In Academe, Crazy Is As Crazy Does


dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

Somewhere out there one of my former colleagues is reading this new blog entry and saying, “I know Dorinda. She is crazy. Why did the folks at AdjunctNation hire her?” Yeah, ok. However, it’s entirely possible that particular former colleague is a little crazy, as well. Perhaps it’s even more than a little possible. Why?

There are few places in which one encounters more crazy people than graduate school. There are reasons for this. When one walks into a graduate classroom either as teacher or student one is surrounded by people who always made A grades and who are accustomed to being the smartest person in the room as an undergraduate. Then such people find themselves in a situation in which they are no longer special. Thus if someone is not somewhat neurotic before graduate school then one is likely to be by the time of graduation. The infighting over what might seem minor academic concerns and interests baffles the outside world.

I did not realize how neurotic I could be until I spent the first six years of my second (and last) marriage raising a baby and writing the following dissertation while teaching full-time:

Fox, Dorinda Dawn (2001). The rhetoric of comedy as practiced by rhapsodes George Carlin and Chris Rock. Ph.D. dissertation, The Florida State University, United States — Florida. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 3005620).

Abstract (Summary): Composition students expand vitally important critical thinking and writing skills by studying an extracurriculum of rhetoric practiced by Gorgias and Isocrates now manifest in the work of stand-up comedians such as George Carlin and Chris Rock. Close analysis reveals that when Plato and Aristotle introduced Philosophic Rhetoric, they effectively subordinated the Sophistic Rhetoric of Gorgias and Isocrates along with knowledge of the similarity of its rhetorical strategies to those of Black/Afrocentric Rhetoric. Carlin and Rock seem to consistently employ sophistic rhetorical strategies of kairos, stasis theory, dissoi logoi , and nomoi in their routines. This dissertation argues that both comedians lack a formal education beyond junior high school, but learned the Black/Afrocentric rhetorical strategy of Signifyin(g) at an early age through “playing the dozens” on the front stoops of their homes in Brooklyn, New York. The rhetorical strategies of Signifyin(g), as defined by Henry Louis Gates Jr., include frame of mind and nommo, which closely parallel sophistic rhetorical strategies. The work of Carlin and Rock is widely accessible among college students who will enthusiastically learn to employ rhetorical strategies in their thinking and writing by studying the comedians’ routines. This pedagogical approach is especially effective for developing critical thinking and writing skills of minority students who are often culturally familiar with Signifyin(g).

I was absolutely driven and compelled to write this dissertation. I never earned any grade lower than an A in any class.

This obsession did not go without criticism. When the house was not cleaned, the dinners not planned, the child not always color coordinated in clothing, and the husband not always the center of the domestic universe (this frequently happened) my former mother-in-law would demand, “Why are you doing this? You don’t need it. You are taking time away from those who need you. You should have accomplished this before marriage.”

Again, anyone who has been in graduate school has heard similar criticisms from those not involved in that particular crazy. At the time, I answered by saying that when I read The Phaedrus in my first graduate class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, I fell in love with a subject with the same passion others fall in love with people. I fell heels over head, heart over mind, and passion over logic in love. The Phaedrus happens to be about the discussion and dissection of love in all its forms deceptive and true. I had no idea of the accuracy of that description. I loved the study of rhetoric then as I do now.

However, my former mother-in-law was really asking about motivation. The lightbulb over my head about motivation did not turn on until after my dissertation defense in May of 2001 in a conference room in a 100-year-old building on the campus of Florida State.

After answering questions of the five members of the dissertation committee to their satisfaction my Chair, Dr. John Fenstermaker said, “I would like to be the first to call you Dr. Fox.”

The first person I wanted to call and say, “I am Dr. Fox” was not my husband, father, mother, sibling, best friend, or mentor.

I wanted to call him. I wanted to call a man who had not been in my life for almost ten years. He had earned a Ph.D. and was an accomplished artist. I had simply loved him more than he loved me (it happens and it sucks) but instead of recognizing that fact,  he’d told me I was unsuitable as a life partner because I was neither smart nor sophisticated enough. My former flame would likely never remembered having said that to me.

The fruits of that dissertation have been a career I love and in which my work is reasonably respected by people who are sometimes borderline crazy. Motivation to achieve a difficult goal is good.

I am Dr. Fox and I am good enough now.

So what’s your motivation?

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