Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Making a Map?

If a person uses Google Maps (or Google Local...) to mark all of the breweries in Chicago, let's say, has s.he created a map?

I asked this question today in GEO781, and I learned that just as all comprhetors don't agree on what writing is, all geographers don't agree on what mapping is. I don't want to exaggerate the gape between physical geography and social or human geography, but as these sub-disciplinary orientations go, so goes the willingness/reluctance to regard maps as representational and also rhetorical rather than as empirical or somehow data-rigid.

To the question above, one response (generally) goes: Yes, of course. The map is a symbolic system often consisting of various graphical and linguistic elements, some of which are substantiated by hard data more than others. The beer map combines sign systems: to-scale physical forms (roadways, shoreline), iconic markers (to indicate brewery and pub locations), and toponyms or place-names. Although Google Maps mash-ups involve a common cartographic back-drop or base (the tile images don't change often), the overlays define the maps thematically. In the case of the breweries map, it might be helpful to introduce a scheme for differentiating map types. A thematic map is not merely interpretive, nor is the physical (material) map tidy in its permanence. We can find many examples of their felicitous combination--blended maps that work together to present multiple data-sets.

The negative responses to the question--if I can merge them, fell swoop--identify the factual nature of the physical forms with a kind of primacy. The real places, their demonstrable physicality, offer us proof. The data are reliable, can be validated, and are more likely to be accurate than user-placed markers indicating brew pubs. The physical forms, as represented, are authoritative, in this sense, despite our knowledge that landforms shift over long periods of time, shorelines and other unstable grounds are subject to accretion and avulsion, and the planet itself is fluid-like, taking into account the oceans and the magma.

This is only a teaser, and I know that my vocabulary for engaging the question is lacking much of the nuance it would have if I spent more time studying geography. Still I'm intrigued by some of the tensions I pick up on, particularly as we read articles about cybercartography as remediation, introducing problems and opportunities for the well-guarded post of the cartographer as one who draws and labels paper maps.

Just one more bit from class: Because I'm in back-to-back seminars on Tuesdays, I find somewhat difficult to keep the geography conversations fresh and to return to them later. The second class ends up bumping out all of the short-term goods from the first half of the day. What remains mixes in with the comp theory conversations...result: confusion (heh, it's generative confusion, nonetheless). We read two articles from Political Mapping of Cyberspace (2003); one on authenticity and authentication and the other on confession, parrhesia and communities. The authenticity/authentication article reminded me of Dick Hardt's OSCON Keynote, Identity 2.0. The chapter connects a related set of issues with Foucault's technologies of the self (84), "regimes of normalization" (84), and self-writing (91). It also lead us to a line of conversation about self-identifying in weblogs (v. much related to Jeff's piece from a week ago), including traditions of spoof scholarship, such as The Journal of Irreproducible Results; the falsification of co-authors, as in a colleague of our prof who published an article with a fictive co-author dubbed "Roscoe Gort;" and other variations of "academic fraud" (like the Sokal "Social Text" happening). What might a JIR of rhetcomp look like (just for kicks, of course...a thought-experiment more than a bona fide proposal)?

Monday, February 27, 2006


I concur with the orthopedic doc's hunch about my knee: it's the meniscus. And since I'll be needing healthy ones of those as I get on in years, I'm going ahead with the MRI and, more than likely, some sort of repair. The diagnosis is uncertain, but all indications have convinced me of the high likelihood that there's a tear somewhere in the middle cartilage. The kind folks at SOS (yeah...Syracuse Ortho...) are going to call me with the schedule for when I get to climb into the narrow tube to have my magnetic resonance imaged. It's been ten years since I had one, and as I recall, it's close to what I imagine beam-type space travel would be like. So that I would be insurance-eligible for the MRI, I filled out a form, and I think I might have answered one of the two bold questions incorrectly. Feel free to guess which one: "Are you claustrophobic?" or "Have you had a previous MRI?" However, I answered all of the plain text questions honestly and correctly, including "Eyelid/eyeliner tattoo?" My answer was no, but I was tempted to check yes if only as a conversation starter and simply to find out what that's got to do with the scan.

