Memes Memes Memes/Genes Genes Genes

In my composition 2 class, I have tasked my students with completing an assignment I added to the Guide to First-Year Writing’s Chapter 7 on Writing about Visual Images. Each student has to create a blog in which they create three memes using only the text “Haters gonna hate” with differing backgrounds and subsequently explain the way the picture can change the meaning. I don’t write blogs alongside my students all the time, but I thought I would take the chance to join them on this one.

First, though, I always have to explain how a “meme” came to be a thing. Most of my students who have had this lesson plan with me previously thought a meme was simply a picture with some words on it. I am always glad to share this little ditty with them to give them a broader perspective: 

But here are three memes I have created from files on my social media accounts from across the ages. I apologize in advance for not sharing my senior portrait; it was a hard choice to go with a squatty potty instead!



Mao oh Mao!

These examples are for in-class use with my students, but stay tuned to the world’s least successful Twitter account, @GrimmProspects, to see what comes up from these images tomorrow!

Critical Theories of Digital Writing


Hawisher, Gail E. and Cynthia L. Selfe. “The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 42, no. 1, 1991, pp. 55-65.

Summary: Hawisher and Selfe analyze texts about computer use in the composition classroom against observations in the classrooms of some of these authors. They find that many authors of texts supporting computer use in composition speak highly of the computer’s role in de-emphasizing the teacher, allowing for students to work more collaboratively and spend more time in each class writing. Their in-class observations, however, only support the claim that students spend more time in each class writing.

Selfe, Cynthia L. and Richard J. Selfe. “The Politics of the Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones. College Composition and Communication, vol. 45, no. 4, 1994, pp. 480-504.

Summary: Selfe and Selfe investigate to what degree computer usage in the composition classroom may act as a border for marginalized students, if not a colonizing force over them. The authors point to the orientation of the “desktop” that privileges white collar work, the inherent cost of programs and networking, the color of the cursor hand and other graphic symbols that assume whiteness for the normal user. They conclude by encouraging compositionists to involve themselves as much as possible in the development, whether departmentally or larger-scale, of the interfaces they will need to use with students to avoid having to be passive users of marginalizing programs.

Ball, Cheryl. “Show, Not Tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship.” Computers and Composition, vol.21, 2004, pp.403-425.

Summary: Ball first clarifies two types of scholarship concerning new media: scholarship about new media (traditional alphabetic texts that use the linear style of argumentation to address issues pertaining to new media) and new media scholarship (using new media as part of an academic argument, although not bound to linear styles). These terms are situated within larger conversations about getting promotion or tenure, which ultimately affects writers’ ability to pursue new media scholarship.  Ball provides examples of both scholarship about new media and new media scholarship, locating most of her examples within the journal Kairos, which she edits. These examples show a range of approaches to breaking out of linear, alphabetic-privileged texts, and Ball provides ways of reading those texts in an academic fashion to demonstrate that these types of scholarship also belong in tenure and promotion folders.

Meeting Cheryl Ball

UAH graduate teaching assistants with Cheryl Ball

Cheryl Ball’s “Show, not Tell” sets the stage for the type of scholarship that many of us would like to create. I first encountered her work when I heard her speak at the Virginia Peck Composition Series at Middle Tennessee State University, where she discussed multimodality in relation to assignments that give students practical skills beyond the normal NCTE goals. This presentation pushed me personally as a teacher to consider the online portfolio assignment I was giving to students at UAH, which Alanna Frost (far right in the picture) helped me realize is one of the major issues facing rhetoric and composition. This was perhaps the beginning of my acceptance of rhet/comp as my Ph.D. field as an English literature M.A. student, and the memory has stayed with me.


Go to the current issue for Kairos and look first at the interface. How is it set up? Compare the current design to the archived first volume. What differences do you see, and what do you think drove the continuing changes we enjoy today?
In the current issue for Kairos, how does the content bear out what Ball argues in “Show, not Tell”?

Questions for Discussion:

1.) Beyond the Foucault-ian problems of control by observation in a computer-driven composition course, what other problems might we encounter in terms of encouraging students now to write in online spaces? How do/might we cope with these problems as we explain their affordances to students?

