Nonfiction and interviews.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

English 620 Lit Review #2

The following satisfies an assignment for a graduate seminar in research methods.
(#2: Recent Academic Source)

Hesse, Douglas. "The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies." College Composition and Communication 62.1, The Future of Rhetoric and Composition (2010): 31-52. JSTOR. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

A Useful Move

Douglas Hesse, in his essay on the divide and potential interplay between composition and creative writing, makes several moves which I found useful, especially as a burgeoning scholar who keeps a foot in each English Department realm.  (This semester, I’m finishing coursework for a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, and I also teach creative writing, participate in a graduate-level creative writing workshop, and work in an administrative capacity as the Assistant Director of Creative Writing, all at the University of Louisville.)  Hesse does well in terms of his research methodology when he gives the reader an overview of the conversation about creative writing in the field of composition; the first of three parts in his essay he titles, “Where We’ve Been.”  He uses data from CCC, perhaps the most influential journal in the field, and does not appear to shape the narrative of composition’s involvement with creative writing in order to suit his ends.  Hesse writes, “A generous count shows around 20 ... [s]ubstatial articles with creative writing as the focus [in the sixty-year history of CCC]” (35).  He likewise finds 284 articles which contain the words “creative writing,” and another 66 with the words “imaginative writing” in the sixty-year history of CCC.  This type of research, in order to find what’s missing from the conversation in a field, has become much less time consuming with the advent of certain databases.        

A Bigger Lens?

One area I thought a larger scope might benefit Hesse’s work is when he writes about the cultural participation and proliferation of texts in the digital age:
What explains the drive to matter in the world, a drive grinding most garishly in extreme cases: Richard Heene’s balloon boy hoax across Colorado skies and world televisions, Tareq and Michaela Salahi’s crashing a White House state dinner?  Perhaps human genetics, perhaps more likely social constructions – or rather, a counter construct, against anonymity and alienation.  Exploring the absence of traditional economic motivations for sharing writing online, James Porter simply notes that “people write because they want to interact, to share, to learn, to play, to feel valued, and to help others” (47).   

By posing such a large question, essentially, “Why do humans produce utterances of one kind or another?” and remaining within the field of rhetoric and composition, Hesse is bound to get a surface-level, though accurate, answer.  My impulse in this situation would have been to turn to the work of the anthropologist Ernest Becker.  Becker developed broad but verifiable arguments for why people in symbol systems produce signs.  Perhaps Hesse didn’t want to find himself down a rabbit hole, and perhaps that’s why he’s a prominent English professor, and I’m not (yet, at least), but sometimes I feel like the answers rhet/comp scholars produce to questions we face in the field come up unfulfilled because we are not willing to look to relevant work from other disciplines.     

About as fair and accurate a summation of Ernest Becker's work as one will find in an 8 minute YouTube video.

Continuing the Conversation

Hesse’s essay represents a valuable contribution to an under-discussed conversation about possible interactions between creative writing and English composition.  Much of the divide in composition he talks about seems to be between expressivist vestiges and those interested in political and ideological critique.  Hesse cites Gary Olsen who hopes “that the field would accomplish ‘much more than teaching students to “express themselves”’ by helping them to ‘learn to engage in ideological critique ... to effect real change in their lives’” (39).  However, I would like to extend the conversation to include creative writing which does engage in ideological critique and lead to societal change.  This is what artists and writers who have not given up do.  I think composition classes are appropriate places for this endeavor, and as the “academy’s pleasant porch or rec room” (35), I would like to use creative writing in my composition classrooms to help students think critically about power, assessment, time, resources, and the role of play and fun in their lives.        

