Thursday, January 31, 2008

Where Has the Month Gone?

Time by Activity - 08-Jan

Stevens and Williams, "The Footnote, in Theory"

Stevens, Anne H., and Jay Williams. "The Footnote, in Theory." Critical Inquiry 32 (Winter 2006): 208-225.

Opening questions: What have readers of Critical Inquiry read since the journal's inception? How does the range of reading get reflected in the articles themselves? In the footnotes? And, finally, what patterns can be amplified by fairly simple methods of tallying citation frequency and then relating the rates of frequency by arbitrarily selected (but consistent) periods of time? Stevens and Williams work at each of these questions, and they sketch a fairly compelling "distant reading" of the journal (and object of study), Critical Inquiry, since it was first published in 1974. Although the presentation of their tallies is not visual in quite the same way as Moretti's, they do incorporate three tables: one showing citation-counts by theorist per five-year period; one showing the top-ten most often cited theorists in each five-year period, and one listing the 95 most frequently cited theorists over the full life of the journal.

Their first section focuses on footnoting practices. I gather than in Critical Inquiry footnotes serve a double-function as they gather references to sources and also fill up with an author's asides, explanations, and extra-textual elaboration (this is true, as well, for CCC before 1987, with the exception of one or two articles). It's clear that Stevens and Williams worked with footnotes, not with works cited listings or some other list of references from the end of each article. They are also clear about the scope of their project. The insights their work produces are limited to the journal, a journal, they note, "is notoriously define" (209).

After discussing some of the ways footnotes operate as a space for intensities and passions to play out or for choices to be defended they gradually incorporate some of the tallies and, with those, a few of the complicating factors, like self-citation and the matter of 137 articles in the history of CI not using footnotes at all (no telling how big this is relative to the entire sample). The bulk of the data-mining took place among a team of four researchers--Stevens and Williams included--in 2004. They parsed the footnotes, recording a theorist-reference each time a name appeared in footnotes in association with a unique work in a given article. Repeat references in a single article were not counted as multiple occurrences (212). They also explain their reasons for not simply involving a library database, such as Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI): the collection is too limited and wouldn't provide them with the exhaustive account they sought. And it was easier, they note, simply to use the paper copies of the journal (218).

Stevens and Williams discovered that not only has the number of footnotes in CI increased over the past fifteen years, but that the length of footnotes has, on average, doubled: "Our study in fact shows that not only have footnotes grown in length but that nearly half of the footnotes we counted appeared in only the last ten years" (220). Are there academic journals for which this has not happened?

Further Considerations

  • They include the paragraph from CI about how the journal characterize itself? (formal statements) (209)
  • Why settle on 95 theorists? What explains this choice? Also, what is at stake in keeping regular collaborators as pairs, especially when some of them also have individual works? S&W keep together Gilbert and Gubert, Hardt and Negri, Marx and Engels, and others. But how was an individual reference to Hardt, let's say, taken into account with the co-authored publications?
  • Their larger list of 147 theorists is selective (not organic or comprehensive): "We selected seminal figures from the major fields we publish, particularly literary criticism, art history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and social theory" (212).
  • They discuss the unevenness of footnotes or the degree to which they are deployed unsystematically and, in some ways, according to one's style and preference.
  • Does casual citation or commonplace reference (i.e., mention that does not warrant full bibliographic citation) become more likely as authors are more confident about their own knowledge? Or more knowledgeable about their audiences? Is this a symptom of a close-knit group of contributors and readers or is it suggestive of some other, larger forces?
  • "It might be argued that these constants, this theoretical canon, are evidence of a closed shop, so to speak, that the journal only reproduces itself, privileging articles that cite the 'right' theorists. Just as a healthy journal depends on a stable of authors to give it a consistent identity, so too does a journal, any journal, tend to replicate itself" (223). What makes a healthy journal? When is divergence in citation more a matter of eclecticism than balkanization?
  • From this, do we get a window on whose stock is rising and dropping?

"Doesn't the breeziness of citation, its offhand and seemingly arrogant nature signal that the essay as a whole commits one of the sins of the well-established author, that is, the need to skip serious, rigorous, time-consuming research in order to reach for grand and majestic statements?" (211).

Where Has the Day Gone?

Portion of Time by Activity

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Writing Feverlets*

Curious about her critique of Derrida's Archive Fever, I picked up a copy of Carolyn Steedman's Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida's concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud's Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive, via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida's characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in translation from Mal d'Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever's pitch; Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida's glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

Steeedman suggests that Derrida, in questioning the concept of archivization, was late to the game: "There was a further puzzlement (or more accurately, a bemusement feigned to mask a kind of artisant irritation) among those who knew the 'archival turn' to be well underway by 1994, with Derrida merely (though compellingly) providing a theoretical perspective on the institution of archives, the practices of reading and writing attendant on them, and the system of regulation and coercion they have (sometimes) underlined" (2). Here, identifying Derrida's tardiness to the conversation, next Steedman pairs him with Foucault and suggests that Derrida is merely winding down a path blazed by Foucault in the 1960s with The Archaeology of Knowledge. This all seems reasonable, except that Steedman downplays Derrida's insights on digital circulation. In twenty-first century discourse networks, an institutional (or disciplinary) memory is differently distributed (this strand of Derrida's lecture in 1994 seems to me to make him early rather than late, at least in terms of oncoming changes for archives because of digitization). As I read it, this is the point where Steedman's critique could be more lenient or forgiving than it is.

