Is the Global Village Getting Bigger or Smaller?

I’d like to thank Patrick for his insights in particular; his post on You’s take on Cosmopolitan English brought to the forefront for me a challenge of our hyper-connected world: cosmopolitanism challenges individuals to learn from a variety of cultural and linguistic communities. While this is in and of itself a laudable goal, it drives many people to belong superficially to many groups, rather than deeply to one or two. 

Edward O. Wilson, the great biologist, lamented this phenomenon in his wonderful book Consilience. In that book, he argues that increasing specialization within the sciences not only emphasizes competition where collaboration would be preferable, but that this specialization drives scientists into ever shrinking cabals, making them less able to communicate with their peers.

This idea has always stuck with me; and yet, I don’t know how to combat it. It may be an inherent aspect of our world. And so, I wonder if English can be seen as something similar to how Wilson sees science: a splintering set of communities who may or may not be able to communicate with their linguistic peers.  Continue reading “Is the Global Village Getting Bigger or Smaller?”

Wossamotta You

Wossamotta UI hope you’ll forgive the little nostalgic pun, there. But I find myself thinking of Bullwinkle’s alma mater while reading this book; wossamotta, You? I do appreciate the plight of the author, and the exchange students, at the beginning of the book. While I’ve never experienced anything quite that stark myself, I did spend a year in Costa Rica, as well as nearly 3 years in a program for native Spanish speakers, during which I struggled a great deal. And I use the term native speaker intentionally; I sincerely can’t figure out how that is reprehensible. It seems to actually communicate something about a person’s facility with a given language.

Even if I were hanging out with other non-native Spanish speakers (thus constituting a “language community”), us speaking broken Spanish together would make it genuinely difficult to communicate. Whereas someone who began speaking a language at an early age, or was immersed in the language from birth, would be better equipped to make herself understood.  Continue reading “Wossamotta You”

Bakhtin, Derrida, and the Question of Teaching Composition

This week I responded most to the readings from Derrida, although elements of the Bakhtin appealed to me. The first selection from Derrida brought up a question that troubled Socrates and Aristotle: “is it possible to teach writing without being competent in the content of a discipline?” (7) He seems to think no, which would put him in Aristotle’s camp; you need to know a subject deeply in order to speak (or write) compellingly about it. 

Continue reading “Bakhtin, Derrida, and the Question of Teaching Composition”

Here Lies Theory, May It Rest In Pieces

Fig 1: The Disembodied. (With apologies to Futurama.)

I was excited and somewhat relieved to read “After Theory: From Textuality to Attunement with the World” by Kurt Spellmeyer this week. It was quite validating to hear him rail against the rarified atmosphere of theory and try to elevate the lived, bodily experience of “the People”. I found particular delight in his endeavor to embody language, to re-incarnate The Word as something spoken by flesh-and-blood people. The otherworldly idealism of Plato, as translated through the substance dualism exemplified by Descartes, seeks to elevate humans to disembodied minds, subjects that can dispassionately consider the world around them. (See Fig. 1.)

This clean distinction between mind and body may at first seem ennobling; and many people, even non-religious people, cling fervently to the idea that there is some true self that isn’t burdened by these faulty senses and flimsy, fragile bodies. And yet, as freeing as this idea may seem at first, it can only lead to a devaluation of the body as such; if the body can’t be relied upon to give us accurate information, then what good is it to an intellectual person?  Continue reading “Here Lies Theory, May It Rest In Pieces”

Religion, Ethics, Philosophy, and Culture

One of the chief things that one notices about Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine , particularly in contrast to Aristotle, Plato and Cicero, is that he is speaking explicitly about teaching the Bible, rather than the idea of rhetoric in general. 

St. Augustine
One of the earliest known images of St. Augustine of Hippo, from about 100 years after his death.

This is largely because the Greek writers, like Aristotle, Cicero, and Plato, were all pagans (through no fault of their own, obviously, but ignorance was clearly no defense to Theodosius) and their writings were therefore verboten to the Christian peoples of 4th-century Holy Roman Empire. 

As part of his edict to eliminate paganism from his godly empire, Theodosius also cut off all state funding from centers of rhetoric. This meant that Christian preachers needed guidance, a new text that would help them execute their task to preach the Word of God to all peoples. Enter: Augustine of Hippo.  Continue reading “Religion, Ethics, Philosophy, and Culture”