Friday, March 30, 2007

In the Mood for a List?

A few reasons this week will contend for the shittiest ever when all the points are tallied:

1. I've been pummeled mercilessly from the inside by something diagnosed as just-shy-of-bronchitis. Had a fever of 102 for nearly three days, severe congestion, body aches, sweats, headaches, sore throat, and so on. My comeback has been made possible only by gallons of hot tea and a twice-daily palmful of pills, antigens, chemicals, and artificial defenders of dmueller.

2. As a result of no. 1, I've accomplished very little. Very very very little. You could fit all of my positive accomplishments this week on the head of a small pin.

3. We learned Monday that the house we so enjoy living in will be sold. A minion of the real estate megalopoly pounded the "for sale" sign into our front yard this very evening, in fact (no saintly tricks up his sleeve, far as I could tell). What's worse? We're being asked to move before the end of Ph.'s school year. What's worse than that? The suitable rents in the area are slim pickings. Most of the four bedroom joints get divided into per-student rates, where each student pays, say $375 or more. There are a few three bedroom flats we're looking at, but only a few of them allow pets. And Yoki, it turns out, despite expert training, remains a pet. What's still worse? We're invited to enable the sale by keeping a tidy house, putting away all valuables, and vacating the premises any time a realtor decides to call us up for a showing. What summons in me evils and furor deeper than I've known in some time? Yes...realtors calling to see whether they can show the house I'm being asked to vacate. You'll want to hide away the laptop in case any of the "speculators" are thieves.

4. In the spirit of list-making, a new item. But it's a carry-over. See, I'm still PO'ed about No. 3. Bent out of shape, I tell you. I get the side of the scenario that's grounded in business, profit, detachment, transactions, and so on. But then I see the other side, the side that spells big changes for us in the weeks ahead. It boils over to the neutral-transactive (mere business, my friend) rationale, makes a mess of it. And I think about the agent who called me last night when I was at Ph.'s indoor soccer game to comfort me with "I know how hard this must be for you" before asking if we would welcome her and her clients for a showing. Without going into the rest of the details about the conversation following the smarmy preamble, just know that this morning we switched the contact number to D.'s cell phone. Tks to goodness D.'s willing to take such calls.

5. As a result of no. 3 and no. 4, I've been studying line by line more than pouring fresh filling into EWM's neglected shell.

6. After checking out an apartment this evening, the four of us grabbed up some Chinese takeout. Hot-n-sour soup is just what I need when my sinuses are recovering, when my throat is raw, phlegm-chaffed. Even if I don't eat the tofu and cabbage and [I have no idea what that was], the broth is perfect. Just the thing to top off this challenger for worst week. The soup was terrific, but I remain, for today at least, too jaded to accept the promise from my fortune cookie: "Happy life is just in front of you." Mr. Clumsy must've dropped that cookie in the wrong bag, handed it to the wrong person. But what if he didn't?

Monday, March 26, 2007

And Returns

Ph. and I whistled into the Syracuse train depot yesterday afternoon; we're home from the excursion to the conference. Everything is unpacked, laundered, put away.

I have plans to put the paper to an mp3 and sync it with the slides. I can do this, of course, because my talk was scripted. It's endlessly reproducible as a result. But recording will have to wait until I shake off the cough-inducing tickle that has been getting the best of me all day today. Sure, I could delete out any of the hacking and rattling that makes its way into the mix, but why? I'll just wait it out.

I turned in my travel receipts today, worked through a bit of grading and response, and circulated my diss prospectus draft to the committee for review at their convenience. That's enough for this day. More grading tomorrow. And I have to exchange a shirt at the JC Penney store and drop off the lawn mower for repair. The grass isn't green and growing just yet, but the snows have backed down so that only small, sparse, melting pockets interrupt the brown of yard, bold in their last stand against spring's rain and regreening.

A few more crumbs from the conference: here's the slideshow that went along with my talk at CCCC.