Brighter news is that I had the tire fixed on the Element. Goodyear, like PepBoys, wouldn't patch/wad the tire (too much risk with the punctum being in the sidewall), so I had to produce a big-handed grab of dough to get a new one. I had no idea the tires on our car were so precious. Then I was insulted to learn--from an obnoxiously proud/aggressive manager-type--that we missed our annual NY motor vehicle inspection. Oh? Add twenty-one bucks. I should be grateful, but I still can't figure out why NY grants two year registrations while requiring annual inspections. In Missouri (brace yourself; this is the part where I confirm that some Missouri laws are smarter than those in New York), inspections were due at the same time as registration, and two-year registrations/inspections were available for vehicles less than seven years old or so. The high-priced tire replacement: that was the high-!-light of my day.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Locative Reading Futures

Ever since I discovered that many of the books listed for 712 this semester are searchable in Google Books, I've been thinking about some of the ways to merge the full-text search with my reading and note-keeping habits, especially as an added aid to memory and for tracing themes/topoi. End-of-book indexes are, for the most part, adequate for the kind of thing I'm talking about. I can turn to the back of Gunther Kress's Literacy in the New Media Age, for example, and find all of the pages where "design" turns up. I suspect that the indexes at the ends of books are automated in many cases with, perhaps, a slight amount of customization from the writer and editor. Still, there are times when indexes don't list the terms I want to put in a row, follow. I'm aware of the labor-intensive manual methods for tracing terms, and still I'm warm to shortcuts for what can be needlessly exhaustive chores. Smarter, not harder, like my dad always says.

Given that the course is defined thematically around notions of mapping the future of disciplinarity, "future" seemed like an obvious choice to trace through Kress's book. The index doesn't include an entry for "future", however, so I went ahead and searched for the term at the Google Books port for LITNMA and came away with fifteen occurrences scattered throughout. I tracked them down (Google Books only gives partial excerpts when the content isn't "restricted") and included the passages on a handout: "Kress's Fifteen Futures." For added locative precision, I included page numbers and quadrants. This week I switched over to noting a-b-c-d quadrants (left) after a talk with Collin. My soon-to-be-retired page-recording system relied on an intuitive but messy legend of top-mid-bot (right) for tracking down word/phrase locations on the page.

Page in Four Parts Page in Three Parts

Using the a-b-c-d method, the page markers for "future" passages came out like this:

13b: It will pay attention to the context of social, economic and political changes of the present period and those of the near future.

22c: There is also the overwhelming reason that the conditions of our present and of the near future--economic, social, technological--are ushering in a distinctively different era of communication.

37b: Because the present state and likely future of literacy causes such anxiety--at times at least partially justified--I want to say something briefly about the affordances of writing and image, and perhaps of speech as well.

Fairly straightforward, right? What more could we do with this? In class, the question came up whether Google Books would allow for multi-term searches. At the time, I wasn't sure, but I've explored it since to find out that it supports combination searches. The problem is that each page is a separate data-set in Google's system (as far as I can tell), so it won't tie together clusters of terms that break across pages. Given the arbitrariness of page breaks, this seems like something that could be improved (I probably should've mentioned that the entire spirit of this entry is wishful, speculative). Here's the rub. We can search words, phrases and sentences; Google Books supports this quite well. But what about searching for concentrations in a semantic field. In other words, grab a handful of terms from the semantic field of futurisms: shift, turn, future, instability, new, transformation, revolution. I'd really like to be able to select any combination of terms as a way to sift for passages where they appear together. The semantic fields could be user defined (tag-sets, basically), and they might be stored for future returns, for sharing, for application to other texts, book-length and otherwise (go on, tell me if this is already possible). Something like the tag families and selection system at use with del.icio.us would be terrific here.

And while I'm on it, why not have selectable bibliographic entries that indicate the pages where those sources are taken up. Let's say I want to swiftly zero in on all of the places where Halliday's Language as a Social Semiotic is invoked in LITNMA. I could search for "Halliday", but there's another source of his in the bibliography and it's not certain that every reference would include his last name. I hope you Google techs are reading this because I'd really like to see something like that, too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mapping War

A colleague from the cybercartography course shared an email with this link to the Iraq War Coalition Fatalities Map produced in Flash by graphic designer Tim Klimowicz. He mentioned it during yesterday's session when we were working through maps and motion. It's both upsetting and fascinating: upsetting for the long sequence of flarepoints indicative of deaths, fascinating as an example of design, map animation and the coordination of temporal and geographic data.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Any- and All-words

The loosest terms going, or the first five entries to the laxicon of free-floaters:

1. Interactive (adj): between something or other and something else
2. Social (adj): A. togethering and whatnot; B. with people
3. Technology (n): A. tools and such; B. the intricate logics of tools and such.
4. Discourse (n): language stuff
5. Image (n): A. any of a number of lookseegawks; B. a picture

Nah, I'm not calling for constricted usage.  Yet these are a few of the ones that, when they get used, stir me to quietly wondering just what's meant.  Simply, they're ballooning with connotations.

