B ecause 1.) dissertation jokes are funnier to me these days than they will ever again be for the rest of my life and because 2.) I had a floaty-full bowl of whole grain Cheerios for lunch today, check this from McSweeney's, "From My Unfinished Doctoral Dissertation on Breakfast Cereals," by Dave Frye:
In Linnaeus's rudimentary typology, all cereals were divided into two broad categories: those that float and spill all over the place when you pour the milk in and those that sink and harden into something like cement if you forget to rinse the bowl. Linnaeus's work was greeted with broad enthusiasm in the 18th century, particularly in England, where Dr. Johnson adjudged his work "crunchy sweet," and Gibbon was inspired to begin work on his magisterial Sinking and Floating of the Roman Empire.
Plus, who doesn't feel overjoyed at the prospect of reading from an unfinished dissertation?
H ere is a piece of mail that arrived today: a postcard from a thoughtful, support-for-when-you-really-need-it company called Academic Ladder. The absence of a bona fide postage stamp makes me think this came to me via bulk mailing, but in case it was sent to me alone, I share it here for posterity's sake. Also, these are some of the design elements that might powerfully reach out to other late-stage dissertators:
What's that? No, in fact, it's nobody's business whether I ordered a toolkit. That's not what this entry is about. Anyway, it's my CCCC presentation I'm struggling to complete today.
A week ago I emailed a dashed-out draft of Chapter Six, "On Coagulants,"1 bringing me to a full draft of the project. For me, the draft means that it's sorta closing in on finished and sorta changing phases so that next it will continue coming up against all of the questions from my committee, questions that will re-open it, grow it, and overfill the footnotes.
Consider this entry something like a State of the Dissertation report. At 270 pages and six chapters, it's long enough. I'm satisfied with parts of it; dissatisfied with others. The two tail-end chapters need some TLC. Nobody's read them (me? I wrote them), and I'm not settled about what sort of work they need, so I've sent them in. And I've taken feedback from more than half of my committee on Chs. Zero (Intro) and One, from just under half of my committee on Ch. Three. I'll get to first-pass revisions on Ch. Four sometime after Watson but before the end of the month. I also have some work to do on fixing up the works cited. Right now the works cited is so disheveled I could carry it around in a grocery bag (a reusable one, of course).
In what little free time I've had this week to think about the sum of the project, I keep coming back to the idea of a wave or an arc as the shape I want to reckon with. I've tried to translate it into a graph using criteria I'm calling--today--a satisficiency index, which plays on Herbert Simon's idea of "satisficing" from The Sciences of the Artificial. Simon blends sufficient and satisfying, giving us "satisficing" as an alternative to "optimal" (in matters of AI, search, and so on). The satisficiency index registers an impression: How satisfied am I? and How sufficient is this? rather than reporting whether or not this is optimal. Much in the vein of pain tolerance questions posed by a physician (on a scale from 1 to 10, how much pain?), I have conjured up numbers corresponding to my satisfiction with the diss as drafted.
Would this curvy line match with my committee's report of the same? In certain chapters, perhaps. This is a question worth asking, right? And in conversations or via written feedback, I have come away with varied impressions of committee satisfiction. This variability is good and generative: everyone does not tell me the same thing. The graph also hides the order in which the chapters were drafted; two was first, followed by zero and one. The rest, three through six, progressed in order. Yet, with feedback from committee members, and especially with revisions, everyone's level of satisfiction should increase, right? (Please let that be the case for those last two, real tumbleweeds compared to the rest). Dissertations need to be "good enough," right? After making this graph, I began thinking that I'd like to have the average score up around 7 or 7.5. Right now it's at 5.7. Clearly there's more work to do. The graph, as a distant reading of the diss, helps me square with the work awaiting me, albeit in a deliberately simplified model.
1 Kidding. The actual title is TBD.
I haven't had much to say about the dissertation for a while. It's reached its top secret phase, as covered up as a smoking Roswell UFO. Sometime in the spring I broke rhythm from the regimented daily progress I was making (600 new words by noon or else!), iced the draft of chapter four, and rolled the office chair away from the office desk for CCCC, RSA, a jaunt to New Mexico, another jaunt to southern Pennsylvania: summertime. Next thing I knew, shellacked by the whoosh of whole months passing me by, I was really coasting through June and July: teaching online, mentoring four new online instructors, and putting down 15 hours per week in the Writing Center, while carrying the torch for a bunch of online pilots--consulting by email, consulting by IM. Hi, summer. Bye, summer.
I'm once again on a dissertation writing jag. In over 6K words on Chapter Five. Or maybe it's not a jag as much as a rediscovery and resumption of the daily rhythms that carried through the first four chapters. Yet it is also like a jag, all herky-jerky. Lurching sentences (all of them footnoted with mea culpas, my bad, etc.). Beads of forehead sweat. Deep reflective pauses for rummaging in the now-desolate grey matter for whatever on earth can come next? I am sure that with every sentence my facial expression tells of one who has writer's anguish and an upset stomach. So: I eat yogurt for breakfast and keep after it, periodically wondering what life will be like when the dissertation is drafted finally, maybe by the end of Soontober.
R evisions have been challenging. Having resolved myself to more drafting before squaring with revisions, the commented drafts of my dissertation's introduction and first two chapters tend to taunt me. I haven't figured out how to fit it in, how to make room for it given the other regular paces. I'd been meaning (for a couple of weeks) to get through some of the first-stage directorial comments to those early chapters, mostly because I want them to be ready for the rest of my committee sometime in Marchpril and also because I have at least one other reader who I'm trying to get them ready for. So I took a leap head-long into the "When will I revise?" problem on Saturday, and spent most of the day with it.
The introduction was fairly easy. It's elastic: short, overviewy, and without glaring needs. It was manageable to get through all of the comments, and make appropriate adjustments, leaving aside the summaries of the last two chapters (5, 6) because are yet unwritten. But working through Chapter One was somewhat more daunting; I expected this since it is much thicker than the introduction. I got through all of the superficial stuff, and ended up with a list, indexed by page, of what is left: two placeholder notes (no work required), four easy changes (citation adding, a one-sentence gloss on this or that), seven moderately difficult changes (almost all of which require some re-reading of sources), and one major change (a section that I will probably re-write from scratch with a slightly different--simpler--focus). It is helpful to have the index; but I don't know when I will get to it. Perhaps in Marchpril. Or Mayune. (Ay, clearly, we need a better vocabulary for two-month units).