And the links to the beta testing (i.e., impermanent) spaces for the clouds and the maps:

Sliding Tagclouds by Issue
Sliding Tagclouds by Volume
Author-location Map
Author-Grad Program Map

If things go well, I'll have the audio of the full talk added to the slideshow and posted by week's end (which week?...excellent question).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Empirical Views

Here are a few photos from the Empire State Building:

NY Harbor

Ph. Observation Deck


Conference Notes

Here are the highs and lows of the first full day (for me) of the conference in NYC:

  • Had a yogurt and a Vitamin Water from the 53rd Street Deli. Impressive place. Might stop back in there tomorrow for fresh sushi sometime in the afternoon.
  • Walked with Ph. to Times Square. Played PS3 for a few minutes at Toys-R-Us. Proof! that there is free entertainment in Manhattan (although free might soon be asterisked by yet-to-be-made purchases resulting from my rekindled interest in the PS3).
  • Attended an 8 a.m. session reporting on the National Research Council's approval of "Rhetoric and Composition" as an emerging field.
  • Followed that with an informal meeting with a colleague from alma mater whom I hadn't met before and who will be coordinating the U.'s writing curriculum with an eye on certain improvements.
  • Awoke early enough to check out the workout facilities here in the hotel. Learned that they wanted another 15 clams per day per person to use the equipment. I looked at the price sheet and mentioned that Ph. might be coming in later in the morning. "He's only 16? You'll have to accompany him in that case. And there will be another $15 fee added." A rush of frugality motored my legs hastily out of there. There's nothing about the 30 minute workout I wanted this morning that was worth 15 bucks. No-thing. And so my fitness slides. I had a slice of pizza for lunch just to spite the Hiltons and their elliptical scam.
  • Ph. and I walked over to the Empire State Building, lolled around the observation deck for 15 rain-soaked minutes. I asked the "host" how long the entire ob-deck-n-back trip would take, and he said 15 minutes. Forty minutes later we were on the elevator, heading up. Still, I'm glad we did it. Of course, standing on the observation deck at 1:30 p.m. didn't bode well for my chances of making it back to the conference (on foot, 34th St. to 53rd St.) in time for a 2:00 p.m. session. Made it by 2:15.
  • And then there was a committee meeting from 3-4 p.m. related to CCCOA.
  • Phillip has been watching the Star Wars this evening. Return of the Jedi. Luke and Leia are brother and sister?, he just asked. In fact, they are.
  • Dinner (Chinese?) and NCAAs later. Plus a re-read of my talk for tomorrow.
  • Seems like I'm not seeing as many folks as I did last year. The hotel lobby feels more like triple-wide hallway to me. Not a lot of seating space to lounge around and make casual contact with old friends, bloggers, etc.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sixteen Crayolas

Ph.'s Cake

Today's another birthday for Ph., the oldest of our two children. Mile marker 16, if you can believe it. And despite aging logics, I think he's catching up to me because, for the first time (even if only for a few months) he's exactly 1/2 my age. That's old; coming up on hills old.

Birthday party hats, also, for my Grandpa, my cousin M., and Jen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Billowy Prospectus (draft) Cloud

I sent off the first draft of the prospectus today. It's raw in a couple of spots (a pile of I mights and what if I?s), but it's fifteen pages not counting the 50+ citations in the provisional bib, and that means done enough for a round of preliminary feedback.

created at

Monday, March 19, 2007


Guess I let a few days slip on by without a blog entry. That's because Break was interrupted with a cascade of mishaps, starting with Wednesday's hey-this-weather's-beautiful thaw that led to basement window wells overflowing with slushy run-off and then a half-dozen streams x-crossing along the walls and the floor in the basement. Could have been a big deal, but I shoveled the remaining yard-snows into a carefully engineered scheme of locks, sluices, and channels for redirecting the surge, and I made sure the water wasn't running through anything electrical, then set the dehumidifier and house fans to do what they do best.

And then I watched a couple of basketball games while the temps outside dipped again to freezing and iced the crisis to a halt.

Now I'm making final preparations for a train ride on the steam-fueled Amtrak Puff-and-Huff down to Penn Station later this week. D. and I decided today to have Ph. join me, so he'll be making the trip too, heading to the Big Apple to celebrate his Big 16th b-day at the CConference of CConferences. You'd think for 300 chips a night the fancy-pants conference hotel would have a swimming pool, but alas, they do not.

Because I don't know my way around Metropolis, I went ahead and plotted out a few points of interest using Wayfaring. Add to it if you care to.I lifted most of it from the comments and ideas here and here and added a couple of markers of my own. It's a start.

