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February 27th, 2010 by slewfoot

it’s synth-pop friday!

February 26th, 2010 by slewfoot

snowed in aus-vegas!

February 23rd, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Judge Judy

For someone who often misses the Midwestern snows, I have to say nothing cheers like flurries in Austin. This morning it started to snow—fairly hard at my house with huge, fat flakes—and accumulated for about a quarter of an inch. The snow quickly melted (apparently while I was in class) as the temperature increased. Still, I feel just giddy. Fortunately, it’s not cold enough to freeze into something dangerous (yet).

The sight of UT and my yard with the white stuff is so strange, especially when I’m caused to reflect on the whopper, triple-digit summer of last. I’m proud of my fellow Longhorns for not canceling class, and that my neighborly Texans didn’t completely evacuate the bread and milk from the grocery store.

Still, what a treat! A small gallery here.

A Open Letter to Executive Director Nancy Kidd

February 21st, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Kings of Convenience: Riot on an Empty Street (2004)

My professional organization, the National Communication Association, has faced some leadership challenges in recent years. One of those challenges concerns presidents and national directors who grossly misunderstand the essentials of public relations. I can recall this started (for me) many years ago when the NCA president published a front-page screed about “deadbeats” at conventions (folks who do not pay the registration fee, but go anyway). This message, while it needed to be said, could have been said much differently and, consequently, alienated a number of members (while I paid my fee, I was part of the group who attended the conference with “Deadbeat” on my name badge). Despite replacing an incompetent director last year, unthoughtful and divisive messages have continued to come from the leadership—especially the outgoing president, which I have detailed here.

Just when I thought the outgoing president is gone, however, she returns as an appointee to the director of research position! I’ve learned the Executive Director, Nancy Kidd, made the appointment without consulting the key leadership committee (the Executive Council) and against the objections of many folks. A contract has been signed already. Kidd would prefer that this news had remained secret, however, last week the national office actually posted it—presumably by “accident”—on the NCA website. I emailed the Executive Director to ask if she had made such an appointment. Speaking in the royal voice of “we,” Kidd responded that there are differing interpretations “about the issue you’ve raised” and that she and the current president of NCA will respond to my query on March 1st. There is a meeting of the Executive Committee next weekend to discuss the issue, apparently.

These kind of cronyist gestures make my professional organization look childish. It is embarrassing.

The refusal to confirm or deny Bach’s appointment is curious, to say the least. I have written an open letter to Kidd and sent it to CRTNET, which is a field wide listserver. I have every reason to believe it will be censored because clearly Dr. Kidd [later edit: or better, the Bach-Braithwaite-Kidd trinity] would like to keep the matter secret. For that reason, I’m posting the letter here and hope members of my organization will read and circulate it widely:

Dear Dr. Kidd,

As you know, word has been circulating among the membership that you have appointed Betsy Bach to the position of Associate Director for Research Initiatives. I have also learned that a contract has been signed and that Prof. Bach is already at work in this new position. It has been reported that you have appointed Bach without consulting with the Executive Committee. I am disappointed that you will neither confirm nor deny these statements in personal communication. Nevertheless, assuming these facts to be true, I’m writing to express my profound disappointment with your decision, to criticize the appearance of cronyism at the national office, and to argue that Bach is a poor choice.

First, I am disappointed with your decision to ignore the Executive Committee, as it is my understanding that the NCA by-laws require you to seek their advice. You are potentially opening NCA to litigation, which would be embarrassing to the organization.

Second, that you did not consult the EC indicates the appointment is a gesture of cronyism, which only diminishes the reputation of our field. Had Bach been appointed in consultation with the Executive Committee, at least the appearance of impropriety would have been lessened. Regardless, like “grease,” cronyism would still be “the word” if you had sought the advice but persisted with the appointment.

Third and most importantly, the decision to continue promoting Bach in a leadership role is misguided because her rhetoric is divisive. I’m told Prof. Bach is a lovely person, however, she is the not a good representative of our membership because her messages are unreflective.

