Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ideology of Wording

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

Ralph Cintron, Angel's Town

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sub Insert()

Ended up working on the Sony Viao all morning, its poor fan whirring like a twin-prop airplane, so I could execute this macro on the Big Data Set. Going to need a macro solution for the Macbook eventually, which would appear to require 1) figuring out Applescript, 2) trying Keyboard Maestro, or 3) making better use of the Bootcamp partition. For good keeping, today's macro:

Sub Insert()
' Insert Macro
' Macro recorded 7/12/2011 by Derek Mueller
' Keyboard Shortcut: Ctrl+w
ActiveCell.Offset(-1, 0).Range("A1:M1").Select
ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Range("A1").Select
ActiveCell.Offset(0, 7).Range("A1").Select
Application.CutCopyMode = False
ActiveCell.FormulaR1C1 = "D"
ActiveCell.Offset(0, 3).Range("A1").Select
Application.CutCopyMode = False
ActiveCell.FormulaR1C1 = " "
ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Range("A1").Select
Application.CutCopyMode = False
ActiveCell.FormulaR1C1 = "NAME"
ActiveCell.Offset(1, -11).Range("A1").Select
End Sub

Monday, May 9, 2011

This is Kairos?

Australian reporter Harriet Alexander, in a January report titled "Quick! Before the Worm Turns," looks into the practice of beach-worming--the harvesting of wormbait from sandy beaches using fingers or pliers. Use of fingers reduces the risk of breaking apart the long worms in the process, according to Col Buckley, the human subject of the story. Buckley suggests a linkage between the beach-trawled worms and the fish in the neighboring waters. He also prefers a conservative ethic:

Buckley can be found splashing around the watermark at low tide during summer, pulling up slimy invertebrates and stuffing them into a pouch. They sniff out decaying fish and seaweed and poke their heads up to feed, concealing the rest of their bodies, which can be up to 2½ metres long, beneath the sand. Bream, whiting and flathead all like to eat worms, although the portion of worm threaded on to the hook needs to be varied according to the size of the targeted fish species. Recreational fishermen can harvest up to 20 worms a day, although Buckley does not believe in taking more than are needed.

The question surfaces again. Worms turn, diverting away from a danger. This is not the same "worm turn" as the idiom induces, which implies revolution--a reversed power dynamic in which the worm, relative to the lion, ends up on top. The worm turns, in this second case, means the underdog ascends. But in the context of this Alexander's report, these turns are more or less successful, whether we think of them as a body (the individual worm turns) or a species (the lot of worms are vanishing). In the bodily sense, they turn, sometimes caught and split apart at this or that segment. Other times they turn and by turning escape harm having dived underground again. Worming, Buckley explains, is not about speed and quickness; its success hinges on being "gentle and smooth." The predatory kairos operating here finds opportunity improved not by timing but by manner. A severed worm, now part-safe in the ground and part-pierced on a fish hook, I imagine, experiences without "experiencing" a regenerative if bifurcated metanoia.

By the way, the story also mentions that the beach worms are wind-shy, which means they don't surface as often on windy days. This, too, goes against the sand-grain of a winds-of-change thinking about revolutions and instead recognizes winds-of-change thinking as partly responsible for worms-returning to their safe havens.

I realize this is obtuse and playful stuff, folks; just using the blog to pluck away for a few minutes at the threads of a couple of ideas.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Of Worm Turns

A couple of CCCC talks about big-T turns started me thinking again about "worm turns," a phrase I read just before the Atlanta trip in Randy A. Harris's introduction to Landmark Essays in the Rhetoric of Science. I understood worm turns at first to mean something like "micro turns," or smaller-scale zig-zag patterns. But, no. Worm turns--so the commonplace goes--name something of an unexpected shift in momentum, as when a downtrodden underdog (e.g., Rockworm Balboa) bounds back into a position of strength. Worm turns: the weak worm, resurgent.

I didn't know this until earlier today, but Chemist Mickey Mouse was once in a cartoon called "The Worm Turns" (1937), in which he activated more powerful physical profiles for worm, mouse, cat, and dog.

Ancient formulae: Courage builder: The weak made strong.

And another turn overleafed this morning on researchers who dig for non-public worms, worms whose windings suggest a facility for laying low, feeling their ways through the dig-it-all underlife:

But earthworm taxonomists don't have it so easy. One has to dig for earthworms, and even though they are blind and deaf, worms are remarkably good at evading the probes and shovels of nosy scientists. There's also the problem of knowing where to dig. An ornithologist can simply meander through a forest and look up; an oligochaetologist must keep an ear to the ground, so to speak, and try to divine the ideal earthworm habitat.

The oligachaetologist with an ear to the ground, listening for ideal conditions. The earthworms are scarce-abundant and a taxonomist's nightmare.

Earthworms, although numbering only about 30 species in Illinois, play an important role in the decomposition of organic matter, mineral cycling, and the aeration, drainage, and root penetration of the soil; through this activity, they also provide suitable habitat for smaller soil fauna, particularly micro-organisms. It has been estimated that earthworms can 'move' up to 18 tons of soil per acre each year. Abundance estimates of earthworms have been as high as three million per acre.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Context Hacking

Here's a talk from Monochrom's Johannes on "context hacking" from TedX Vienna (via). Mostly anecdotes. Not a lot here on method, i.e., on how to sub-subversion-vert. Yet I find it interesting in part because of the ascendant status of contextualism in rhetoric and writing (as a point of pedagogical, intellectual, and methodological insistence), and in part because of how constantly and arbitrarily contexts must be fenced in, demarcated. Watching this I wanted to know, is context hacking generalizable? Maybe not. Another problem is that the leftist/postmodernist/melancholic identifications risk functioning as a ticket to an ethics-free zone. Leftist-postmodernist-melancholics might not sweat this detail, but the presentation leads us up to the other side of the coin, even if it does not reckon with still another reversal of subversion: What is the function of context hacking on the right?

No, really, I'm asking.

If for none of these reasons, it's worth watching/contemplating for a peak at the mundane self-portrait, Material Study with Scanned Photo of Self in a Beer Mood and Photoshop Crystallization Filter (2001).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


In the few spare minutes I've had this week, I've been trying out n-grams as a comparable with other text-mining processes. This still fits squarely in the category of "a lot to learn," but I'm happy to be running Perl and various Lingua::EN modules on this (nothing super-complicated in the switch, but all of my previous Perl tinkering was on a PC). Today's corpus was perhaps too small to yield many insights: just 2300 words across 10-12 email messages sent via WPA-L on Tuesday, August 24. All the same, insights or no, here the top five bigrams, with T-Units enumerated to the fourteenth decimal place, i.e., something like hundred-trillionth or quadrillionth position. Such precision is useful, I suppose, for avoiding ties.

