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central states commie conferencing: day one and two

March 30th, 2007 by slewfoot


Music: Gene Loves Jezebel: The House of Dolls (1987)

Location: Hyatt Regency, Minneapolis, Nicollet Mall, 8:45-9:00 a.m.

I’m sitting in the lobby of (a sorta-run-down) Hyatt, near the front entrance with a squirting fountain and every-so-often a cold draft from the revolving doors. I sense the laser beam stares of strangers squinting to read nametags (I fantasize: what if you could smoke up the room like thieves stealing giant diamonds from museums do? What would the configuration of laser-beams look like? A grid? A vortex?). Unlike the SSCA or NCA, I don’t recognize a single face and so the hope of socializing over coffee before my 9:30 panel has been dashed.

I arrived yesterday somewhat frazzled but, eventually, all the hassles of traveling melted when I met up with Karlyn. A big hug rejuvenates! We went back to her place, dumped my luggage, grabbed a salad in a skyway eatery, and then went back to her place and played with her two, brand new Burmese kitties. They are soooooooooooooooooooo cute! They are two brothers, about four months old and 3.5 pounds each, very playful with hypnotic, gold eyes. Their Japanese names are Tye and Taka (I’m not sure how to spell these, the names sound like “tie” and “tak-ah”), meaning “persistent” or “perseverance” and “the hawk” respectively. Nothing makes your day like playing with two very cute kittens (if Brooke is reading this, I know you are immediately jealous!). The gallery of the kitties is here.

After romping on the floor with kitties and a ribbon and “catching up,” we went to dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant, Sawatdee (ooh, the curry is yummilicious). Afterwards, Karlyn retired and I spent some time at a coffee shop, and then hit the sack by 10:00 p.m. I have trouble sleeping as of late, but surprisingly I slept right through until four or so.

It’s cold here. I mean, six years in the “south” has re-set my body such that I probably should have brought a heavier coat, but then, I would have looked ridiculous on the street. High 40s is still chilly to me, though. Oh well.

So, yeah, I’m in the lobby. Central States seems like the smallest conference I’ve attended in many, many years. There are not many folks here–or it seems like there’s not many folks here. You can tell, though, that this is a communication studies conference: the women to men ratio is two-to-one, and most folks are dressed fairly well. Except, perhaps, for the portly middle-aged men with tweed jackets. For some reason we have a lot of those in comm studies too. Barry Brummett always makes fun of the “pompous theoreticians in black clothes,” but what he doesn’t realize is that black is slimming (and if you wear all black at conferences, packing is joyfully mindless).

I peeked in a few sparsely attended sessions trying to find my “room.” Three or four to a room, tops, and I spied one bearded man delivering about the “downloading revolution” in highly animated gestures. It’s hard to feel very important or to take anyone (or myself) seriously at conferences (especially the smaller ones like this; heavy gesturing for three people seems sort of silly). So far, the pretension meter has not been set off, however—only slightly with the DL Rev guy, which is a good sign.

Heh: well, it feels like I’ve been away from Minneapolis too long. Walking down Nicollet toward the hotel this morning, I ran into an old friend and colleague, Joe Jacobs. We chatted it up for a block until he turned left with a pack of Target people (Minneapolis is Target HQ). I sez, “Yo, are you with the Target peeps now?” “Yeah,” he called back, “let’s catch up later.” I thought he was at the conference. Nope. Looks like Joe has left the academy. He’s like the seventh person I know who got the degree and split with the rat-race for a living wage.



Music: Underworld: A Hundred Days Off (2002)

Location: Caribou Coffee, Nicollet Mall, 8:30-55 a.m.

The panel yesterday went Old Kinderhook: I overprepped for an audience of three, if you don’t count the four panelists, the time-keeper, and the respondent. I should have just came with talking points, instead of winnowing down a fifty page manifesto into ten pages of something quasi-coherent. Ah, well. The respondent was great, if not visibly a little nervous about responding for the first time (a very nice and well-groomed grad from BGSU). He did something very generous: each one of the panelists got a page or two of single-spaced feedback from him about their papers.

After the (too early) panel, I managed to catch a friend/mentor for lunch, whereupon we discussed the demands of “service” to the field. How much is too much? What should one do to repay the debts one incurs (many of those debts in area of affective investment).

My dilemma at the moment is that my computer battery is running on 25 minutes; every table in the joint with a nearby plug is occupied by the computerless. Argh.

Last night Karlyn and I ate at the new Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown [ah-ha! couple at a be-plugged table just left: I have juice!]. The Loring Café used to be on Loring Park at the edge of uptown, a funky eatery and French Café sort of place with fichus trees everywhere and very weird architectural stuffs. David Beard and I used to go there religiously to people watch and drink martinis. All the hot art-student kids with asymmetrical hair (before that sort of thing was cool) and outlandish shoes used to go there. It was like drinking in a W magazine fashion ad. Well, for some reason toward the end of my tenure here the Loring closed down. But they’ve opened a new joint right off campus (with the coolest bathrooms you’ve ever seen). The food is actually much better, the drinks are more expensive, but it is truly a delightful joint.

After dinner Karlyn and I retired to her place, talked about love and academic careers, played with her kitties, and went to bed. I hope it is alright to admit the kittens are one of my trip’s highlights. Sure, I mean, panels are great and all . . . but kittens!. Kittens are better.

I’m getting ready to jet to my next presentation. It’s on the iPod essay I wrote with Mirko. For the presentation I’m talking a good bit about the OhMiBod vibrator, which should be fun for that early-to-rise crowd and something of a surprise for the respondent (but who doesn’t enjoy surprises, right?).

After the presentation, there is a luncheon where my advisor is getting the lifetime achievement award. Hooking up with Mirko and David and Kate later for dinner at Brit’s Pub, perhaps post dinner drinks . . . or my favorite goth-a-dustrial haunt of old, Ground Zero. Gawking at half-naked people in corsets and garters would be fun. They don’t do that in Austin much.

Good times.

minneapolis or busted

March 28th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Social Distortion: L.A. Prison Bound (1988)

Location: Dunn Bros. Coffee, Downtown Minneapolis on Washington Street

Reconstructed fragments of a very sweaty morning, long long long line, plane’s boarding first class:

“Sir, this suitcase is too heavy. You need to lose seven pounds or it’ll cost you $25.”

“Oh, that’s not good. It must be all those gifts of Kinky Friedman’s ‘Politically Correct’ Salsa.”

“Well, you cannot take that out for carry on, as it is a liquid; the Jim Beam definitely cannot go on. You should leave that in your suitcase.”

“Can I take this over to the side and figure it out, so I don’t hold up other people?”

“Yes, next . . . .”

“Ok, I took out my toiletry bag [meter shows 49 pounds]”

“Do you have any hair gel or toothpaste in your bag?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“You can’t take that on the plane with you either, put it back in the suitcase.” [miraculously it’s still not quite fifty pounds]

“ID please”

“Take your shoes off please”


“Sir, walk back out and take off your belt.”


“Sir, we need to do a manual search. Please step over here to the left.”

[using finger in belt loop to hold up pants, half-naked, I sit]

“Hello sir. Pursuant to [Peanuts’ teacher voice] . . . I need to alert you that we have private screening available. This can be embarrassing to some people.”

“No, that’s ok. I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything up anywhere.”

“Well, just a so you know I offered. Please face the fall, arms out, palms up.”