Steedman has more to say about Derrida, about magistrates, and about Michelet's work in the archive (some of which draws on an essay from Barthes I haven't read). Here's a sample of what she writes about the fever she knows so well, even relishes:

Typically, the fever--more accurately, the precursor fever*--starts in the early hours of the morning, in the bed of a cheap hotel, where the historian cannot get to sleep. You can not get to sleep because you lie so narrowly, in an attempt to avoid contact with anything that isn't shielded by sheets and pillowcase. The first sign, then, is an excessive attention to the bed, an irresistible anxiety about the hundreds who have slept there before you, leaving their dust and debris in the fibres of the blankets, greasing the surface of the heavy, slippery counterpane. The dust of others, and of other times, fills the room, settles on the carpet, marks out the sticky passage from the bed to bathroom. (17)

Oye! To-do list: Reconsider the hotel booked for CCCC in April. As if the dust in the cheap hotel isn't enough, Steedman continues, describing the rising acuity of the hotel's built-in, built-up rattiness as a "screen anxiety." "What keeps you actually the archive, and its myriad of the dead, who all day long, have pressed their concerns upon you. You think: these people have left me the lot.... You think: I could get to hate these people; and then: I can never do these people justice; and finally: I shall never get it done" (17-18). Can their differences be summed up like this?: Steedman's work hinges on the past, the rank traces of dust (as material remnant of people and things); Derrida has concern for a fixation on the exhaustibility of the past the, in its obsessive pursuit, does not sufficiently heed the futurist orientation of the archive. Probably this is too simple.

I am losing hope that this one blog entry will mend the gap between Steedman and Derrida. I will shelve it in case I need to figure this out later (also because Steedman is not yet in the diss or my CCCC talk, for that matter). Before setting the entry to post, here are two more excerpts I want to hold onto:

This is what Dust is about; this is what Dust is: what it means and what it is. It is not about rubbish, nor about the discarded; it is not about a surplus, left over from something else: it is not about Waste. Indeed, Dust is the opposite thing to Waste, or at least, the opposite principle to Waste. It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone. Nothing can be destroyed. (164)

Curious here is whether Derrida works according to a similar set of principles: "It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone." Dust: no ends; AF: no origins.

Still more: Reading in a chapter called "The Story of Dust," Steedman's polarization of dust and waste is repeated; this time, however, it comes with a reference to Moretti:

Dust--the Philosophy of Dust--speaks of the opposite of waste and dispersal; of a grand circularity, of nothing ever, ever going away. There were complex, articulate and well-understood languages developed to express this knowledge, a few of which I have mentioned. And I suggest that Dust is another way of seeing what Franco Moretti described as the nineteenth-century solution to the violent ruptures of the late eighteenth century, a solution found in narrative. (166)

I am intrigued--even feverish (perhaps only struck with a passing feverlet)--by these tensions: narrative and database, a past-ist and futurist orientation for archivization, the im/permanence of material and digital substrates (nothing ever! going away, except when a hard drive crashes or a thumb drive takes an accidental tumble in the clothes dryer and no data is rescued in the lint trap). Different dusts, then, and different problems for archives, for the work of archivization and circulation, through which traces either go on or collapse into the brew.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Smith, "Cataloging and You"

Smith, Tiffany L. "Cataloging and You: Measuring the Efficacy of a Folksonomy for Subject Analysis." Ed. Joan Lussky. Proceedings 18th Workshop of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group in Classification Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 2007.

Smith establishes a basis for comparison between the user-generated folksonomies developed in association with Library Thing and the Library of Congress Subject Headings for the same works. Her central research question attempts to reconcile each of the systems with matters of "efficacy and accuracy." In these terms, both folksonomies and the LCSH system have their limitations: folksonomies area hampered by variability (no shared vocabulary is imposed where folksonomies flourish); on the other hand, the LCSH is challenged by "currency, exclusions, and latencies" (para. 6). Smith explains each of these limitations in a fair amount of detail (paras. 7-10). She notes that the LCSH system is slow to adapt (might its inertia be its purported strength?), and yet, the flexible vocabularies we find in folksonomic classification tends to introduce redundancy that might mischaracterize and, therefore, mislead.

Smith also accounts for the problem of inflexible categorization schemes and latency. Controlled vocabularies cannot adapt to that which has never been done before. Another limitation for the LCSH is what she calls "pre-coordinate indexing" (a synonym, I assume, for the preformed taxonomy):

Pre-coordinate indexing forces the cataloger to prognosticate in relation to what future users will find of value in the information entity. There will necessarily be some aspects of every text that the cataloger does not include. The problem, of course, is that these areas constitute latencies of the book's subject that may compromise retrieval of information. This is further exacerbated by the issue of catalogers' quotas and a contributing issue: we don't get to read the entirety of most of the books that we catalog. (para. 11)

The point about not reading and cataloging or partially reading and cataloging introduces an intriguing twist here: What sort of knowledge is involved in the act of classification in either system? How greatly does this knowledge differ? And is it the varying thickness of this knowledge (re: thin slicing) what unsettles skeptics of folksonomic classification systems (as popular, participatory method)?