I am not in panic mode about the demands of revision, the frequency or scope of the changes due (I know because I have not been tempted to add exclamatory emphasis to any of this.). But I still don't know how to work those revisions into what has been, out of necessity, a fairly compacted daily schedule. In this room-for-revision conundrum there lingers a problem of rhythm-breaking, and it's difficult to embrace that challenge when it's been so challenging just to establish a more or less even writing rhythm (the dailiness of dissertating, call it). Perhaps as much as anything, blogging has prepared me for the dailiness, but I still feel somewhat spun-around (i.e., vertigahh!) by the prospect of taking revision very seriously while drafting. To say nothing of other projects needing attention. So maybe if I stack all of it in a tidy pile on the deepest corner of my desk, it will still be there when I get to it in a couple of weeks.
I emerged from Netheruary break on Monday still in a bit of a haze from the weekend. Did you see that the Giants won the Superbowl? Enjoyed every minute of it.
But this is an entry about the diss. I expected that I would bound back into my daily paces on Monday, resume the 9-noon sessions, aiming for roughly two pages each day so as to have a draft of Chapter Four by the end of February. But I fell into a slump. I couldn't see the chapter. I knew vaguely what I wanted to do. I had an outliney plan, a few notes, a bottle of Vitamin Water. I had the graphs I painstakingly built day by day throughout January. And I remain fond of the graphs. I think they're quite good for getting at what I take to be the aim of the chapter. But! I couldn't grasp the chapter; couldn't sense it, couldn't begin it in a smart-enough place. And, therefore, piling them up 2 p. by 2 p. by 2 p., I typed nearly seven pages of rubbish between Monday and Wednesday. I would excerpt some of it to win my point; then again, I would never subject you to such inhospitable treatment.
Is this self-deprecation? Nah. It's an acknowledgement that even at half-way into the project, it has its challenges. Writing a dissertation is not like climbing a hill for sledding; the burden felt in the first half does not mean the second half will be a wild and reckless get-out-of-my-way joy ride with hot cocoa waiting when I've had enough. Instead, because I am so far removed from much of the work I did in the first two chapters, I struggle against the need to re-explain, re-set-up, re-establish some of the conceptual bounds I introduced early on. Thank goodness, my director listened to my dilemma yesterday and told me this: "Give it a clean break." And so I have. I began again, setting aside the seven awkward, stilted, unfocused pages I cringed through Mon-Wed. Suddenly, it is much better (although the sun did not beam through the gray clouds; it is still Syracuse in February). I can sense the chapter, and the opening gambit is a million times (er, at least 10,000 times) better than what I tried the first go-round.
What I want to note about this is that I am becoming both more humble and more mature (i.e., flexible) about my writing. I knew something was wrong; I knew a conversation in which I could unload a few of my cryptic thoughts would help. And I didn't feel so strongly about the seven pages that I was the least bit sorry about relegating them to the junk heap. I remember a time when I would have felt so invested in something of that length that I would have clung desperately to it and finessed it until I believed it was salvageable--even if it wasn't. I'm still getting used to the idea of scrapping large passages--even pages--of whatever I've written. I've never found the thought all that appealing. Well-timed, I guess, given that I leafed through Murray's The Craft of Revision after the title turned up on the WPA-L the other day. He begins Chapter One, "Write to Rewrite," with a short epigraph from Beckett: "Fail. Fail again. Fail better." I suppose it's reasonable to say I am failing better today than I was earlier this week.
S tevens, Anne H., and Jay Williams. "The Footnote, in Theory." Critical Inquiry 32 (Winter 2006): 208-225.
Opening questions: What have readers of Critical Inquiry read since the journal's inception? How does the range of reading get reflected in the articles themselves? In the footnotes? And, finally, what patterns can be amplified by fairly simple methods of tallying citation frequency and then relating the rates of frequency by arbitrarily selected (but consistent) periods of time? Stevens and Williams work at each of these questions, and they sketch a fairly compelling "distant reading" of the journal (and object of study), Critical Inquiry, since it was first published in 1974. Although the presentation of their tallies is not visual in quite the same way as Moretti's, they do incorporate three tables: one showing citation-counts by theorist per five-year period; one showing the top-ten most often cited theorists in each five-year period, and one listing the 95 most frequently cited theorists over the full life of the journal.
Their first section focuses on footnoting practices. I gather than in Critical Inquiry footnotes serve a double-function as they gather references to sources and also fill up with an author's asides, explanations, and extra-textual elaboration (this is true, as well, for CCC before 1987, with the exception of one or two articles). It's clear that Stevens and Williams worked with footnotes, not with works cited listings or some other list of references from the end of each article. They are also clear about the scope of their project. The insights their work produces are limited to the journal, a journal, they note, "is notoriously difficult...to define" (209).
After discussing some of the ways footnotes operate as a space for intensities and passions to play out or for choices to be defended they gradually incorporate some of the tallies and, with those, a few of the complicating factors, like self-citation and the matter of 137 articles in the history of CI not using footnotes at all (no telling how big this is relative to the entire sample). The bulk of the data-mining took place among a team of four researchers--Stevens and Williams included--in 2004. They parsed the footnotes, recording a theorist-reference each time a name appeared in footnotes in association with a unique work in a given article. Repeat references in a single article were not counted as multiple occurrences (212). They also explain their reasons for not simply involving a library database, such as Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI): the collection is too limited and wouldn't provide them with the exhaustive account they sought. And it was easier, they note, simply to use the paper copies of the journal (218).
Stevens and Williams discovered that not only has the number of footnotes in CI increased over the past fifteen years, but that the length of footnotes has, on average, doubled: "Our study in fact shows that not only have footnotes grown in length but that nearly half of the footnotes we counted appeared in only the last ten years" (220). Are there academic journals for which this has not happened?
"Doesn't the breeziness of citation, its offhand and seemingly arrogant nature signal that the essay as a whole commits one of the sins of the well-established author, that is, the need to skip serious, rigorous, time-consuming research in order to reach for grand and majestic statements?" (211).
mith, Tiffany L. "Cataloging and You: Measuring the Efficacy of a Folksonomy for Subject Analysis." Ed. Joan Lussky. Proceedings 18th Workshop of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group in Classification Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 2007.
Smith establishes a basis for comparison between the user-generated folksonomies developed in association with Library Thing and the Library of Congress Subject Headings for the same works. Her central research question attempts to reconcile each of the systems with matters of "efficacy and accuracy." In these terms, both folksonomies and the LCSH system have their limitations: folksonomies area hampered by variability (no shared vocabulary is imposed where folksonomies flourish); on the other hand, the LCSH is challenged by "currency, exclusions, and latencies" (para. 6). Smith explains each of these limitations in a fair amount of detail (paras. 7-10). She notes that the LCSH system is slow to adapt (might its inertia be its purported strength?), and yet, the flexible vocabularies we find in folksonomic classification tends to introduce redundancy that might mischaracterize and, therefore, mislead.
