Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us

G ee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

What Video Games Have To Teach Us delivers an insightful and positive pronouncement of what teachers (and everyone, really) ought to understand about gaming; Gee advocates, with resoundingly smart support, a thoughtful take on video gaming as an activity far more complex and meaningful than most off-handed--"waste of time"--skeptics would ever consider. Games and gaming activity reverberate with thirty-six education principles; Gee anchors each chapter with a handful of principles to tie video gaming in with careful theoretical insights related to New Literacy Studies, situated cognition and connectionism (8). He blends anecdotes from first-hand experience and interview/observation data gathered by ethnographic methods to introduce the many conceptual hooks linking video games and literacy learning. Specifically, Gee articulates the ways in which games function as a precursor domain for more advanced activities (c.2), as a playground for mingling virtual, real and projective identities (c.3), as a demonstration of situated learning and distributed cognition (c.4), as a platform for explicit and tacit learning modes (c.5), as an amalgamation of cultural models (c.6), and as a forum for social connection and interaction (c.7).

Many of Gee's scenarios about education and the applicability of video gaming principles focus on the sciences (physics and biology). His prose involves very little citation; in other words, the book isn't referentially dense. Instead, he includes, densely written and in small print, bibliographic notes at the end of each chapter. What Video Games Have To Teach Us is highly structured; its outline is distinguishable at any point and there are several mini-taxonomies, clusters of terms introduced to give dimension to a concept. For instance, regarding expertise, Gee suggests three premises: value everyday (lifeworld) knowledge, the young are better at some things than the old, and "protect lifeworld domains from the assaults of specialists" (39).

Gee also introduces a learning cycle evident in gaming that ought to be celebrated in formal educational settings: prope, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink (90). Despite its processual regularity, the sequence, according to Gee is generalizable across video gaming and science education.

"Games, of course, reflect the culture we live in--a culture we can change" (11). ^Cultural change, however, happens incrementally, and Gee might have been more explicit in this project about the degree to which playing games or designing games manifests as a culture-changing force.

"By semiotic domain I mean any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities (e.g., oral or written language, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.)" (18).

"Three things, then, are involved in active learning: experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations, and preparation for future learning" (23).

"Meaning, then, is both situation and domain specific" (25).

"Because I want us to think about the fact that any semiotic domain, whether it is first-person shooter games or theoretical linguistics, that domain, internally and externally, was and is designed by someone" (32). ^No mention of agency or rhetoric in this discussion of design. In places, design feels static or a bit deterministic in the context of gaming.

"But for critical learning, the learner must be able consciously to attend to, reflect on, critique, and manipulate those design grammars at a metalevel" (40).

"However, all deep learning--that is, active , critical learning--is inextricably caught up with identify in a variety of different ways" (59).

"The argument is that just as language builds abstractions on the basis of concrete images from embodied experience of a material world, so, too, does human learning and thinking" (76).

"The appreciative system is where affect and cognition merge and come together" (97).

"In playing video games, hard is not bad and easy is not good" (165).

"So learning here is social, distributed, and part and parcel of a network composed of people, tools, technologies, and companies all interconnected together" (177).

"I am claiming that elites can use anything--canonical literature, the Bible, biology, or any other sort of text--to attempt to dupe people by trying to force them to read it in the elite's way" (204).

Terms: New Literacy Studies (8), situated cognition (8), connectionism (8), multimodal (14), semiotic domains (17), problem of content (20), affinity group (27), design grammars (30), lifeworld domain (36), design space (40), precursor domain (47), practice effect (67), masterful performance (70), mind as network (92), appreciative systems (96), transfer (124), regime of competence (133), cultural models (143)

Related sources:
Aronson, E. The Jigsaw Classroom. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1978.
Barton, D. Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
Churchland, Paul. A Neurocomputational Perspective. Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford/MIT Press, 1989.
Wertsch, James. Mind As Action. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rice, "The 1963 Composition Revolution"

R ice, Jeff . "The 1963 Composition Revolution Will Not be Televised, Computed, or Demonstrated by Any Other Means of Technology." Composition Studies 33.1 (2005): 55-73.

Composition's grand narrative which cites, across multiple sources, 1963 as the watershed moment for the field--a "revolutionary" resurgence in legitimacy anchored with the CCCC convention in Los Angeles, marked differentiations between composition and communications, and the reintegration of classical rhetoric as an influential force. Rice depicts the year, 1963, as a "moment of confusion," a moment when the "paperdigm" settled ever more fixedly into the work of teaching writing at the expense of nearby theoretical developments merging writing and culture. 1963: a missed opportunity for comp. Basically, Rice revisits the moment to ask, "What if McLuhan had been taken seriously by scholars in the then-emerging, then-revolutionary field of composition studies?" This essay introduces McLuhan as composition theorist--accounts for McLuhan's valuable perspectives on how education and, specifically, writing, will change, must change. With the rejection of communication studies in the early 60's, so too was McLuhan's work rejected, a triumph of word over image and media, and hence, composition studies as, more often than not, tipped toward a constrained, purpose-driven, testing-plagued, rationalistic project relatively unmoved by shifts in writing technologies since the 1960s.

McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy asks, ""What will be the new configurations of mechanisms and of literacy as these older forms of perception and judgment are interpenetrated by the new electric age?" Why doesn't this question enter into the discussions of composition?

"I want to consider how McLuhan's focus on media as writing has not been fully understood as relevant to Composition Studies, and I want to question why it hasn't. In other words, this essay will explore the unmentioned media side of the field's grand narrative by revisiting those influential moments in 1963 that Composition Studies draws upon for influence and those it doesn't as well."

"Echoing what he conceived as the nature of electronic media production, McLuhan chose a different path than these writers; he abandoned traditional scholarly rhetoric as well as Aristotelian logic in favor of a collage of quotations interspliced with commentary, puns, and allusions."

"What makes McLuhan's presence in 1963 writing theory relevant is precisely his lack of interest in technology as pure science (or for assessment purposes) and his promotion of technology as rhetoric."

"McLuhan's position is that the linear, hierarchal methods which are conducive to print and which support rational, ordered thinking must yield to an electronic world where ordered thought no longer plays the same role in communication."

"Juxtaposition assumes that difference cannot be repeated easily because the bringing together of unlike texts, ideas, or images produces different results depending on the material used. Such is the basis of Ted Nelson's notion of hypertext, an idea he, too, devised in 1963."

Related sources:
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy. Toronto: U of Toronto, 1962.
North, Stephen. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Upper Montclair: Boynton, 1987.
Trimbur, John, and Diana George. "The Communication Battle or Whatever Happened to The '4th C?'" CCC 50 (1999): 682-98.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


A s in, sophomore year. The Syr. public school year is still ten days away, but Ph. jumps on a bus first thing in the morning, headed to a four-way soccer scrimmage somewhere or other (you're right, I should know, but the details...elusive!). And that means his soccer season is underway. Schedule's below the fold. Season preview? I don't know. Maybe this:

1. Play your heart out;
2. When taking a corner, pick a few blades a grass and toss them in the air to see if there's a breeze.  Whether or not it makes a difference, it sure looks smart;
and 3. If I bother to charge up the camera and walk, photographer-like, on the sidelines, smile.  Should be smiling already anyway, considering how much fun it's going to be.

To fans in the CNY area, in an effort to promote attendance, if you come out to a home match, not only will I treat you to a soda, but I'll also share some sunflower seeds (or licorice or whatever else is the snack food of the hour).

