Sunday, December 16, 2007

In a sort of mourning

Sadly I report the theft of my laptop--a 2005 powerbook pro. :-( I had just about all of the data backed up, but now I can't really work at home and more than anything else, I miss my slim, silver mac. I hadn't realized the extent to which I was really sort of living in that machine. I guess I really have become post-human. Score for Katherine Hayles.

The most tiresome additional irritant is that I need a laptop for my next Rotterdam trip in early January. Since we have renter's insurance, I could replace it, but I've heard Apple will release a cool, new little 13" aluminum-cased notebook with a flash drive instead of optical, at the MacWorld Expo in mid-January. This is exactly what I've been wanting--a smaller, lighter Mac. So I don't want to buy something now, I want to wait.

If only I could find a Mac rental joint in Rotterdam.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I spend all my time on scheduling...

Some of the people I've started to know on Facebook are Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx, otherwise known as Ubermorgen. We've talked about all kinds of things, from our kids, to the joys of Ikea, to what motivates our work. And we spend a lot of time sending each other drinks and throwing sheep and all the silly Facebook stuff.

So now I'm trying to arrange for them to come and speak at our school. Of course one reason is that their work is cool--I loved "Vote Auction," for example, and I think it would be great to feature such amazing reality hackers here. But also I just like them and while Facebook is fun and all, and skype is pretty good (assuming Hans gets his audio working ;-) ) still none of it beats meeting in person. So hopefully we will work something out for early spring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tiny update on a European meet-up

So now I've been talking to Paweł about this plan, because everyone (well, ok, all three people) I spoke with from SFRA about European members said "you should ask Paweł about that." Of course I could have guessed that already, but he was away. I didn't guess that he would be the only person... but this can happen in smaller groups; if someone appears to be interested and willing to own some issue, others may assume that they can leave it all to that person. This happens to me all the time around tech-y stuff at my school. In my college (Humanities and Social Sciences, people now think of me as resident tech-head, so they refer everything about that to me.

Anyway, Paweł is also interested in helping and so far he and Sandor both agree that the Netherlands would be a good location. So I guess we will really try to make something happen there next July. :-) I was bummed that the change in venue meant a change in guests--maybe we can get Zoran Zivković to attend our gathering instead. That would be nice, since I just got a bunch of his books! I had been planning a paper about him and John Crowley and magical realism (or something like that), and I had been loathe to give it up, even when I thought I could get to the moved SFRA '08. (Before they announced the date change.)

So, more about this as it develops...

Monday, November 26, 2007

More Con. scheduling...

And the San Diego Comic Con is July 24-28. Normally I wouldn't mind missing it; but Tart will be 10 years old and we plan to celebrate. And Connie Willis is a guest. I love her SF. Argh. Once I was so used to living on a shoestring that didn't know what I'd do if I had piles of money. Now I know exactly what I'd do with some; travel without worrying about whether dates and locations were all coordinated!

And now there's a chance I could attend an SF Masterclass in London from 6/20-6/22. It's tough; earlier (late June to mid July) works better for me personally, but doesn't work so well for some of the people I'm trying to work with in the NL. But we'll see.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

European Science fiction meet-up

Ok, so my going to SFRA 08 is not looking so good, unless I get major grant money. But we'll see. I and my partner in crime have had several discussions about investing in our own research, so maybe... In any case, I've been talking a bit to Sandor Klapcsik (who doesn't seem to have a webpage anywhere) about how to increase European participation and the sort of vicious circle that can occur because if you don't have a European event, it's hard to get people involved, but if a lot of people aren't already involved, it's hard to have an event. Because I already think that meeting in person is crucial, I am going to try organizing some kind of meeting next summer, probably in early July, so it won't conflict with SFRA. While we may have some scholarly discussion, my main hope is that people connect sufficiently that we are inspired to collaborate and more people get involved with SFRA. Maybe I'll do something like the Barcamp held recently in Rotterdam. In fact, that might be just the thing, only for two days. Maybe Worm would even be a good space, if Hajo were willing. Hmmmn. The question would be finding inexpensive housing for everyone. Rotterdam is less expensive, but hotels anywhere...ideally I'd find university dorm rooms or something like that.

Before deciding though I will talk to Paweł and see what he thinks, since he seems the resident authority on the European SF scene. --And I'll just gloat for a minute that now another scholar has joined Facebook at my instigation. Mwahahahah. How long can I resist having my vampire bite him... ;-)

Well, I'll post updates here, as plans solidify.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Embodied experience and the post-conference buzz

I'm not sure if it's true for everyone, but I notice that starting by the end of my first day at a conference and lasting for weeks after, I often have so much more energy for writing than usual, even though I've keeping long hours and maybe having drinks as well. So what accounts for that?

On one of the now numerous email lists of which I'm member, someone posted about how interacting face to face always creates some energy that flows around between people. I'm not sure if that's always true; sometimes socializing can be a bit of a strain, if for some reason it feels awkward. But on the whole, I think that's right. Whenever I go to conferences and meet even one person I really connect with, I'm energized. Once I've made these connections, I can usually solidify and sustain them through a combination of email and skype, facebook messaging (and playing) and so on. I even find these virtual contacts energizing, if I have real conversations. And lately I've experienced something of that energy even with people I've never met in person, but in those cases I also feel an even more urgent wish to meet in person.

But I think there is something about physical presence that so far can't be replicated or replaced by any virtual modes of contact. In a way it's like falling for someone in that there's a a similar feeling of immediate connection, of excitement, except it's over a different kind of prospect; an intellectual potential, rather than romantic. --Or maybe romantic too, for some people. ;-) Or maybe only I feel this way. Most academics would hesitate to admit this, even if they felt it, I think, because though even porn is starting to be accepted as a subject for study, it's still not really ok to talk about being motivated in our own work by pleasure, other than the most intellectual and abstract. I think that so many academics are suddenly not only joining Facebook but also getting really involved in it is that it allows expression of some of that same kind of pleasure that we experience when meeting in person.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Conference scheduling conflicts. Bleah.

I don't travel all that much, and because of that I generally only attend conferences about intersections of tech and culture, so you'd think it would be fairly easy to avoid conflicts... but no. Having just joined the SFRA, I was happy to learn that the 2008 conference, which is held during summers, would be in Dublin because I already have plans to be on that side of the Atlantic in late June-Early July. Unfortunately, thanks to the plummeting dollar, the organizers shifted the conference to the states, to Kansas. If it was even on the East coast, I might have been able to work something out... (or if my school had anything approaching reasonable levels of support for travel).

Well, so, now I'm investigating if there are any other SF conferences that are being held in Europe during the time I plan to be there, but so far all I can find listed anywhere are conventions that don't include scholarly presentations. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Favorite foods and identity

During my visit to Portland (Maine) I enjoyed the chance to eat many of the foods that are hard to find in my little Central Valley city. I had sushi, Indian food, organic pizza and of course lobster, plus lots of different microbrew beers. Of course, Portland isn't as diverse as some cities; it's relatively small and for a long time has been rather homogenous, though that is changing. This got me thinking about my own collection of favorites foods; those associated with places I've lived or visited, and those that I've loved so well that I search them out or learn to make them wherever I go.

Food is one of the most popular identity markers; it can identify very easily and precisely an ethnic and/or geographic affiliation, but it's generally "harmless" and unlikely to draw fire the way physical description or linguistic characteristics often do. I think this is because even though it often signals a certain background, it's also a matter of taste. Anyone could develop a taste for durian (at least theoretically) or haggis, or salty licorice; or more readily perhaps, for mooncakes, dolma, pierogies... well I could go on and on and on.

And this is where (one place) identity becomes interesting. Because you can run right into the fact that on some level, people believe in the biology, even if intellectually they know race is a construct. On the one hand, people will proffer food preferences as evidence of belonging to a certain group and agree that it is some kind of evidence, but try saying that someone blonde and blue-eyed is Chinese because he/she love duck's tongue, speak both Shanghahua and Putonghua (Mandarin) and even was raised in China. Then forget it.

Or, by contrast, European countries. I could learn a language, love the food, and adopt the appropriate name and I'd blend right in, at least in many places. Apart from the legal definitions, how many years until I can call myself Dutch or Italian or Polish or whatever? Some people might say now amount of time is enough to erase the difference. Then of course you have the US and Canada (not sure about Australia or the UK) Where theoretically anyone can become Canadian (if you don't mind a process that takes years) and at least officially no one can say they aren't real Americans or Canadians no matter what they look like, like to eat or language they are able to speak. So where does that leave definitions based on physical characteristics or geographical background?

I got into this tangle with students at MIT once where they were talking about the assumption that most students there are Asian. This led to the following exchange:

I asked "Asian, or Asian American?"
"Well, not American. I mean, look at this class, there are actually only a few Asians. Most are American"
"But Derek is from California, not Asia. And Alex, George, Maria, and Christian are all from from Europe. How are you defining American? Do you mean white?"

