Proust and the Squid

I finished Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain early this spring, and I have been meaning to revive the blog again periodically for reading notes, so catch as catch can. Initially, I picked up Wolf’s book because I wanted to know how she dealt with the endangered status of reading in the age of the internet, in terms of carrying through as both “story” and “science” of how the reading brain does neurologically what it does. Wolf’s book also figured into Nicholas Carr’s 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, and Carr has been drawing attention (on techrhet and from bloggers) more recently following the release of The Shallows. In Carr’s AM article, Wolf was cited as one whose foreboding research insights affirm Carr’s “I’m not the only one” suspicions about the superficiality of reading experiences at the interface. Carr wrote,

Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style
that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening
our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier
technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose
commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere
decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the
rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without
distraction, remains largely disengaged. (para. 8)

Continue reading →

Lanham – The Electronic Word (1993)

Technology, democracy (explicit in the subtitle), rhetoric education and
curricular reform recur as themes in Lanham’s The Electronic Word
The book sets out with an overarching consideration of the material,
instrumental and ideological transitions in the interfacial revolution from book
to screen.  The screen has rattled the "reign of textual truth" (x), opened
up the meaning of "text," and, consequently, challenged traditional-humanist
rationale for moralistic training via literary works (lots on the Great Books
debate here) . EW is set up for reading as a continuous book and also as
discrete chapters, according to Lanham; the chapters make frequent intratextual
reference (i.e., "In chapter 7, I…").  He gives readings of
rhetorical/philosophical traditions and more recent –phobe and –phile
orientations toward microcomputers and related computing activities–activities
he regards as deeply rhetorical and thoroughly transformative for commonplaces
about text, decorum, higher ed, and the humanities.  EW is probably
one of the earlier takes on a digital rhetorics, even if he frames a compelling
range of precursors (xi)–"a new and radical convertibility" of "word image and
sound" (xi) staged in Cage’s experimental art and music, Duchamp’s readymades
and even K. Burke’s poetry.

Continue reading →

Adobe Agitation

Without extensive qualification, this is a working-through-hang-ups kind of entry. 
Warning: check.

Increasingly, I find myself annoyed by PDFs.  One or two PDFs, I can
handle.  When they come in lesser installments, I’m fine. But more than
that, and I bristle, fume.  In a graduate seminar, for example, I
understand that we might read widely from an assortment of sources.  I
think of PDFs as supplements, add-on, and because they’re harder to scale to the
screen’s dimensions, unlike fluid web texts with which I can enlarge the font, I
struggle to read them on the screen.  I can read scalable web texts on the
screen; even when the font is wonky, it’s easy enough to enlarge it or otherwise
alter it for readability.  Plus, I’ve been using Scrapbook for annotations,
highlighting, and tabbed browsing in Firefox keeps all of it manageable. 

PDFs, depending on how they’re laid out, can be nearly impossible to read on
the screen.  And so I print them out.  And I don’t mind printing them
out, especially when they come in the range of 1-3 per week, let’s say. 
But let’s just say they come in a wave of more than that–say 10 or 15,
hypothetically, of course.  If that were to happen, now I become a
book-making friggin print-house manager.  I have to print, collate,
arrange, run to the store for more printer cartridges, etcetera.  It bumps
the needle on my "busy work" dial into "Pain in the Ass" range.  Warning
lights start to blink.

I printed out 300 pages of PDFs last evening.  The docs were copied one
codex page to one PDF page, so gobs of white space make margin around a 5×7
peninsula of text.  Room for notations, I guess.  But I can only print
the PDFs single-sided, rather than double-sided, as I might do with a
photocopier.  Late Wednesday night, when I drove over to Kinko’s thinking
they’d have a way of helping me switch 15 PDF files from my USB drive to a
photocopier, through which I could churn them out back-front for under a dime a
page, it was another zinger to learn "Um, no, we can’t do that.  Print them
from the computers for 25 cents per page, but only if you’ve fewer than three
files."  I didn’t even try to talk about it, just thanked him and walked on

These intermediary forms leave a lot to be desired, and yet I get the feeling
that lots of folks see PDFs as the wondrous saving grace of print in a digitized
world.  PDF it, that’s easy. Easier even than pre-determined course packs. In fact, the department photocopier is set up
to PDF with amazing efficiency, even emailing it to you when the conversion of copy is complete. As I think through this, I guess I see it as a convenience to
teachers and an inconvenience to students.  It’s a kind of relocation of
the photocopier burden or paper chase from one to the other.  And I’ll be
using three PDFed chapters/essays with 205 students this spring.  It’s as much a matter of threshold, especially when variforms of text are criss-crossing
in all these different spaces, the result of confusion among incommensurable
mediations.  This morning when I opened yet another PDF–reading for a
Monday meeting–and found it, like to oh so many others to be a 1:1 scan, one
page per, and copied with huge smears of black toner-noise filling half of the
lower margin, I had an attack of PDF agitation.  Since both print and
digital texts are with us–all around us–and both necessary and pertinent, I’ll
continue to work on my hang-ups about PDFs, roll my neck until it pops, take a
deep breath, and carry on reading.