Smith also accounts for the problem of inflexible categorization schemes and latency. Controlled vocabularies cannot adapt to that which has never been done before. Another limitation for the LCSH is what she calls "pre-coordinate indexing" (a synonym, I assume, for the preformed taxonomy):
Pre-coordinate indexing forces the cataloger to prognosticate in relation to what future users will find of value in the information entity. There will necessarily be some aspects of every text that the cataloger does not include. The problem, of course, is that these areas constitute latencies of the book's subject that may compromise retrieval of information. This is further exacerbated by the issue of catalogers' quotas and a contributing issue: we don't get to read the entirety of most of the books that we catalog. (para. 11)
The point about not reading and cataloging or partially reading and cataloging introduces an intriguing twist here: What sort of knowledge is involved in the act of classification in either system? How greatly does this knowledge differ? And is it the varying thickness of this knowledge (re: thin slicing) what unsettles skeptics of folksonomic classification systems (as popular, participatory method)?
Within this long-ish quotation, I am also interested in the notion of a system that tends to stagnate because it cannot anticipate the scholars of the future. Derrida gets at this in Archive Fever, and it would be interesting to look at this tension against Carolyn Steedman's treatment (rebuttal, of sorts) of AF in Dust. How does Dust deal with classification or position the "breath it in" archivist as one whose indexical acts carry forward (draped in ethics, anticipation, and so on)?
Back to the article: Smith identifies her comparative approach as "exploratory" and "crude," and although I have a different interest in tagging practices than hers (efficacy and accuracy), I regard this as a solid overview, one well-grounded in a promising lit review (see below) that makes sense of the relationship between taxonomy and folksonomy relative to a smart Web 2.0 application in Library Thing. Smith's methods are visible on a different scale in the second half of the essay, where she works through the comparisons of five books according to how they are labeled in each of the systems.
Smith's lit review is one of the strong points of this piece. Here are a few items from the works cited that stand out to me, and that I will track down when I return to questions of tagging practices (how best to describe them, differentiate them, teach others about them, etc.) in revisions of Chapter Three:
Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
Guy, Marieke, and Emma Tonkin. "Folksonomies: Tidying Up Tags?" D-Lib Magazine 1 (2005), 24 Apr. 2007 < http://dlib.org/dlib/january06/guy/01guy.html>.
Hammond, Tony. "Social Bookmarking Tools (I): a General Review." D-Lib Magazine 11 (2005). 24 Jan. 2007
O'Connor, Brian C. Explorations in Indexing and Abstracting: Pointing, Virtue, and Power. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.
Svenonius, Elaine. The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.
F orty-eight hours remain in what I am now describing as the Albatross Phase of Chapter Four: prepping the data. These forty-eight hours will from now on be known as the "this stinks" leg of the Albatross Phase. Line by line, separating names from author-citations (after omitting "ed." and "eds." and filling in names for the 70+ et al.s in the batch. By the end of Friday, I need to get to the last item, no. 15,082, so that my plan will not become rubbish. Right now I am on no. 8,283. I will go to bed tonight when I reach 10,000--a measure of progress that will put me in coasting mode for Thursday and Friday's paces--so that I can kick back, smile, and savor the overcoming of "this stinks."
B ecause 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.
More than with the first two chapters, I have reached a point with this one where I am giving it up even though it is only ±85% of good enough. It needs more (not necessarily at the end), but I am giving it a rest on p. 45. In fact, it has grown so tired, I can hear its soft, melodic snoring already.
I thought I might find something epigraphically striking in The Theory of Clouds, a novel I read over the break. There's this, for instance:
Like all things so simple and sublime, clouds pose dangers.... Men are destroyed , and destroy each other over basic things--money or hatred. On the other hand a really complicated riddle never pushed anyone to violence; either you found the answer or gave up looking. Clouds were riddles, too, but dangerously simple ones. If you zoomed in on one part of a cloud and took a photograph, then enlarged the image, you would find that a cloud's edges seemed like another cloud, and those edges yet another, and so on. Every part of a cloud, in other words, reiterates the whole. Therefore, each cloud might be called infinite, because its very surface is composed of other clouds, and those of still other clouds, and so forth. Some like to lean over the abyss of these brainteasers; others lose their balance and tumble into its eternal blackness. (44)
The mined cloud for chapter three does not show me anything unexpected, other than the imposter-particle, "mercy." Clouds can be so sublime! And yes, we need more ironic tag clouds.
I also need three more chapters. Chapter four is next, and my aim is to have it drafted by the end of February. It's important that I nail this goal because the peak of conferencing season approaches like a wall of stiff wind shortly thereafter; hence, I will be busy with other stuff for a few weeks come March (nothing of which remotely resembles an exotic spring break, I am sad to say).
D errida, 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.
H ere's a maxim to write by: "When you proceed deliberately, mistakes don't cascade, they instruct" (87).
It's from Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn, which I am now working into the final section of chapter three, a section which also will serve as the basis for my CCCC talk in April. There are two bright sides to this; namely, I am almost done drafting chapter three (only a few days past my goal of completing the draft in December), and I have cause to get prepared for CCCC well in advance of the conference. On the dim side: it is demanding a different sort of deliberation to conceive of the section simultaneously in the contexts of the existing chapter's build-up and the conference paper (Blink!: I should quit thinking of it this way.), and writing the ends of things (i.e., sections, chapters) is not like putting the final pieces into a bounded puzzle. With puzzles, there is relief in the reduction of options (only two pieces left); with the stuff I am working on, I experience--and too easily wander off into--an expansion of options. "When you proceed deliberately, options don't instruct, they cascade."
H ow 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?
The table below grew first from parallel questions about the overlaps between Mehta's chronological approach to tag clouds (with hues that explain persistence) and Marlow's process, which remains important because it can return multi-term noun phrases rather than only one-word keywords (also because Marlow's is the one we use for CCCOA). As of yet and because I am short on space, I do very little to account for TagCrowd and ManyEyes: TagCrowd because I too quickly hit the memory ceiling with the files I am working from; ManyEyes because there are copyright concerns with uploading full texts of articles that belong properly to NCTE. Anyway, I will return to ManyEyes in chapter four.
Below I have boldfaced common terms across the three keywording methods. The second two columns apply duplicable computational methods of great relevance to the diss. Still, they are not perfect matches. Is this a flaw? I think of it instead as a sign of life--a slight rattle in the imperfectly fitting (and therefore thought-provoking) works.