Bi-grams (T-Score, count, bigram)
2.22372310460229	5	audience awareness	
1.72376348313075	3	writing centers	
1.72376348313075	3	writing spaces	
1.41265204574184	2	develop new	
1.41109052911059	2	new ways	

It looks like "develop new ways" is part of a trigram that shows up twice in the corpus. This script--a fine one, by the way--renders those three words into a 2x2 bigram. But that's exactly what it was assigned to do.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Humanities Was Nice"

In late May, media theorist Lev Manovich presented "How to Read 1,000,000 Manga Pages: Visualizing Patterns in Games, Comics, Art, Cinema, Animation, TV, and Print Media" at MIT's HyperStudio (via). The talk is relevant to my work because Manovich wants to create visualizations that deliberately alter the default scale at which we experience something like magazine covers or Manga pages. His "exploratory analysis of visual media" offers insights into culture, he says; visualizations "allow you to ask questions you never knew you had."

Manovich wears a t-shirt that reads, "Smart Critique Stupid Create," and he uses this slogan to gain create some separation between his work (stupid create) and traditional humanities (smart critique). Manovich kicks sand--maybe playfully, though it's hard to say for sure--at the humanities again at the end of the Q&A when he says, "The Humanities was nice, but it was a false dream." Obviously machine-reading and computational processing of images ring heretical for anyone deeply (e.g., career-deep) invested in one-at-a-time interpretations of aesthetic objects. The all-at-once presentation brings us to the edge of gestalt and permits us to grasp large-scale continuities. Manovich also mentions that this works differently for visual media than for semantic mining because the images are not in the same way confined by the prison house of language. The "how" promised in the lecture's title carries well enough, but I would expect to hear ongoing questions about the "why," especially "why Manga?" or "why Time Magazine covers"?

The video includes a couple of unusual moments: at 17:30 when Manovich grumbles about not being able to see his screen and around the 59th minute when host Ian Condry poses an exposition-heavy "question." As for the practical side of the talk, Manovich's frameworks for "direct visualization" and "visualization without quantification" are worth noting, and I would be surprised if we don't hear more about them as these projects play out and are variously composed and circulated.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Time in Wired

More Moretti.

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

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Collabaret, cont.

With the recent collaborative go-round, I started thinking again about a distributed authoring experiment CGB mentioned in passing a time or two before. Imagine dialing up collaboration in such a way that a group of 6-8 scholars would team-write articles on a series of issues (extraordinarily wide open, this). A scholarship-producing cousin of the think tank. This author-organism would set out with well-defined goals, structural principles, and so on. It would meet occasionally as a collective to discuss the experiment, to consider rules and roles, but it would also be receptive to redirection, accidents, and abandonment. That is, a fair amount of the work might go to waste, chopping room floor, etc. And in practice it would involve a lot of chipping away at various aspects of the projects, inevitable redundancies and microdebates, also a platform or apparatus for carrying out the work. Obviously it'd need to be the right group of people; they would have to be smart, agreeable, mature, invested, and flexible, among other things. But if it succeeded, it might productively jostle the default scales of authorship. And if it failed, perhaps it would be equally rewarding to pick through the rubble.

I haven't given a whole lot of thought to who might participate or what such a group might produce initially. And by now you are no doubt thinking that this model is an old, long-ridden horse in the sciences, in information studies and tech comm, too. If there has been much of it in rhet-comp, I'd be hard pressed to identify it beyond the well-known tandems (e.g., Flower-Hayes, Lunsford-Ede, Selfe-Hawisher) and the surprisingly high proportion of Braddock winners with multiple authors (something like 14+ since 1985 have been co-written?). Yet these are not quite fitting with the larger-group experiment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


This 1978 Joel Sternfeld photo (via) stands up nicely-analogous alongside the collaborative writing I've been working at sporadically in recent weeks.

The unfamiliar process taught me a great deal about collaborative drafting that I didn't know before. Often it seemed like dabbling on the edges, often like plunging in--designations that captures the uncertainty I felt at times, the turn-taking, and the refreshing experience of opening a Google Doc to find that someone else had poured an hour's worth of smart work into the manuscript since the last session. Sure, I've read a little bit about collaboration, talked about it, even asked students to work together, but until now I can't honestly say that I've undertaken anything quite like this before.

When I first saw the above photograph turn up via TriangleTriangle's RSS feed, I was at a point when it cried out: There's this raging fire to put out. My colleague was intensely engaged in knocking out the flames while I was, like the pumpkin shopper standing in the foreground, basically shitting around. So many pumpkins! I'd flagged the photo for its commentary on collaborative writing--something I was both doing and also thinking of blogging about--and its significance shifted. Not an all reversal of studium and punctum here, but an identity-urgency, an itch: I, too, sought a turn on the ladder. Turn after turn came later, authorial identifications shifted as if caught in a turn-style, and the chapter draft took shape, coming more or less solidly together. This has left me thinking about collaborative writing as worth trying a few more times for the way I now conceive of the process via something like a post-dialogic dual occupancy, standing in the foreground (Which pumpkin?) and on the ladder, happily and at once.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Method's Con-trails

Caught a small blip of discussion yesterday concerned with whether or not Google Earth satellighted upon the lost city of Atlantis. Remnants of the elusive, underwater cityscape?

According to Google Maps Mania, Google says no:

It's true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa.

In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.

The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how little we really know about the world's oceans.

How little we know, indeed. Is this Atlantis? The conspiracy doesn't interest me all that much. Instead, I'm struck by the impression: the stamp left by the "systematic" tracing, the residue of the surface-to-sea-floor method (a term others have smartly untangled it into meta-hodos or something like 'beyond ways', even 'ways beyond'; this etymological dig lingers with me). The deep blue grid of "bathymetric data" elicits questions: why don't we see these in the adjacent areas? What was it about this boat, this collection process, this translation from sound to image, that left behind the vivid trails?

Robert Sarmast elaborated on the image's trail-grid, noting:

The lines you're referring to are known as "ship-path artifacts" in the underwater mapping world. They merely show the path of the ship itself as it zig-zagged over a predetermined grid. Sonar devices cannot see directly underneath themselves. The lines you see are the number of turns that the ship had to make for the sonar to be able to collect data for the entire grid. I've checked with my associate who is a world-renowned geophysicist and he confirmed that it is artifact. Sorry, no Atlantis.

More provocations here: the grid's unevenness, its predetermination, the inability of the sonar devices to see (erm...hear) directly below. And yet, a telling illustration of method alongside method: seems to me a subtle allegory in the adjacency of ocean floor imagery with lines and without. Presumably, the surrounding ground was measured similarly. Why no lines?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maths of the Everyday

Number of tow truck drivers I kidded with about the snow on Monday morning: 1
Number of blocked shots I hope to tally at this evening's weekly pick-up game: 8
Number of WC consultations earlier today that had me wishing our table had a dish 'o mints on it: 1
Number of students who probably thought it was me who needed a mint: Same
Hour of the day Is. decided everyone in the house should start their Tuesday, Deepvember 18: <6 a.m.
In epoch format: 1226988000
Students missing from this morning's class: 3
Number of meetings I've attended this week: 2
Number of those meetings where pizza, sodas, and salad were provided: 1
Number of people on campus who today asked me about being on the job market and how that's going: 7
Number of points scored by Team Charmin in the Fantasy Football Week Eleven match-up: 80
Coincidentally, the number of minutes I strode on the elliptical machine in the last two days: 80
Of the eleven emails currently in my inbox, the number with "writing" in the subject line: 4
Number of class sessions remaining this semester: 4
Number of two-hour consulting sessions remaining in the semester: 6
# of times I can type "number" in a single entry before I get lazy and resort to the symbol: 12
# of minutes until I'm supposed to start rustling up some foodstuff for dinner: -5

