“Your Head Will Pop Off”

Feedlied across this snapshot of John Feathers’ vast collection of maps, city guides (mostly from Los Angeles), and pamphlets–an innocuous archive or impressive case of cartographic hoarding, I don’t know. The archive, its unusual ordinariness, its scale, its discovery, all of this is interesting, or passingly so for map enthusiasts, the sharpest thumbtack of this piece for my thinking is from the video, the note near the end about the memorial function of maps, their capacity for temporal-affective relocation, their dormant-until-brightly-lit teleportation function: when-where, an interlacing of spacetime. After the pragmatic, what do maps want more than this?

What in the Antilibrary Grumbles?

In The Object Stares Back (1996), James Elkins writes

In my living room there are two large bookcases, each one eight feet tall, and they have about five hundred books between them. If I step up to a shelf and look at the books one by one, I can remember something about each. As a historian once said, some stare at me reproachfully, grumbling that I have never read them. One may remind me vaguely of a time when I was interested in romantic novels. An old college text will elicit a pang of unhappiness about studying. Each book has its character, and even books I know very well also have this kind of wordless flavor. Now if I step back from the shelf and look quickly across both bookcases I speed up that same process a hundredfold. Impressions wash across my awareness. But each book still looks back in its own way, answering the rude brevity of my gaze, calling faintly to me out of the corner of my eye. At that speed many books remain wrapped in the shadows of my awareness–I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind. (73-74)

I read this in the hallway of Rackham Hall yesterday where I sat for ten minutes–not staring back, ironically–as ENGL328 students filled out end-of-semester course evaluations. But what was on my mind as I read this was the workshop I was scheduled to lead at noon today for EMU’s Nelson Faculty Development Center, a workshop titled, “How to Curate a Digital Antilibrary: An Introduction to Google Reader.” The antilibrary comes from Taleb’s characterization of the unread portion in Umberto Eco’s personal collection of 3,000 books. Those unread items project felicitously some horizon of possibility. The antilibrary is not antithetical to the library; it is its premonition, its ghost from the future.

I can’t decide about the relationship between Taleb’s conception of “unread” and Elkins’ idea here that even those books that are technically unread (whatever that means) are well-enough known to grumble for their having been neglected. At first I thought, Elkins has no antilibrary. But that’s not quite right.

Instead, his books are always a little bit read: read through their titles, through an author’s or publisher’s reputation, through a book jacket, or even more fundamentally (as objects) through an assumed to be recognizable materiality. These are bound, shelved books, after all. Consequently, they never rightly, properly fit in the antilibrary, do they?

Elkins takes a hypothetical step back: “I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind.” This refusal is a curious game, striking for its thin, wispy relationship to rapid cognition, or thin-slicing. The refusal is a sort of will to indeterminacy, to unknowing, to disassociation. And I guess that’s what I’m thinking about now, having read this, having talked earlier about digital antilibraries: the persistence of an antilibrary requires one part a refusal to look at what is already in the collection, one part embrace of the potentialities in the nearby-but-unknown, and another part thrill in expecting a future in which those materials-awaiting will still be there for taking up.

Don’t Sink the Boat

Two videos. The first one is a music video for Flogging Molly’s “Float” (lyrics). Basically, a bearded cotton swab collects a bunch of odds and ends and then assembles them into a raft (via). I won’t spoil it by telling you whether or not it floats.

Second, a cut from Jan & Kjeld’s performance of “Tiger Rag” in 1959 (via). I watched this for the first time on Thursday within earshot of Is., and ever since she has asked to watch it again and again, even claims it as her “favorite song.” As if that isn’t enough, she also said she favors Jan (right) over Kjeld. Perhaps because of Kjeld’s impressively fearful (verging on creepy) expression–the wide eyes and sucked-in cheeks unmatched by his brother, she insists Jan is the more likable of the two.

I admit it, I’m growing weary of watching this second video. But I’ll post it nevertheless because the chances are high I’ll hear another fifteen or twenty requests to watch it before something else comes along.