Negligible Pep

My title is a direct riff on Pepboys, specifically the store on Erie Blvd. where I arrived with the Element yesterday morning at 7:56 a.m., small-nail-in-tire. I joined the three others waiting for the service door to open so could enter. It's a stand-by kind of shop; I planned to wait on the repair, even after I learned that it might take up most of the morning--"should be no more than three hours...had an incident on the 690 on-ramp yesterday...twenty tire repairs ahead of yours." No problem, I thought. There's a Bruegger's Bagels within walking distance (close enough despite the other bad wheel--a jacked up knee), and I brought along four articles from Cybercartography and excerpts for 712 from Susan Langer's Philosophy in a New Key and Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling. At least three hour's worth, given that I also intended to enjoy an everything bagel or two, make a morning of it.

Bruegger's was all I expected it to be. I found a quiet corner table and worked steadily through the four geography articles, which included Michael Peterson's "Elements of Multimedia Cartography," a surprisingly polemical article on the shortcomings of paper maps, and Mark Harrower's "A Look at the History and Future of Animated Maps," a solid overview of motion in "geovisualization." I was assigned to discussion-leading for Peterson's article for class this morning. Harrower's piece covers the brief history of animation as it converges with mapping--first done by Walt Disney artists to present invasion animations in 1940 (35). I finished the bagels and hot tea, wrapped up the readings for geography (more about specifics from them in another entry) and move on, taking up Langer around 11:00 a.m. I was reading

Now, I do not believe that "there is a world which is not physical, or not in space-time," but I do believe that in this physical, space-time world of our experience there are things which do not fit the grammatical scheme of expression. But they are not necessarily blind, inconceivable, mystical affairs; they are simply matters which require to be conceived through some symbolic schema other than discursive language. And to demonstrate the possibility of such a non-discursive pattern one needs only to review the logical requirements for any symbolic structure whatever. Language is by no means our only articulate product. (89)

when the speaker volume was inched up just a bit. It was a slow late-morning hour in Brueggers, prime for GNR's "Paradise City." Only that reading Langer with "Paradise City" all around...I packed up and walked back over to Pepboys where they told me it'd be another hour and a half. I continued with Langer, finishing the excerpt from _Philosophy_ and reading through pieces of the chapter from _Feeling_ on "Prescientific Knowledge," and the Monday edition of the Daily Standard before wandering around the store looking at seat covers and air fresheners.

The tire was never repaired. After looking at it they decided that it was too close to the wall to risk repairing. And they didn't have the replacement tire in stock, but they were kind enough to refer me to the Goodyear location down the street. And so the much-too-long wait ended; I drove toward the grocery store with the same small nail lodged in the same tire, feeling unlucky except that I'd managed a satisfying amount of reading.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Seriousness1, Seriousness2, Seriousness3...

Recovery of other seriousnesses, from Jeff Rice's "Serious Bloggers" in today's Inside Higher Ed:

Lost in this seriousness are a number of quite amazing things blogging has provided writers: ability to create discourse in widely accessed, public venues, ease of online publishing, ability to write daily to a networked space, ability to archive one's writing, ability to interlink writing spaces, ability to respond to other writers quickly, etc.

