The Gaps

One more from Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) before I shelve it. On gaps:

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock–more than a maple–a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you. (274)

That third sentence from the end, squeak, turn the soil, a universe, but why just one? A pluriverse, maybe. Or pluriverses. These gaps and this turning, in them hints of gap statements, which imply needed inquiry, why hasn’t anyone thought of this yet, why hasn’t anyone done this research, explored shareably this wondering?

Keywords in Threshold Concepts, #4c15 Poster Presentation

I’m in Tampa this week for the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication–an event I’ve been attending every year (except one) since 1999. This year I proposed (and was accepted to present) a poster, and after several hours of finessing for more white space, shifting elements around, and tinkering in Illustrator, here’s what I’ll be standing next to for 75 minutes this afternoon.

Keywords in Threshold Concepts: Time-Binding and Methodologizing Disciplinary Lexicon by DerekMueller

Ideology of Wording

Don Angel’s viejito repertoire, it seems to me, implied a relationship to words that is distinguishable from the ideology of wording that is common in mainstream life to the extent that such life has been shaped by schooling. In this sense, there is much in schooling that encourages logos at the expense of the theatrical, distance at the expense of involvement. I am reminded of my own markings of student papers or my own student papers marked by teachers: “exact word?” “shift in diction,” “redundant,” “too wordy, tighten up,” “clarify!” “verb tense shift,” “awkward,” “dangling modifier,” “your thinking is not coherent here,” “is this logical?” “verb agreement problem,” “what?” and so on. During such practices the word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and discourse become objects of consciousness and begin to create what I am calling here an ideology of wording whose ultimate goal is the mastery of both discourse and the lifeworld that the discourse points to. An aspect of this ideology of wording is that the theatrical becomes a set of effects, important in their own right and in certain contexts but potentially deceptive in knowledge-making contexts. Indeed, much of Don Angel’s knowledge—curanderismo, stories of the supernatural, and divining practices—were so far off the professional logos map as to be considered merely theatrical. In this sense, Don Angel’s narrative style reinforced the marginalization of his narrative content from the professional and mainstream styles of the modern world. (65)

Ralph Cintron, Angel’s Town

Over the two-week break between semesters (more on the front end of it, actually), I spent a few minutes with Cintron’s Angel’s Town, mostly because I wanted to trawl back through a good ethnography to refresh my sense of why ethnography is so demanding, so time and methods intensive. The First-year Writing Program I direct now has a number of instructors who frame research as ethnography, which is another reason I felt compelled to pick this up.

Cintron’s “ideology of wording” has stuck, this passage has held on, since I read it a few weeks ago. The viejito—here set in relief against a schoolish ideology of wording—is a punning language game with so much vernacular nuance and layered innuendo that Cintron freely admits how incomplete any representation of must be. Nevertheless, this tension between viejito and an “ideology of wording” stands as a terrific example of the hard-to-mix qualities of academically situated discourse practices (i.e., writing, speaking, and “reading” in school) with their legacy logoi, and, on the other hand, the everyday rhetorics that operate powerfully and cogently elsewhere.

In both classes I’m teaching this winter, a grad seminar in Computers and Writing focused in particular on “ecologies of practice” and an undergraduate class in style and technology, I have felt like this passage is trailing me around, shadowing me. Cintron’s account of viejito parlays gets at something akin to an “ecology of practice” for how the exchanges bloom, transcending and exceeding mainstream language conventions. Grasping this, then, by studying the viejito up close, requires what Richard Coe would have described as an eco-logic, because their systemic manifestation that cannot be explained by analysis of isolated parts. And in the (online) style+technology class, there has been quite a bit of discussion wordiness (Holcomb and Killingsworth 47). Concision has its time and place, of course, but wordiness (or the charge of wordiness) constrains the kind of theatrical, involved wordplay Cintron notices and calls our attention to.

Finally, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Cintron’s contrastive pairings of logos vs. the theatrical and distance vs. involvement in the second sentence. The pairings accomplish some of the distinction that moves his analysis forward, but it also hints at a question about the tidiness and convenience of these conceptual frames. To break from this, for a second, for example, what might the combination of distance and the theatrical make possible? Is there already a distant-theatrical quality in Cintron’s (or, to be fair, any ethnographer’s) observing and filtering for insights? I’m interested in whether the distance-theatrical can advance other methods, too (or rather, by carrying out the distance-theatrical, explore other yet unasked questions). But this—as well as the tension between viejito and the ideology of wording—seems like a big deal for ethnography and especially for the kinds of ethnography attempted in first-year writing or by researchers who are just starting out in rhetoric and composition/writing studies.

Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?

Concerned with drift-states and their ends, Ramin Bahrani’s short movie Plastic Bag traces one tote’s voyage along currents, circuits, and snags as it makes its way home to the Trash Vortex, the whirling gyre of rubbish accumulating in the Pacific, which I was reminded of by Timothy Morton’s blog yesterday. Drift logics are not monolithic, then. “Adrift” is not a baggy, inclusive state, no generic circum-stance. Consider precious< - >toxic differences between drifting glass (e.g., messages in a bottle), driftwood, and drift plastics. The film’s synthetic protagonist (plastagonist?) reminds us, when hitched eternally on the reef, about a condition, for better or worse, of drift logics: they stick-unstick and thus sever (or otherwise obfuscate) and also momentarily verify trace-correlations between consequences and preconditions. And this must pose a methodological quandary for tracing the “adrift.”

Deterministic Footfalls

Here’s a fascinating RadioLab podcast on deep patterns in cityscapes, “Cities.”

After listening, follow it with a sip–a chaser–from Calvino’s Invisible Cities:

In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions. I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. […] The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls. (10-11)

“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.

This Time in Wired

More Moretti.

Comments include, in no particular order, Sp&m, XKCD reference, (Distant Reading as Sure Sign of an Unavoidable) Robot Apocalypse, Boredom, More Sp&m, and There Goes Context Leaking Out All Over the Place Again.


Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean the Yoki series has been discontinued.
It’s just a blip in my plan.

Yesterday, I was watching Is. in the late afternoon. Ph. had an away
soccer match and so needed a ride to the school around 4 p.m.; D. was off on an
errand. I was sapped out, dragging. I’ve been off caffeine since
mid-August, but yesterday I suffered an ever so slight hankering and succumbed
to it, stopping off at the
local quick mart for a cold Dr. Pepper. Is. asked, where are we going? I said,
inside for a soda. She said, huh? And I said a soda, a pop. Growing
up in Michigan, it was always "pop." Is. thought I was talking about a
"fruit pop"–the name she uses somewhat interchangeably for 100% juice popsicles
and also for lollipops or suckers, which I’ve learned lately are shoved in kids
faces at every turn from the physician to the post office (today at the post
office in Fayetteville, a chocolate Dum-Dum). It’s constant.

Anyway, the two of us went into the mart, and, of course, all of the candy was lined up
at Is.’s eye level, a galleria of pops and things. She picked out a pomegranate
(?) Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, and we were out the door again, me with my soda
and Is. with the candy. Indulged and temporarily satisfied.

The deal with the pop was that she had to eat a decent dinner before she
could have it. No problemo, said the look she gave me. And she did so, happily
working through the nutritional foodstuff before reminding me that the junk was
all-the-while hailing her.

And then we had a conversation about how, when I was a kid, the Country
Corner at the intersection of Remus and Winn Roads would redeem Tootsie Roll
wrappers if they had a star on them. Seems like I ate quite a few of

I also told Is. about the commercial with the dippy kid who sought out a
partner for his "how many licks?" research study: the one where the turtle
admits his inability to resist devouring the thing before completing the
investigation and then passes the kid off to the overconfident and disastrously
lazy owl who gives it two licks before crunching down on the thing. Fade
to shrinking fruit pops with voiceover: "How many licks does it take to get to
the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop? The world may never know." Is.
was far more interested in hearing about the boy, the turtle, and the owl, than
in hearing me describe that commercial as my first exposure to flawed research
(that sort of sham inquiry that made it seem like the owl already knew the
answer he would give and instead performed the part only so he could consume the
object of inquiry, take it as his own, and so on).

Later, we checked it out on YouTube.

No shortage of innuendos here about research ethics and
inquiry (either way: of too much fondness for the objects or of destructive partnerships),
but suffice it to say that Is. did not ask me what the answer was (how should I
know?) and neither did I let on whether I thought the question from the commercial was any good in the first place.

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).