2.) Clearly, from her article, Ball advocates for an increased awareness of affordances in new media scholarship. How does her personal site engage with multimodality in different ways? How does this compare to the work she encourages in Kairos?

3.) In what ways do the concerns of Hawisher, Selfe, and Selfe anticipate the advent of Web 2.0 technologies? If computers represented a possible colonizing danger, what potential dangers do Web 2.0 technologies bring with them?

4.) Does Selfe and Selfe’s description of how computers are used unequally in minority/majority schools allow for comment from Nelson’s “Dream Machines”?

5.) To further the idea of the “map” in Selfe and Selfe, how does this map de-center Western notions of the world?

Chinese World Map

A Chinese map of the world, illustrating it as the Middle Kingdom.

Heraclitus via Ernst Bloch

Ernst Bloch (1885-1977)

Ernst Bloch

With hair this good, how can he not be a true philosopher?

About Ernst Bloch:

* German-born Jewish cultural critic
* Focused heavily on the utopian charge of great art, which points the reader, viewer, or listener to a future that is always on the periphery of our understanding and in the process of becoming: “Every great work of art thus still remains, except for its manifest character, impelled towards the latency of the other side, i.e. towards the contents of a future which had not yet appeared in its own time, if not towards the contents of an as yet unknown final state. For this reason alone great works have something to say to all ages.” (Principle of Hope Vol. 1, page 127)

Main works:

o Spirit of Utopia
o Heritage of Our Times
o Principle of Hope Volumes 1-3
o Atheism in Christianity

Biggest influences:

o Utopian thought
o Liberation theology
o Cultural studies

Bloch’s Engagement with Heraclitus

The Spirit of Utopia – an early view of Bloch’s utopian consciousness and culture studies, written during the first world war.

Bloch traces the movement of thought from West to East, stating that the dependence on the physical in traditional Western thought always gives way to a turn to the East, giving Alexander as an example:

…rather, Alexander, the chosen commander of the Hellenic alliance, left Greece in order to descend to his “preliminary stage,” tired of all the artificial occidentalism, no differently than Heraclitus, Pythagoras abandoned the all too human statues, the euphrosyne without depth, and the world’s perfect sphaira, in order to unharness longing, neo-Platonic transcendence, the construction of domes within this world. (169)

Here Bloch speaks of Heraclitus only in passing, but paints him in the light of a philosopher who left an empty physicality to look for something higher. While this is his only mention in Spirit, it fits within Bloch’s mission to look at the features of culture that point away from what exists towards a possibility that lies elsewhere, and it provides the context for his greater engagement with Heraclitus in the future.

Note on rhetoric: Sadly, one common feature of Bloch’s writing is a winding, indirect approach to topics riddled with neologisms within page-long sentences. This reflects, to some degree, his appreciation for realizing new ideas, but causes many problems for translators and his readers, as evidenced in the quote above.

Principle of Hope – Bloch’s three volume seminal work

Volume 1, Part 2, Section 15

“Discovery of the Not-Yet-Conscious of of Forward Dawning…” (there is more to the title, but for brevity’s sake I’m ending here)

Bloch quotes Heraclitus as saying “Peculiar to the soul is the common spirit that grows.” as prefatory material for this chapter. Bloch’s first lines expand on this pre-Socratic notion: “The inward glance never sheds equal light. It is sparing, only ever illuminating a few parts of us. We are not conscious of what is not struck at all by the ray of attention” (114). Again Bloch uses Heraclitus as a voice to question our modes of understanding, but only touches on him briefly as an exemplar of progressive thought.

Volume 2, Part 3, Section 41

“Wishful Landscape and Wisdom Sub Specie Aeternitatis and of Process”

Bloch analyzes the pre-Socratics intensely in this section of Principle of Hope. Bloch begins this section explaining the origin of philosophy: “There is no thinking for its own sake and never has been. Thinking began with wanting to recognize a situation in order to know one’s way around in it.” (838). More specifically, Greek philosophy “tried to sketch its world clearly according to the proportions of this right wish, of the wish for what is right” (839). The seven sages exemplify this, but Bloch raises Heraclitus along with Thales and Empedocles as the philosophers who decentered the desire for rightness by positing an early form of dialectics that focused on conflict for progress: “The antithesis that like can only be perceived and especially recognized by like runs even I purely epistemological terms trustingly through so-called pre-Socratic thinking. It tacitly underlies that of Thales and clearly underlies that of Heraclitus, though it only became conscious in Empedocles” (840).

