Monday, 20 September 2010

Believe it or not, I’m with D’Souza on this one. I have nothing to say about Dinesh D’Souza’s highly praised article in Forbes because it’s predicated on the claim that Colonialism today is a dead issue. No one cares about it except the man in the White House. He is the last anticolonial. If you make the above claims after debating the relative merits of the “neocolonial” and “anticolonial” positions, you need to re-read your own article to see that the only thing “dead” about colonialism is your capacity to understand that it is logically implicit and historically complicit in its own legacy. Go figure. But as long as I’m on the subject of being stupendously wrong, I should note that the previous is not the central objection to D’Souza’s argument at the American Thinker: As much as I admire D’Souza, however, I must take issue with his argument. Yes, Obama does seem to espouse a certain inchoate anticolonialism, but the “dreams” do not come so much from his father as from his mother, and they have been given voice by Obama’s muse, terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers. What Cashill has done to that poor horse is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, but not entirely unexpected. He’s banked his career on the possibility that his claims are true and has no choice now but to continue to compile “evidence” to support them, such as: D’Souza cites “Frantz Fanon” as one of “Obama’s acknowledged intellectual influences.” What he overlooks is that in Fugitive Days, Ayers misspells Fanon’s first name as “Franz,” exactly as Obama does in Dreams. Also on the anticolonial front, both Ayers and Obama misspell in the same fashion the site of the South African massacre, Sharpeville. Wait a minute! I remember addressing this argument when it concerned prepositions: [B]oth Ayers and Obama misquote the opening line of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” substituting “hog butcher to the world” for “hog butcher for the world.” This mutual error would be significant (an “A-level match”) if Ayers and Obama were the only two people who ever made it, but according to Google Book Search—a secret search engine to which only I have access—the same mistake has been made by Nelson Algren, Alan Lomax, Andrei Codrescu, H.L. Mencken, Paul Krugman, Perry Miller, Donald Hall, Ed McBain, Saul Bellow, S.J. Perelman, Nathanaël West, Ezra Pound, Wright Morris, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. (To name but a few.) According to Cashill, I have now proven that Dreams From My Father was written by many a dead man of American letters, a living mystery writer, a New York Times columnist and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. That said, since unique misspellings represent an entirely new line of argument for Cashill, I should give him the benefit of the doubt and fact-check this too. Let’s see: Google results for “Franz Fanon”: ~70,000 Google results for “Frantz Fanon”: ~416,000 Google results for “Sharpville”: ~94,200 Google results for “Sharpeville”: ~510,000 For most people, the fact that the correct...
My visual rhetoric course in brief Because I had a conversation with a number of people about my last visual rhetoric course during orientation today, I'm going to post my link-happy summary of it from last fall again (with a couple of notable additions): I introduce them to the idea of the overdetermined image, because nothing is accidental in an Alan Moore script. Nor, for that matter, is anything accidental when it costs $80,000 per second to film it, which is why we then discuss how Christopher Nolan turns Batman into classic horror monster in Batman Begins. The point here is get them fluent in the language of film, so that they might make arguments about how directors manipulate the camera in order to appeal to the audience. (We also discuss what is and isn't in the diegetic space, e.g. music, which is heard by the audience but not the characters.) Then it's on to The Dark Knight. That link goes to a reading of the interrogation scene; this one leads you to a similarly thorough analysis dedicated to proving the controversial thesis that Batman is really fast—because demonstrating that even the simplest of claims require evidence and careful argument to be taken seriously is the point of the course. Now that they're relatively fluent in the language of film, we try to prove something a little more complex; namely, that Superman Returns is very much about 9/11. First, I take them back to September morning; then we analyze the action sequence that's about planes slamming into NYC landmarks, lest they think I'm reading too much into the anxieties the film taps into. Now that they're comfortable with film, I get them to apply that knowledge to comics via the comic that's about the conventions of comics and is therefore utterly unfilmable, Watchmen. I begin by reminding them of the overdetermined nature of the image, then we discuss panel transitions and word-picture relation, move on layout and narrative flow, then I try to prove what I stated in the second sentence about Watchmen being a meta-comic. My argument's deliberately argumentative, because Dr. Manhattan can also function as a figure of the reader as well the author, but that's an argument I want to have. From there, it's onto the unfilmable film itself. Now that they can break film and comics into their constituent parts, I re-orient them in an explicitly rhetorical direction. We talk about the rhetorical situation, which is, of course, a triangle. (For the record: that silliness is me teaching myself to manipulate images in Photoshop for my book on teaching visual rhetoric.) Then we situate the rhetorical context in the historical context via Warren Ellis's Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth. I call them all murderers for the violence they perpetrate in the gutters. From there on out, it's all about the writing. I teach them about paragraph burgers, which, while silly, is the single most effective means I've found to teach paragraph structure. Students intuitively understand that you don't call a pickle with and...

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