Added: Apologies for the junked-up code in the table below. I'll repair it some other time

NHS Soccer
9-8 @ Cicero-N. Syr 7:30 p.m.
9-9 @ Horseheads 11 a.m.
9-12 Utica Proctor 4 p.m.
9-15 @ Baldwinsville 6 p.m.
9-19 @ Fowler 4 p.m.
9-20 @ Utica Proctor 4:30 p.m.
9-25 @ F-Manlius 6:30 p.m.
9-26 Watertown 4:30 p.m.
9-27 Corcoran 4 p.m.
10-3 W. Genesee 4:30 p.m.
10-5 @ C. Square 7 p.m.
10-7 @ CBA 7 p.m.
10-10 Liverpool 4 p.m.
10-13 @ Oswego 6:30 p.m.
10-17 Henninger 4 p.m.
10-19 Rome Free 4 p.m.

Miller, Textual Carnivals

M iller, Susan. Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1991.

Susan Miller's award-winning "study" hinges on program-data gathered from an exhaustive national survey while following an extended metaphor, the medieval carnival, to account for the lowly, grotesque, and stigmatized conditions of composition studies relative to literary studies in English departments. The gist of Miller's work is that there are alternatives (even if they're limited to equal footing with literature or separatism). The "problematics of marginalization" (13) for composition, according to Miller, stem from a variety of sources, including its proximity to more powerful literary traditions that benefit from elevated cultural status: "An official history of English would preferably exclude the 'low,' along with any mention of anxieties about potential textual failure or even what we might call textual rehearsals" (21).

In the opening section, a short "story" of composition, Miller attributes comp's grim status to the invisibility of writing (20; relative to literary pursuits, teaching writing ranked low), the American-nationalistic rise of the literary that tipped toward "man of distinguished letters" myths rather than valuing populist ventures, and neoclassical continuity, which accounts for efforts to dignify composition studies by embroidering it with a tradition of classical rhetoric (comp as a continuation, a revival of the golden age of rhet; 35). Chapter two situates writing instruction in its more visible contexts, emphasizing its entanglement with the literary curriculum, its emphases on "mechanical correctness" akin to "cleanliness" (57), and tracing through textbooks and course descriptions (66) for patterns and tendencies.

Section two includes a chapter on the subject of composition, with "subject" doubly referring to students and body of knowledge, prevalent images of teachers (sad women in the basement) and the administrative considerations of money and management (bread and circuits). The final section considers the matter of reading evidence, of accepting as drearily representative of both composition's tradition and its downtrodden status (which certainly has improved in the fifteen years since Miller published TC).

Terms: "new narrative" (1), oscillation (3), magnitude of composition (5), "problematics of marginalization" (13), "subject" of composition (84), linguistic propriety (89), "paradigm" of process (94; 105), underlife (112), stigma and Goffman (128), "the rotating bottom" [syn. part-time faculty] (145), "hegemonic desires" ( 178)

"Process and product are, then, a politically diversionary pair, for they work together to help us avoid confronting the social and institutional consequences that a piece of writing may or may not have" (10).

"I have been arguing that composition was not established as a failed set of practices or a diminution and debasement of classical rhetoric, but as a consciously selected menu to test students' knowledge of graphic conventions, to certify their propriety, and to socialize them into good academic manners" (66).

"Extrapolating from Stallybrass and White, we can see that process research after Shaughnessy has turned up yet another ambivalently transgressive aspect of the carnivalesque. It has, that is, assured the intellectual placement of composition outside the recognized, incorporated 'city' that it originally completed and has thereby assured that the field will be identified with foreign methodological languages whose origins are uncertain and whose purposes and desires are consequently suspect" (117).

"One of the chief characteristics of composition, at least of composition perceived as teaching, has been that it fills the time that others take to build theories" (121).

Other considerations: magnitude of composition (five million involved as teachers or students in 1991; 165,000 sections nationwide); ill-suitedness of process "paradigm" as a singular justification for composition studies and advanced training (riffs on NWP, 119); matters of women and professionalization "Sad Women" chapter; Writing (technologies): 27-28, 107, 114.

Sirc, "Virtual Urbanism"

S irc, Geoffrey. "Virtual Urbanism." Computers and Composition 18 (2001) 11-19.

Sirc's piece is fueled by textbooks found in a "retiring colleague's garbage" (11). Identifying the virtual academic as a name for "official composition," Sirc develops what he calls a counterpoint, virtual urbanism, which has been around for at least as long as the dry, contrived prose too commonly belabored in FYC curricula. Virtual urbanism, according to Sirc, involves "a different textuality, one in which actual humans, with needs, fears, desires, memories, drift through the important spaces of their lives, encountering other humans similarly engaged in the ongoing mystery of existence" (12). Sirc offers the hacienda as a locus for the drift-n-sift logics passions that match with virtual urbanism. Next, Ghostface's lyrics provide one example of virtual urbanism; "Apollo Kids" presents a "piled-up series of scenes in search of passion" (13).

Terms: Benjamin on Baudelaire: "metaphysics of the provocateur" (12), urban arcades (14), "encounter-possibilities" (15), epediascope (15)

"This little snippet [from The Freshman and His World] has become emblematic to me, standing for all of official composition, all of what I hear offered as the preferred classroom genre, the aim of our pedagogy, this weird sort of textual species I'd like to now name the virtual academic. By this I mean a textuality whose form and content fuse together in perfect synergy: stilted academic prose as the ideal medium to represent this image of university pomposity" (12).

"My larger point: powerful, alternative formal possibilities are now key genres of public discourse, and kids understand them, and Composition Studies could care less" (14).

"Virtual urbanism, then, is the search for that hacienda" (12).
"The hacienda must be built" (19).

"Macrorie (1997) told an audience of compositionists they could best learn to teach writing by studying the speech patterns in the televised accounts given by people who have lived through tornadoes. This is virtual urbanity: a belief in people's natural language patterns" (14).

"Hacker is a functionalist, a rationalist architect. Her goal is to keep the communicative avenues regular, clearly marked. There is no foot-traffic worried about here, no thought for the discursive flaneur who would loiter and explore strange, attractive nooks" (15).

"The issue for the writing teacher as virtual urbanist, then, is building in encounter-possibilities; to do that we need to pile on, not clear out" (15).

"An inviting compositional space must allow enough of these ambient unities to explore, and one way, I think, is through infilling the space with a lot of pleasure-zone texts that readers want to poke around in: make the curriculum a more colorful, human-scaled street-scene" (17).

Related sources:
Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire, A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. London: Verso, 1973.
Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Cambridge: Bellknap Press/Harvard UP, 1999.
Sadler, Simon. The Situationist City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

Monday, August 28, 2006


G iven that classes started today, I guess it is both appropriate and timely to declare that WRT302 is more or less together.  Along with tightening the schedule, I touched up a few minor things this morning. I also drew up a questionnaire to gauge familiarity and interest related to a series of twelve applications (not all apps: HTML, image work, Flash, etc.).  For the first time ever (in a class, day one) I projected a few slides onto the screen to frame our opening trajectories re digital writing.  The plan--the course's imagined topography--still feels pocketed in a few places, but I'll wait a week or two before deciding to shuffle anything for that reason alone. Also, I haven't come to terms with the role of just yet, as its unkempt state suggests.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Selber, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

S elber, Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois UP, 2004.

Selber develops a three-part framework while extending a "detailed investigation into the nature of computer literacy programs in higher education" (3). His motive is remedial, motivated by a problem-solution approach to many of the striking inadequacies in computer literacy programs, which tend to be either slap-dash or highly instrumental in their approaches. Selber begins by opening up a some of the givens and myths related to computer technologies: computers are all-powerful (panacea), access and equality remain issues (hypercritical), production and efficiency imperatives drive the dehumanizing industrial-mechanistic engine (cautionary distance).

Selber seeks to keep the three categories open and dynamic--"suggestive rather than constraining," but he is more direct about the implications of this framework elsewhere: "Students who are not adequately exposed to all three literacy categories will find it difficult to participate fully and meaningfully in technological activities" (24).

Again, his framework divides into three terms:

1. Functional: not as bad as you might at first think
Functional computer literacies are necessary; they involve educational goals, social conventions, specialized discourses, management activities, and technological impasses (31). Functional literacy involves a metaphor of computers as tools (35).
Skepticism about functional/instrumental approaches to technology remain, in part, due to the arhetorical associations of functionalism.