Grand total: 1,226,988,211

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Art: What a Mess

Fifteen minutes of re-make digression, perhaps best--liveliest--between 9 minutes and his "tidying up" of Jackson Pollock around 12:20.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


The Reanimation Library in Brooklyn (via) offers a collection of discarded and found books not likely to be held elsewhere: curios, out-of-print, wonders. Here librarianship is inflected with an art aesthetic (perhaps more outwardly or radically than in the common case). There seems to be more than rarity justifying the in-status of the books; but it is a sort of rare collection, one inflected with the idiosyncratic impulses and tastes of the collector. The 600-book collection raises the question of whether it is simply an installation called by the name of library. The mission statement:

The Reanimation Library seeks to assemble an inspiring collection of resources that will facilitate the production of new creative work and promote reflection and research into the historical, legal, and methodological questions surrounding the adaptive reuse of found materials. It strives to provide the necessary space and tools to allow these activities to flourish, and to foster a climate of spirited collaboration.

"Adaptive reuse of found materials" and so on: sounds like ideas that would serve well as the guiding impetuses for a composition course--one I'd like to teach, anyway. The Thingology entry refers to this recent report from the Minneapolis City Pages; both of them mention Dewey's Nightmare, a playwriting experiment tied to the Reanimation Library in which seven writers wear blindfolds and pick one book each randomly from the stacks. Their challenge, then, is to shape the random sample into something for the stage. Quite a methodology, and one not unlike the stuff Sirc discusses in "Box-Logic": the found collection, the interplay of contingent samples and selections, renewal in re-coordinating affinities, pulsion, etc.

Don't miss the catalog or the pile of images.

Friday, April 18, 2008

'Golden Age' Reference

Off and on for the past few weeks I have been sleuthing around for reference to "the golden age of composition studies." The phrase appears in quotation marks in Lee Odell's "Afterword" to his 1986 CCCC address in Roen's collection, Views from the Center. But those reflective afterwords are somewhat informal; the phrase is not attributed to any source. What to do? I Googled around and didn't find anything promising (how I overlooked it, I cannot be sure, although I bet 'the' article threw me off), but I didn't give up. Instead, I emailed Professor Odell. Research in Y2K08, yeah? He got back to me the same day and said that the phrase, he thought, was credited to Jack Selzer.

Tonight, I located the 'golden age' reference in an English Journal article by Elizabeth Blackburn-Brockman (whose mother-in-law, you might be surprised to learn, was middle school civics teacher and high school Spanish teacher for D. and me both; in the civics class we had to memorize all of Michigan's 83 counties; I will not recite them for you here). That article: "Prewriting, Planning, and Professional Communication," 91.2 (Nov. 2001). In the article, Blackburn-Brockman mentions almost the exact phrase, "a golden age of composition studies," and attributes it not to Selzer, but to Bob Root. She also cites Selzer's 1983 CCC article, "The Composing Process of An Engineer," which offered a processual analysis of engineer Kenneth Nelson, much in the same spirit as Emig's The Composing Process of Twelfth Graders from 1971. Could this be the golden age? 1971-1983?

The phrase from Root (whom I never met, but who taught in the English Dept. where I took Freshman Composition in 1992 from his colleague, Phillip Dillman) shows up in the Introduction to a collection of non-fiction he edited with Michael Steinberg, Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching: A Sourcebook (1996). Is there a copy in our Bird Library at Syracuse? No, of course not. Seems it's one of the few books we don't have.

I considered emailing my program's listserv to ask whether anyone had a copy I could borrow, but rather than bother the list with a request, I figured I would try the library's interlibrary loan system, ILLiad. I haven't used ILLiad since 2005, so, of course, I couldn't remember my password. I tried to reset the password, and when I did, the system sent me a blank email message. Here's what was in the message: . Thus, here ends the trail for tonight. I know where the "golden age" reference comes from, and the source, to my surprise, is not quite as middle-of-the-road as I expected it would be. That said, I do think Root knows composition studies, or at least certain veins of it, very well, even if I couldn't begin to speculate how many CCCC's he's attended (more and more often, I tend to think of disciplinary centrality in terms of trips to the flagship conference, whether verifiable or guessed at; and yes, I know this is just one of many possible metrics).

Why, after all, am I questing for the golden age reference? Well, for one thing, my own research has lately gotten me thinking more about the implicit disciplinary prototypes underlying suggestions of disciplinary fragmentation (viz., Smit's endism or Fulkerson's "new theory wars"). And so, if there has been a golden age of composition studies, I'm curious about it, curious as well about the idea of disciplinary ages (and whatever it is that makes them seem plausible).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Smith, "Cataloging and You"

Smith, 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 <>.

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.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Et Alia

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

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

First, in the lists of citations I am combing through, the et al. is used with great inconsistency. Some citations include as many as eight authors, each listed by name. For another article with just four or five authors, the et al. resurfaces. Absent editorial consistency, the et al. becomes a fairly arbitrary designation.

Second, if et alia is introduced--designed--to shorten entries (and make the page spiffier), why has it done so little to shorten entries? I mean that there is no parallel convention for lopping off whatever follows a colon in a long-ish title, right? Many entries are long, despite the tremendous relief provided by the et al. for shortening the authors.

Third, it makes the systematic compilation of citation frequency much more difficult. Names are present in some cases; omitted in others. The terrain is uneven (to say nothing of the move that positions editors either in the primary position or the three-four slot). The lists are especially jagged when et alia are mixed in with APA Style, since APA uses initials rather than full first names. Clustering names becomes a complicated (and flawed) matching game.

Am I complaining? Perhaps. It's more a matter of realizing, while toiling through some 12,000 citations, that the model for MLA works cited entries is fraught with impracticality for doing what I am trying to do. It would be an improvement to use a distinctive character for name separations. Conventional formatting applies commas and either "and" or "with" between names of authors and periods are used after initials. But if I want to break apart a list of citations, separating the authors into one column and the titles (and everything after) into another column, there is no consistent character/space combination to achieve the break. As of today, I officially think of this as a weakness because it is a mess I am cleaning up manually, line by tiny line. If I keep pace in the face of such tedium and get this into ship shape by next Friday, I'm going to treat myself to an ice cream or something.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ways of Working

Saturday morning I was lounging around the living room, looking after Is., and flipping channels on the television for a few minutes, when I stopped on C-SPAN2's Book TV. They were running a three-hour interview with Nell Irvin Painter, the historian who wrote, among other things, Standing At Armageddon, a book I read a few years ago during coursework.

I don't watch much Book TV, it turns out, so I don't know whether it is typical for them to break from the interviews to give quick little documentary segments on the processual nuances for the featured writer. But they did so for Painter, and it happened to come at the very moment when I was checking out the program. The up-close look at the way Painter works comes between 1:01:18 and 1:15:16 if you are inclined to check it out via the Real Media file provided by CSPAN.