Within this long-ish quotation, I am also interested in the notion of a system that tends to stagnate because it cannot anticipate the scholars of the future. Derrida gets at this in Archive Fever, and it would be interesting to look at this tension against Carolyn Steedman's treatment (rebuttal, of sorts) of AF in Dust. How does Dust deal with classification or position the "breath it in" archivist as one whose indexical acts carry forward (draped in ethics, anticipation, and so on)?

Back to the article: Smith identifies her comparative approach as "exploratory" and "crude," and although I have a different interest in tagging practices than hers (efficacy and accuracy), I regard this as a solid overview, one well-grounded in a promising lit review (see below) that makes sense of the relationship between taxonomy and folksonomy relative to a smart Web 2.0 application in Library Thing. Smith's methods are visible on a different scale in the second half of the essay, where she works through the comparisons of five books according to how they are labeled in each of the systems.

Smith's lit review is one of the strong points of this piece. Here are a few items from the works cited that stand out to me, and that I will track down when I return to questions of tagging practices (how best to describe them, differentiate them, teach others about them, etc.) in revisions of Chapter Three:

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Guy, Marieke, and Emma Tonkin. "Folksonomies: Tidying Up Tags?" D-Lib Magazine 1 (2005), 24 Apr. 2007 <>.

Hammond, Tony. "Social Bookmarking Tools (I): a General Review." D-Lib Magazine 11 (2005). 24 Jan. 2007 .

O'Connor, Brian C. Explorations in Indexing and Abstracting: Pointing, Virtue, and Power. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.

Svenonius, Elaine. The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Day Will Improve

1. Step onto the ice-glazed front steps. Slip sideways, regain footing (close!) and, in doing so, aggravate the knotted muscle spasms in the right shoulder region of the upper back--lingering pains of an ergonomically compromised dissertating position, no doubt.

2. Back out of the garage, and, because your head won't turn to the side without sharp pain (see no. 1), smash sidelong into the garbage can that was strategically placed in a blind spot last night by Ph. Blame and cussing (an uncontrolled channeling of my father)! More blame and cussing!

3. Watch with a sigh as the garbage scattered onto the driveway and street, both of which are slickovered with the ice from a freezing drizzle that continues to fall steadily.

4. Ph. to me: I don't know why some of that stuff wasn't in a garbage bag. Me to Ph.: Me neither.

5. Bless his heart, he skated inside and grabbed a bag, picked up the refuse, and jumped back in the car, unaffected.

6. On the drive to his school, skid through the stop sign at the first intersection. Not a busy intersection. Nobody was looking, except for Ph., who, had I been able to turn my neck and look at him, probably was smiling a small smile at the driving anti-lesson I'd put on.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Like So Many Mushrooms

To prepare for an orientation meeting in the Writing Center tomorrow, today I leafed back through North's "The Idea of a Writing Center," which is on the short list of recommended readings that will be used to prime the conversation in the meeting. I suppose this just proves what I'd already suspected: I haven't been reading nearly enough lately, but I find North's 1984 CE essay both funny and edgy in a drop-the-gauntlets sort of way. His intensity shows; he is not bored with what he is writing. Consider this passage:

People make similar remarks [about error] all of the time, stopping me or members of my [Writing Center] staff in the halls or calling us into offices, to discuss--in hushed tones, frequently--their current "impossible" or difficult students. There was a time, I will confess, when I let my frustration get the better of me. I would be more or less combative, confrontational, challenging the instructor's often well-intentioned but not very useful "diagnosis." We no longer bother with such confrontations; they never worked out very well, and they risk undermining the genuine compassion our teachers have for the students they single out. Nevertheless, their behavior makes it clear that for them, a writing center is to illiteracy what a cross between Lourdes and a hospice would be to serious illness: one goes there hoping for miracles, but ready to face the inevitable. In their minds, clearly, writers fall into three fairly distinct groups: the talented, the average, and the others; and the Writing Center's only logical raison d'etre must be to handle those others--those, as the flyer proclaims, with "special problems." (435)

North also spars with Maxine Hairston's off-handed remarks about writing centers in her "Winds of Change" essay, where she writes, "Among the first responses were the writing centers that sprang up about ten years ago [1972] to give first aid to students who seemed unable to function within the traditional paradigm. Those labs are still with us, but they're still only giving first aid and treating symptoms. They have not solved the problem" (82, qtd. in North). North calls this a "mistaken history" (among other things); he tells of the anger he felt in "read[ing] one's own professional obituary" (436), and adds that "her dismissal fails to lay the blame for these worst versions of writing centers on the right heads. According to her 'sprang up' historical sketch, these places simply appeared--like so many mushrooms?--to do battle with illiteracy" (437).

The second half of the essay is more constructive; he details his vision for the new writing centers and how they hinge on professionalism, a nuanced understanding of process (also processual complexity), and principles of writers rather than texts alone. I have a few more notes posted here, and it's possible (though not promised) that I will have more to blog in the months ahead about my appointment in the Writing Center this spring.