Syllabubble

Arrived home from MLA via Detroit on Thursday. Since I’ve surrendered almost three full days to gluttonous lazies: home-made fried chicken, NFL playoffs, afternoon naps, a nightly Wolavers’ oatmeal stout, a breeze through Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and darn near nothing else.

Today I can feel the low, resistant grind of changing gears–from no gear to anything-chug productive. Spring syllabus is due tomorrow–or Wednesday, depending on who you ask (this would be easier if I didn’t read *all* of my email). I’m penciled in for a section of WRT205: Critical Research and Writing, a course that more or less picks a topic (invention by topoi) and then gets on with research a la “critical inquiry”, which I take to mean “examined” or “deliberate” inquiry: self-reflective inquiring.

Did I mention that it’s an online class? I still thinking about whether to heave Blackboard into the weeds (where it belongs?): bypass it altogether and instead channel all of our encounters through a wiki-blog-delicious-youtube mash-up. The former is, if you can stand it, a cinch; the latter is far more interesting and also more work coming at a time when, well, there is already plenty enough work. Tonight, I can’t decide. Tomorrow I’ll flip a coin. But if the coin comes up “Blackboard,” that just might be enough to jolt me back over to the mash-ups.

The course itself–as planned–is a dance with pop culture and media valuation. We’ll read Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You, contemplate his handling of the good/bad reversal, and think/write/talk about his book–what he calls “an old-fashioned work of persuasion” in the first sentence–as a dissoi logoi, or strengthening of the (presumed to be) weaker position.

In keeping with program-level expectations for the course, the first unit will be something of a reading of Johnson and his work with sources and evidence. It’s a sort of parlor inventory with a hermeneutic slant, viz. who’s saying what, what it means, and so on. The second unit in the course usually involves some sort of annotated bibliography, but I’m thinking along the lines of a collection/annotation aspect (rel. Sirc’s “box-logic”) that might involve a playlist/compilation in YouTube or Seeqpod. Will put that alongside a more recognizable batch of article/chapter annotations and ask students to speculate about their complementarity. Unit Three is that well-run horse, the sustained research project, 10-12 pp. By that time, I’d like to have the dissoi logoi well-enough in hand that students will be developing arguments rel. to popular culture that complicate status quo views of brain-rotting media. And the fourth, final piece of the course will be some kind of semester-long foray into “serially immersive” new media writing: blogging, annotated social bookmarking, etc. The point here: to again insist on the generative, associative collusion between immersive new media writing and its (still) eventful counterparts in the academy. It’s an online course: this is the both-and set up to bridge the institutionally recognizable (and desired) and peppy, alt-logic digitality.

Ch. 71

Over the weekend I gave the blog a two-point tune-up. Point one: Rolled
all one-hundred and some entries from
Exam Sitting
(later renamed "Dissarray"…so clever!) into Earth Wide Moth.
I will delete the other site soon. Now my old reading notes have a home with a
hearth: the "yesterblog" will churn those entries back to the front page once
per year so that I can freshen up on all that I’ve forgotten over the last
eighteen months. Point two: Launched a TV station–EWM-71–by
making a page with a bunch of YouTube custom players. I know, I know: all
big media conglomerates started small. Naysayers might add: "Technically,
YouTube is not TV," and to them I would retort, "Why are you crapping on my stoop during this moment in the sun?"

I appreciate that all of the programming is easily controlled and readily
updated through YouTube. I will see a video I want to add, click on it,
bump it into a playlist, and there it is, live on EWM-71. I can also re-arrange
the order of the clips in any playlist. Why bother with this? Well, not only do
I like it, but I’ve been thinking about some sort of project that would tie into
this practice of tele-tubing; something for a class, maybe, where research
involves piling up a yarn of video snippets. Not necessarily a full
24-hour marathons of crappy 70’s TV, but a variety show arranged into a single
page–a wall of moving images. And then write some sort of account of it, a
review of the next person’s programming line-up, annotations, and so on.

Another programming note: Eventually, what I’d really like to see is a Web
2.0 application (developers?) that makes it possible to produce something like

PTI
at home. Voice- and video-enabled pairs could connect, pre-load
(or randomize) a list of discussable points, set an arbitrary timer, and then
get going with a pop-pop-pop conversation. And then post it to blog, of
course. Go!