Painter talks about the way her meandering process picks up late in the day. She talks about how she creates, names, and saves her computer files (a new one for each day, recently), how kayaking "helps" as part of her methodology, how she writes in books she owns, and how she senses that her home in the Adirondacks affords greater concentration. There is more: on her dissertation, on cut and paste, on her use of a thesaurus, on working with editors through revisions, on Row ("Roe"?), the friendly cat who crashes the interview, and on how she keeps her library. It is a fifteen-minute segment with a long list of writerly insights; Painter begins by saying, "I would not recommend my way of working to others." Who would?

I was also interested in the moment when she talks about how she reads books, how she develops personal indexes on a separate sheet of paper. Productive, indexical thinking is something I have tried to make more tangible for students in recent semesters. I like to hear people talk about it, and, in fact, even though Painter's way of working seems like what you would expect of a historian academic (i.e., there is nothing shocking here), I wish we had more documentary segments like this. Fifteen minutes on how I work (most of the time): I'd love to see these for a long list of people. Maybe I am alone in this fascination.

Whether or not I am, it suggests to me an alternative the longer, multi-voiced documentaries of composition we have seen recently in Take 20 (emph. pedagogy) and Remembering Composition (emph. digitality). And I understand the slim chance of seeing documentary film (or video) shorts become a more regular feature of any journal (whether online or distributed as DVD with the paper copy)--low odds because its dissymmetry with ten(ur)able scholarship at many institutions. Without loosening the lid on that argument, this is just to say that I'd like to see more of it--more writerly documentaries, that is.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Address Keywords

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

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.

Address/Script CompPile
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 10
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)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

World as Text

Picked up this clip, "The Child," from infosthetics this morning and found it striking enough--for its geotypography--to justify pasting it on. This is what the world would be like were it purely textual. The premise is simple enough--a couple in New York City rushes to the hospital where their baby will be delivered. Only, is the baby a word? And wouldn't NYC have more words?

Anyway, I say it's worth stowing in your playlist as a conversation troubler the next time culture-as-text, thick description, or an everything's text worldview comes up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Richards, How To Read A Page

Richards, I.A. How To Read A Page. Boston: Beacon Press, 1942.

HTRAP demonstrates Richards' variation on close reading. His approach is intent on addressing and resolving (to the extent possible) misunderstanding. Building on the ideas briefly put forward in Speculative Instruments and in Principles of Literary Criticism, Richards says he "is trying to devise another sort of verbal machine: something which may be a help in using books as machines to think with" (9). Mechanisms for thinking are focused on textuality--words and meanings--more than in something from the same era, like Bush's "As We May Think" (1945). Richards reiterates points he made two years earlier in "The Resourcefulness of Words," preferring 'resourcefulness' to 'ambiguity' and noting that "[w]ords get their values from their togetherness and enter into infinitely subtler and more manifold relations to one another than any addition can represent" (237). Whether or not Richards falls neatly into (the middle of) the New Critics is a question I'm not prepared to resolve just yet. He enacts a method that certainly could be described as close reading, but it's not the sort of close reading motivated by an aesthetic imperative so much as it is motivated by the co-existing elliptical and emphatic qualities of words. Richards seems to me to be making a case for understanding the interdependence of words and more: their power of expansion. Certainly his writing is pre-digital, but there are traces in Richards that match up reasonably well with semantic networks: the net-like paths of activation that a single word or term can touch off.

No question there are features to this book that stand out as odd, such as the list of 103 "most important words" (22). But if there is more--particularly in the thread that follows Richards to Berthoff to Haynes to contemporary, theoretically invested arguments for the value in abstraction (as a network phenomenon?), then Richards deserves more nuanced consideration for the way he uses words to wander--connectively--from passage to passage, piling through the systematic ambiguity of language. At the very least, abstraction makes possible the connective leap--the relay the lets meaning play horizontally and not only vertically (as in the General Semanticist's Ladder of Abstraction).

"Modern historical scholarship especially terrorizes us with the suggestion that somewhere in the jungle of evidence there is something we happen not to know which would make the point clear, which would show us just what the author did in fact mean. That suspicion of a missing clue is paralyzing--unless we remember firmly that from the very nature of the case essential clues are always missing. However much evidence we amass, we still have to jump to our conclusions" (14).

"A chief modern difficulty in such understanding comes from the recent development of the historical sense" (13). On the abundance of reading available to us and the many devices (dictionaries, concordances, histories, and biographies) that might make reading--in the face of such abundance--easier.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Passive Observation

Earlier this week, I took a look at the TED Talk presented by Jonathan Harris, creator of the programmed-art installations WordCount, 10x10, Phylotaxis, We Feel Fine, and several more, including his most recent project, Universe. Universe, like most of Harris' work, presents a more dynamic and aesthetically lively interface for encountering large samples of texts, such as news feeds from all over the world, collections of blog entries, or the British National Corpus.  No question Harris' projects stand apart from nearly everything else I've seen online where sizeable corpuses are rendered visually. I mean that these projects are created in such a way that they lead with artfulness, enriching data visualization with aesthetics.

If you play the TED Talk, you'll hear Harris talk about We Feel Fine, a project that gathers "feel" and "feeling" statements and funnels them back through the interface he designed.  He calls this process "passive observation." Subjects implicitly assent to We Feel Fine's use of their writing because they have published it online.  It is out there, available on the web. In this context, the "passive" allows for working with a large sample of texts.  It's not humanly possible to read every weblog entry published in a single day for instances of "feel" and "feeling."  I think of Harris's methods as well-aligned with Moretti's "distant reading." Passive observation, in effect, bears some correspondence to distant reading.  In much the same way "distant" is a term in need of recuperation, particularly in the humanities, so too is "passive," given that active and activity usually win the day.  Rare are the arguments against the active, against activity, against activism, against the act (as event?). Is passive in "passive observation" opposite of active? Not necessarily.  If by "active," we refer to the efforts it would take an army of readers to glance a few million blog entries for "feel" and "feeling," passive indicates a different way--aggregate, casual filter, pass over if, drifting attitude or manner (the sub-terrain of Burke's agency, which incorporates instruments).  Relaxed finding not so much bound to today's set of blog entries as a focal act or object of study but speculative and futuristic, open to an undetermined end.

Harris's most recent project, Universe, abstracts global news coverage. Universe is explained at length in the talk linked above.  The notion of constellations is central here.  Constellations of words, references, names, figures.  And although Harris's work serves generally as a relay to the texts, he does not seem concerned with writing or rhetoric. The writing that all of these projects piggyback is phenomenal, its constructedness and context is downplayed if not ignored altogether. Within Universe, Harris extends the forming of constellations to a "mythology of the world." Maybe we could hold up these projects alongside Barthes on the spreading and ripening of myth and its social geography; its discursiveness, its rootedness in select social strata, and its micro-climates:

Thus every myth can have its history and its geography; each is in fact the sign of the other: a myth ripens because it spreads. I have not been able to carry out any real study of the social geography of myths. But its perfectly possible to draw what linguists would call isoglosses of a myth, the lines which limit the social region where it is spoken. (149)

After all, these projects set out after text-based pattern. 

