also what we rhetors and compies call powerful, critical literacy. To him, learning these things gave him the type of social awareness that allows him to teach his students how to critique their surroundings and initiate change. This is change-meaning-making! I also argue that Denny is operating in a realm of mature activism.

Polemic #4: Approach every conversation and interaction as a possible moment in which to discuss and instruct (or subvert) critical literacy. We gift empowerment by doing this, so do it. Simple. (maybe not always, we are human; we do get tired; but be aware that these opportunities are everywhere all the time).

Alright, I needed to bring up materiality because here comes Marx talking bout it all kinds of specific. The man, himself:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was, on the contrary the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed , fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profained, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.” (10)

Umm, boom. No-but-really, this is Marx as Marx does best: artistic rhetoric. We can see here how I’m attempting to relate several ideas. To subvert the material production of identity, we can take Denny and add Marx for spice. I’m suggesting that we start looking at how those middle class proponents of culture work to consistently subvert themselves to keep them in normalized power. We can attend to Adorno, Althussier, and those Frankfurt schoolers to do that. But we can also just think about Marx.

Polemic #5: To hell with the “middle class” ideology. Change does not belong to them. It does not belong to Obama’s false polemics either. Change is revolution. It is ours for the making.

The material production of our culture is outside of itself; it is in a constant state of flux already because of our ever-growing adaption and adoption of technology. No one can own it. Therefore, we need to start acting and incorporating our uses of technology in ways that belong to us as a whole society. The use of technological materialism is less limited to class than ever. We can give this change a push.

Polemic #6: since our governments are not going to figure out methods to fix the state of our world, we need to do it ourselves. One way to do this is by bringing technology to people that do not have access to it without the imposition of debt-ridden promises of democracy; but, rather, with true liberation. We need to gift technological literacy to each other in non-hierarchical ways. We need to teach them ways of using it—literacy. I don’t completely know how to do this. Yet this is what we need to figure out. Bring forth your own polemics here, fill in the blank!

Once upon a time young, antagonist Marx—the revolutionary—grew up. He saw his lovely revolution fail. He was humbled, and forced to face his idealistic tendencies with maturity. Sweet, bearded Marx. This is an example of what mature Marx had to say in The Eighteenth Brumaire:

“Now picture to yourself the French bourgeois, how in the throes of this business panic his trade-crazy brain is tortured, set in a whirl and stunned by rumours of coups d’état and the restoration of universal suffrage, by the struggle between parliament and the executive power…by the communist conspiracies in the south of France, by alleged Jacqqueries* in the Departments of Niévre and Cher, by the advertisements of the different candidates for the presidency, by the cheapjack solutions offered by the journals, by the threats of the republicans to uphold the Constitution and universal suffrage by force of arms, by the gospel-preaching émigré, heroes in partibus, who announced the world would come to an end on the second Sunday in May 1852—think of all this and you will comprehend why in this unspeakable, deafening chaos of fusion, revision, prorogation, constitutions, conspiration, coalition, emigration, usurpation and revolution, the bourgeois madly snorts at his parliamentary republic: “Rather an end with terror than terror without end!”

Sweet, recursive history. I bid you all see how similar this piece of Marx is to our times now. I bid you all attend to the fact that this was written by a man who had, essentially, given up his revolutionary ways. And look what happened. Look at where we all are. This wasn’t just France. It isn’t just the US or any other country you lovely readers are living in at the moment. Ahhhh, that is it. I have global readers. We are already aware that our spaces are more than individual countries. We are all in this together. Thus:

Polemic #7: know your dialectics! Our history shows us how revolutions go. But history is an institution. It is written by those “winners”. So it is up to us to make history what it can be one day.

I don’t want you reading this and thinking I know what I’m saying, taking my words for granted. Nope. Take this text and polemicize the heck out of it. Negotiate your world for yourself. It is ours, after all. Oh yea, and be mature about it. Or not. Whatever works best ;-) I’m here for a fight if you want one.

intoward surrender

what goes with me everywhere

concedes me not to move—

my barely breathing heart

here i am:

embroiled in a take

and give

of suffocating layers

acetaminophen vials


tear-battered eyelashes


collapsing into grasp

of an “i’ll let go never.”


falls of risen heat

his chest shudders

i run a gentle fingertip

under the matted locks—

the softest temples.


thundering my liquefied vision


on the parallels of the room

finding myself impartial

on how dust sours its film


is this going to stop?

who’s to tell me it’s okay?


something i recall never needing

not in all those other moments of pain.


but here, evening

i wish nothing was

the same damn same.


all these empty voices

some of them so true


blades clipping at particles of air

pitching paranoia to my ears

i would care,

care i don’t.

this is the sort of moment

my wants are naught.


not that it matters

schemes soiling dreams with false lullibies


so serious it all gets


what i hold with everything but my hands

crumbles in goodbye.


a mother can only cradle his fevered grace—

in arm’s brazen cage


this is the who i am

sight had never seen.