1.18.2007

Spring Semester

Well, it is officially underway with the staff meetings, syllabus workshops, planning, etc. I have to be careful this semester, cuz even though I'm only teaching my one course (English 201), I still have campus visits to do. I'm not publishing where just yet since this is a public site.

With that in mind, I *can* talk about the hiring here at UW. We have an excellent slate of candidates for the English 100 Director position. While there is a pretty strong literacy focus, we are a small department and really need someone who works in rhetorical theory and classical rhetoric. That, combined with my ecological outlook on language, leads me to Debra Hawhee. Her work on bodily rhetorics is first-rate. Recently on her blog, she linked a study that tracked the pitch and tonality of Dr. King's speech. We often forget, as Hawhee notes, that language is grounded in the body and its rhythms. There is a dance that happens when we speak as well as when we listen. We are affected -- not just moved along (bound by?) chains of reason, but moved in our emotions and bodies. I don't see this reflected in activity theory (see below) but I do think it is part of the ecology of language.

Maybe this is a strange point to (finally) get on to Ulrich Beck, but his argument is that we now live in a risk society. The future-orientation planning and designing "safe" futures generates the notion of risk. This is quite evident, in my mind, with the Bush administration's harping about security -- of troops, U.S. citizens, borders, etc. However, it works by extension: if a sovereign nation poses a perceived threat (real or imagined) to any body (individual or corporate and so deemed worthy enough of action, for not all U.S. bodies are equal in the eyes of the administration) then the U.S. can claim the right to assume "management" of that risk. Curiously, though, as Beck discusses about ocean management, no one is actually responsible for the consequences because the argument is that everyone (or at least a network) is contributing to the problem. This is what Beck calls "organized non-liability," which plays a role in his argument that "the nuclear power or chemical industries etc. are their own most powerful and enduring adversaries" (1995, p. 12). As these segments of the economic and political order try to "distribute away the 'poisoned cake'," capital turns against capital and such segments of the order can come crashing down.

Or, so goes his analysis of social rhythms within the era post-Enlightenment. Certainly, he has the legacies of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Love Canal, DDT, the Endangered Species Act, etc. on his side. But isn't the dilemma here troubling? Armed with an ecological perspective and to preemptively avert damage to a citizen body, the state claims the right to move beyond itself, into the realm of some other nation-body if need be, to disrupt that body and do violence to it. After all, if my neighbor is stockpiling uranium and I may be dosed with unacceptable levels of radiation as a result, aren't I permitted to do something about it? Or, maybe that's not the best example. Rather, we might ask who is responsible for global warming? What is to be done to stop it?

So, I think what we see is a divide between paradigms of thought here. In the post-Enlightenment version that currently reigns from corporate boardrooms to the Bush administration (and even the Democratic Party), bodies are discreete, stable entitites that are separate from each other but can move into or across other lines and segmentations under certain circumstances. Concepts such as justice, and responsibility become key ethical terms. Someone has to take the blame, and if it's not really the body responsible, then a suitable scapegoat will be found. In the neo-sophistic version -- which may include Hawhee and certainly includes an ecological outlook on reality -- everyone is responsible and must act accordingly, consciously, and with respect for all Others. What we do to one reverberates and echoes through the systems of bodies, from sub-individual organs (often sustained by non-human bodies), to Others we recognize, to the social and cultural systems -- the guts and organs -- that sustain those Others.

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Not always theoretical... not even always academic.. but always written..