Writing Center Orientation 2008

Reigstad, Thomas J. and Donald A. McAndrew. Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2001. 1-30.

These four chapters work through general points related to writing center work. Each chapter consists of bullet-list-like entries, and, as such, the summary notes are best presented as follows:

Chapter One: Theories Underpinning Tutoring Writing

  • Social constructionism: grounded in Bruffee, Bakhtin, and Vygotsky.
  • Reader response: grounded in Bleich's subjective criticism and Rosenblatt's transactional criticism.
  • Talk and writing: emphasis on the power of oral language and conversation.
  • Collaborative learning: emphasis on participatory models of engagement in learning.
  • Feminism: very brief discussion of "women's psychology" and "connected knowing"

Chapter Two: Research Supporting Writing Groups
The second chapter is a brief bibliographic essay (only empirical studies, they note), on peer response groups, conferences, and tutoring (in general, emph. literacy, and emph. writing).

Chapter Three: What Tutoring Writing Isn't
A series of anti-examples:

  • The Editor-Journalist Model: editors tend to be authoritative; journalists often have no choice but to accept heavy-handed corrections (this is how it is depicted, anyway).
  • Cheerleading: Atwell: "Avoid generalized praise." It is better to be candid and honest. Agreed.
  • Correcting errors: Exercise caution not to over-emphasize lower-order concerns before considering higher-order concerns.
  • Therapy: "Do not fall into the trap of becoming the writer's counselor or therapist."
  • Usurping ownership: Remain sensitive to the tutor's recommendations dominating the student's sense of the available options.
  • Being an expert: Don't be a know-it-all.
  • Responding too late: Preferable to work well in advance of deadlines.

Chapter Four: The Writing and Tutoring Processes
This chapter works to complicate processual neatness, and replaces it, instead, with the senses of chaos and fuzziness that govern writing and tutoring. The strong emphasis here is on recursivity, the braid of "generating, translating, and reviewing" that goes on continuously. This complicates the temporality of writing, and should be taken into account in the writing center. Tutoring approaches break down into student-centered, collaborative, and teacher-centered. Along with a final emphasis on chaos and fuzziness, the chapter ends with a discussion of gesture and posture (sit at corner so tutor and writer can see each other and the draft).

Rafoth, Ben. "Helping Writers to Write Analytically." A Tutor's Guide. 2nd ed. Ed. Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2005. 76-84.

This short article echoes many of the points made by Reigstad and McAndrew. Drawing on Bruffee, Rafoth begins by emphasizing conversation as a method for expanding a writer's sense of the possibilities for writing (this is a shift away from individualistic cognition or what he calls a "thinking problem"). Tutoring sessions should be structured around a "shared purpose," he contends, and he goes on to offer practices that will ground a productive session: the examination of perspective, the addition of complexity (viz., missed opportunities, counterpoints, or point of view), and the use of outside sources as "back-up singers" (80). He ends with a point about adding complexity through dialogue--complicating matters by probing more deeply with questions. Conversation is, for Raforth, crucial to analysis, but analysis is an underdeveloped method here--he never deals in much depth with what analysis is, what it does, or what are alternatives to analyzing.

"In most academic writing in the humanities and social sciences that calls for analysis of some issue or controversy, a key move is to define and explain problems, not to solve them" (79).

Gunner, Jeanne. "A Return to the Rhetoric of the Sentence." 11 Jan. 2008. MacGraw Hill Higher Education. Jan. 2002 <>.

Gunner contends that students must be adept at sentence-level matters if they are to be successful with rhetorics of other scales. She refers to Shaughnessy's Errors and Expectations and Lanham's Analyzing Prose as a pair of texts key to her premise in this piece: "the syntactic knowledge of basic writing combined with the purposes of rhetorical study" (para. 2). Gunner emphasizes variation, the placement of clauses that will enrich an otherwise linear style and effect different commands of a reader's attention. The essay includes examples of the effects brought about by participial phrases, adding appositives, and gaining proficiency with variations in punctuation. These techniques make the writing--on a sentence-level--recursive rather than linear.

Brooks, Jeff. "Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All the Work." The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Eds. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003. 169-174.

Brooks elaborates North's contention that Writing Centers are concerned foremost with improving writers rather than refining the papers they carry in with them. He does so strongly and with conviction, opening with a "worst case scenario" in which the tutor points out mechanical errors and sends the student away with a better paper, having done little to teach the student. The breakdown parallels the advice expressed by Reigstad and McAndrew about the journalist-editor relationship. Brooks also argues that tutors are successful if they can persuade students to pay more careful attention to their writing (171).

The second half of the short piece introduces several maxims for "basic minimalist tutoring":

  1. "Sit beside the student, not across a desk" (171). This is one of many Feng Shui rules for posture and position; odd about this is that it comes down as a truism rather than sensitizing the tutor to the importance of an adaptive disposition that could be necessary for any number of reasons (situation, cultural variation, etc.).
  2. "Try to get the student to be physically close to her paper than you are" (171). Why not have two copies? No, really, this one makes sense.
  3. "If you are right-handed, sit on the student's right" (172).
  4. "Have the student read the paper aloud to you" (172).

