Faintly Hinted

Wind map.
Wind map.

About wind direction. Something about wind direction. About circulation studies. Something about circulation studies.

No, none of that. Using aggregate wind direction data, wind map projects national billows, any given moment’s breeze pathways. It offers a kind of air-truthing, a geography of the felt-unseen, forces I notice when the windows creak from gusts at night or when I lumber out for a few slow miles north by northwest near the horse stables, upwind from the horse stables.

Source: Wind Map

#E17, Polymorphic Frames of Pre-Tenure WPAs, #4c14

Our CCCC roundtable wrapped up a few minutes ago (exactly :05, according to the entry-scheduler’s timestamp). Eight of us planned and proposed this as a session that would be delivered simultaneously in Indianapolis, live, and also via Twitter, using scheduled tweets with the #4c14 hashtag with links to YouTube versions of the presentations, complete with closed-captioning. I finished setting up the scheduled tweets a few minutes ago–on Monday the 17th–and thought I may as well embed the full playlist into a blog entry, too, both to capture the event here and to circulate it yet again for anyone who might have missed it.

I’m sure there is more to say about it–both about the mix of pre-tenure WPA perspectives collected here and also about the production process involved with planning and putting together the slidedecks, audio files, and transcripts. I’m also interested in when this is delivered and circulated in time. How many nows? With any luck, there will be time enough for thinking through this more and considering the value in session-wide durable artifacts (hyper-deictic time capsules) after we’re all tick-tocking on the other side of this busy week.

Before Circulation

Alex French and Howie Kahn’s “The Greatest Newspaper That Ever Died” recounts the early 1990s sports news startup The National Sports Daily during its short, experimental, and ultimately failed run. Mexican billionaire Emilio Azcárraga dreamed up the grandiose plan for the paper, which aspired to provide national coverage and achieve widespread circulation, with much of the writing done by the best-known sports writers of the moment.

The story is worth a read for a couple of reasons. First, it offers a semi-coherent narrative woven not through co-authorial smoothing of transitions (think: prose cortisone shots) but instead by the arrangement of discrete interview snippets. That is, the story is parsed and assembled (more than conventionally written) from a cacophony of contributors who were directly involved with the experiment. Second, contributors (or interviewees?) say over and over that the failure of The National was caused not by the quality of the writing or the innovative vision but by the business side (sales and ad revenues unequal to expenses). I understand the failure was as much a matter of technological infrastructure–the fact that the publishers were attempting to route content from various cities to printing houses using sattelite transmissions that were just too slow. One anecdote has staffers accessing the sattelite equipment on the roof to knock ice and snow off of it with hopes of improving relay speeds. Basically, The National was the right idea in the wrong year. A third reason for reading: this story rolled out on Bill Simmons’ new ESPN-sponsored sports writing site, Grantland, which, considering its renowned writers and editors, amounts to a modern day equivalent of The National. Grantland is, in effect, The National twenty years later.

I suppose “The Greatest Newspaper That Ever Died” will not be all that surprising to anyone who remembers The National‘s hype. But the story of The National is promisingly rivaled, to my mind, by the subtext here about the forces inhibiting fast, large-scale circulation for news. Sure, hindsight makes it easy for us to know all about this now, but the story (a play-by-play, really) condenses and suspends that tension–right idea, wrong year–holding it up like a Jordan-era floater for a compelling sense of that-was-then.

Student Center

EMU Student Center

I am enjoying a few minutes of light computing in the Student Center at Eastern Michigan University right now: coffee, sunlight, email, Google Reader, Fantasy Football results. I try to spend an hour in the Student Center every Tuesday. The weekly, non-essential outing contributes to my New Faculty Continuing Orientation Plan. Basically, the NFCOP goes like this: leave your office every so often, develop a feel for the place. Frequently I run into students or colleagues as I make my way across campus, and we talk. Also, I walk alternative routes, get to know the landscape, the distances. These semi-strategic excursions are refreshingly ordinary, far less in the vein of anthropological scrutiny (a la Marc Augé) than in slow, deep, you-are-here mapping (a la William Least Heat-Moon). Walks less motivated by ground-truthing this "rhetorical country" than in walking, being here.