Bloch then investigates Heraclitus more closely, focusing on how an essential element of the universe has to exist in each thing to varying degrees to cause change, which ultimately leads to a comment on economy:

These value-tinged sketches of the essential are contradicted least of all by the amazingly economic reflection in Heraclitus: ‘All things are an exchange for fire and fire for all things, as are commodities for gold and gold for commodities’ (fr. 90). For in this statement an early commodity thinking in the Ionian trading cities comes together with gold as an allegorical permanent value precisely by making itself cosmic.

Bloch’s deep investment in Marxism, both the material dialectic and the ongoing project of revolution, takes hold of Heraclitus as a precursor of materialism and revolution against what previously was largely obscured by myth (whether religion or idealism). The latter becomes more apparent in his conversation of Empedocles, when he says “With all this [Empedocles’ theorized universe of struggle between neikos (hate) and love (philia)] Empedocles approaches the basic Heraclitean idea of struggle as the father of all things. And he defuses this idea again of course … so that precisely the productive dialectics of Heraclitus is lost” (841). Thus Bloch sees Heraclitus as the productive beginning of a mode of inquiry that was ultimately blocked by less materialistic philosophies, which would not be taken back up until the nineteenth century, although it was coded through various mystical and religious views between those periods.

Bloch’s Comparison of Heraclitus and Plato

Principle of Hope

Volume 2, Part 3, Section 41

In regards to Plato’s world of ideas:

“It was easier for Plato, as a wishful thinker like none before him, to believe in the invisible than in the visible, and the Upwards became for him a longing, an Eros, a competitive striving, and finally of course a so-called vision of the invisible. … A wishful land through and through, with much reactionary relation to Spartan order, much sentimental relation to Egyptian repose, and a wishful land which as the realm of figures and types covered the world, conceptually doubled it, hierarchically divided it, and idealistically concealed it … Hence the longing which does not believe at all that it will meet the like thing that it seeks to grasp in something available to the senses” (845).

Bloch, who focuses three volumes on Hope, separates Hope from Wish by distinguishing the former as anticipatory of some real potentiality, while clarifying that the Wish is a desire for the impossible. What Bloch sees Plato doing in separating our physical existence from an ideal world is a dialectical vision in so far as it embraces, above all in the ‘Parmenides’, certain opposites like the Many and One, the unlike and the like and is not also, as in Heraclitus, an objective dialectics through the totality of the world. Instead the whole world remains in a dualism of two spheres, of which the upper one merely shines into the dark space of the lower one (846)

For Bloch, Plato is problematic because instead of looking at antinomies in the world he speculates an entirely new order against which the observed world in total is held as if it were whole and not itself a collection of oppositions. What he sees Heraclitus doing is acknowledging more productively the differences and conflicts in the world and accounting for them more fruitfully.

Bloch’s application of Heraclitus to current philosophical and rhetorical issues

After tracing the development of the materialistic dialectic through Western history warns of the dangers of taking the productive dialectic to an extreme and rendering meaning impossible:

The information about this Totum (we only have to think of Heraclitus’ fire and then of the fixed sphere of being of the Eleatics) is so different that foolish confusers of substantial research with withered catechism thought they could call the history of philosophy the strongest refutation of philosophy. In reality the various great concepts, as those which portray non-transitory ideology of transitory conditions or even hired championings of social retrogression and decline, by no means depress to the point of relativism. (863)

Bloch thus responds to those who would argue that a constant conflict would render meaning absent or unnecessary by stating that they have missed the point: that the conflict does indeed ascend, does indeed direct to a location on the periphery of what is possible. To put it another way, just as mythology would have Time as an operating being, Heraclitus had reduced it to a phenomenon: “He was followed by Heraclitus with his strange yet trend-setting propositions; the gods disappeared, the in every sense original Kronos-Chronos remained” (853). Taking this idea to a further extreme that time does not exist fails to take account of the physical world through skepticism instead of mythicism. Bloch sees both as dangers of the utopian Hope, but he identifies Heraclitus as an early champion of the proper view of the observable world as separate from an ideal or as inaccessible to the individual.


Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1959. Print.

—. The Spirit of Utopia. Trans. Anthony Nassar. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Print.

“Ernst Bloch.” Picture. Wikipedia: Ernst Bloch. 8 July 2008. Web. 27 September 2014.

Geoghegan, Vincent. Ernst Bloch. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Heraclitus. A Pre-Socratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia. 2nd Edition. Ed. Patricia Curd. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2011. Print.

State of the Field: Comp Teaching

In reading the last three chair speeches from the CCCC, I have been forced to re-evaluate my own praxis. What I have read across the board focuses on a specific type of community building, one that values all voices and seeks rhetoric in expression and not simply on paper. While my investment in Ernst Bloch’s utopian project of bringing peripheral/potential realities into reality has already led me to rethink how students come together in my classroom through peer interaction, I have not given quite enough thought to who can come and how they prefer to engage. Some of this comes from unfamiliarity with certain forms of diversity, but the area of which I was already cognizant is in the use of various media for projects. I was challenged last year in a presentation on multi-modal composition practices and again through contributing to DRC’s multi-modal/multi-lingual blog carnival to think further about the forms of communication I privilege, but in the confusion of switching programs from UAH to GSU and all the changes that moving and having a baby bring, I clung ever more closely to a paper-based model of assignment as I planned my syllabus. I am currently working personally in the sites so that I can present this as a space for students to practice rhetoric in a more authentic platform in the future, and hopefully the spring semester will find me well situated enough to pull in more modes of communication beyond just prose (although my logophilia will always desire written words and prose!). Thankfully my composition pedagogy class requires me to reframe an assignment within a more technological approach, which will help lay the groundwork for a more immersive syllabus for the spring semester.

One other issue that affects me directly is the awareness of the “exploitation of contingent faculty” (Anson “2013 CCCC Chair’s Address: Climate Change” CCC 65.2 338). To accept the GTA position at GSU, my wife and I had to sit and crunch numbers to see if the stipend I’m allotted could cover not just childcare but increased gas consumption, higher car insurance from an increase in miles driven, and the overall time needed to commute from Cherokee county to downtown Atlanta. My dream of being Dr. Grimm is great, but the material conditions almost forbade at least the timing of our decision. Further, I’ve noticed that programs seem set up to exploit this labor further. My father, who earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Georgia Tech in the 1970s, did four years of undergrad, two of masters work, and two of Ph.D. work. That was the model I thought would apply to my coursework as well back when I enrolled in a terminal MA program at UAH, but I found not long after that English is set up to exploit far more years of teaching before the Ph.D. could be granted. I did two and a half years for my MA and am staring down an average of four years at an accelerated pace for my doctorate. Perhaps I fall into the demographic of those who are simply seeking a degree as a form of labor marketing also referenced in Anson’s speech, but what I realize alongside that is that two institutions will have benefited from years of low-paid labor as my small family braces for hard times and my wife patiently bears the burden of being the primary (almost sole) wage earner for our family of three.

But what these institutions know they can bank on is the desire I hold to enter this field. As I have joked with students before, if I was in this for the money I either wouldn’t have majored in English to begin with or I would be in a foreign developed country teaching English for a much higher profit margin. What I love, though, is the collegiate atmosphere. I love that my students in composition one come to class ready to write and talk, many already metacognitively aware of their own writing processes and able and willing to speak to their current skills. I love that students ask me about books or tell me about writing projects they enjoy, and as the semester wears on I will get more and more invested in their research projects, gladly talking to them about it and offering help anywhere and everywhere I can. I love watching students who entered day one as strangers start to develop friendships from assignments I require them to do together. I love seeing students meeting outside of the classroom, even if it’s not for a scholarly pursuit per se. I love being part of the community that each of the last three CCCC chairs encourage and elevate, and their comments and critiques help remind me that community can’t be stagnant. It must keep moving, which means I must keep learning and taking risks for my students.