Brooks also includes numbered lists for "Advanced Minimalist Tutoring" and "Defensive Minimalist Tutoring":

  1. "Concentrate on success in the paper, not failure" (172).
  2. "Get the student to talk" (172).
  3. "If you have time...give the student a discrete writing task" (173).

If things are not going well, use Brooks' defensive strategies:

  1. "Borrow student body language" (173). This seems to me to assume too much about the situation; better to adapt according to a full sense of the dynamics involved (including why).
  2. "Be completely honest with the student who is giving you a hard time" (173).

Severino, Carol. "Avoiding Appropriation." ESL Writers: A Guide For Writing Center Tutors. Eds. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2004. 48-59.

Severino's article addresses the problems involved with conversational "reformulation," the variety of appropriation in which a tutor can commandeer the language choices of an L2 writer. She opens by recounting an experience with a language teacher in Italy who effectively re-wrote her prose: "Almost every sentence was changed and elevated to a higher register" (49). For fairly obvious reasons, Severino thinks this can be damaging; appropriation obscures the language choices of the author, and this must be avoided. Taken to its extreme limits, the idea of avoiding appropriation is difficult to reconcile with teacherlessness or with an extreme hands-off approach to the interaction with the writer. The giving of subtle permission and encouragement can "interfere with students' control of their texts" (51). Of course, this isn't inherently bad; it's just that it has limits. Appropriation (or its less insidious partner, assimilation) is a regular, ongoing function of language use, isn't it? Severino ends her article with a list of 10 ideals to follow in an effort to avoid appropriation and, thereby, to respect "authentic" (i.e., unadulterated) voice:

  1. Accord the ESL writer authority.
  2. Work on higher-order concerns (HOCs) before lower-order concerns (LOCs).
  3. Address expressed needs.
  4. Select particular passages to work on.
  5. Ask writers to participate in reformulation decisions (sometimes using read-aloud).
  6. Use speaking-into-writing strategies.
  7. Explain the recommended changes.
  8. Try to assess language learning.
  9. Avoid misrepresenting the student's language level on the page.
  10. Consider the type of writing.

These can become complicated and are contingent on a large number of factors that bear on any consultancy situation.

Staben, Jennifer and Kathryn Dempsey Nordhaus. "Looking at the Whole Text." ESL Writers: A Guide For Writing Center Tutors. Eds. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2004. 71-83.

Staben and Dempsey emphasize the relevance shared between lower-order concerns and higher-order concerns. In making a case for looking at the whole text, they urge dialogue that stirs up insights into knowledge and reasonable actions related to the writing. Their approach is derived from North's work in "The Idea of a Writing Center," which ranks the improvement of writers above the improvement of text (through Socratic dialogue, patterned questioning, a listening disposition, etc.). They also comment on the value of models (i.e., examples) and honest, candid responses to the text. Staben and Nordhaus contend that many L2 writers view the writing consultant as a "cultural informant" whose knowledge can rescue their texts as they "help them understand the assumptions and expectations of a U.S. academic audience, assumptions that are not usually directly addressed on the assignment sheet" (73). There is some disagreement about the role the tutor must occupy as a cultural informant; certainly, there is a degree to which the tutor helps demystify the process and make it seem more manageable in light of any (misguided) preconceptions about what is expected. The article offers a list of practical advice, from beginning to conversation to being "direct, not directive."

"These are students who often literally cannot see the forest for the trees.: They are so focused on language--on trying to wrestle their complicated thoughts onto paper using language abilities that are not yet sufficient to the task--that they may not realize that the change in language and in culture necessitates a different approach to communicating those thoughts to others" (74).

North, Stephen M. "The Idea of a Writing Center." College English 45.5 (1984): 433-446.

North writes out of frustration about widespread misconceptions about writing centers--their role and function in the scene of writing. His impatience is not so much with those who wouldn't have any reason to think twice about a writing center but instead with his colleagues in Composition Studies: "The source of my frustration? Ignorance: the members of my profession, my colleagues, people I might see at MLA or CCCC or read in the pages of College English, do not understand what I do" (433). North is motivated by this problem; he writes his way into it, blasting through specific references made by Maxine Hairston, who he says gets the history wrong in her "Winds of Change" address and even goes so far as to spell out North's "professional obituary" as a director of a writing center (436). North asserts agency; he argues that the writing centers and the principles they follow belong to "us"--an us he proudly claims. From disassembling claims leveled against writing centers, North shifts--in the second half of the piece--into a mode of positive redescription: "What should they be?" The new writing center focuses on "produc[ing] better writers, not better writing" (438), and this maxim rings through much of the writing center scholarship that follows this 1984 essay.

North characterizes the tutor as a researcher, in a move I think is due for more opening up: "I think probably the best way to describe a writing center tutor is a holist devoted to participant-observer methodology" (439). North explains holism, drawing on Diesing's Patterns of Discovery in the Social Sciences; he introduces a notion of process that is highly flexible and adaptive; and then he recoils a bit from the researcher comparison, commenting, "I do not want to push the participant-observer analogy too far" (439). He works--boldly in some places and tentatively in others--to correct misconceptions while not going too far to idealize the work done in writing centers.