Determined upon data input (it is not clear whether these are assigned by one person or whether, if they are handled by different people, there is any shared effort at reconciling them)
|Mehta's PHP Script, Top 10
Uses exclude file and PHP Stemmer
|Marlow's Perl Process, Top
Uses EN::Lingua::Tagger; nouns and noun phrases only
|1999, Villanueva||racism, profession, Latin-Am, history, pre-conquest, Aztec||American, colonial, color, ethnicity, Europe, group, latinos, numbers, people, racism||color (30), racism (23), people (20), america (11), latinos (11), peru (11), ethnicity (10), france (10), gods (10), numbers (10)|
|2000, Gilyard||cross-cultural, literacy, identity, critical-pedagogy, social justice, learning-theory, language, teacher-student, imagination, flight||dance, Gilyard, identity, mean, play, social, students, tao, time, work||tao (18), time (15), gilyard (13), king (13), students (10), brown (9), cannon (9), money (9), discourse (8), dunbar (8)|
|2001, Bishop||profession, 'Chair's Address', fatigue, renewal||composition, convention, field, poem, space, teachers, teaching, time, work, years||convention (19), poem (16), composition (14), teaching (11), time (11), members (10), my (10), teachers (10), field (9), rhetoric (9)|
|2002, Lovas||professional, faculty-status, CCCC, Conference on College Composition and Communication, professional identity, literacy autobiography, equity, assignment, curriculum, community college||college, community, faculty, program, students, teaching, university, work, writing, years||writing (33), college (31), students (25), colleges (24), faculty (20), community (18), work (15), teaching (14), university (14), composition (12)|
|2003, Logan||practice, classroom, language-rights, African-Am, women, mission, Chair's Address,||composition, difference, English, language, learning, rights, statement, students, teaching, writing||Students (28), composition (19), language (19), writing (18), statement (17), CCCC (16), teaching (16), teachers (11), position (10), conditions (9)|
|2004, Yancey||Chair's Address, literacy, change, profession, faculty status, practice, pedagogy, history, curriculum, media, technology, circulation, production, academic-public, academic-nonacademic||composition, literacy, public, reading, school, students, technology, text, words, writing||students (60), composition (57), writing (55), literacy (32), text (31), school (29), circulation (25), words (25), moment (23), technology (22)|
B ecause I have been running into some PHP road blocks that I have been unable to resolve, I needed to answer a dumb question: How long are the articles in CCC over the past twenty years?
This simple line graph charts the page count of CCC articles over the period in question. It answers my question, and it also more or less affirms the lengthening of article manuscripts--a gradual inflation we may well know about implicitly. Glancing the stacks in this way simply attests to it. The shortest are, these days, less short; the longest are longer. At this rate, in as little as 50 years, scholarly articles will on average exceed 100 pages. With any luck I will retire before then. If nothing else, the next half-century will require us to be more discerning readers, if the manuscript up-tick we have already witnessed has not already.
In putting the graph hastily together, I have neglected a number of factors--pull quotes that made articles slightly longer, changes to the layout of the journal around 2000 (did the average words per page remain constant?), and probably a few other things I haven't thought about yet.
What remains puzzling is that the PHP script I have been working with will not do its thing with Rouzie's 49-page article from 2001, but it is successful with Selfe and Hawisher's biggest-of-them-all, a 50-pager from 2004. The difference between them is slight. It can be measured in words. I will see to that soon. But I am closer to troubleshooting the PHP, closer to figuring out why. Think of this as one of the what crumbs sprinkled along the uneven path.
T he second chapter--a megalo-chapter with probably too much conceptual hefting--is nearly drafted. Granted, it's a raw, rough draft, but I'm generally happy with it, happy, more than anything, with the paces I've been able to manage by writing on it each and every day (of the week). At close to 60 pages, it will almost certainly be the longest chapter in the diss. Sixty probably sounds like a long chapter, but it's not so much when you consider that it allows about 10-15 pages per concept, and it's difficult to imagine doing less with this conceptual groundwork than I have already. If anything, the chapter needs airing out, expansion, and more explanation where I've gone thin (including tired or lazy). I wouldn't be surprised at all if my committee encourages me to split it into two chapters to allow more breathing room. Rough though it is, it's a start. And it does, more or less effectively, what I promised in the prospectus that it would do. That much is reassuring.
I still have a couple of pages to go, and right now I have included just one image, although two or three more still need to be added. Based on the measure of 300 words to a page, I was thinking that at 15,000 words, it would be about 50 pages, but right now it's up around 15,700 words and 58 pages.
Chapter one is next. I think I've been every bit as prepared to write this one as the second one. I have a clear sense of what I will try to accomplish in the first chapter and how, approximately, it will move from point to point. It should last for maybe 35-40 pages, and to keep to this, I will have to be careful (i.e., highly controlled) in navigating a couple of the quagmires, such as the matter of diswamplinarity. I still have to make a couple of decisions about how to avoid sinking up to my knees in the "internal problematic" of diswamplinarity.
And then, and then, and then. I have been trying to switch between working the data and writing. The data still needs more work--painstaking (i.e., Oh merciful one, what have I done to deserve this?) coding, copying and pasting and sorting, looking up details, building XML files, and so on. It will neither kill me nor make me stronger, but the lines and lines of data will have to be well in hand before I can do much with chapters three through five. I guess those three chapters are what we could call methods chapters, but I've had to get used to the idea that this project doesn't follow the well-worn path when it comes to dissertations. I don't mind that it doesn't follow the distributive formulism of intro + lit. review + methodology + application + pedagogy or implications = Ph.D. I'm sort of doing some lit. reviewy stuff in the second chapter, but it's also concept reviewy--the defining of terms that often happens in the first chapter, so I've heard. And the diss doesn't offer a topical inquiry as much as scope and promote a new methodology, so the whole thing, you might say, is loaded up with chapters on methods.
Before the end of the semester, I'd like to draft the first two chapters and build a couple of the models for chapters three through five. For the next ten weeks, that means wrapping up the massaging of data and getting down chapter one. There's a rough plan for what will follow, but I won't bother rehashing that right now. I'm just trying to drop a buoy in the Sea-of-Diss so that when my head clears in a few months, I will have left a trail to help me retrace what happened.