2. Critical
Unlike functional approaches, which posit technological neutrality, critical approaches blend constructivism (75) and critical literacy (consensus as "an exercise of power") (83).
Critical literacy involves a metaphor of computers as cultural artifacts (86).
Critical literacies correlate to the following heuristics: design cultures (106), use contexts (111), institutional forces (117), and popular representations (technical and ethical) (125).

3. Rhetorical: "Overall, this chapter insists that students who are rhetorically literate will recognize the persuasive dimensions of human-computer interfaces and the deliberative and reflective aspects of interface design, all of which is not a purely technical endeavor but a form of social action" (140).
Rhetorical literacy involves a metaphor of hypertextual media (166). Rhetorically literate students will recognize the following aspects of interface design: persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action (139).

Selber ends with a respectful call for change, one that holds in high regard existing research while also proposing strategies for action toward multiliteracy programs. He introduces a nested model (Bronfenbrenner-like in its concentricity) to account for the following orders: institutional-departmental-curricular-pedagogical-technical (185).

Terms: "postcritical stance" (8), computer competency requirements (20), "theory and practice" (26), heuristic (27), instrumentalism (38), declarative and procedural knowledge (43), primary and secondary discourses (97), Pfaffenberger's technological regularization (102), adjustment, and reconstitution (104), captology (the study of computers as persuasive technologies) (146), nodes (172), open/closed systems (190).

"Although much of the discussion is conceptual in nature, it provides a framework within which teachers of writing and communication can develop comprehensive programs that draw together functional, critical, and rhetorical concerns in the service of social action and change" (xii).

"In the context of computer literacy, for example, computers will be understood primarily in instrumental terms--as systems for supporting status quo, relatively hierarchical student-teacher relationships, or for automating repetitive and routine tasks, or for making difficult texts and concepts ostensibly more interesting to study" (9).

"In one way of thinking, the tool metaphor is useful for discussions of agency because it can still help instill a sense of control in a world increasingly permeated by technology" (40).

"In terms of production contexts, the artifact metaphor encourages an attention to the political, social, and even psychological assumptions embodied in computers as well as any unintended consequences of their designs" (86).

"Imagined in artifactual terms, computers can be defamiliarized as inherently cultural in both origin and consumption. Their affordances disclose psychological and social preferences crafted in the interpretive communities in which competing perspectives eventually decompose to singularly approved designs" (95).

"But this [tool] metaphor also restricts teachers because its neutral dimensions insist that teachers do not need to know about the design issues associated with computing infrastructures, which are considered to be the domain of impartial technologists" (123). ^Is there a corollary in the preference of the artifact metaphor that, in turn, takes as insignificant the functional knowledge of computing?

"Reflection strategies for interface design have been classified under the rubric of usability, but reflection as a conceptual category shifts the focus from the product (Is the interface usable?) to the process (Is the designer reflective?) in useful ways" (160).

Related sources
Nardi, Bonnie, and Vicki O'Day. Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.
Pfaffenberger, Bryan. "Technological Dramas." Science, Technology, and Human Values 17 (1992): 282-312.
Zuboff, Shoshana. In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York: Basic, 1988.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Writing as Transcribed Reality

F rom Berlin's Rhetoric and Reality, a crumb from today's exam reading:

Current-traditional rhetoric did undergo a number of changes during this period [1920-1940], even though none of them were substantive. One new addition to the classroom was the use of the research paper. Requiring students to engage in library research was a predictable outcome of a course taught by teachers whose major source of professional rewards was the accumulation of research publications. Furthermore, the research paper represented the insistence in current-traditional rhetoric on finding meaning outside the composing act, with writing itself serving as a simple transcription process. The first article in English Journal to discuss the teaching of the research paper appeared in 1930 (Chalfant), but use of the research paper was commonly mentioned in program descriptions in the twenties. Textbooks that included discussion of the research paper began to appear in significant numbers in 1931. After this, no year of English Journal appeared without a number of articles on approaches to teaching the research essay. It should also be noted that the widespread use of this assignment was influenced by the improvements in library collections during the twenties, as well as by new ways of indexing these materials for easy access--the periodical guides, for example. (70)

Here, the point about research paper writing sparked by indexing systems jumps out at me. A good collection (institutional or personal; for the greater good or for my own good) needs only to be indexed when it is housed with other collections, right? The index associates and disassociates. It preserves a minor degree of granularity while introducing scalable ties (one with one, one with many, many with many). Or not. Not exactly, anyway. Still the thought of research writing before the convenience of libraries--collecting, tracing, indexing, tagging, associating--is somehow refreshing. There is a small, pleasant jolt in the reminder of something less systematized, less comprehensive: a pre-indexical aberrance.

Berlin, Rhetoric and Reality

B erlin, James A. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1987.

Berlin begins by framing three epistemological orientations in twentieth century rhetoric: objectivist, subjectivist and transactional. In an effort to characterize trends in the teaching of writing and rhetoric from 1900-1985, Berlin further subdivides each category. Objectivist orientations to reality, best reflected in current-traditional pedagogies as well as "behaviorist, semanticist, and linguistic rhetorics," presumes a realm of irrefutable truth and assumes a positivistic attitude toward language as that which reports, more or less precisely, on a stable, concrete reality. Subjective orientations to reality emphasize the interiority of mind and the individualist construction of a relationship to the real which extends beyond but is not necessarily influenced by the material world. The emphasis in subjective rhetorics is on original metaphor, journaling, and supportive forms of collaboration; this orientation blends, as well, with the genteel, the solitary genius, depth psychology (as well as Freud), and romantic reverence for solitary inspiration: "The student can discover the truth, but the truth cannot be taught; the student can learn to write, but writing cannot be taught" (13). The third and final orientation is transactional. Transactional rhetorics divide into classical (truth emerges from a discourse community interacting, not necessarily in agreement), cognitive (mind formation in stages through interactions with the environment), and epistemic (experience and language involve rhetoric in all human activity). Each category is explained in detail in the opening chapter and again at the end.

Each chapter accounts for an (arbitrary?) era in the twentieth century, and along the way, Berlin reads the three rhetorical orientations against tendencies in English education given various moments, scenes, figures and programs. To begin, for example, he accounts for the rise of the poetic and literary at the expense of rhetoric, which was "petrified in a possitivistic configuration" (25).

From 1900-1920, there was a strong resistance to "Uniform Reading Lists"; NCTE was founded to organize resist the domination of the curriculum by such lists (33). There were three major approaches to teaching writing, and each accords to one of the broader categories designated above: current-traditional rhetoric (36), rhetoric of liberal culture (43), and rhetoric of public discourse (46).


  • Emphasis on pluralization of rhetoric to rhetorics (via Paolo Valesio) (3)
  • Refers to tiff with Connors on the possibility of objective, neutral historiography (17)
  • A propensity toward statistics and counting accompanied notions of efficiency at the same time as progressive education arose--1920-1940 (58)
  • Research papers in 1930: "It should be noted that the widespread use of this assignment [the research paper] was influenced by the improvements in library collections during the twenties, as well as by new ways of indexing these materials for easy access--the periodical guides, for example" (70).
  • Largely a credit to Jerome Bruner, the notion of process becomes associated with all rhetorics (123, 158): "The implications of Bruner's thought for writing instruction are clear: Students should engage in the process of composing, not in the study of someone else's process of composing" (123).
  • Limitations of problem-posing and solving: emphasis on solutions. Lauer, instead, in "The Problem of Problem Posing," suggested "the act of creation" rather than "a mechanical art of problem-solving" (161).

Berlin closes with a bibliographic gloss of what was happening in the mid-1980's. He mentions that the three major categories--objectivist, subjectivist, and transactional--apply less neatly to the formations (a disunity) in the field of rhetoric and composition in the mid-late 1980's.