For example, as NCA president Bach managed to alienate major constituencies in our organization with the rhetorically insensitive way she attempted to address membership diversity. By giving her SPECTRA column over to “voices from the margins,” Bach stated that she was “looking for personal accounts from people who feel ‘marginalized.'” Of course, many of those who have been researching and teaching on issues of race, gender, sexual, political, and religious identity find such a criterion misguided, as it requires one to identify as a victim for the permission to speak.

Regardless, after a year of “giving voice” to the “marginal,” Bach refused to give voice to those who participated in the 2008 hotel boycott and alternative convention to fight bigotry and labor abuse. “Y’all had your say in San Diego,” Bach reasoned in personal communication. Yet, after a year had come and gone and the controversy abated, Bach chose to revisit this deeply schismatic disagreement last December by criticizing participants in the UNconvention as discriminating against members with disabilities. This “let them fight among themselves” move is not only dirty, but contradicts everything this “box of chocolates” approach to diversity was attempting to achieve.

When I asked Prof. Bach to explain the wisdom behind her decision to reopen this controversy, she offered no answer. It would seem the timing of the critique, then, was so that there could not be a rebuttal. Rather, than answer my question, Bach explained that it was her “opinion, and not NCA’s,” a curious qualification for an outgoing president to make about a SPECTRA column. After stating she was too busy with grading finals to have a conversation with me, Bach concluded by stating that she was “happy to chat more after finals, but frankly don’t know what else to say at this point. It is my opinion, and I voiced it. I thank you for voicing your opinion.” Such remarks echo her presidential call for “civil discourse,” but betray an ignorance of the large amount of research that has been conducted on the topic of civility in our field over past decade.

Moreover, this “it’s my opinion and I’ll voice it if I want to” sense of entitlement is hardly indicative of an inclusive attitude. Rather, it betrays an understanding of argumentation that many of our undergraduates frequently voice when taking the basic course. Of course, we also teach our students that some opinions are more informed than others, and further, that feelings of entitlement do not a right make.

A second reason why it is wrong to promote Bach to the Associate Director of Research Initiatives is her expressed attitude toward the research community. Bach’s presidential remarks at last year’s convention raised a few eyebrows—as was probably intended—but they also deeply offended a number of scholars. Although the source of offense was, in part, the tone of her delivery, Bach’s “On Practicing What We Preach” speech suggested communication researchers actively excluded the interests of those teaching in secondary and community contexts. She also suggested those of us at research universities were guilty of “making [graduates] feel like second-class citizens if they do not land a job a doctoral granting institution,” a controversial claim at best. For a number of members, Bach’s remarks were received as an admonition and a snub to those of us who ARE at research universities. I certainly agree the organization serves a variety of constituencies and a many different institutions. Yet, as with Bach’s column, her tendency to pit one constituency against another is clear. This does not bode well for an incoming director of research.

My experience to the contrary, I’m told Prof. Bach is widely regarded as a warm and welcoming person. Be that as it may, our professional leaders need to be thoughtful and reflective because the decisions they make will have consequences for the professional lives of thousands of teachers and scholars. I confess I am more interested in thoughtful leadership than I am (seemingly) nice people. I urge you to think beyond the benefits of cronyism and to reconsider your decision to appoint Bach as the Associate Director for Research Initiatives. We need someone whose public messages are not cowardly, divisive, or hypocritical. We need someone whose public statements are reflexive and thoughtful.

If you decide to continue Bach’s appointment, I would request that you take the time explain to NCA members why you are willing to risk the reputation of NCA, the alienation of the membership, and the cooperation of members of the Executive Committee and Research Board to follow through on a political gesture.


Joshua Gunn

University of Texas at Austin

it’s synth-pop friday!

February 19th, 2010 by slewfoot

killer professors from outer space

February 17th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Sade: Soldier for Love (2010)

It’s been such a dizzingly busy weekend that I only learned recently about Prof. Amy Bishop’s shooting rampage last week at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. For the three of you like me who didn’t hear the details, this apparently brilliant but “socially awkward” biology professor shot and killed numerous colleagues who voted against her bid for tenure (ok, is it just me, or does she seem a bit old or late in the game to be up for tenure just now?). Having just went through the process, I can understand how anxiety about promotion and security can lead one to fantasize—but for the life of me I cannot understand how one can turn life into a video game. Apparently after Bishop killed a number of her colleagues she spoke on the phone with her husband and confirmed “date night” was still a go.

