© Raymond Gozzi and Figure/Ground Communication
Dr. Gozzi was interviewed by Laureano Ralon on August 5th, 2012
Raymond Gozzi is Associate Professor at Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY. Dr. Gozzi regularly publishes a short column on metaphors in ETC. A Journal of General Semantics, which he has done since the early 1990’s. He has published two academic books: New Words and a Changing American Culture (1990), and The Power of Metaphor in the Age of Electronic Media (1999). He also published an article with Lance Haynes, in Critical Studies in Mass Communication: Electric Media and Electric Epistemology: Empathy at a Distance (1992). He also mediates every week in Ithaca City Small Claims Court.
How did you decide to become a university professor? Was it a conscious choice?
I had a dream. It was back in the early 1980’s. I was about 38 years old. I had just ended a seven-year relationship with a woman in Montana, and just finished up a technical writing job with a software company. I was back home in Amherst, MA. “What should I do next?” And I had this dream. A very young boy with glasses said to me, “God wants you to be a college professor.” So that was it.
Who were some of your mentors in university and what were some of the most important lessons you learned from them?
I wound up in the Communications Department at UMass, Amherst. I was very lucky, the ‘80’s was a lively time in the department. They gave me a lot of freedom, being an older graduate student with teaching experience. They put me in the classroom very quickly. I must say nobody really mentored me. I got to see two different examples of how to advance your career. One prof latched onto all sorts of different projects, many by graduate students, and got his name attached to the resulting articles. Rather a frenzied approach. Another group of profs just took their own paths, contributing to the larger conversation but in their own way. I have followed this second group, people like Vernon Cronen and Jane Blankenship.
In your experience, how did the role of university professor “evolve” since you were an undergraduate student?
I think the students have evolved more than the faculty. Not necessarily in a desirable way. Attention span is now around 20 minutes. I find I can hold a classes attention for about 20 minutes. But that is it—then there is a need for a change. I often give them a three minute break in a fifty minute class. Then we do something else—look at a video, discuss something else—they are very good at following many different strands.
What makes a good teacher today? How do you manage to command attention in an age of interruption characterized by attention deficit and information overflow?
Actually I just wrote a short article for ETC. about the new generation gap. I participated in the first generation gap, back in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Now I find myself on the other side—the older folks who are disturbed by what the youngsters are doing. They are always hooked into their cell phones, and checking on the latest Facebook posts, constantly distracted from their actual lives. I tell them they will eventually hit a wall with this kind of life, and in their mid-thirties they will chuck it all and go live in a monastery in India.
What makes a good teacher today? You need to have something to say, a point to every section of a class. I do worry about what can stick in young people’s memories, with this constant distraction. I deal with this by having several themes for each course, which we learn at the start, and then constantly refer back to them all semester. Also I think these kids are over-tested, I am moving to all take-home exams.
What advice would you give to aspiring university professors and what are some of the texts young scholars should be reading today?
If you love doing research and piling up lots of publications, then aim to go to a big research university. If you love teaching students, and dealing with current consciousness, then go to a smaller teaching oriented school. In any case, you should love doing it. If you do not love it, find something else that you do love.
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan declared, in reference to the university environment that, “departmental sovereignties have melted away as rapidly as national sovereignties under conditions of electric speed.” This claim could be viewed as an endorsement of interdisciplinary studies, but it could also be regarded as a statement about the changing nature of academia. Do you think the university as an institution is in crisis or at least under threat in this age of information?
Department sovereignties have not melted away, and you will ignore these at your peril. The university is facing financial problems that appear to be getting worse—these will lead to all sorts of unforeseeable problems. I expect that faculty will work harder for less money.
In 2009, Francis Fukuyama wrote a controversial article for the Washington Post entitled “What are your arguments for or against tenure track?” In it, Fukuyama argues that the tenure system has turned the academy into one of the most conservative and costly institutions in the country, making younger untenured professors fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline. In a short, Fukuyama believes the freedom guaranteed by tenure is precious, but thinks it’s time to abolish this institution before it becomes too costly, both financially and intellectually. Since then, there has been a considerable amount of debate about this sensitive issue, both inside and outside the university. What do you make of Fukuyama’s assertion and, in a nutshell, what is your own position about the academic tenure system?
I think the tenure system is precious as a platform of intellectual freedom. I would put up with all kinds of shortcomings to protect this freedom. The alternative is a corporate department where everyone toes the party line from the administrative bosses.
At Ithaca College, you teach a Senior Seminar on the effects of Mass Media. What literature informs your seminar? How are the effects of Mass Media similar or different from the effects of media studied by Medium theory and Media Ecologists?
I actually haven’t taught that seminar in several years. I think the current media environment fulfills many of the worries of the Media Effects researchers: a scary world where people imitate media behaviors more and more. The consciousness of young people does not distinguish well between media and “real” events. I think the Media Effects work is useful for academics to know, but the more all-encompassing Media Ecology approaches will be more fruitful. What literature to use? This is a problem.
You have written a book entitled The Power of Metaphor. How does your take on Metaphor differ from, say, Lakoff and Johnson and the “Metaphors We Live By”?
Thanks for bringing up my book. Very few people have read it, which is quite common in academe. But with the editing of Lance Strate, I think we came up with a very clear and Media Ecological description of what is happening in our culture. If people would only read the first 43 pages of The Power of Metaphor in the Age of Electronic Media, they would have a really useful framework.
Basically, electronic media have provided new descriptions of the world, which have come into conflict with the existing descriptions of the world provided by print culture. This conflict has generated a need for metalanguages, such as postmodernism, semiotics, deconstruction, to discuss what is happening. For example, McLuhan was an active producer of metalanguages, see the quote in the following question.
In Understanding Media (1964) McLuhan claims that “all media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms” (p. 57). Would it be fair to say that the philosophy of language, so in vogue in the 1970s and 1980s, has been assimilated by what is nowadays called the philosophy of information?
I don’t know. Philosophies of information that I have seen wind up with numbers. This is loved by the technologists, but I do not see how this really helps us out. Philosophies of language have only limited coherence. I think we are trying to sort out a cultural change which is enveloping our lives—the transition into an electronic media environment. We need to be aware of how everything in our lives is being changed by this. I think we will eventually sort this out, with the aid of new insights and metalanguages. Unless, of course, Iran and Russia disable our electrical systems. Then all our lives will be quite different.
What are you currently working on?
I am continuing my interest in Jacques Ellul. I am closely reading a part of a book which contains transcripts of seminars Ellul gave in 1974. The book is Jacques Ellul on Freedom, Love, and Power, edited and translated by Willem H. Vanderburg. I am not sure what will come from this, but I have found that if I follow what I think is important and interesting, the time is never wasted.
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