I might be on the down slope in this second chapter. I've been writing about scale, aerating the idea of "textual altitude." I begin with conventional notions of scale, like those we find in traditional, basic cartography. Drawing on a couple of geography resources, I brush the term in two different directions: representational scale and conceptual scale. Next, I bring Latour on board so that he will help me account for the problems with the micro/macro debate. Latour urges a flattening out of the social so that associations are rendered traceable (without jumps up or down or the proliferation of tiny, temporary, bridges of convenience). Latour is especially on point for what I'm trying to set up where he distinguishes between the Orders of Magnitude, a variation of scale that is useful for measuring, and panoramic vistas, which are appropriate for traveling (186). Right, his replacement of panoptica with oligoptica pertains to scale, too, and I include it briefly, as well. I'm surprised (the sort of surprise that turns into: What now?) by the correspondences between what has shaped up in the section on scale and what shaped up in the section on abstraction. Both chunks scream certain unavoidable ideas at me that will return later in the diss as-conceived (esp. in C. 6). Can't worry about this yet. It doesn't have to be settled until, oh, March or April. One challenge of late is that in my quasi-outline I fancy holding to just ten pages on the concept of scale (same for the other three concepts I snake through in this second chapter). But ten pages won't be enough unless I discard a few citations, do away with some of the references I'd hoped to include. At nine pages into this section on scale, I have dealt only with the traditional cartography and Latour. I was also thinking I would bring aboard the network studies conversation about scale-free networks. I can't accomplish this and keep to ten pages, but I can attempt it while keeping the section down around fifteen pages. So that this seems like a good idea, I only need to remind myself that what I've been writing will be different later on, after the ruts and pockets are rolled smooth.
O n this, the Barthes of September (so occasioned), I am left with no choice but to post an excerpt. But which one? Something apropos to this afternoon's mood (any respite from Why does this over-warm office where I sit working on my dissertation smell like shit? It's 94F--record-setting heat in CNY. A dead squirrel in the eaves? I refuse to climb in the small, hot, unlit nooks to inspect them. Tactic: wait it out--in the office, curious, resting on hope alone that the unbearable stink resolves itself).
RB (from RB) on "My Head is Confused":
On a certain kind of work, on a certain kind of subject (usually the ones dissertations are made of), on a certain day of life itself, he would like to be able to post as a motto the old-wives' remark: My head is confused (let us imagine a language in which the set of grammatical categories would sometimes force the subject to speak in the aspect of an old woman).
And yet: at the level of his body, his head never gets confused. It is a curse: no value, lost, secondary state: always consciousness: drugs excluded, yet he dreams of them: dreams of being able to intoxicate himself (instead of getting sick right away); anticipating from a surgical operation for at least once in his life an absence, which was denied him for a general anesthesia; recovering every morning, upon waking, a head swimming a little, but whose interior remains fixed (sometimes, falling to sleep with something worrying me, upon first waking it has disappeared; a white minute, miraculously stripped of meaning; but the worry rushes upon me, like a bird of prey, and I find myself altogether back where I was, just as I was the day before).
Sometimes he feels like letting all this language rest--this language which is in his head, in his work, in other people, as if language itself were an exhausted limb of the human body; it seems to him that if he could take a rest from language, he could just rest altogether, dismissing all crises, echoes, exaltations, injuries, reasonings, etc. He sees language in the figure of an exhausted old woman (something like an antique cleaning woman with worn hands) who sighs for a certain retirement.... (176)
Why not this? While there is no relief from the odor (decomposing flesh, I am sure of it), there is a little relief for my head. It is a couple of pages less confused than it was yesterday.
P eeples, Tim. "'Seeing' the WPA With/Through Postmodern Mapping." The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser, eds. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999. 153-167.
Peeples devises a set of maps in an effort to "capture a sense of spatial positioning and the fragmentation of [Wedy] Bishop's position" as the WPA at Florida State in the late 1990's. Postmodern geography influences Peeples' project, allowing him to combine experimental maps and narrative accounts that together present the complex and multiply implicated subjectivities of a WPA whose organizational role is entangled with disciplinary, administrative, and organizational discourses.
In the end, it's not entirely clear where Peeples finds a useful distinction between subjectivities entangled in (and constructed from) discourse and those wrapped up in the material locale itself. The progression of maps tend to highlight the ways Bishop's WPA subjectivity is discursive, and a footnote backs this impression, but elsewhere Peeples seems also to recognize the implicatedness of the material site, such as when he says that "[e]thnographies would help our field better understand the details and complexities of these local spaces" (159) and also when he invokes Porter and Sullivan's Opening Spaces and "Institutional Critique" article--both of which foreground the local and material.
Three of Peeples' strategies here are especially significant for me:
On subjectivity, Peeples cites Faigley's Fragments of Rationality and Janangelo's 1995 essay, "Theorizing Difference and Negotiating Differends." The maps themselves evoke a number of questions about choices for shading (a gradient backshadow represents something less fixed than an outlined oval) and positioning (cycles giving way to intersections giving way to a periphery of "ideals").
"Rather than use terms such as 'role' and 'identity' that signify stable, unified positions, 'subjectivity' has become a key term because it signifies the dynamism, multiplicity, and fragmentation of people/positions" (153). Here, aligning with terms--subjectivity is preferable to roles and identities because it clicks with the theoretical orientation that ascribes some value to postmodern mapping.
W hether or not the moon is made of green cheese is of no concern to my dissertation. Because I make other claims, however, Latour's account of the performance of statements and things in Science in Action (1987) applies:
[W]e have to remember our first principle: the fate of a statement depends on others' behavior. You may have written the definitive paper proving that the earth is hollow and that the moon is made of green cheese but this paper will not become definitive if others do not take it up and use it as a matter of fact later on. You need them to make your paper a decisive one. If they laugh at you, if they are indifferent, if they shrug it off, that is the end of your paper. A statement is thus always in jeopardy, much like the ball in a game of rugby. If no player takes it up, it simply sits on the grass. To have it move again you need an action, for someone to seize and throw it; but the throw depends in turn on the hostility, speed, deftness or tactics of the others. At any point, the trajectory of the ball may be interrupted, deflected or diverted by the other team--playing here the role of the dissenters--and interrupted, deflected or diverted by the players of your own team. The total movement of the ball, of a statement, or an artefact, will depend to some extent on your action but to a much greater extent on that of a crowd over which you have little control. (104)
Must every statement be written as if it will endure the perpetual jeopardy Latour names? Not necessarily. But--and this gets at the challenge of making statements--"the total movement...of a statement" should be, to the extent possible, anticipated, even if this requires granting too much clout to the crowd (i.e., audience in action).
I 'm home from another bi-weekly meeting of my program's job-seekers and dissertators. The second portion--a meeting of dissertators--focused on my first twenty-pages, a chunk from the start of the second chapter where I try to make a quick-light-profound path through the fiercely guarded junkyard of abstraction, speculative instruments, Science v. Art, and so on and so on, writing through concepts and leveling out some of the rutty groundwork. Of course, part of the point is that it's not junk in the junkyard.