With the time you saved on this short entry, you should go read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Kress - Literacy in the New Media Age (2003) II

In Literacy in the New Media Age, Gunther Kress settles into a gradual progression from long-held presumptions about alphabetic literacy to an increasingly hybridized and "multimodal" literacy based on the screen. The screen's proclivity for combining images and text has profound consequences, Kress argues, for the temporal/sequential logics of letter, word and clause as units of meaning. Kress contends that syntactic complexity is compromised as the frenetic reading pathways of the screen condition readers and writers to mixed-mode framings that, in turn, impact how they read and write. Contrary to my expectations, Kress is none too sour on this trend; in fact, his movement through dense sociolinguistic explanations of literacy, genre and punctuation as framing are impressively nuanced. Yet, very little of the first two-thirds of the book is explicit about the ways in which new writing technologies are entangled in the shifts he describes, and in this sense, I find Kress to be frustrating in how patiently he advances his back-analysis on traditional alphabetic literacy (replicated in formal Western schooling)--while the matter at hand--screens as a site of particular kinds of changed writing activity--hovers as a given. This book is far more about "Literacy" than about "the New Media Age;" it inches toward actual discussions of interfaces, and finally, near the end of chapter eight, offers a screen-shot of a web page with eleven (by Kress's count) "entry-points" for reading. Kress's point with the screenshot: "'reading' is now a distinctively different activity to what it was in the era of the traditional page" (138).

Granted, the tensions between linearity and directionality; image, writing and speech; space and time; and screen and page are significant, and because Kress is so complete in his attention to these contending factors, LITNMA is a solid primer for 'literacy after the revolution'. There are, Kress concludes, heavy implications from all of this on teaching--bang that drum, yes? I re-discovered, in chapter seven, "Multimodality, Multimedia and Genre," familiar ideas before I realized that I'd read it before. It's anthologized in Carolyn Handa's Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, one of the collections we looked at two years ago in CCR601. In the chapter, Kress works on the problem of "ensembles of modes"--mixed imagetexts that don't reconcile neatly with known genre-types: "In the new communicational world there are now choices about how what is to be represented should be represented: in what mode, in what genre, in what ensembles of modes and genres and on what occasions" (117). At the end of the chapter, Kress determines that notions of mixed genres are less useful and that labeling is perhaps unhelpful; instead, we might prepare students to "feel at ease in a world of incessant change" (121) with something like Carolyn Miller's genre as social action or more generative applications of genre.

The chapter I'll return to, however, is chapter nine, "Reading as Semiosis," because it's the place where Kress best develops the shift from reading as interpretation to reading as design (50) (in new media encounters). He wants us to get at the question of whether "reading" refers to the linear process of following alphabetic sequences or, in light of the subordination of text to image and the ubiquity of the screen, something else, something akin to combinations, scanning, and reading paths (I'd include pattern) (156). There's much in this chapter to recommend re: reading the digital; it's the place I'll turn to first when I revisit this book for comps later this year. And just one last point (because it's late...), the final chapter is also a nice sketch of many of the other principles embraced by the New London Group.

Terms: display (9), scape (11), reading path (37), concept map (54), placement (65), genres (93), recount (108), ensembles of modes (116), distance (118, 141), transduction (125; elsewhere, see index), anaphoric (128), emergent writing (146), functional specialisation (20, 156, elsewhere), scanning (159), anchorage (165)

Of note: Chart on p. 70; Genre and labels 112 and 118 (conflict!)


"A vast change is under way, with as yet unknowable consequences. It involves the remaking of relations between what a culture makes available as means for making meaning (what I shall call throughout the book, representational modes--speech, writing, image, gesture, music and others) and what the culture makes available as means for distributing these meanings as messages (the media of dissemination--book, computer-screen, magazine, video, film, radio, chat, and so on). 'Literacy', in whatever sense, is entirely involved in that" (22).

"A question that is pressing is, is it possible to make the same meanings with sounds in time (and all the cultural elaborations of that) as with light in space (and the elaborations of that)? This becomes urgent now that the new technologies permit a ready and easy choice: shall I represent this as written text or as image?" (33).

"This book is not the place to conduct this debate [on the cultural pessimism toward changes in reading and writing] in any extended fashion, but is can be the place for starting it in a way that goes beyond mere polemic, and might suggest the framework within which a productive argument might be conducted around this question" (51).

"My assumption is that syntactically and textually writing may be becoming more speech-like once again, while in its visual/graphic/spatial dimensions there is a move in the opposite direction, away from speech" (73).