While I am enthusiastic about Harris's work, I view much of it with a faint wish at the back of my mind, a wish that it will one day be set loose from the gallery so that others might adapt and appropriate it (with credit where due).  Maybe I've mentioned it before, but why not have WordCount scale to any set of texts? Certainly Harris is under no obligation to share the back-end on any of these projects, particularly the attention-getters and recent releases.  But at a time when the only attention being systematically given by universities to large corpuses of texts is to march student essays through the criminal-infested by-ways of, it's encouraging to think about some of the other ways these open-ended text-trajectories (i.e., student writing or writing in any field or discipline) might be read distantly or observed passively.  We Feel Fine for an entire curriculum or program, where "feel" and "feeling" can be aggregated and re-associated right along with [verbs of choice, perhaps "argue" and "arguing" for so much academic interchange].  Imagine a hybrid set of applications blending Harris's projects with MONK and with texts of the everyday not limited to news feeds, digitized literary archives, or national corpuses, applications, that is, scalable to whatever.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Tags and Metadata

On Monday Dave Sifry of Technorati posted Happy Taggiversary, an entry marking the second anniversary of Technorati tags. In it he announced the launch of tag pages, a kind of 10x10 of semantic tags assigned to various blog entries around the web for this hour. Instead of 10x10's keyword/picture relay, we get a cloud of the tags themselves.

I'm interested in the response to Sifry offered by Matthew Hurst at Data Mining. Hurst contends that tags, whether assigned by authors or by third-parties, constitute object data rather than metadata. Because search engines easily conflate the semantic content of tags for the semantic content of a blog entry itself, tags are more appropriately identified as object data. Hurst differentiates textual objects from non-textual objects; for the latter, semantic tags are less likely to be confused with the object itself, as with an image, for example.

The questions, then: Are tags metadata? Or are they object data? Are they both? Do they function or perform differently for textual objects than for non-textual objects (i.e., iconic, sonic, or filmic objects)? Are tags always/ever distinct from keywords (a confluence of which appear in the text itself)? Why might it be significant to distinguish keywords (capta?) from tags--to hold them apart, if momentarily?

In one manner of thinking, much of this rolls back to just how strict we want to be with metadata as a concept. Metadata: data about data, yeah? Or data that re-associates or re-assembles other data and things. Or data that, in and of itself, interrelates. I don't have well-formed answers just yet, but I'm inclined to accept that tags are metadata, particularly when tags are understood to be those contingent wrappers (as Vander Wal explains it) that shuttle new media objects into still-developing relationships. Yet, as a microform, where tags have a 1:1 relationship with the thing named, they can be understood as object data, too. The interest in tagging practices, in tags as authored, and in folksonomies, however, might not be as pronounced if tags were object data alone. Because tags bear out something like a 1+1:n relationship with the thing named, to my mind, they do something else, something more, something meta-.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Catalogue and Rummage

I like the idea of rummaging, of holding things up, turning them over, opening up to surprises and renewed perspective in the ordinary or offcast thing. A rapid-fire what could I do with a thing such as this? When I was a kid, it was always "rummage sale." "Yard sale" and "garage sale" were less common (though not altogether tame). Maybe the rummage sale is a regional coinage--finding odds and ends (i.e., junk) for sale meant rummaging in the rural Great Lakes vernacular. Just a guess. Disarrangement in the midst of worthlessness or, who gives a damn how it's spread out on the picnic table.

A rummaging disposition is what sets in when I haven't blogged for a few days. Lots of incidental and fleeting topics blink and fade in the fuzzy periphery of purpose-driven dailiness. I mean that there's plenty to write about, but much of the striking minutiae is overlooked, passed by altogether. No doubt this felt sense is a symptom of my own fluttery rhythms in recent weeks. I've read intensely for exams, in bursts of preparation, then laid off, spending time with other important stuff instead. For better or worse, there have been a few more lurches in these few weeks than in any semester during the two years of coursework.

Catalogued rummage, then, involves the listy-ness of a catalogue with the attitude or stance of the rummager. It provokes and evades the "so what?" rather than squarely answering it ("I'll tell you what: the whole set for five cents!"). And then flips a nickel in the air, just in case there's something of future value.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Katamari Walking

Before 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.

Monday, June 19, 2006

As Graphs

In with the URL, out with this: an html-tags-as-graphs approximation of this page.  Movable Type is responsible for much of the structure. Still, there you have it--a good (and mighty granular) example of computational methods and visualization combined to offer up a projection of a localized complex. It looks to me like a dragon fly (or maybe a cluster map of the dissertation I will one day write).

And. Also.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Nodes from Class

Here's a Cmap draft of the development of modern composition studies, roughly reproduced from notes on the board during Tuesday's 712. I went back and snapped a digital photo of the chalkboard yesterday (preserved from the day before with a "Please do not erase"). Then, to develop the Cmap, I inserted the photograph as a temporary background to approximate the spatial arrangement of links and nodes. After that, I quick-shopped a periodization backdrop to emphasize the past few decades as phases of disciplinary development (fluctuation, upheaval, etc.). And finally, I shifted around a few of the nodes, repositioned other stuff, tinkered with color schemes and sent off a draft for future--ongoing--revisions. The map of complandia? Certainly not; not in any perfected, exhaustive or territory-analog kind of way. But one map of complandia. Next I need to figure out how to set up Cmaps on a server for collaborative map-making. I'll argue that this model holds promise for 1.) mapping complex histories; 2.) exploring incongruous accounts of disciplinary formation, extradisciplinary developments running through those formations, and sub-disciplinary peaks and valleys (rising and falling, trends, etc.); and 3.) charting disciplinary mythologies and imaginaries through the idiosyncrasies of individual and group percept-cartography (granted, I don't know that there is such a thing as "percept-cartography"; I'm making that part up on the fly). Although this map came together during a single class session, it could be updated, for pretty much any course, let's say, over several weeks, possibly accounting for emerging ties and emerging locative criteria/rationale as the course unfolds.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bibliometrics JACing

I got caught up reading the Moretti Event over at The Valve, but I still have a minute to post a few notes about something I was thinking about earlier today.  I read the introduction to David Smit's The End of Composition Studies yesterday; there, he has this to say about the ideological dissymmetry among compositionists, divergences characteristic of the field at-large:

No one can doubt that the field has become increasingly divided into narrow areas of concern with little indication that scholars and researchers in one area read, respect, or deal substantively with the work of those in other areas.  Since Stephen North's pioneering work The Making of Knowledge in Composition classified the work of the field into eight major areas, there have been few attempts to bridge gaps between those areas. A comparison of the works cited pages in College Composition and Communication, Rhetoric Review, JAC: A Journal of Advanced Communication Theory, and Written Communication reveals some overlaps, but not much.  Hence the need for additional taxonomies, frameworks, and "keys," such as those by James Berlin ("Contemporary"); Richard Fulkerson; and Mark Wiley, Barbara Gleason, and Louise Wetherbee Phelps to explain the various areas of the field. (7)