He explains certain advantages held by the writing consultant: "we are here to talk to writers" (440); "we are not the teacher" [as the student seeks us out] (442), and "we can play with options" (443). He emphasizes that students come to the WC to write; they want to be there in almost every case. The WC can function to intensify classroom experiences (440). He also addresses matters of funding and scholarship, resolving that "[o]ne could...mount a pretty strong argument that things have never been better" (445). But the crux of North's "idea" is that we--in writing centers--are first and foremost professional, and that we take ownership of the space and the work done in it, resolving simply to guide and support writers as they write.

"As a profession I think we are holding on tightly to attitudes and beliefs about the teaching and learning of writing that we thought we had left behind" (434).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Albatross Phase

Forty-eight hours remain in what I am now describing as the Albatross Phase of Chapter Four: prepping the data. These forty-eight hours will from now on be known as the "this stinks" leg of the Albatross Phase. Line by line, separating names from author-citations (after omitting "ed." and "eds." and filling in names for the 70+ et al.s in the batch. By the end of Friday, I need to get to the last item, no. 15,082, so that my plan will not become rubbish. Right now I am on no. 8,283. I will go to bed tonight when I reach 10,000--a measure of progress that will put me in coasting mode for Thursday and Friday's paces--so that I can kick back, smile, and savor the overcoming of "this stinks."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pink, Purple, or Heliotrope

Somehow I missed this short--Boundin'--from Pixar when I saw The Incredibles (2004). After I finished the bagel and reading the funnies this morning, Is. and I watched the first seven or eight shorts on Pixar's Short Animations DVD--a nice little gift from the recent holidays, and so we saw it again (for the first time?). Bound, bound, bound, and rebound. Watch this after ms., grant app., and conference proposal rejections?

Asynchronous Earl

I can't remember the last time I read a paper newspaper.

Oh yeah, it was this morning. But I mean before that.

Our Lalo subscribes to the Sunday Post-Standard and has not re-routed it since we moved in last July. Every Sunday, some creature of the pre-dawn night hefts the bagged roll of paper near our front stoop. It seems such a waste for us to carry it, on just the second leg of its long trip, straight to the recycling bin. But newspapers are so--what's the word?--slothful. So, over an everything bagel (while skipping the 10:30 UU service because Is. was wide awake from 2 a.m. until 5), I glanced the funnies. The solo game I secretly play with newspaper funnies is to see whether I can read all of them without even cracking a smile. I call the game "Stoic Is Unmoved." If I can (which, sadly, it is quite possible to do on those rare Sundays when I glance the paper at all--ah, I already said that), I win. If I crack a smile, the newspaper wins. I take this very seriously, as it riles the hyper-competitive side of my personality. A showdown: Me versus old media.

This morning, I lost. I lost because Mother Goose and Grimm ran this. That's right. I smiled because sometimes I feel like Grimm, and sometimes I feel like Earl. And I see in this a comment on lots of other stuff: the buried-ness of one's head while dissertating (to the neglect of much too much), the plight of late-comers to Burke's parlor (those who arrive after the parlor has emptied...poor Earl!), the normative temporality of formal education (in today's market, the efficiency model must be called Toyotaist, rather than Fordist), and more.

Go on, read the comic. If you don't smile, forgive me (also remember to score yourself a winner at "Stoic is Unmoved").

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Et Alia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ways of Working

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cirrus Uncinus

Because some flaws are more glaring when the paint is fresh, before it has dried.

The first word of chapter three's draft: in. The last word: hence. The last word winks at me and smiles. Why? I don't use the word "hence" often. We both know it is not the last word but instead the word that comes--for now--at the end.

I thought I would use something from Everything Is Miscellaneous (Weinberger) or Ambient Findability (Morville), but I have not. They are relievers--back-ups for coming revisions.

More than with the first two chapters, I have reached a point with this one where I am giving it up even though it is only ±85% of good enough. It needs more (not necessarily at the end), but I am giving it a rest on p. 45. In fact, it has grown so tired, I can hear its soft, melodic snoring already.

I thought I might find something epigraphically striking in The Theory of Clouds, a novel I read over the break. There's this, for instance:

Like all things so simple and sublime, clouds pose dangers.... Men are destroyed , and destroy each other over basic things--money or hatred. On the other hand a really complicated riddle never pushed anyone to violence; either you found the answer or gave up looking. Clouds were riddles, too, but dangerously simple ones. If you zoomed in on one part of a cloud and took a photograph, then enlarged the image, you would find that a cloud's edges seemed like another cloud, and those edges yet another, and so on. Every part of a cloud, in other words, reiterates the whole. Therefore, each cloud might be called infinite, because its very surface is composed of other clouds, and those of still other clouds, and so forth. Some like to lean over the abyss of these brainteasers; others lose their balance and tumble into its eternal blackness. (44)

I have thought about posting a review-like entry about this peculiar book on classification, clouds, and, surprisingly, sex. Well, right, it is a French novel. Borrow my copy rather than buy your own--at least until I get the review posted, okay?

