Yes or No?

Found at the elementary school near my house. Text reads:

From: ks
to: Savannah   do you like like
Ziane yes or no        crkll [circle]

(click to enlarge)



I've been writing what I think are the last few pages of what I've been calling my Facebook article this week, a take on Facebook as composition webware and Facebook composition as template composition, and yesterday, while writing about how the template gets detourned (if only slightly), I found myself writing about Craig Dworkin's Reading the Illegible once again. Of the books I've read in the last year, without a doubt Dworkin's has made the biggest impression on me.

So though I've posted a similar version of this elsewhere, here are my thoughts on Reading the Illegible as I typed them up for my reading.database the evening I finished the book:


In this exquisitely legible foray into the poetics of illegibility, Dworkin takes on such forms of confusion.text, and effacement.text, and complex.text as overwritten poetry, overprinted poetry, lined-out passages in poems, and an entirely censored poem by Man Ray, and then moves into land art by Smithson and others—all in order to finally explore the poetics of illegibility more broadly.

Dworkin is unflaggingly obsessed with the avant-garde, and in talking about marginally comprehensible texts, he summons his full array of critical.linguistic.textual.analytic tools to do the job. Each lengthly passage of analysis signifies new ways to read easily dismissable texts. He has no one reductive argument, no simple insistence that "this stuff represents our postmodern, muddled lives" or anything so cheap as that. Instead, Dworkin moves through the various texts he looks at finding them variably meaningful, as clearly their mechanics are quite different.

In the middle of the book lives what I suspect is one of Dworkin's favorite forms, the diastic poetry of Cage and Jackson Mac Low. In those poems, the poets "write through" the cantos of Pound (and others) to produce mechanistic, rule-governed renderings of the larger text. I say that I think Dworkin likes this strategy more than others because it works with the available, the flood of existing text (Humumanent works this way too, of course, as Hayles has discussed) while doing so within rule-governed methods for creation. He likes it, too, because of the Wakean jingles that result, the random playful bits of language that come out if by chance.

This is a book, then, about how to read graffiti on passing trains, about how to read half-effaced ancient signage, about reading overwritten scribbles and notes and all of the text that hangs on the bulletin boards or blows through the streets of our lives. It is a text, too, about not overlooking the illegible, the opaque, the odd and apparently unsignifying. By employing poetics, what does not clearly produce semantic meaning suddenly does, as the activity of social and political artists (see the later discussion of Smithson, for instance) is the activity of such opaque and hard to parse texts. This is poetry as social, political, engaged, and pushing the envelop of meaning. In a constellation of relation, there is Drucker, Pound, Joyce, Cage, Smithson, all the other overwriting and illegible.fetishizing poets, and then there is Dworkin pulling it all together, keeping it all separate, and ultimately currating a fiasco of textual innovation.

This is a map of the innovative, the poetic, the academic, and the original. So, this is the map (to cite Saner).


When Blogs Die

I clicked through my blogroll this morning to find that Thanks for Not Being a Zombie has croaked. Appropriating tombstone rhetoric, the page now reads

Thanks for Not Being A Zombie
(2003-03-01 to 2006-03-01)

Now, since most blogs only last a few weeks, TForNBaZ should be considered to have "led a full life." Still, when blogs die, and here I'm thinking of the painful demise of Invisible Adjunct, I always imagine a story (cause of death) involving the exhausting weight of public communication, habitual writing, and technologically bound generic composition. But does anyone know where TForNBaZ went for real?

(this blog will self destruct in 57 days)


CCCChicago 2006

In asking a few CCCChicago-goers what they think about academic conferences, and in particular Big Conferences, I've heard a few times that the best thing is the chance to see people. The refrain is a familiar one: it's not the talks and meetings so much as the chance to reconnect, make new friends, and attach faces to names. This was certainly true for me at CCCChicago 2006, though I managed to ingest some good presentations, sights, and comestibles.

(click all images for big versions)

A couple of years ago I started bringing my folding bike (well, one of my folding bikes) to conferences, and in Chicago the bike was particularly fun to have. I rode in the mornings, mainly— along the lake, through various neighborhoods, back-and-forth between my hotel and Whole Foods—and all the riding helped me process the social and intellectual input.

On bike around town and on foot at the conference resulted in

Metaspencer's Best Of CCCChicago 2006

Best Bike Ride:
Wednesday afternoon, after settling into hotel-1 and finding I had no obligations until the evening, a long ride north along the lake shore, then cutting back through various northern neighborhoods, and back to downtown. Chicago is a great cycling city with plenty of gritty biketivists.

