tricky, tricky

Since my last post, I’ve been considering the responsibilities and possibilities and challenges of entering the conversations of public discourse. What are the forums and affordances of public “conversation”? What constitutes (conventional, alternative, productive) participation?

Today I read:
“Trickster discourse does ‘play tricks,’ but they aren’t malicious tricks, not the hurtful pranks of an angry child; instead, the tricks reveal the deep irony that is always present in whatever way we choose to construct reality. Trickster discourse is deflative; it exposes the lies we tell ourselves and, at the same time, exposes the necessity of those lies to our daily material existence. Trickster discourse asks ‘Isn’t the world a crock of shit?,’ but also answers with ‘Well, if we didn’t have this crock of shit, what would we do for a world?’ The trickster asks us to be fully conscious of the simple inconsistencies that inhabit our reality.”
— Malea Powell, “Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed-Blood’s Story” (1999)

…and breathed a sigh of relief and recognition at this reminder of the endless permutations of participation in “public” (however constituted) “conversation” (in the broadest sense).

A story of tricksters: In May, Tim and I went to Seattle for the “Rhetoric Society of America” conference, where we diligently balanced academic presentations with tourism with hipster Seattle-philia. One night as we wandered looking for a “real” bar off the tourist track, we found one with a small patio occupied by several punks (to use a convenient label — sorry), one of whom wore a Mexican wrestling mask and all of whom jumped and roared in wrestling-style voices. As we grabbed a drink and settled in for the show, the guys soon engaged us in their (‘shroom-enhanced) fun; within 10 minutes Tim was wearing the mask while I chatted with one about various definitions of rhetoric. By the end of the evening we were exchanging cheek-kisses and invitations to crash in our respective cities.

“The trickster asks us to be fully conscious of the simple inconsistencies that inhabit our reality.”

That evening, these guys messed with some versions of reality: mine for one, by revealing yet again the radical inconsistencies between most connotations of/associated with punk culture and my actual experiences of their open-minded, friendly invitations to join their trickster play.

But more “publically,” they conversed with everyone around them — those that dodged their sidewalk wrestling only to receive polite apologies, those that expected something entirely different from a zen-themed bar, those intrigued to hear academic conversations commingled with affection violence and tattoo show-and-tell — and all of those that just wanted to get their heads in that pink-and-gold mask… and, I think, become tricksters in turn. Now that’s influence…

thought of the day

“[D]emocracy can be sustained only by the active participation of the members of a community in the process of judging every statement that addresses their common concerns and making those judgments public in response.”

-Gregory Clark, from Dialogue, Dialectic, and Conversation: A Social Perspective on the Function of Writing

In other words, enter the conversation…. perhaps in a forum like Harlot?

Public vs. Private

Shocking! According to an Associated Press article, “Israeli newspaper publishes Obama’s private prayer,” a prayer Obama reportedly left at Jerusalem’s Western Wall has been published in an Israeli newspaper.

Sure, we often shake our heads and say “nothing’s sacred anymore,” but I’m honestly surprised at this newspaper’s decision – and at the student of religion who retrieved it in the first place. Although the prayer is not confirmed as having belonged to Obama, the penmanship seems to match his hand from a note written earlier this week.

I’m a bit torn about writing on this story. Since the text of the prayer has been offered for public consumption, I can’t help but read it as a rhetorical artifact. And yet as I was writing a line-by-line analysis of the prayer, I slowly began to realize I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with my actions. The act of writing this post and giving the story more attention makes me complicit in publicizing an issue that should be ignored out of respect for an individual who just happens to be running for president, but my act of analyzing it would be even worse: It’s beyond the acts of, say, staring and shaking my head at celebrity gossip rags while standing in line at the grocery store and more like actually buying them. I hope my restraint here is adequate.

So I’ll skip the analysis and pose questions instead, which are based on my assumption that most people will believe Obama wrote the prayer: What will religious and non-religious people in the U.S. and abroad think of the prayer’s emphasis on the personal and familial for a person who hopes to oversee the wellbeing of an entire country and by extension other countries of the world as well? Does it help him that the whole world sees him asking for wisdom and for aid in remaining strong in the face of “pride and despair?” Or do such requests make him appear weak? What do they think of him asking to be an “instrument” in a time when many acts – both good and horrific – are performed in the name of religion?

I also wonder – again, assuming Obama is the author – how much of the prayer would have been composed with a larger readership in mind. I know it’s bad of me to ask such a question, but can a person in Obama’s position compose anything private and assume it will actually remain so?

In Self Preservation

On Monday, former Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, one of the world’s most wanted men, was found and arrested for war crimes. Although the 63-year-old man is fighting extradition to the Hague (Netherlands), he will likely be sent away by early next week and face charges from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He was captured after 13 years on the run.

. . . except he wasn’t really running. He hid in plain view.

Three parts to this story (so far, anyway) fascinate me: (1) the way Karadzic disguised himself, (2) what he has chosen as his post-arrest identity, and (3) what impact his decision to represent himself will have on his defense at the UN tribunal.

1. Many news reports are offering the same story. Karadzic practiced alternative medicine, published articles, and made professional appearances. He had a mistress, a photo of a fake family, and frequented a bar that proudly displayed photos of him and another war crimes fugitive. That he lived so freely was probably his best disguise. That he turned into a loveable “grandpa” and alternative medicine guru is second. It’s close, but it doesn’t beat the idea of a man of his former stature riding the bus.