"Does the category of genre remain important, useful, necessary; does it become more or less important in the era of multimodal communication? The answer is that the category of genre is essential in all attempts to understand text, whatever its modal constitution. The point is to develop a theory and terms adequate to that" (107).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Kress - Literacy in the New Media Age (2003)

I'm just eight pages into Gunther Kress' Literacy in the New Media Age. I've read the chunk before the preface (what is this thing, a superpreface, an antepreface, pre-preface?): "The Futures of Literacy: Modes, Logics and Affordances." This much is clear: image and text function according to distinctive logics. With text, word follows word. It's sequentiality involves a distinctive commitment, both for writers and readers, to paths and naming. Text inheres time, whereas image inheres space, Kress tells us. Image involves a kind of commitment to location, and while Kress hints at the importance of perceptual paths for readers of images, that point doesn't get extended early on. Next, Kress discusses media and affordances; these few lines are a sample of what he's got going here:

1. Multimodality is made easy, usual, 'natural,' by these technologies. (5)
2. The new technologies have changed unidirectionality into bidirectionality. (6) (i.e. with the email, you can send and receive)
3. Writing is becoming 'assembling according to designs' in ways which are overt, and much more far-reaching, than they were previously. (6)
4. The affordances and the organisations of the screen are coming to (re)shape the organisation of the page. (6)
5. It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the visual in many or all of its uses. (7)

That subordination concerns Kress, and I anticipate that it fuels what will ultimately play out as a beware-of-image argument for Writing conservation (pictures are preying on our dull-wit kids, sapping their Literacy, etc.). But you're right; to be fair, I should read more of it before leaping to cyniclusions. Here's an overarching statement near the end of the pre-preface:

What do I hope to achieve which this book? There is a clear difference between this book and others dealing with the issues of literacy and new media. The current fascination with the dazzle of the new media is conspicuous here by its absence. I focus on just a few instances and descriptions of hypertextual arrangements, internet texts, or the structure of websites. I am as interested in understanding how the sentence developed in the social and technological environments of England in the seventeenth century, as I am in seeing what sentences are like now. The former like the latter--in showing principles of human meaning-making--can give us ways of thinking about the likely developments of the sentences in the social and technological environments of our present and of the immediate future. In that sense the book is out of the present mould; in part it looks to the past as much as to the present to understand the future. It is a book about literacy now, everywhere, in all its sites of appearances, in the old and the new media--it is about literacy anywhere in this new media age. (8)

With his explicit attention to sentences, I'm not expecting much in the way of arrangement at a larger scale--the relationship of larger units of writing as perhaps both spatial and temporal commitments. And I am glad to know that LITNMA is catalogued in Google Books, so I can find that "arrangement(s)" turns up 39 times, and "rhetoric" makes just three appearances. I'll also have to read this review after I get farther along with my own reading. More notes before the weekend's up....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Comfort Inventory III

Every 230 days or so, I've been coming out with a CI entry. Here's continuing that pattern:

1. I finally made an appointment to get my knee checked out. Problem: I am sick at the prospect of seeing a PCP for a referral to an orthopedic who will have to see me twice and maybe even three times. Yeah, Dr. offices are fine for reading. Still, I'm wrecked by the whole process--deep-felt dread. I thought everything was healing up nicely, but when I went to straighten the bed this morning (making the bed, lazy style), I bent toward the floor and felt a flash-o'-lightening jolt run through my leg parts. Knee's been in puffed-out crisis the whole time since.

2. Ludology note: Play and Vote at www.darfurisdying.com, especially The Village and Fetching Water.

3. Floodlight-bright moon beams split the venetian blinds and shone straight on my eyes at 4:30 a.m. Woke me up, and I couldn't get back to sleep. Guess it's that phase in the semester when a heap of projects demand attention (and real reading-writing time).

4. Good session tonight in 651, some lift in that. Returns: figures of the griot and watcher. Lots of other stuff, too.

5. Noticed a half-flat tire on the Element when I got home after class tonight and a metal-something sticking up from the rubber edge. Can't will it away, so I ran it up to the Quick-n-Go for a dose of new air. Counting on Michelin luck to carry me through until I can get it patched (weekend, Monday?).