Best Sculpture Wearing Glasses:

Funniest Presenter:
Cheryl Glenn during and after her talk about silence and rhetoric. This was a great talk for many reasons, but since the award is for humor, I should explain that Cheryl gets this award for her exquisitely dry delivery.

In case you missed this panel, Glenn made arguments for silence as a productive and active participatory tactic/role in conversation and interchange, and thus instrumental in rhetoric as social activity and knowledge creation (oh: also conflict resolution and collaboration). In addition, there was a nice recognition that silence is often an active element in rhetorical expressive arts, some of them bodily (here she turned to the example of last year's International Women's Day protests). This was a great talk and a synergetic panel.

Hottest, Stuffiest, Most Oxygen-Deprived Room:
Jean Ferguson Carr, John Peterson, Susan Miller, and Melissa A. Goldthwaite's panel on "emotional work" and composition. I stood in the back through much of this, swaying, sweating, and then getting periodically banged on the back by the door (that kept opening and closing throughout the presentations). As a result I think I only partially caught what was being said. Carr's talk was neat, or perhaps I should say my oxygen-deprived interpretation of her talk was neat, as it came out of her recent book (I'm guessing), a project about 19th-century writing text books, and confirmed my theory that reading 19th-century texts to an audience brings about laughter 98% of the time. (Aside: This award could alternatively be called "panelists and audience members with the most tolerance for sweat and overcrowding"—as it seemed everyone kept in good spirits though jammed into such a hot and stuffy room.)

(Aside: if I ever plan a conference, it will be outside.)

Most Bloggers in One Physical Place Award:
Blogging SIG meeting on Friday eve, hosted graciously and instructively by Clancy and Mike. I think we may have all been a bit worn down by the time of the meeting, but it was a good session and moved, I think, in ways that will publicize and complicate research and practice relating to using blogs in the classroom.

While I plan to post more on this topic (here and possibly elsewhere), I should note that my own interest in writing and talking about blogs as pedagogical tools is waning. This is not to say that I don't think teaching with and about blogs is productive, and I certainly plan to continue to bring blogs into my classes when it seems useful, but I'm currently like way more interested in 1) the architectural rhetoric of blogs as technological writing template.appliances, and 2) the study of how new concepts emerge through blog-action/interaction using such writing tools.

Best Dinner:
A steaming bowl of hoppin' john at Wish Bone with BP, KE, and Brian Ballentine who offered a smart critique of Lessiginian support for ©-crushing. Not at dinner, but in his talk, Brian used an example of textual recirculation with a difference (tweaked code) that led to a major medical screw up. This reminded me of a post or paper (not sure which yet) I've been wanting to work up critiquing a related but different portion of Lessig's rhetoric (which I think mis-characterizes forms of appropriation relating to anti-capitalist art).

Worst Lunch:
That tired salad I carried around in my bag all day on Thursday and only had a chance to eat at about 4:30. Academic conferences may be too little about food.

Most Productively Complex Talk:

Patricia William's televisually-echoed big-ballroom lecture. Working from the simple typed page (no film here, no Powerpoint, no podcast—just a woman reading a text to a crowd) Williams collaged together:
  • a roving critique of compu-culture and compu-life, characterizing new technologies as inhibiting rich interpersonal connections. Here she described her law students sitting behind their tipped-up screens imputing notes while she lectures, and through that critique gained traction to move

  • to a discussion of genetic profiling and the commodification of Ivy League human eggs. There were many un-revealed warrants in her discussion, but the fever pitch of her possibly paranoiac views helped her move into two other topics that worked to characterize 2005:

  • a personal narrative of disassembly and being forced to sell her family home. This then precipitated a parallel story about moving her father into a nursing home and how that denaturing at first ruined his cultural practices (mainly sartorial), and

  • a meditation on the recent depopulating of New Orleans, complete with a prognostication that oil rigs will extractively loom where neighborhoods once nourished the landscape.

While KE remarked over that yummy dinner (mentioned above) that she "wasn't sure what to do with [William's lecture]," I felt I was already doing things with it as, as a complex text defined by the poetic fragment, Williams composed for us possibility in writing, public address, the personal, complexity, and interwoven verbal collage. This is, of course, the kind of stuff Williams is so good at.

Fastest Reading:
Last to present on his panel and crunched for time, Geoffrey Sirc, clutching his paper before him, read at 90mph through a cascading set of ideas (poetically written: it's Sirc after all). He read and read and read like a blast of Sircian air blowing hard into the conference, drying up the recesses of CCCC that still call for "clarity!" and the other tired mantras of the service-writing classroom.

