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).

Writing Feverlets*

Curious about her critique of Derrida’s Archive Fever, I picked up a
copy of Carolyn Steedman’s Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from
Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry
about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman
makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida’s
concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the
inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She
writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud’s
Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive,
via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida’s
characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not
properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in
translation from Mal d’Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the
sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about
Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever’s pitch;
Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida’s
glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other
concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

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Et Alia

Several days immersed in lines upon lines of works cited entries may
cause you to wonder at some of the lesser noticed codes that rustle around at
the ends of scholarly articles. A paradox of citation is that the works
cited–a roster of references–flattens out the dimension of each
reference and orders the list arbitrarily according to the alphabet while also
downplaying a surprisingly uneven terrain of mismatched details more pocked than the
face of the moon. This contradiction is forcing me into decisions I hadn’t
expected to be so difficult.

The et al. is one example. It allows the keeper of the works to abbreviate,
to shorten a list of authors so that any source with more than three authors can
be listed alphabetically by the last name of the lead author followed by et al.
It is a note of inclusive omission. And I suppose it made greater sense in an era
when works citeds, rife with formulaic peculiarity, were typed on a typewriter.
The et al. conserves characters; it shortens the list of names, leaving off
everyone but the primary author. It is no coincidence that et al. rhymes with economic al. So what is the big deal?

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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
coursework.

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
fascination.

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
is.

Cirrus Uncinus

Because some flaws are more glaring when the paint is fresh, before it has dried.

The first word of chapter three’s draft: in. The last word: hence. The last word winks at me and smiles. Why? I don’t use the word “hence” often. We both know it is not the last word but instead the word that comes–for now–at the end.

I thought I would use something from Everything Is Miscellaneous (Weinberger) or Ambient Findability (Morville), but I have not. They are relievers–back-ups for coming revisions.

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Double-Dutch

Derrida, in Archive Fever: “For the time being, I will pull from this web a single interpretive thread, the one that concerns the archive” (45).

I am trying to bring in just enough Derrida at the end of chapter three to capitalize on his insights about origination myths (not of psychoanalysis, for my purposes, but of composition studies), about archivization as the perpetual rearrangement of data, and about the ways transclusive texts and digitization re-distribute and also re-calibrate institutional (or disciplinary) memory. This and more in 6-8 pages.

It is as if the “single interpretive thread” drawn, like a jump-rope, from the web, is held on one end by Derrida and on the other end by Brand. In this section on “How Archives Learn,” I am beginning with the overlap of archives (entering the houses of the Archons) and architecture. The Derrida-Brand skipping is double-dutch, because a second thread–from Brand–is also suspended (another thread) in this early portion of the final section. Two jump-ropes, two jump-rope holders. In their complimentary orbits, the two ropes come close to touching, but they alternate flight paths just enough to avoid touching. And yet I feel intensely the danger of getting tangled up.

As of today, I am four pages (1200 words) into the 6-8 pages I have allowed myself for the section–a necessary cap if I am to keep the chapter under 50 pp. (jeeps, when I promised myself just 35 pp.; so much for control). What remains of the section, however, is well-planned; it will be close.

One challenge has been that there is so much more more more to develop here. For instance, do we have a disciplinarily (or even a post-disciplinarily) shared theory of archivization or memory? And how important is such a thing (not only for online archives or scholarly journals, but also for the preservation of course descriptions, syllabi, listserv exchanges, and so on)? With this, I am not asking about methodologies for dealing with archives of interest to R&C (or of history and historiography, for that matter), but rather of the life cycle of a more explicit class of disciplinary materials. Is it irresponsible (even unethical) not to have greater consensus for archivization or for the “scholar of the future” Derrida writes about? Perhaps.

Next I will return to the matter of learning by squaring with a couple of propositions from Brand. Finally, there will be something on Brand’s contrast between adaptation and “graceless turnover” and also on North’s statement from The Making of… that “Composition’s collective fund of knowledge is a very fragile entity” (3)–an excerpt I work with briefly in chapter one. Maybe some of this will have to be canned later on. There is always that possibility. The chapter is, after all, building up a discussion of tag clouds, data-mining, and folksonomy, which musn’t be abandoned in the concluding section.

Address Keywords

How best to arrive at keywords (before they are tags)? One humorless punchline is that I will not soon have a degree in computational linguistics. I have dealt
superficially with the question this week, first by thinking about the relationship
of the terms assigned by various methods–where we have keywords at all, that
is. The most prominent journals in composition studies do very little with
keywords, much less with tags (here I am thinking of tags as the digital
iteration of keywords that includes latent, descriptive, and procedural
labeling). Why is that?

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