“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?



Walked the main loop in our subdivision, 300-degrees of the circle, anyway, before turning west for just more than a mile and outlining the next subdivision west of here where I ran into ghastly-happy Snowtorso. Sidewalks are clear enough, but the inter-subdivision trail network isn’t maintained in the winter, so although its surface has been traveled by dozens since last week’s snowfall, the surface is all icecrags and snowruts. Unpredictable. Sometimes slippery.

I listened to last week’s “Mapping” episode of This American Life. I think it was a re-run from several years ago with a snippet about Denis Wood’s new-ish book, Everything Sings, dubbed in. Could be wrong. The segment reminded me of what I find so interesting about Wood’s work, and it convinced me that I made the right decision to devote a week to Wood and Monmonier on my winter Visual Rhetoric syllabus, which remains a work-in-progress pending a few finishing touches.


We’re halfway through the Spring 2011 term, three weeks (a w a r p, really) from wrapping up the two classes I am teaching, an online ENGL328 and a F2F ENGL121. I’m trying something different in the 121. The units of composition are what I’m calling research memos and tracings. The research memos (inventories, anticipatory speculations, plans) prepare us for the tracings, which are, as I think of it, mini-enactments of various methods, ways of inquiring. Memos and tracings alternate, one each week, until they amount to about 30+ pages of writing from which students will assemble a 10+-page “researched argument.” And the five tracings, five ways of inquiring, are 1. memory work (experiential anecdotes), 2. word work (definitional drill-down), 3. site work (scenic noticing), 4. interview, and 5. source work (consulting published articles). I realize the last one is usually the star in much academic prose, but I am adapting these to fit a pre-existing curricular framework enough that this version of the class will be simpatico with some of what’s already in place at EMU. Had I to add one more way, it would be 6. survey work, a class-authored survey whose questions we would compose and then answer and whose results we would draw upon as a form of evidence to hitch some assertions to in the researched argument piece. This will have to wait for the 15-week version of the course, although I cannot right now foresee when I will be teaching this course at the more generous, more contemplative pace.

Midterm. Already said this, but yesterday was roughly half-way and so I circulated a mid-term teaching evaluation using Surveymonkey (nine questions). In class we did our usual blind peer review (another entry for another day), looked at and discussed various memos, and then hovered for a minute on our program’s learning outcomes. I usually dis-identify with outcomes. Assessment isn’t my bag. I recognize the function of outcomes to be best and most when tacit and least. That is, I want them to be a faint shadow, necessary because they lightly guide us on our way, but not the sort of thing we need to dwell on explicitly, focally. I asked students to articulate with a drawn line a relationship they could see between any Composing Process Outcome or any Learning Process Outcome. There are eleven total. Now, to do this: Draw lines from two CPOs and two LPOs to four artifacts. Assign a unique letter to each of the four lines. In a paragraph, articulate the linkage. Sixteen students, sixty-four lines, sixty-four paragraphs. This provides all of us with a glimpse of what we understand to be happening so far. I compiled the results into this.

ENGL121 LO Linkages

What can I learn from it? Well, some linkages are more densely set than others. That is, eleven lines were shared by three or more students. The accompanying paragraphs add subtlety to the more general impression, but this begins to suggest consensus, or maybe an outcome bias of some kind. Three lines were shared by two students. Twelve lines were singularly identified. Out of 64 links drawn among 66 possibilities, then, just seventeen fell to the low levels of one or two, whereas 11 possibilities (out of 66) drew 73 percent response. Why? And what does this mean for what we do next? Are some artifacts too neatly mapped against individual outcomes? Are other outcomes too hazily defined?

In sharing this stuff and in publicly fumbling around with these questions, I’m not interested in rushing to conclusions, nor do I want to fixate excessively on the outcomes. I am merely trying to take an interest in them, in part because they figure prominently into institutional and programmatic assessment discourse and in part because, as one who mentors graduate students from time to time, I am thinking about how to keep outcomes lightly enough fitted to the FYC classes without them getting too much in the way.

Reinventing the Wheel

Despite an abbreviated work session this morning, I found time to download and
install the latest version of CMap Tools, an
application I grew fond of during coursework and then inexplicably uninstalled
twenty months ago, just after I used it to map the dissertation I’ve been
working at ever since. About the latest version: what’s not to love?  I thought
about it in the first place because I had a few ideas for a new map-sketch, the
raw start to an article I intend to draft before summer’s end.

I’ll say more about the application and the article another time, perhaps,
but all of this is a roundabout way of getting to the more pressing issue:
because I re-installed CMap Tools, I also rediscovered an old, forgotten
myscot wheel
folder.  The myscot wheel is an idiosyncratic cluster of mascots from programs where
I’ve worked and studied, a wheel because the figures are arranged in a circle.
For just over two months, since mid-February, I’ve had cause to add to it,

Myscot Wheel (update)

The new, improved wheel gives it away. As the culmination of my
job search, eight weeks ago I accepted a position for this coming fall as an Assistant Professor of
English at Eastern Michigan University
In addition to being so warmly welcomed by great colleagues and preparing for a
job I look forward to starting, the move to Ypsi-Arbor later this summer also means something of a homecoming for me. I
grew up in Michigan and have always referred to it proudly as home.

As tempted as I am to gush on, I’ll refrain for now and instead
loosely commit to a series–eventual entries on the position, on the courses I will be
teaching in the fall, on the market and anything worth sharing about how I
approached it. But there you have today’s circuit: CMap Tools, an updated myscot wheel,
and an upbeat announcement about joining EMU.

