Part I: Beginnings

I had every intention of becoming a park ranger.  My experience as a boy scout – coupled with an environmental interest coaxed along during that odd time in the early 90s that was all about the environment, heat waves, climate change, save the whales/turtles, etc. . . . the time before the battle was overly partisan, or maybe before the scientific proof was available for all – had prepared me for a career walking the trails, helping stranded campers, and protecting Appalachian flora and fauna.  When I matriculated to the University of Georgia in the Summer of 1998, I planned on getting to work knocking out core classes in biology, chemistry, and math.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how ill-equipped I was to do that sort of work. . . so ill-equipped in fact that when I found I would be taking three remedial mathematics classes before I could enroll in the first of a four class sequence in core algebraic concepts, I thought about doing something else.

That something else would definitely be journalism.  The magazine, not yet heralded as a dying print form on account of the internet, offered a great place where I could write about nature, travel, and environmental concerns.  So, I took a journalism class.  Unfortunately, though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, the class had a market-driven focus; consequently, I was being asked to write about what large numbers of people would pay to read instead of writing about what I thought mattered.  As such, I also quit that track of study.  At this point in my collegiate career (roughly two semesters in) I seriously considered quitting.  If not quitting, at least I would move to another part of the country. . . maybe Oregon or Alaska.  Instead, my mom encouraged me to take the summer after my freshman year off to travel a bit.  With $1500 in my pocket, I went to Europe.  Best decision I ever made.

After returning from a two month whirlwind trip that took me from London to Odessa, I completely rearranged my schedule so that I would be taking classes in cultures outside the US.  Specifically, I looked to the Comparative Literature and History departments at UGA for these sorts of offerings.  That Fall, I enrolled in African History pre-1600 with David Schoenbrun in the History department and Western World Literature pre-1600 (a class I would later have the opportunity to teach at UTC) with Dezso Benedek in Comparative Literature.  In these classes, I was exposed to a world-view that I hadn’t encountered before.  Dr. Schoenbrun’s class, especially, allowed me to see outside of Eurocentric visions of history.  After feeling inspired for the first time in my college career, I decided to take some more classes in African histories/cultures.  That’s when I met Karim Traore.

During the rest of my tenure at UGA, I took at least one class a semester with Karim.  Originally from Burkina Faso, Karim specialized in West African oral poetics and continental European philosophy.  While the two might, at first, seem mutually exclusive, Karim eventually showed me that many of the onotological theories of French post-structuralist philosophers provided me with a window into the West African worldview.  Especially useful for this enterprise was the work of Deleuze and Guattari and their concept of the “rhizome.”  In addition to oral poetics, I pursued the relationship between orality and film while studying in Karim’s classes.  I also took really illuminating classes from Ronald Bogue on Deleuze and Guattari and Barthes/Foucault with Dr. Thomas Cerbu while at UGA.  All of this work encouraged me to apply my understanding of philosophy (which was/is pretty poorly developed) to understand or make sense of the cultural artifacts of Western and non-Western civilizations.  My work at UGA also engendered a deep suspicion of imperialist power structures in my work.  This was, to a great extent, informed by the colonial and post-colonial French influence on sub-Saharan, Sahelian West Africa.

Part II: Travels

Because of my love of non-US cultures – and the rebelliousness that comes with a 22 year old fresh from college – I decided to leave the US to pursue my desires abroad.  This crushed my mom to some degree, but she was partly responsible.  She had first encouraged me to go to Europe.  Further, as a child of a military family, I tended to develop itchy feet after being somewhere for a couple of years.  My wanderlust, coupled with the fact that the occupational prospects for someone with a B.A. in Comparative Literature and African Cultures, sent me wandering.  I tended bar in Scotland, Ireland, and England before heading to the continent.  In Prague, I took a 6 week class on ESL (something I knew nothing about beforehand), and decided to settle down in a small suburb of the Czech capital to be a teacher.

While in Prague, teaching for the first time in my life, I realized a couple of things.  First, from a pedagogical standpoint, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  Second, the methods I had been taught in my school were grossly inadequate for the desires of the students.  Third, I hated working for education as a private, capitalist enterprise.  Fourth, I absolutely loved every single class period I taught.  It was the first time in my life I had ever really, really enjoyed a job for something more than a paycheck.

While teaching in Prague, I developed a really lovely relationship with my local neighborhood.  I lived in a part of town called Smichov.  Though I thought it was a wonderful place, when I told any of the local Czech folks the part of town I lived in, they cringed.  This was mostly due to the fact that my neighborhood was made up of “Roma” or gypsy peoples.  At the local pub a couple steps from my house I struck up relationships with a couple of Roma men.  Through broken English, they told me of the systemic discrimination against their people throughout Eastern Europe.  I came to realize that the Roma, much like the Kurds of Northern Iraq/Southern Turkey were a people without a homeland.  After doing some research, I found that Roma populated areas from India to the UK.  After discussing this issue many times, visiting with Roma families for dinner, and offering free English lessons to Roma children, I decided to get involved in redressing their situation.  Unfortunately, while attending a small Roma protest in the capital, I realized I didn’t have the fortitude or stomach for the violence that accompanies an oppressed people.  After watching my friends being carted off to another, less touristy part of town for questioning, and after being brusquely questioned by a couple of Czech police officers, I realized I was: A)still an outsider to the Roma community and unable to adequately share/fight for their plight and B) scared as hell and likely out of my element.

After failing at my first attempt at social activism, I grew more and more isolated and lonely in Prague and resolved to go on home.