90 mph, 90 mph came that wind, first forming descriptions about 1960s minimalist sculpture from which, in characteristic fashion, he pulled a concept—serial syntax: a syntax which focuses on attention to the element, the cut, the part ... not the larger constructed whole—which allowed him to then move into comp.history (Kitzhaberian) to move, once again, (90 mph, 90 mph) to an argument in favor of sublimity over persuasion (or maybe sublimity in addition to persuasion) as illustrated by the serial syntax of the mix tape and its successor the playlist. Fast fast fast the wind is blowing. And we tracked him, in and out of example and idea to watch the project unfold that he's labored on for years now: to reinvent the tired landscape of the writing classroom.

Best Bird of the Conference:
Though I scoped some lovely grebes bobbing around in Lake Michigan (I hazard to say that they were Clark's, but I'm never completely certain when it comes to making Greater/Clark's designations—esp. w/out binos), and a Barrow's Golden Eye or two, and some feisty urbanerific White-crowned Sparrows scratching out a living in Millennium Park, the Best Bird of the Conference Award goes to this little Cardinal, singing its heart out before the edifice of Sears Tower.


On Bullshit

If you haven't seen these outstanding and funnnny video interviews with Harry G. Frankfurt about his recent book, On Bullshit, you simply must interrupt your basketball infatuation and take a look.

They remind me of the kind of thing The Perfect Speling Press routinely pays big advances for and was sort of shooting for, when collaborating with Perkle, in 9interviews.com.

My favorite quote from the interviews, all of which are outstandingly serious, is:
"Bullshit is in some ways a more insidious threat ... because a liar knows what the truth is and in some ways is trying to keep people away from the truth ... whereas the bullshitter doesn't know what the truth is at all ..."

UPDATE: To read portions of the essay, try this link and/or the other archived pages here.


Campephilus Principalis Bogus

You may be healthily outside of the sometimes animated Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO) fracas, and if so you probably have not read Sibley et al's recent article in Science Magazine that doubts the validity of the "rediscovery." The authors begin, in argument-revealing sci.article style:

We reanalyzed video presented as confirmation that an ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) persists in Arkansas (Fitzpatrick et al., Reports, 3 June 2005, p. 1460). None of the features described as diagnostic of the ivory-billed woodpecker eliminate a normal pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Although we support efforts to find and protect ivory-billed woodpeckers, the video evidence does not demonstrate that the species persists in the United States.

I'm also a major doubter that the IBWO survived the night of the 20th century. And I read eagerness to accept this bird back into our numbered lists of "wild birds" as fueled by desires to see "nature" as indomitably resilient. Also, among birdwatchers, there are strains of preference/dispreference for particular species that the hubbub about the IBWO falls neatly into, bugging me because if there's one thing I don't like about conservationism it's species selectivism.

This article attempts to counter the shadow of doubt cast by Sibley et al, indicating that the quest of (re)discovery the Lab of O has been waging will no doubt continue. Otherwise, what would they do with all the money they've been raising to identify, document, and sustain these one or two IBWOs?


Facebook Surveillance

A former student sends me this email about a recent event in one of his classes:

Yo Spencer, just wanted to let you know something kinda funny about Facebook on campus. I'm taking [Intro to X] ... and nearly my entire discussion (and probably the whole lecture) got marked down significantly on their stories because of Facebook.

The Guidelines to the course say we cannot interview anybody we know. My TA warned us that he knows how to use Facebook, but I didn't buy it. So I went ahead and 1 out of my 4 sources was a Friend on Facebook, so I got marked down to a D, along with the majority of the class. Then the TA gave a long lecture the next discussion, gloating about catching us, and warning us how he'll catch us anyway.

What I find most interesting about it is that "friends" on Facebook are not always "people we already know" in any traditional sense. Having a "friend" on Facebook can mean having related with that person online without ever having met, or never relating with that person at all. Many Facebookers have "friends" they have never interacted with, let alone talked to or emailed with. So though I value what the nameless TA values—interviewing people we've never met—he seems to me to fail to recognize the changing landscape of social relations as mediated through Facebook.

The other thing this story points to, obviously, is that more and more TAs, Faculty, and other members of the university administration (even campus police) are logging on to Facebook and engaging in surveillance. I'm writing an article about Facebook right now, which is what I should probably get back to ...


Spring Cleaning

Though spring has not yet come to Illinois, spring cleaning has: I've been futzing around a bit with these pages, consolidating things, and playing with information density. Let me know if you can't find stuff, are having display problems, etc.