6. My iTunes collection was unusually iUninspiring today. Nothing sounded quite right; no fault of the speakers.

7. One writing program I envy.

7. Watson proposals in fourteen days. Lost in fourteen minutes. Coincidence?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Problems and Stases

Another double-seminar Tuesday coming up:

In 720 this afternoon, we're talking up the stases (definition, fact, cause, value and action, following Fahnestock and Secor) and looking through Joseph Williams' "Problems into PROBLEMS" (PDF) to re-see the first few pages of two pieces--one of our own and one from a journal. I appreciate the problems brought up in the comments when Collin first mentioned Williams' monograph back in June--problems of being too dedicated to problem orientations, of fixating superproblematic. Still, I found this process immensely useful--returning to Williams, turning Williams' prototype intro-grammar toward an essay I've been struggling with, and giving a similarly framed writerly reading to a published article. Williams' model, like the stases, were exactly the heuristics I was needing to pull apart a few of the stifling think-knots messing up my writing. For next week, Gunther Kress, Literacy in the New Media Age. I'll try to post some notes; I've got to get going with it later this week because I'm also leading the discussion of Kress' stuff.

Before 720, however, I've got three hours of cybercartography, including pair of mini-briefings (short talks in front of the class). One covers good/bad examples of maps designed for the screen; the other is a report on early moves toward the larger project for the course.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Friday's web zen--wordy zen--includes a link to Ask Oxford, the place where Oxford Dictionary aces answer all of the peculiar questions you simply can't go another day without having resolved.  Examples: the opposite of exceed, the word for a word which is another word spelled backwards, and words containing uu. Splitting at the hyperseams with lexical overmuchness, this site is.

My favorite Q&A, however, and the one to which I first returned for practical usage was the name for a group of cats: clowder.  When the Villanova Wildcat contingent rushed the court after knocking of #1 UConn (much to my satisfaction, I'll add) earlier this evening, I had something to call it by.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I'm just back from Dick's Sporting Goods at the local shopping mall where I was attempting to exchange one dartboard for another (dang, this makes it sound like I've been en route for days, since my last blog entry even). Why the exchange? We'd been stringing along on half-commitments, shamelessly doling out one-of-these-dayses to Ph. as a way to defer the purchase of a dartboard for the basement. Finally, yesterday, I splurged on the board. It's nothing extravagant, but for the price one would think it would come with everything advertised on the box, including two sets of crappy darts. Got the package home, however, and tacked up the board before learning that the darts themselves had escaped the package. They were nowhere to be found. You can imagine our disappointment; gloom overflowed. I'd even picked up an open-patella knee sleeve at Dick's to keep my loose and slippery left knee-parts compacted while heaving the darts at the basement wall.

So back to Dick's I went late this afternoon. They had one other dartboard on the shelf like the one I bought yesterday. Perfect. Until I opened it and found that it, too, was missing the small bag of dart parts. No bag. No darts. No other boards like it (next closest, a thirty-dollar upgrade). So I went ahead and picked up a set of soft-tips, talked the asst. manager into giving me them at a significant discount. Completed: a dartboard and darts for the basement.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Twinning and Human Chimerism

Earlier today I was in the office reading for 651 (Afrofuturism), and I came across a short story by Linda Addison called "Twice, At Once, Separated." We're reading all 34 pieces in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, then discussing those 400+ pages during next Wednesday's class session. Addison's piece is difficult to sum up. It involves Xotama, the protagonist, who refuses to go along with her arranged marriage despite cultural pressures and custom. Persuaded by anxious dreams, Xotama senses inhibition, and it turns out that the interference is coming an alter ego of sorts, a haunting figment of near self. Xotama pursues the source of knowledge about the dream; she goes on a journey to visit the all-knowing Ship, the vessel carrying her and others like her who can morph themselves into various creatures (eels, etc.). The Ship, using a cast of Watchers, functions as a kind of comprehensive cultural memory-machine, aggregating all of the activities and knowledge of its inhabitants.

Xotama approaches the Ship with questions about her sense of inhibition, the disturbing doubleness, and the Ship presents her with an explanatory vision: at birth, Xotama had a twin. "They were exactly the same, except for the sliver of a moon birthmark on Xotama's face" (204). In a half-reality where they can sense each other only through touch, Xotama discovers her twin, whom she calls Notama. Xotama and Notama have lost time, but Xotama fancies recovering her sister into full existence, bringing her back to life, in effect. They consult the Ship's "neural web," the totality of experience taken in by the senior "Watchers." But it proves overwhelming for Notama, and the experiment ends. Xotama returns from the half-reality of the dreamscape and proceeds with her plans, marrying, etc.

