Thursday, July 27, 2006

Indexical Thinking

As I continue to plod ahead with preparations for qualifying exams, I'm becoming more and more cognizant of indexes and also more dependent on the them. I've used indexes more casually in the past, almost always involving them as an after-thought to front-to-back reading--as something merely referential, a auxiliary text ranking well below everything else, a match with its rear-most position. A mere aid to memory rather than a multiple and complex terminal for differentiated reading encounters.

It's difficult to know just how much my own tagging habits have overhauled my expectations when reading. Between Flickr,, cite-u-like, blog entries and CCC Online, I'm ever more frequently engaging with tagging systems, applying tags or using them as bumper cushions on various meanderings around the internets. Thing is, I'm finding that because of this I want more from the indexes of books. More and more often, perhaps because some kind of indexical desire is piqued by the plenty of tagging systems for reading online, the indexes of books disappoint me. Just today, in the back of Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work, I was scanning the index. Came to "Turkle, Sherry, 212." And flipped. Only an endnote in Selfe and Selfe's "The Intellectual Work of Computers and Composition Studies"; "Turkle," named in a list. That was that.

Early this summer I was trying to get up to speed with exam prep, tinkering around, trying to get organized. And one of the bigger of the hitches was uncertainty with my ever-evolving note-keeping system. Throughout coursework, I used a few different systems, some of which are posted here in the reading notes category. Other methods I've tried involve lists of phrases with page numbers and letters to locate page positioning and other combinations of handwritten or typed notes. But for exams I wanted something more indexically entangled, more integrated with tagging and cross-referencing, all managed by assigning keywords that I could pool, sort, and free-associate. It took me a couple of weeks to get it set up and running smoothly, and now I'm reasonably satisfied with the results--results I'll share early this fall provided I can continue to make reasonably steady progress with reading and annotating. If not for a flurry of new tagging habits, I probably would've been content with old-fashioned note-keeping, although I'm skeptical about my own ability to find my way through them once they pile up.

I doubt this will raise many eyebrows, but I don't find it the least bit preposterous to suggest that book indexes should be resituated. Move them to the front of the book, I say. Add indexical information for each chapter (especially for edited collections). After all, for me at least, indexes are the new table of contents. I'll grant that this is probably more of a personal revolution and not something bigger (or it is, whatever). But consider the possibilities in a variant of cite-u-like that would offer a book's indexed terms (by chapter, also) and would allow you to select from them while also pulling from the tags of others and adding your own. Sort of like what you can do with the site for CCC Online when fold a link into your own collection. You get the prefab, auto-indexed stuff plus your own. Today's what if: the index of R&C as Intellectual Work available online in such a way that it cooperates with other web 2.0 apps. A more fanciful wish: an uber-linked, comprehensive (books, journals, net), dynamic, disciplinary concordance system.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at July 27, 2006 10:30 PM to Qualifying Exams