[10 minutes later, dressed]

“Now boarding sections one through six. Final call for flight blah blah to Dallas/Fort Worth”

nominate someone!

March 27th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: The Church: Somewhere Else (2000)

It’s been something like whiplash the past few days: a whirl of deadlines, kitty emergencies (Sappho went to the emergency vet on Sunday; it’s ok now, but it was upsetting then; Cosmo the Wonder-Rescue is back), and conference prepping. I leave tomorrow for Minneapolis, where the Central States Communication Association meets for their annual hoo-hah. For many years I’ve been attending Southern, so it’ll be interesting to be back at Central. I think Western is in Alaska next year (or something like that), so I might try that in 2008.

One of the many items on my plate is nomination letters. Today I’m sending off a couple for various awards for people I admire. I really didn’t take a lot of time to write them, and I know if the folks I nominate win they will certainly appreciate it. Since this is award nomination season—and the deadline for many NCA awards is April 1—I wanted to encourage readers to take the time to nominate a friend or simply someone you admire. Tomorrow is probably the last day to get things in the mail (unless you DHL it).

Of course, as chair of the Rhetorical and Communication theory awards committee I’d like to see those nominations roll in (the “New Investigator” and “Distinguished Scholar” nominations are not due until May first). But I also think it would be nice to have some free-spirited nominations of one’s friends and colleagues. Did you know that a lot of those awards go to people who get others to nominate them? I know professionally that may be necessary for some people, but c’mon: aren’t awards supposed to be from the goodness of someone who thought to nominate without being told to do so by the awardee? I think so. Let’s stop this business of the same people getting all of the awards because they lobby for them. So to be good citizens we must do our part and take a little time to write in favor of someone you think is deserving; let ours be the generation of scholars that has a spontaneous “award culture” and lets deep-six this back-stage jockeying!

That said: I did ask the University of Alabama press to nominate my book for the Diamond Anniversary thingie. But that award is different (I swear!).

Finally, here’s the crucial part: don’t tell the person you’ve nominated that you are doing so, unless it’s absolutely crucial (e.g., to procure the vita or something). Why? Well, because they may not win. I’ve nominated probably as many as ten people for awards they did not win. They have no idea, of course, and there’s no harm done ’cause they don’t know. It’s a bummer not to get something.

Anyhoo, here’s the charge: go to the NCA Awards Call website (if you are an NCA person, of course—or even an RSA person) and read through the call. Find one that you know someone would have a good chance, and then write that letter of nomination. Read a great article this year? Nominate it for a “Golden Monograph.” Is your advisor an old timer and great teacher? Nominate her for the “Bacon Lifetime Teaching Award.” Did you miss the call for the RCT awards? Email me for a copy. C’mon folks: time is running out! Get crackin’!

Okie dokie [gets off of soap box]. I’m taking my laptop with me to Minneapolis. I hope to find time to blog on the conference with some free wifi somewheres.


March 21st, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (2007)

The question reserved for second dates is usually something like, “do you believe in god?” There are variations, of course: “what is god to you?” or “what is deity?” Before we were dating, or in our not-dating dating (or the prelude to a date)—regardless, before our first kiss on August 17, 2006—I remember going to Barfly’s here in Austin and asking Brooke this question. Initially I think she thought I was being cynical, but I think when she knew I was earnest her response was impressive: “Can I respond to that later? I don’t know what I would like to answer.”

Answering varieties of this question—second only to “am I gay?”—occupied me until well after puberty and the achievement of a driver’s license. On this side of Heidegger, learning how to ask the question of deity is now part of the problem.

I surprise myself when I find myself talking about deity in class, like yesterday when we were discussing Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.” We read the opening remarks about the arrogance that is the possibility of knowledge, and I recall fielding the class: “where have you heard this argument before, the notion of human arrogance vis-à-vis knowledge?” Well, there was Kant, but we didn’t “go there.” Instead we went to church: “isn’t this often the argument of preachers, that to deny the existence of deity is horribly arrogant?” I doubt Nietzsche would have liked that comparison (or maybe he would have?). But I think the students were more willing to take Nietzsche seriously as a result.

As I was lecturing I remembered a question my shrink asked me in our first or second session: “what is your spiritual life like?” I responded that I was a Mason, and this helped to quell my thirst for ritual. She then asked me the question of deity. My response was Nietzschean, in a sense: “I am not so arrogant to assume there isn’t deity; I just don’t know.” She then said this was similar wording in some sort of Jewish ceremony she had just participated in.

And this week I picked up Arcade Fire’s most excellent sophomore effort, Neon Bible, a brilliant exploration of the question of deity (and theodicy). I mean, this album is very, very good—very smart, very open, and very thoughtful. The organ on a “Intervention,” recorded live in one take, is pure pop music genius (“working for the church while your family dies . . . “). I was reading an interview and Win remarked that Neon Bible “is addressing religion in a way that only someone who actually cares about it can. It’s really harsh at times, but from the perspective of someone who thinks it has value.” My sentiments about religion, exactly, especially my evangelical Baptist background.

I am agnostic. I became that way when I watched someone I considered a “father” die slowly and painfully from cancer. Jesus became, well, “just alright with me” that night, when Sonny died. Jesus became a real asshole when I was helping pick out the casket (because the family was too distraught to do it). I stopped being angry about Jesus when I started reading more philosophy. Now I don’t really know what I think about Jesus or the other important prophets. I don’t think, however, there’s any urgency in making up one’s mind. I was forced to be absolutely certain about Christ by the age of 13, so I’ll take my sweet time, thank you.

I’m not inclined to think Jesus is god, though, because he said so. More and more I think the Buddhists have got it right (“what’s the frequency, Kenneth?”).

It has always struck me as strange how some people describe me as a “spiritual” person, and others, as an atheist. I suppose either label has to do with one’s attitude toward the question of deity, how it is asked and how one is predisposed to answer. Can I claim to be spiritual as an agnostic, because I leave open the possibility of spirit (I mean, as a music-lover I absolutely must leave open the possibility of spirit to listen)? And some of the best people I know are born-again.

I have always admired the Quakers. I have told my parents and lovers that if I die before I really want to (which is, well, likely I suppose) that I would prefer a Quaker service. Deity sounds safer—and certainly more egalitarian—with the Quakers.

stupid love

March 18th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Rufus Wainwright: Want One (2003)

This weekend I’ve been taking it easy to get over my cold. I’ve cooked a little, cleaned a little, tried to find Cocteau’s Orpheus Trilogy at three different video stores and the school library (the school library was closed yesterday, inexplicably; I may try again today). And I’ve written a little.

Dale works apace on our co-authored/channeled book chapter on Jack Spicer. It’s going so well on his end that I suspect we’ll reverse the authorial order (well, we all know it’s Jack’s ghost, but after that, Dale is steering this puppy). I’m excited with what he’s generating: leave it to a poet to write pretty. More details on that strange piece of prose soon.