Epistemic rhetoric: "All experiences, even the scientific and logical, are grounded in language, and language determines their content and structure. And just as language structures our responses to social and political issues, language structures our response to the material world. Rhetoric thus becomes implicated in all human behavior" (16).

Objective rhetoric: "Semanticist rhetoric focuses on the distortions that are introduced in communication through the misuse of language" (10). "Disagreement has always to do with faulty observation, faulty language, or both, and never is due to the problematic or contingent nature of truth" (11).

"This thumbnail sketch shows that a number of powerful groups of academic literary critics have divided discourse into two separate and unequal categories: the privileged poetic statement and the impoverished rhetorical statement, the one art and the other 'mere' science" (29).

"To many faculty [1900-1920], the freshman writing course had come to stand for all of the possibilities of rhetoric" (55).

"The distinguishing characteristic of the epistemic view, explains Leff, is 'that rhetoric is a serious philosophical subject that involves not only the transmission, but also the generation of knowledge' (75)" (165).

Terms: New Criticism (28), rhetoric-poetic relationship (26), Uniform Reading Lists (33), progressive education (58), general education movement (92)

Related sources:
Kinneavy, James L. A Theory of Discourse. New York: Norton, 1971.
Ohmann, Richard. "In Lieu of a New Rhetoric." CE 26 (1964): 17-22.
Winterowd, W. Ross. Rhetoric: A Synthesis. New York: Holt, 1968.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Examinutiae II

D ays remaining if I start my three-week qualifying exam period on Nov. 22: 91.
Days remaining if I start my three-week qualifying exam period on Jan. 15: 145.

Number of pieces in the three exam lists: 169
Number left to read: 70 (44 books, 26 articles)
Number left to annotate: Anybody's guess. Some integer between 70 and 134.

As you can see, I ran the numbers again this evening. It's not hopeless by any means, given that I can still meet the Nov. option if I have a solid few weeks. The burr in my sock is that while I'm reading and annotating individual pieces, the patterns arching across the readings are perhaps best compared to a serving of spaghetti.

Dropped from a high-flying hot air balloon.

Into a turbulent ocean.

Where it's being nibbled by predatory sea creatures.

You get my drift. Thing is, while time is short enough for reading, I also have to form possible responses, give the new stuff a shape beyond a set of finely tuned but scattered notes. So while reading is going fairly well, the part where it sinks in such that I can do intelligible justice to it in a few months: a disconcerting lack.

Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension

P olanyi, Michael. The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966.

Working from the nexus of philosophy and science, Polanyi presents three lectures in The Tacit Dimension: Tacit Knowing, Emergence, and A Society of Explorers. He leads with concerns about the nature of human knowledge and opens with the precept that "we can know more than we can tell" (4). A "missing principle" (88), tacit knowledge, accounts for indwelling (empathy) and interiorizations (assimilation?) that informs our personal felt sense--the hunches, intuitions, and guesses that underscore our pursuit of open-ended forms of knowledge. With an overt emphasis on passion, Polanyi develops tacit knowledge as an alternative to the predominance of dogmatic, objectivist science.

Emergence: "Thus the logical structure of the hierarchy implies that a higher level can come into existence only through a process not manifest in the lower level, a process which thus qualifies as emergence" (45). Here, Polanyi is working toward a distinction between the mechanistic and the organismic. The hierarchy and stratification of entities from larger structures is best described as an emergence. "The relation of a comprehensive entity to its particulars was then seen to be the relation between two levels of reality, the higher one controlling the marginal conditions left indeterminate by the principles governing the lower one" (55).

In the third lecture, "A World of Explorers," concerns the moral imperative of the scientific "explorer" who proceeds without foreclosing on conclusions. That is, neither positivistic (moral skepticism) nor Marxist (moral perfectionism) (58), the explorer accepts the reliability (has "confidence in authority" (62)) of antecedent knowledge: "We have here the paradigm of all progress in science: discoveries are made by pursuing possibilities suggested by existing knowledge" (67).

Key terms: Gestalt psychology (6), subception (7), performance of a skill (10), functional structure (10), phenomenal structure (11), indwelling (16), interiorization (17), marginal control (40), ideogenesis (48), hybrids (58)

"The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating. But suppose that tacit though forms an indispensable part of all knowledge, then the ideal of eliminating all personal elements of knowledge would, in effect, aim at the destruction of all knowledge. The idea of exact science would turn out to be fundamentally misleading and possibly a source of devastating fallacies" (20).

"Tacit knowing is shown to account (1) for a valid knowledge of a problem, (2) for the scientist's capacity to pursue it, guided by his sense of approaching its solution, and (3) for a valid anticipation of the yet indeterminate implications of the discovery arrived at the end" (24).

"The meticulous dismembering of a text, which can kill its appreciation, can also supply material for a much deeper understanding of it" (19).

"In the last few thousand years human beings have enormously increased the range of comprehension by equipping our tacit powers with a cultural machinery of language and writing. Immersed in this cultural milieu, we now respond to a much increased range of potential thought" (91).

Emig, "The Tacit Tradition"

E mig, Janet. "The Tacit Tradition: The Inevitability of a Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Writing Research." (1977). The Web of Meaning. Dixie Goswami and Maureen Butler, eds. Upper Montclair, N.J.: Boynton/Cook, 1983. 145-156.

Preconditions to disciplinarity: 1. agreement in esteemed scholars attached to seminal works (an active in-group: Graves, King, Kinneavy, Britton, Miller, Moffett, Nystrand, Rouse, and Emig); 2. shared sensibilities about the important questions and the aims of composition studies in a very general sense; 3. agreement that comp develops theory from at least a pre-paradigmatic position (147). From these preconditions, Emig continues her roster-building project by listing and detailing the influences of three "ancestors": Thomas Kuhn (148), George Kelly (149), and John Dewey (149). Emig's tacit tradition consists of nine influential, out-group members: Kuhn, Kelly, Dewey, Michael Polanyi, Susanne Langer, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, A.R. Luria, and Eric Lenneberg. She proceed to cite each figure and then account for the ways their work has contributed to the pre-paradigmatic state of composition studies. Before explaining their commonalities, Emig adds three more neuroscientists (Brenda Milner, J.Z. Young, and Sir John Eccles), for a total of twelve influential figures.

All of the figures are transactionalists, according to Emig, in that, following Rosenblatt, they perceive "the learner/writer [to be] an active construer of meaning in her transactions with experience" (153). Further, all are generous "in their allowances of not only what can be legitimately known, but also of what modes of knowing the knower can deploy" (154). They also "believe, by definition, in the centrality of processes" (154).

Emig then presents three reasons why a multidisciplinary approach to writing is inevitable: 1. the scholars of our tacit tradition are "multidisciplinarians" (155), 2. "powerful and beautiful explanations for how and why people write reside in many disciplines" (155), and 3. our group/community has a predilection to play Elbow's believing game before the doubting game (155). This applies to the following beliefs:

"that almost all persons can write and want to write;
that not writing or not wanting to write is unnatural;
that, if either occurs, something major has been subverted in a mind, in a life;
that as teachers and researchers we must try to help make writing natural again, and necessary" (155).

"Since paradigms themselves are tacit, we become aware of them contrastively, as when we meet persons who comfortably inhabit another" (148).

"Kelly's metaphor is that we are all scientists seeking prediction, predictive value in events and experiences" (149).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


W hen I picked up Ph. from futbol practice this morning noon, he reported--big smile--that he's been offered a spot on the varsity squad. We're happy for him, of course, and he's excited, encouraged by the invitation. Still, of sophomores on varsity, I'm of, oh...say, twelve or thirteen minds. I'll bother mentioning just a few of them. Consider:

  • Sitting the bench as a sophomore is a waste of time. Take advantage of practices or it's a lost season of development.
  • The sophomore on JV is likely to get minutes, has a shot at a leadership role, develops confidence and gains valuable experience.
  • If older players aren't watched and the going gets tough (as in a sub-.500 season), underclass players can sponge it up, suffer the brunt of it.
  • A right-headed sophomore who toughs it out (persistent and dependable effort, attends everything on time, etc.) stands to develop a better relationship with the v. coach.