Maybe I'll blog again before the conference, maybe not. I have a game tomorrow night, and more b-day happenings on Wednesday. Add to that the horse race between my conference paper (which enjoys a slight lead) and the first draft of my dissertation prospectus (which shall be sent to diss-director's inbox before the end of the week), and I have plenty enough on hand to keep the blog at bay. Of course, just like the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAAs, such things are hard to foresee.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spring Breakneck

The paces have been slow to moderate. Here are the top ten or so accomplishmabobs from the first few days of break:

(-1-) Filled out my bracket (not too late for you, btw).
(-2-) Revised my selections.
(-3-) Futzed with the XML for two maps I will be sharing at the conference next week.
(-4-) Revised my bracket selections again. One last time! Washington State?
(-5-) Re-read my CCCC paper and changed a couple of things.
(-6-) Avoided eating the Wheat Thins D. brought back from her mini-vacation last weekend.
(-7-) Sent and received a couple hundred emails.
(-8-) Played basketball with Ph.
(-9-) Crabbed at HR about my shabby dental benefits. I was told, more or less, "So sad for you, my rotten-toothed friend!"
(-10-) Read a couple of articles and noted them to the diss blog.
(-11-) Eked out a couple of pages each day toward a viable prospectus draft. Today, like yesterday, I told myself I would stop no matter where I was after I'd reached 600 new

Bialostosky, "Should College English Be Close Reading?"

Bialostosky, Don. "Should College English Be Close Reading?" College English 69.2 (Nov. 2006): 111-116.

Don Bialostosky's contribution to the "What Should College English Studies Be?" symposium in the Nov. 2006 College English works through the question of whether it should be close reading.

His first thought: it should. From there, Bialostosky sorts through his favor for close reading, shifting the frame from the phrase's New Critical entrenchment to call for a way of working with texts that uses close to describe the compatibility of reading with the students' existing discursive knowledges (e.g., something like NLG's lifeworlds). Bialostosky refers to the "critical reading" curricular emphasis at Pitt as particularly exemplary in this regard, in what might otherwise be regarded as a blend of SRTOL and reading with an emphasis on "where students are at" when they come to the course.

It's a short essay at just five or six pages. Bialostosky makes clear that rather than appropriating the phrase "close reading," he seeks alternatives to it that help us formulate responses to this: What reading practices to we consider important enough to teach?

I'll return to this because, in making a case for distant reading as heuristic (and heuretic, euretic, eureka!), I want to argue for alternatives not only to New Critical close reading but to the reduction of reading practices to interpretive or hermeneutic activities. Instead, distant reading is also (perhaps foremost) productive, generative, and inventive, as well aligned, I think, with rhetorical mobilizations as with interpretive glosses or stabilized-for-now insights into the meaning of texts. Certainly it can contribute to each. But mustn't they must be held in check, made into hybrids rather than dyads? That said, distant reading practices must remain enactive or actionary; they must be additive in the sense that the new forms of knowledge they proliferate propel us into new ways of thinking rather than folding back into the project of criticism. I like Urban's discussions of inertial and accelerative for this.

Bialostosky also mentions the responses offered by I.A. Richards to New Criticism. This is another place I should return for drawing distinctions between the close reading (New Critics) and distant reading (Moretti).

Phrases: critical reading (111, 113), unexamined predispositions (112), New Critics (112), unexamined resources (113), discursive knowledge (113), ordinary language (113), productive attentiveness (113, 114), death of close reading (114)

"Paying close attention doesn’t guarantee even minimal understanding or response" (112).

"The New Critics were so successful in promulgating and institutionalizing this practice [close reading] that our students come to college English convinced that they can’t understand poetry, or literature more generally, because they have learned to distrust their initial uptake in order to highlight certain words and build from them a reading that will satisfy what they have learned is an institutional demand for deeper, hidden, symbolic meanings. I agree with Robert Scholes, who documents the pervasiveness of this practice, that this kind of close reading is a problem college English must address and not a practice it should continue" (112).

"So, paradoxically, I must conclude that close reading in its institutionalized New Critical instantiation has created the habits and expectations of reading literature that college English needs to resist and reform, or at least articulate and examine, not the habits and expectations it should uncritically cultivate" (112).

"If you wanted, as I do not, to call reading grounded in these repertoires “close reading,” it would be because they would bring literary works closer to students, to the discourse they know and use, instead of distancing, even alienating those works from the language students already know how to use and enjoy" (113).

"I want instead to open a space for considering alternatives to New Critical close reading by marking out, without naming, a pedagogical space where we teach productive attentiveness to literary texts" (113).

