“The depth and complexity of human memory is staggeringly rich.”

Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop (2007), “Of Selves and Symbols,” p. 86
Photo: The time when two experimental cracker doughs were spread on silicone sheets laid atop wire racks for sliding into a dehydrator.

The time when I woke up tired on the last April Sunday morning during Year One of pandemic. The time I yawned over coffee and oatmeal ritual and plucked yesterday’s dried honeydew, apple spirals, and bananas soaked in lemon juice from silicone sheets to make room for something else. The time when I attempted two cracker doughs, one based on lentil sprouts and the other based on mung bean sprouts. The time when the waft of cracker doughs constituted with sprouts more than with any other ingredients and the smell’s description, what word could it be but “disappointment.” The time when there were other ingredients mixed in like oatmeal, onion powder, dill, salt, shredded coconut (lentil batch) and like white pepper, black pepper, salt, lemon juice, popcorn, and mustard (mung batch). The time when flax and chia were in both experimental doughs but those ingredients were mostly for nutrients and texture, bonding and composition and flavor, not scent.

The time when the other three trays rounding out the dehydrator–as the crackers baked (call it “dried”)–where cantaloupe and I wondered if the cantaloupe, cheap as it was for being $1.88 per unit at Kroger last Monday, was any good. The time when the cantaloupe’s hydration–its juiciness–was all wrong when cut open but then I sliced it into narrow strips and loaded it onto trays anyway. The time when the compromise on cantaloupe quality pertained only to one of the discounted cantaloupes but to the other one, actions being louder than words, you said, you’re garbage. The time when I tossed the second cantaloupe. The time when the experimental cracker doughs and cantaloupe slices dried (call it “baked”) into the afternoon. The time when I set a timer for one hour and just before the hour was up I used the pizza wheel to score the approximately square shapes of eventually crackers knowing too I could have used a butter knife. The time when as I rolled the pizza cutting tool, not having had lunch yet, what would I have?, thoughts drifted to the oddness of a world blue, more than 50,000 people dead of Coronavirus in the U.S. this month and the president’s expressions of sorrow, pain, remorse, heartache were imperceptible, or, if we’re going to be charitable, they read to me as insincere, performed, dutifully noted. The time when thousands of people died in a month and the flags stood at full mast. The time when so few people on TV seemed upset, when after scoring cracker lines, there was a moment of wondering at a heart’s generalizable capacity to know or worry or anticipate the sorrow of others.

The time when grey springtime afternoons were swiftly swallowed up by a new blog entry and some reading and a walk to campus to scan a few chapters into PDFs needed for rounding out the promotion packet. The time when, how long would it take for the crackers to be really, really crisp? The time when I skimped on yoga and did (modified) push-ups and situps instead and had a granola bar for a snack. The time when handwriting with greater swellforce than before started to matter and I downloaded iFontMaker and for $7.99 or the price of more than four iffy cantaloupes. The time when I installed iFontMaker and set mind to scrawl a handwriting character set spontaneously as if a rapid prototype blinked from so many years of muscle memory and sinew memory and bone memory and fingernail memory and lunula memory and cuticles and interstice…so many memories, more than translate but the attempt is still okay and the font better than expected so here’s to hoping the crackers will be, too.

The OOOist Writer and the Great Outdoors

I’m re-reading Chs. 4-5 of Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology to prepare for the second meeting of our summer reading group this afternoon. Ch. 4, Carpentry, sets in tension writing and the making of things; Ch. 5 proposes wonder as a way of doing OOO, as a means of grasping the ways objects orient (124). Last week’s meet-up attracted seven readers, and I’ve heard we’ll have several more joining today. I’m not leading the group with any particular goals in mind. It has very simply been an opportunity to engage with a book–and a philosophy–that a handful of our graduate students have wanted to talk more about since Eileen Joy, Tim Morton, and Jeffrey Cohen visited for last semester’s JNT Dialogue, “Nonhumans: Ecology, Ethics, Objects.”