Probably sounds like I'm anticipating the worst. Bad case of parental wariness. Because no. 2 in the list best describes my experience with H.S. sports, I'm burdened with a mild when-I-was-young bias. Of course this isn't just some arbitrary and inconsequential scenario. It's the scenario. So I'd better get busy suppressing my apprehensions, let this fine opportunity run its course, and relax knowing that Ph. will make the most of it, like he always does.

Bolter, Writing Space

B olter, J. David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. 2nd Ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001.

Hypertext can do many things which print cannot. Bolter advances this premise in Writing Space, accounting for the implications of digital and networked text on print traditions; imagetext, ratios between word and image, and picture writing; books, encyclopedias, and libraries; reader navigation and academic dialogue (publishing); interactive fiction and literary experimentation; poststructural theoretical orientations, senses of coherent/fragmented self and mind, and culture at-large.

Writing Spaces belongs in a class with Hayles' Writing Machines and Johnson's Interface Culture. Bolter foregrounds much of the discussion of the force of hypertext on writing activity (activity leaning into academic projects and literary pieces) with the idea of remediation: the existence of the old in the new. Bolter accounts for the remediation of print through extensive historical accounts, relating a progression from scrolls to the codex to mass-produced books. It might be worthwhile to consider this approach in light of what Johnson does with adaptation and exaptation--variations on inertial and accelerative forces in the culture of print.


  • It's not clear that there is a crisis (that print will vanish, that is), but there remains a debate about the value of the digital in relation to the longer-established print culture;
  • The new edition is an effort to correct false predictions, respond to critics, update re materiality and fold vocabulary into more recent turns (preface);
  • Technology (15) does not determine culture; it co-evolves and is as much a byproduct of culture movement as it is the driving force;
  • Computers have only relatively recently been considered writing technologies--1980s (24);
  • Hypertext is commonly conceived to be spatial (29) ^Does aggregation change this, re-emphasizing the temporality of the link?;
  • "In an electronic writing system, the figurative process becomes a literal act" (30) (re: outlining, hierarchization). ^Consider alongside Hayles' "material metaphor."
  • "Each new medium claims to provide a new strategy" (45);
  • Hybrids: libraries (perhaps all writing spaces) move toward the incorporation of multiple forms of texts and means of making one's way into and through textual systems.

Key phrases: late age of print (48), hyperbaton (counter-expectation; surprise) (129), mind as hypertext (197), modes of representation (7), hypermediacy (25), ekphrasis (56), picture writing (58)

"What is happening is a readjustment of the ratio between text and image in the various forms of print (books, magazines, newspapers, billboards), and the refashioning of prose itself in an attempt to both rival and to incorporate the visual image" (48).

"What the reader does metaphorically in the encyclopedia, he or she can do literally in the library--move into and through a textual space" (91).

"If linear and hierarchical structures dominate current writing, our cultural construction of electronic writing is now adding a third: the network as a visible and operative structure" (106).

"For Borges literature is exhausted because it is committed to a conclusive ending, to a single storyline and denouement. To renew literature one would have to write multiply, in a way that embraced possibilities rather than closed them off" (147).

"Electronic hypertext, however, seems to realize the metaphor of reader response, as the reader participates in the making of the text as a sequence of words" (173).

Related sources
Borges, Jorge Luis. "The Garden of Forking Paths." 1962. Ficciones. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1984.
Kurzweil, Ray. "The Future of Libraries." Cyberreader. Vitanza.
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.

Hiatt, "The Feminine Style"

H iatt, Mary P. "The Feminine Style: Theory and Fact." 1978. On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 77-83.

Hiatt's 1979 Braddock essay begins with a question about pattern and style in large batches of text: Is mass style observable? Hiatt pursues this question using empirical and computational methods (involving punch cards) to analyze one hundred books; fifty by women and fifty by men. A 200-word sample was pulled, at random, from each book in an effort to analyze "common characteristics in the writing of certain groups" (77). Given that language about style is problematic (often ambiguous, grounded by the lifespan of terms), Hiatt sought a more reliable set of measures for isolating data from which she might ascertain gendered stylistic differences in the sampled prose.

Hiatt proceeds with a report on the findings from her statistically-based discourse analysis of the samples. This is an early example of computer-based discourse analysis, and despite its literary leanings, the project demonstrates an impressive range of analytics in light of the available processes. Conclusion: " There is, in other words, clear evidence of a feminine style and sound justification for the theory of group style" (82).

"If one is attempting to discern stylistic differences between two sets of 100,000 words each, one can, of course, try to read all these words and note the occurrence of such stylistic matters as sentence-length and complexity, inserts, types of modifications, and so on. One can try to do this, but no one should. The human mind is often an inaccurate perceiver, and errors inevitably occur. A mechanical mind is not accurate. Hence, the only objective and accurate way to deal with such a vast amount of text is to use a computer" (78).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Katamari Walking

B efore Saturday night, I'd never played Katamari Damacy. In Datacloud and again in "Katamari Interface," I read about the princely roller pushing the tacky (magnetic?) ball through the game's byways, gaining in things, some strategic, many accidental. All of them counted, catalogued. They're persistent in my own Katamari-like memory, the projects I mention, their framing of Katamari Damacy as an installment of the database logic implicit in much digital writing. Like toaster ovens placed enigmatically in the middle of the street (what's that doing there?), Katamari logics have joined the clump that is my plan for WRT302 this fall, too.

Speaking of stickiness (or glue), I've been walking Y. most days lately. Mornings. We've jogged, too, but whether or not I'm jogging, he walks, mocking me and my slow, laborious pace. Puppies are voracious collectors; Y., particularly so. He aggregates the street, its detritus, its unseen flavors. Leeches miscellany: cig. butts, sticks, wilderberries, leaves, wrappers, styrofoam bits, and so on. This gets at the deep tension in our relationship (Dr. Phil, Y. takes into his mouth every tiny speck of crap and debris in reach!). He's learning "drop." It's a sweeter lesson since he's come to understand that I'm not afraid to dig my fingers into the dark depths of his kibble-pipe to retrieve the salivascraps rather than have him ingest them for good. Back to the point of what I was getting at: Y. is a collector.

The other morning a neighbor who we don't know was repairing one of the two Hyundai Accents parked in his driveway. The hatchback trim lining the interior (the car's ceiling) appeared to have come loose, fallen in. On the away-route, our first pass, the repair was just underway. The man was placing pillows in the back window of the car and, oddly enough, propping empty beer bottles (green ones--Rolling Rock?) to close the gap. He was improvising a stabilization system from the whatever-at-hand lying around the place. Bricolage auto repair. The mouths of the beer bottles would apply pressure from the bottom side to the damaged trim, which, now held with Gorilla Glue, would be suspended long enough to dry, hold. Y. and I walked on by (curious, but trying not to gawk). Added when we passed back by on the way home: duct tape.

Our course is just 1.6 miles. Roughly one mile into the walk, there's a hill. The down-slope is where Y. lifted his favorite toy of all time: a cracked tennis ball, pre-chewed by another dog. Found it in the street. Unethical to let him keep it? Nah. It's a tennis ball. We see one or two per week along the route, often in the drain gutters. So I let Y. keep the ball, and we carry it on subsequent walks, although he doesn't actually get to play with it--going leash-wild--until we're a mile into the walk, until we reach cut-up hill. Cut-up because the ball is hacked. The tear helps him grab it and keep it held. Cut-up because Y. goes ape-ass wild just to have it in his clutches. With the ball, he bounds recklessly into yards and into the street again, taking the leash to its limits. And them I reel him in. "Drop." (Often I have to take it from him). Loop.