The mined cloud for chapter three does not show me anything unexpected, other than the imposter-particle, "mercy." Clouds can be so sublime! And yes, we need more ironic tag clouds.

created at

I also need three more chapters. Chapter four is next, and my aim is to have it drafted by the end of February. It's important that I nail this goal because the peak of conferencing season approaches like a wall of stiff wind shortly thereafter; hence, I will be busy with other stuff for a few weeks come March (nothing of which remotely resembles an exotic spring break, I am sad to say).

Monday, January 7, 2008


Derrida, in Archive Fever: "For the time being, I will pull from this web a single interpretive thread, the one that concerns the archive" (45).

I am trying to bring in just enough Derrida at the end of chapter three to capitalize on his insights about origination myths (not of psychoanalysis, for my purposes, but of composition studies), about archivization as the perpetual rearrangement of data, and about the ways transclusive texts and digitization re-distribute and also re-calibrate institutional (or disciplinary) memory. This and more in 6-8 pages.

It is as if the "single interpretive thread" drawn, like a jump-rope, from the web, is held on one end by Derrida and on the other end by Brand. In this section on "How Archives Learn," I am beginning with the overlap of archives (entering the houses of the Archons) and architecture. The Derrida-Brand skipping is double-dutch, because a second thread--from Brand--is also suspended (another thread) in this early portion of the final section. Two jump-ropes, two jump-rope holders. In their complimentary orbits, the two ropes come close to touching, but they alternate flight paths just enough to avoid touching. And yet I feel intensely the danger of getting tangled up.

As of today, I am four pages (1200 words) into the 6-8 pages I have allowed myself for the section--a necessary cap if I am to keep the chapter under 50 pp. (jeeps, when I promised myself just 35 pp.; so much for control). What remains of the section, however, is well-planned; it will be close.

One challenge has been that there is so much more more more to develop here. For instance, do we have a disciplinarily (or even a post-disciplinarily) shared theory of archivization or memory? And how important is such a thing (not only for online archives or scholarly journals, but also for the preservation of course descriptions, syllabi, listserv exchanges, and so on)? With this, I am not asking about methodologies for dealing with archives of interest to R&C (or of history and historiography, for that matter), but rather of the life cycle of a more explicit class of disciplinary materials. Is it irresponsible (even unethical) not to have greater consensus for archivization or for the "scholar of the future" Derrida writes about? Perhaps.

Next I will return to the matter of learning by squaring with a couple of propositions from Brand. Finally, there will be something on Brand's contrast between adaptation and "graceless turnover" and also on North's statement from The Making of... that "Composition’s collective fund of knowledge is a very fragile entity" (3)--an excerpt I work with briefly in chapter one. Maybe some of this will have to be canned later on. There is always that possibility. The chapter is, after all, building up a discussion of tag clouds, data-mining, and folksonomy, which musn't be abandoned in the concluding section.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


This blog is four years old.

On blogdays past, I haven't done anything special for E.W.M., other than post an entry and cough up another $60 for a year's worth of hosting at icdsoft. But this year, because the blog is starting to mature (notice the many refinements in what takes shape here), I have a small gift for the blog: its own tagline. A tagline is time-based tag cloud. Follow the link, then move the slider to the left and right to see all 48 clouds. My guess is that between the piñata and the tagline, E.W.M. is delivering enough frivolity today that passers-by will never want to leave.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Best Of, Vol. 4

Tomorrow will mark four year's worth of blogging1. The latest one-year cycle generated 204 entries, five more than I posted the year before (the exams-encumbered season of 2006). From the most recent round, here are the best entries, as judged by a distinguished panel of loyal E.W.M. readers and enthusiasts2.

Best Titles

  1. Shar-Pei of May
  2. Michshapen
  3. Heeling Arts
  4. Picktaneous Bracketbustion
  5. Cliff Stitched the Lip

Profound Sentiments

  1. Walking the Walk
  2. Long Jump
  3. #0033BD
  4. At Seven Mos.
  5. Y.

Funniest E.W.M Comic

  1. Hearing, Jack-o
  2. Kibble Debacle

World-Changing Ideas

  1. Databasic Writing
  2. Did Bitzer Draw?
  3. Writers House
  4. How Far Can We Drift?
  5. Chreod: Alignment of Set-ups

1 The official and certified blogday of Earth Wide Moth is January 4, but because the first-ever entry is date-stamped January 6, the latter date is the observed blogday.
2 Due to a sharp drop-off in reader loyalty during the 2007 blogging cycle, Best Of Vol. 4 entries were selected more or less randomly, according to the whimsy of, well, me.

Friday, January 4, 2008

You Know Your Birthplace Is Syracuse When

 from November 1 until March 31 the mittens come off only when you brush your teeth.


I ought to clarify that she's wearing them not because the house is freezing cold (believe me, we send exorbitant amounts of money to National Grid each month to ensure that this drafty rental is toasty warm throughout the winter) but because she likes to wear mittens, indoors and out.

Coming Soon: Best of, Vol. 4

Best of Earth Wide Moth Volume 4

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Afterseason Greetings


Posting this photo now could be judged days late or months early. Happy Whatever-You've-Been-Up-To-In-Recent-Weeks, all the same.