Meanwhile, I squeezed out some new paragraphs on the love essay, which will also be the topic of my talk at the UNT student conference next month, and probably an “on the road” talk for another year or so. Now that I have a copy of Avital Ronell’s Stupidity in front of me, that concept is taking on a much larger role in the essay. What I find exciting about Ronell’s rumination on love’s stupidity is that it sort of jives with that Kierkegaard said about “Socratic love” in his dissertation on irony: love is irony, the mismatch of form in an unstable way, which is why, as Lacan says, “it’s not working out.” So the paper will flow with introduction, Lacan on Love as a “failed” relationship; the false promise of love as identification in rhetoric; love as another word for kitsch; and a conclusion that argues we need to reimagine love as irony and abandon the promise of unification that structures most contemporary understandings of rhetoric. I’m pasting in the essay thus far, with new name and all:

For the Love of Rhetoric, or, Love is Shit, with Continual Reference to Kenny and Dolly

Islands in the stream/That is what we are/No one in between/how can we be wrong/Sail away with me to another world/And we rely on each other uh huh
From one lover to another uh huh

–Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream”[1]

Although the Bee Gees originally penned “Islands in the Stream” as an R&B single for Diana Ross, they awarded the ditty to Kenny Rogers who subsequently released it as a country duet with Dolly Parton in the late summer of 1983. Had the song remained a rhythm and blues disco-dance number, it is still likely that it would have made it into the Billboard Top 100 list, yet its chicken-fried version by Kenny and Dolly catapulted the tune into the pop and country cross-over stratosphere, earning both artists another number one spot on the Billboard pop chart and the Gibb brothers recognition by the BMI as the authors of the most licensed song of 1984.[2] The irony of the success of “Islands in the Stream” is that the tune is roundly recognized today as one of the worst pop songs of all time, now a kitschy favorite at karaoke bars across the country and a handy cultural reference for a superficial and naive brand of puppy love.[3]

I open this essay with reference to Kenny and Dolly’s pop-love for three reasons. First, the opening lyrics are among the stupidest ever penned in the name of love: “Baby, when I met you there was peace unknown/I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb.” Such a sentiment is like telling one’s lover that s/he was discovered much like one does fleas on a dog or the hidden evidence of a crime scene. Because the lyric is unquestionably idiotic, it represents what love often does to us: it renders us dumb, it pushes us to the limits of representation. Love is the name for a special kind of stupidity. Certainly the sentiment, driven for rhyme as much as meaning, is stupid in a more mundane sense, however, there is a way in which the lyric registers the frequent effect of love as something that makes us trip over ourselves, stutter, or fall into a thorny hedge posturing in front of a desired lover.[4] “Islands in the Stream” is thus doubly stupid in a way that I will argue has important implications for rhetoric.

Although the fine-toothed quest for love makes for good fun-poking, it is also symptomatic of a powerful conception of love that resides in the popular imagination: the love of pure identification through complete and total knowledge of another. Searching for one’s lover with a precise instrument characterizes love as an examination, or as a search for the hidden secrets of another, an obsession with his or her intricate details. Let us call this obsessive love, or better, the love of interrogation–a love intensely focused on the Other as an object of scrutiny.[5] In this respect, a second reason I’ve opened with reference to Kenny and Dolly is that “Islands in the Stream” reflects the soul-deep desire to escape death in the arms of an all-knowing beloved. It is not coincidental that song’s title is the same as a lesser-known Hemmingway novel about a lonely, hard-drinking man in search of himself and a reconciliation with his lover. Perhaps for Kenny, Dolly, and Hemmingway, “islands in the stream” evokes the seventeenth meditation by John Donne, who, upon hearing a bell tolling softly for another recognized the bell also had a message for him: “you too will die.” In working through the way in which the deaths of others portends our own, Donne wrote “no man is an island, entire to itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Is this not this Kenny and Dolly’s sentiment and the secret wish of Hemmingway’s protagonist? “Islands in the stream/that is what we are/No one in-between/How can we be wrong?” Although Kenny and Dolly’s understanding of “the main” is much more isolationist than Donne would prefer, it suggests the lovers identify themselves as islands connected by the common substance of love.

Finally, a third reason that I’ve opened with reference to Kenny and Dolly’s song is that the song itself is a rhetoric that continues what is arguably the most entrenched rhetorical theory of love: the transcendent unification of souls first advanced in Plato’s Phaedrus (except without the pensile breasts). Relaxing in their loosely fitting togas under a plane-tree by the Ilissus, Socrates and Phaedrus flirtatiously discuss the merits of the “true art” of discourse, eventually concluding that the more instrumental and manipulative approaches to oratory taught by Sophists like Lysias are a sinful affront to the gods. For Plato’s Socrates, good persuasion speaks to the soul of the hearer by appealing to some underlying, spiritual commonality (indeed, we are all part of the main!). Good rhetoric is that which attends the spiritual needs of an individual, sometimes even against what he would prefer, by appealing to memories of the divine (anamnesis).[6] As John Durham Peters observes, for “Socrates the issue is not just the matching of minds, but the coupling of desires. Eros, not transmission, would be the chief principle of communication.”[7] In the critique of writing at the end of the dialogue, Plato’s Socrates worried that new technologies of communication would weaken the import of desiring, further alienating individuals from each other. True persuasion, understood as an act of both erotic (eros) and transcendent love (agape), promised to bridge individuals faced with the “potential for distance and gaps.”[8] Understood as a form of love, for Plato true or good persuasion traverses or bridges a division or gap with a touch of madness (a stupidity of sorts, to be sure), which is precisely what the lyrics of “Islands in the Stream” betoken.

Stupidity, identification, and transcendent unification: these are the three rhetorical dimensions of love that are often yoked to modes of seduction–erotic and otherwise–in the centuries since Plato advanced his theory. Unfortunately, today there are few rhetorical theories that explicitly attempt to detail a relationship between rhetoric and love.9 In contemporary rhetorical scholarship, the most widely read and well-known theories that might be said to link them are threefold. The first is Wayne Brockreide’s suggestion that rhetors adopt the ideal of “arguers as lovers,” which entails a mutual respect for one’s interlocutors and a valuation of the relationship over the outcome of rhetorical encounters.[10] The second is Jim Corder’s call for understanding “argument as emergence” within an over-arching ethic of accommodation such that we better understand why “rhetoric is love.”11 The third is Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin’s “invitational rhetoric” paradigm, which opposes a presumed, agonistic link between patriarchy and persuasion with a feminist posture of hospitality.[12] Although these approaches share Plato’s concern with the importance of sensual encounter for bridging gaps, they seem to ignore love’s stupidity and to abandon the metaphysical promise of identification and spiritual transcendence that underlies the entrenched view.