To prepare for today’s conversation, I’ve been dusting back over a couple of recent blog entries here and here and here (as well as the comments, which begin to explore some lingering questions I have about OOO), and I also took a look again at Bogost’s entry from 2009, “What is Object-Oriented Ontology? A Definition for Ordinary Folk.” The point about OOO needing a “simple, short, comprehensible explanation” leaves me wondering to what extent the elevator pitch has been satisfactorily laid down and also whether a short-form version can adequately answer to its skeptics (e.g., those who, upon reading a bit about OOO lead with,”Yeah, but what about X?”). I suppose what I’m thinking around is whether OOO can really be boiled down to a 100-word account and whether, especially considering what looks to me like a surge of interest in units/objects/things/nonhumans, there could be a coherent statement that many of the main participants would stand behind. Yet another way, just how raging are OOO’s debates, now? And how much are new/cautious/fringe enquirers capable of exploring those debates?

Looking again at Chs. 4-5, I felt this time like writing, as counterpart to carpentry, isn’t given much of a chance. Writing is a foil–a thin backdrop against which a preferable set of practices are cast. The generating question follows: “[W]hy do you write instead of doing something else, like filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening?” In this context (and in this contrastive framing), writing is something of an attention or activity hog. It gets overplayed in the liberal arts; it gets over-valued in exceedingly strict economies for tenure and promotion. According to the chapter, these are cause for concern because 1) “academics aren’t even good writers” (89), and 2) writing, “because it is only one form of being” (90) is too monolithic a way of relating to the world. I generally agree with Bogost’s argument that scholarly activity should be (carefully!) opened up to include other kinds of making, but I’m less convinced that the widespread privileging of writing is the culprit here. It’s fine to say that academics aren’t good writers (though I’m reminded that we should never talk about writing as poor or problematic without looking at a specific text/unit in hand), but why would they be any better at “filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening” or coding APIs?

So while I’m interested in the call for an expansion of what can be considered scholarly activity, it remains unclear to me why writing should be at odds or brushed aside with that expansion. Instead of “Why do you write instead of doing something else?”, I would rather consider “How is your writing and making and doing entangled?”, whether gardening, drinking beer, or even welding (the second slide here suggests that writing and welding are compatible, though paper-based dossiers are already heavy enough; also weld-writing does not correspond to slideshow-encoding). It’s a relatively minor tweak of an otherwise compelling set of arguments about scholarship-in-computational-action, and yet with just a bit more nuance, rather than concluding that “When we spend all of our time reading and writing words–or plotting to do so–we miss opportunities to visit the great outdoors” (90), perhaps we don’t have to scrap composition to get beyond the limited and limiting definitions of writing still in circulation. And this may be one of the reasons an object-oriented rhetoric remains a promising complement to OOO.

Can Writing Studies Claim Craft Knowledge and More?

Robert Johnson’s recent CCC article, “Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies,” argues that “craft knowledge” can function effectively as a warrant for disciplinary legitimacy.  He sets up “craft knowledge” against an Aristotelian backdrop of techne, or arts of making, and advances a view of “craft knowledge” as a solution to still-raging disputes over the disciplinary status of writing studies (notably not “rhetoric and composition”).  “Still-raging” is casting it too strongly; unsettled and ongoing are perhaps better matches with the characterization of those disputes in this speculative discipliniography–an article that imagines felicitous horizons for the field. As I read, I wasn’t especially clear whose conflicted sensibility would be rectified by invoking craft knowledge. Among Johnson’s concerns with the status of writing studies are 1) that it does not carry adequate clout (or recognition, for that matter) necessary for grant writing and 2) that it does not influence neighboring fields whose inquiries would be, by the input of those trained in writing studies, enriched.

On the problem of disciplinary status for grant writing, Johnson writes,

When the traditional disciplines–the so-called established fields of inquiry and production–work in an interdisciplinary manner, they in most cases still hold onto their disciplinary identity. This is painfully evident for those in writing studies when applying for external grant funding.  On the application forms from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), for example, applicants must identify their resident discipline in order to be eligible. (680-681)

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