WTF? Clearly these colleagues were not people to Bishop. I can understand getting really crazy about one person who upset you—even though I could never understand wanting to kill someone. But she shot multiple people—it’s paranoia on a stick.

Since I’m knee-deep in reading Lacan’s thoughts about object relations theory for our graduate seminar on “The Object,” it’s tough not to think about Bishop’s killing spree in relation to psychosis. Lacan actually came to psychoanalysis because he was obsessed with understanding psychosis—what it is, how it happens, how to explain it. Lacan eventually defined psychosis structurally as a foreclosure of the paternal metaphor. I won’t go into all of that—there’s a lot in the blog archives about it—except to say there are both a biological and a cultural explanations. There’s no question Bishop has a problem, and she has a long, documented history of having problems that reek of psychosis. What I’m interested in, however, is the kind of cultural psychosis that does to Bishop what she has done to her victims: turn them into objects to love or destroy for satisfaction.

That is to say, there’s something to say about the type of system that is productive of psychosis. Bracketing for the moment this person was definitely off, the context nevertheless evoked a certain violent response. Lately we’ve been hearing a great deal about violence in the academy—psychotic violence. Is there something about the scholastic setting that is productive of psychosis? The reward system of the academy (versus, say, the corporate sector)?

Bracketing Lacan for the moment, we can all agree—at least semantically—that psychosis means a loss of contact or relation with “reality.” I think the general definition is something like this: a psychotic person is someone who is so emotionally and psychologically warped that he or she loses touch with “reality,” when reality is something like that most people have consensus about as being “real.” For the psychotic, other people are akin to objects that are not real. It’s like a childhood fantasy in which the child imagines its parents and others are robots programmed to “test” him or her. I’m thinking of The Truman Show and films such as this, when other people are reduced to characters in one’s “show.” I cannot confess to ever being psychotic (well, there was some LSD experimentation in my teen years . . . ), but I think I can smell it when it’s around. Clinically Bishop may or may not be psychotic, but it certainly seems like she embodies all the characteristics of the basic definition.

I was reading the second seminar of Lacan today, and in the lecture in which he advances the conception of “the Big Other,” his opening provocation is a question: why are subjects not planets? The answer is that plants do not have mouths. This is to say many things, however, one of them is the predictability of a planets orbit—they are not dynamic bodies that move and change in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways, much like human speech. While it’s only implied, Lacan’s suggestion seems to be that psychosis reduces the Other to so many orbiting planets. The psychotic reduces others to mere bodies occupying space.

What I’m thinking about is how various institutional contexts reduce folks to objects orbiting in space, as if they did not have the capacity to speak. Of course, this is Marx’s critique of the capitalist; this also is Heidegger’s worry about the “standing stock” produced by “technology.” The ultimate symbol of evil from my childhood was Darth Vader and the Death Star, a planet that didn’t have a mouth, but rather a laser that destroyed other planets. Psychosis papers over the mouth of the other, forcing it into a false predictability.

Just thinking aloud here, and I really don’t have a point or argument (per usual). Still, as I contemplate the horror of this troubled professor’s actions—and what “tenure” apparently meant to her—I’m also caused to think about the ways in which the academy can encourage psychosis: yes, she was not right “in the head,” but still, were there scenic triggers? There’s something about the way in which the academy advances a family metaphor in order to mask an increasingly corporate mentality that leads people to unhealthy decisions.

I really don’t know what to think, and I debated whether or not to post my confusion/indecision. I just know that by reducing this person’s acting-out to her individual psychosis, we may be overlooking a larger, systemic psychosis of which this acting-out is an expression. I’ll keep thinking . . . .

pissy/happy vd!