In the decade since Foss and Griffin introduced the invitational paradigm, however, theories of love have become increasingly common in the theoretical humanities: beginning with 2000’s All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks has written numerous books and has become one of the most visible contemporary theorists of love.[13] In her influential Witnesing: Beyond Recognition, Kelly Oliver has called for imagining “love beyond domination” and a new ethic of “response-ability.”[14] Even Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “the world-renowned authors of Empire” who are more renowned for their celebration of the “new barbarians” and the agonistic uprising of “the multitude,” have argued “a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude.”[15] Yet despite what appears to be a larger theoretical trend in humanities scholarship,[16] few rhetoricians have endeavored to develop Brockereide and Corder’s propositions further,[17] nor has the invitational view been elaborated beyond what some scholars see as a relatively facile and misguided rejection of agonism.[18]

Are rhetoricians reluctant to take the “turn to love” that has been made in the theoretical humanities? I think so, and this essay endeavors to explain why with continual reference to Kenny and Dolly’s song, “Islands in the Stream.” More specifically, in this essay I argue that rhetoricians have failed to theorize love for two, interrelated reasons. First, love has been avoided in theoretical discussions because it is already the assumed dynamic underwriting persuasion; love has been indirectly theorized already in terms of identification and the (tacitly) transcendent promise of unification. I suggest that this is demonstrable in the widely taught concepts of identification, division, and “consubstantiality” found the work of Kenneth Burke. The dominant idea of persuasion as the creation of identification or other-knowledge over some common, shared substance is the implied love theory of rhetorical studies, and to better theorize an explicit theory of love, I will argue that we must overcome the indwelling, Platonic idealism of Burkean identification in favor of a more psychoanalytic understanding of persuasion.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I argue that rhetoricians have avoided theorizing love because of the stupidity it necessarily entails. We have avoided love because of its close proximity to naive idealism or “kitsch” in Western culture-that to speak of love in theoretical scholarship (or at least in work that does not concern literary art or film) risks being thought of as Kenny and Dolly are today, that one will appear trite or cheesy.[19] Originally understood as artwork that is worthless, pretentious, and overly sentimental, kitsch is a German concept has gradually come to denote something that covers-over or hides an unpleasant truth.[20] Insofar as the dominant fantasy of love in the West is, in fact, the impossible Platonic ideal of transcendent unification (e.g., “you complete me,” or, “no one in between/how can we be wrong?”), to invoke love in theory necessarily tempts kitsch. We have been afraid to approach love as a theoretical endeavor because we do not quite know how to reckon with its idiotic dimension, that part of love that makes us stutter or shudder. It is also in this respect that dismissals of Brockriede and Corder’s calls, or criticisms of Foss and Griffin’s invitational paradigm as “utopian,” are akin to the cynical repulse of gaudy Valentine’s Day decorations: both theory and red cardboard hearts are criticized for attempting to cover-over, deny, or disguise the ugly truth of human alienation, aggression, and evil. Any theorization of the relationship between love and rhetoric must consequently address love’s stupid utopian intimation or risk its immediate repudiation.

In order to explain how (a) rhetoric assumes love; and (b) how this assumption tempts kitsch, this essay proceeds in three parts. In the first part Lacan’s understanding of love as a (stupid) fantasy of unification is explained and then compared to Kenneth Burke’s theory of persuasion as identification. Understood in relation to what Lacan terms the objet a, identification concerns a gesture toward an elusive but tantalizing “something more” in others that is reducible to the promise of transcendent love. Once the tacit connection between persuasion and love is made explicit, I then turn to an explanation of kitsch in part two. A comparison of the well-known duet by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton to the paradigm of invitational rhetoric shows how both are homological representatives of a Platonic idealism better described as kitsch. Finally, the third part concludes the essay by arguing a rhetoric of true love entails a rejection of kitsch and reckoning with the ontological dualism that grounds rhetorical studies, a dualism that reduces love to its true and bare, minimal formal relation: irony.

I. On(e) the One

What constitutes the basis of life, in effect, is that for everything having to do with the relations between men and women, what is called collectivity, it’s not working out. It’s not working out, and the whole world talks about it, and a large part of our activity is taken up with saying so.

–Jacques Lacan[21]

In what is perhaps his most famous seminar of 1972 and 1973, Lacan elaborated what was to become his most well known arguments about love.[22] According to Lacan, the enigma of love has endured for centuries because humans have trouble admitting that it is “not working out,” and so we talk about the possibility of its working out endlessly, as idiots, dumb before the truth. Like Gibb’s opening lyric in “Islands in the Stream,” love renders us stupid because we cannot speak about it without sounding silly.[23] As easy as it is to find popular music that blindly asserts the possibility of a transcendent love in idiom of idiocy, it is also just as easy to find a recognition of Lacan’s seemingly cynical assertion: from the Main Ingredient’s 1972 gold single “Everybody Plays the Fool” to Leo Sayer’s classic “Fool for your Love,” love’s stupid dimension is well-acknowledged-or as the J. Geils Band would have it in “Love Stinks,” flatly rejected. Yet despite the fact that at some level we acknowledge that “it’s not working out,” the stupidity of love is allowed to continue, as Avital Ronell explains:

There is an undeniable pleasure seeking in the empire of the idiotic, a low-burning delight in stupid behavior and activity. One needs only to be reminded of the pleasure domes of the stupid by which constructed delights are dosed out. Does one really need to be reminded of watching embarrassingly stupid shows on TV, vegging out, cultural studies . . . . when is the prohibition on stupidity lifted and when, finally, can one be stupid? When you’re in love, for instance. When you call each other by stupid names, pet names, summoning declensions of your own private idiolect in amorous discourse. Love indicates one of the few sites where it is permitted publicly to be stupid.[24]

“Islands in the Stream,” of course, presumably represents the publicization of a private amorous idiolect, a song once received-as Steve Perry of Journey once sang-with “open arms,” but now recognized as benchmark of stupidity.

Given Lacan’s hard line against the possibility of love “working out,” Dylan Evans suggests that “it might seem surprising that Lacan himself dedicates a great deal of his seminar to speaking about love.”[25] Yet he does so for a number of reasons that are encapsulated in Lacan’s statement that “the only thing that we do in analytic discourse is speak about love.”[26] First, the babble of the therapeutic setting between the analyst and analysand is always about relationships with other others, since subjectivity as such emerges dyadically in childhood (usually between the child and the mother). Second, even though love cannot be talked about, the impossibility of doing so motivates our (somewhat foolish) attempts to do so; in the Lacanian register, motive as such is a reaction to some negative or absence (e.g., “lack”). Third, stupidity denotes a state in which we are not (fully) aware of what we are saying, that something speaks from us beyond us (viz., the subject of the unconscious)-like the line about the “fine toothed comb”; in clinical practice, psychoanalysis works through the transference to produce the stupidity-that is, the short-circuiting of full consciousness and rationality-that leads to insights about one’s self and one’s analyst. In this respect “stupidty” is not always a bad condition, but the proviso of love that leads to potential insight.[27] Finally, and most importantly, love is the center of analytic discourse because it denotes a fundamental, structural truth to human subjectivity we stupidly (and stubbornly) repress: “the truth, the only truth that can be indisputable because it is not, that there’s no such thing as a sexual relationship . . . .”[28]

There is No Sexual Relationship

In early seminars until the very last, Lacan insisted on the fundamentally illusory character of all forms of love, platonic, erotic, and spiritual. Although courtly love represents one of the most visible fantasies of love,[29] love as such references a fundamental, ontological disjunction between two kinds of experiences in the world (e.g., “subject positions”). In this respect love is a supplement, not an affect.[30] For Lacan love is a function or a consequence of a radical disjunction between two people.[31] “What makes up for the sexual relationship is,” notes Lacan, “quite precisely, love.”[32] Although we associate affect with this thing love, the thing as such is the epiphenomenon of an impossible relationship; to speak of it is a reminder that I am not you, and that you are not me-that, in fact, there is no relationship between us, only endless symbolic reminders of that impossibility. When speaking of Lacan on love, argues Alain Badiou, “it is necessary to keep the pathos out of passion, error, jealousy, sex, and death at a distance. No theme requires more pure logic than love.”[33] The name for the logic of love is “disjunction.” What do we mean, then, by disjunction?

