Monday, 12 March 2012

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Shake your meaning-maker So I've mentioned before that the final project in my class is a creative one in which students must occupy the position they've been analyzing all quarter–that of the meaning-making rhetor communicating something or other to a particular audience. Because I'm working with graphic novels, one of the ways I get them to think like a meaning-maker is ask them to find a song that epitomizes a particular book they've read. This exercise is far more difficult than it sounds, because it forces them to reflect upon (likely for the first time) what the lyric of their proposed song means and how that lyric relates to a book whose rhetorical and thematic complexity we've been discussing for weeks. It's the perfect exercise: It starts simple then turns fractal. This quarter, I went with Craig Thompson's Blankets as inspiration, which means the song needs to include equal parts evangelical Christianity, teenage infatuation, Künstlerroman, etc. No single song will perfectly reflect either Craig Thompson's understanding of his own development or any of my students' relation to that understanding, but the act of thinking through that mess will help them discover how they'd like their final projects to resonate with their intended audience. All of which is merely a preface to my declaration that the song I thought best epitomized Thompson's intent–in both lyrical intent and its relation to traditional form–was this one. (The lyrics can be found here.) I'm obviously playing a rigged game, what with me being the teacher and all, but the point is that I can make a very strong argument about how the thematic elements of that song communicate something very similar to the message of Thompson's novel ... and that I dare any of my students to proffer another case for a different song that's stronger than the one they think I'll make for mine. (Which means they'll have to anticipate a critical response and plan their feints and parries in advance.) Game on?
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The words-next-to-each-other argument hops to a new low. Ben Shapiro's fully embracing the words-close-to-each-other mode of argument, but he's doing so without any indication that it's not actually a serious mode of argumentation. Let me break it down for Ben: when Scott and I make that "argument," we're actually mocking the person making it. For example, you write: We can see the clear footprint of CRT [Critical Race Theory] all over the Obama Administration. That's an admirable job of putting the words "Critical Race Theory" and "Obama Administration" in the same sentence, but your Cheney-esque decision to hire yourself as your own editor fails you on two fronts here. First, there are words between yours words. Did Jonah Goldberg write "Liberals are all over fascism"? Of course he didn't: he wanted nothing to interfere with the backward flow of negativity from "Fascism" to "Liberal." Which brings me to my second point: Not only do you add pointless words between your words, your filler is in the service of a metaphor that doesn't mean what you think it does. You're saying that CRT's mark upon the Obama Administration is a "clear footprint," one which can only have been left by an invisible one-legged giant. Are you claiming that CRT is an invisible one-legged giant which hopped -- one and one time only -- on the Obama Administration? At the very least, you want that thing in the plural and the present tense. You want your readers to imagine themselves being unable to see a one-legged giant hopping on the White House forever -- an animated gif which in its infinite loop resembles nothing so much as a static image of the White House. Because that's the reality of it. The invisible one-legged giant? That's all in your head.

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