This is a common enough proposal about divisions, no?  A balkanism, attendant to new waves of theory wars, noting how we're crumbling apart, fraying.  Reasonable as Smit's insight may well be, however, I'm struck here by the notion that comparisons of our journals works cited pages somehow reflect a field "increasingly divided."  To compare for increasing division would necessarily involve some longevity and detail work.  It's just that the journals most readily associated with composition's disciplinary commons (the noetic field (Berlin) or epistemic court (Lauer))--the journals listed by Smit--aren't really data-made for exhaustive bibliographic comparison.  What method, then, is available other than what we can discern by scanning the listings for a selection of articles?  The interference for me as I read this passage from Smit is that our data structures for citation comparisons in composition journals are, well, quite scarce.  And that scarcity, while it leaves us with little alternative other than to intuit increasing divisions "into narrow areas of concern" based on citations, it also motivates our thinking with CCC Online.  As Collin has articulated before, with more discipline-wide embrace of data-mining, we would have--from all of the journals identified with the field--a more dynamic database through which to test claims about "increasing" divergence in citations.  For fear that this might sound disingenuous toward Smit, I'm not going for that effect.  In fairness, I've just read the beginning of The End....  But I'm increasingly alert to impressions of the field's breaking apart that might appear differently if held up alongside a comprehensive collection of all of the citations ever made in any journal associated with the field.  Why not?

More to point--and the last thing for the night: Matt Kirschenbaum, commenting at The Valve on the possibilities of the nora project, mentioned "the capacity [of nora's results] to startle." I find this turn far more interesting.  How would we go about assembling a comprehensive bibliometric/bibliographic database for an inter-discipline such as composition studies (based, perhaps, both in journals and in monographs) and, in doing so, celebrate its "capacity to startle," rather than denounce it as faux-empiricism?

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The Making of...

Coming back to a passage from Manovich that winked at me when I read it last week:

A visible sign of this shift is the new role that computer-generated special effects have come to play in the Hollywood industry in the 1990s.  Many blockbusters have been driven by special effects; feeding on their popularity, Hollywood has even created a minigenre of "The Making of...," videos and books that reveal how special effects are created. (300)

I wouldn't yet self-define as a methodologist, but because I'm currently finishing up my program's methodology course, I have been thinking quite a bit about how things get done, how scholarship gets made, what methodologists want, and where the methodical (as more typically associated with a researcher's trail) blurs with writing.  Furthermore, in light of the recent interchanges on WPA-l, I'm thinking about the limitations of any published monograph to reveal the subtleties of the research and writing that went into it.  Yet a conventional model for knowing method~ologies is through inference.  Read something likely to have been researched and, from the text, extrapolate.  Another model: specific procedural explanations or how-tos (the way to ethnographize, the way to discourse analyze).  So what else can we do with method~ology beyond the domesticated regimen (albeit a stabilizing and study-able force) of this is how you do x?  What can we do with method~ology beyond the reverse-ordered and confounding in-through-the-exit of method read back through the monograph?  Maybe a collection of "the making of" essays that looks back on the production of the project, attends to the special effects, and so on. (Something close to North's The Making of... or Kirsch and Sullivan's edited collection, only more like what we get with film and told by the one(s) who did the work). 

Or maybe not.  Hooked me when I first thought about it to pitch something like what Manovich talks about only taken to comp scholarship. 

Monday, November 14, 2005

Tingle and Self-Development

Nick Tingle's Self-Development and College Writing (2004, SIU Press) proposes a psychoanalytic stance on the "transitional space" of the composition class.  Tingle's argument leans heavily on Robert Kegan's five orders of consciousness--a quasi-Piagetian theory of stage-based psychological development.  Phase one accounts for ages 2-6 (which, taken literally, suggests pre-birth through the first twenty-four months of life are non-conscious...discuss).  Tingle explains that some of the discord felt between teachers and students can be attributed to our varied developmental positions.  College-level writing students, in Tingle's framework, match up with the third order of consciousness (16), which is often defined by institutional forces and tends to celebrate subjectivity (as in adolescence).  The fourth order in this model accords with "'a qualitatively more complex system of organizing experience'" (16); it is a more sophisticated order of self-truth that "somehow break[s] the identifications of the self with its social roles" (17).  Tingle writes that the modern university is designed to support students' movement from the third to the fourth order of consciousness, but because such moves involve destabilization and "narcissistic wounding," the writing class might function to enable and support.  Furthermore, writing teachers are often positioned at the fourth order of consciousness (if not the fifth, which he correlates with postmodernism (20)).  Teachers, therefore, must attend to their own stage-orientation when defining viable writing projects and articulating developmentally-appropriate expectations.  It can prove disastrous, in other words, when fourth-order teachers presuppose their third-order students to be more psychologically advanced.  Among the consequences: shame, embarrassment and humiliation (89).

In his discussion of selfobjects (citing Heinz Kohut)--"a person, place, thing or activity that is conducive to a person's sense of psychological stability or centeredness, no matter how momentary or provisional" (8), Tingle seems to be arguing for a more permissive relationship to language than is commonly available, a relationship supportive of students' affective attachments to selfobjects. Explicitly questioning selfobjects can be unsettling, and this unsettling happens across the university curriculum.  It should be undertaken with considerable caution, according to Tingle.

After he frames the psychoanalytical theories to support his project, Tingle works through a series of specific applications in chapters 2-4:  an anxiety-producing unit on biodiversity through which students struggle with scientific discourse (c. 2), a critique of Donna Qualley (self-reflexivity) and David Bartholomae (transitioning into the academy) on the grounds of becoming what you are not (there are psychological implications, T. explains, and he doesn't accept that entering the academy requires one to conform, to parade false selves (c. 3)), and a lesson he learned about allowing for affective attachment and subjective responses from students in a writing assignment he devised around Stoicism--specifically Epictetus' The Enchiridion (c. 4).

So far, I've tried only to describe what Tingle does in this project rather than my response to it.  We're reading it for a course in methodology, and, depending on the degree of generality, I can imagine saying that Tingle is doing several ambitious and complicated things at once.  In simplified terms, one question, I would say, stems from his interest in the breakdown between teachers and students (why do they write lousy summaries? (c.2), why do teachers feel personally slighted when students bash selections for reading? (c. 3), and why would a student revert to the safe domain of personal anecdotes and highly subjective/personal claims following more a more daring critique of assigned reading? (c.4)).  Each of these anchors a chapter in this short book, and I would say that Tingle does reasonably well to develop thoughtful and instructive ways of responding to each question making use of psychoanalytic theory.  The book closes with clear emphasis on allowing and encouraging the use of "I." My struggle in all of this, however, is that I'm skeptical of the orders of consciousness.  They're just too clinical, too diagnostic, too teleological and too classificatory to hold up when we broaden the lens on development to a more varied group of students or when we open onto the blended developmental domains enveloping the institution.  What if, for instance, students of the fifth order are mixed in with students of the third order?  What happens when those teetering between orders 3 and 4 interact with others who are clinging--the result of recovering from destabilization--to order three?  Or when a batch of essays comes in, some from consciousness 3.0 and some from consciousness 4.0? 