Musically, a disjunction is a shift in the notes of a melody. In logic, it designates the function of the term “or” that leads to truth statements. And then there is the disjunction of informal logic, which implies “one or another.” What seems common to these uses of the term is that disjunction implies an absolute choice between two things, a fundamental binary. For Lacan, there is a fundamental binary choice made for us at birth: either you are a man or you are a woman. You had no choice in this choice, and once it is made (e.g., by you parents, by “society”), you cannot undo it. In other words, for Lacan sexual difference is ultimately a forced choice in the symbolic between two categories of experience. Now, it is important to underscore this forced choice is not determined by one’s biology, for it is entirely possible to changes one’s biological sex (and the mutability of the body, or the parasitic nature of the symbolic, is a topic that interests Lacan).[34] Even when one elects to do so, as is the case when one attempts to resolve gender dysphoria via sexual reassignment (e.g., transexuality), it is almost impossible to escape the symbolic tokens of choice that were forced upon you. In short, sexual difference or “sexuation” is a symbolic process.

Of course, Lacan’s statement, “there is no sexual relationship,” seems prima facie absurd. “Sure there is a sexual relationship,” readers may be thinking (and with luck, about last night!). What is key here, however, is the equivocation with the word “sex”: the act of physical intercourse marks the supposed unification, or Oneness, of each sex. In other words, sexual relationship denotes both the cultural fantasy of the unification of two souls, as well as the possibility of a conjuction between the two sexes. Fetching a more stark logic from Lacan, Badiou explains the formal structure of love in terms of a series of theses:

1. There are two positions of experience. “Experience” here is to be taken in its most general sense, presentation as such, the situation. There are two presentative positions: the two positions are sexuated, and one is named ‘woman,’ the other ‘man.’ . . . 2. The two positions are absolutely disjunct. “Absolutely” must be taken literally: nothing in experience is the same for the positions of man and woman. Nothing. That is to say: the positions do not divide up experience . . . . Everything is presented in such a way that no coincidence can be attested to between what affects the one position and what affects the other. We will call this state of affairs ‘disjunction.’ The sexuated positions are disjuncted with regard to experience in general.[35]

That is, the experience of male and the experience of woman do not overlap, but are wholly distinct from birth to death. Badiou continues that, consequently, the disjuction cannot be known directly. If that were the case, then a “third position”–a mediation–would be possible. “The idea of a third position engages an imaginary function: the angel,” continues Badiou, which connotes the possibility of a transcendent vantage, a psychic mind-meld, that is materially impossible.[36]

So, when Lacan says that “there is no sexual relationship,” he means both that (1) the experience of the sexes, and by extension people in general, are radically disjunct; and (2) sexual intercourse is not a practice where whereby two become “one” in the act.[37] The impossibility of this relationship is why love and sexual intercourse are frequently commingled, if not outright confused–why both meanings of “sex” are implicated in the same logic. That there is no sexual relationship means not only that the “male” experience cannot be the “female” experience and vice-versa, but also that sexual intercourse is frequently a means by which individuals attempt to overcome or hide or repress their radical disjuction. One is tempted to believe that this much is obvious, however, any viewing of Divorce Court or, as is likely, any recounting of one’s own romantic past (especially that of one’s teenage years), quickly reveals that “it’s not working out,” but we keep trying anyway. Hence, “what makes up for the sexual relationship is, quite precisely, love.”[38] This is to say, love is the token of a failure of reconciliation. Love is failure. Love is the impossibility of becoming One.

Identification and the Gesture of Something More

When we understand that love is the supplement of a failed or impossible relationship, then we can begin to decipher courtly or romantic love as a kind of deception. Falling in love is a dumbness toward the impossibility that another person can “complete me” or “make me whole” by recognizing me, by knowing me through and through, by identifying with my soul. In this respect, Lacan asserts that,

as a specular image, love is essentially deception. It is situated in the field established at the level of pleasure reference, of that sole signifier necessary to introduce a perspective centered on the Ideal point, capital I, placed somewhere in the Other, from which the Other sees me, in the form I like to be seen.[39]

For Lacan love is specular because it involves a kind of recognition or acknowledgement from another. On one level, this recognition concerns the ability of another to “reflect” my ideal self back to me, her ability to “see” me as I want to see myself. Yet, on a deeper level the recognition of love concerns a “paradoxical, unique, specified object we call the objet a,” an object that provokes the idea that there is something more to one’s lover than the lover him or herself, something “beyond” them that Lacan explains is the fundamental dynamic behind psychoanalytic treatment: “the analysand says to his partner, to the analyst, what amounts to this—I love you, but because inexplicably I love in you something more than you—the objet petit a . . . .”[40] Describing love’s deception vis-à-vis this “something more” or objet a is especially significant for rhetoric, for it explains the fundamental link between persuasion and love: persuasion is the promise that a rhetor/lover can produce the objet a. In short, all rhetorical appeals concern the gesture of something more.

Whenever we are concerned with the gesture of something more—the deceptive promise that I can recognize you and produce something more in me than me—we are in the domain of desire. Kenny and Dolly’s lyrics, “you do something to me that I can’t explain/ hold me closer and I feel no pain,” signals this inexplicable “something” that is beyond each of them that stimulates their desiring for each other. For Lacan, desire must be understood in relation to the objet a, which is its cause, and in strict distinction from two related forms of human motivation: need and demand. Human need refers to, more or less, basic biological needs (e.g., food, shelter, and so on). Demand, however, refers to a request for something (an object, an action, a gesture, and so on) from another human being. As Joan Copjec explains, the distinction between need, demand, and desire orbits the status of the object that is requested or that sets motives into motion:

On the level of need the subject can be satisfied by some thing that is in the possession of the Other. A hungry child will be satisfied by food-but only food. . . . It is on the next level, that of demand, that love is situated. Whenever one gives a child whose cry expresses a demand for love, a blanket, or food, or even a scolding, matters little. The particularity of the object is here annulled; almost anything will satisfy-as long as it comes from the one whom the demand is addressed. Unlike need, which is particular, demand is, in other words, absolute, universalizing.[41]

Demand thus represents a push for “something more” from another than a particular object (as any object will do)-something paradoxically tantalizing but unattainable. When the person making the demand begins to realize that this “something more” is impossible to describe or to get, she transitions from demand to desire (e.g., “you do something to me that I can’t explain”). For Lacan, desire is a continual pulsation of motivating energy; the object that stimulates desire, the objet a, cannot be possessed or desire would cease.

Sexual desire is the most familiar form of desiring that is stimulated by various objects. For example, the woman’s breast is a classic sex object that also can function as an objet a: for the “tit man,” in love-making a breast will inevitably end up in his mouth (except if, of course, it belongs to Dolly). Now, unless one is truly perverse, the point of sucking a breast not to get or possess it (e.g., by literally eating it), but precisely the opposite: one sucks and licks and teases the breast to pleasure one’s partner and stimulate one’s own desire for the something more in the breast than the breast. Becoming sexually aroused by the sight or touch of a woman’s breast has to do with what the breasts are not. Significantly, Copjec explains that desire is kept in play precisely because the objet a is unattainable, “the Other retains what it does not have and does not surrender it to the subject.”42 Love is thus not only the supplement to an impossible or failed relationship, but it also denotes the demand and/or desire for recognition from another though the production of the objet a. Love is fundamentally deceptive because it is a kind of open promise to desiring: in courtship, a lover presents him or herself as an agent of recognition, as the promise of something more.

