Harlot: trailblazer extraordinaire

As our time to stand up and actually say something for ourselves draws near, I find myself a bit stumped. Yes, having creative arts in Harlot feels right. But what can I actually say when someone asks me the question, “Why showcase creative arts in a journal about rhetoric?” As my fellow harlots have allowed me to admit, I can’t answer this question as a rhetorician. It’s simply not my field of expertise. But I can answer this as a writer who, like many of my peers, is just looking for a good home for my own work.

Mostly, as Kelly mentioned, I think it is Harlot’s philosophy of inclusion–of breaking down walls, not choosing a side to step onto–that makes this journal so important for artists, writers, and audience. So far, a number of creative submissions to the pilot are fun, playful, and above all, wonderful pieces by artists collaborating, mixing medias, and moving in and out of their genres. It’s as if the pressure is off. There is no internal critic or censor. And the results are really exciting.

to educate and/or to entertain?

They say that when you’re working on your dissertation, you can’t help but think of everything in relation to your project.  I’d like to think that doesn’t apply to me, but, in fact, I do find myself thinking about all things as they relate to the issues of intellectualism and anti-intellectualism in American culture (the focus of my project).

Bear with me here.  Recently, I’ve been researching the 19th-Century lyceum in the U.S. and its role in fostering or stifling intellectualism.  In brief, the lyceum consisted of a series of public lectures; town meetings, debates, and discussions; and various newsletters and journals–all with the goal of “disseminating useful knowledge” to the American public.  Though this relates to Harlot in a number of ways (of course), one important issue in the literature about the 19th-C. lyceum pertinent to a discussion of Harlot is the relationship between education and entertainment.

Both the organizers and participants in the various forms of the lyceum in the U.S. emphasized the importance of making the lyceum both educational and entertaining.  The lectures, the discussions and debates, and the publications all had as a part of their mission to provide “useful knowledge” AND entertain.

Isn’t that what Harlot is and will be doing?  We want to have interesting, thoughtful conversations (thanks to 21st Century media) that are also fun and entertaining–in various forms, with a variety of participants.

Wow….everything really does (or can) relate back to your own research.  Whew….

Making Harlot Happen

I second Katie (and Tim’s) shout-out of thanks to all who are making Harlot happen!  As we discuss our plans for our upcoming presentations about Harlot, its origins, its purposes, and the philosophy behind it, I can’t help but acknowledge how important the support of others has been.  Though I wasn’t a part of the original conversation(s) that produced Harlot, I was happy to join the troupe because I agree with the philosophy of Harlot–as do many others.

My personal philosophy–as a scholar, a teacher, and a citizen–is centered on initiating, supporting, and participating in conversations bridging sometimes hidden/sometimes obvious gap between the university and the community.  It is in those conversations that the real intellectual work happens–and blossoms.

Tomorrow is the due date of the submissions for the pilot of Harlot (yeah!), and I look forward to seeing what conversations are initiated…and where they take us!

A note of thanks

As the Summer of Harlot winds down, and the Autumn of Application (or something like that!) sets in, I think it’s important to give a shout-out to all of the people who have given generously of their time and work. This occurred to me as I’m fielding e-mails from Dickie, Kay, Jim, Cindy, Matt and James, all of whom are bending over backward — in the middle of their “real” work day — to give Harlot a helping hand, from designing promotional materials to recruiting staff to reading drafts of our own submissions.

Thanks, all, for your help — and for your less tangible but even more essential support and friendship. We owe Harlot to you.

ALL available means?

Aristotle is haunting me. As we approach the pilot launch and conference presentations for Harlot, I find myself wondering: Is Harlot employing all available means of persuasion? This is, after all, as much an experiment in digital rhetoric as it is an exploration of rhetoric in digital and other media. We are launching a rhetorical campaign on behalf of rhetorical literacy — circles within circles…

In some ways, this is exactly the sort of “practice what you preach” exercise rhetoricians — and teachers — can really benefit from, in term of new perspective, productive frustration, and heightened critical awareness. Not bad for an extracurricular activity!

But back to Aristotle: how can Harlot take advantage of all her available means as we attract (and hopefully seduce) potential audiences?

Persuasive gaming

I’m watching The Colbert Report, where the guest is Dr. Ian Bogost of Persuasive Games, an organization that designs and distributes videogames intended for persuasion, activism, or instruction. From their site (www.persuasivegames.com):

“Our games influence players to take action through gameplay. Games communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools.”

I’m fascinated by their claim that not only can games be used rhetorically, but that they offer distinctive forms of influence through experience.

And I can’t wait for some conversations in Harlot about the rhetorical potential–and actuality–of games of all sorts…

Check out this cool site about the cultural uses of videogames.

Stop being such a prude . . .

“Fifty years ago, even as recently as thirty years ago, scholars thought it a virtue to be widely read outside one’s own field. Not any more. A lot of the innovation that took place then occurred because people tried out the ideas from a field other than their own. They made mistakes, of course, but there was then a tolerance for experimentation that is unacceptable in our more professionalized era. Now we accept the idea that each field is separate and that the professional has little to gain by intellectual promiscuity.”

So writes Lindsay Waters in Enemies of Promise, a book dedicated to excoriating the “publish or perish” system. In short, Waters argues that the current series of hoops one must jump through to get tenure prevents cultivation of authentic intellectualism; we end up counting books instead of reading them. Slackening the hermetic barriers of disciplines (and groups within disciplines) is one suggestion for reinvigorating writing in the humanities. This is hardly a call for the abolishing of disciplinary distinctions (as Stanley Fish might suggest, were he a contributor to this blog); it’s a call for intellectual curiosity and adventurousness. There’s a seriousness in play. Come play with us.

“If we are to revitalize the humanities, we would stop insisting that they be kept in antiseptically sealed realms, and we would let the ideas and methods and materials in them wash over each other and us.”

– Lindsay Waters

No pressure, though

This morning we turned our working site design and logo over to the server development team. And tonight I read: “the visual design may be the first test of a site’s credibility. If it fails on this criterion, Web users are likely to abandon the site and seek other sources of information and services” (Fogg, Soohoo, and Danielson qtd in Warnick, Rhetoric Online 34).

Um, great! I guess this is not surprising, but it does add quite an element of pressure to what has already become one of our more challenging tasks. For most of us, the web page is a new genre whose conventions and strategies feel alternately intuitive and alien. Yet I think any one of us could easily speak or write a persuasive mission statement about the Harlot project… the trick will be in the translation. And clearly, the stakes of design are high.

Speaking of, a special shout-out to my good friend James for his brilliant (and patient) work on Harlot’s forthcoming logo…. coming soon to a blog space near you!

Musical Inspirations

“Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your ‘performance’ and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.

Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music.”

— Haruki Murakami

Isn’t it true there’s an almost undetectable current, or rhythm, in the art, music, and writing that holds our attention long enough to actually move us? I stumbled upon this quote online; see the full NY Times interview here.