Here is a lengthy paragraph near the end of the piece in which Bialostosky lists questions that might be addressed in review essays that account for "productive attention to literary texts." I have switched it from a paragraph to a list:

"To what features of the poem or literary work or text do they direct attention?
How do they articulate the relations among those features?
What questions do they think are most fruitful in directing their students’ attention and to what sorts of evidence do they point their students in answering those questions?
How do they divide, subordinate, and sequence the parts of what they think worth teaching?
How do they articulate the relation between what is “in” the text and what is “outside” it?
How do they situate the poetic or literary work in relation to discourse in other spheres of communication including the vernacular and institutional ones from which their students come?
How do they situate it in relation to other literary texts?
In relation to historical and cultural texts?
What do they teach their students that literary works do, and what do they teach the students to do with them?
What traditions, arts, and disciplines inform their pedagogies—grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, linguistics, semiotics, ethics, politics, sociology, philosophy, among them—and from what sources in those disciplines do their reading practices draw?
Could they offer a theoretical argument for their reading practice grounded in those arts and disciplines?
Have they troubled themselves to articulate the practice they teach with other practices, to respond to criticisms addressed from other disciplines or sources, to differentiate their practices from those who teach under the same banner but teach differently?
How much of their critical orientation to other schools and practitioners do they share with their students and how and when do they share it?
What kind of writing do they ask their students to do, and how is it related to their reading?" (114).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Virilio, "The Third Interval: A Critical Transition"

Virilio, Paul. "The Third Interval: A Critical Transition." Rethinking Technologies. Ed. Verena Andermatt Conley. Trans. Tom Conley. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993. 3-12.

Virilio anticipates an ominous shift wrought by the interval of light as it proliferates in "teletopical technologies" that allow for speedier transmissions. "Act[ing] over distance" is, as a result, increasingly commonplace. Virilio builds a case for the implications of this shift for demography, urbanization, and insularity--matters that can be understood relative to human culture at-large and also to the academic institution.

Virilio is important for his foreboding stance toward the "critical transition" involving an onset of real-time technologies that "kill 'present' time by isolating it from its presence here and now for the sake of another commutative space that is no longer composed of our 'concrete presence' in the world, but of a 'discrete telepresence' whose enigma remains forever intact" (4). It's not entirely clear to me, though, how concrete presence and discrete telepresence are divisible or separable. Twitter seems to me a fine example of the implements Virilio would find so disconcerting (more general transmission technologies, too, of course, are worrisome to him in ~1993).

The third interval--light--is positioned here as a threat, as a force with tremendous destructive power. Teletopical technologies, following the transition, will, if they haven't already, crush the present as we know it, converting reality and duration into "'alternation' or 'flickering' that is also related to a sort of commotion of present duration" (7). Virilio goes on to suggest the implications of this "radical inversion" for cities. But I want to use it to understand skepticism toward distance--and distant reading (like Waters' complaint about Moretti's work). Two thoughts about this:

(-1-) One is cautionary. If distant reading is justified on the basis of efficiency (it makes large bodies of texts differently accessible), is it just another example of what Virilio calls the "tyranny of real time"? We can generate distant readings, in other words, and while they will make texts differently accessible (allowing scalable designations, etc.), do they simultaneously overload the present with an assumption that it can hold more? I suppose I'm not making this plain. If the article abstract, as a form of distant reading, functions as a teaser into the article, the present moment is still held under a heavy burden by x+1 number of abstracts. Distant reading paradoxically reduces and multiplies the labors of reading. Still, this is unavoidable, and the conditions for reading the discipline are even less tenable without such measures. A cynical response could expand the notion of domotics (domestic robotics) to something like acadomotics (the reduction and routinization of intellectual life; the flooding of a working present, the disolution of duration).

(-2-) The second requires a switch from the broad domain of human culture to the circulation of scholarship. Virilio writes, "Where, in the past, physical displacements from one point to another presupposed a departure, a voyage, and an arrival, more than a century ago revolutions in modes of transport had already set in place a liquidation of delay and oriented the very nature of travel (on foot, on horseback, and in a car!) toward the arrival at a final point that remained, however, a restricted arrival by virtue of the very duration of the voyage" (8). This goes along with the critical transition: teletopic technologies move the present instant from scarcity to abundance (the attention economy is embroiled in this transition), from delay and duration to plentitude. Read this quotation as an analogy to publication cycles. Restricted arrival gives way to general arrival; this is true for journals, such as The Journal of Literacy and Technology, that use rolling deadlines. Rolling cycles challenge us to read differently. Duration fades, the journal is potentially ever-present, its departures and arrivals highly irregular. How to read such a thing?

"Today we are beginning to realize that systems of telecommunications do not merely confine extension, but that, in the transmission of messages and images, they also eradicate duration or delay" (3).

"What is becoming critical here is no longer the concept of three spatial dimensions, but a fourth, temporal dimension--in other words, that of the present itself" (4).

