Reflecting Essay, Narcissus Thoughts
 

    If the reflective essay is a heuristic designed to create an entire perspective of achievement, then to whom is it addressed?  I will address this to myself, taking reflection at its most literal.  This is the explanation for my cyber-portfolio, and because a portfolio is used mostly to hire in the job market, to judge in academic space, or to praise/ridicule in the art field, I must situate myself in this commodity presentation realm.
    My portfolio reflects on two concepts, two realms, two discourse conversations.  The first platform for conversation is English 600.  I use the class moniker as an umbrella that covers my position as a graduate student at Humboldt State and thoughts on what this does and will entail.  The second conversation concerns Theodor Adorno and his work as a center of study.  At this point my thoughts on Adorno are amateur at best, they are incipient interpretations indicating where my research will lead.  My understanding of Adorno, no matter how correct or misleading, works as the selection criterion for my portfolio.  If Adorno is a “tool of selection” the discussions and assignments of English 600 are the hand guiding, thrusting, manipulating, or breaking that tool.
Our 600 class, you Joseph and you-Joseph’s reflection, worked toward distinct goals that describe the resources available to a Humboldt graduate student, and ask us, students, to begin viewing academia as a complex organism that encompasses daily interactions with colleagues, bureaucratic/political maneuvering, discourse communities, and how to work within the “status-quo” of publication.  Status quo may carry a connotation of opposition to academia’s perceived goals of progress-towards-understanding, but it also suggests a material reality.  Academia has abstract mystical ideals; ideals that convey the purpose of research to be a grand goal of understanding, equality, and democracy.  These goals are most likely my personal standards, regardless, academia and academics hold the profession of research and teaching to some standard, which each academic must define. 
    Along with this more nebulous (metaphysical?) aspect of graduate studies, is the material reality of academia as profession.  At the beginning of this semester, I was disappointed with the rearing head of “professionalism.”  Blinded by idealism and living in a philosopher’s paradise where school and education are spiritual, thoughtful experiences, I was adverse to accepting the realities of publication, striving for tenure, and even “joining a discourse community.”  These ideas sounded like a refusal to fight against a mysterious system; these ideas sounded like bowing down to corporate demands on education; these ideas sounded like normalizing devices – and my initial reaction to these ideas sound like the raving radical dreams.  However, our class moved on through the months – (and might I add, reflection-Joseph, that your facial hair alterations mirrored your mental evolution – oh, really? – yes, most definitely) – as our class “progressed,” I began to question the roots of my disappointment.  Why was I disappointed to see academia as profession?  I started to ask this question whenever I felt angry or disheartened by something we read (Joseph Harris or Theresa Enos), it became a Pavlov response that took the form of Miss Kendra shouting out, “but what is the purpose?”  I realizethat my distaste was a denial of the material world.  What I came to Humboldt with was a desire to escape, to cuddle myself in a detached environment: I came with a belief in the White Tower of Academia. 
    It is completely appropriate that as our class began to emphasize us-students and how we hope to crown our Humboldt experience – moving away from universal generalizations of the academy and into specifics of what our theses will be –my disappointment modified.  Here is where Adorno tinkers in playing fourths because, as my little sister says, “fourths always sound cool.”  Adorno’s work is pervasively pessimistic; there is no escape from the Gramcian hegemony that surrounds individuals.  Yet, for all this inescapability Adorno suggests resistance.  He might have little faith in material changes, but he still posits resistance as a method of escape (his resistance epitomized by art, and how he defines art).   I noticed that denying reality accomplished nothing, there is not even a forum for resistance (no matter what I’m still young enough to be radical in my motivation).  If academia has developed into a profession based on publication, there is no reason to become morose about the capitalistic tendencies of publication.  Learning and researching popular thoughts inside my fields of interest is not a form of normalization as much as a tool of organization, a rubric of creation.  If discourse communities (and I still cannot formulate completely my aversion, except to notice its existence) are where voices are heard, then I must learn the rules (subject of discussion) and wield them to allow my voice, my ideas to be heard (seen - synaesthesia). 
    With this in mind, I turn to the work in my portfolio with the understanding that my dilemma became my corollary method of selection.  The work in my portfolio demonstrates my attempts to engage with academic discourse realities while maintaining skepticism towards motivation.  I want to always read with an eye for why: to look at academic research as driven by either material desire or metaphysical angst. Filtering my reading through this youthful lens, I try to question assumptions that researchers make; if I agree with their assumptions, I seek to validate them.  Adorno, and my interpretation of his thoughts, serve as my centering device.  If I see Aesthetics as the ignored foundation of cultural studies (a term I use flippantly intending the term to consume Rob Pope’s discussion of English Studies (16-19)) it is my job to point out where this foundation is assumed.   
