And yet this gesture should also be carefully documented! Have you ever noticed, at sociological conferences, political meetings, and bar palavers, the hand gestures people make when they invoke the ‘Big Picture’ into which they offer to replace what you have just said so that it ‘fits’ into such easy-to-grasp entities as ‘Late Capitalism’, ‘the ascent of civilization’, ‘the West’, ‘modernity’, ‘human history’, ‘Postcolonialism’, or ‘globalization’? Their hand gesture is never bigger than if they were stroking a pumpkin! I am at last going to show you the real size of the ‘social’ in all its grandeur: well, it is not that big. It is only made so by the grand gesture and by the professorial tone in which the ‘Big Picture’ is alluded to. If there is one thing that is not common sense, it would be to take even a reasonably sized pumpkin for the ‘whole of society’. (Latour, Reassembling the Social, 186)

The quotation, the animated GIF (from the highly entertaining Latournimata GIF Tumblr, of course)–these didn’t make it into my #nhuk presentation. Neither did the Stengersian gesture GIF below (would have been an odd fit, anyway) or any discussion of felicity and infelicity conditions extending from Austin’s pragmatics much like Latour does here to modes of existence, only in this case to ontographs and the disciplinary encounters they describe (by mapping). Cut. But what’s left will do: tiny gestures, crowned ontologies, an extrusion of ontographic methods with which to do alien discipliniography.

Teach Your Children

Ph. is taking an online class this summer: LS211: Introduction to the Humanities. It’s a class I know well. I first developed the online version several years ago2002 and taught it a handful of times, including every summer during my tour de PhD. I was the course developer for, I don’t know, seven years right up until I landed in Ypsilanti.

Now two years later, I encouraged him to enroll in this particular course because he needs it for his major, and I thought there was a chance the main textbook might still be in use and a few crumbs of the course I’d designed might be lingering in the new version. All this amounts to is a faint hunch that we could have some conversations about the course materials–in-family supplemental instruction.

You can imagine my surprise–and horror–when Ph. received as a welcome email an message I wrote many years ago as a template for other instructors to adapt when welcoming student into the course. What a peculiar turn, this message in a bottle, from me to students in the early oughts, then with details removed as a template from me to instructors of the course, then minimally modified from an instructor to Ph. late last week.

The class begins for Ph. today. In fact, he just shared with me a Google Doc with the major project assignment (because I was curious; plus he is working in my office today), and, indeed, it is the very assignment prompt I created a half decade ago. I’m baffled, conflicted. I mean, I know it was work-for-hire. I know the other school “owns” these course materials. I know they are entitled by contract law to redistribute and make money on every scrap of material I put into that course. And even though this situation hints at odd and unsettling pedagogical practices (for a course–ironically–we paid tuition for), and even though I am not crazy about the idea that Ph. would be taking a course dependent upon such an aging bundle, I am nevertheless reassured by what feels like stepping through a wormhole, i.e., that the course is solidly enough developed that materials I wrote and assembled several years ago could still be sound today. It’s a principle to teach by, I suppose: create classes you would like for your children to take one day (and understand that if you sign a contract releasing work-for-hire, you just might end up paying tuition for them to take it).

“The Humanities Was Nice”

In late May, media theorist Lev Manovich presented “How to Read 1,000,000 Manga Pages: Visualizing Patterns in Games, Comics, Art, Cinema, Animation, TV, and Print Media” at MIT’s HyperStudio (via). The talk is relevant to my work because Manovich wants to create visualizations that deliberately alter the default scale at which we experience something like magazine covers or Manga pages. His “exploratory analysis of visual media” offers insights into culture, he says; visualizations “allow you to ask questions you never knew you had.”

Manovich wears a t-shirt that reads, “Smart Critique Stupid Create,” and he uses this slogan to gain create some separation between his work (stupid create) and traditional humanities (smart critique). Manovich kicks sand–maybe playfully, though it’s hard to say for sure–at the humanities again at the end of the Q&A when he says, “The Humanities was nice, but it was a false dream.” Obviously machine-reading and computational processing of images ring heretical for anyone deeply (e.g., career-deep) invested in one-at-a-time interpretations of aesthetic objects. The all-at-once presentation brings us to the edge of gestalt and permits us to grasp large-scale continuities. Manovich also mentions that this works differently for visual media than for semantic mining because the images are not in the same way confined by the prison house of language. The “how” promised in the lecture’s title carries well enough, but I would expect to hear ongoing questions about the “why,” especially “why Manga?” or “why Time Magazine covers”?

The video includes a couple of unusual moments: at 17:30 when Manovich grumbles about not being able to see his screen and around the 59th minute when host Ian Condry poses an exposition-heavy “question.” As for the practical side of the talk, Manovich’s frameworks for “direct visualization” and “visualization without quantification” are worth noting, and I would be surprised if we don’t hear more about them as these projects play out and are variously composed and circulated.

Lanham – The Electronic Word (1993)

Technology, democracy (explicit in the subtitle), rhetoric education and
curricular reform recur as themes in Lanham’s The Electronic Word
The book sets out with an overarching consideration of the material,
instrumental and ideological transitions in the interfacial revolution from book
to screen.  The screen has rattled the "reign of textual truth" (x), opened
up the meaning of "text," and, consequently, challenged traditional-humanist
rationale for moralistic training via literary works (lots on the Great Books
debate here) . EW is set up for reading as a continuous book and also as
discrete chapters, according to Lanham; the chapters make frequent intratextual
reference (i.e., "In chapter 7, I…").  He gives readings of
rhetorical/philosophical traditions and more recent –phobe and –phile
orientations toward microcomputers and related computing activities–activities
he regards as deeply rhetorical and thoroughly transformative for commonplaces
about text, decorum, higher ed, and the humanities.  EW is probably
one of the earlier takes on a digital rhetorics, even if he frames a compelling
range of precursors (xi)–"a new and radical convertibility" of "word image and
sound" (xi) staged in Cage’s experimental art and music, Duchamp’s readymades
and even K. Burke’s poetry.

Continue reading →