"In the future, speed will be used more and more to act over distance, beyond the sphere of influence of the human body and its behavioral biotechnology" (5).

"Critical transition is thus not a gratuitous expression: behind this vocable there lurks a real crisis of the temporal dimension of immediate action" (7).

"Where, in the past, physical displacements from one point to another presupposed a departure, a voyage, and an arrival, more than a century ago revolutions in modes of transport had already set in place a liquidation of delay and oriented the very nature of travel (on foot, on horseback, and in a car!) toward the arrival at a final point that remained, however, a restricted arrival by virtue of the very duration of the voyage" (8). [Analogy: scholarly publishing]

"Thus the mobile human who had become automobile will now become motile, willfully limiting his or her bodily sphere of influence to a few simple gestures, to the emission--or zapping--of several signs" (9).

"Telemarketing, tele-employment, fax work, bit-net, and e-mail transmissions at home, in apartments, or in cabled high rises--these might be called cocooning: an urbanization of real time thus follows the urbanization of real space" (11).

Phrases: teletopical technologies (4), static audiovisual vehicle (5), electromagnetic conditioning (5), interval of light (6), immediate action (7), present instant (7), restricted arrival (8), general arrival (8), domotics (9, 11), tyrrany of distances (10), tyranny of real time (10), mobilization and intertia (11), chain of displacement (11), cocooning (11)

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I've refurbished the exam notes blog, Exam Sitting, and converted it to a dissertation blog. I suppose I'll use it to post notes and other gems of speculation. I've never dissertated before, so it's not entirely clear yet just how useful such entries will be. All the same, I'm convinced of the benefits that carried over from the exam note-keeping to the performance of the exams themselves. And I appreciate that some processual transparency allows others who might be interested in such a thing to see into what I'm working on, what I'm thinking about. It also introduces a mild, supportive form of accountability in that everything I do there is out in the open for my committee to follow as they see fit.

I waggled back and forth on names for the new blog. In the end, it was a three-way split decision between Diss-o-Matic, Dissarray, and Disscombobulatio. Diss-y lot. Ah well, it's easy enough to switch up. And these choices sure beat the Dissney riffs: Dissy-dissy-bang-bang, Dissertation Gully, Mary Dissins, and Diss Willy. No. You're right about this one. This is not how I should be spending my time (biting my fingernails over the name of the diss blog, that is).

So far I've posted a provisional bibliography for the prospectus, and today I posted notes on Unsworth's address from a few months ago. I also spent a little over an hour drafting two pages of the prospectus today. Here's hoping some of these tactics help shuttle me through the transition from exams to more focused dissertation-writing.

For Your Republi-kit

Hilarious, infuriating, or both (neither?), all depending on your political ilk:

Two unnamed family members bear equal responsibility for directing me to this.

Unsworth, "New Methods for Humanities Research"

Unsworth, John. "New Methods for Humanities Research." The 2005 Lyman Award Lecture. National Humanities Center. Research Triangle Park, NC. 11 Nov. 2005. < ~unsworth/lyman.htm>.

John Unsworth's 2005 Lyman Award address at the National Humanities Center lingers as a significant moment in efforts to expand research in the humanities to include text-mining, data-mining, visualization, modeling, and pattern recognition. Unsworth establishes an analogy between research methods in the sciences, which are commonly classified as basic and applied, and research methods in the humanities, which are better described as "scholarship" and "criticism." He explains the gold standard for humanities research as activity reducible to modes of "reading, writing, reflection, and rustication" (para. 9). Why new methods?, Unsworth asks.

After establishing a correspondence between research in the sciences and research in the humanities, Unsworth argues that both applied and basic research are manifest in the humanities. Particularly where humanities scholars give readings (i.e, humanities as a hermeneutic enterprise), knowledge is subject to revision from any number of forces: shifting theoretical stances, new or unraveled evidence, and so on. The same is true for the sciences: "all you can do is offer a hypothesis that withstands being disproven, for some period of time, until contradictory evidence or a better account of the evidence comes along" (para. 14). A proof/disproof opposition, however, runs the risk of favoring rationalism and positivism rather than speculation. This isn't Unsworth's problem, of course, but it continues to be important to emphasize hybrids and complexity rather than singular models that win out because of any selective treatment of evidence.