Katamari walking. The street as inquiry. Don't know what we'll find, but let's walk. And then there's a guy using beer bottles to repair his Hyundai. Minutes later, duct tape. Another time (and for weeks), we find a tattered Formula 409 bottle, an oxymoron of cleaner as filth. Next, two small boys positioning plums where tires are most likely to mash them, then scurrying to hide behind a shrub--a stripe of jam, perpledicular to the street.

Collection and annotation. These are the emphases in Sirc's "box-logic" essay in WNM. I'll be teaching it alongside Katamari logics (pieces from those above) in a few weeks. WRT302 starts Monday.

Hayles, Writing Machines

H ayles, N. Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

Hayles combines personal anecdotes, theoretical lines of inquiry into materiality and the embodiment of literary texts, and related analytical applications concerning the materials-based signifying practices involved in Lexia to Perplexia, A Humament, and House of Leaves. The gist, if I can be so hasty in reducing Writing Machines to something tidy, is that while digital texts have foregrounded materiality, books too have a long and complicated involvement with production, material signification (as much simulation as representation?), and the mechanisms of inscription. Hayles emphasizes a "sense of the material" (10); she accounts for coming to this sense through art books, talks in front of audiences that we skeptical that her vocabulary was too literary (40), visits to the MOMA, and involvement in courses where students built techno-literary installments as projects.

Hayles asks, "Why have we not heard more about the material?" (19). Writing Machines winds toward a response (texts have bodies), even if much of it is grounded in literary analysis. That is, Hayles gives readings of the pre-digital-though-digitally-styled bookworks listed above. She opens with definitions of three considerations related to media and materiality: 1. material metaphor (22), 2. technotexts (25), and 3. media-specific analysis (29).

A few of the more salient points here:

  • Account for all signifying components, including the material aspects of texts (22);
  • RB's "Work to Text" essay emphasis on dispersion, multiple authorship, and rhizomatic discursive structures (30);
  • On theory: Theoretical gestures and personal anecdotes can (successfully) be "double-braided" (this is the model for Writing Machines) (106);
  • Dynamic interplays prevail in print, in books, and perhaps books more apt than digital texts as RADs (random access devices) (99);
  • Remediation is generational (128).

Key terms: inscription technologies (24), textnotexts (25), cybertext (39), "poken" (85), screnic (30), layered topographies (77), minifestos (58), mindbody (74).

See also Phillips and mapping (Humament globes), p. 98d.

"The physical attributes constituting any artifact are potentially infinite; in a digital computer, for example, they include polymers used to fabricate the case, the rare earth elements used to make the phosphors in the CRT screen, the palladium used for the power cord prongs, and so forth. From this infinite array a technotext will select a few to foreground and work into its thematic concerns. Materiality thus emerges from interactions between physical properties and a work's artistic strategies" (33).

"Amidst these complexities, what is clearly established is not the superiority of code to flesh but metaphoric networks that map electronic writing onto fluid bodies. Lexia to Perplexia intervenes at beginnings and boundaries to tell new stories about how texts and bodies entwine. The shift in materiality that Lexia to Perplexia instantiates creates new connections between screen and eye, cursor and hand, computer coding and natural language, space in front of the screen and behind it. Scary and exhilarating, these connections perform human subjects who cannot be thought without the intelligent machines that produce us even as we produce them" (63).

"The implication for studies of technology and literature is that the materiality of inscription thoroughly interpenetrates the represented world. Even when technology does not appear as a theme, it is woven into the fictional world through the processes that produce the literary work as a material artifact" (130).

Related sources
Drucker, Johanna. Otherspace: Martian Typography. Atlanta: Nexus, 1992.
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003.
Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.

Monday, August 21, 2006


N ow with Is. the average age in the house has plummeted to a youthful 16.1 years of age. It began with Y. back in May. For Mother's Day, a puppy. He reverse-aged us from 26.7 back to 20.1. Fun, but not as bounding-barefoot-in-the-grass as 16.1. House rules fly swiftly and irretrievably out the door, you can imagine, when D. and Ph. are away (errands, soccer practice, and whatnot). Then the average age drops to 10.9. We, the left-behind, raid the sugar stashes (until embarrassing mounds of Starburst and H.Kiss wrappers pile up), play PS2, and assume an altogether me, care? attitude toward the day's demands. It's a riot--a bona fide sugar ball, even if it's not exactly the best arrangement for exam reading.

Merely for illustration (via):

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Johnson, Interface Culture

J ohnson, Steve Berlin. Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Communicate. San Francisco: Harper Edge, 1997.

Johnson's Interface Culture is a masterful, easy-to-read mix of history and simplified interface theory. He leads with an acknowledgement that his project mingles "technical explanations, historical narratives, and cultural analogies" (9). In the introduction, "Bitmapping," Johnson recounts Doug Engelbart's 1968 demonstration of an interface: a three-dimensional screen on information space. Interfaces ultimately make digital code (sequences of zeros and ones) comprehensible. Filtering is inevitably part of this process. Furthermore, according to Johnson, Engelbart's significant contribution was the notion of "direct manipulation" (20). Direct manipulation introduces a degree of control over the information environment. Users are able to modify the information using QWERTY keyboards and the mouse (21). Engelbart's contribution was to frame as possible the realm of information space, out of which a language emerged for the instruments and processes related to information space: "cyberspace, surfing, navigating, webs, desktops, windows, dragging, dropping, point-and-clicking" (24). Johnson ends the first chapter by accounting for the different tie between medium and message (the interface's variation on broadcast media).

Johnson's middle chapters each account for an aspect of the interface: desktop, windows, links, text, agent.

Desktop (42): follows the logic of the pile. Desktop is a metaphor for the interface. Other attempts failed because the metaphors ran too close to simulation (metaphor/simulation are dichotomies in the final chapter). Steven Jobs coined the desktop metaphor and profited mightily. The desktop evolved into an icon-laden scene with some permanent additions: trash can, etc. "Instead of being a medium for shut-ins and introverts, the digital computer turns out to be the first major technology of the twentieth century that brings strangers closer together, rather than pushing them farther apart" (64). Rem: The Palace, chess matches, first-person shooters (72).

Windows: Johnson defines the two epochs in the history of interface design as "pre-windows and post-Windows" (76). The appeal of Windows is the ability it offers the user to switch between open apps, particular because there is a premium on display space (81). "Of all the basic building-block metaphors in the rhetoric of interface, the window has evolved the least over the past twenty years" (85). Johnson included an interesting discussion of Darwin's exaptation: "novel, unexpected applications of these new traits" (91), counterpart to adaptations. Frames are exaptations, according to Johnson. End: overview of battled for the browser market, with WSJ promoting IE. "The browser is a metaform, a mediator, a filter" (102).

Links: The fourth chapter is an overview of hypertext. Begins with the insufficiency of the surfing metaphor for web-based activity. It was ported, problematically, from channel-surfing to describe activity on the web. The difference, "A Web surfer clicks on a link because she's interested" (109). Johnson reads hypertext tendencies through Dickens, Vennevar Bush's Memex with "trails of interest" (116), and the stylized linking practices at Suck, where rather than an "extended reading" set of links, they used links with individual words to introduce variability and surprise--an excess of word-level paths (emph units of discourse, rel. page and Trimbur).

Text: Here, Johnson accounts for the tension between word and image in the GUI. He says the image triumphs, but the word is still vital both for content and command. The word processor, Johnson writes, has changed writing: "But for me, the most intriguing side effect of the word processor lies in the changed relationship between a sentence in its conceptual form and its physical tranlation onto the page or the screen" (143). He details how he has learned to write differently with a computer--a common process that seems to be described in such detail only rarely. In the last half of the chapter, he accounts for Don Foster's semantic forensics (153) with Shakespeare and the exciting possibilities for a computational-semantic wherewithal in searching and associative apps (View, V-Twin).