1. John McCain’s plagiarized speech
2. Tayshaun Prince’s minutes against China
3. Spiced ketchup
4. How long of a job letter is too long of a job letter?
5. Peter, Paul, and Mary

I came up with these off the top of my head. But seriously, there would
be a lot to love in a DIY, web-based PTI module, no? If it doesn’t come
along soon, maybe somebody will go out on a limb with me and pitch a PTI-styled
conference panel, so I can get it out of my system.

Reanimation

The Reanimation Library
in Brooklyn (via)
offers a collection of discarded and found books not likely to be held elsewhere:
curios, out-of-print, wonders. Here librarianship is inflected with an art
aesthetic (perhaps more outwardly or radically than in the common case). There seems to be more than rarity justifying the in-status of the
books; but it is a sort of rare collection, one inflected with the idiosyncratic
impulses and tastes of the collector. The 600-book collection raises the question of whether it is
simply an installation called by the name of library. The mission
statement:

The Reanimation Library seeks to assemble an inspiring collection of
resources that will facilitate the production of new creative work and
promote reflection and research into the historical, legal, and
methodological questions surrounding the adaptive reuse of found materials.
It strives to provide the necessary space and tools to allow these
activities to flourish, and to foster a climate of spirited collaboration.

"Adaptive reuse of found materials" and so on: sounds like ideas that would
serve well as the guiding impetuses for a composition course–one I’d like to
teach, anyway. The Thingology entry refers to
this recent
report from the Minneapolis City Pages
; both of them mention
Dewey’s Nightmare, a
playwriting experiment tied to the Reanimation Library in which seven writers
wear blindfolds and pick one book each randomly from the stacks. Their
challenge, then, is to shape the random sample into something for the stage.
Quite a methodology, and one not unlike the stuff Sirc discusses in "Box-Logic":
the found collection, the interplay of contingent samples and selections,
renewal in re-coordinating affinities, pulsion, etc.

Don’t miss the
catalog
or the pile of
images.

Katamari Walking

Before Saturday night, I’d never played
Katamari Damacy
.
In

Datacloud
and again in
"Katamari
Interface,"
I read about the princely roller pushing the tacky (magnetic?)
ball through the game’s byways, gaining in things, some strategic, many
accidental. All of them counted, catalogued. They’re persistent in my own
Katamari-like memory, the projects I mention, their framing of Katamari Damacy
as an installment of the database logic implicit in much digital writing. Like
toaster ovens placed enigmatically in the middle of the street (what’s that
doing there?
), Katamari logics have joined the clump that is my plan for
WRT302 this fall, too.

Speaking of stickiness (or glue), I’ve been walking
Y. most days
lately. Mornings. We’ve jogged, too, but whether or not I’m jogging,
he walks, mocking me and my slow, laborious pace. Puppies are voracious
collectors; Y., particularly so. He aggregates the street, its detritus,
its unseen flavors. Leeches miscellany: cig. butts, sticks, wilderberries,
leaves, wrappers, styrofoam bits, and so on. This gets at the deep tension in
our relationship (Dr. Phil, Y. takes into his mouth every tiny speck of crap and
debris in reach!). He’s learning "drop." It’s a sweeter
lesson since he’s come to understand that I’m not afraid to dig my fingers into
the dark depths of his kibble-pipe to retrieve the salivascraps rather than have
him ingest them for good. Back to the point of what I was getting at: Y.
is a collector.

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Re Collection

Walter Benjamin, in "Unpacking My Library," writes

The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of
individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final
thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them. (60)

Today, I’m thinking of my exam areas and the respective lists–collections,
really–as temporarily locked items in magic circles. I’m semi-officially
in the exam phase of my program of study, and although I have yet to type up a
reflective essay (a post-coursework "Stuff I’m Thinking About") and get
thumbs-ups from the grad committee in the fall, my lists are

reasonably

well
set.
With a streak of good, steady studying, I hope to examine in November.

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