Databasic Writing

Our program requires that we attend two mini-seminars every semester.
Several different mini-seminars are available, from three-hour sessions on a
single day concerned with the discipline (the
Reese’s PB Cup variety
of rhetoric in my composition and vice versa), world Englishes, WAC, or some
other topic, to sessions broken across a couple of weeks on stuff like teaching
online, service learning, and information literacy. The mini-seminars are
meant to foster professional development. Everyone in the writing
program–besides first-year TAs and full-time staff and graduate faculty (who
oftentimes lead the sessions)–are made to attend.

I was at a session this afternoon on information literacy. But I only
mention the mini-seminars to set the scene and to note that I’ve been a good
mini-seminarian this semester as it was my last one.

But the idea today’s session tipped me onto is what I’m thinking of as
databasic
writing. We’ve heard of basic writing. The idea goes
way back, back past the 1976 CCCC in Kansas City, which asked, "What’s REALLY
Basic?" Thirty years have passed, however. The remediation that
finds root in remedy (cure-all comp; whatever ails you) shared its name
with media historicism, the remediation that focuses on precedents, on the old
in the new. The old ancestors of new media were young once. Maybe this analogy
will clear up what I mean: remediation is to basic writing as remediation is to
databasic writing. Claro!

That didn’t work. Damn. What I mean is that there are varieties of
writing new media concerned with writing the database. I
don’t mean roughing out a plan for a MySQL database or some other gridtrodden
boxstrocities built to file complexity into slots (although, try to blog without a dbase). I’m thinking of the blend of
tagging and collecting, a compound of non-syntactic semantic variables and
things–light, pulsatile, electrate. We’re not only writing sentences,
we’re composing quirky, irregular collections. And while databasic
writing borrows felicitously from Benjamin’s "Unpacking My Library," it is a
library whose gathering is inscribed. Databasic writing also resonates
with Sirc’s "box-logic," with collecting and annotating, and also with personal
knowledge management. The question on my mind is "What’s REALLY Databasic?"
Databasic writers know del.icio.us. Tag, aggregate, gather, into
crumb-paths of surprises, wonder, curiosity, and safe-keeping.

technorati tag:

9 Comments

  1. tag, aggregate, gather <> “traditional” archival work

    or

    tag, aggregate, gather == “traditional” archival work
    ?

    The “crumb paths of surprise, wonder. curiosity” are, I know, where you, Derek, find the intensity that turns the collecting act into something aesthetic… but I’m still not convinced that personal knowledge management is the same as personal knowledge building. It is the connections that interest me, I guess, the connections that someone(s) build between the crumbs, the vectors between the nodes… and I cannot say that tags are enough, for my little aesthetic visceralities, to count as connections. They are more like a way better Dewey Decimal System, for all the great social reasons they get discussed. But persuade me that they are more than a marking system, that they are knowledge building, that they are the most satisfying and useful thing one can do with the crumbs.

    No small demands here this morning!

  2. I wouldn’t say tagging replaces or subdues the prelinguistic or precognitive felt sense in the intensive encounter with the curious/beautiful object. Maybe it does. I don’t think of it as quite the same; these crumbs don’t amount to the only aesthesis in town.

    But there’s something about tagging that does register a connection, leaving a trace of the encounter. It might or might not condition future encounters for others, but I would say that it mobilizes the tagged thing. Granted, the mobilization is irregular, unpredictable, wobbly, etc. I think of it in part according to the distinction Barthes makes between studium and punctum. The studium is the average effect; the punctum, a enigmatic singularity (something like aesthesis), third meaning, etc. Tagging practices–the databasic writing I’m thinking about–tolerates (or affords) the punctum. So the crumbs are assorted, some visceral, others banal. Visceral today, banal tomorrow (this, the second punctum, the one concerned with time). Granted, I’m re-routing Barthes’ concepts from photography and applying them more generally.

    As for PKM, there are some significant differences between management of things and knowledge or familiarity of them. I’m not sure how to draw that line. I can imagine one argument that would point out the greater chances for surprise in the unfamiliar thing (rather than the thing managed, shelved, Dewey decimated). But there is another way in which the connection happens among the things tagged, inscribing them and gathering them into associations. Maybe the things themselves could be said to learn (I’ve ordered Brand’s book on buildings learning to sort this out some more), as in, “how do archives learn?” Tagging (among other things). And then, do we participate in that learning or only appreciate it as it is done by others? Probably a little bit of both.

    I keep circling back to the problem of an unpredictable aesthesis, the (reassuring?) abyss of relativism. Still, tags put something into circulation that, as well as any other thing I can think of right now, is very close to a distributed aesthetics (or, maybe better, a dist. and circulatory aesthetics). I don’t know whether this accounts for all that tagging does (or might do).