One of the more challenging dimensions of a session like this is the degree to which a chapter or a section from a chapter must account for all of the terms it invokes. In an article, by contrast, we would expect everything to be set up, plainly laid out (right, or else not). But much of what I do at the outset of the second chapter takes the unwritten first chapter for granted. This is a matter of given and new: how do we locate the given and new in a dissertation? Will chapter one definitions, arguments, and discussions constitute givens in chapters two through six? Or must they be re-capped, re-introduced? If they are re-introduced, does the dissertation then come to function more like a collection of articles and chapters that can stand alone (because we desire for some of them to be ready for the transformation into an article)? I know the simplest answers to these must include caveats, but I'm only trying to capture a few of the things I thought about on the bike road home from campus.
My next small step will be to draft another ten pages on visual models (ch. 2, section 2), locating the rise of particular models in composition studies before dealing with a couple of perspectives that contribute conceptually to a rhetorical understanding of models. After that, maybe I'll get going on chapter one and/or rework some of the section that was generously and thoughtfully taken up this afternoon.
L ess than one sentence in, it occurred to me that much of the magnum opus would need to be rewritten.
I mean that so far I have not been able to write perfectly intelligible, polished, ingenious prose on the first attempt. You can imagine my shock and dismay.
P utting down a few thoughts about my own dissertation phase transition seems inevitably to scatter, prone to it's early, the many-directions-remain-a-possibility starburst, like the gust-thrown seeds from a maturing dandelion blossom. Small chances; their taking hold remains undetermined.
That's a excessively florid way of saying that these are days of starts and stops. The prospectus and hearing determine certain aspects of the project. The approximate plan gains approval, wins assent to move ahead. But what, exactly, comes next? More reading? Tentative, provisional writing? Conversation? Research activity? Yes, all of it. What proportions or ratios among them? How do certain streams merge, diverge, overshadow the others?
Advice varies. I won't run through all of it now. Instead, I want to list a few of the things that crowd together under the canopy of "dissertating."
These (and others I have forgotten and, therefore, neglected for now) are processually interrelated, co-occurring, and complex. The combination of activities, I'm beginning to understand, can't be fully understood on the front end as if scripted or even fully advisable (measured like a recipe). This is what we mean by inquiry, no? This is what we mean by the dissertation as a best attempt, a practice book, and so on. This half-understood, undecidable how-to is the hard part at the phase transition spanning from exams to such riveting opening sentences as "In society today, rhetoric and composition...." So--no shock-you-off-your-seat surprise in this--I'm still learning the project, still trying to handle it each and every day, and finding daily affirmation as much in "Let no fears, inhibitions, or apprehensions stand in its way" as from the aphorisms that emphasize pleasure, as in "Demand of yourself, among many other reasonable things, that writing the dissertation be a labor of love (at least intense like)" or "Remember to enjoy it."
L auer, Janice. "Heuristics and Composition." CCC 21.5 (1970): 396-404.
Lauer formulates a centrifugal gesture, urging compositionists to turn to psychology and other fields presently discussing invention in such a way that would aid in "the creation of a potent contemporary rhetoric" (397). At just four pages with an eight-page bibliography, this article is odd for its brevity. Lauer says that the "lost art of invention"--which she defines as "the art of discovering 'what to say,' of making original judgments on experience, of discovering means of communicating this unique insight with a particular voice to a particular ear, of deciding between nonsynonymous utterances" (396)--might be renewed under extradisciplinary influences.
To discuss heuristics, Lauer invokes Polya, a mathematician who, in 1957, wrote a history in which he described "heuristic reasoning" as "reasoning not regarded as final and strict, but as provisional and plausible only, whose purpose is to discover the solution of the present problem" (396). Heuristics, in this sense, are "rules of discovery and invention" (396) that guide the "experience of creativity." Those in rhetoric and composition working on theories of invention would, Lauer contends, find her collection of resources from psychology to be of tremendous significance as they work through matters of heuristics and problem solving.
"Heuristics and Composition" touched off an argument between Lauer and Ann Berthoff who answered the essay (and bibliography) with a follow-up article in CCC 22.3 (1971) called "The Problem of Problem Solving," in which she calls Lauer's approach to heuristics "politically dangerous" and "philosophically shallow" (239). The two also engaged in a dialogue over these ideas in a response and counterstatement in 1972.
If this is the inroads of heuristics to rhetoric and composition, it is a rutty path, indeed. Heuristics crawls onto the scene slowly and controversially, filling a gap left by a lack of work on invention. But psychology's variations on heuristic (via problem solving), according to Berthoff, neglect philosophical self-awareness, knowledge about knowledge (and our roles in its making), and risk promoting the reductive march of education as preparation for life in a technological society (a condition which Berthoff parallels with corporatization and bureaucratization).
There is a sense in which heuristics, though contested, overlaps with a more general class of methods, of what Polya calls ars inveniendi or arts of discovery (ars inveniendi as brought up by Lauer implies a correspondence to the pursuit of a dogmatic truth, despite the note about heuristics as "provisional and plausible"). I bring up method because it might work to call heuristics that layer of method which is paradoxically replicable (follow these guides again and again) but not over-determined by any strict teleology, outcome, or yield. I mean that the meta-hodos (sequenced, ordered paths) is, in some ways, an ars inveniendi; it makes sense, then, to regard heuristics as methods and methods as heuristic, allowing, of course, room for the meanings of these terms to play to different extremes (extremes of aleatory and algorithm, maybe). Heuristics can introduce energy--provide a pulsatile lift--but they might also name a juncture where methods for writing (i.e., processes) suffer under the sleeper-hold of rigidity.
D aly-Goggin, Maureen. Authoring A Discipline: Scholarly Journals and the Post-World War II Emergence of Rhetoric and Composition. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.
Searchable text available in Google Book Search.
Daly-Goggin presents a study of nine major journals in rhetoric an composition over 40 years as evidence of the discipline's emergence: College English, CCC, Research in the Teaching of English, Rhetoric Society Newsletter/Quarterly, Freshman English News, Journal of Advanced Composition (later only JAC), Pre/Text, Rhetoric Review, and Written Communication. The preface very clearly positions the project as a history; the opening traces rhetoric as an institutional interest, from its lowly status in the early twentieth century to its resurgence in the late twentieth century. Daly-Goggin draws heavily on a gardening metaphor--an organic framework related to gardening, budding, fruits, transplanting, and harvesting.
The book is organized by periods. The second chapter covers 1950-1965; the third chapter, 1965-1980; and the fourth chapter, 1980-1990. The fourth chapter/era is the time when disciplinarity was best established, relative to the earlier periods, and, as such, Daly-Goggin suggests that the ways journals defined themselves shifted toward theory, methods, and history and away from practice and pedagogy. Put another way, the discipliniographers (i.e., editors and contributors who literally write the discipline (xvii)) continued to move in their thinking to a point where rhetoric and composition was thought a Wissenschaft (14, 122a) or legitimate knowledge-making conglomerate.
