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A Petulant Demand

A Petulant Demand
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by:  [University of Texas Libraries] Date:  04 November 2015, At: 12:37 Rhetoric Society Quarterly ISSN: 0277-3945 (Print) 1930-322X (Online) Journal homepage: A Petulant Demand Eric Detweiler & Joshua Gunn To cite this article:  Eric Detweiler & Joshua Gunn (2015) A Petulant Demand, Rhetoric SocietyQuarterly, 45:5, 481-485, DOI: 10.1080/02773945.2015.1088347 To link to this article: Published online: 03 Nov 2015.Submit your article to this journal View related articles View Crossmark data  Forum  481 Frankfurt, Henry.  On Bullshit  . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2005. Print.Greene, R and D. Hicks. “Lost Convictions: Debating Both Sides and the Ethical Self-Fashioningof Liberal Citizens.”  Cultural Studies  19.1 (2005): 100–126. Print.Llano, Stephen. “Parachutes are not for Reasonable People.”  Progymnasmata: Preliminary Exercises in Rhetoric, Argumentation, and Debate . 9 April, 2014. Web. 12 March 2015.————. “Should We Have Two Different Divisions?”  Progymnasmata: Preliminary Exercises inRhetoric, Argumentation, and Debate . 23 March 2014. Web. 12 March 2015.Ronell, A. “The Sacred Alien: Heidegger’s Reading of Holderlin’s ‘Andenken.’”  The Uber Reader:Selected Works of Avital Ronell  . Ed. D. Davis. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2008. 205–226. Print.Scocca, Tom. “On Smarm.”  Gawker  . Gawker Media. 5 December 2013. Web. 12 May 2015. < > A Petulant Demand Teaching delivers signs. The teaching body produces  . . .  signs, or more precisely,signifiers supposing the knowledge of a prior signified.  . . .  Every university putslanguage in a position of belatedness or derivation in relation to meaning andtruth.—Jacques Derrida 3 In a recent interview, Jenny Rice argued that “bullshit” always involves “an oppor-tunity for dialogue [that gets] shut down.  . . .  I think of bullshit as a two-way streetbeing shut down to a one-way street.” The dialogic or “relational aspect of bull-shit  . . .  should,” she maintains, “be of interest” to rhetoricians (“On Awfulness”; cf.Fredal 256). In this piece, we share a recent dialogue between a teacher and a stu-dent to show how a teacher can turn a singular stream of bullshit toward the oceanof dialogue. The student is Chália Malakíes (henceforth “M”) and the teacher is anadjunct professor, Dr. Bessie Smith (henceforth “B”). B is just finishing her officehours—the last of the semester. M drops in just as B is preparing to make like atree. With the scene established, let us begin, prefacing everything that follows witha colon:B: Why hello there, M! What dispatched you here? Is that your final paper in your pocket?M: No, it’s a print-out of my grade report. I was with one of my classmates, andshe mentioned you’d posted final grades for the course. I looked and foundthat you gave me a “C,” which stands for “crap.” I feel like I retained a lotfrom your course. I worked so hard that I really deserve at least a “B.”B: “C” could also stand for “camp” or “cog” or “chinchilla,” or even “Chália.” Inthis context, “C” means average, what is expected. You know, M, that a B.S. inCommunication Studies is a lot more challenging than many campus Greeksrealize. 3 Derrida,  Who’s Afraid   81.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   T  e  x  a  s   L   i   b  r  a  r   i  e  s   ]  a   t   1   2  :   3   7   0   4   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5  482  Forum M: [ confused expression ]B: Well, my office hours are over, and I always follow them with a brisk consti-tutional through the woods that mark the boundaries of the campus. I haveto get to my apartment to walk my dog before I return to give a final thisevening. If you wish to join me on my way home, we can discuss your grade.M: The woods? But aren’t there bugs and bears out there?B: Certainly. But the professor, like the bear, is a creature that frequents thewoods—justasshemightfrequentaholeinthewallforsomefermentedrelief at the day’s end.M: If it’s the only option, I suppose I’ll join you.B: Well then, let us vacate this building and make for the trees. As we approachthem, discharge your concerns. I promise to consider them thoughtfully.[  M and B evacuate a large, boxy building—a remnant of the midcentury architectural movement known as “Brutalism.”  ]M: Certainly. Again, I retained a lot from your course. I understood the readingsbetter than any of my classmates. I missed some of the reading quizzes yougave at the beginning of each class because I was coming from another classin the Business School. That professor always keeps us five minutes late, soI occasionally arrived too late to take your quizzes. But that doesn’t mean Ididn’t completely absorb the reading.B: Couldn’t you have asked that professor to let you leave on time?M: Of course not! Professors are authority figures, and that one also happens tobe a dean!B: Why should that matter?M: Why, I’ve seen enough movies about college to know that deans are not to becrossed. Professors like you—though they might be adjuncts, absent-minded,eccentric, even overly strict—are experts in their fields and generally havethe best interests of students at heart. 4 But deans! Unlike easygoing teach-ers such as yourself, they are really anal! 5 They make the rules and demandthat those rules get followed. I mean, doesn’t your dean make you teach moreevery year for the same pay? And anyway, my business class is about the realworld.Rhetoricaltheory is fascinatingand all,butI won’tneed Plato or Freudwhen I get my MBA. I really couldn’t miss any of   that   class because I need theprofessor to write me a recommendation letter.B: I think your depiction of deans, professors, and adjuncts might be a littlesimplistic. This is not your fault, but I’m afraid my breezy authority—undercompensated as it is—has been oversold to you. Anyhoo, by asking meto change your grade, aren’t you questioning the “authority” that you claimto grant to professors?M: Of course not! I’m just asking you to give me a chance to prove  my   author-ity over the subject matter we covered in your course. That’s how college 4 Cf. Kayak, “Adjunct Professor.” 