Agents: Johnson explores the accumulative intelligence of "intelligent agents": digital personalities (human-machine hybrids) that aggregate tendencies and report in return on probable preferences. Intelligent-agent technology has taken off since Johnson wrote in 1997. His examples range from Ask Jeeves (the knowing butler) to Firefly (196) to Telescript (a remote-programming model). But a number of other recent examples--Amazon, Netflix, HSS--extend this set of issues. "We will migrate from the stultifying but stable system of mass media to themore anarchic realm of cultural feedback loops" (199). With intelligent agents we find increasing "indirect manipulation" (anticipatory intelligences based upon habit). Johnson also gets at the problem of gaming the database (baiting the agent, we might say).

Final chapter: "Infinity Imagined." Johnson identifies a series of interface dichotomies: Spatial Depth vs. Psychological Depth (217), Society vs. the Individual (221), Mainstream vs. the Avant-garde (224), One interface or Many (227), Metaphor vs. Simulation (231), Fragmentation vs. Synthesis (235): "What, then , are the blind spts of our own age? We have already encountered a few: the tyranny of image over the text, the limitations of the desktop metaphor, the potential chaos of intelligent agents. But there is a more fundamental--and for that reason more difficult to perceive--blind spot in the high-tech imagination, and it has to do with the general region of experience that the interface is felt to occupy" (212). (Also, Myst, Sonic the Hedgehog)

Terms: "memory palaces" (12), symbolic systems (15), "direct manipulation" (20), "platform agnostic" (100), "links of association" (112), "DOS complex" (150), "logophobia" (150), "word inventory" (154), high-information words (162), "semantic interface" (171), "design orthodoxy" (223), "conceptual turbulence" (238)

"In Englebart's day, of course, computers weren't terribly skilled in the art of representation: the lingua franca of modern computing had been a bewildering, obscure mix of binary code and abbreviated commands, data loaded in clumsily with punch cards, and output to typewritten pages" (13).

"But here's the rub: these new organisms [in the larger cultural ecology] don't tell stories. They riff, annotate, dismantle, dissect, sample" (26).

"We are fixated with the image not because we have lost faith in reality, but because images now have an enormous impact on reality, to the extent that the older image-reality opposition doesn't really work anymore" (30). ^This is an intriguing claim. When did this happen?

"There's something thrilling about that new open-endedness [of hypertext], but also something profoundly lonely" (126).

"The graphic interface revolution has changed all that: we now intuitively understand that visual metaphors--all those blinking icons and desktop patterns and pull-down menus--have an important, and cognitive function" (149).

"In these climates, all manner of metaforms appear: condensers, satirists, interpreters, samplers, translators" (32).

Related sources:
Bush, Vennevar. "As We May Think." Atlantic Monthly. 1954.
Dolnick, Edward. "The Ghost's Vocabulary." Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 1991.
Foster, Donald W. Author Unknown. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Might Be Nothing II

I don't know how long it's been around, and I wasn't willing to slog through the registration forms for the discussion forum to pinpoint a date, but the new version of Wink, I'm happy to report, is built to include sound with each frame of the screencast. 

Purely for kicks, I went ahead and pieced together an experimental fizzcast to see just how well the new Wink works.  Reddy?

I know, I know.  I can't say much for the fizzcast itself, but I am encouraged about the possibilities involving an easy-to-use and free podcasting app.  From what I could tell, Wink grabs the audio as a wav file.  The sound editing options are skimpy, but it would be easy enough to edit the wav file in Audacity then re-associate it with the screen capture.  The audio files are handled separately for each frame in the podcast, making it easy to give 20-40 seconds bites on each slide.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ohmann, English in America

O hmann, Richard M. English in America. 1976. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996.

Ohmann offers a cross-section of the discipline writ large, the profession, and institutional pressures bearing on English Studies in 1976.  English in America might be read as a series of standalone essays; their integration is loose and casual.  Ohmann's primary ambition with the series of essays is to articulate a politically-inflected variety of English Studies as an afront to formalist, structuralist and New Critical trends in the field.  Throughout the book and more pointedly at the very end, Ohmann expresses his strong preference for the political dimensions of English Studies.

EIA was reprinted in 1995.  This turn alone raises questions about the ways projects get recycled or revisited for something like a twenty-year anniversary.  Ohmann adds a new preface and conclusion, but the bulk of the project matches its former version from 1976.  The "radical view" mentioned in the subtitle, "A Radical View of the Profession," is probably a whole lot less radical in 2006 (even 1995) than it was taken to be in 1976.  In the intro to the 1995 edition, Ohmann lists a few of the events since the first edition that have transformed (or influenced, at the least) English studies: vocational education, literacy crisis (1975), back to basics, excellence (1983), and cultural conservatism.

Ohmann, in accounting for the state of working in English, ca. 1965, leads with distinctions between the humanities and the sciences.  He also emphasizes teaching, noting that the cultural aspirations and professional aspirations are "somewhat at odds" (17).

Because Ohmann contends that "English classrooms are the front line of culture," he urges a politically infused curriculum the leads to "unmasking," empowerment, and a service to society. After his introduction, he gives readings of the constraining force of MLA (re: Vietnam and radicalism in leadership), AP English testing ("Be docile" (56).), and the ideology-free myth of New Critical or related objective approaches to close reading (to what degree is English studies a cultural engine (status quo) rather than a countercultural engine?).

The latter sections include a chapter by Wallace Douglas in which he gives a reading of Edward Tyrell Channing as a way to make sense of the emergence of modern composition studies (as Channing's lectures signal "a nearly final stage in the long devolution of classical rhetoric" (99).  Chapter six covers "Freshman Composition and Administered Thought."  It's basically a reading of the role of textbooks in promulgating what Sirc would call "bread only" composition. 

In chapter ten, "Culture, Knowledge, and Machines," Ohmann presents a history of Taylorism and related forces of cultural mechanization that rival the mission and aims of English studies.

Keywords: "parlor socialism" (xv), "unmasking" (xvi), "legitimacy crisis" (xx), "Fordism" (xxxviii), "hegemonic confrontation" (xlviii), comp as "notoriously ineffective"(94), "technostructure" (272), "vanity of educators" (303)

Technology defined (ref. John McDermott): "systems of rationalized control over large groups of men, events, and machines by small groups of technically skilled men operating through organizational hierarchy" (49). Technology, or "technostructure" (the range of technological knowledge implicated in a complex process) is again addressed in chapter ten (272).

"The paradox resolves itself around the machine, of course: metaphorically speaking, the machine feeds on knowledge and puts out consumer goods. That is what technology means" (274).

"In spite of my appropriately skeptical unpacking of the social relations mystified by such terms as 'technology,' 'knowledge,' 'need,' and 'problem,' I sometimes reverted, myself, to the old mystifications" (xxv). Reflecting on the earlier edition, Ohmann acknowledges the problem of the life of terms.

"Within a profession, rituals and assumptions like those I examined in English in America reproduce its own hierarchies and proclaim the legitimacy--the objectivity--of its ranking and sifting" (xxvii).

"I imagine that composition will continue to grow in relation to literature, as a portion of our work, a process aided by the professionalization of comp during the past two decades.  But not just comp in a general way: I would expect our concrete labor to slide toward recognizably practical, vocational kinds of writing instruction, as it has been doing: witness the sharp increase of courses and programs in technical, business, and professional writing" (xliii).

"What an unsatisfactory state we have achieved, from the point of view I am urging upon you, when most of what we write drops quickly into a permanent non-circulating file, unassimilated, and even unread except by a corps of specialist colleagues and by unusually diligent committees on promotion and tenure" (13).

"What I wish to note here is simply how comfortable this ideology is for the professors who have risen to the height of their careers and who, therefore, occupy ideal positions for inculcating ideology in younger aspirants to these same heights; and how comfortable it is to maintain the reputations of their universities; and so confirm their own wealth and power" (37).