2. Apparently, Karadzic has cleaned himself up a bit since his arrest. Says his lawyer, “He’s looking good. He had a haircut. He shaved himself and is in great shape. He now looks just like before.” But is it great that he looks just like before? Granted, some Serbian nationalists continue to revere him, but many others see him as a calculated slaughterer. Is it really in his favor to shed the “grandpa” look and re-identify himself with the image many associate with evil? This move is surprising considering the savvy he showed in his everyday maneuvering. Just because he’s no longer in hiding doesn’t mean a new appearance is of no further benefit. Is his ego winning here or does he have another agenda?

3. Last, in a nod to his predecessor at the Hague, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic has chosen to defend himself with the aid of a team of lawyers. According to several news reports, this approach was what allowed Milosevic to prolong his trial (perhaps the OJ Simpson approach of exhausting decision makers into submission is a now popular plan of attack), but, again, what does Karadzic gain by aligning himself with such an image? The moves he is making seem to be more like one of a martyr  – in this case of someone sacrificing himself only to thumb his nose at Western political forces and give hope to waning Serbian nationalists – rather than the actions of a person who seriously expects to fight for the sake of winning his freedom. Am I reading too much into his actions? Perhaps. But I can’t help but think that the downturns in his rhetorical judgment mean a downturn in his treatment of the UN legal system as well.

(On a side note, I’ve noticed how news writers are tiptoeing around certain issues. Half of the articles I read referred to “ethnic cleansing” only in quotation marks and often preceded it with “so-called.” It is still a contested term, and arguments against it include that it is vague and can imply either too much or too little. “Genocide” is an unpopular term because its usage, so the argument goes, would make post-World War II ethnic slaughters comparable to the Jewish Holocaust. “Crimes against humanity” is a moral claim that says a lot, but yet it doesn’t capture the motives or intentions in the same way as the other two terms do.)

Post on the Rhetorics of Post-(Fill-in-the-Blank)

So I’m in this Deleuzian reading group right now and it’s generating some really fascinating conversation. Lots of the discussion so far has been around the metaphor of the rhizome (click here for a quick break-down of what a rhizome is and sketches on how it might work as a methodology; also, feel welcome to post on Schizophrenic Summer, our group blog). Anyway, one of the problems that Deleuze and Guattari have with the majority of philosophy and more generally the whole of scholarly inquiry, is that it is overwhelmingly and detrimentally obsessed with linear history. Their goal is to fix points of origin and show how things are related in a straight-forward cause-and-effect line.

I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about the rhetoric of Post-Marxism. Or Post-Structuralism. Postmodern. And I just finished reading an article about social movements and “post-identity.”

All these “Posts” retain the rhetoric of modernism’s sense in progress — in an end destination, a final point of accomplishment, whether that’s Utopia, Communism, or Whatever.

Think about all the other places it continues to pop up: Neo-conservatism. Neo-liberalism. Neo-Neo-Post-Post.

What type of rhetorical detritus remains when “post” or “neo” is attached to an “older” concept? Why is our society sporting so many of these “post” movements? What is the atmosphere that cultivates these, um, neologisms?

We want to move beyond, but the “post” implies we haven’t . . .


I’m bound to libel you posted an article not too long ago about what is considered libel in Bloggers learn to avoid lawsuits. Also note the EFF’s Online Defamation Law.

But, seriously now. Where’s the line between opinion and slander? According to the EFF, I could call someone a bitch or a skank, but not accuse them of being a prostitute. Too bad. That was my main go-to insult. Okay, not really, but it’d be nice to have the option.

I’m just thinking . . . in order for something to be considered defamation, then there must be a real intent to do harm. To publicly humiliate another person. And at a certain point, it’s all semantics.

But, oh, law lives and breaths based on semantics. You can lose some serious money based on a semicolon. And I guess this is the thing. In my Idealist World, you could see someone’s intentions very easily and determine a course of action based on those intentions, but this isn’t that world. And people lie.

We don’t always know that when So-And-So accused What’s-Their-Face of being a prostitute, that So-And-So really meant that they thought What’s-Their-Face was a huge slut.

This all becomes problematic when we come to something like a blog.

Now, no doubt there are great pluses to blogs and blogging and interaction between users and presenters, but I guess this whole situation with suing bloggers has made me call the practice into question. Where’s the line between sharing ideas freely and openly to just bashing someone because you thought they were an asshole?

Should there be proper Blogger etiquette? Or has it really come down to Teach Me How to Not Get Sued?

“Where is Barack Obama coming from?”

Kelly, it looks like you’re not the only one feeling uncomfortable with the New Yorker cover. Here’s an article discussing the controversy, and here is a link to the New Yorker feature article online, entitled “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?

For an idea of some of the possibilities presented of where Obama might be “coming from,” I have pasted the image below. (Are they fist-pumping?) A little further down, I have pasted another image featured by the New Yorker online. Two very different portraits!



packaging obama

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of the New Yorker cover.  One of the greatest visual forms of satire of American culture, I find it funny and smart, always saying a mouthful.

But the latest cover of the New Yorker is, for many, hard to swallow.  Its depiction of Barak and Michelle Obama, New Yorker defenders say, is meant to satirize how the Obamas are being portrayed, not who they really are.  Take a gander at the cover, and see what YOU think. As for myself . . . I’m still chewin’ on it.