February 14th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: And One: Bodypop 1.5 (2009)

Presumably, today we honor Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome who were martyred in late antiquity. The feast of St. Valentine refers to many saints, actually, and no one knows their godly feats except the Almighty Herself. So, how today’s holiday came to be a celebration of romantic or courtly love is anyone’s guess (some blame Chaucer), but as a celebration Valentine’s Day is no older than the eighteenth century. In other words, it’s a commercial holiday.

But, as I note every year, I always come through for you, because I love you, and of course, because I hate you too. These aggressive emotions are two sides of the same coin, are they not?

Side one, as you know, is Philophobia and consists entirely of expressions of bitterness and frustration (as in, “Goddammit, I want to be your lover, not your friend!” Hat tip to Thom). You can find the artwork here as a pdf file (just print it out, and then cut with scissors to fit in a traditional jewel case). You can find the mp3 stream here. Here’s the track listing:

  1. soul whirling somewhere: “forget it. I give up.”
  2. phillip boa: “all I hate is you”
  3. velvet acid christ: “the art of falling apart”
  4. and one: “love is a drug abuser”
  5. mesh: “how long?”
  6. la roux: “i’m not your toy”
  7. assemblage 23: “how can you sleep?”
  8. radiohead: “house of cards”
  9. beautiful south: “especially for you”
  10. the smiths: “i want the one i can’t have”
  11. r.e.m.: “so. central rain”
  12. amy winehouse: “love is a losing game”
  13. sharon robinson: “party for the lonely”
  14. sade: “skin”
  15. hope sandoval & the warm inventions: “trouble”
  16. the magnetic fields: “you must be out of your mind”
  17. neko case: “if you knew”
  18. blaze foley: “clay pigeons.”

Side two is the pro-love mix, but it is a bit different this year. In years past I’ve always thrown in a couple of racy tracks, however, this year I’ve made them all racy tracks. In fact, the tunes are so racy that they are not safe for work listening! This mix, lovers, is rated X and if you are easily offended by sexual themes, vulgarity, or lewdness, you might use this year’s little heart-shaped beasties mix to help desensitize yourself. I recommended putting it on your iPod and listening to it during a Sunday church service. You can download the CD art here. And you can find the mp3 file here. If you elect to get down with these naughty tunes, please remember I did warn you! The track listing:

  1. johnnie taylor: “your love is rated x”
  2. the outthere brothers: “i wanna f—k you in the asp”
  3. kool keith: “lick my asp”
  4. flight of the conchords: “business time”
  5. r. kelly: “sex planet”
  6. meshell ndegeocello: “trust”
  7. air: “love”
  8. peaches: “i feel cream”
  9. lonely island: “jizz in my pants”
  10. sheena easton: “sugar walls”
  11. prince: “erotic city”
  12. frankie goes to hollywood: “krisco kisses”
  13. morningwood: “hot tonight”
  14. cwa: “only straight girls wear dresses”
  15. gossip: “men in love”
  16. ray wylie hubbard: “pots and pans”
  17. dr. john: “shave ‘em dry”
  18. millie jackson: “slow tongue.”

Please note these holiday compilations are for preview purposes only; if you like an artist, I encourage you to go out and buy one of their albums. And, of course, please enjoy these mixes responsibly. Whether you celebrate or celehate, enjoy your day!

affective affinities of a different order

February 13th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

Yesterday, UT professor Sam Gosling gave a masterful talk on one of his many research programs: Snoop. Basically, Gosling is exploring the ways in which the environments in which we live tell others about our personality (as measured by the five factor model). Although Gosling is mostly interested in finding statistically significant correlations between how a stranger rates, for example, the personality traits of a dorm room and how the actual occupant (and his or her friends) rates himself, I was interested in how much of this “information” we normally pick up unconsciously: having recently become an HGTV addict, it is clear how much we invest in organizing space to project a persona (or to absent one). In a sense, Snoop is Gosling’s more grounded version of Blink—there’s evidence to show a degree of accuracy in snap judgments; although there is no way to measure it, I suspect there is a mountain of information processed about other people’s stuff that we aren’t consciously aware of.

