Archive for June, 2009

Recently, I was asked to write up a brief summary of my research interests. The question was put to me in a very interesting way. “If I told you right now,” he said, “that you had one year to write your dissertation, what would it be about?”

Great question. And I need to narrow it down a bit. The decisions I come to are not set in stone, but it’s good to have at least an idea of where I’m going.

There are a couple of options, based on my own interests as well as on what I’ve been doing since I started this program. My original interest was basically new media studies. But I’m not sure I really knew what that meant. New Media is kind of a buzz word (or phrase). I knew I was interested in technology, but I also knew that I was interested in technology that doesn’t exist (yet) but probably will. So I started with the idea of how to use technology in the classroom, developing strategies that can be applied to new technology.

My assumption was always to use the context of teaching composition for this research. It just seemed natural. But the same guy who asked me the question originally suggested that I look into teaching philosophy, since I have a background there. And he’s right, there are a lot more possibilities. With composition, I can do podcasts, lectures, and maybe peer response. But that’s about it. At the end of the day, composition is about writing, and there’s not much to do beyond writing.

But philosophy… well, that can be about a number of things. I could have the podcasts, the lectures, and the peer response. But I could also have simulations, games, thought experiments, interactive projects, chatbots, dialogues… the list goes on and on. So that’s very exciting. We’ll call this option A: Developing pedagogical strategies for teaching with new technologies, specifically focused on teaching philosophy.

But there are two other options as well. The first of the two is cultural studies.  I have a bit of a history with cultural studies. I like the way cultural identity affects things, subtly and often in invisible ways. I like to analyze cultural artifacts and see what the culture that created them holds in high esteem, what it derides, and what it strives for. I like to see the definition of achievement, or of heroism, or sacrifice, as it changes between cultures. I wrote a paper last semester about the TV show Heroes, and there’s so much more there that can be mined. I’m not sure how legitimate of a project it is (academically), but if I were to write a dissertation right now, that might be the easiest one to do. So we’ll call this option One: Investigating cultural artifacts in order to understand the unspoken rhetoric of the producing culture.

Then we have the option that covers what I’ve been researching most. Questions and Answers. I think this is very interesting, and I love working on it. I’ve done a lot with it already, and it seems very promising. I’m not even halfway through what I see as a very important and valuable project, and my interest is anything but wavering. It’s interesting, it’s academically significant. The question (no pun intended) is whether or not it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. Which, of course, is the underlying question for any of these options. Still, this is something else I could write a dissertation on right now if I had to. So we’ll call this option Alpha: Develop a rhetorical taxonomy of questions and answers with the intention of improving how questions are asked and answered in an online environment.

So option A, option 1, and option Alpha. Not sure where I want to go, but they seem like good options. Option A seems to have the most connection to my past (thus making that past more legitimate and useful), option 1 seems to be more fun (since it would basically let me watch TV for research purposes), and option Alpha seems to be the most rich in terms of research possibilities.

Not sure where to go.

The next work on my list is Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus, which is one of the major rhetorical dialogues, primarily because of its discussion of the value of writing.

When I first read this dialogue, I had no idea of the subtext. But it’s hard not to see it now. This is a dialogue about Socrates trying to seduce a young man (Phaedrus) by convincing him that he should sleep with those who care about him rather than those who don’t. Basically, that Phaedrus should sleep with Socrates.

It begins early on, when Socrates says “…show me what you are holding in your left hand under your cloak, my friend” (228d), which we would rephrase as “is that a scroll in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” It continues with constant references to going off alone or sitting (or laying) together (229b) and other shameless flirtation, on both of their parts (230d, 243e, 252b, etc).

But it’s not the flirtation that’s important. What matters is the discussion of rhetoric, and of writing in general. (more…)


Posted: June 18, 2009 in Uncategorized
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The next item on my reading list is Isocrates’ very long Antidosis. I’ve heard this piece described as an angry slash fiction, which makes a lot of sense to me. The peice was written as a defense for a trial that Isocrates had already lost. He was accused of being very wealthy, and that he should have to pay to build a new trireme for the Athenian navy, rather than someone else. He was never much of a public speaker, and probably far worse in his eighties (when the trial occured) than he had been earlier in his life. So he lost the case. Then he wrote this, as the defense that he should have given, that would have won the trial for him.

So there’s some bitterness there. But even still, it’s very interesting, particularly in what it shows about Isocrates and his philosophies.


My friend hates the Gorgias

Posted: June 10, 2009 in Uncategorized
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The next item on my reading list is Plato’s dialogue The Gorgias. The first time I read this was in college, working on my thesis. I read it again and again. I think this time might be my fifth or sixth time through it. I like it. I think it’s funny. But my friend hates it.

It makes him angry. He hates the way Socrates makes mistakes that Gorgias doesn’t pick up. And of course, he couldn’t; the dialogue was written by Plato, who makes it a point to make Socrates always look good (though there is some debate about whether or not he does). But this bothers my friend.

It bothers him when Socrates puts words in Gorgias’ mouth. Like when he says “since you call any craft whatever that’s concerned with speeches oratory” (450b). Gorgias never said that. And in fact, that’s a much easier claim to refute than the one Gorgias was actually making. We call this a Straw Man Fallacy. And it doesn’t stop there. (more…)

Continuing on with the reading, I’m moving on to Gorgias and Encomium of Helen. From what I understand, this is a speech that he gave as a demonstration of his amazing rhetorical prowess. It was a show, meant to sell his services. The theory was that if he could convince people that Helen should be praised rather than looked down upon, then he could convince anyone of anything. For modern context, I suppose the closest we could think of would be convincing a congregation of Jews that Hitler really wasn’t a bad guy, and that while he did bad things, it wasn’t his fault.

So that’s what Gorgias does for Helen. He has four basic tacts for this: “For either by will of Fate and decision of the gods and vote of Necessity did she do what she did, or by force reduced or by words seduced or by love possessed” (6). Just from this, we can see the strength of his arguments. (more…)

Often times, lofty ideas for what will be done over the summer will surface and be forgotten. Last year, I told myself I was going to take a week off and then get back to work; I’d read fifty pages a day, trying to get a better grip on everything and have a leg up for starting this program. But one week became two, and then I was preparing to move, then getting used to a new area, and slowly but surely, the entire summer passed by without me getting much of anything done.

I can’t let that continue to happen. Next summer, I will have to get ready for my exams, which will occur the following fall. So I’ll have to work, and hard, over the course of the summer. And I suppose I have a choice. I could take this summer as one last summer off, and have to really kick myself in the ass next year. Or I could try to actually get a leg up.

I had an idea: take one week off, then start going through the reading lists for the exams. Do it with other people, so we can motivate each other. Well, one week did become two, but now I’ve started at least. And I started with Isocrates and Against the Sophists. (more…)