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Writing Feverlets*

Curious about her critique of Derrida’s Archive Fever, I picked up a
copy of Carolyn Steedman’s Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from
Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry
about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman
makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida’s
concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the
inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She
writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud’s
Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive,
via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida’s
characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not
properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in
translation from Mal d’Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the
sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about
Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever’s pitch;
Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida’s
glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other
concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

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Derrida, in Archive Fever: “For the time being, I will pull from this web a single interpretive thread, the one that concerns the archive” (45).

I am trying to bring in just enough Derrida at the end of chapter three to capitalize on his insights about origination myths (not of psychoanalysis, for my purposes, but of composition studies), about archivization as the perpetual rearrangement of data, and about the ways transclusive texts and digitization re-distribute and also re-calibrate institutional (or disciplinary) memory. This and more in 6-8 pages.

It is as if the “single interpretive thread” drawn, like a jump-rope, from the web, is held on one end by Derrida and on the other end by Brand. In this section on “How Archives Learn,” I am beginning with the overlap of archives (entering the houses of the Archons) and architecture. The Derrida-Brand skipping is double-dutch, because a second thread–from Brand–is also suspended (another thread) in this early portion of the final section. Two jump-ropes, two jump-rope holders. In their complimentary orbits, the two ropes come close to touching, but they alternate flight paths just enough to avoid touching. And yet I feel intensely the danger of getting tangled up.

As of today, I am four pages (1200 words) into the 6-8 pages I have allowed myself for the section–a necessary cap if I am to keep the chapter under 50 pp. (jeeps, when I promised myself just 35 pp.; so much for control). What remains of the section, however, is well-planned; it will be close.

One challenge has been that there is so much more more more to develop here. For instance, do we have a disciplinarily (or even a post-disciplinarily) shared theory of archivization or memory? And how important is such a thing (not only for online archives or scholarly journals, but also for the preservation of course descriptions, syllabi, listserv exchanges, and so on)? With this, I am not asking about methodologies for dealing with archives of interest to R&C (or of history and historiography, for that matter), but rather of the life cycle of a more explicit class of disciplinary materials. Is it irresponsible (even unethical) not to have greater consensus for archivization or for the “scholar of the future” Derrida writes about? Perhaps.

Next I will return to the matter of learning by squaring with a couple of propositions from Brand. Finally, there will be something on Brand’s contrast between adaptation and “graceless turnover” and also on North’s statement from The Making of… that “Composition’s collective fund of knowledge is a very fragile entity” (3)–an excerpt I work with briefly in chapter one. Maybe some of this will have to be canned later on. There is always that possibility. The chapter is, after all, building up a discussion of tag clouds, data-mining, and folksonomy, which musn’t be abandoned in the concluding section.

Moon: Green Cheese

Whether or not the moon is made of green cheese is of no concern to my dissertation. Because I make other claims, however, Latour’s account of the performance of statements and things in Science in Action (1987) applies:

[W]e have to remember our first principle: the fate of a statement depends on others’ behavior. You may have written the definitive paper proving that the earth is hollow and that the moon is made of green cheese but this paper will not become definitive if others do not take it up and use it as a matter of fact later on. You need them to make your paper a decisive one. If they laugh at you, if they are indifferent, if they shrug it off, that is the end of your paper. A statement is thus always in jeopardy, much like the ball in a game of rugby. If no player takes it up, it simply sits on the grass. To have it move again you need an action, for someone to seize and throw it; but the throw depends in turn on the hostility, speed, deftness or tactics of the others. At any point, the trajectory of the ball may be interrupted, deflected or diverted by the other team–playing here the role of the dissenters–and interrupted, deflected or diverted by the players of your own team. The total movement of the ball, of a statement, or an artefact, will depend to some extent on your action but to a much greater extent on that of a crowd over which you have little control. (104)

Must every statement be written as if it will endure the perpetual jeopardy Latour names? Not necessarily. But–and this gets at the challenge of making statements–“the total movement…of a statement” should be, to the extent possible, anticipated, even if this requires granting too much clout to the crowd (i.e., audience in action).