The new methods Unsworth proposes are best demonstrated by the NORA Project. What do these methods do? "Data-mining delivers a new kind of evidence into the scene of reading, writing, and reflection, and although it is not easy to figure out sensible ways of applying this new research method (new, at least, to the humanities), doing so allows us to check our sense of the gestalt against the myriad details of the text, and sometimes in that process we will find our assumptions checked and altered, almost in the way that evidence sometimes alters assumptions in science" (para. 29). So we have new evidence and (potentially) unprecedented forms of knowledge made possible by differential treatments of texts (and related metadata). We have an electrate complement, an expanded, though not inherently contentious, pluriverse of evidence: patterns, clusters, maps, concentrations, and networks of association. Importantly, Unsworth, while advocating for new methods, returns to pragmatic questions: how can these processes contribute to the things literary scholars already do? Take the tracing of terms, for example. Interested in how particular words and phrases rise, fall, transform, evolve? Term-tracing is a fairly common activity in studies of texts; new, computational methods make a tremendous contribution in this regard.

Unsworth draws an important distinction between search-and-retrieval processes (i.e., building a better search engine) and new methods which "produce new knowledge by exposing similarities or differences, clustering or dispersal, co-occurence and trends" (para. 17). This doesn't mean that search-and-retrieval is unimportant, but it does effectively suggest that there's more to the new methods than devising a search scheme more likely to summon efficient returns. I need to return to this point when I work through the differences between the text-mining to tagging ( and text-mining to tagclouds (Mehta's tagline slider). The first is, in large part, motivated by search and association; the second is motivated by visual epistemology and layered listing (a distinctly different arrangement and presentation). Both have bearing on circulation, on keeping step with expanding circulatory means, but we must avoid reducing text-mining to improved search-and-retrieval.

Phrases: doing research (para. 2), theory/method (5), systematic (methodical) thinking (6), recurring conventional units (11), text-mining tool development (18), lack of explicit awareness (23), cyberinfrastructure (34).

"The other word in my title, "method," raises some issues of its own. A method is a procedure, or sometimes more specifically (as in French) a "system of classification, [a] disposition of materials according to a plan or design" (OED). In the 1980s, in graduate school (and in job interviews), one sometimes faced the daunting question "what's your methodology?" Usually, what that meant was "what's your theoretical bent: what theoretical flag do you fly?" There was an older sense of methodology still in force, though: dissertations still sometimes had chapters on methodology, and graduate programs in English were wrestling with whether or not to discard requirements for coursework in research methods (which essentially meant bibliography, sometimes with library research methods included). Most departments eventually did do away with this requirement, and by the 1990s, "research" seemed to happen mostly without attention to method." (5)

"The goal of the nora project is to produce text-mining software for discovering, visualizing, and exploring significant patterns across large collections of full-text humanities resources from existing digital libraries and scholarly projects." (16)

"In search-and-retrieval, we bring specific queries to collections of text and get back (more or less useful) answers to those queries; by contrast, the goal of data-mining (including text-mining) is to produce new knowledge by exposing similarities or differences, clustering or dispersal, co-occurrence and trends" (17).

"There are many more challenges than I'll mention tonight, but perhaps the greatest challenge, at the outset and still today, has been in figuring out exactly what data-mining really has to offer literary research, at a level more specific than the cleverly non-specific generalities I offered in my opening description of nora ("software for discovering, visualizing, and exploring significant patterns across large collections of full-text humanities resources"). What patterns would be of interest to literary scholars?" (21).

"[O]ne could (in principle) do this kind of modeling and even the quantitative analysis without computers: you could model the crystal palace with toothpicks and plastic wrap; you could do the painstaking word-counting and frequency comparison by hand. But you wouldn't, because there are other interesting things you could do in far less time" (30).

"[W]e hope that when it is complete the report will help to foster the development of the tools and the institutions that we require in order to reintegrate the human record in digital form, and make it not only practically available but also intellectually accessible to all those who might be interested in it" (34).

Related sources:

Feyerabend, Paul. Against Method. 1975. 3rd Ed. New York: Verso, 1993.

Friday, March 9, 2007

More Spring, Less Break

Today marks the beginning of Spring Break. I can't reliably predict the future, but I have a strong hunch that instead of realizing a sweet harmony between those two fine words, spring and break, the former will far and away outshine the latter in the days to come: Forty-degree temps (finally!) and a heapuva pile of work. I'm not sure any further elaboration is due. In fact, that title right there is pretty well an entry unto itself.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Provisional Bibliography

Below the fold, a provisional bibliography for the dissertation prospectus.

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Ball, Philip. Critical Mass. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.