Daly-Goggin's analysis of each journal focuses on transitions between editors; she characterizes the journals according to each editor's predilections for what the journal would do and how decisions would be made about what sorts of content would be featured. This is especially significant when it comes to features such as tables of contents (added to RSQ in 1981) and double-blind peer review (introduced to CCC relatively late compared to other journals, during Richard Gebhardt's editorship, starting in 1987).
To account for the early years (1950-1965), Daly-Goggin draws on Laurence Veysey's idea of patterned isolation where "knowledge production and consumption was dispersed, localized, and personal" (48, 65). Collin has written about this, as well, and it is tremendously useful for getting at questions of just how much journals did to alter the pattern or relieve the experience of isolation. Daly-Goggin also suggests that, for this era, many in English studies might not have been paying attention to the journal--might not have been reading it at all. In 1964, Macrorie published ten accounts by graduate students criticizing their graduate training in English. Daly-Goggin writes, "Yet English professors were silent for reasons that are not entirely clear; some may have agreed and thus saw no reason to speak out; others may have chosen to ignore the publication, and still others--most likely many others--probably simply had not read the journal" (61d). Simply had not read the journal.
Terms: discipliniographers (xviii, 148), density of publications (xviii, 176, rel. to graphs), research ideal (5), grammatocentrism (8c), Crowley's mechanical literacy (12b) (rel. models as merely or more than), Wissenschaft (14b), patterned isolation (48, 65), interdisciplinarity (87), poesis/noesis (91), generations (149b; rel. to Latour SIA), critical mass (176), marketing myopia (199d).
"However, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that journals alone construct the disciplinary work of a field; the phenomenon is much more complicated than that" (xviii).
"The point is disciplines have never been unified or coherent; rather by the mid-20th century academicians began to confront the illusions of coherence" (xx).
Technique: "Given the enormous new demands for work and recreational literacy, the question is why rhetoric did not expand to fill those needs instead of contracting so sharply. The answer is too complex to deal with in one chapter, but the following three sections address some of the major forces that worked to eclipse rhetoric within departments of English" (10d).
Lloyd-Jones compares research agenda to chemistry/alchemy: "Although some in the field of rhetoric and composition have criticized the natural sciences analogy, it was fitting. As I already pointed out, those in the field were isolated in home institutions and thus, largely in the dark about what others were doing, making coherent research agendas virtually impossible" (77b).
"One point must then be highlighted: The contributors and the journals in rhetoric and composition became dispersed across the entire United States, and they further began to represent fairly well the geographical distribution of postsecondary educational institutions" (160).
"In each case, the analysis suggests just how strong and how tightly woven the social fabric for the field had become by the 1980s" (178a).
"Narrow specialization threatens rhetoric--an observation made by Cicero over two millennia ago that appears in the epigraph that opens chapter 1 of this history" (205).
F irst thing in the morning: Is. let loose with a squeal-shout of "Day-ad!" (or something sounding very close to this) loudly enough to stir me from the depths of sleep.
Sometime in the afternoon I heard, "You may now write your dissertation."1
Added: The Collin vs. Tenure showdown ended with a favorable result.
I have a hunch there will be more to add...
1. I have a heap of really useful notes from the prospectus hearing. Tomorrow I need to pour over them, translate them into a more coherent and usable form. And then *deep breath* all that's left is to write the thing. To begin the hearing, I offered a brief recap of the conversations and email exchanges with each member of the committee. Not wanting to go too long with the preamble, I kept myself to just four points (questions, suggestions, recommended readings, concerns) per person. From there it was every bit the collegial conversation I hoped for, and I walked away feeling tremendously relieved, challenged, and overstimulated with the ideas we shared about the work just ahead.
I recorded the talk to an mp3 yesterday afternoon and went to campus last night where I planned to use iMovie to sync the audio with jpegs of the slides. Because the slideshow includes text, I needed to get the resolution right, but, well, it started to get late. I started to get impatient. I was able to output a reasonably readable mp4 file, but for whatever reason, I couldn't get Google Video or Daily Motion to encode it. Finally Jumpcut accepted the file, so it's available below the fold (even if much of it suffers from jaggies). The original mp4 is available for download here.
Also, here are the links to most of the stuff shown in the slideshow (all except the graphs).
D id Lloyd Bitzer ever draw his situational model? Or are all of the visually rendered triangles drawn from his textual account?
If he didn't draw it (I can't find evidence that he did), are responses to the model's viability fueled instead by its proliferation as an abstraction pulled (like a rabbit from a hat) out of Bitzer's textual account? How did the textual model evolve into a disciplinary fixture, a visual commonplace? How was it translated from text to geometric figure? Should we enjoy free license to convert anything with three points into a triangle?
I've been reading a little bit (not nearly as much as I would like) about models lately. There's a small slot in the diss-as-proposed where I will account for Flower and Hayes' process model and the related fracas (simplistic! rigid! universalizing! yeah, so?). I'm wondering whether it was a moment when the baby (visual modeling) was tossed with the bath water (the critical rinse of this one as simplistic, rigid, and universalizing). The Flower-Hayes construct isn't the only visual model floating around R&C. But what are the others? Bitzer's triangle. Burke's pentad. Berthoff's ladder. Others? And so I'm thinking about whether these were first rendered visually or textually, whether they were composed first as discursive or presentational. The production and circulation of the visual derivatives is curious, isn't it?, if they manifest primarily as a readerly acts--as interpretive moves or as gestures of uptake.
In "Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models," Michael Pemberton gives us a continuum. Roughly:
Data - - - Models - - - Theories - - - Paradigms
The diss, as I'm thinking of it today, is concerned in an early chapter with a portion of the tracks, a segment of the continuum (the Rochester to Albany of Amtrak's Empire route, we could call it):
Data - - - Models - - - Theories - - - Paradigms
Important to consider here is the reversal. The back track. Not only the path from data to paradigms, from local to global (help me, Bruno), but the return (chutes to Berthoff's ladder). The re-volution (where local at all points crumbles the grand empire, wherever you jump in). The trip from theories to models (home!), as seems to be happening for Bitzer, Burke, and Berthoff (a la Langer), mustn't be glossed. But there I go, too easily conflating visual models and textual models, too hastily treating them as twins rather than the cousins they happen to be--a whole family of models live at that depot ("Models") in the continuum. I'm trying to get acquainted with them, initially by searching for, among other things, clues to "Did Bitzer draw?".
I sent off the first draft of the prospectus today. It's raw in a couple of spots (a pile of I mights and what if I?s), but it's fifteen pages not counting the 50+ citations in the provisional bib, and that means done enough for a round of preliminary feedback.