The significance of Lacan’s understanding of love is that it is also a theory of persuasion: rhetors are like lovers, promising audiences a coming unity and stimulating their desire for that unity with various substitute objects: an end to their suffering and loneliness; a re-united union; better welfare reform, and so on.43 In rhetorical studies love’s deception has been held-out as the promise of the “ideal speech situation”—a situation in which arguers meet as equals in a space of mutual recognition. (write here about Brockreide, then Corder). What ties these theories together is, of course, the stupidity of identification as the recognition of commonality or “consubstantiality,” as Kennenth Burke coined. In fact, other than Aristotle’s enthymeme (a tacit theory of identification), one is hard-pressed to identify a concept more ubiquitous in contemporary rhetorical theory than Burke’s understanding of identification, an understanding that is arguably none other than the promise of love.

According to Burke, blah blah blah . . .

End of this section: detail Oliver’s point about subject/object distinction. Say that this is the ultimate promise/push of rhetoric’s many loves, and the basis upon which Griffin and Foss make their critique. This will make for a nice transition to the next section.

II. Them Two, or, Love is Shit

I give myself to you, the patient says again, but this gift of my person—as they say-Oh mystery! is changed inexplicably into a gift of shit—a term that is also essential to our experience.

–Jacques Lacan[44]


2 “‘Islands Honored as Top BMI Song; WB Leads Pubbers.” Variety 315 (20 June 1984): 57.
3 For examples of the sentiment, see Roy Kasten, “Blond Ambition: That Titanic Contradiction Dolly Parton is a Whore, a Saint, a Poet and a Preacher Disguised as a Dumb Blonde Country Girl” Riverfront Times (21 August 2002): n.p.; and John Nova Lomax, “The Dirty Thirty; The Worset Songs of All Time From Texas.” Houston Press 16 (29 April 2004): n.p. The contemporary reaction is doubly ironic, for as I argue below, the song is regarded as kitsch precisely because hearers secretly identify with its Platonic concept of love as spiritual unity; see Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, With Continual Reference to Socrates, edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989): 50-52.
4 See Avital Ronell, Stupidity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 89.
5 Perhaps the most famous theory of the love of interrogation is that of Jean-Paul Sartre, who characterized love as a strategy to undermine the Other by knowing him or her thoroughly, both “biblically” and intellectually. See Jean-Paul Satre, Being and Nothingness, trans. ( ): . For an excellent overview of theories of love from the ancient Greeks to present day thinkers, see The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love, edited by Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1991).
6 Plato, Phaedrus, trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1995.
7 John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999), 37.
8 Peters, Speaking, 37.
9 See, for example, .
10 Wayne Brockriede. “Arguers as Lovers.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 5 (1972): 1-11
11 Jim W. Corder, “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love.” Rhetoric Review 4 (1985): 16-32.
12Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric.” Communication Monographs 62 (1995): 2-___.
13 bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (New York: William and Morrow, 2000); bell hooks, Communion: The Female Search for Love (Harper Paperbacks, 2002); bell hooks, Salvation: Black People and Love (Harper Perennial, 2001);
14 Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), esp. 217-224
15Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 351. Also see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); and Nicholas Brown, Imre Szeman, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, “‘Subterranean Passages of Thought’: Empire’s Inserts.” Cultural Studies 18 (2002): 193-212.
16 Also see Luce Irigaray, I Love to You (New York: Routledge, 1995); Luce Irigaray, The Way of Love, trans. Heidi Bostic and Stephen Pluhácek (New York: Continuum, 2002); Heidi Bostic, “Luce Irigaray and Love.” Cultural Studies 16 (2002): 603.-610; Judith Hamera, “I Dance to You: Reflections on Irigaray’s I Love to You in Pilates and Virtuosity.” Cultural Studies 15 (2001): 229-240; Della Pollock, “Editor’s Note on Performing Love.” Cultural Studies 15 (2001): 203-205.
17 See Jay VerLinden. 2000. “Arguers as Harassers.” Paper read at the 86th Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, 9-11 November, Seattle, Washington; available accessed 9 January 2007. For recent work that touches, however indirectly, on the relation between love and rhetoric, see Jeremy Engels,” Disciplining Jefferson: The Man Within the Breast and the Rhetorical Norms of Producing Order.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 9 (2006): 411-435; Eugene Garver, “The Rhetoric of Friendship in Plato’s Lysis.” Rhetorica 24 (2006): 127-146; and Dave Tell, “Beyond Mnemotechnics: Confession and Memory in Augustine.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 39 (2006): 233-253.
18 Dana Cloud. 2004. “Not Invited: Struggle and Social Change.” Paper read at the 90th Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, 11-14 November, Chicago, Illinois; Nina M. Reich. 2004. “Invite This! Power, Material Oppresssion, and Social Change.” Paper read at the 90th Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, 11-14 November, Chicago, Illinois; Nina M. Reich. 2004; and Julia T. Wood. 2004. “The Personal is Still Political: Feminism’s Commitment to Structural Change.” Paper read at the 90th Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, 11-14 November, Chicago, Illinois; Nina M. Reich. 2004.
19 “When the talk turns to love,” argues Elizabeth Ervin, “things immediately move out of the realm of reasonable consieration and into sentimental soft focus or visceral cynicism . . . . I’ll admit, the first time I read [Jim Corder’s] essay ‘Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love’ I largely dismissed it as too touchy-feely.” Elizabeth Ervin, “Love Composes Us (In Memory of Jim Corder),” Rhetoric Review 17 (1999): 322-323.
20 Or as Milan Kundera eloquently puts it, “kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.” The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel (New York: HarperCollins/Perennial Classics, 1999), p. 248. Also see Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “kitsch.”
21 Jacques Lacan, Encore: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 32; hereafter cited XX.
22 Lacan, XX.
23 Lacan, XX, 17.
24 Ronell, Stupidity, 89.
25 Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1996), 103.
26 In Evans, An Introductory, 103.
27 See Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essay in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), esp. 3-19; 102-141; and Avital Ronell, Stupidity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002).
28 Lacan, XX, 12.
29 Lacan, XX, 86.
30 I mean “supplement” in the Derridian sense fetched from Rousseau; see Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 141-164.
31 The term “disjunction,” however, is Badiou’s. My reading of Lacan on love is informed by Badiou. See “What is Love?” Sic 3: Sexuation, edited by Renata Salecl (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 263-281.
32 Lacan, XX, 45.
33 Badiou, “What is Love?” 266.
34 See Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), 289-290.
35 Badiou, “What is Love?” 266-267.
36 Badiou, “What is Love?” 267. Badiou’s answer to the angel is to posit “humanity is one” in pursuit of the possibility of “transpositional knowledge”–the knowledge made possible by love.
37 It is possible for some to conclude that my extension of the heterosexual binary to “people in general” is a heteronormative move. What Lacan would stress, however, is that all difference (e.g., race) is based on this fundamental binary; it is only the Symbolic differentiation of “male” and “female” that we first learn of difference. Consequently, Lacan’s remarks on love still apply to same sex difference: the yearning for the One, though established in a binary disjunction, begins with a fundamental distinction between one and then another. For a discussion of a similar pickle, see Heidi B_____ (article on Irigaray).
38 Lacan, XX, 45.
39 Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), 268.
40 Lacan, XI, 268. To this phrase Lacan adds, “I mutilate you,” which I have excised for simplicity. The idea here is that in loving that quality or element “in you more than you,” in a sense your person, body, and so on become mere objects for me to get at this “something more.” In loving, then, I disfigure my love to resemble something she is not; I mutilate him.
41 Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994), 148.
42 Copject, Read My Desire, 148.
43 For a more detailed explanation of this argument, see Joshua Gunn, “Hystericizing Huey: Emotional Appeals, Desire, and the Psychodynamics of Demagoguery.” Western Journal of Communication 71 (2007): 1-27.
44 Lacan, XI, 268.
45 Lacan, XX, 6.
46 Corder, “Argument,” 27.

grant grubbing, part IV

March 15th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (2007)

First a plea: if you’re posting to my blog and don’t see your comment appear, please tell me via email ( My spam filter has been a bit aggressive lately, and five posts today and yesterday didn’t appear until someone gave me the heads-up. Lemme know, folks!

