How Do We Evaluate the Spoken?

On Friday, I met with Dr. Granville Ganter to talk before writing this post. I assumed all the information about where he went to school, the courses he teaches, and the awards that he has won (of which there are many) can be found on the Saint John’s website.

So I thought, “What would Jack Kerouac do?” The answer was easy: he would go and talk with the man, give him space to tell his story, and show genuine interest in what makes him tick; engage in a conversation.

Before going to see Dr. Ganter, I read his paper “Tuning In Together: Daniel Webster, Alfred Schutz, and the Grateful Dead”. Though I am not a fan of The Grateful Dead, I always felt that I might be “missing out” on something, and I was struck by this specific quotation:

As in any community, there is a collective pedagogy at work. People teach each other how to understand their world. This education occurs on several levels, and it starts primarily with the band’s style of musical interaction. The millisecond pause that characterizes much of the Dead’s music (their slow or hesitating sound), allows the band members to hear what each other does. (Ganter)

Was this the piece that I was missing? Could a musical experience really be a collective learning experience? Being a huge fan of Heavy Metal music, the overall experience one has at, say, a Slayer concert is one of isolated catharsis and chaotic camaraderie. This was a much different experience than the one Dr. Ganter was writing about in his paper. Then I thought, “Is this like the seminar table?”

Walking into any professor’s office usually makes me a bit nervous. Although having read Dr. Ganter’s essay beforehand, I felt a bit more relaxed. To say that I remember everything about our discussion would be a lie. To say that I took really great notes that are legible would also be a lie. Yet the mere gesture of our conversation, the gradual sense of familiarity that was built between student and teacher, put me even more at ease:

For Schutz, music is a doorway to the living consciousness of other people, stripped of conceptual ideas (Schutz 159). Schutz felt that some forms of literary narrative could achieve the same effect, but words generally obstruct contact with the durée itself. In contrast to seeing a word or a sentence on a page (which is virtually instant and which refers to a previously established network of ideas in other books), the significance of a musical note is purely situational: it is conveyed over time in relation to other notes. (Ganter)

I am reminded of something that Dr. Ganter said during our conversation, which I will try not to butcher: “Much of history is held hostage by the Book.” I would like to take this even further by adding that much of our everyday interactions are held hostage by word, character, and line limits. If “…music is a doorway to the living consciousness of other people,” then conversation is the laid path that we are supposed to take our time traveling together, “brightening the chain of friendship” (Ganter 128).

So why did I make the choice to write this awkwardly disjunctive introduction? Firstly, I am an awkward person. The other reason is people should not be taken at face/website value. If I did not read his papers and/or make an appointment to speak to Dr. Ganter, I would have never moved past his degrees and list of academic work, I would have never found out that Dr. Ganter took a class taught by Allen Ginsberg, and I would have never found out that he went to school with a former professor, now a recent colleague of mine, Dr. Christopher Hobson. I would have missed a lot of things.

Work Cited
  • Ganter, Granville. “Make Your Minds Perfectly Easy: Sagoyewatha and the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee”. Early American Literature: Volume 44, Number 1. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. 121-146. Web.
About Steve Mentz 1265 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and the blue humanities at St. John's in New York City.


  1. A nice post, Daniel, & I’m glad you and Dr. Ganter got to meet. A very minor point: please give a full citation for the article you cite, just in case someone else wants to track it down. A link would be helpful also, if possible.

  2. Following up on the last point here — you emphasize the value of human conversation as opposed to just web trawling, but I wonder if you aren’t really suggesting that these two forms of communication supplement each other. You need the basic web info to find Dr Ganter’s office, to start with, and also to help you get ready to enter the conversation. In general, I think it’s important for us to remember that all sorts of forms of media — -e-media, print media, in-person conversations, etc — are not competing against each other but working in a sometimes competitive but often supplementary relationship. As was historically true after the arrival of the printing press in Europe, it produced a massive increase in manuscript publication as well as print publication.

  3. Yay awkwardness! Daniel, your comment on awkwardness reminded me of the grassroots turned viral mega-hit webisode series: “The Misadventures of the awkward black girl.”

    I’m sure it will resonate with anyone who has ever felt awkward/did not live up to their racial stereotype and it’s really, really funny.

    I like the Dr. Mentz’s point about different types of media bleeding into each other. I sometimes feel that the classroom space still treats technologies/technological conversations as something disparate from academia. Academic blogs notwithstanding, why can’t we incorporate external forms of dialogue into the classroom conversation (a la social networking, personal narratives, unorthodox forms of communication)?

    I get jealous of old school theorists who went to school in the pre-internet era (No disrespect to anyone who fits into this category…I went to high school in a hazy dial-up era if it makes you feel any better!) – the world was their classroom: they could fuse the books they read with the conversations they had with their own autobiography (Ginsberg & Obama fit nicely into this list). Students in this technological era are made to streamline their sources of discourse into very discrete realms.

    My larger point is why does our relationship to the world not spill into classroom dialogue? I like Dr. Ganter’s idea of a “collective pedagogy” and since we all live in our own little bubble with our own little theses, I’m wondering what our class’ pedagogy would be?

    Lastly, this weekend I had the pleasure of covering the New York City Wine & Food Festival at the Dream Downtown hotel. The hotel was littered with copious pics of Jean-Paul Basquiat – I found that quite curious. Hipster posturing? Probably, Basquiat was made remade trendy post-2009 documentary “Radiant Child” (It’s on Netflix for anyone interested). Acceptable minority posthumous branding? Maybe, Basquiat is a recognizable enough figure and since I saw those pictures, I now think of him and Dream Downtown hotel in the same sentence. What struck me is what I think Basquiat stood for (I’m not sure if that was what Dream Downtown hotel was going for) – he literally inscribed his pedagogy all over New York and his art. He fused various forms of discourse into the same format. Not to wax poetic about Basquiat, but why is this not taking place now? Or am I just not seeing it?

    P.S.: GG rocks.

  4. Thank you all for the great comments so far, and for the thought provoking discourse. I think that the inclusion of other medias is important to learning about/starting the conversation. But, isn’t it possible that if we rely so much on the media that we don’t leave room for spontaneously catalytic spaces of learning and growth? Being over prepared can stifle a person’s ability to think on their feet, if and when the moment arises.

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