Ways of Working

Saturday morning I was lounging around the living room, looking after Is.,
and flipping channels on the television for a few minutes, when I stopped on
C-SPAN2’s Book TV. They were running a three-hour

interview with Nell Irvin Painter
, the historian who wrote, among other
things, Standing At Armageddon, a book I read a few years ago during

I don’t watch much Book TV, it turns out, so I don’t know whether it is
typical for them to break from the interviews to give quick little documentary
segments on the processual nuances for the featured writer. But they did
so for Painter, and it happened to come at the very moment when I was checking
out the program. The up-close look at the way Painter works comes between
1:01:18 and 1:15:16 if you are inclined to check it out via the Real Media file
provided by CSPAN.

Painter talks about the way her meandering process picks up late in the day.
She talks about how she creates, names, and saves her computer files (a new one
for each day, recently), how kayaking "helps" as part of her methodology, how
she writes in books she owns, and how she senses that her home in the
Adirondacks affords greater concentration. There is more: on her
dissertation, on cut and paste, on her use of a thesaurus, on working with
editors through revisions, on Row ("Roe"?), the friendly cat who crashes the
interview, and on how she keeps her library. It is a fifteen-minute
segment with a long list of writerly insights; Painter begins by saying, "I
would not recommend my way of working to others." Who would?

I was also interested in the moment when she talks about how she reads books,
how she develops personal indexes on a separate sheet of paper.
Productive, indexical thinking is something I have tried to make more tangible for
students in recent semesters. I like to hear people talk about it, and, in
fact, even though Painter’s way of working seems like what you would expect of a
historian academic (i.e., there is nothing shocking here), I wish we had more
documentary segments like this. Fifteen minutes on how I work (most of the
time): I’d love to see these for a long list of people. Maybe I am alone in this

Whether or not I am, it suggests to me an alternative the longer,
multi-voiced documentaries of composition we have seen recently in Take 20
(emph. pedagogy) and Remembering Composition (emph. digitality). And I
understand the slim chance of seeing documentary film (or video) shorts become a
more regular feature of any journal (whether online or distributed as DVD with
the paper copy)–low odds because its dissymmetry with ten(ur)able scholarship
at many institutions. Without loosening the lid on that argument, this is
just to say that I’d like to see more of it–more writerly documentaries, that


Before a full week cycles around, I wanted to tack up a few notes about the
Digital and Visual Rhetorics Symposium hosted at SU last Thursday and Friday. 
Each of the talks was stimulating/evocative; w/ these notes: I’m going for a patchwork of what was said and what it got me
thinking about (highlights plus commentary).  Fair enough?

Continue reading →

Centigrade 480 or so

Been a few days since we rushed over to the movie house to catch Fahrenheit
.  Plenty has been said about it–from folks inviting the president
to view it, to Letterman’s top
, to Kenneth
Turan’s NPR/L.A. Times review
and Jenny
and Chuck’s
insightful entries.  All of this means I’m going to keep it short, mention
just two of the pieces that have been fomenting since we watched it early

Stark Juxtapositions: The humorous scenes weren’t enough to soak up my sense
of shame, horror, disappointment–the whole lot of nightmarish associations
volleyed throughout the two hours, playing off the dreamscape opening. 
Some of the juxtapositions were plainly crushing, and so I felt sad while
watching the movie.  I wonder why there aren’t more reviews on Moore’s film
as sad.  Propagandistic, unapologetic, scathing, and edgily
documentary-like, but also sad.  And here we are.  When I left the
theater, Bush was still Commander in Chief.

Election Impact:  The movie-viewing public isn’t neatly partisan, nor
would this movie have been a success if it played a milder line, with a gentler
approach to the inquiries and associations.  Sure, it pushes hard issues,
and it does so in a way that will reverberate across party lines, that will,
perhaps, even redefine party lines.  Why?  It’s compelling stuff, I
think.  F911 reveals no less than a small bundle of res ipsa
incriminations.  The torturous overplay of trailers, reviews, clips, etc.
must have a relationship to the latest, and lowest-yet approval ratings (at
42%).  No telling if the hum will last through November, but it’s
unimaginable that the White House can muster enough damage control to restore
Bush’s image as a competent leader(!).  Then again, now that the
sovereignty or whatever in Iraq has been turned over, Bush and company can
refocus on the re-election campaign.

I really should have thrown this together right after watching the
movie.  I’m sure I had more to say then. Certain! But there’s just been so
much F911-ing, and I feel a bit run down, blase.