I don't want to go too far with negative responses, but I do want to leave a few crumbs on the trail suited to later retracing.  I wondered about micro-development and developmental error (what constitutes a full shift from 3.0 to 4.0? is the shift ever complete?  are we constantly waxing between orders of consciousness? or is the most agile consciousness symptomatic of 5.0--pomo?).  I also thought about Tingle's use of embodiment and the new media notion of enframing (bc I'm looking at Hansen right now too).  And I thought the project tipped cynical on technologies (8, 149) and also on the developmental aspects of recreational facilities (152).  

A few terms: extrospection (63), transitional space (4), extreme transition (48), academic irrelevance (149)

To end, here are two passages that I found interesting for different reasons.  Again because I'm simultaneously reading into Hansen, the idea of tour-able objects sparked a few ideas.  Digital images, enframing and the body's indeterminacy (as the nexus where all information is contending, I guess?) all twist the real/imaginary distinction set up here, in Tingle's summary of Sartre:

In The Psychology of the Imagination, Sartre argues that we are able to take a tour of a real object.  I see this tree as a real tree and am aware that I am situated relative to it so that I can see only one side of the tree; to see the real thing, I must tour it and walk around the tree.  As I walk around the tree, I see it as a series of profiles.  Moreover, relative to the real thing, as we tour it, Sartre says, we may experience surprise.  We may be surprised for example that one side of the tree has been struck by lightning or another side covered with moss.  The real object Sartre contrasts with the imaginary object, a "tree," say, constructed in imagination.  One cannot, he says, be surprised by an imaginary object; further he argued one can learn nothing from an image, because our knowledge of it is there all at once and put there by our imagination (8-14). (71)

And this, a passage of student writing cited by Tingle reminded me of Sirc's bread-only comp.  Stuffed birds...heh.  Reading Freire with the children of bankers.  Oy.

I know you [the teacher] think Freire is hot stuff and has something to say or otherwise you probably wouldn't have assigned it.  I, however, think what he has to say sucks.  Everything he says and most of what you said in class too suggest to me that all of the education I had in high school was a waste of my time.  I have been stuffed like a little birdie.  Well, I wonder what Mr. Cranston, my favorite teacher would have to say.  He was a good guy and not a bird stuffer.  As far as I am concerned, Freire is insulting Mr. Cranston.  Don't get me wrong.  I am not going to say any of this (mostly because I am not conscious of any of it).  I am going to try to write your damn essay and I will "respond" to Freire but I am going to do it my way.  Oh, and by the way, my father is a BANKER. (87)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Breakfast Theory

A few remnants for 691:  Theory as method: Reid's 1989 cartoon, "Breakfast Theory: A Morning Methodology."

A Morning Methodology

And for daily fiber: PBS Kids' Freaky Flakes.  P'shoped a EWM-brand box.  Plus, this, from the Detroit News, an article on Kelloggs.  Elsewhere Homi Bhaba talks about breakfast cereal and globalization.

Breakfast Theory

You know, spring of my senior year in high school, I had a basketball tryout at Kellogg CC in Battle Creek, MI. 

Earlier today on ESPN News (playing low in the b'ground), the anchor, commenting on Jason Kidd's off-the-backboard oop to Richard Jefferson in the Nets-Jazz game last night, said (about connecting up on the fast break) "That's just good writing there."

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Verbing Method

In 691 Method~ologies this morning, we re-traced some of the semester's where have we been: history, discourse analysis, ethnography and now theory. Obviously there's overlap aplenty--blends and interplays among these methodological orientations. In supershort form, history considers memory, record, retrospectives and recovery; discourse analysis works primarily with language and corpus (linguistic objects of study); ethnography notices people, culture and pattern/dynamics; and theory (small-t) accounts for a wide variety of stuff not limited to reading, writing, and thinking. Assemble, arrange, re-arrange, and answer curiosities, solve problems. No, these aren't my complete notes, and perhaps these few lines aren't very good as thin representations of ten weeks of work. There's a whole lot more to say here. But I wanted to raise a side question or two about method and methodology. When the subject of method~ology comes up, I'm increasingly tuned in to the part of speech invoked in the conversation. This has especially been the case with ethnography. The noun positions the method as a thing already done by others; it acknowledges a tradition and model projects against which we measure the edges defining the activity involved with doing ethnography. Is it like documentary? Must it feature human subjects? If we look to a set of nouned ethnographies (things, already-existing objects), then answering is possible. But the answer is set against a generic backdrop of the stuff already done. I don't know that we have a good verb for doing ethnography (ethnograph? ethnographize? The chosen term, however, has bearing. Consider the difference between using use the noun--ethnography--or the adjective--ethnographic--to account for the way of doing, ultimately the way of describing the research activity. And consider the verbs that we could collect under the broad (or is it narrow) rubric of ethnography: notice, observe, etc. What does this all come to? Well, I'm finding it more and more appealing to talk about methods as verbs, and I'm also wondering whether the methodology-as-noun departs from (or, on the other hand, refers to the same thing as) genre. Near enough as to be thought the same thing?

Program notes: The fall symposium on visual and digital rhetorics is happening on Thursday and Friday--two days of workshops and talks with Anne Wysocki, Jeff R., and Jenny E. What's not to look forward to?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Narrow v. Broad

I could have missed Paul Ford's guest entry at 43 Folders, long as it is, because, well, I'm hard pressed to engage very closely with long-ish entries that aggregate into my Bloglines account these days, no matter how brilliant and insightful those long-ish entries might be.  I've been finding myself broad-distracted lately, but just this once, I cast caution to the wind and, instead of picking up Lanham for chapter seven, I returned to Ford's guest entry, wondering why did I flag it the other day--kept as new?

For one thing, it's smart. Ford, a technophile and writer, builds two models for distraction: narrow and broad.  Broad distractions commandeer attention structures, overwhelming them. Narrow distractions, on the other hand, afford wide sampling and imagination.  They excite, spark, energize.  For Ford, who defines his ambitions simply as "I want to be a good writer, and I want to have a full command of web technologies," narrow distraction helps him mind-skip at a relatively general level.  He can bounce from one thing to another to another, and this method is crucial to his weekly review for Haper's Magazine.  But it's not always so easy to keep the distraction models from blurring. The struggle he writes about is familiar enough, comparable, perhaps, to quandaries of specializing and generalizing in an academic program:

I struggle, though, because my PC can play a DVD of Red Dawn while I check my email and work on an essay. This sort of computing power is fine for strong-willed people, but for the weak-willed like myself it's a hopeless situation. My work requires me to patiently work through things and come up with fresh ideas. And I can honestly say that since broadband Internet came to my home a year and a half ago my stock of new, fresh, fun ideas has grown very thin. It's just too much. My mind can't wander, because, with anything that interests me, I can look it up on Wikipedia to gain some context. Before I know it I've got thirty tabs open at once in Firefox.