The Xotama-Notama reunion reminded me of an article from New Scientist my brother described to me when we stopped through Detroit over the holidays. Basically, it was about a case of human chimerism in Boston a few years ago. "Jane," a 52-year-old woman in need of a kidney transplant, learned that her DNA didn't match with the DNA of two of her three sons. How could this be? As well as doctors could determine, she carried two sets of DNA--the result of a fusion of non-identical female twins sometime between conception and the medicalization of the pregnancy. "Jane" seemed to be herself and her twin in this way; two sets of DNA constituted her biosystem, and, ultimately, one set went to one of her sons while the other set went to the other two sons. Various reports on this story suggest that upwards of fifteen percent of all humans could reflect similar variations of chimerism (not to mention "microchimerism" or the quality of a baby's genetically-coded cells lingering in the mother's body beyond birth, long enough to be passed on to subsequent children, according to the BBC piece).

Given that twinning is such a common theme in the speculative fiction I've been pouring over in the last ten days, and given that the class is also attending to the penultimate trope for African American rhetorics--Dubois' double-consciousness (alt. Paul Miller's multiplex consciousness)--the science of chimerism, as thinly elaborated in the linked articles, has been on my mind lately, both because it brings up a number of confounding issues but also because, at a more abstract level, it suggests a compelling metaphor for identity, identification and individualism as well as dialectic and fusion.

Added: Odd, a year ago today it was "Tweening."

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In Search Of

We capped our discussions of Smit's The End of Composition Studies (2004) and Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's In Search of Eloquence (2004) in 712 this afternoon. Smit opens for us with six chapters leading down the skeptic's infinite regress into complandia's hopeless abyss before turning to his recommendations for reform. His plans for a refurbished curriculum aren't as despairing as his account of the impossibility of teaching writing. No screeching demons, no ravenous hellhounds. In fact, the curriculum pretty well matches with Writing Across the Curriculum efforts. Smit turns out to be a proponent of a first-year course called "Introduction to Writing as a Social Practice" (185). Upper division instructors would share responsibility for teaching the course; "They must," Smit contends, "be part of a broad university-wide program that introduces all novice writers 'slowly but steadily and systematically' to new genres and social contexts, a program that encourages students to develop their 'structural, rhetorical, stylistic facility' over time (Rose 112)" (188). The second tier of Smit's curriculum involves discipline-specific courses emphasizing writing, and the third tier involves "writing outside the classroom" (190). I'm sure I'll sound glib in characterizing it so flatly, but much of it sounds, well, familiar enough. A more radical turn, however, comes in Smit's proposal for graduate training:

Contrary then to current practice, I would propose that graduate programs in composition studies be organized in order to promote the training of compositionists as writers of particular kinds of discourse, as scholars of particular discourse communities, and as specialists in pedagogy.... In fact, I think it would be helpful if we abolished the expression 'writing instructor' and replaced it with a title that includes the kind of discourse the instructor teaches: newspaper editorial instructor, for example; or biology lab report instructor. (195)

Smit pushes dual-specializations, the combination of advanced studies in writing and rhetoric with advanced studies in the discourses of particular fields. The individual, according to this model, bridges the expanses between distinctive disciplinary forms of expertise and writing genres (in and out of school settings). In sharp contrast to Smit's model of WAC, Cosgrove and Barta-Smith approach WAC by enlisting their colleagues, involving them in ongoing conversations about their perceptions of the writing done in their field of expertise, both in and out of school. Their model values conversation; it is clearly more cooperative, more networked, than Smit's:

Each of the moves we see ourselves and our colleagues making in order to perpetuate our discourse--the mutual moldings of common meaning, the affirmations, the restatements, the discoveries or sharings of common experience or knowledge--seem born out of a desire to stretch, rather than eliminate, the confines of the knowledge and language bequeathed to us by our disciplines. (61)

The conversational methods used by Cosgrove and Barta-Smith are time-intensive, and they depend on shared respect, cross-disciplinary accountability, and recognition of the knowledge and insight folks from different areas have to offer each other. Their model is ambitious, and it might be impossible to implement at larger institutions (although they carry 4:4 loads at Slippery Rock, where they held the conversations, conducted the study). Yet because it emphasizes conversations about attitudes and understandings of writing held by specific faculty in other fields and also seeks to integrate those perspectives with the work of teaching lower division writing courses, it bears greater promise, I'd say, than beefed up training for graduate students in composition and rhetoric. Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's connective, institution-wide "search" makes composition's future appear much brighter than does a notion of added training for islanded instructors (of somediscourse).