Barabasi, Alberto-Laszlo. Linked. New York: Perseus, 2002.

Bazerman, Charles. "A Relationship between Reading and Writing: The Conversational Model." College English 41 (Feb. 1980): 656-61.

Berthoff, Ann E. "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument." The Territory of Language. Ed. Donald A. McQuade. Carbondale, Ill.: SIU Press, 1986. 227-237.

Berthoff, Ann E. Forming, Thinking, Writing: The Composing Imagination. Montclair, N.J.: Boynton Cook, 1982.

Berthoff, Ann E. "Rhetoric as Hermeneutic." CCC 42.3 (1991): 279-287.

Bialostosky, Don. "Should College English be Close Reading?" College English 69.2 (2006): 111-116.

Borges, Jorge Luis.Ficciones.. New York: Grove, 1962.

Brand, Stewart. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Drucker, Johanna. "Graphesis: Visual Knowledge Production and Representation."

Foster, David. "What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Composition?" JAC 8 (1988): 30-40.

Fulkerson, Richard. "Summary and Critique: Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century." CCC 56.4 (2005): 654-687.

Geisler, Cheryl. "Toward a Sociocognitive Model of Literacy: Constructing Mental Models in a Philosophical Conversation." Textual Dynamics of the Professions. Ed. Charles Bazerman and James Paradis. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1990. 171-90.

Gibson, James J. "The Theory of Affordances." Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing. R.E. Shaw and J. Bransford, eds. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1977.

Gibson, James J. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Picktaneous Bracketbustion

Almost time once again to close your eyes and guess away as you fill out your bracket for this year's NCAA basketball tournament. That's right. Make picks against the sharpest basketball futurologists in all of blogspace for the fourth consecutive year. You are hereby invited to join this year's tournament group on Yahoo!, Picktaneous Bracketbustion (ID# 43131). Free, free, free (steep costs if you have any pick-making pride, however). Questions? Go ahead and dish me an email: dmueller at All are welcome, bloggers, non-bloggers, referees, whiners, and even those who, as if they'd been bumped on the head, would pick Ohio State to go all the way (kidding?). The group will hold 1 winner and 49 others who, come April, can at least say, "hey, nice that it's April." At stake: prestige, reputation, etc. Promote this at your own blog, too, if you're so inclined (also circulate it via email, listservs, whatever).

Yahoo! Tournament Pick'em
Group: Picktaneous Bracketbustion (ID# 43131)
Password: ewm
Set your picks after the selection show on Sunday, March 11. Sign up before the start of round one, five minutes before tip-off on Thursday, March 15.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Attention Plateaus

What is the attentional counterpart to a fitness plateau?

The fitness plateau happens when a workout routine goes flat. One answer, then, is the anti-routine, a varied circuit stoked by variability, a notch above cross-training.

Without going too far with the brain-muscle metaphor, I like the idea of attention plateaus for the (inevitable?) flattening off of a given project. Sure, some projects will have plateaus before ramping up again. But attention plateaus account for the stall-out. Something like a precognitive habitus at the point where it is a drain, applying a slow deceleration. Brake.

It goes not only to writing projects but to reading rhythms. A spark of interest. Eventually, an attention plateau, a lull. Flattening, interest dwindles. Also with RSS feeds. Could feed readers allow for this? Could it include a feature that would allow me to table a feed so that it updates only every two weeks while another one updates every day, and another updates every month?

Attention plateaus are not a permanent condition, right? Their impermanence includes a built-in argument for the returns on disruption, variety and purposive digression, like Stone's "continuous partial attention."

Program Investment

With the weekend after my graduate program's visiting days trailing to a close, I've been thinking a lot about program ownership and investment. Wednesday night through Saturday morning, we hosted a group of prospective students, much like we do every year in late February or early March. Because I was on the graduate committee last year, I was heavily involved in the process, and two years ago, as a first-year student, I made every effort I could to welcome the prospective students, to spend time with them, answer their questions, and chat about the culture of our program, the styles of various faculty members, the challenges that come along with teaching undergraduates at SU, and so on. This year, however, I missed meeting any of the students on the first day because they were scheduled for various meetings throughout the day and the more casual evening events conflicted with an indoor soccer match on Ph.'s schedule. The second day, Friday, was loaded up with my preparations for the pre-CCCC talk. Finally, at the evening get-together and again at a breakfast on Saturday morning, I had the chance to get to know each of them a bit better. A terrific group, really. We'd be fortunate to have them here.