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

English 620 Lit Review #1

The following satisfies an assignment for a graduate seminar in research methods. 
 “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning,” by John Trimbur
Professor John Trimbur
The Takeaway
In this canonical essay, John Trimbur builds upon Kenneth Bruffee’s scholarly work on consensus-based pedagogy by differentiating his approach to collaborative learning as one which hopes to foster radical outcomes and the pursuit of utopia, while he conversely situates Bruffee and other social constructivists as tending to preserve the status quo of social and economic production.  Trimbur likewise breaks from Bruffee in his view of the functional nature of consensus processes.  Rather than asking to students to use consensus to find collective agreements, which is a method easily pressed into service for the aims of corporate capitalism, (472) Trimbur sees value in consensus process in the way that it can lead to “collective explanations of how people differ, where their differences come from, and whether they can work and live together with these differences” (470).  In other words, Trimbur wants students to recognize different subject positions and ask how those subject positions might complicate seemingly easy solutions.  He wants students to use consensus in this way so that it will illuminate the basis and nature of power systems under examination.  With this “rehabilitated notion of consensus in collaborative learning,” Trimbur hopes his pedagogical techniques will “provide students with exemplary motives to imagine alternate worlds and transformations of social life and labor” (477).         

In situating this essay historically, one must acknowledge the profound effects of social movements beginning in the second half of the 1960’s.  The impetus for Bruffee’s initial work on consensus learning stems from these impulses to question standard social and pedagogical practice and to extend democracy to social and economic spheres of life.  By the time Trimbur publishes his essay in 1989, there had been a reassertion of establishment (one might say reactionary) values in the broader society and in academic literature in composition and rhetoric.  Trimbur does not mention David Bartholomae and his often cited essay, “Inventing the University” by name, but there are moments when “Consensus and Difference” seems to respond to the pedagogical ethic Bartholomae proposed four years earlier.  Trimbur writes:
“’This,’ we tell students, ‘is the way we [English teachers, biologists, lawyers, chemical engineers, social workers, whatever] do things around here.  There’s nothing magical about it.  It’s just the way we talk to each other.’  The problem is that invoking ‘real world’ authority of such consensual practices neutralizes the critical and transformative project of collaborative learning, depoliticizes it, and reduces it to an acculturative technique” (472 – 473). 
Here, Trimbur seems to part ways with Bartholomae and other social constructivists arguing that training students for a continuation of conventions within a certain discourse community does nothing to question or change power relations.  In the context of composition and rhetoric scholarship, Trimbur thus positions himself with the (I would argue, tiny minority of) radical elements in the field who wish to see the structures of academia and society change in a more just, equitable, and democratic direction. 

What’s missing?
I chose Trimbur’s article out of an anthology of canonical essays in the field because it is my favorite in the collection.  Trimbur generously considers counterarguments and acknowledges Bruffee’s contribution to collaborative pedagogy before articulating his thoughtful critique.  If pressed to point for any elements which may be ‘missing’ from this piece, the only reasonable response I could come up with would be to say that the essay might benefit from a development in one area in particular.  Trimbur claims:
“Bruffee argues that such an emphasis on conflict [difference] has led his left-wing critics to want to ‘turn to “struggle” to force change in people’s interests’’ [Response 714].  I would reply that struggle is not something people, left-wing or otherwise, can ‘turn to’ or choose to do.  ‘Struggle,’ at least the way I understand it, is something we’re born into: it’s a standard feature of contemporary social existence” (469). 
While I agree with Trimbur that ‘stuggle’ is built into ‘contemporary social existence,’ I may reframe the discourse: various and varying degrees of struggle and oppression are built into contemporary social existence under state-corporate capitalism.  And even with this point of agreement, I might suggest development here because, as standard a feature as struggle may be, power systems often need to be sought out and uncovered.  Not all struggle and oppression is obvious.  A range of societal power structures – whether they pertain to corporate financial malfeasance or patriarchal family systems – might not initially feel oppressive to the victims.  They might recognize these oppressive structures as ingrained, unchangeable facts of life, if they recognize them at all.  It often takes critical education to uncover the functioning of unjust power systems.      

