Music: Kontrast: Industrie Romantik
Minds are in momentum and there is a meeting of them: my colleagues at Texas A&M seem to be on board with the idea of co-hosting a graduate student rhetoric conference in the spring of 2008 or fall of 2009. I thought about the possibility after the dean here announced last year that there may be funds for such a thing. I had long heard about such conference co-hosted between Iowa and Northwestern, and always thought such an exclusive meeting was both a neat idea but also somewhat, well, needlessly exclusive. The idea for our conference would be to have Texas A&M and the University of Texas co-host, but to open the meeting up to our good friends in English departments as well and, given the scope and funding available, open the conference up to any graduate student that would like to attend and had something to share (well, there must be some kind of quality control, but the point of the conference is to both help professionalize as well as think together).
So why another conference for grads? First, there’s money for it. Second, it’s an opportunity to apply for “grants.” As most rhetoricians know, getting grants in our area is pretty tough, and as most junior faculty know, all one hears these days from college administrations is “get grants [repeat ad nauseum]. So this will be an opportunity to seek out funding for me and a couple of juniors who need the vita hit. Third, I really think it is a shame to have so many programs within driving distance from Austin that have no “network.” As rhetorical studies contracts, it’s increasingly important to develop connections between our departments—to encourage guest speaking gigs and semesters at each other’s institutions, and so on. Yet these reasons are minor compared to the fourth.
The fourth reason to host such a conference is to help set the agenda for research. In a field as small as ours, only a small swell of folks in group-think can force all of us—especially those of us who make it our goal to stay up with “theory”—to be reading this or that theorist. Recently, owning to the efforts of a small cabal of professors and their larger group of students, the work of Ernesto Laclau has become a major site of reading in the field. I reviewed for three divisions for this year’s NCA conference in San Antonio, and over half of the submissions I read were about Laclau’s work. It’s quite bizarre, really, to see how two programs reading agendas become the “national” agenda for us in two short years. Although I find the work of Laclau interesting and potentially useful, I really do not dig the notion of learning one’s Lacan from Laclau, or of reading Lacan only to understand Laclau. It’s irritating to me. So, having a Texas-style graduate conference can pool together us folks down here who are not so much into this Midwestern program of “hegemonic politics” and establishing “chains of equivalence.” While Christopher was visiting, we schemed about a possible agenda of reading that ties together our local interests. He thought of “structuralism,” you know, pretty old school modernist structuralism. The more I thought about it, the more he was right: what unites the faculty at my department is a commitment to discerning structure; what interests me in psychoanalysis is structure; and poststructuralism is really a kind of structuralism, so, yes, that’s it: structuralism! Who can claim to understand the project of the posts without an understanding of structuralism? No one. Having this foundational understanding pushed will benefit all of us, and with the added benefit of bringing more people to the discussion table.