Method’s Con-trails

Caught a small
blip of discussion
yesterday concerned with whether or not Google Earth


the lost city of Atlantis
. Remnants of the elusive, underwater cityscape?

According to Google Maps Mania,


It’s true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth
including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown
species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa.

In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data
collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often
collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.

The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact
that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how
little we really know about the world’s oceans.

How little we know, indeed. Is this Atlantis? The conspiracy doesn’t interest me all that much.
Instead, I’m struck by the impression: the stamp left by the "systematic"
tracing, the residue of the surface-to-sea-floor method (a term others
have smartly untangled it into meta-hodos or something like ‘beyond
ways’, even ‘ways
beyond’; this etymological dig lingers with me). The deep blue grid of
"bathymetric data" elicits questions: why don’t we see these in the adjacent
areas? What was it about this boat, this collection process,
translation from sound to image, that left behind the vivid trails?

Robert Sarmast
elaborated on the image’s trail-grid, noting:

The lines you’re referring to are known as "ship-path artifacts" in the
underwater mapping world. They merely show the path of the ship itself as it
zig-zagged over a predetermined grid. Sonar devices cannot see directly
underneath themselves. The lines you see are the number of turns that the
ship had to make for the sonar to be able to collect data for the entire
grid. I’ve checked with my associate who is a world-renowned geophysicist
and he confirmed that it is artifact. Sorry, no Atlantis.

More provocations here: the grid’s unevenness, its predetermination, the
inability of the sonar devices to see (erm…hear) directly below. And
yet, a telling illustration of method alongside method: seems to me a subtle
allegory in the adjacency of ocean floor imagery with lines and without.
Presumably, the surrounding ground was measured similarly. Why no lines?

Manovich, "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime"

 Manovich, Lev. "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime."
Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools. Eds. Byron Hawk, David Reider,
and Ollie Oviedo. Electronic Mediations Ser. 22. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,

Why render data visually? Lev Manovich, in "Data Visualization as New
Abstraction and as Anti-sublime," the opening chapter in Small Tech
(reprinted from ArtPhoto, 2003),
responds to this with an answer that, in spirit, moves beyond the "data
epistemology" of a cumbersome, old (perhaps even mythical) scientism. Why render
data visually? "[T]o show us the other realities embedded in our own, to show us
the ambiguity always present in our perception and experience, to show us what
we normally don’t notice or pay attention to" (9). By the end of this brief
article, Manovich begins to get round to the idea of a rhetoric of data
visualization, even if he never calls it this. Despite being caught up in a
representationalist framework as he accounts for what data visualization does,
Manovich eventually keys on "daily interaction with volumes of data and numerous
messages" as the "more important challenge" facing us. That is, we are
steeped now in a new "data-subjectivity."

Continue reading →

Certeau’s Sieve-order

Lately I’ve been puzzling over de Certeau’s theorization of maps and what they risk
obfuscating (e.g., stories, minutiae, detritus, etc.) in The Practice of Everyday Life. His pedestrian rhetoric affirms the viewpoint of the "ground level" over the observation
of the whole from the 110th story of the World Trade Center, from which he once
experienced a curious pleasure while looking onto Manhattan–seeing it as a "wave of verticals" hovering
distantly above the city’s "paroxysmal places" (91). De Certeau wonders about the
pleasure he felt and, as well, what this bird’s-eye viewpoint, with its "scopic and gnostic
drive," obscures: "When one goes up there, he leaves behind the the mass that
carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators" (92).

From the observation deck, De Certeau says the mass is left behind, that it
"carries off and mixes up." Reasonably true. Looking down on the ant-like taxis,
the city appears different–further away. But in another sense, the urban
observation deck is not less local than the sidewalk, is it? Also, marveling at
the city does not make its streets more readily navigable (whatever compels you
to go out and about).

Certeau goes on to critique maps, traces, place-names, and flattened
projections, lumping them together as totalizing devices: "The surface of this
["suspended symbolic order"] is everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses,
drifts, and leaks of meaning: it is a sieve-order" (107). The sieve-order favors
stories and localization, and these are thwarted by intervals of distance, from
those viewpoints at which the "world’s debris" disappears.

Later he admits an oscillation between the local stories and "rumors"
(presumably reinforced by a desire for totalizing representations), he is
concerned that the relationship between the two has become stratified: "Stories
diversify, rumors totalize. If there is still a certain oscillation between
them, it seems that today there is a stratification: stories are becoming
private and sink into the secluded places in neighborhoods, families, or
individuals, while the rumors propagated by the media cover everything and,
gathered under the figures of the City, the masterword of an anonymous law, the
substitute for all proper names, they wipe out or combat any superstitions guild
of still resisting the figure" (108). The overwrought substitution of the one
(i.e., totalizing view) for the other (i.e., everyday practices) is troubling:
"The trace left behind [on, say, a map] is substituted for the practice. It
exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able
to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in
the world to be forgotten" (97).

Might the projection–and even the written account–also rejuvenate the action, renew its circulation, and cause it to be remembered again? Specifically, I am thinking about this in relationship to distant reading methods that translate large volumes of data
(mined from texts or activities) into visual models–projections in which we can
apprehend patterns not identifiable at other scales of contact (such as the
"ground level").

Maybe there is a place for de Certeau in Chapter Five. I haven’t decided
yet. But I am discovering the faint separations between my dissertation and the
walking rhetorics he advocates. Something tells me these can be bridged (or filled),
but I am still reaching for ideas about how to do that (and also still thinking about
whether it is even necessary).