And here we would have had an uncomfortable silence except the European students were insulted that they had been mistaken for Americans and were only too happy to clear that up. :-)

So what does it really mean to be from a culture or country? How many years does it take and which ones? At MLA a few years ago, everyone was arguing over who got to claim Ang Lee; Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, or the US. On a more serious note, what about Israel? What definition of that state will really hold up? What definition of any state is more than an arbitrary legal code, these days?

And here I thought I was just going to write about how settlement patterns are reflected in food and how I missed the Northeast and the wide variety of European food available there. (and Asian, but that being absent here hasn't as much to do with settlement patterns as with class, I think). But I think academics often end up in the position of not feeling really firmly bound to any single locale or identity, because we go where the graduate program or the fellowship or the job takes us. And we go to conferences all over as well. I at least have ended up with a hodgepodge accent and a similarly disparate taste in food.

--I also was quite spoiled as a grad student in Amherst, Ma. Within a 5 mile radius (all covered by bus routes) I could eat decent, and often really good, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, Moroccan, Indian, German, Greek, Polish... I think I most miss the Moroccan and Polish food because I've had less luck finding it elsewhere than the other cuisines. Sigh. In Ma. I could get freshly made pierogies any time and now I can't even find them frozen!

Well this post is going nowhere, but I guess it had to go somewhere so I could stop thinking about it. --Assuming that writing it here acts as a form of exorcism! ;-)

I don't know if this bothers other academics(or others who move a lot) but I've always kind of liked it. I've never minded, and now might even say I enjoy being a little (or a lot) alien.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

SLSA Wrap-Up First attempt

I say first because I suspect I will have more to say about thoughts provoked by this conference as time goes on, but I have to start (or rather end) somewhere.

After the last plenary we all agreed there should be food and much drinking and we agreed to eat at Flatbread, the best pizza place in town. --They are a very small chain, maybe 6 places in ME, NH, and VT. Then we'd find a comfy bar and settle in, since the weather was getting nasty and no one was up for pub crawling. As we walked from the museum, it was cold, rainy and some of the party decided we need to swing by the Holiday Inn, so we did. At that point Istvan and Sherryl said they need to go right on because they were meeting people, but they didn't know the way. And here I was just stupid; I didn't take them into Holiday Inn to call a cab for them. Instead I decided to walk them over, and the others said they'd catch up soon...

Well, it was of course a longer walk than we'd expected, it started to sleet...we made it at last though and I handed Istvan and Sherryl safely to their party, and happily I ran into Anthony and Christian and crashed their plans. --And met more nice people, including Mark Marino. So I had the amazing uncured fennel sausage pizza--one of my favorites from Flatbread. But, I was rather irritated at not reconnecting with everyone else for drinks because I liked them a lot and this would be a lousy way to conclude our meeting. Finally, I managed to track down a number and find out that they were all just parked at the Holiday Inn (which I still think was just silly. ;-) ) and Christian and I decided to trek back over. So we did, and had more drinks and when the bar closed at 1am it still felt too early and rather anti-climactic, but we made our farewells and went off.

And then those of us all in the Portland Harbor Hotel (me and some of the SFRA folk) agreed to meet for brunch, which made me feel a bit better.

Brunch was delicious (lobster Florentine omelet) and we talked more, this time about what we were working on back at our respective schools, and even started talking about possible collaborations, future conferences and so on. And then I guess we still didn't want to split up because we all went to the airport together, even though our flights weren't that close. --But maybe it was just me; hard to tell when you've only just met someone.

So that's my first attempt and judge from it being such a bare-bones chronology now, I know I'll have a lot more to say later.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Brian Massumi at SLSA

“Signs of Danger: The Political Ontology of Threat”

This was quite a talk. Massumi set out, step by step, the arguments used by Bush and his cronies to justify war in both Afghanistan and Iraq and every other vile act they've committed. And as was lucidly explained, the same trick was used every time: a feeling of threat was created based on what bin Laden/Hussein/terrorists would do if they could. This equation can't be denied with factual evidence because it exists always in a speculative future--no WMDs? Well they would have had them if they could have. No evidence of terrorist acts by those prisoners in Guantanamo? They would have done it if they could have.

The way Massumi described the tactics was often extremely funny, but often I felt I was laughing more in pain than amusement, especially when remembering how hard people worked against our going into Iraq and how that accomplished exactly nothing. In the end though, I hoped he would say something about how humor operated in or against this dynamic of fear, and there was even a question about that. But he didn't address possible counters, humorous or otherwise, and in a way seemed strangely distant from the whole subject.

After this talk, everything was over, the weather was foul and we tried to regroup for dinner and many drinks, as we'd been vowing to really enjoy since Thursday, leading to another sort-of adventure, but that's another story.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Finally news on my blogging chapter, and identity projects more genrally

Quick burst of good news: finally I've heard from the editor of International Blogging; it's coming out from Peter Lang in 2008 and my chapter will be the conclusion. :-) A draft of the intro is here.

It's weird; I wrote this so long ago and now that it's appearing, my work has moved on in another direction, focusing much more on participation, subversive cultures, and on the institutionalization of discourse around new media. I still work on identity, just not so much national identity by itself. I look at it in other contexts, like in comics, or genre fiction, or video games. Just recently I was searching for articles on this, and found some entries in Henry Jenkins' blog that discuss comics and games and national identity in Poland, which he visited in 2006.

He goes on in later entries to also talk about Russia, Japan, and globalization, but I haven't gotten to those yet. But anyway, he mentions a series generally referred to as the "Witcher" books that sound like I might like them, but they don't seem to be out in English or maybe just not in the US. I'd really like to see what reviewers mean about the stories incorporating national characteristics. The author, Andrzej Sapkowski, seems cool; he even has links to fanfiction--one of the few words I could decipher, since the site is in Polish. But here's another page with some info in English.

Where was I? Oh yeah, identity in genre fiction. Right, so I think I will have to take that up pretty soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Back to SLSA -- Code Play panel

Ok, backing up to talk about what I think was actually the last panel I saw. Speaking were Dene Grigar, Jamie Bono, and, well, I'll get to that later. I'll go out of order...Dene spoke about an interactive kinesthetic system she and others are developing that creates a live game space that they are trying to use in a pedagogical way. The original system was used in dance clubs (and looked really fun for that). The presentation basically described the system, but I would have liked to hear more about how they had actually tried using it. At the end, even though Paweł tried to ask about what kinds of classes or material would work with the system or not, we still didn't get much more detail. I think though that while the right design the system's application beyond obvious subjects and categories, still some kinds of knowledge and classes work better as, say, discussions, or through textual exchanges.

Jamie argued that players who searched out and used cheat codes were little different from scholars who engaged in close reading and who used esoteric textual knowledge to glean further, new, and richer knowledge of the text. That's an interesting proposition and I wish Jamie had gone through just a few examples and really traced the parallels. But as often happens to people speaking about their dissertations, the details (of user behavior in this case) overwhelmed the larger structure some, which I think led to our grilling Jamie at the reception later, wanting further explication.

The most interesting point, I think is the relation between the game authors (!) and players. Clearly those creating the games do deliberately plant easter eggs, trapdoors, and so on, and they rely on gamers to find these hidden treasures and figure out how to exploit them. But more than that, the desire for gamer to play games that contain these kinds of elements have shaped game design--really I wish Mirko had heard this talk; it's right up his alley.

Finally the talk I thought would be most interesting, about how we exist in an info-cloud and where the borders between ourselves and others lie in the all of the communities in which we participate. Now this sounded like it fit right right in with my work, so I was really looking forward to it. Well, the speaker spent the first 20 minutes defining list after list of terms that were all just for background info. Then, in the last 5 minutes or so, he raced through about 20 more slides of what looked like the heart of the talk so quickly that I couldn't even read one word. And I read pretty fast. So I was completely irritated. Thanks goodness it was the last talk (except for Massumi) and I had the reception and pleasant conversation to help revive me.

And by the way, there's a tenure-track job to fill in my department.

You can read all about it here. The ad is a bit weird and apparently has not made clear how much we need someone who really knows their tech. writing and who knows something about teaching with tech, tech as a cultural object...

Of course we also mention creative writing and TESOL. Sigh. Well, look for yourself.

We interrupt this broadcast of SLSA fun...

After spending the last two days "putting out fires" in the comp. program thanks to our usual scheduling nightmare, I am now even more behind, dammit. So of course I spent an hour this afternoon reading back issues of the SFRA Review newsletter. And over an hour skyping with a friend on what started as the problems in the introduction to his dissertation and which ended with a much more interesting, but perhaps not as urgent discussion of why video porn, and a lot of netporn especially, is so boring and yet still addictive to the people who watch it--which rarely includes me, but (apparently always) includes him. Also porn and participatory culture, which is also now being discussed on one of the many email lists to which I subscribe, this one for the Institute of Distributed Creativity. And if I want to write run-ons or sentence fragments, I will. grrr.