It’s job hunting season, and friends are interviewing hither and yon. If I can count the times I said to someone, “trust your gut,” I guarantee I’d have to use other people’s fingers and toes.

Recently, I’ve had opportunities to share and discuss my most recent work with scholars and teachers in very different disciplines. As I was talking to students about Sam’s presentation yesterday, I starting thinking about the similarities between the hostility folks have for the unconscious and the affective. I was giving a presentation last semester that touched on a Lacanian habit: one reason I am interested in the object of speech is because it is the meeting place of the signifier and affect, the reasoned and the irrational, and so on. Speech can speak the unconscious, and often without our consent. A couple of people objected: “how can one have an affect without the signifier?”

“Well, I define affect as the body in feeling, and I think we can have the body in feeling without its being meaningful.”

“But, how can you know about this affect, then?”

“You signify it.”

“So, you’re saying that you can only have affect with the signifier.”

“No,” I said. “If you deliver affect to the signifer, then you’ve made it meaningful and it becomes a feeling.”

“But [insert rant here].”

“Well, professor X, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

And so we did, and do. Still, the mood or character of this scholars objection feels very similar to the protests against psychoanalysis. Both my position on affect and the unconscious hold tenaciously to the belief that there are things and experiences and events and moments outside of language that happen and exert an influence on my so-called languaged life. There is, in other words, an outside.

Thinking about this last night, I was reminded of Brian Massumi’s powerful opening to Parables of the Virtual. After noting that “cultural scholarship” for the last twenty years is afraid of radical realism, he suggests variations of mediation, such as Althusser’s interpellation model, staved off the realist phobia. But what of “the body?”

The body was seen to be centrally involved in these everyday practices of resistance. But this thoroughly mediated body could only be a ‘discursive’ body: one with its signifying gestures. Signifying gestures make sense. If properly ‘performed,’ they may also unmake sense by scrambling significations already in place. Make an unmake sense as they might, they don’t sense. Sensation is utterly redundant to their description. Or worse, it is destructive to it, because it appeals to unmediated experience. Unmediated experience signals a danger that is worse, if anything can be, of naived realism, its polar opposite, naïve subjectivism.

Here is where a certain version of Deleuze and a preferred reading of Lacan seem to met: there are more things in experience, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your theory. Lacan attempts to set this truism into a certain ethical disposition—and we might say, in a sense, all posty thinkers do.

So I’ve just been thinking: is resistance to the work my colleagues and I would like to do a sort of drive to mastery for which the object is really interchangeable? Whether it be affect outside the signifier or the unconscious (worse, the symbolic outside the clutches of the comprehensible), is this dis-ease of a dispositional—and therefore, affective—character? Why is asserting that there are experiences which elude the machinations of meaning troublesome to so many scholars?

The stupidity of atheism is its faith in the absolute denial.

it’s love-pop friday!

February 12th, 2010 by slewfoot

to nca or not nca? part three: affinities

February 7th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Legendary Pink Dots: Any Day Now (1987)

I have been busy attempting to complete a manuscript by tomorrow, however, I didn’t want Rosechron to linger too long on the negative. I’ve been working-through whether I should attend my professional organization’s big conference this year in San Francisco. Thus far the reasons not to go (explained here and here) are as follows:

  • Outgoing president Bach’s idiotic and offensive parting shot, and by extension, how she responded to the 2008 boycott
  • Deceptive rhetoric from the current president regarding the early registration policy
  • Not wanting to support the current leadership clique
  • The possibility of having to cross a picket line because of a staff labor dispute
  • Having two conferences and as many guest talks between now and this next conference (that is, anticipating exhaustion).

I can easily list more reasons for not attending, but these cover the big reasons.

Since I’ve last posted, however, Dana Cloud and I have discussed the labor situation, as well as a number of the new leadership at the National Office. Dana reports that as soon as she alerted the national office to the labor issues at the conference hotel, the new national director Nancy Kidd and first vice president Lynn Turner were immediately responsive, and are already in negotiations with the labor union. Apparently they are currently at an impasse, however, Dana reports that the tone of these new leaders is so radically different—and responsible—that she has changed her mind about attending and has resolved to continue working on change “within.” I trust Dana and respect her judgment, so I confess she also has got me to think differently about San Francisco; I’m encouraged that perhaps the organization is learning from its mistakes from last year and the year before.