Now: although I respect Jim’s warning about publicizing the remarks of blind reviewers, I want to share with y’all the evaluations of my NEH Summer Stipend application, which I received today. I am sorry to report that despite getting the coveted top junior application slot at the university level, at the national competition I did not quite make it. Only 80-something of 800 something got funded. I had four reviewers; apparently it only takes one stick in the mud to tank your case. I had one such stick in the mud (who, nevertheless, said my proposal was “very good” to “good”).

I know this competition is super tough, so I don’t feel terrible or anything (although I very seriously doubt my university will select my application to send up again; I feel like they give you one chance and then that’s it). In fact, I found a number of the comments very encouraging, especially the one that says (to paraphrase) “at first blush this is weird and tabloidy, but then . . . .” Hah! That’s the reaction I’ve been trying to elicit ever since I started writing. I’ve been trying to show how the initially “ghoulish” is really quite normal and commonplace. I’m encouraged, in other words, that three of my four reviewers read what I am doing as serious and worthwhile. I may not have won the grant, but having some anonymous peers say—in effect—“keep it up!” is nice.

The reviews are short, which suggests the reviewers are going through a rather large number of applications. I suppose this is something to keep in mind for those of you doing the NEH SS things. I also do get the impression that folks from our field are actually reviewing these, which is a most excellent sign (if any of you reviewers are reading this: thank you!). Finally, yes, I’m aware that some of you think that sharing this is narcissistic, and it is to a degree, but I also hope some folks find it helpful and demystifying. One thing I can say about the NEH is that they work hard to be transparent, which I appreciate. Anyhoo, here we go:

TO: Applicants for 2007 NEH Summer Stipends

FROM: Leon Bramson, Senior Program Officer

NEH Division of Research Programs

Thank you for requesting additional information on the review of your 2007
NEH Summer Stipends application. We received 814 applications and
were able to make 84 awards.

As with all applications submitted to the NEH, your proposal was read and
discussed by knowledgeable persons outside the agency, who advised the
Endowment about its merits. NEH’s staff commented on matters of fact or
on significant issues that otherwise would have been missing from these
evaluations and made recommendations to the National Council on the
Humanities. The National Council meets at various times during the year to
advise the NEH chairman on grants. The chairman took into account the
advice provided during the review process and made all funding decisions,
as is prescribed by law.

Copies of the panelists’ ratings and written evaluations of your proposal are
included with this memorandum. The range of possible ratings is Excellent
(E), Very Good (VG), Good (G), Some Merit (S) and Not Recommended
(N). Please keep in mind that panels are the first stage of NEH review and
that the panelists sent us their evaluations and comments online.

The panelists’ names and references to other panelists or applicants have
been omitted. Additional excisions reflect the Endowment’s policy to hold in
confidence the contents of letters of recommendation.

Comments by Panelist 1

Rating: VG

This proposal takes the human voice seriously. It will examine recorded
voices of World Trade Center victims on September 11, 2001 in order to
develop and refine a theory of mourning. This is a fundamental human
activity largely ignored in humanistic scholarship. The work is oriented,
however, more to disciplinary issues (the relative significance of visual vs.
verbal rhetoric) than to the broader concerns of the humanities in general.
And how the author will get from 9/11 to the nature of mourning is not laid
out very well in the proposal.

The applicant is a young but extremely prolific scholar, well trained in
rhetorical theory and practice. He has published an essay on the same
theme as this project, and the strength of that essay suggests that he is
well qualified to interpret these aspects of the humanities.

The result of this work will be a chapter in a larger book. The overall book
project is described reasonably well, but exactly how this chapter will fit in
is somewhat unclear. What analytical categories are used will be
determined intuitively, as the applicant begins to engage the recorded
texts. While the outcome of this analysis is obviously uncertain at this
point, the applicant’s track record makes it no cause for concern.

Since the project envisions an article that will become a chapter in a book,
and the applicant is a highly prolific scholar, there is no question that the
work will be completed, and probably well within the time period of the NEH

Comments by Panelist 2

Rating: VG/G

How would this build on previous article in Text and Performance
Quarterly? Notion of these voices as „haunted speech‰ trivializes them by
comparison with TV laugh tracks. Lots of academic theorizing here,
seems grounded in Media Ecology. The whole enterprise seems ghoulish
rather than enlightening.

Comments by Panelist 3

Rating: E

The applicant proposes a study of the tape recorded voices of 9/11
victims. Though I have read and admired some of the publications of
the applicant (I do not know him personally), I at first feared that
perhaps this was simply a morbid and sensationalist project. The
proposal itself convinces me otherwise. The applicant clearly
describes how he will approach the materials, how this part of his
project fits into his book-length project, and how that project fits
both into his own field and the world of interdisciplinary humanities
scholarship. He has been a highly productive young scholar, publishing
in first-rate presses and journals. Highly recommended.

Comments by Panelist 4

Rating: E/VG

Different and interesting–from many disciplinary perspectives. The
applicant is clearly up to the task of this project, and it is a
refreshing take on a subject that has been well-deconstructed.

publishing peccadilloes revisited

March 14th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: DJ Yeshu: For Cheree (2007)

This morning I received a rather startling email from someone who I considered one of three foes: a senior editor at Telos: A Quarterly Journal of Critical Thought. Some readers may be familiar with my essay “Publication Peccadlloes and the Idioms of Disposition” in Communication Studies (vol. 54, Fall 2003: 370-377), in which I openly discuss the politics of rejection (here’s a PDF of that essay). At least 70% of the email and comments I receive from readers about my work concerns this essay and the (shocking to some) opening example of a rejection letter:

You stupid fuck! How can you submit to us an article with thius [sic] increduibly [sic] stupid footnote? And you i [sic] “As an associate editor of Telos [entire footnote is quoted].” You obviously have not learned anything. Not even how to spell Schmitt’s name. Kleep [sic] playing around with Benjamin and you will have a brilliant career among assholes such as yourself.

During a recent and (somewhat surprisingly) successful panel at NCA, “Manuscript Rejection Letters: A Reader’s Theatre,” I read this and related exchanges between the editor and me—to audible gasps from the audience.

Here’s the problem: I identified the editor as Lauren Alleyne, the signatory of said rejection letter. The message I received this morning was from Lauren, who was horrified. You see, Lauren was the editorial assistant of senior editor Paul Piccone. Mr. Piccone, widely known for his sharp thinking, bombastic style, and for introducing English translations of key works from the Frankfurt School, deliberately misled me into thinking the message was from Lauren (read more about Piccone here). Although she credits Piccone for being good to her in many ways, Lauren is quick to acknowledge his meanness. In her message Lauren said, “It’s funny, but I recall a day, when he laughed out gleefully, and I asked what was so funny. He responded ‘you just sent an angry email to someone,’ I was suspicious, but I nodded and went back to work . . . . I’d bet anything it was this email to you that he’d just sent!” Apparently it was.

