"A Short Dialogue Between a Lowly Assistant Professor and His Goldfish"*

Dr. David Sutton

*Organizor's Note: Due to scheduling conflicts, Dr. Sutton will not be attending SSCA. Therefore, he will be unable to present a paper at the Rogue Scholar Panel. However, Suttons use of dialogue is an important aspect of rogue scholarship. Below are dialogues that appeared on the Communication Research and Theory listserve (CRTNET) post #1659 on January 24, 1997, and post #1714 (February 6, 1997). Sutton is also the guest editor of American Communication Journal (ACJ, Vol.1, Issue 2) There is another dialogue there by him.


GOLDFISH: David. Pssssst. Hey, David!




GOLDFISH: Yo, dude. Why do you keep staring at that computer screen?


SUTTON: I'm waiting for someone to respond to my last posting on CRTNET.


GOLDFISH: Posting, shmosting. How about some more of those shrimp pellets you bought at WalMart, huh, David?


SUTTON: All I did was pose a few questions. I thought that's what academics were supposed to do.


GOLDFISH: Hey, buddy, I'll listen to your problems if you toss in a few shrimp pellets. Do we have a deal?


SUTTON: Sure. (Plop, plop.) I made an observation about the television networks' critique of the President's second inaugural address. All of the commentary and criticism of that speech was provided by journalists, historians, and members of the punditocracy.


GOLDFISH: (Munch, munch.) And so?


SUTTON: Well, I didn't see a single rhetorical critic on any of the major television networks giving any sort of opinion, scholarly or otherwise, on the President's address.


GOLDFISH: Go on. (Munch, munch.)


SUTTON: And so I asked, and I'll quote myself, "Could it be that we as rhetorical critics are, dare I say, irrelevant? Could it be that writing in a postmodern Francophilic academese--that stuff that saturates our journals--has robbed us of our ability to communicate in a clear and concise English, and thus the world has simply looked elsewhere for an analysis of current public address?"


GOLDFISH: I don't think I quite follow you. (Munch, munch.)


SUTTON: Well, when I was PhD student, a senior faculty member held aloft a copy of QJS and said in a reverential tone, "The main goal in our professional life is to publish our research in a journal that less than 1,000 people read. That is what we do. That is what we are all about." Ever since then I have asked myself, if we are analysing public discourse, why should our analyses not be accessible to the public? If we huddle together and speak in a language unto ourselves, do we not risk being labeled "too academic" and thus ignored?


GOLDFISH: And what has the response been to your electronic musings? (Swallow.)


SUTTON: Stone cold silence.


GOLDFISH: Ouch. I think you must have stepped on somebody's tail fins.


SUTTON: Must have. More shrimp pellets?


GOLDFISH: Oh no, I shouldn't. Went a little overboard during the holidays. But keep talking.


SUTTON: At SCA in San Diego I went to a session entitled "At the Helm in Rhetorical Analyses of Public Discourse." Some really big guns--David Zarefsky, Walter Fisher, Richard Gregg, and Edwin Black--all gave presentations on the the direction of rhetorical criticism. Really inspiring stuff. So, I thought I would continue that discussion on CRTNET, using President Clinton's second inaugural as a springboard.


GOLDFISH: So you want my opinion? And remember I'm just a goldfish, although goldfish are more intelligent than

your average home aquarium species. We're not up there with dolphins, but we hold our own in a 20 gallon tank. There was actually a study done by scientists at a well-known university in Tokyo. . .

SUTTON: O.K., O.K., what's your opinion?


GOLDFISH: Two things. First, I'll wager that people mistakenly thought you were an empirical researcher firing random shots at Dame Rhetoric. You know that nonsense has been going on for such a long time.


SUTTON: I hear that.


GOLDFISH: Second, I don't think most academics are not really interested in being understood by anyone outside of their discipline. It's a belief people have within the hallowed halls of The Academy that if their research can be understood by any Joe or Jane Schmoe then it must lack merit. You remember Tom Lessl's article on Carl Sagan and the priestly rhetoric of scientists. Same thing. Only those people within the temple of knowledge can speak the sacred words and read from the sacred scrolls. Anyone who dares to take the sacred scrolls out of the temple and translate them for the proles commits a grave sin indeed, my friend. You tell your public speaking students to avoid jargon and overly technical language. "Speak not to impress but to be understood." You academics don't follow that rule. Especially in the humanities.


SUTTON: You may be right.


