Pride and prejudice as hidden racism

In the academic circle, Barry Spurr was known as Australia’s first chair professor of poetry serving at the University of Sydney and was well regarded internationally as an established T.S. Eliot scholar before his dramatic suspension. Professor Spurr’s misfortune spiraled on 18 October 2014 when the editor of Newmatilda (www.newmatilda.com), an independent online media, published an email transcript allegedly hacked through Spurr’s university email box.  In those emails, the professor “whimsically” though invariably, played with derogatory, racist terms such as abs and chiken-poohs. He also defamed the indigenous household in his suburb as “tips of rubbish iceberg” and blamed female rape victims for their own irresponsible dress and behaviors.  Newmaltida’s release of some of the emails, sparked swift and intense anger from the public and he was suspended immediately by the University for a thorough investigation.

While looking over the email transcript, I was struck, however, is not by that he is a racist under cover–any one including myself can succumb to some shades of racism at some point of time, wittingly or unwittingly, in a matter of a slip of tongue, mind, or judgment.  Upon reflections on the incident, I became deeply uncomfortable with this accomplished scholar’s pride, of being a member of the white, of being part of the Western civilization, and of being a gatekeeper of the standard to decide on the inclusion and exclusion of people. Without a doubt, he is a sensible person with a sense of social responsibility that is obsessive with a sense of reversed white guilt– a guilt in which white people as his kind must shoulder greater social responsibilities. A super hero complex inbuilt in his sense of whiteness is naturally manifested. It is his responsibility to provide solutions to other inferior people (including white bogans) in the dire of various social problems and to offer rescue.

Identified as a non-white, I am deeply concerned about the literary professor’s deplorable contempt on/ignorance of fundamentals of science and the obliviousness of time and space in his thinking. He is not intentionally anti-intellect but the pride, to a large extent, has led him to such a fate of defeat. He himself is a victim of the whiteness virus by birth or through education and career pursuit and has become a carrier of this virus.  What chilled me even more is that he is not a lone wolf. He has a pack considering his academic ranking and that he is a member of the review panel of Australia’s National Curriculum English. He is the chosen one!

Interestingly on this note is Spurr’s attitude towards the Australian bogan culture.  What at play here elucidates that indeed is not race  or ethnicity that infiltrates Spurr’s conscience but rather than his privilege to be a superior or in other words, to be the powerful, materially or symbolically, a dangerous savior positioning held fast by many members of today’s ivory tower.

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Multimodal textuality

​New literacy is built upon change of text. Understanding what a text is is essential in this sense to our understanding of new literacy as well as the pedagogy. However, the kind of research including theorisation so far has only touched upon the surface of this shift regardless of whether we are talking about semiotic texts or social texts or whether pragmatics can be applied to the study on multimodal text. The latter is in fact quite useful, if we could extend its definition from language in use to modality/mode in use. But again, first of all, we have to rethink at a micro-level of text rather than reiterating the now commonsensical perception that multiple modes can be put together to formulate a text.  In other words, we need to understand how textual elements are organised to redefine many macro-level representations such as genre and discourse, specifically.  In fact, through the lens of multimodality, we should and can rethink many  textual conventions.  For example, recount in school setting is commonly taught as a written  text type that usually involves certain textual features such as orientation, development, and coda. But with multimodality,  it is possible for student to simply record a recount or compose  a doc in which hyperlinks, images, and videos are embedded. In this sense, the text type is still recount and the generic structure may stay the same. However, many textual  features can be very different. In the case of a recorded audio or video text, it may be possible to notice many new features such as repetition, pause, missing words/links, and more complex clause patterns. In the case of multimodal composition, it is  possible to notice dilalogues that used to be inserted with double quotation marks are now replaced by short, edited audios or videos. 

Such a change of text type has challenged us to think even further and question the definition of many terms. For example, when a teacher is preparing a  lesson to teach connectives between clauses or between paragraphs, traditionally what comes to his/her mind are such words and collocations such as and, but, however, yet, consequently, insofar, and nevertheless.  But in a multimodal text, first, the functions of such connections may be replaced, say, by images, sound, beats, or emoticons; and second, there might be much greater flexibility in terms of using connectives since they are no longer limited to the written forms. Similarly,  we may have to rethink rhetoric or stylistic devices such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification, and ominopohs. We may want to know if an image can perform the function of metaphor in the expression that he is as strong as horse by juxtaposing images of a man’s muscle and a horse. In the case of ominopheolged, probably we can do much better. For example, even though we would write something like: the dog barks, but in reality, we know that dogs never talk that way; and in fact, very few discursive imitations of natural sounds are accurate. However, since it is now feasible to capture and locate such sound from database, it would be much desirable to embed authentic sounds.