    My short piece titled “Subject” starts this process.  This piece reflects less a direct engagement with Aesthetics and more a methodology of engagement.  In discussing the instability of the word subject in relation to English, I want to demonstrate the necessity of defining terms.  Where Adorno spends 400 pages defining Aesthetics, we as scholars must replicate this process when using ambiguous terms like subject or art or English Studies.  Before we can study literature we must agree to the terms of discussion (much like joining the discourse community).  Pope suggests the multiplicity of perspective in his English Studies book and my short piece on subject simply emphasizes this multiplicity.  Each word we use must come with a lifetime of assumptions,* what Pope wants and “Subject” demonstrates, is the questioning of these assumptions.  If we are to resist a hegemonic world, no matter how futile, we must at the very least understand we are fighting against our own biases. 
    Where “Subject” suggests a methodology of word dissection “Bazerman-Hartman, Parrish-Ellis” serves to demonstrate implicit meaning found in rhetorical structures.  A discussion of rhetorical strategies appears on the surface – at least in my mind – to be similar to defining word’s use.  Both practices serve to acknowledge assumptions made by readers and writers.  However, analyzing rhetorical structures differs in that it moves away from conceptual understanding (meaning) and into the realm of presentation.  I follow Bazerman’s analysis of Hartman’s work and apply the technique to Timothy Parrish’s essay on Ellis.  What is shown is more than similarities in argumentation.  By mirroring Bazerman’s process of analysis, the power of rhetorical structures to imply factuality, truth, and superiority are demonstrated.  Initially reading Parrish’s essay I did not recognize the way in which I assumed his claims were true; I did not notice that I assumed his research to be based on a new and more “factual” understanding.  When I followed Bazerman’s technique of rhetorical analysis I saw that Parrish used rhetorical strategies to validate his “truth.”  This process of discerning where and when rhetoric becomes validation (where the presentation of opinion becomes fact), is paramount to any study of language (across any genre).   By analyzing rhetoric before analyzing content, one finds where an author relies on structure to supply argumentative support  (here my assumption is that structure is not a valid argumentation device, or at least one that should be questioned), instead of insightful interpretation.  In other words, analyzing rhetorical structures demonstrates where gaps in reason or gaps in argumentation might be found. 
    My two pieces discussed so far are examples of how.  They are in the portfolio as exhibits of tools gained in English 600.  Their connection with Adorno and Aesthetics may seem distant, but they are not so far.  The assumption of my thesis is that Aesthetics forms a foundation for discussions of culture.  It is by using the tools demonstrated by “Subject,” and “Bazerman-Hartman, Parrish-Ellis” that I will demonstrate the importance/truth of my assumption. 
    The final piece in my portfolio is a satire.  Adorno very often uses musical, philosophical, and literary references in an ironic way.  The use of irony is his method of questioning.  My piece on Joseph Harris uses Adorno’s technique of irony to question Harris’s argument.  In this manner “Joseph Harris” stands as an example of style.*  If my previous two pieces are examples of how, then “Joseph Harris” is the example of what will be done with these tools.  I take my interpretation of Joseph Harris and attempt to present the assumptions of his argument by demonstrating their implicit conclusions.  For example, I question Harris’ ideas concerning autobiographical writing by demonstrating the asinine implications: autobiography writing is too involved in narrative to demonstrate insight, therefore academics reading autobiographic writing will be unable to look beyond the narrative structure.  What this implies is the complete refutation of academic purpose; aren’t we supposed to look beyond narrative structure to see what is actually being said?  Through the ironical treatment of Harris’ ideas, I hoped to demonstrate the absurdity of his notions (though I may have demonstrated the absurdity of my own notions). 
    As a whole this cyber-portfolio attempts to encompass my growing thoughts on what it means to be an academic and how I want to be involved in this professional milieu.  At this level, my involvement extends as far as my thesis; thus I used my tentative thesis as a means of selection.  Though the connection between Aesthetics, Adorno, and the three pieces found in my portfolio are abstract I hope it is clear the connections made between content and style (thought and form, assumption and presentation) are supposed to mirror or reflect Adorno’s connections between Aesthetics and Politics.