5 Cf. Joshua Gunn, “ShitText” 79–97.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   T  e  x  a  s   L   i   b  r  a  r   i  e  s   ]  a   t   1   2  :   3   7   0   4   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5  Forum  483 is supposed to work, right? You, the authority, transmit your expertise tome, making me an authority too? 6 So let me prove that I, like you, havemastered your subject. Perhaps I could begin by declaiming on the rhetoricalsignificance of the bust? 7 B: I’m afraid you might have missed “the point” here. Transmission is only partof the equation. And even then, one of the most important readings in thecourse was the syllabus, which includes both my attendance and grading poli-cies. If you had mastered those, you would know that reading quizzes are partof your grade and that you must arrive on time in order to take them.M: But you’re the one who instituted that policy! Surely you can bend it.B: Theoretically, yes. But it would be unfair to your classmates, not to mentionthe hundreds of other students I taught this semester, if I did.M: That’s bullshit.B: Why? Oh! Look out for that tree!M: [ ducks, avoiding a branch ] You’re deferring responsibility for my grade to apiece of writing that you yourself wrote!B: Just because I wrote something doesn’t mean I can readily violate it. Yes,I author some of the policies in the syllabus, but that doesn’t mean I canresponsibly and authoritatively loosen them. There wasn’t enough room toinclude it on the syllabus, but Jacques Derrida’s  Of Hospitality   comes tomind—M: [ interjecting  ] Derrida!? But I thought he and you were both postmodernists.Doesn’t postmodernism mean anything goes for you both—that there is noTruth and all values are subjective? And in that case, isn’t my claim to a “B”as valid as your claim that I deserve a “C”?B: Perhaps you did not osmose the readings as thoroughly as you’ve suggested.Or perhaps I have not been as responsible a teacher as I should have been, fornow I fear  you  may be the one who deserves the charge of malarkey. For if  you’re unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that our value systems mightrespond and speak to one another, you may have missed the point. May Ireturn to hospitality?M: If you must.B: Derrida suggests a tension between “the laws (plural) of hospitality,”those that mark hospitality’s limits, and “ the  law of hospitality,” which isunconditional. 8 He argues that either is corrupted without the other. I mightargue the same applies in teaching. I can’t responsibly ignore the unexpectedevents and situations that might crop up in a course and in my relations withstudents, but I also can’t let it be a free-for-all, with students always arrivinglate, digesting little, or producing nothing throughout the entire semester. 6 Cf. Avital Ronell 106. 7 See Melanie Klein’s discussion of the “good breast” and “bad breast” (1–24; cf. Parker). 8 Derrida,  Of Hospitality   77.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   T  e  x  a  s   L   i   b  r  a  r   i  e  s   ]  a   t   1   2  :   3   7   0   4   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5  484  Forum M: You’re suggesting that it would be crap  both  for you to play solely by preor-dained rules with no allowance for exceptions  and   for you to make up therules as you go along with no constraints?B: Yes! In any case, assuming we don’t have a universally shared value system onwhich to found things—that makes, at least in some ways, the policies thatguide our  poststructural   relations even more precious. On one hand, there arethe conditional laws of hospitality. On the second, there’s  the  law of uncondi-tional hospitality. Without number one, number two falls apart. Not becauseof poststructuralism or posthumanism, but because no one is held respon-sible for the violence that might be enacted against those abandoned to an“unconditional hospitality that dispenses with law.” 9 M: Speaking of “number two,” are you—B: [ interrupting  ] This is a great secret that the campus hides from you: your pro-fessors, like you, also poop. And I, unfortunately, don’t have access to thefaculty bathroom.M: I would rather not have known.B: Andsothisisoneoftheuniversityconditionsthatperhapsdeservestobekeptin place. You may have guessed by now that my authority is more tenuousbecause I cannot get tenure. I am bound by rules that are, in many ways,similar to the ones that bind you. And so my course policies are not just bosh,a way for me to avoid responsibility. They are, rather, a certain way of bindingpedagogical relations, of preventing teaching from turning from “pedagogy”into “scatology.”M: And is it so for all professors?B: A great many.M: But I was planning to go to graduate school.B: If unquestionable authority is what you seek, graduate school may not be thewisest choice. Maybe you should train to be a cop.M: ButIneedtomakepilesofmoney . 10 WheredoIgotobothgetrichandescapethe vagaries of questionable authority?B: Perhaps nowhere. Haven’t you watched  The Wire ? Listen: if you were to locatea closed system, one in which nothing could violate its predetermined proce-dures, you might find yourself inhabiting a tract that would allow for nothingbut bulling back and forth—M: Back and forth?B: —back and forth forever.M: Can I appeal my grade to your dean? Eric Detweiler  Joshua GunnUniversity of Texas, Austin 9 Derrida,  Of Hospitality   135. 10 See Karl Abraham, “Contributions” 418–501; Freud, “Character” 169–175, “Infantile” 187n1.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   T  e  x  a  s   L   i   b  r  a  r   i  e  s   ]  a   t   1   2  :   3   7   0   4   N  o  v  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5
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