OK. So maybe more conference news tonight.

Or maybe more scheduling nightmare, since it turns out that the office that's supposed to report to us every term how many courses (minimum) each non-tenured instructor should have, which changes every term, sent us a spreadsheet so poorly designed and labeled, that we ended up using the wrong figures entirely. Which means completely redoing the schedule and recalling all the offers we just made to these teachers. I hate scheduling!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Finally, an open bar!

Finally, an open bar!
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Here are lots of thirsty conference goers...and look, Brian Massumi in the back!

This was actually a very nice reception, and I just wish we had had longer to talk before the final plenary, or that the plenary had come first--probably a better plan, given the open bar....

SLSA Saturday evening reception

After the last Saturday panels, there was a nice reception at the Portland Museum of Art. I went over with Paweł and some other SFRA folks; once there we found Istvan, Sherryl, Ed Chang and everyone, actually. We continued talking to Jamie Bono about video game cheat codes...I realize now that I forgot to describe that panel. Damn, now it will be out of sequence...well, anyway.

People had another good chance to talk and I had the feeling that we had all finally been there long enough and gotten to know some people enough that really good conversations were underway--so of course it was the last evening. So, right, cheat codes. We reached something of an impasse on whether or not searching for and using cheat codes should be compared to close reading and/or digging into textual history, partly because we had never spelled out what we meant by close reading and partly because (I think) we were all rather conferenced-out and possibly a little buzzed. I think I need to ask Jamie for a copy of whatever he's actually written on this so far.

Also at this point it was clear that people had settled on who they were hanging out with at the conference--I mean, that while this probably happened by the end of the first day, I could actually see it at this reception. Because this conference was small enough that we all saw each other every day, and because most people went to most sessions, we soon recognized most of the faces. So it was pretty easy to see that the same people were together in panels or at receptions, lunches, and so on.

I find this interesting because I realized some time ago that most professional collaborations began as friendships, or at least between schoolmates, and often between people who were romantically involved. You may be thinking "what about the internet? Doesn't that make it easy to connect?" Actually, I heard a quite convincing talk at New Network Theory in which a study of scientific collaboration had found that they largely occurred between people in close proximity, or who had at least one face two face meeting that began the relationship.

So when these groups form at a conference, I'd bet that within 6 months we could spot the professional results, if we looked for them. I think the need to meet in person suggests something interesting about the importance of embodied experience. More on this after I report on Massumi.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More on SLSA -- Zippy the Pinhead and Will Eisner

Saturday--another full sleight of panels though I missed the 8:30am strand thanks to the primitive business center at the Holiday Inn. Having been convinced by Paweł and the combined charm of the other SFRA-ers to join, I saved the html form to my computer, edited it, saved it to a usb drive, and figured I could print and mail it at the conference... Well, the old PC was not thrilled with my "high-speed removable storage" since it only had low-speed usb ports, and then the printer to which the computer was connected had a jam. So finally I had to email it to a woman working on the other computer which was connected to another printer... And then I had to walk 4 blocks to the post office for a stamp...

Really it was ridiculous, but by then my rare but powerful stubbornness was fully engaged and I was determined to send that damned form. Which I did, but at the cost of a whole session. Nice walk though.

So the next round I saw was themed around Cartoon Images. The first speaker, Ellen Grabiner, presented "Wild About the Box: The Disruptions of Zippy the Pinhead." This was a really good talk. Not only did Grabiner make interesting point about the way creator Bill Griffith plays with visual conventions in order to subvert our narrative and linguistic expectations in a humorous way; raise real ontological questions; and challenge visual conventions of the comix medium, but I love Zippy and she picked great, hilarious examples. Combining solid analysis with humor is no mean trick. And I think a number of the other people in the audience hadn't encountered Zippy before, and it was nice to see how much they enjoyed it.

Next was a paper by Chris Couch, "The Geometry of Emotion: Doorways in Will Eisner's Comics." I was interested to hear that Chris had been part of Kitchen Sink Press and now was teaching Comp Lit at UMass Amherst, where I did my MA and PhD. Kitchen Sink was such a cool press, not least for their support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the once embodied Words and Pictures Museum of Northampton. (That was such a great place; I spent so much time entranced by the rotating exhibits and there that I first saw the ever-so-cool Devil Girl chocolate... anyway he quite an interesting talk, once he got going. It was a pretty straightforward analysis of window/door/portal images in Will Eisenberg's comics, which was cool (if only because comics were treated exactly like any other subject of art historical study).

My only quibble is that I didn't really see the science connection, or the code, or anything that connected this paper to SLSA. (Unless we are just going to say the portal metaphor is code enough.) But I suppose it doesn't matter too much, because it was really informative lecture on Eisner--I'll edit this later to add just a few more details on that, after I locate my notes... :P

Finally, the last presenters were talking about I don't know what--nuclear bombs, bio-art, fruit flies, mutations...they spent way too much time on the fruit flies and not nearly enough on the main point. They shall remain nameless.

Monday, November 5, 2007

SF panel 1 at SLSA

SF panel 1 at SLSA
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Here we see some post-talk discussion. The panels at SLSA all lasted longer than normal, which was great when they only had 3 people on them. There was ample time for questions and since most panels had at least 8 people attending, this was actually useful.

The SF panels were quite good and since many of the interesting SF talks (like Paweł's here) were from people who were in SFRA, I have to think seriously about attending that conference.

Paweł spoke about Digitized consciousness in Cyberpunk, specifically focusing on Richard Morgan's work. It was a really good close reading (for a change!) because Paweł gave a sufficient introduction the the main things we needed to know about the books to follow the argument, then managed a good balance between general claims and specific examples and explanations, and then made clear why understanding what Morgan was doing is useful. --Because Morgan reinstates the body in the Cyberpunk genre in which it has been traditionally deprecated. And, even better, we learn that one reason for Morgan's doing this is (probably) his Marxist beliefs that of course lead him to think that material circumstances, including embodiment, are of inescapable importance. The economic and political aspects of this fiction sound really cool, and after wards Paweł was raving (a little) about Morgan in the way I know I do about authors I think are just the best, so now I will have to read him for sure. (Follow up: started Woken Furies and really like it. Look for a review in Tart next month.)

The next panel I went to had papers about SciFi heavy metal; the way Shelley's Frankenstein and Huxley's Brave New World are used in debates over cloning; and about the way gadgets are used in films to represent cognition (essentially).

The heavy metal presentation was clear in the way it explained how lyrics, compositional choices, and visual style were used to communicate fears and hopes about technology, but I wish there had been a bit more explanation of the "so what" aspect. I mean,what does this tell us about ourselves, about heavy metal, about our experiences of and attitudes toward technology? Some of that came out in questions, but should have been part of the conclusion, I think.

The cloning discussion was a quite good rhetorical analysis of public debate over cloning--if I were still at MIT it would have been a perfect text for my science writing class. In particular, two important tropes were explored: the monster in society -- the mere existence of a clone will destroy us -- and society as monstrous -- cloning means we have turned into the hellish thing we feared. (And as a corollary will of course enslave and otherwise mistreat the poor clones.)

Finally, a presentation about the brain and memory being represented as a file system and video clips in many many films. Most interesting points: this represents a focus on use rather than architecture, and "gadgets are a technology of the imagination for ordering the imagination."

After this panel, there was another reception at which I hung out with Paweł, Christian, and Sherryl Vint (for who I can't find a personal website, so far) and I think this is where I also first met Istvan Csicsery-Ronay...but no, we were introduced at some point earlier...well anyway. Then we went in to see N. Katherine Hayles. Since she gave the exact same speech as when I saw her at Utrecht, I won't go over it again. Paweł and I muttered a little about that as she hit each familiar point, while trying to stay awake. --The latter got easier when they turned on air-conditioning and it got really chilly. I guess I don't really see anything wrong with it; no one else ever heard it before and it's a pretty good talk.

I was then swept up into a mob of the SFRA folks and we went for Indian food. Really good conversation with Istvan, Paweł, and Jason Ellis. Really glad to have met Istvan and had the chance to talk politics, SF, and teaching, all in the same conversation. This makes me realize how much I miss being able to do that most of the time.

Finally we washed up at the Holiday Inn bar for some drinks and more talking, and so ended the day.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

SLSA 2007 -- Thursday Evening plus Friday Panels

Ok, time to catch up a little. Thursday evening I went to eat with Anthony (my roomie and former colleague from MIT), Paweł (see previous post) and Christian Ulrik Andersen who was in the audience. We had a pretty good dinner and excellent beer at (I think) 3 Dollar Dewey's. Everyone was pretty tired (though I was still on CA time + much coffee) but we went back to the reception. In fact, Paweł, Christian and I, and Rut Jesus, who turned out to be studying in Copenhagen like Christian had done, closed the evening. It was a good conversation.

This conference is turning out very well in that there are so many people here who like tech and lit. and art, and SF. Why did I not know about them years ago? I'm not going to the European SLSA in Berlin 2008, and I'm not even sure I will do SLSA next fall because I only do 2-3 conferences a year now and have to be picky. So while this one was cool, I'll only go to the next if I know some friends will also go again as well. The European one could be in some ways easier because at least it's in the summer.

Anyway, Friday panels. I saw one on Alchemy which was a bit dry--too much time just reviewing images and not enough on the big picture, but at least admitted the influence of Arabic texts, which made me happy. Then a paper on Marcel Duchamp (how was this alchemical?) with an interesting discussion of the alternate identities he created. But, little discussion of how these were related to sexual identities that could not be openly revealed or to more recent instances of alternate identities, like Audacia Ray for example. I left during the last paper because I just couldn't stand to watch the speaker clutching his paper, standing in front of his own projected images...

Then I had lunch with Anthony and Christian -- really good Sushi. Paweł went to review his paper as he was speaking in the first afternoon panel. We were late getting back to SLSA, so I missed the first speaker on the SF panel I went to, but was in time to see the second speaker and Pawel.

So, Gundula Hachmann was speaking about narrative complexity used to understand theoretical insights in physics. Somehow none of the content really stuck. I think she did too much close reading and not enough connecting of detail to big picture--a really common problem it seems.

Guess I'll break this post into several entries as it just keeps growing....Stay tuned for the rest of Friday.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My Talk on Facebook, Second Life, and Neil Gaiman's Fiction

The next set of panels included my own, so I went to that one. I was speaking about Neil Gaiman's fiction, Facebook and Second Life, trying to elucidate what attracts participants and what keeps them coming back. When I started looking into it I thought it was world-building in a literal sense; people like the imaginative work Gaiman required of them in co-creating his fictional world and they like being ab;e to actually create fictional, often magical, spaces and objects in Second Life. But as I went along, it became clear that actually, people are not in Second Life that much. It seems rather dead most of the time and I really wondered why. At the same time, (as some readers will have noticed) I gut sucked into Facebook, and so did lots of my friends.

It began to seem that the attraction is not about material world-building, but social world-building, and the the way these social worlds feel not quite real encourages transgressive, that is to say, naughty behavior, which of course make them seem really fun. I will post a link to the actual presentation later, but anyway, that was the gist of it and the audience seemed pretty receptive. --Now we'll see how many who said they would have to check out Facebook really do!

Also on my panel was Ed Chang who spoke about World of Warcraft and racial stereotypes. I thought his analysis was right on target and would like to see him take it further to look at how users try to subverts the game's conventions. Paul Youngman did a close reading of a German novel (have to check the title later) and that was good, but a bit dense for the time we had, and maybe for an oral presentation of any length. Also, Ed and I gave these kind of freewheeling talks and audiences always respond more readily to that--it doesn't make them work so hard. But anyway, good questions afterwards and everyone seemed to like my riff on foam and membranes. Thank you Mirko and Bernhard for doing that work so I didn't have to!

By funny coincidence, the panel chair was Paweł Frelik who, it turns out was at Remediating Lit in Utrecht this summer, and even at some of the same panels as I, but we never met. I'm glad we met now because a) he's really cool and smart and good to speak with; b) he loves and teaches SF and I'm glad to meet a fellow traveler; c) he convinced me (like this was soooo hard) to join SFRA. (I spent an f-ing hour on that this morning, thanks to the primitive condition of the Holiday Inn's so-called business center) Anyway, I've been on the verge of joining them for some time and now I have. Maybe I will apply to their conference for next year; the other SFRA-ers I met here are also nice people, so probably I will. Depends also on timing and funding of course...

Now, I must go back to the conference. Probably I will post a little tomorrow from the airport (one of them) But then I'll catch up this week.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Society for Literature Science and the Arts 2007

Today the SLSA 2007 conference began in Portland Maine. For perhaps the first time ever, I will attend all sessions every day of a professional meeting. I suppose I shouldn't admit it, but I make this revelation to illustrate the "high-poweredness" of this year's meeting. Every session has at least one fascinating panel and speakers whose work I know. In fact though, I won't always be attending the famous ones.

So today I went to a panel of two speakers, Vera Bühlmann and Klaus Wassermann, who were both speaking about Deleuze and they were really interesting. In particular Vera's was relevant to my own paper because she was talking about Sloterdijk and he underpins the foam metaphor I was trying to discuss, riffing off what Mirko presented this summer. The most important point was Sloterdijk saying that humans could become anything they could imagine in a sustainable way. Because that's one thing I thing really attracts people to online communities of diff types; they possibility of having a variant identity validated and sustained.

Anyway, more on my panel (which was the very next one) later. Now I head back to the conference.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Appropriate " use of Facebook and similar sites

In a recent talk, Danah Boyd said that she doesn't use these social networking sites the way teenagers do, nor should she. Now the first point is inarguable, but the second struck me as rather odd. I don't see that there is any "should" about it. I mean, call me immature, but while yes, I am studying Facebook and will write about that, I'm also having quite a lot of fun with it.

I spend time sending my friends "drinks," "throwing sheep" at them, plus messaging, sending links, videos, etc. Not to mention playing that goofy vampire/zombie/werewolf/slayer game. In fact, if it weren't for my enjoyment of this new channel for social play, I don't think I'd bother with it at all, though a number of professional and activist groups now have a presence there. That would feel too much like work, and I work all the time anyway.

I'm also trying to explore Second Life, but I find that I'm not very interested in exploring because while the world itself is interesting, since no one I know is there, I'd rather spend my time in virtual locales where I can talk to my friends. Does that make me immature? Is that an inappropriate attitude for a scholar? Well, I don't think so and given who else is on Facebook and using just as playfully as I, I'm pretty confident in my position.

We'll see what happens when I stand up and say this in front of a bunch of other scholars at SLSA this week...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Raving about the Netherlands over at Sequential Tart

See your author re-live her adventures in Rotterdam and enthuse unashamedly about the people she met and sights she saw.

The Netherlands, From A Tart Point of View, Part 2: Rotterdam Culture Crush

This article ended up being a weird mix of your usual travel stuff with far more personal revelations than I had been planning on. Or am entirely comfortable with. But now and then it's happened that I found I was revealing quite a lot of how I felt and decided to go ahead because that reaction was a true reflection of my experience and concealing it would have felt dishonest. So there it is.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Doktor Sleepless, cover #4

Originally uploaded by warrenellis
I love Warren Ellis. He captures contemporary attitudes in such a beautifully snarky way.

The odd thing though, is that if someone made a movie as vile and violent, even if as funny, as one of Warren's typical stories, I'd probably hate it. (well, if it was really so funny, maybe it would be ok; I liked Tank Girl after all, both comic and film.) But my point is that I seem to have no trouble with violence, perversion, or general grossness when it's in a comic book, but in films, I don't like most violence. I guess added abstraction really does make a difference.

Friday, October 12, 2007


So, lately my impression is that Facebook is being used by a lot of people beyond the teenage stereotype. For example, in addition to friends from grad school, and other scholars, artists, and new media hacktivists, there are serious theorists, but most of them are still acting goofy. I just joined the "Critical Theory and Theorists are Hot" group; it has 1685 members, including, for example, Judith Butler. Who actually posts. Granted, I haven't seen her post in the forum about which theorists are hotter, but still.

Also, people connected with the Yes Men, Ubermorgen, Neoism, are all using Facebook. --Actually, I wasn't surprised the neoists are in there; I'm surprised there aren't even more of them. Come on, only 14 Luther Blissetts? --Well, maybe 15, if you count "Luther bin Laden."

With the growing number of applications, some of which give users a surprising amount of control, and the ability to mash their accounts with Plazes, Tripadvisor, and other sites into their profiles, and given that Facebook is going to start offering development grants, I think the site could become like a programming interface for the web, for really naive users.

At least they start as naive. I hope it becomes like a gateway drug which then makes people want more control and let's them gradually learn how to take it. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Call For Papers

I am Co-chairing a conference next spring, Empire: Migrations, Diasporas, Networks, running March 13-15. This is an interdisciplinary conference and this year there is a sub-theme around technology--which covers quite a lot of ground. I'm hoping people will propose papers about technological empires, or resisting them. Or using the internet to enforce or resist national empires. Or maybe about how networks function in, around, against some kind of empire...

Anyway, the full call is here. Submissions are due by Dec. 1, and may be made through our nifty online submission page. I'd be happy to get proposals for full panels too, or creative works that could be performed/exhibited at the conference.

Email for more info!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Final (for now) project proposal

Earlier this month I posted a proposal which did not get accepted for further submission and evaluation. I have to really thank Florian for being quite forthright about completely incoherent the first version was, and asking pointed questions that allowed me to see what needed to be straightened out. So I revised and revised and revised, which isn't always my favorite thing... But this was fun.

If I hadn't been so pressed for time, I would have enjoyed revising even more, but anyway, thanks to Mirko's willingness to spend hours talking me through a revision via Skype, I enjoyed it. Sometimes the hardest part of writing (for me) is just staying at the computer and continuing to write. Having a friend on the line (or in a chat window) really helps. A deep bow to Mirko for that heroic effort. After the extremely helpful feedback from Florian and help with revisions from Mirko and Betsy (one of my colleagues here) I submitted, three drafts later, this:

With the introduction of the Internet and WWW in the 1990s, scholars, artists and activists began a critical engagement with technology. These early adopters were a loose collection of individuals that came out of many fields, including philosophy, literature, film studies, sociology, computer science, and also from outside of the academy; journalists, politicians, artists, activists and business people have participated in this discourse community as well. This diverse group was united by their shared observation of and concern with the effects technology was having on their respective fields.

There were few possibilities then to reflect on new media from a scholarly perspective; instead the issues were debated in popular discourse, in the networks of the early adopters' various fields, and were explored in conferences and festivals. For example, in 1988 Ars Electronica featured contributions from Kittler, Baudrillard, Flusser, and Weibel, each of whom was trying to elucidate what we now commonly describe as new media. But while early scholarship on new media came from traditional fields such as literature, sociology, art and art history, film and media studies (Hayles, Kittler, Castells, Uricchio, Manovich); recently institutionalization has been driven by former members of the early adopter networks entering academia (Fuller, Lovink, Cramer, Juul, Montfort, Rieder, Schaefer, van den Boomen, Terranova).

As this field and its knowledge are crystallizing, the process raises immediate questions: what is the relation between institutionalization and the people, physical things, and symbols in the networks that gave rise to new media? How are institutions constructed that critically reflect on emerging technologies? How is the fluid knowledge shared between participants becoming crystallized, being canonized, such that some groups are included or excluded? And finally, what do we gain and lose in knowledge production through this process?

Because European countries hosted the first networks and festivals devoted to a critical engagement with new media; has invested far more public funding into cultural and academic programs around it; Europe now has far larger, more varied, and more mature institutions producing, studying, and teaching about new media. This diversity makes it fruitful ground for study, but while some cities, projects, people, or organizations have been studied in isolation by pioneers such as Manuel Castells (The Internet Galaxy), Geert Lovink (Dark Fiber) and provide preliminary insight into the institutionalization of new media, no comprehensive studies have yet appeared. I intend a rhetorical analysis of the scholarly discourse on new media in Europe which I will approach as a dispositif. While Foucault applied this concept to historical archives, I propose exploring the human archive embodied in the actor-network of individuals and groups currently working on new media, beginning in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is the best starting point because some of the first university programs in new media began there, and thanks to early and extensive government funding, a wide array of other cultural institutions have developed simultaneously. The Dutch context was originally characterized by heterogenous networks of people, things and symbols that were ad hoc and informal, but now all of these disparate elements contribute to the establishment of formal knowledge, specialization, and the construction of a canon. These activities are a clear sign of institutionalization, which also inevitably involves the development of gate-keeping processes. However, while institutionalization is taking place, the cooperative polder model still shapes socio-economic relations and allows for the continued emergence of new voices and new groups. Thus the whole spectrum of development is available for study.

In addition, the development of new media in the Netherlands allows study of other important questions: how are a loose group of people, the early adopters, who were not at first members of the academy, contributing to the creation of a field, a discourse, and knowledge by running events, funding grants and supporting themselves in the process, and how are they molding what started almost as folk practice into official knowledge, bringing not only their experiences, but their networks into the establishment? New media institutions are developing rapidly and successfully in the Netherlands; which conditions are necessary for fostering and speeding this process as it has happened there?

For this study I have begun visiting and observing a variety of groups, including De Waag Society for Old and New Media, V2_Institute, Worm Rotterdam, and De Geuzen artist collective. Further visits to these institutions have been arranged for the award period, along with observations at the University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies, the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design program, among other academic institutions. Observing this network over time will allow a comprehensive rhetorical analysis, using Burke's pentad to better understand the functioning of actors within these networks, and will yield a better understanding of how knowledge in an emerging field is institutionalized.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why do we all love Facebook?

I've really been wondering about this; all of these friends and I are supposed to have seriously critical attitudes toward Web 2.0 and all that, but were acting just as goofy about Facebook as our own undergrads. This really got me thinking about what is so powerfully attractive that in spite of knowing about the privacy issues, the labor issues (providing content for free, right here...) and all that stuff.

Right from the start I noticed how much the interactions encourages by Facebook remiind me of how my college and/or grad school friends and I used to interact. We saw each other everyday, ate together often, left each other notes, phone messages, were in class together, went to parties together, and spent hours and hours talking about, well, everything. We did know each others favorite movies, music, books, food, color, clothing style. And we knew the "whys" behind every preference.

Now, I've come to realize that I am one of those very social people who will use any channel available. But I wonder how much everyone who has experienced the the kind intense friendships I did in college wishes to regain that kind of connection. During grad school I realized that everyone was getting busier and busier and it was proportionally harder to maintain the intense connections we had enjoyed before we all started to become really "professional."

I'll post some more about this later, after I observe some more... ;-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Facebook Mania

I've had an account on Facebook for awhile and thought it was rather boring, but suddenly some of my friends are joining--all people who study new media things.

The funny thing is that now that were all on there, we are acting just as silly as the obsessive college students about which all the news-stories report. So we send each other virtual high-fives, little "gifts" --just icons-- we post things on each other's profiles. And this is in addition to all the emails, skype calls and chats, etc. etc. Of course this has only been goiing for about a day; maybe we'll all get bored and drop it.

But, and I don't how long these have been available, there are quite few fun applications you can add into your profile, so that's kind of fun too... now if I could just connect it to my SL avatar, I could close the circuit completely.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Oh well...

I did not get nominated. :P

I'm hoping that I end up thinking this is a good thing because the NEH doesn't allow people to apply both for the summer stipends and for some of the other research grants...

Other suggestions of a silver lining are welcome.

Also, I'm still applying for two more external grants and two internal ones, so it's not the end of the road, by a long way. Still feeling pretty cranky about it though...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Her Literacy Narrative

OK, I asked the students in my graduate seminar on teaching composition and literature to write a literacy narrative--the story of how they learned to read and write. Since they wanted an example, here is mine. I first wrote it as part of my dissertation back around 2001. This has been updated to reflect more recent developments. I chose then to write it in third person, which I find still seems good to me, because even now I feel rather alienated from quite a bit of my own writing--so much is done to meet quite rigid criteria. --Grant -writing, for example!

So. Here it is.

From an early age she loved pictures, especially in books that were visually busy, like those by Richard Scarry, or books that described things, like field guides to amphibians. She would pore over these for hours on end, memorizing the pictures and words. She can still remember them, from hellbender, reticulated quartz, to cumulo-nimbus. She grew to think of words as captions, as handles with which to grab bulky trunks of reality. She never did learn to sound out words, as she usually learned the whole word all together, but she learned to fake it for school.
She knew how to read well before starting school, and so was frequently chided for reading ahead in the group assignment or wandering off to hide under a table with books on secret codes, strangler figs, or little boys named Pablo growing up in large, hungry families. The complexity of the world fascinated her, and she loved adding more and more details to the universe growing in her head in the same way she like to add more and more detail to pictures, until she had filled a page with curling tendrils of graphite that were random, but balanced.

Learning to write was odd. She did not like lined paper--books had no lines and the lines felt confining. So she wrote very small, so as to have more room around her on the page, until teachers forced her to only write with crayons so she would have to write large. She shuddered every time she touched a line with her crayon or pencil. She reverted to tininess as soon as possible, which was middle school. One day a teacher insisted on changing the words she wrote because they “didn't make sense.” To her they had been exactly right, but now she can't remember any more her original understanding. She only remembers that it is lost.
At that time, her writing was mostly good, because she rarely talked, but read lots of long novels, like Dracula, and Wuthering Heights. She also read a lot of fantasy and of course, the field guides and dictionaries. Her prose ended up being rather dense and filled with peculiar words like axlotl, pestiferous, and her construction was rather Victorian. The teachers seemed to like it and her. She also was enjoying art class, in which she always had at least one idea to work on and tended to take a long time about finishing up because she wanted her work in the world to exactly match the idea in her head.

In high school she ran into trouble and Some of it had to do with writing. She still was reading very well and always had things to say in class, in spite of dirty looks from her classmates. Unfortunately, the high school teachers did not like her writing. They though her words were finicky, her ideas tangled, her transitions invisible, and since she clearly had read and understood, they thought she was lazy. She did however take a drafting class, where she learned to write very very neatly, which seemed to slightly improve others' attitudes toward the substance of her writing, as well as the form. In English class, she resigned herself to earning Cs.

This unhappy state of affairs continued through all four years, so that in college, in spite of excellent test scores of various types, and an abiding delight in reading, she did not major in English. She majored in biology; lab work was fun and she still got to read things like field guides. Biology turned out to allow little time for electives, and so for a while she switched to anthropology to mask the fact that she was actually taking many art studio and history classes, and aesthetics, and other things her parents felt were not financially wise. These art classes were very helpful because, besides teaching her about art, they taught her about what she now knows as rhetoric. She learned about audience, and context, and how to communicate an interpretation or argument. She learned that while sketchbooks and other kinds of practice are very helpful, drafting is at best a gamble and often an expensive one. Once you strike off a piece of wood or stone when sculpting, you couldn't very well put it back, and starting over took more money (squeezed out of an already tight budget) and usually did not produce the same result. Drafting was best done with little scraps of metal and wood, or inside the head where anything was possible.

Because she liked the professor, she took a class on semiotics and realized that she might have something useful to say about language after all, and English classes could be very good indeed. Perhaps she could then get a job like his in which she was paid to read books she liked and talk about them. So she decided to major in English, figuring that she would work the art in somehow, thus avoiding a potentially traumatic debate with her parents over Job Prospects. Of course, by now she had reached her junior spring, and so she squeezed all of the requirements into three semesters and one summer. As she would often read two-five books in one day for fun, she did not see any difficulty with this plan, except that some of the classes she might want to take might conflict with each other or be unavailable. She majored in English, and though she still had some of the same trouble as in high school, she managed well enough to graduate with moderately good grades. She also enjoyed finally meeting people in class who loved books as much as she did.

After working at a few poorly paying jobs while living at home, she realized that she had to find some work that would pay more and not kill her soul with boredom in the first six weeks. Around that time, she heard that her old high school need substitute teachers. She remembered how cruelly these poor souls had been treated when she was enrolled, but decided that since she knew many of the students already and knew the school rules, she would be safe from the worst difficulties. Over the protests of her youngest sister, who was still in the school, she started teaching, and finally found work she enjoyed. Thoughts of how much better college had been than high school led her to set her sights on being a professor, and thus to head off in search of an advanced degree.
Graduate school was rather a shock.

On the one hand, everyone was interested in reading, and being smart was valued, and professors treated students more like colleagues. On the other hand, some people were afraid of looking stupid, and some people were focused very narrowly, and some people like to argue to make themselves look smart. Like anything, it was neither good nor bad, but it was different from any other experience she had faced, and so was harder in that way. She loved the work—all the reading and analyzing and discussing--and she decided not to worry about looking stupid, or about people whose motives seemed self-aggrandizing. She consciously resolved to resist a narrow focus because it seemed to make people rather sour, and to make new ideas scarce; she also was very stubborn and refused to give up the fun of her comic books and artwork and all the other interests she had accumulated over the years.

At first she studied literature, and everything went pretty well. But after a while she started teaching writing, and took classes about how to do that, and things got very complicated. She studied theories about how writing worked and how it was best to teach, and while they sounded good, none described what worked best for her when she wrote something herself. In fact, her way of writing was not mentioned at all, except sometimes as an example if an immature way to use language. Well, this made her feel rather doubtful of her approach and she gamely tried to adopt the process described in the books and theories. Her writing started disintegrating, and professors were impatient, having the same reaction as those high school teachers, thinking she was just not working very hard.

This was upsetting of course, but as mentioned, she was stubborn and she decided that she did not accept this approach to writing and not only that, she decided to prove her way was just as good, though different. At first she was angry and impassioned, because the more she studied some of these theories about writing, the more she understood that they weren't really about writing, but about thinking. The people making these theories believed that thinking and words became one—at least for any complex topic in the mind of any grown-up person.
Around the same time, a long-held interest in Asian culture began to coalesce around China. She studied Buddhism and Daoism, and rented many films and bought many books. She felt curiously at ease in the culture. Many of the books she read mentioned the difficulties Westerners, especially Americans, had in relating to Chinese culture and people. She kept waiting for this discomfort to make itself known, but it did not. Here and there she had chances to meet Chinese people, and became very close to some of them, who told her she was Chinese at heart, that she understood poetic logic, that her way of thinking, especially about language, was very Chinese. She did not feel particularly qualified to judge this herself, but as she began studying Mandarin, she felt at home in it, and enjoyed learning each character, slowly but surely.
After being in school for very nearly thirty years, she managed to combine very nearly all of these experiences into her doctoral dissertation.


Well, writing the dissertation was harder than anything else because there was so much to think about and as usual, none of it wanted to be arranged into neat and orderly rows on a series of neat and orderly consecutive pages. But, the Graduate School was quite strict about this, and wanted double-spacing and one inch margins on top of that, so she decided it was not worth the time or effort trying to argue for the necessity of side-bars, call-outs, and all the other textual apparatus she really would have preferred. At least she was allowed footnotes.

Eventually, after many many revisions, it was done and she was released into the fun-filled ... terribly busy ... curiously satisfying world of composition. She got a job teaching writing at MIT where she was stuck teaching science writing, which got a bit dull, but was among people who like herself might not be so comfortable writing at all. And they appreciated comic books, SF and speculative fiction, and few people were scared of computers. So it wasn't bad. Eventually though she realized that writing was so un-valued at this place that she would never get very far in the very explicit hierarchy of the school. In fact, they would not even put writing teachers on the committee concerned with writing requirements.

After a job search that was less painful than what most experience, almost as much fun as taking the Graduate Record Exams over and over and over... she took a job at a smallish, western, state university. The first year she wrote mainly comments on student essays, and they were most of her reading. The second year she was tricked talked into becoming director of composition, which (sadly) she had some talent for. Or at least didn't hate as much as some people seemed to. She struggled to start writing again that year, because a pre-tenure review was looming. Thanks to the faculty writing group, she produced two articles, one of which (so far) has appeared in print. But writing was still a struggle. It was still a terribly boring conclusion to much more interesting thinking and reading and talking.

Finally, appallingly late in the game, (even later than for Peter Elbow!) something shifted. After getting involved in several mailing lists, writing every month for webzine, leading far TOO MANY grant proposals, proposing too many conference papers that were accepted, and then--and this seems to have been the most important point... finding something to explore that was even more interesting than her dissertation subject had been, she found that she didn't mind writing so much. In fact, she even kind of liked it.

Maybe because she worked so often in collaborative way, which accorded much better with her sometimes intensely sociable nature; or maybe because the subject alone was so compelling (for more on this, read about the Book Project). Or maybe she had become so insanely busy that she could no longer think so much ahead, she had to think while writing, she had to stop resisting and let her entire cognitive process shift. In one way, this was a grievous possibility to consider, because it might be that all she gained in writing she had lost in visual/kinesthetic creativity. Or maybe not. Maybe learning is not a zero-sum game. Maybe one can gain skills without losing others. It's something she'll have to wait and discover.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Book Project Update

So I guess I do have a book project; it's official. --By that I mean that I'm applying for grants to fund the research. So far I've applied to be nominated for an NEH Summer stipend; every campus gets to nominate only two, so I have to be selected for nomination before I can even contact the NEH.

Here's what I said :

Since the mid 90s growing numbers of cultural institutions and post-secondary educational programs devoted to “new media” (as defined by Manuel Castells) have emerged. However, there has been little organized study of their function or of their creation of knowledge about new media and of new media texts themselves. Certain cities, projects, people, or organizations have been studied in isolation by pioneers in the field such as Howard Rheingold, Geert Lovink, and Ned Rossiter, but so far no comprehensive studies have appeared. I intend to continue a study of the new media dispositif in the Netherlands over the next three years. During the award period I intend to make my second visit to the Netherlands to conduct interviews and site visits. I aim by the end of the period to have completed a book proposal that includes 1-2 chapters.
Recent work by Frank Kessler (unpublished seminar paper) suggests that Foucault's notion of the dispositif may be a fruitful concept to use in understanding the new media scene. Foucault first defined his use of this term in 1977 as follows: "What I’m trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogenous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions–in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements (interview 1977)."
Of particular value will be a better understanding of how different philosophies, goals, and choices of new media institutions shape the work they produce and their place with local, regional, and national communities. Foucault went on to say that a dispositif arose in response to an urgent need and this will be another important question to explore: to what need does the new media dispositif respond?
The Netherlands offers a unique opportunity to extend our understanding of the complex relations among the constituents of the new media landscape. According to Peter van den Besselaar, The Netherlands has been on the forefront of both research and cultural production in new media since 1993 when the Digital City was founded in Amsterdam and because since then substantial resources have been invested in education, musea, and other cultural organizations devoted to the creation and study of new media(“The rise and decline of the great Amsterdam digital city,” Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 67). Thus it now represents a comparatively mature context to study offering at least as complex a dispositif as many geographically larger countries.
I plan to make repeated trips to the Netherlands of about two weeks each over the next few years. In each trip I will conduct new interviews and site visits, and also follow up with previous interviewees to learn the outcomes of plans they have shared during earlier contacts. I have been in touch with my current contacts who are pleased for me to continue my investigations, and I have begun contacting additional groups. Of particular interest is that all of these groups are taking some position on the development of a "creative class;" a debate that is at least several years ahead of a similar transformation in the US, and seems a good predictor of what may happen here, so I certainly will track its development.
Further, because the country is geographically compact, but diverse in both human and organizational populations, many different opportunities for interviews and site visits can be carried out in a reasonable time and at reasonable cost. Additional advantages are being able to carry out all of the research in English, and, because of prior acquaintance with some of people involved, easy access to many institutions and people central to the creation and study of new media in the Netherlands. Ultimately this research will lead to a better understanding of how new media dispostifs work, and yield a better idea of how certain organizational or personal strategies contribute to the evolution of the cultural and educational institutions involved, over time. My preliminary work with these groups and the individuals involved in them has convinced me that a more comprehensive study in the Netherlands would produce a valuable new understanding of how a variety of factors shape the new media dispositif, not just in the Netherlands but in general.

Grant-writing or ....

Actually I can't think of anything worse at the moment. I have (I hope to god) just finished preparing an NEH proposal. I'm the Primary Investigator (PI) but I've been working with four other faculty here on a variety of projects, including this one, a proposal for a year-long workshop series on bringing the digital humanities into the mainstream. I'll post the 1-page summary shortly, but this the one that had me nagging everyone for commitment letters with almost no notice.

The actual writing wasn't so bad, nor putting together the reading lists, or arranging the schedule. In fact that part was quite interesting in a curatorial kind of way. But, trying to extract info and paperwork from people before a deadline, especially when money is involved; well, that is really uncomfortable. It's bad with the outside speakers because they are nice for agreeing, and then I email and say, "well, that's not quite right, do it over this way please" ...and then few days later "I really need xyz" ...and then "we have to have this by noon today or..."

Worse however is having to nag my colleagues here, because they are working hard, all busy with other things (like our insane teaching load) and I nag them even more. Not just for letters and CVs, but also for feedback on drafts, meetings, etc. This is not to say they won't benefit from our getting the grant, or that they've ever complained at all. I just find this aspect of leadership so ...icky.

By contrast, applying for an individual grant for myself (which I am also doing right now) feels like a cakewalk! --I guess that could be considered a benefit of slogging through the more complicated group proposal process...

I'm imposing a moratorium on being a PI for the next month at least. I have to focus on my classes, a conference paper, my individual grant applications, and the proposal for a new joint MA (the upper admin. here may be getting skeptical about how committed our partners are. :-| ) Sigh. I need a clone, 30 hour days, teleport technology, and a pile of money. Is that so hard?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The effect of habitual contexts on tone

Sounds complicated, but all I actually mean is that for a long time I've used IRC, IM, and email to talk mainly with friends and colleagues rather than students, because my students generally have preferred to talk with me in class. But, this term I have to communicate with my first year mostly through email, IM, etc. and I find that I've grown so accustomed to being in friend/colleague mode that I continue in that tone with my first-year students. Hopefully this will be ok...last fall I was pretty friendly with some of them and late in the term I had to give a rather stern talk about how my liking them would not stop me from giving them a bad grade, I would just feel worse about it.

But maybe I'm worrying for nothing. Or about the wrong thing. Maybe the one who really causes trouble will be the colleague who has registered so he can see what I'm doing in there... ;-)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

And, we're off!

The semester has started and students are starting to find their way to the Moodle site, where so far, they are managing to register and upload pictures of themselves, set up their profiles , etc. So that's a relief. Now I just hope my grad students do as well.

Meanwhile, we are scrambling through two grant proposals and the co-I who was helping me with the one that's due next week got food poisoning two days ago. Argh. I think we will make it anyhow, but it's going to be close, and stressful. And, the worst thing is that we are still trying to contact potential speakers for the workshop series; if they say yes, we immediately need commitment letters, 2-page CVs, and biographical blurbs. This is a big change from the last grant cycle's requirements, which said that the letters would strengthen your proposals, but weren't required. So that's been a lot of fun to deal with; I love emailing people I don't know (and those I do) and asking for huge favors. On the up side, they've been quite nice about it, and two of these lovely people have said yes so far. If we get the grant and run the series, I'll brag about who they are. :-)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pimping Sequential Tart

Over at Sequential Tart, for which I write monthly articles, I've got a piece up on my trip to the Netherlands. It's the first of three and is focused on more touristic aspects of my visit, which I haven't really mentioned here. So if you have been wishing to read more about that, read my Tarticle.

Ontological question from a 3-year-old

"How do we know if someone is reading a story about us? And if we went outside there wouldn't be anything, but if he read about us [being] outside, then there would be something."

Sometimes my children are a little daughter, after asking this, decided it was just hilarious to imagine. Which is certainly better than deciding it was scary and keeping us up all night with nightmares.

But this is an example of how interesting it is to watch my children develop an understanding of language and narrative and their connection to reality, or our perceptions of reality. Even more interesting, they don't develop understanding in the same way. One of my daughters seems to really grasp the larger structure that stories typically have (based on the sample she's encountered so far) and she has an idea of what kinds of elements are needed when you make up a story, what you need to tell people. My other daughter doesn't seem to notice this as much, but she is much more aware on a micro level of what kinds of things people typically say or do in every day situations that might occur in a story--eating, cooking, arguing, going out, going to bed, etc.

At least they aren't playing funeral any more; that was rather disturbing!

On top of all the other challenges and joys, having kids is just so interesting, it raises so many questions and ideas for me, about things I research. I never expected that.

Their questions often reveal my assumptions about all kinds of things. It's cool. And since I can't resist dragging my work into everything, it's a kind of remediation, looking through my children's eyes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where to Begin...

As I approach the first week of classes, the pace has picked up on campus quite noticeably in several ways. I'm getting about four emails a day from people trying to schedule meetings I am supposed to attend, my department mailbox has received a flurry of paper about various events, and students are already hounding me for syllabi, though classes don't start for another week.

I'm excited though, because this term I teaching a composition class entirely online and themed around online community and participation; I think it will be really cool! Also, my grad class will be fun--I'm finally teaching one I've taught before--so I can incorporate things that have worked well before and drop those that didn't. --It's nice to finally get to a "second draft." I kind of wish I could teach two sections--it's been over-enrolled by almost half again several times since last spring.

And, the books I shipped via ground transport from the Netherlands have finally arrived, and seem to have survived their journey intact. --I was starting to wonder what I could possibly do fro here if they didn't show up. The box of cocoa powder leaked a bit, so now the books all smell chocolatey. Which, if I was going to choose a scent, isn't bad at all...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Second Life Explorations

What I've found so far:

  • for cheap and free stuff, visit Sarah Nerd and Vienna Freebies--the former has more variety, the latter has better quality (ie, less trampy looking). --But what makes it Viennese, I have no idea.
  • the virtual Rotterdam Stadt Museum is actually cool, but hard to move around in because it's a bit cluttered. I kept tripping against objects or accidentally going through the wall. Weird steam pipes hang off the bottom--what's the deal with that?
  • you can make money filling out surveys on money tree island, but it's a real pain--far longer than five minutes. Better to dance for money in a club...
  • surprising number of Dutch dance clubs...but I really have to visit the Rotterdam Gabber club. ;-)
  • quite a few locations where one and a partner can sit (or recline) and go through the motions of cuddling. I can't quite see the attraction and I'm reminded of the T-shirts sold on the "First Life" website--"I fornicate with my actual genitals." If the object of my desire were so far away, I'd rather save my money (or find a way to get some) and visit for real, instead of wasting time in SL.
So far there are some interesting things to look at and it might be fun to explore with friends, but a real city would be more fun any day...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Ok, here's a recent picture. Now if I could duplicate my jacket in SL... I got it this summer when visiting the Netherlands, and it quickly became a favorite.

If SL had some place like Target, but so far all I can find are clothes that cost hundreds of Linden Dollars (LD) and look like they are for clubbing. I just need a T-shirt and jeans, really.

Second Life...

Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
So I've just joined and tried it out and I must say, Second Life is a weird place. I wanted my avatar to actually look as much like myself as I could manage, but getting even close took forever. It was a pain, yet I couldn't make myself give up on it--which was creepy.

This is the current result and I'll post a recent picture of me for comparison. One thing; I could not find really short prim or flexi hair for women (hair you buy and that looks more real, and moves when you do.) Eventually I just got some men's hair, but I still couldn't find any that was really as short as I wanted.

Now I plan to spend more time exploring the cultural and educational scenes, but I don't have much time to spend on it, because term starts in two weeks.

"True North is in the Eyes of the Beholder"

Today I spent about 7 hours reading "writing proficiency (something) tests" --I always forget what the S stands for because everyone just says "WPST" all the time. Anyway, it's exhausting to read and score (holistic scoring on a 6 point scale, 2 readers for each test) so many. I think I read about 60-70, about 8 hand-written pages each. They were actually better this year then last fall, which is when I last participated in the reading.

Anyway, after a while we all just get kind of punchy because we're drinking coffee and reading and reading, and stumbling across phrases like the one I share in this title. This was an actual title of an essay exam. Just think about it for awhile. And we had our perennial debate over what exactly we care more about; correct usage or clear arguments. I think this time I was more convincing about the importance of argument.

So I hope the trend continues, that students seem to be more ready by the time they take the test. One interesting note--students were writing about generational differences and without fail identified experiences with technology as on of the main differences between their own experience and their parents' or grandparents'. I was impressed at their awareness.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tick Tick Tick

Every now and then I enter some kind of mental phase when my brain feels overclocked. My thoughts speed up and run in parallel processes. Right now I am thinking about three different grant proposals; my undergrad and grad classes which start in two weeks; the orientation for new TAs next week; the 10 emails to which I'm awaiting replies; those I have to send out tomorrow; the Empire conference I'm co-chairing; a bi-lateral agreement with Piet Zwart; four calls for papers I might answer; my review of the ELO electronic text; my latest article for Sequential Tart; the skype calls I'm trying to arrange...

Does this count as a dynamic heterarchy? Intermediation?

Sometimes this might make me feel overstressed but sometimes it feels like my brain is whirring along, sustained by it's own speed, in perpetual motion. It's not perpetual of course, and the one problem is that it's hard to sleep in this state. I have trouble dropping off until late and as soon as the sun is barely up my eyes fly open again. Just can't stop thinking. And I don't really want to except I'm getting rather tired...

Anyway, now, as if all this weren't enough, I'm thinking about scholarly subjectivity, engagement, and Kenneth Burke.

The Point of Tags

I'm not going to launch a discussion of folksonomy and collective intelligence; look at this webcast from MiT5 for more on all that web 2.0 stuff. (not that I don't take and interest). But, a few people have written about tagging in more concrete and useful ways (for me). One is Ulises Mejias who has written about tag literacy and says (brace for big blockquote):

Tags are very efficient ways of allocating attention in the face of informational overabundance. It takes very little time to bookmark and tag a resource. Because users are the first ones to benefit from classifying the resources that interest them, there is a very high motivation to tag. Thus, what people are doing in reviewing tags is capitalizing on attention allocated by others, specially on aggregated attention (what happens when large groups of people allocate attention to the same tag or resource, as seen in the 'Most Popular' tag or resource feeds in a DCS).

In short, Google yields search results that represent attention allocated by computers, while DCSs yield search results that represent attention allocated by humans. The former method (computer attention) is cheap, and hence ideal for indexing large amounts of information quickly; the latter method (human attention) is not so cheap, and not so quick, but it can yield more socially valuable information because it means a human being has made the association between a resource and a particular tag. Hence, this method is ideal for qualitative indexing. Furthermore, this method can be made cheaper and quicker by distributing the process across large communities and tying it to the individual interest of the user, which is exactly what a DCS does.

Mirko Schäfer takes this builds on this idea in a discussion of "micro-learning" in his article RTFM! Teach-yourself Culture in Open-Source Software Projects. (scroll down to section 6). He elaborates on how tagging can, in addition to making information easier to navigate, also offers users/contributors a framework for thinking about their own contributions.

Maintaining the database would entail correcting and improving the stored information by adding or changing tags. Instead of constantly expanding the given documentation material into countless directions, this approach forces the reader/writer to thoroughly re-think the context of the material, shaping it according to its possible connections.

So I feel somewhat obliged to tag, not just for my own convenience, but to help others. But, while I agree with Trebor Scholz (and others) that people have lots of motives for this kind of effort, and admit that I do as well, I still contend that an important possible (and for me actual) motive has been largely overlooked; care for family. There are people, some close friends, some not so close, that I (for whatever reason) think of as family in the sense that I care about their well-being and want them to be happy and successful. If I think they are benefiting from something I do, like tagging, then I will damn well take the trouble. --And I do know that few of these people are checking because they joined my network on, so there it is.

Now I can't even remember why I felt I needed to go into this. Tick Tick Tick.

The Rhetoric of Tagging in Blogs

I've spent about an hour this morning editing the tags on my entries, and I'm not nearly finished! I feel a bit foolish because I've read many blogs and yet when I started this one I forgot about tagging the entries for about a month, so now I'm slowly going back and adding tags. But in doing that I've realized that choosing tags that are really useful actually takes some though, otherwise I end up with a ridiculous number of tags that each have just a couple of entries, which defeats a lot of the purpose.

Of course I could be like Neil Gaiman who has made tagging into another creative practice that serves not so much to organize individual entries into broader categories as to make them even more distinct from each other, but since this is a research blog (mostly) I think I would drive myself crazy, and maybe my readers as well (if there are any!).

But now that I am trying to tag entries when I write them, I realize that sometimes it's not easy to identify what the most dominant categories will really be, so it may have worked out better that I went a month before starting. Looking back at the summer's entries, I can actually see the major themes and pick those as tags, which should also make it clearer to passersby what I'm writing about here. And I think this works differently in blogs than at sites like'll write about that kind of tagging later.

This is a really pragmatic approach and it's in tension with another impulse (of mine, at least) to use tags that will intrigue readers and make me look more interesting. So for example, instead of just tagging posts about particular people as "friends" or "scholars" or something like that, it's tempting to say "academic rock stars" which is silly, but sounds fun, or "people I wish acknowledged my presence" which makes me sound completely neurotic, but still my be more interesting. Over on the nettime list our discussion of ex/including the personal from/in academic writing has made me think in a more organized way about how much I constantly and keenly feel this tension. It seems at least some others feel it too, but it's hard to talk about even when we sort of give ourselves permission as we have in this particular thread, because I can't help but feel that my normal levels of enthusiasm and whimsy, which I usually filter out of my academic work, are going to cost me the respect of serious I really sound neurotic!

Anyway, I think that by and large it's worth the risk. The pleasure of scholarly work is so much greater when combined with friendship, for example and/or ethical conviction is so much greater than simple intellectual interest, that the chance of increasing my chances of having more of it far outweighs any anxiety.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Link Thingy

I'm experimenting with having a daily post of my new links; we'll see how that goes; it's in beta right now... Ok, apparently it didn't work... maybe I'll just do the link roll for now.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Book Project?

Last spring I decided to start researching how institutions that study, produce, and/or teach new/digital/cyber/hyper/whatever media organize themselves. At first I just wanted to see what other places were doing so that as we worked on our new center we would have some sense of possibilities and pitfalls. Pretty quickly I realized that certain choices made by these organizations seemed to really change their character, audiences, etc. Looking for research, I also saw that there wasn't too much, and most was sort of fragmentary--only about one institution or span of time, one locale, one project, etc. And I started to get really interested in how the philosophy of the institution seemed to shape it's decisions about who to work with, what the goals were, what counted as success; at the same time funding sources had a powerful effect on these as well, and often created tension.

At first I planned to survey institutions all over as the opportunity arose, but in the US they are so spread out and work in such different contexts that it seemed hard to figure out a coherent approach that would allow comparisons. At the same time, I already was going to the Netherlands for about two weeks during June-July 2007, so I thought I'd interview people there,at first just with the idea of identifying best practices. --There are numerous very well-known institutions in the NL and I figured it would be helpful to hear how they did things.

Those interviews were revelatory because besides being informative about individual institutions, they provided numerous unique perspectives on the cultural scene in the NL. And I suddenly realized that there was so much to say about how knowledge was being created and dispersed, and I was so interested; I should write a book. But I couldn't figure out how the structure should work or how to include everything, without spending 10 years on it--and I really only want to spend 3-5! Just recently it occurred to me that rather than trying to go all over the US, Europe, Asia, etc. I should start by just looking at the Netherlands because the countries small size yet high concentration of these institutions make them great for comparison. There all kinds of institutions that differ from each other in many ways, but they are all dealing with the same national-level funding scheme, and many of them work together on projects. So certain variables would be reduced or eliminated.

I also just started reading some things about Dispositifs and I think it could be a key notion in my study. Different theorists use it quite differently so I need to get a firmer grip on who has said what, and when, before figuring out how I think it can be applied in my study. One good starting point is some notes Frank Kessler has online at his website. Thanks to Mirko for the connection to Kessler and dispositif.

Now I just have figure out how to say all of this in a really compelling way so I can get a grant or fellowship to go to the Netherlands a bunch more times.