Trimbur, John.  “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning.” Cross-talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Second edition. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2003. 461-77. Print.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Drug-Testing Welfare Recipients Is Wrongheaded and Nasty: Two Important Reasons

By now, most people have heard that drug-testing welfare recipients is a total waste of tax-payer money, yet the republican-led Michigan senate approved legislation that would burn another half-million dollars on such a scheme.  Just before the New Year, Governor Rick Snyder signed the measure into law.  With this policy, Governor Snyder and his allies in the state legislature again affirm that old slogan from the Parisian student-worker movement of May 1968: “Conservatism is a synonym for rottenness and ugliness.” 

Of course, beyond the waste of tax-payer money, the blatant, classist double standard – Has anyone at Goldman Sachs ever had to submit to a government-mandated drug-test? – and the humiliation individuals under “suspicion” must endure, such drug-testing schemes are wrongheaded and nasty for (at least) two broader, ideological reasons.

1.  The current means-tested system is bogus; we need a Universal Basic Income.   
Currently, people in the U.S. must make the case to a giant, overworked, often cruel bureaucracy that they are indeed poor enough to receive our miserly state benefits.  It’s a system that is not working well, morally or economically.  Poverty and its accompanying social problems persists at an unacceptable rate for a wealthy, developed nation.  Once upon a time, prominent figures on the left and the right, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Milton Freidman, demanded an end to means-tested welfare in favor of Unconditional Basic Income (UBI, sometimes referred to as Guaranteed Basic Income).  Now, decades later, the idea is gaining new traction, again on both the left and right.
I hope we in the U.S. will continue to inject UBI into our national discourse, in favor of means-tested benefits for low-income earners, because I agree with UBI supporters, such as anthropologist David Graeber, who claim that once people no longer need to worry about their basic survival, they will be free to work on a range of projects in the arts and sciences which matter to them.  We all will benefit from the attendant breakthroughs. 
One knee-jerk objection to UBI I’d like to head off at the pass: Will Universal Basic Income cause inflation?  The answer: NO.

U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network Board Member Allan Sheahen discusses the guaranteed income bill with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television's "Bottom Line."

2.  The War on Drugs is bogus; we should move towards decriminalization.
 In Michigan, lawmakers want to cut-off benefits for low-income earners who use marijuana, but why not do the same for those who use alcohol or caffeine?  The difference is nonsensical and arbitrary.  The mentality of the War on Drugs – with its billions in wasted resources and unjust racial disparities in criminal sentencing – is nonsensical and arbitrary.  Glenn Greenwald has illuminated as much in his work with the Cato Institute.  In 2009, he authored a report for Cato on drug decriminalization (note, that’s not all-out legalization) in Portugal.  His findings, echoed in a 2013 article in Der Spiegel, reveal that because Portugal has chosen to redirect enormous state resources away from arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning people, and instead has devoted those resources towards treatment and harm reduction programs, they have had some of the most successful outcomes in the entire world.
On both counts, UBI and drug decriminalization, we see some agreement on the left and the right because such policies constitute much more ethical choices, compared to our current systems, and they also make economic sense.  It is this confluence of morality and economics which led Utah to try the novel idea of giving its homeless population homes, which has turned out to be a successful policy.  I hope more Americans, perhaps you reading this, and your neighbors, help those working now to turn the tide of our society in a more morally and economically viable direction.
Unfortunately, the Governor of Michigan and his republican-led senate have not yet caught the spirit.  With the rest of the country, they still perpetuate our broken means-tested model and our backwards, ineffective drug policies, the rotten consequences of which low-income earners often bear the brunt.  But when it comes to harmful policies for the poor, more and more people are beginning to recognize the truth in another one of those slogans scrawled on a Parisian wall during those heady spring days: “This concerns everyone.”