I have just ten tabs open in Firefox at this very moment, but I'm sure I went as high as fifteen earlier today.  Maybe twenty.  I'm not interested in turning this entry into an entry about the demands of grad school (I'll's hard). But what's hard about it, at least through the coursework phase, is keeping the narrow from ballooning into the broad.  How can I sustain just enough narrow distraction--a stream of percolating ideas and possibilities--without those habits and practices broadening, jamming up, freezing?  Fortunately the program I'm in makes room for figuring such things out.  I'd say that a big part of coursework is learning to differentiate narrow from broad distraction and then channeling the narrow into productive, inventive thinking and work habits. 

And because two of the tabs I have open in Firefox show descriptions for the courses I'm taking in the spring (my last semester of coursework), I should just share the links here and eliminate two tabs.  One class is called Afrofuturism, and the other is Mapping the Future: Theory and Practice of "Writing" the Discipline.  Both will be good classes; I'm looking forward to them.  The third and final course of my program of study will be an elective.  Exactly what that course will be remains unresolved, but I have a few encouraging prospects. I'll tell it here once it's decided.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sidewalk (1999) and Method

Mitchell Duneier's Sidewalk is a multi-year ethnographic study of the informal mercantile and social activity covering a three-block zone in Greenwich Village.  Duneier, now a professor of sociology at Princeton, overhauled his study after his initial project focused too heavily on a singular "public character"--Hakim, a respected book vendor who often acted as a leader, an "old head" who mentored others, who advocated for GED completion, and who eventually co-taught a course at UCSB with Duneier.  Although Sidewalk reads easily as a sociological research project unto itself, we could view it as an update to Jane Jacobs's 1961 project on the complex social, spatial, economic and architectural dynamics of the street in New York City, The Death and the Life of Great American Cities.

Methodologically, Sidewalk is ethnographic; a participant-observer, Duneier spends countless hours on-site, taking notes and recording conversations.  Shots by photographer Ovie Carter are interspersed with Duneier's research account and narratives.  The photos are subtle and quiet; without captions, they comply with Duneier's telling, more often as visual complements than visual disruptions.  In other words, there's little discord between Duneier's writing and the photographs selected for use in the book, and Duneier's prose rarely refers directly to the photos.

Does Duneier enact imitable methods? His practical activities--taking notes, writing, deciding among figures and arrangements--are obscured, and instead, Duneier reflects on the ethics of naming and anonymity in human-subjects research, complications involving trust and racial and economic difference, and the camera and tape recorder as an intrusive technologies.  Most useful to me among Duneier's strategies in presenting the research (the writing that's not method?) are his honesty about difficulties (his humility and candor fill Sidewalk with an appealing manner; nice to see thread of modesty throughout), the resemblance of this ethnography to networks and systems (I'd call this a systems view of the sidewalk), and the sleight of reference grounding each of the chapters to persistent themes and scholarship.

Terms, topics: public characters (6), Rolodex (21, 320), informal social controls, strategic tensions, differential association (143), Broken Windows (157, 288, 315-16), holding money (160), test informal controls (171), gotta go (175), normalization of deviance (221), Streetwatch (128), business improvement districts, "scholar knows best" (327), Conversation Analysis (196).

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Banal Features Analysis

Alt. title: "Dull Feature Analysis."  Today I'm working on a small-time application of discourse analysis for Method~ologies.  We're looking at a corpus of eight student essays.  Initially, I considered how I would graph Bazerman's concept of "intertextual reach," which he defines as "how far a text travels for its intertextual relations" (89).  How far is that?  How do we account for the span of these traces--meters, leagues, years, decibels, lumens?  Maybe referential density could draw on network studies.  How?  We could establish a near intertextual reach as reference-gestures that share another source.  This would involve a triangulation of citations: Bazerman--let's say--cites Porter and Prior.  But Porter also cites Prior.  Porter is intertextually nearer than Prior (who does not cite any other source in common with Bazerman).  I'm making this up.  The far reach would describe the solitary reference--the singular text-trace that is not shared by any other source cited in the primary text (the text whose traces and reaches we are surveying).  But I wanted to think about intertextual reach as a quality that could be determined by triangulating citations.  Applied to a batch of student essays where works-to-cite are predefined, intertextual reach seems wobbly--a stretch, as in...look at how they reach alike.

I'll need something else. 

Banal Feature Analysis

And so I got out all of my fingers and toes and went about counting commonplace features--dull features.  In her work on awk sentences and evidentials, Barton applies a method of linguistic analysis she refers to as rich feature analysis.  Rich feature analysis can lead to inductive (data-first) or deductive (theory-first) claim-making.

Rich features have both linguistic integrity (i.e., they are structural features of language, so they can be defined in linguistic terms and then categorized, coded, counted, and otherwise analyzed empirically) and contextual value (i.e., they can be conventionally connected to matters of function, meaning, interpretation, and significance).  The connection between a feature and its contextual value is a convention of language use.  In this method, then, the connection between structure and function is the primary focus of analysis. (66)

That's where I'm at for now--thinking through this stuff.  I'm tempted to complement the terms Barton emphasizes, but I'm just as inclined to make the case that dull features also have linguistic integrity and contextual value.  One distinction, perhaps, is that banal/dull features don't connect to "matters of function, meaning, interpretation and significance" in quite the same way as rich features.  Banal features are, perhaps, second-class features, in this sense; in conventionalized reading-for-meaning, they are there and yet not there--these features.  Yes, of course...I'm going to need a truckload of caveats to clear this up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I haven't looked very far into this, but I wanted to register this first entry under EWM's newest category: Method.  Method: what a fine category label, eh?  That'll put a Full Nielson on Unsuspecting's attention, was my thought.  Beats Mothoi...Methodoosies...Meth(odd)inks....

What brought this on? Well, I'm studying methodology this semester; it's the only class I'm taking that meets (the way conventional classes convene, I mean).  By and large, we're reading inductively (is it conductive?) for methods and methodologies, extrapolating ways of doing the work from the work itself.  This isn't a hard-cast certainty; it's more of an early observation from the four-fifteenths (.267) moment in the semester.  An I feel a stance coming about.

My plan for this category is to accumulate various bits and ends (wander-methodically: metal detector at the beach-style).  And although we're not spending as much time with meta-method (reading about methods as much as reading enactments of methods, re-enacting them on a small scale), I want to use this category to play through the possible reaches of method.  What are the limits to history, discourse analysis, ethnography and theory (these, our four categories)?  What do these methods (method-orientations) conceal or domesticate? What do they feature? excite? intensify?

This brings me around to the faintly recurrent warnings I've stored up relative to the dissertation.  Common challenges: (-1-) haven't read enough and (-2-) method/ological haziness.  I'm not trying to stockpile dissertation-related anxieties yet, but in light of these thoughts, noting possible methods just might be a productive turn.  Where, in terms of method and rhet/comp, do we meet up with mapping, network analysis, documentary, the computational and the visual (the protocular method)?

Quickly to close: I've had the nagging sense that something is shared between genre and method.  If method, then, is a procedural way...a protocol, then our naming of it (under the roomy rubric of history, let's say) likens it to a genre--genre as social action (C. Miller).  The activity--a manner/attitude/work-pattern--is sufficiently generic that we can hold it up (a suspension) and name it.  That's what I think, anyway.  Our formal study of method is pretty darn close to expanded theorizations of genre (beyond the bucket, the boxy treatment of text-only).