Lauren shared with me an essay that she also wrote about Mr. Piccone titled “A Letter To The Old Fart Who Thought A Grab Would Cure My Feminism,” which you can read here.

I am still a little blown-back by the meanness of this (sometimes) celebrated editor. Not only did he deliberately set out to squash the ego of a junior trying to figure out the publication game, but also subject Lauren to the misjudgement of strangers. I feel terrible for Lauren, and would hope this story gets out there and is told every time my essay is read.

I have apologized the Lauren. She gave me permission to post her email here in full. Read on, I suppose, as we contemplate the ethical dimensions of scholarship and professional comportment.


From: Lauren K Alleyne

Subject: Publishing peccadilloes and idioms of disposition: Views from the habitus of scholarly adolescence

Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 17:21:37 +0300

Or, “Thank God for Google!”

Mr. Gunn,

Greetings of the day. My name is probably familiar to you; I am Lauren Alleyne. What is probably going to shock you as much as it shocked me, is that although I did work for Telos Press for over a year, I am not the person who penned the awful note you published in your article in Communication Studies.

I was horrified to discover this article on the internet one day; I was engaged in the narcissistic activity of googling myself. Going past the first few pages, I found that Lauren Alleyne is also an accomplice to a murder in Boston (she has since been sentenced) and, yes, the rude and incoherent author of the rejection letter from hell. The latter worried me more than the former (I’ve never been to Boston), because there was a grain of truth, which disturbed me greatly.

The masthead of Telos, in those years, show that I was the Circulation Manager, which was a generous title the boss bestowed on his nineteen-year old intern who’d never actually read the journal she worked for. My job was to mail out the journal, update subscription lists, and get bagels and coffee for my boss before he got too grumpy.

Said boss, was the senior editor, Paul Piccone, and it was he who vetted and distributed all the manuscripts for review and corresponded with the authors. I am certain he authored this letter; I recognize the tone.

It’s funny, but I recall a day, when he laughed out gleefully, and I asked what was so funny. He responded “you just sent an angry email to someone,” I was suspicious, but I nodded and went back to work, because often when I had particularly complex exchanges with non-payers and/or belligerent subscribers, I would forward them to him to deal with – he was better at that stuff. The incident always remained with me, and returned with such force as I read your article, and I’d bet anything it was this email to you that he’d just sent!

In any event, I’ve moved through such a range of emotions regarding this situation. Horror, that this was out there as something I’d written (I’m now a young academic myself, and a writer); pure fury at Paul’s cowardice, and abuse of his situation; frustration at having no one to direct this fury toward – it’s not your fault that you’ve made this horrible document public, and, well, Paul is dead; and helplessness.

What can I say, maybe this is a follow-up article to the one you wrote. It certainly has some connections in terms of abuse of power, and the vulnerability of the young, as well as possible repercussions — what if you’d been on a hiring committee for a job I’d applied for?

I don’t know what I’m hoping this email can accomplish — but at the very least, I wanted to clear my name with you. I’m a poet now, and I have to deal with rejection all the time, and honestly, I never get used to it. so I can’t imagine what it must have been like to receive such a virulent one! I’m truly sorry for that.

I’ve attached some links, which will tell you more about Paul and one, which is, ironically, an essay I wrote about a dealing with him as well. A revision of it will appear in the next issue of Womens’ Studies Quarterly. What can I say, it’s ironic how his attempts to silence and shut down only resulted in this proliferation of words!

Best wishes to you, Mr Gunn.

Lauren K. Alleyne

As I said to Lauren in an exchange, “I’m terribly sorry over this and hope that you’ll accept my apology . . . and friendship. Kindness between strangers is frequently forged in the shadow of a mean Other.” Funny way to make a new friend, I know, but it is one great way to repair meanness when it happens.

birthday card and its (dis)contents

March 13th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Prince and the Revolution: Purple Rain (1984)

From Fifteen False Propositions Against God,
“VII” by Jack Spicer.

Trees in their youth look younger/Than almost anything/I mean/In the spring/When they put forth green leaves and try/To look like real trees/Honest to God my heart aches/When I see them trying/Comes August and the sunshine and the fog and only the wood/grows/They stand there with big rough leaves amazed/That it is no longer summer/The cold fog seeps in and by Novemeber/They don’t look the same (the leaves I mean) the leaves fall/Such a hard reason to seek. Such heart’s/

The images are clickable.

on being a publication terrier

March 12th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Clearlake: Cedars (2003)

I am delighted to report that, after more than three years, my article on Huey Long was published today (available here as a PDF file). I’m always happy to have something come out . . . until about two years later when I realize I was stupid and should not have wrote it. Nevertheless, I have not had an essay that was as rejected and roundly critiqued as this particular one. Although it did benefit from the suggestions of all of those rejecters, I never thought the essay deserved the scorn it received. Apparently reading it is akin to pulling teeth?

Regardless, I will say it to all of you junior scholars out there: just because your essay is rejected does not mean no one wants it. With the right reviewers in the right moods, your essay will see the light of the page . . . you just have to be persistent!

To revisit the history of this “well-traveled article,” to borrow a phrase from Randall L. Bytwerk, you can start here, and then move on to here.

In other news: I have another cold! Argh! And just in time for spring break. Three cheers for karma!

joshcast: clashtrash 5

March 8th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Junior Wells: You’re Tuff Enough (1968)

A’ight, y’all, it’s time for some music for your awesome, spring-ish weekend! At long last, the fifth volume of my clashtrash collection is finished. For the most part, electroclash is dead and gone and a new punky/house/electro sound has replaced it. The tempos are slower, so this may be ideal for a sustained workout or jog. Mostly, the new mix is intended for dancing. I also deliberately mixed in a bunch of acts that will be in town for SXSW and playing next week (e.g., spektrum, the secret handshake, and so on).

As an advisory: I do not condone the lyrics! Sometimes a groove is just too good and nasty that you have to overlook the sentiments of certain, er, MCs.

You can download the cover art and track listing. The actual mp3 file is here. Remember, all music files are for previewing/listening only!


  • black strobe: shiny bright star (phones remix)
  • the shakes: sister self-doubt
  • substitute symposium: been caught stealing
  • black strobe: me and Madonna
  • cazwell: all over your face (original extended mix)
  • spektrum: don’t be shy (yeshu extended mix)
  • snowden: kill the power
  • datarock: fa fa fa (shakes remix)
  • lazaro casanova: shorts and heels
  • crystal takes manhattan: confetti princess (kissy sell-out remix)
  • robbie williams: lovelight (soulwax remix—this is so nasty!)
  • shout out out out out: dude you feel electrical
  • sneaky sound system: UFO (vanshetech remix)
  • dirty sanchez: asymmetric
  • van she: kelly (cut copy remix)
  • the secret handshake: too young (toxic avenger remix)
  • young americans: inside out

Do tell me if you like it, and introduce some of these new bands to your friends! And for you locals: don’t forget I DJ parties for hire and favor. If you want me to DJ for favor, well, it involves seven nubile concubines and a lawnchair.