This leads me to the second argument in favor of going to the national conference, of course: radical change is not possible and that only by working within—by electing like-minds to offices of leadership—can we make the organization more accountable and take basic humanitarian stances on issues that matter to me and my colleagues. Giving up and leaving the organization, as Shaun and others have noted, is not an option, since maintaining a professional identity is important for job security and a footing in a university setting.

My friend and mentor James Darsey has been serving NCA in a leadership capacity for some time now. He has made a number of arguments to me and others encouraging more active participation. He has not convinced me it is time to fun for office, however (that, I think, is service best given when your institution will support your doing so, and mine will not; it’s also the job of a full professor). No other professional organization, argues Darsey, has the heft to work for major professional in-roading (e.g., getting our field noticed by money-bag agencies, national media recognition, and so on). Or to revert to the language of Alasdair MacIntyre, NCA has the power to maintain and pursue external goods (prestige, funding, training) so that the goods internal to our practice (scholarship, teaching) can continue.

I can appreciate Darsey’s argument. No practice can survive and cultivate its intrinsic goods without pursuing external support. I think the source of my worry, and that of others, is that in recent years there has been an imbalance in a trend toward increasing corporatization—and that is always driven by the pursuit of external goods. Former director Smitter’s decision to remain silent and do nothing about bigotry and abuse in 2008 was not only cowardly, but also ultimately driven by a misguided PR strategy (in that sense, it was also not good business sense). Again, what I’m hearing from both Darsey and a former president is that the new director is very good and is helping restore balance. I hope so.

So, we can say the reasons to go thus far are that (1) the national leadership are responding to the labor dispute at the hotel directly; (2) the leadership as changed; (3) changing the organization requires that people continue to go and participate; and (4) NCA is a big organization with the brawn to get us professional goodies and recognition.

There are, of course, other reasons to go: to see my friends; to network and meet new scholars who may be doing stuff I’m interested in; the conference hook-up. Just joshing about the latter—who am I kidding, anyway? That is, there’s a big social factor here, the appeal of finding, giving, and enjoying love, broadly construed.

None of the social reasons, nor the organizational and political ones, however, trumps what I think is the single most important reason to go: to support graduate students! My first doctoral advisee—who truly rocks and is going to impress!—will be on the job market next fall. I may have one or two others who also decide to test the waters. It just seems important to me to be at the conference for them in an emotional, drink-buying capacity.

Now, one might think any advisor should attend NCA to introduce his or her students to potential employers. I really think the field is so huge—and the conference is so massive—that this really has no bearing on job getting. My advisor did not go to NCA to shepherd me around, nor did I think I needed to be—and I got a job. I had thirteen interviews at NCA. Only one of those, Georgia State, actually ended up inviting me out for an on-site interview, and I promise you my short interview with the chair at NCA had no bearing on my invitation whatsoever (she didn’t remember meeting me when I actually interviewed in Georgia).

Honestly, I think interviews at NCA are basic tests of craziness. Committees stare at you to make sure you’re not a nut-job. They probably already have their ideal two or three candidates in mind, and just use NCA as an opportunity to confirm this ideal is closer to a possible reality, that’s all. (Which reminds me, Barry’s Spectra essay, “The Search Begins,” is absolutely a must-read for grads.)

I think, in other words, most people who are interviewing folks for jobs at their institution are bombarded with so many people that they are much more likely to remember what’s on paper, or what’s in a file, than who they met at NCA. I know this is not always the case, and a number of programs take interviewing very seriously; still, I don’t think even those folks would nix a file if you couldn’t make an NCA interview.

No, the reason to go for one’s students is just to be there for them if they need to talk, if they need a cigar, if they need, in general, someone to decompress with. Job marketing oneself is extremely stressful and hard.

So, these are the things weighing in my head. I hope to decide by tomorrow morning.