the twit


    bow ties and the venn diagram of all things

    from a recent email to a dear friend

    Just got back from a conference in way upstate New York (SUNY Plattsburgh, which is like an hour south of Montreal). Presented some research I'm pulling together around an oral history project I've been involved in. Exciting to frame, package, and present work. In conversations with others at the conference, it seems like I'm not completely off track. Can't wait to press the big pause button this summer and start connecting the dots. And, if nothing else, write.

    That being said, it's hard defining one's interests by negation, which is seems like I'm doing a lot of. Walking around with a bundle of ideas A, B, C in my hands, and peering in doors 1, 2, and 3 to see if I want to bring my things inside, and winnowing. Mostly a sense of: no, I don't really walk into the Literature door; no, I don't really want to walk into the Composition door; I'll but a little sticky note by the Rhetoric door but I'll walk around some more; oh, I haven't thought about the MFA door in a while; didn't there used to be a Cultural Theory around here? A Postcolonial door?; hey you, just walking out of the Writing Studies door, what was it like in there? Of course, the fantasy is that the direction would be reversed. That I could stand on a park bench somewhere with a big sign that says: "This guy wants to think about the following things: (a) the rhetoric of community identity and community change (b) social networking, user adaptive databases, and public discourse, (c) Mississippi ethos shifts in the post-segregation moment, (d) public discourse on cultural symbols and the legacy of race, (e) national conversation about governance and social policy and the right wing of American politics, (f) the composition of pedagogical exchange and distribution, (g) et cetera." And then have the occasional person come up and say, "Hey, a bunch of other people and I are thinking about similar stuff. We should hang out. Do you mind teaching undergrads? No? Cool. Sign here."

    I'm sure it's somewhere in the middle, as most things. Certainly not a linear hallway with discrete, mutually exclusive doors. Maybe closer to the Library of Babel. Or the Venn Diagram of All Things. And maybe not a park bench, but a school dance. The tying of ties, the two step.


    on admiral ackbar

    i was asked to weigh in on the "points of interest" blog post about the strange and growing campaign to name admiral ackbar the new on-field mascot for the university. thought it was worth re-posting here:

    "A sense of humor and a bit of playful irony is pure catharsis for a conversation that usually entails a very complicated negotiation of terms. University symbols (official or not) like Colonel Reb, "From Dixie with Love," the Rebel Flag, etc. are deeply entrenched in both complicated/problematic history and significant tradition. It's very hard, if not impossible, to respect all the interests at hand: tradition-maintainers trend towards suggesting these symbols are so flexible and contextual as to not mean anything other than "tradition" itself in some settings (which at times comes across as a cover for the ability to apply more concrete meanings to these symbols in other settings), and proponents of change trend towards viewing these symbols as being so rigid as to not having any room to grow beyond their more difficult meanings. Ackbar is, in short, a breath of fresh air: a welcome departure from the head-butting of both well-trod "Save Colonel Reb" pleas and of arguments for change that seem to lack the strength of argument about possible destinations that they have for the need for moving forward.

    Also, of all the signifiers at play, I personally think that "Rebel" is the most flexible and the most likely to endure. (Even more so than "Ole Miss," to go out on a limb.) And, Ackbar, admiral of the noble underdog Rebel Alliance, is a perfect example of the kind of symbolic rearranging that may help the University turn the corner on the mascot issue (more so than Rowdy Reb, at least). Of course, there's always the possibility of conversations tailspinning into discussion of the politics of the actual rebellion that provided impetus for the school's association with the term "Rebel", but I see more hope for transition on Ackbar-like grounds than I see in things like a Colonel Reb-or-no-mascot-at-all stance. There's something about the spirit of things in the against-all-odds, fighting-the-good-fight, David-and-Goliath realm that has people pointing at Ackbar as a possible avenue for retaining the valuable notions of "being a rebel" in a way that can dislodge the direct ties with the irresolvable local politics of that the Colonel will always be a visual tie to. And, the tongue-in-cheek adoration we see in regards to Ackbar is I think a legitimate commentary on how self-important the Colonel Reb discussion can feel sometimes. It kind of boils down to: weeks of tail-chasing back-and-forth about "Dixie with Love": not-awesome; blowing up the Death Star: awesome. If only it were that simple."

    note: i've recently been writing as the oxford insider for, often finding myself writing (no surprise) about race & history: