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.