I 've refurbished the exam notes blog, Exam Sitting, and converted it to a dissertation blog. I suppose I'll use it to post notes and other gems of speculation. I've never dissertated before, so it's not entirely clear yet just how useful such entries will be. All the same, I'm convinced of the benefits that carried over from the exam note-keeping to the performance of the exams themselves. And I appreciate that some processual transparency allows others who might be interested in such a thing to see into what I'm working on, what I'm thinking about. It also introduces a mild, supportive form of accountability in that everything I do there is out in the open for my committee to follow as they see fit.
I waggled back and forth on names for the new blog. In the end, it was a three-way split decision between Diss-o-Matic, Dissarray, and Disscombobulatio. Diss-y lot. Ah well, it's easy enough to switch up. And these choices sure beat the Dissney riffs: Dissy-dissy-bang-bang, Dissertation Gully, Mary Dissins, and Diss Willy. No. You're right about this one. This is not how I should be spending my time (biting my fingernails over the name of the diss blog, that is).
So far I've posted a provisional bibliography for the prospectus, and today I posted notes on Unsworth's address from a few months ago. I also spent a little over an hour drafting two pages of the prospectus today. Here's hoping some of these tactics help shuttle me through the transition from exams to more focused dissertation-writing.
U nsworth, John. "New Methods for Humanities Research." The 2005 Lyman Award Lecture. National Humanities Center. Research Triangle Park, NC. 11 Nov. 2005. <http://www3.isrl.uiuc.edu/ ~unsworth/lyman.htm>.
John Unsworth's 2005 Lyman Award address at the National Humanities Center lingers as a significant moment in efforts to expand research in the humanities to include text-mining, data-mining, visualization, modeling, and pattern recognition. Unsworth establishes an analogy between research methods in the sciences, which are commonly classified as basic and applied, and research methods in the humanities, which are better described as "scholarship" and "criticism." He explains the gold standard for humanities research as activity reducible to modes of "reading, writing, reflection, and rustication" (para. 9). Why new methods?, Unsworth asks.
After establishing a correspondence between research in the sciences and research in the humanities, Unsworth argues that both applied and basic research are manifest in the humanities. Particularly where humanities scholars give readings (i.e, humanities as a hermeneutic enterprise), knowledge is subject to revision from any number of forces: shifting theoretical stances, new or unraveled evidence, and so on. The same is true for the sciences: "all you can do is offer a hypothesis that withstands being disproven, for some period of time, until contradictory evidence or a better account of the evidence comes along" (para. 14). A proof/disproof opposition, however, runs the risk of favoring rationalism and positivism rather than speculation. This isn't Unsworth's problem, of course, but it continues to be important to emphasize hybrids and complexity rather than singular models that win out because of any selective treatment of evidence.
The new methods Unsworth proposes are best demonstrated by the NORA Project. What do these methods do? "Data-mining delivers a new kind of evidence into the scene of reading, writing, and reflection, and although it is not easy to figure out sensible ways of applying this new research method (new, at least, to the humanities), doing so allows us to check our sense of the gestalt against the myriad details of the text, and sometimes in that process we will find our assumptions checked and altered, almost in the way that evidence sometimes alters assumptions in science" (para. 29). So we have new evidence and (potentially) unprecedented forms of knowledge made possible by differential treatments of texts (and related metadata). We have an electrate complement, an expanded, though not inherently contentious, pluriverse of evidence: patterns, clusters, maps, concentrations, and networks of association. Importantly, Unsworth, while advocating for new methods, returns to pragmatic questions: how can these processes contribute to the things literary scholars already do? Take the tracing of terms, for example. Interested in how particular words and phrases rise, fall, transform, evolve? Term-tracing is a fairly common activity in studies of texts; new, computational methods make a tremendous contribution in this regard.
Unsworth draws an important distinction between search-and-retrieval processes (i.e., building a better search engine) and new methods which "produce new knowledge by exposing similarities or differences, clustering or dispersal, co-occurence and trends" (para. 17). This doesn't mean that search-and-retrieval is unimportant, but it does effectively suggest that there's more to the new methods than devising a search scheme more likely to summon efficient returns. I need to return to this point when I work through the differences between the text-mining to tagging (del.icio.us) and text-mining to tagclouds (Mehta's tagline slider). The first is, in large part, motivated by search and association; the second is motivated by visual epistemology and layered listing (a distinctly different arrangement and presentation). Both have bearing on circulation, on keeping step with expanding circulatory means, but we must avoid reducing text-mining to improved search-and-retrieval.
Phrases: doing research (para. 2), theory/method (5), systematic (methodical) thinking (6), recurring conventional units (11), text-mining tool development (18), lack of explicit awareness (23), cyberinfrastructure (34).
"The other word in my title, "method," raises some issues of its own. A
method is a procedure, or sometimes more specifically (as in French) a
"system of classification, [a] disposition of materials according to a plan or
design" (OED). In the 1980s, in graduate school (and in job interviews), one
sometimes faced the daunting question "what's your methodology?" Usually, what
that meant was "what's your theoretical bent: what theoretical flag do you fly?"
There was an older sense of methodology still in force, though: dissertations
still sometimes had chapters on methodology, and graduate programs in English
were wrestling with whether or not to discard requirements for coursework in
research methods (which essentially meant bibliography, sometimes with library
research methods included). Most departments eventually did do away with this
requirement, and by the 1990s, "research" seemed to happen mostly without
attention to method." (5)
"The goal of the nora project is to produce text-mining software for discovering, visualizing, and exploring significant patterns across large collections of full-text humanities resources from existing digital libraries and scholarly projects." (16)
"In search-and-retrieval, we bring specific queries to collections of text and get back (more or less useful) answers to those queries; by contrast, the goal of data-mining (including text-mining) is to produce new knowledge by exposing similarities or differences, clustering or dispersal, co-occurrence and trends" (17).
"There are many more challenges than I'll mention tonight, but perhaps the greatest challenge, at the outset and still today, has been in figuring out exactly what data-mining really has to offer literary research, at a level more specific than the cleverly non-specific generalities I offered in my opening description of nora ("software for discovering, visualizing, and exploring significant patterns across large collections of full-text humanities resources"). What patterns would be of interest to literary scholars?" (21).
"[O]ne could (in principle) do this kind of modeling and even the quantitative analysis without computers: you could model the crystal palace with toothpicks and plastic wrap; you could do the painstaking word-counting and frequency comparison by hand. But you wouldn't, because there are other interesting things you could do in far less time" (30).
"[W]e hope that when it is complete the report will help to foster the development of the tools and the institutions that we require in order to reintegrate the human record in digital form, and make it not only practically available but also intellectually accessible to all those who might be interested in it" (34).
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B elow the fold, a provisional bibliography for the dissertation prospectus.
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