"In America we use technology and production to shut out social ills, and so to evade politics at whatever the cost" (80).  Here, Ohmann offers one of his overtly divisive stances toward what he calls technology and production.  ^What is the legacy or lifespan of this attitude?

Thornden Amphitheatricks

H ere you have Ph.'s day with Shakespearean whatnot:

First, the dance leading into this evening's opening of Shrew.

And then I've also captured the local news clip that aired this evening (notably not uploaded to YouTube because of copyuptight copyright).

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Taming Week

P h. is two days into a Shakespeare Camp at Thornden Park this week. He and about ten others are working up costumes, practicing for a dance gig, and gearing up to perform it at Thursday's 5:30 p.m. opening of The Taming of the Shrew at the amphitheater. They're not shouldering the full play, exactly, just the dance routine on opening night. And then on Friday, in a small showing for families and friends of the actors and campers, campers will perform Act 1, Scene 4: Petruchio's Country House. Ph. is Petruchio, which means 70-some lines, many of which are used up with badgering servants and fawning over Kate. Come out Thursday if you're in Syracuse.

Meanwhile, we're also steaming into soccer season. He had the final full-length summer match last night, a 1-1 draw vs. West Genesee. Tomorrow night is the summer league finale. To cap the season they play a shortened match against the team from the other division ranked in the same position as them. Second? Third? Doesn't matter much. After that, full soccer workouts start August 21. I took Y. over to the high school fields this morning for twenty minutes of tennis ball toss while Ph. timed himself in the mile on the cinder track (must be under six minutes to clear for fall soccer practice). From there we walked over to the tennis courts for game of soccer-tennis (Socnis? Tencer?), which was surprisingly close and entertaining. It's just like tennis, only no hands. No rackets. No tennis balls. But the scoring, rotations and tie-break schemes are all the same. And we play two-bounce on each possession, so you can settle the ball before sending it back. Just like conventional tennis, minus the tennis elbow: you can play as hard as you want to play, rest for a game, and so on. But it's a decent hour of exercise (we played just one set).

Ah, and somebody brought by a dinner spread complete with strawberry-rhubarb pie for Is.'s one-week fiesta (er...siesta). She had a first visit to the pediatrician yesterday, managed to pack on five ounces in three days. Not bad considering an ounce per day is standard for the ones who reach full term.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Slow-growing Family

A ll babies drop a few ounces. They tell us that's normal--a typical response to the exhausting otherworldliness of post-utero living. But babies shouldn't lose length. Their heights, that is, ought to be stable and then increase gradually. I mistakenly reported Is.'s height to be 19" (or 1-7 if format makes any difference). But her official height, it turns out, is 17.5" or 1-5 1/2. Nothing much to it. Good news: she's not shrinking. Instead, it was a case of whisper game in the delivery room. And maybe it's also a symptom of my few years handling sports information. Even in my own basketball days, while I never topped 6-5, the program listed me as 6-6. Maybe because I dominated like a giant one-inch taller than me would? Maybe not.

Is.'s measurements were rendered official for us yesterday, the 6th, a full five days after she was born. Yesterday, along with birth stats, her "first photos" finally showed up on There you'll find four of the photos taken on Wednesday by a staffer for who, because the hospital farms out baby photography, wheels a camera- and computer-mounted cart around the maternity ward snapping photos and taking down details about newborns. handles the production and circulation of non-medical photographs, and pictures of babies are a sure bet. But I can't understand the delay in getting the pictures to the site (unless it has something to do with stabilization). I know that Crouse Hospital was busy; there were 16 babies in the nursery on D. and Is.'s last night there (not to mention the other tots who were in rooms with their mothers). But I can't figure out why waited five days to put "first photos" on "baby's first web page," especially given their efforts to sell "baby's first photos." Given that the biggest rush of interest comes just 24-48 hours after delivery and given that inexpensive digital cameras and flickr accounts cut the time-to-web down to mere minutes, it doesn't seem like GF is keeping a contender's pace, vying, that is, for the sales-due-to-excitement during the most intense hours of attention following delivery. Even if timeliness only meant an increase in site traffic (which could then be used to pitch future accounts with other hospitals), it seems to me like they'd do themselves a favor to upload the photos the same day they take them.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Req: Your Best Frere Jacques

I 've promised D. I won't get too Vygotskian on Is., but I do have one sound experiment I want to try out. You (yes, you!) are urged to participate. You won't be world famous for it, but you will be famous to one. It works like this:

1. Pick a favorite nursery rhyme, lullaby or fairy tale (or write a new one, if you want to). The shorter the piece, the easier this will be. Odeo tells me any single recording can be up to an hour. Really, it's okay if your piece can be read in a couple of minutes. It doesn't matter for now if there are duplications, if, that is, folks accidentally choose the same piece. Feel free to comment here with a note about the rhyme/lullaby/tale you have chosen (Collin has already claimed "Three Billy Goats Gruff"). I ran a cursory search and located these few resources to help.

2. Call Odeo at 415-856-0205 (this is normally used for podcasting from a cell phone, but it'll work fine for this, too).

3. Follow the voice prompts.
A. Enter your (meaning my) primary telephone number: 315-708-3940.
B. You entered 315-708-3940. Correct? 1 for yes; 2 for no.
C. Enter your pin followed by the pound key: 40402006#.
D. Begin recording at the after the beep. To end recording, press #.
E. After you are finished, you have three options: 1. Post, 2. Review, and 3. Re-record.
Posting the sound file will save it to the Odeo system where I can access the MP3 file. Reviewing the recording lets you listen to the file before deciding whether to post or re-record. Re-recording lets you give it another try. After you post the recording, you will be asked whether you want to make another recording or end the call.

The generic script might open with a hello to Is. and an introduction of yourself (Hi Sweetie, this is your great aunt," followed by the rhyme/lullaby/tale). But you're welcome to break form, have fun, whatever.

I've tinkered around with the Odeo system, and as far as I can tell, this will work. It's tamper proof (giving out the pin doesn't mean that just anyone can log into the system and access the sound files). By the end of the month, I'd like to have a huge batch of audio files from family and friends welcoming Is. with their favorite rhymes/lullabies/tales. I have set Odeo so that the sound files won't be public (although I can make a file public if you want me to). But I'll be able to access them, burn them to a CD and produce a series of more personal bedtime sound-pieces. After all, why should a baby be listening to Neutral G. Nobody when she could be listening to your voice?

Last thing: You don't have to use Odeo. If you'd like to record something another way (on your own machine using Audacity or Garage Band, for instance), just email the file to me. Odeo makes it super-easy, however, for everyone with a telephone to participate. Although Is. can't hold her cell phone to her ear for a few more weeks, she can still hear your best Frere Jacques this way.

Last last thing: Keep 'em coming until August 31.

My choice: "Over in the Meadow".

Friday, August 4, 2006

To Wild Homes

Buckled In

W e're home; relieved to be. Is. aced the car ride and napped quietly (in my arms, listening to jazz) for several minutes during a pit stop at Babies-R-Us. I've posted a few more pics, including one of her showing off the full-range follow-through on her left hand hook. They learn so fast! Tomorrow's agenda: ABC's, img tags in HTML, and how to hold a PS2 controller (so as to optimize speed-to-button). Also, for anyone who stops by, it's really not my fault the grass isn't cut; one of the antique coil springs responsible for hoisting the 400-pound garage door snapped just after I backed out the Element on the way to pick up D. and Is. this morning, which means the lawnmower is marooned and the lawn wild.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Hello Whirled

F riends and internets, welcome Isabel Deidre Mueller!


Quite. The. Day (since 10:50 p.m. last night, that is). D. and Is. are healthy, resting. I'd go on and on about it if not for the vertiginous sleep deprivations. Finer points: delivered at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon and measured in at 4 lbs., 7 oz. and 19".

Added: More photos.