Monday, February 6, 2006

Dental Horoscopy

Taurus (April 20-May 20): The energy and enthusiasm you sense at the start of your day will soon be displaced by the unbearable deeps of mouth cavity x-ray hell at your a.m. dental appointment--the first with a new dentist.  You'll consider requesting an x-ray of your mangled kneepulp while they're at it but then realize that you couldn't ask if you wanted to because the sharp-edged x-ray tabs are so firmly lodged in the soft tissue beneath your tongue that the salty tears of death-in-a-dental-chair are welling up. Ten images left...ninth one, bite down...hold.  At your initial appointment, a "consultation" involving x-rays and an exam, you'll learn of an afternoon cancellation--a 2:00 p.m slot freed up for you to return later for a cleaning. Sweet luck, because otherwise you'd have to wait to April to get your smilers degunked and shined.  You'll accept the appointment.  On returning to the densist's chair later in the day, another hygienist will make small talk with you while going hyper-jab-wild with the small metal hook-scraper, knitting those healthy gums into a slick bloodrow of wrecked mouthflesh. Your only comfort will be her bringing up the Superbowl, the weather, the approach of Valentine's Day, and the visit to her daughter's school last week to kick off this, Dental Hygiene Month. Meanwhile the smooth and timeless sounds of Lionel Ritchie ("Say You, Say Me") and Joe Cocker ("You Are So Beautiful") merge into soothing synch with the scratch-scratch of steel hooks grinding against enamel.

You're everything I hoped for
You're everything I need
You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me

Friday, February 3, 2006

Genu Muchwobbly

No swollen joint photos to document this case of pain from the hardwoods, but in my weekly Friday afternoon basketball game(s) I did something tendenciously nastytastic to my left knee.  I've never suffered knee problems before (all shoulders and ankles, my long-ago surgeries), but I've observed more than a teammate or two who suffered season-enders with bad knees.  Only one of them was able to walk off the floor with a torn ACL (must've been partially torn), and he was back to playing just a few weeks after surgery if I remember correctly.  Notably, he was also a guy who referred to sprained ankles as "sprung ankles," and so, because I'm not a doctor yet, I think it's excusable to adopt just this kind of neologism to lighten the self-diagnosis: sprung left knobbler. If, by tomorrow morning, the pain intensifies, maybe it's worse than I've determined.  But I can hobble on it, so I'm counting on the injury to be much less severe than some of the worst cases I've witnessed.  Prognosis for watching Superbowl XL: Probable.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006


Rrove is one of the latest site-tagging apps making use of Google Maps API (via & credit). I signed up for an account this morning and tested it with a link to the Palmer House in Chicago, site of the '06 CCCC late next month. Rrove also has a community setting, so it might be useful for conference hosting, collaborative markups of an area, and so on. My first impression is that it's a kind of geospatial del.icio.us, and although the site still lacks a few features (such as RSS) common to the web 2.0 lineup, I'm holding out hope that those features will roll out any day now. I have other motives for seeing a web2.0-rich version of Rrove, not the least of which is my GEO781 project, which, from my perspective several weeks removed from its completion, will deal with some of the ways we might begin to recognize cybercartography as writing. Still fuzzy (not discouragingly so), but I think I'll be dealing with Wayfaring, Frappr and Rrove, developing some of my earlier thinking on the photographemic map and memorial froms, while sorting through theoretical/pedagogical rationale for (hyper)imagetext integration of geospatial writing. I just received my copy of Google Maps Hacks yesterday, too, and after leafing through it for a few minutes, I would guess it's going to be manageable to begin working up customized maps very soon.

On a related note, one of my colleagues in class (who studies and teaches physical geography) raised several really interesting questions about the discord between the textual/encyclopedic side of Wikipedia and its stalled counterpart, WikiAtlas. It set us off into some fairly provocative exchange about atlas authorship, and also got me thinking again about what Manovich does with paradigmatic and syntagmatic. From my perspective, the energy surrounding cybercartography is in the multitude of overlays more than the landforms in the background. The excitement centers on the syntagmatic possibilities for the map; its writability.