Glenn Greenwald discusses his CATO Study on drug decriminalization in Portugal. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Huge Power Podcast - Episode #5 - A Conversation with Douglas Lain (Part 1)

       From Louisville, Kentucky, this is episode #5 of the Huge Power Podcast. My name is Reagan M. Sova. This is a special edition of Huge Power because it serves as part of my final project for a graduate seminar in genre theory that I am taking at the University of Louisville and because Douglas Lain is my guest. Mr. Lain, that’s Lain L-A-I-N is a fiction writer from Portland, Oregon whose first novel, Billy Moon, published by Tor Books, is available at your local bookstore or Douglas Lain is also the host of one of the most popular philosophy podcasts on the whole entire internet, the Diet Soap Podcast
       There are plenty of sound clip detours that I hope will help listeners ground today’s discussion in some recognizable terrain. Those are: an instrumental version of Shove It by Santigold, a couple Slavoj Zizek jokes (canned laughter and "chicken") brief excerpts of Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche and White Noise by Don DeLillo, Mistake by D+, Ernest Becker Foundation member Peter Park speaking about Becker’s work, a bootleg cover of Smith and Jones forever from the final show of the Silver Jews, my favorite band of all-time, and finally some of On a Tip by the Halo Benders. Also, I wanted to make a correction around 1h2minutes, if you make it that far, I mentioned Zizek’s book Violence when the Zizek book I meant to cite is In Defense of Lost Causes. I’ll also put a link in the show notes to the Andrew Kliman essay we mention near the conclusion of the episode. And if you do make it to the final seconds of the podcast, I’ve hidden a little gem in there as a tip of my hat to those who persevere.


1. When mentioning Douglas Lain's Diet Soap guests, I said etcetera, when I should have said, "... and others."
2. In the first 10 minutes, if I reference anything that occurred this year, I meant "Watson Symposium." The "Watson Conference" will take place next year in 2014.
3.  I noticed I exclaim, "Yeah!" annoyingly often.  As a podcast host, I will work on not doing that so often. 
4.  Link to poet/writer John Yohe.
5. When I say "ideology," I am referring to the Žižekian notion of ideology which is wrapped up in the Freudian unconscious, wrapped up in fantasy which structures and supports our reality.  Thomas Beebee, author of The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability, writes, "Ideology is no longer something that can be represented or paraphrased.  Instead, it becomes something like the magnetic field that arranges a chaotic of iron fillings into intriguing, ordered curves on a piece of paper."  Here is a clip, Žižek in The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, that might help elucidate that notion of ideology.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Huge Power Podcast - Episode #4 - A Conversation with Professor Jennifer Jewell

       From Louisville, Kentucky, this is episode #4 of the Huge Power Podcast.  My name is Reagan M. Sova.  My guest for this episode is Professor Jennifer Jewell.  Professor Jewell teaches Social Work at Spalding University here in Louisville.  She earned a PhD from the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville and her research interests focus on social justice, grassroots organizing, international social work, and intersections between race, class, and gender.  Professor Jewell was kind enough to meet me at the headquarters of Womenin Transition or WIT, an organization she co-founded in 1998.  We discuss the history and mission of WIT, creating small d democracy in local communities, and the joy of joining together with others under of the goal of achieving economic human rights for all.  If you would like to get connected to WIT, just Google “Women in Transition Louisville” or you can find links to their Twitter, Facebook, and Website ( in the notes for this show.    
       You’ll hear sound clips in this episode from Gar Alperovitz in the trailer of The Next American Revolution and Barbara Ehrenreich speaking on Democracy Now! in 2011.  You’ll also hear music from Air Waves, their live version of “Lightning” closes out the episode, as well as a cover of “So What” by Miles Davis performed by Pablo GonzalesFlores, which you’re listening to right now.     
My apologies if the sound turned out a little on the tinny side; however, the words, the important part, are clear.  So, without further ado, you’ll hear my conversation with Professor Jennifer Jewell.  

       My thanks once again to Professor Jennifer Jewell.  For the Huge Power Podcast, I’m Reagan Sova.  Have a great day everyone.