  3. Which is why Lyotard is now so important. The problem of the database, he notes, is navigation. How to work with this information? Right now we are thinking of tags as ways to better organize and navigate and compose.

    Tagging always existed. Basic is a tag. That 1970s understandings of “basic” remain a tagged category with little change (no new items added to the database) means that the navigation is now limited. We see that kind of ideology in place now. The basic? What does that mean? Its a limited meaning built on one tag.

  4. The limited navigation problem is what got me thinking about databasic writing in the information literacy miniseminar. Research approached first through constrained subscription databases to pre-filtered scholarly materials tends to assure safe navigation. It’s database as hand railing (the no slip, no fall zone of research). What’s findable is relatively risk-free. In ProQuest, for example, the single tag lives in a small, expert-defined family of other tags. So why the concerned looks when del.icio.us comes up in a conversation about library databases? Few people had heard of it. Again it’s the appeal of folksonomies. The tag-based organization (the semantic pathways, their navigability) is at once relatively clear and also peppered with digressions, puns, oddities, and perversions.

    I guess what I mean is that the idea of *starting* a research “quest” in a library database and using that dbase to help me narrow my terms (even though I remember being taught this way ten and fifteen years ago) seemed strange.

  5. Anne says, “I’m still not convinced that personal knowledge management is the same as personal knowledge building.” For me, when you define “knowledge building” to include “knowledge using,” personal knowledge management is where it’s at. Without a working knowledge management system, I don’t know anything.

    My management system began as Word documents: bibliographies, abstracts, and a commonplace book. Increasingly, these materials are migrating online, scattered in del.icio.us, CiteULike, LibraryThing, etc. And the very act of conversion is a re-knowing.

  6. Derek says, “Research approached first through constrained subscription databases to pre-filtered scholarly materials tends to assure safe navigation.” And after our conversation during that miniseminar, I couldn’t help but notice the students in my 205 who, when I told them to go find sources, began in the library databases. Several did. And they told me they did so because they knew they could “trust” those sources. So I had a little fun today, demonstrating how untrustworthy those sources could be. Really, all I did was show them how to tell whether an article is both scholarly and peer reviewed, regardless of whether it’s open (“dangerous,” in your words) or “cleansed” (a lovely adjective for library subscription databases, non?). And they probably all now think I’m a Communist.

  7. No question that one has to do knowledge gathering before knowledge building happens, but does knowledge gathering (tagging as one kind of gathering, one way of doing it that is more personal and with room for more aesthetic response than, perhaps, the serendipity of what’s nearby on the library shelf…perhaps?) == knowledge building? When does a tag move from being a mnemonic or an acknowledgment of a personal connection — all for me — and become a connection to other pieces of stuff that I’ve or another has collected? There is some linking, sure and obviously and depending on the system in use and my habits, to other stuff with that or similar tags in my system and the systems of others… but how/when/why is the inventional moment changed?

    I know that inventional moments happen when I wander through the deliciousness of others, surprised by someone else’s tag, a spark of a suggestion of a full thought.

    But they are moments, as are my tags. I cannot share the original emotional impetus… and I have to sustain the moment and hold on and play with and build beyond it all — or all I have is just a glittering collection, like a friend’s front room full of all things owl or frog or border collie.

    I’ll stop there, purposefully stating one possible other case.

    What one can say from here breaks in many different directions… tying in with the varying works of you all.

    But tell me what you consider to be the knowledge building tools that encourage discursive alertness to process and social (and corporate) embeddedness.

  8. Senioritis says:”My management system began as Word documents: bibliographies, abstracts, and a commonplace book. Increasingly, these materials are migrating online, scattered in del.icio.us, CiteULike, LibraryThing, etc. And the very act of conversion is a re-knowing.”

    And Anne says: “But tell me what you consider to be the knowledge building tools that encourage discursive alertness to process and social (and corporate) embeddedness.”

    Maybe the tool is the assignment,the audience and the deadline. And the individual mind that discerns and sifts through what has been gathered. Senioritis, I would guess that at this point in your career (the apex,natch), some of the discerning and sifting occurs simutaneously with the gathering,whereas for others of us,there’s more deliberation going in each act.

    As someone who teaches community college English and whose time is spent developing assignments and activities on the basic writing level, I would love to have a building guide for using technology–something that would breakdown all of these new affordances and explain what they are, what they make easier, and why my students need to know how to use them.

  9. Anne wrote, “But tell me what you consider to be the knowledge building tools that encourage discursive alertness to process and social (and corporate) embeddedness.”

    In part, I see the appeal of Web 2.0 apps (and their associated logics) as having a lot to do with this. They’re tools, in other words, that, while also overlapping with social and corporate motivations, have the potential to encourage this discusrive alertness. But they’re not guaranteed to do this, which is why, when we teach them, we need to be ever mindful of what we are enacting or performing. And we need to keep these logics fresh while involving students in the use of them.

Comments are closed.