Monday, March 07, 2005

Faking It

I’ve been thinking about listening for quite some time, and I’m always excited to find a new way to think about listening in rhetorical contexts. In the November 2004 College English, Julie Lindquist writes about the impostor Frank Abnegale from the book (and movie) Catch Me If You Can, and how he learned by listening. (I should confess right here that Julie Lindquist and I went to grad school together, though we didn’t know each other well.) Abnegale was so successful at faking people out because he was able to listen to the people whose groups he was trying to join and quickly learn how they spoke and what he needed to know. “In essence, he convinces others to teach him things by listening to them,” Lindquist says (199). His listening led to such persuasive rhetorical performances that people believed he was whoever he said he was (an airline pilot, a physician, a sociology professor, etc.). Lindquist writes about listening as a kind of performance, and suggests that we don’t need to be impostors like this guy, but that we might benefit by doing some faked listening, becoming “strategically naïve” in order to learn from students by more effectively hearing what they have to say.

I really like this idea of faking for some reason. Which is funny because I’ve been a big advocate of sincerity in teaching. But, to be perfectly honest, sometimes I find it so hard to listen sincerely to some of my students. And they always seem to know this. Maybe if I went into the exchange openly (to myself) knowing I was faking my interest, I’d more consciously try to hear what was being said instead of silently and huffily dismissing it. Perhaps, if I fake it, then I won’t have to mentally spar with it.

Sidebar note:
One of my favorite student quotes ever: An undergraduate tutor
summarized David Bartholomae's message in "Inventing the University" as "Fake it, and fake it good."

-Julie Bokser


At 6:02 AM, Blogger Tamara Miles said...

I'm thinking of visiting the Rose Mountain Retreat Center --- "an intertraditional retreat center located in a remote, stunningly beautiful, and ecologically balanced section of the mountains of northern New Mexico" --- and attending their Deep Listening Retreat in August (assuming I can manage to save money for the flight by then). To quote again from the website, "Deep listening is a practice designed by Pauline Oliveros to awaken creativity and a sense of well-being through the meditative exploration of listening and sounding, and is complemented by gentle creative movement and exercises, as well as practice in 'listening through dreaming.'"

I like the concept of "sounding" in contrast to "listening."

The retreat is also seeking volunteers to prepare for the retreat (light construction, gardening, etc.) --- and will provide room and board for volunteers! For more info about any of this, visit

and now for a little Paul Simon:

The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.

"Fools" said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls."
And whisper'd in the sounds of silence.

- Paul Simon -
"Wednesday Morning 3A.M.", 1964

It makes me happy to think that in the writing centers we are helping writers address their sounds of silence.

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