Thursday, March 24, 2011

“What if we asked how we want to read and write?”

Blogs are a received digital format that’s not necessarily well-suited to the rapid exchange of complex intellectual ideas.... They are the accidents of a handful of simple software infrastructures built to allow individuals to update webpages in a diary-like format, but one with no logical end....

I wonder what a writing and discussion system would look like if it were designed more deliberately for the sorts of complex, ongoing, often heated conversation that now takes place poorly on blogs. This is a question that might apply to subjects far beyond philosophy, of course, but perhaps the philosopher’s native tools would have special properties, features of particular use and native purpose. What if we asked how we want to read and write rather than just making the best of the media we randomly inherit, whether from the nineteenth century or the twenty-first?

I wish these were the sorts of questions so-called digital humanists considered, rather than figuring out how to pay homage to the latest received web app or to build new tools to do the same old work. But as I recently argued, a real digital humanism isn’t one that’s digital, but one that’s concerned with the present and the future. A part of that concern involves considering the way we want to interact with one another and the world as scholars, and to intervene in that process by making it happen. Such a question is far more interesting and productive than debating the relative merits of blogs or online journals, acts that amount to celebrations of how little has really changed.

— Ian Bogost, from his post “Beyond Blogs: How do scholars want to read and write?”.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I collapse on a settee and accidentally write three erotic short stories that will be falsely attributed to Michel Houellebecq by Le Monde.

— Perhaps my favourite sentence this week, from David Orr’s “Not At All Unusual Day in Culture”.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

“I was asked to address wedding invitations”

When I was in high school, I chanted Thomas Wolfe and burned as I thought Pater demanded and threatened the world as a good Nietzschean should. Then, at college, in a single day I decided to change my handwriting . . . which meant, I realized later, a change in the making of the words which even then were all of me I cared to have admired. It was a really odd decision. Funny. Strange. I sat down with the greatest deliberation and thought how I would make each letter of the alphabet from that moment on. A strange thing to do. Really strange. And for years I carefully wrote in this new hand; I wrote everything — marginal notes, reminders, messages — in a hand that was very Germanic and stiff. It had a certain artificial elegance, and from time to time I was asked to address wedding invitations, but when I look at that hand now I am dismayed, if not a little frightened, it is so much like strands of barbed wire. Well, that change of script was a response to my family situation and in particular to my parents. I fled an emotional problem and hid myself behind a wall of arbitrary formality. Nevertheless, I think that if I eventually write anything which has any enduring merit, it will be in part because of that odd alteration.

— William Gass, interviewed by Thomas LeClair in The Paris Review, 1977.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another brief definition of the novel

Things tend to go wrong.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Dozens? hundreds?

The research suggests that 93% of all humanities articles go uncited. Though it is likely impossible to measure, this statistic leads me to wonder how often the typical humanities article is even read. Obviously all articles are read by someone: editors, reviewers, etc. Does the typical humanities article have a readership in the dozens? the hundreds? Certainly not more than that....

It would seem to me that the average academic (or academic journal) seeks to avoid exposure. Publishing an article in the "Journal of narrowly-focused humanities studies" is a good way to hide. Those who do manage to find you will probably be sympathetic. Plus you always have the shield of peer-review: clearly someone thought what you said was ok. Even if someone disagrees with you, the differences will likely be on details that very few people will know or care about. Besides, by the time that person manages to write and publish a response, your article is in the distant past. In any case, this almost never happens. Since 93% of humanities articles are never cited you can safely publish with the assumption that no one will ever mention your article again. Phew!...

To think about such matters from the perspective of assemblage theory, we should be able to see that the material and expressive segments of a journal serve a strong, territorializing function, reaffirming the boundaries of discipline and the identities of participants. Sitting behind a paywall, available primarily through academic libraries, one can be fairly certain that no one will even accidentally encounter the text (and even if they did, the discourse would likely turn them away). There are good reasons for doing this kind of writing, but I would suggest that it is not the only kind of writing humanists should do. On the other hand, the functionality of the blog has a strong, deterritorializing function. It is designed to carry the media away via RSS feeds, to go viral via Twitter and Facebook, and so on. It is public and available via Google. And while its discourse can be variable, and potentially as esoteric as any journal article, the culture of blogging in general invites participation and sharing.

— Alex Reid, “On the value of academic blogging”.