Given the various turnouts, however, this year's visiting days has me thinking about who lays claim to the program, who steers it, who gives it its shape, who carries it on their shoulders, etc. Of course, the program, in a strict sense, is the university's. Administrative decisions trickle down, governing the possibilities for the program and also setting limits. That's a given, I suppose. But I'm thinking, too, about the ratio of investment among faculty and students. It's never so neat as "all faculty" are thoroughly and equally invested (as measured by?) nor as "all students" are thoroughly and equally invested (as measured by?). But rather than talk about my own program in this regard, because I don't want to depict my program as faculty-heavy or student-heavy in terms of involvement ratios, instead I want to pose the questions about who owns the program. Whose stake is greater in efforts to recruit a prospective cohort? The question can be worked any number of ways.

My first thought--on Saturday, when I started mulling this over--was that the faculty, of course, have greater stakes. Faculty, in one sense, are the program (try to have a program without them). They define it; their decisions shape the curriculum; their mentoring and guidance have tremendous bearing on the development of students, interests, professional trajectories. That said, I don't have any idea whether such things are made explicit to faculty at most programs (in any contract or job description or conversation with a department chair or dean) or even whether faculty are on the same page regarding the degree to which their individual actions permeate the culture of the program. Again, SU aside, I suppose this would work very differently from place to place. Or perhaps not. It is also difficult to measure the value of any encounter with students, difficult to separate the faculty-as-collective from faculty-as-individuals. Is a well-taught graduate course of greater significance than behind-the-scenes advising? Is a fifteen-minute formal presentation to prospective students given greater weight than a full three hours of relatively superficial niceties? Volatile and irregular, the bases for these comparisons.

But the more I've been thinking about it, the more I have been thinking that the graduate students must carry the heavier side of the ratio in terms of laying claim to the program and its culture. Graduate students influence faculty decisions, too, though perhaps to a lesser degree than they influence ours. But when we leave a program, we will be forever associated with the program; that is, association with the program lasts with us in ways that are not quite the same for faculty, particularly for those faculty who will stop over at multiple institutions (this one, this stop-over becomes one among many in such cases).

It's a mistake to bifurcate faculty and students, to insist that one group or the other must tow the load of program culture. It's a tidier division in thought-experiment than in any actual program, I suppose. Maybe such things as highly differential faculty investment are discussed openly at faculty meetings. I don't know. I also wonder whether such matters should be addressed explicitly with students and how, assuming it is appropriate, one would go about reminding everyone that the program's culture is in their hands, if it's in the hands of anyone, that is. I mean that the program is defined by students, in equal part whether they are tend to be participatory (additive) or non-participatory (absent). Something like an employee-owned model of graduate education.

To return to the example of my own program and my place in it, the success of the prospective students matters every bit as much to me as the publishing being done by our faculty, the currents in our undergraduate curriculum, the careers of alumni, the reputations of recent grads, the rotation of faculty through various appointments in the program, the rates of faculty exiting, and so on. Complex systems and then some. There's a lot going on. These aren't substitutes for my own activities (progress on the diss, conference presentations, collegiality and whatnot) but neither are they discrete or isolated, especially where the program's reputation is in focus.

I suppose it seems like I'm tip-toeing around some unspoken happening. Not really. Nothing prompted me into these lines of thought besides a genuine question about mutuality in graduate program recruitment--the distribution of the load we bear in performing the program and shaping both its culture and its reputation, not only for the two days prospective students visit each spring, but for the rest of time. Personalizing this discovery might make this thinking-down-a-path clearer: the culture of the program and my own actions are, pretty much from the day I accepted admission, integral.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Bottom Tooth

While I'm on a roll with news about mouths: Baby-do (who also goes by Goo-goo D) has the sharp nub of her first tooth showing. No. 25, central incisor.

No. 25. That's the same tooth, in cahoots with its flesh-shredding partner, No. 24, who incised my lip Tuesday night. Coincidence? And of course, by bottom tooth, I mean low-down, good-for-nothing ('cept chewing), rogue tooth.

Related: My lip is healing nicely (although I think something is tripped up with the nerves running through the lower lip region. From swelling? I don't know. But when I drop something, like I did when I was putting way folded laundry this afternoon, I get an unusual, almost reflexive, twinge of pain in my lip.)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

At Seven Mos.

Here's a shot of cuteness to restore equilibrium to the universe following yesterday's report on the lip. Is. is seven months today.

Also of note, I put the final few words on the first draft of my CCCC paper. It needs to be reworked in a couple of places, but what stands is solid enough for tomorrow's colloquium.