GOLDFISH: Like I said, I'm just a goldfish. But I'm swimming in hear thinking about that Philip Wander essay you read to me a few months ago: "Marxism, Post-Colonialism, and Rhetorical Contextualization," (QJS, Volume 82, pp. 402-435). Let me see if I can remember the part I really enjoyed: "My feeling is that as a field we have gone about as far as possible in reading, explicating, and quoting authors we do not know, who write in languages we cannot read, who address issues and audiences in ways that elude us, who live and work in cultures about which we are almost hopelessly ignorant. Apart from the intellectual debacle this represents, this struggle to repeat and integrate the gist of what translators assure us certain theorists have said leaves us with the more important question as to what we get when we get the gist" (p. 402).


SUTTON: I liked that one too. I used that as the inspiration for my crack about "postmodern Francophilic academese."


GOLDFISH: You might have gone to far with that one.


SUTTON: Hey, if you don't go too far, then you haven't gone anywhere.


GOLDFISH: Don't you have papers to grade or something?


SUTTON: Sure do. Thanks.


GOLDFISH: No problemo, mi amigo.


"Read It For Yourself"


CRTNET #1714 (February 6, 1997)


GOLDFISH: Dave. Hey, Dave. Yo, Sutton!




GOLDFISH: Anything new on CRTNET? It is getting kind of dull in this aquarium.


SUTTON: Well, actually there has been a recent flurry of activity. They've had a rather lively debate about an article the recent issue of Text and Performance Quarterly.


GOLDFISH: Really. What was it about?


SUTTON: Oh, I think you should read it for yourself. Let me go to the main office and borrow the department's copy.


(A short time passes as GOLDFISH reads the article entitled "Sextext.")


SUTTON: What do you think?


GOLDFISH: A few possibilities come to mind. Number 1: The members of the TPQ editorial board are all smoking crack. Number 2: The April Fool's edition of TPQ came a little early this year. Number 3: The Visigoths--sporting freshly shaved genitalia and cowboy hats--have stormed the gates and are ransacking the Palais de Raison. Number 4: Your publication strategy has been all wrong. No wonder you haven't made the big time, dude. You haven't stroked your ideas long enough. You haven't massaged your arguments until they can stand erect on their own. Your introduction must caress the reader with soft touches, gently previewing your argument. Then, as you lead in to the body of your essay, you slowly and gently penetrate the quivering, moist folds of your readers' consciousness. Throughout the body of your essay you use repetition and restatement, working your argumemnts in and out again and again and again, until both of your minds are joined in passionate undulations. With your conclusion you explode in one massive stream of enlightment. Afterwards you and your reader will bask in the afterglow of a shared understanding. This is the Postmodern age, my friend. You've got to get with the times. The idea of going back to a QJS of the 1970s in which essays were brief and clear is over, mi amigo. It is all cultural trends. Intellectual fads and fashions. You are out of date, David. You're still wearing the intellectual version of an electric blue polyester leisure suit.


SUTTON: Maybe you're right...


GOLDFISH: And as for autoerotic asphyxiation, well, that looks like the wave of the future. You had better learn how to do that, muy pronto. Better hop on board that methodological express train before it leaves you at the station.


SUTTON: You really think I should take "Sextext" as a model for my future research?


GOLDFISH: Are you impaired? Don't you recognize biting sarcasm?


SUTTON: So in your judgment "Sextext" is not scholarship?


GOLDFISH: "Suck my dick" is scholarship? Not in my aquarium. Anything else?


SUTTON: Some people voiced objection to the term "nihilistic, postmodern, Francophilic academese" I used to describe the verbiage used by rhetorical critics today. At least the one's who are getting published. Someone wondered we framed our criticism in sexual terms.


GOLDFISH: I thought you used "Francophilic" not "Francophallic." Francophilic as in Francophile as in someone who is enamured with all things French. And I think you should stand firm by that position. If I may paraphrase Philip Wander (QJS, 82 (1996): 402), why do rhetorical critics insist in packing their bibiliographies with the works of authors [they] do not know, who write in languages [they] cannot read, who address issues and audiences in ways that elude [them], who live and work in cultures about which [they] are almost hopelessly ignorant?" How many rhetorical critics who pledge allegiance to Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, et cetera, have actually read any of these authors en francais? Or Habermas in German? Or Bahktin in Russian? How many rhetorical critics offer their readers a quotation in French or German or Russian along with their *personal* translation? Wouldn't that be more intellectually honest than "struggl[ing] to repeat and integrate the gist of what translators assure [them] certain theorists have said" (Wander, p. 402)?


SUTTON: I agree. I don't think others will. Did you catch Clinton's state of the union address?


GOLDFISH: Do you see a TV in here? All I see is rocks, gravel, and plastic plants.


SUTTON: I should look into to that. (Consults watch). Oops, time for class. See you in an hour.


GOLDFISH: Teach your children well.


Here are other dialogues by Sutton that appear on his website.

"Only The Shadow Knows"

"Rumpole and the Professor's Goldfish"

"Le plaisir c'est dans le texte"

(A work in progress)