Part III:  School Again

After returning to the US, getting married, and teaching high school for a couple of years, I resolved to head back to school.  My first teaching gig in south Georgia had really changed my perception of secondary education in the US.  The curriculum was woefully, in my opinion, misguided for real-world skills.  The subject matter assumed a very unrealistic socioeconomic background.  Further, the teachers and administrators – for the most part – did not have the best interests of the students in mind.  Finally, the police-state, surveillance structure of the school as place was especially scary.  After trying another gig in north Georgia and finding the same results, I figured that another trip to school would be the only way I could continue doing what I loved – teaching.  As such, I enrolled at UTC in 2005.

Dr. Eileen Meagher – the former graduate director in English at UTC – was the first person I met on campus.  I didn’t know it at the time, but since her start in 1983 Dr. Meagher was the pioneer of rhet/comp at UTC.  She worked over the years to change an English department made up of 100% literature classes to a department that had an equal distribution of rhet/comp – lit faculty, an M.A. in English Rhetoric and Composition, and a healthy undergraduate writing program.  While she did her best to encourage me to follow my interests in literature (I didn’t really know of anything else), she also recommended I take a rhet/comp class the first semester to fulfill an elective slot and to get an idea of the field.  So, I registered for Orality-Print-Hypertext with Dr. Meagher and a seminar on Naturalism in 19th century American literature with Dr. Christopher Stuart.

In Dr. Meagher’s Orality-Print-Hypertext class I found resonances with my background in African orality.  Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy and Havelock’s A Muse Learns to Write both provided theoretical underpinnings for the transition from preliterate to literate cultures that occurred during the colonial period in West Africa.  What both their theories neglected was how the imperializing force of colonization affected this transition.  For my first seminar paper, I worked with early iterations of literacy in Senegalese film.  I found the project especially challenging as I was writing about subjects that I only knew of second-hand through source-work and director’s interviews.  In addition to working with oral aspects of communication, I also really enjoyed the section on hypertext.  I would return in my academic career to this point much later.

After taking Dr. Meagher’s class I was hooked.  I further pursued West African grounded analysis in my Modern Rhetorical Theory class the following semester.  I was especially excited that this class used many of the authors I had read while an undergrad at UGA – notably, Barthes.  I also fell in love with Bakhtin’s double-voiced speech act around this time.  I find that this theory, perhaps more than any other, informs my research and the way I view the world.

While rhetoric met my interest in theory, composition classes began to inform my pedagogy.  After completing 18 hours in the program, I was asked by our composition director to begin teaching in the writing program.  I was ecstatic.  In the classroom, I found a site that could, potentially, allow me to work around the second-hand nature of much of the research I was doing in my rhetoric classes.  Yet, I was always scared to enact classroom research  as I had come across many folks in the field warning against “war stories” and “what works for me” scholarship.  In particular, I found Friere and Donald Murray’s ideas about writing particuarly useful.  That being said, my program encouraged against narrative assignments, so I wasn’t able to put Murray’s ideas into praxis.

While composing my thesis, I learned more about research than ever before.  I was attempting to articulate a rhetoric of “punk.”  As I was working with a subculture that is conditioned, to a large extent, by the realities of capitalism, I did a lot of philosophical research in economic relations.  This led me to a couple of my favorite writers – Adorno, Marx, Thomas Frank, Baudrillard, Debord, Lyotard and Jameson.  Fortunately, in working with punk, I had epistemic privilege.  This allowed me to speak from experience and meld that experience with philosophy.  While not very empirical, my director and readers were pleased with my project.  That being said, they constantly cautioned me against expansion as the piece was becoming too long (and probably unfocused).  I was also frustrated because I felt like the lack of empiricism hampered the work.  To address this lack, I tried a linguistic analysis of punk lyrics coded with an eye toward profanity and attempted to draw conclusions from my findings; however, I felt like it was definitely the weakest portion of my work.  All that being said, while researching the thesis I learned a lot of useful strategies for organizing research materials via concept maps, exploiting philosophical theories I felt were inadequate, and synthesizing multiple disparate sources from various fields to make my point.  I suppose it was a really great exercise in learning interdisciplinarity.  Yet, I don’t know if I’ve ever done research beyond philosophical in scope.

Part IV: Interstice

During the two years time between completing my M.A. and matriculating to Syracuse, I have continued to focus my research/reading on continental philosophy and leftist politics.  Because my thesis focused so heavily on the tenants of anarchism and economic social relations, I continued to expand that episteme by working with Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Marx.  I think, to some degree, I have been reading these dead white dudes because I feel like I need to know their work to be able to support and understand the stances I find in Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, and Habermas.  In political theory I have come to appreciate the work of Zinn, Chomsky, Prudhoun, Bakunin, and Goldman.  And I nearly lost my head when I spent a good month or so working with anarcho-primitivism a la John Zerzan.

While continuing the research started in my thesis, I have also developed a strong interest in matters of the machine.  As I mentioned in class, this is a site that I haven’t read widely on; however, I feel like a lot of the theory I have worked with could be used to better understand the communities and cultures that exist in the intranets.  Besides cursory readings in Haraway, Castells, and Lanham I don’t feel like I have done a lot of work in this field; however, as I spend a large amount of time working in digital communities and see obvious analogs between piracy and anarchism, I feel like this could be the most productive node for the trajectory of my research.  Like punk, I also have epistemic privilege in this area.

Part V: Being Here

I’m not quite sure I’ve adequately answered your question.  I think that as a researcher I have spent a good deal of time working with philosophical concepts and second-hand research.  I would really like to be able to better quantify and qualify my work to get beyond the theory into praxis; however, it’s in theory that I feel like I traffic best.  I’m looking forward to exposure to some new ways of thinking/researching in this class.  And I really hope – by the time I get out of grad school – I will be able to finish and understand Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus.

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