Proceed Deliberately

Here's a maxim to write by: "When you proceed deliberately, mistakes don't cascade, they instruct" (87).

It's from Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn, which I am now working into the final section of chapter three, a section which also will serve as the basis for my CCCC talk in April. There are two bright sides to this; namely, I am almost done drafting chapter three (only a few days past my goal of completing the draft in December), and I have cause to get prepared for CCCC well in advance of the conference. On the dim side: it is demanding a different sort of deliberation to conceive of the section simultaneously in the contexts of the existing chapter's build-up and the conference paper (Blink!: I should quit thinking of it this way.), and writing the ends of things (i.e., sections, chapters) is not like putting the final pieces into a bounded puzzle. With puzzles, there is relief in the reduction of options (only two pieces left); with the stuff I am working on, I experience--and too easily wander off into--an expansion of options. "When you proceed deliberately, options don't instruct, they cascade."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Anokye, "Voices of the Company We Keep"

Anokye, Akua Duku. "2007 CCCC Chair's Address: Voices of the Company We Keep." CCC 59.2 (2007): 263-275.

My interest in this address parallels my interest in all of the chairs' addresses as it is the broadest-reaching gesture to the field of composition studies in any given year. Usually I am able to attend the address, but I missed it in 2007, and so these notes work only from the CCC re-print, not the address as it was performed in New York City.

Anokye keys on familiar ideas in her address: the maxim that "We are known by the company we keep" (263), the historically eclectic, inclusive, and risk-taking ambitions of the organization (265), the cornerstones of teaching and social responsibility (268), and the continuing need for governance structures that value "the members" every bit as much as "the leaders, the megastars, and the chairs" (266). As I read it, the address develops in two halves. In the first half, Anokye enriches the "company we keep" proverb by relating a personal anecdote about her grandmother's 'social shielding' throughout Anokye's Pontiac, Mich., childhood, and then by relaying an Ananse allegory about a farmer who, because he invited disagreeable guests to his planting party, failed to accomplish any planting (the termite ate the corn, the chicken ate the termite, and so on): "What this story teaches me is that if you don't learn to work together, if you don't learn to honor many voices, if you don't learn to get beyond discrimination, mistrust, dishonor, you can't manage a planting party, let along a company, an institution, a place, a unit that will implement collective goals" (265). In the second half, Anokye shares her findings in what she describes as an "oral history research project" and an "ethnographic exploration" she conducted at the 2006 CCCC convention in Chicago. Basically, she "interviewed twenty-three conference attendees, and through conversations the diverse group she accepts that her study provided "representative feedback about what our membership has to say about CCCC--its past present, and future" (267). Anokye looks for patterns in the responses, and she groups the responses by four emergent traits: empathy, social responsibility and justice, teamwork, learning (267). After sharing many of the responses, Anokye explains that CCCC is shifting into a period of "strategic governance" that will enable leaders in the organization to be more responsive to the membership. She also judges her study a success, reporting at the end, that "the interviews I collected last March are a good start in hearing what we think" (274).

How seriously should we take the methods adopted by Anokye, or, for that matter, by any CCCC Chair who incorporates data into their address? Put another way, I am tempted to question how the "representative" interviewees were chosen, and why this method would be better than a more inclusive survey for determining what the membership of the organization thinks. Is it the best methodology, in other words, for the task at hand? For the goal of finding out what 10,000 people think? Without being too explicitly critical (I hedge, because I concur that Anokye's interviews do tell us something), the methods here resemble Nielsen ratings for television. Ask 23; extrapolate to the masses.

But isn't that approach in some ways contradictory to the "company you keep" maxim? I mean, we ask 23 because we cannot reasonably conduct interviews with everyone. The task is too much. We don't, in the strictest sense, keep company with everyone else who belongs to CCCC. I try to write about this in the diss as the disciplinary moment of criticality. Rather than elaborate that here, I should add that this introduces a quandary to the scene: what CGB called 'a fallacy of scale'. "Company you keep" is not far from Latour's "all points local," or from the small-world network (famous to fifteen people, etc.). Does it apply to an organization with several thousand members--an organization so large that everyone in it does not (also cannot!) know everyone else? The leap from 23 interviewees to the total organization is handled like this: "From this study we can find some evidence that regardless of the size of the organization, the company is doing its job to build community and give its membership a place to develop long-lasting relationships" (268, emphasis added). Certainly "some evidence," but the best evidence? What other forms of evidence--what other devices, methods, etc.--would lend weight to these conclusions?

A few other points of interest:

  • "He had been assigned as a Recorder to a 'star-spangled' session. (Recorders are no longer a part of our panel process.)" (268). The recorder: one who documents the session (takes notes, digital video, photos, etc.?). What is the story behind this role? And when did it end?
  • Several references to Daly-Goggin; Authoring a Discipline is the primary source for explaining the origins of CCCC. (Connect the idea of patterned isolation with the "company we keep" maxim and especially Anokye's grandmother's strict enforcement of it).
  • Praxis (266).
  • How else could we know (and make explicitly knowable) the impressions of membership, conference-goers, constituents, etc., other than by these means?

"Some folks don't come anymore because they feel things we focus on are worn out." (271) - From one of the interviewees.