Hand Restoration

One of the challenges about moving from Seattle to Champaign-Urbana (almost a year ago!) was the thought of having to give up Craig's List. In advance of moving, in fact, I started sending a steady stream of emails to Craig asking that he add "Chambana" to the site. Well, a few weeks after getting here—poof!—Chambana was added to the site.

The only down side is that locals have been slow to adopt Craig's list. There is already an active FreeCycle list in town. Plus, there's much less play and parody on our local hub of Craig's List than I'm used to—but you know, things can take a while to catch on.

Anyway, something awesome is going on

***right now***

on our local hub of Craig's List.

I'll call it a restoration arts project, and what I particularly like about it is that the project focuses on the surplus of trashed and abandoned bicycles all over town.

Rusty old quick-release skewers like this one (rusted to an abandoned wheel)

are being refurbished by the artist to look like this:

Similarly, this rusty old pedal

has been refurbished to shine grandly as:

The ads, which you can find by looking at the entries that read REFURBISHED, all stipulate that the bikes are not owned by the refurbisher (totally clever!), but by paying twenty bones you get a map to the abandoned bike and a framed photo from the project.

Yes. Yes yes yes.

Typewriter Composition

Thing number 74 that I love about my job: that I get to teach the class "Writing Technologies." Unlike other "writing for the web" courses, this class has the potential to open up much more broadly into inquiry into the technological production and distribution of text.

So in the spirit of blogging things that seemed "to work" this past year, here's a recipe for teaching what I call Typewriter Composition.

The point of Typewriter Composition is to generate ideas about what it means to interact with a machine when we compose (not just type), to historicize the word processor, and to create what I think of as visually charming typewriter-texts.

Wendell Berry's "Why I'm Not Going to Buy a Computer" is one place to start, as Berry is both a kook and argues cogently for Typewriter Composition. The Story of My Typewriter, by Paul Auster (text) and Sam Messer (art) is an even better one. And I should note that before teaching about the typewriter students have done work on clay tablets, pen-and-ink, pencils (Dennis Baron's "From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies" is great on these topics) and the printing press. Typewriters, I think, only make sense in those techno-contexts.


1. Inquiry groups research various aspects of the typewriter as writing machine. One group explores the invention of the typewriter and early versions of the machine (such as the Hansen writing ball) in the 19th century; another group explores key layout patterns and the Qwerty layout in particular; another group researches the advent of electric typewriters; another group hones in on the IBM Selectric; another group finds out how typewriters are currently marketed and sold.

The research is then distributed to the rest of the class via presentation (both in class and online). I like each one of these topics, but oddly the most productive seems to be the last one, as it breaks down the common notion that word processors have replaced typewriters.

2. Typewriter examination, which is exactly what it sounds like: I bring four or five typewriters to class and students figure out how they work. By the end of the class period, students should be able to know how to use just about every feature on a typewriter, comparing manual and electric machines. (This may sound like a waste of time, but most students I've done this with have never used a typewriter before.)

3. Typewriter composition, which is really great at the U of I since our undergraduate library still has a corral of six IBM Selectrics. In this project, students write about the readings, their research, and their personal techno-histories relating to the typewriter as writing machine. Visually, crossouts and odd mistakes (like typing off the page) are assets as this is all about composing, not just typing, on these machines.

Pay Off:
For me, the main payoff in Typewriter Composition is in historicizing the word processor in terms of both the physical interface and the software we write with. Typewriter Composition is inquiry based, experiential, and productive of meta-writing (typewriter composition about typewriter composition), and as such works nicely with contiguous units about pen-and-pencil composition and computer composition.

In a course where students are learning to code in html and css to write for the web, encounters with typewriters as writing machines and the production of typewriter-texts create opportunities for digital archiving of both experience and text.


In The News

In the news this morning ...


Dear John

Found near the house; because of the way it presumes John's prior utterance, my favorite line reads:

"... your right baby I'm not a movie star or a model, but I am a honest, trusting, loyal, caring, loving soul ..."

(click for larger version of page 1 and page 2)


Code and Display

Code and display, code and display. I'm in my office this morning (yes, the door is shut) writing about code and display.

It's amazing how long it can take sometimes for an idea to gestate. I started thinking about code and display in around 1999 when I started writing in html, then again when I learned to use css to control features of display more centrally. (With css code and display gets complicated because you no longer have a behind/in-front analogy to draw from, as the .css file can be spatially far off.)

And I've blogged various things about code and display over the years (I'm thinking of something two or three years ago about hotspots on template-derived blogs; I'm thinking of something else four or five months ago about scale sometimes being significantly disproportionate when it comes to code and display) and now I find those ideas not "coming together" necessarily but helping me think through a section on code and display in terms of author/system collaboration.

Which is what I'm now getting back to, save a knock on the door. But this is in appreciation blogging small ideas as a way to long-term gestation.


Brown Thrasher

The U of Illinois owns some Old Rich Guy's estate—okay it's called Allerton—but I like to think of it as a The Birding Preserve. In fact, I like to think of the U of I campus as a Birding Preserve, but it's not quite as birdy as Allerton.

So I was out at Allerton The Birding Preserve last week and came across (shhhhhh) this Brown Thrasher. Singing like mad.

Seeing it and getting all new-bird-giggly (my notes tell me that the last time I saw one was in 1997), I couldn't help but think about Kinsey. Not The Kinsey Report, but Kinsey himself.

In the recent Liam-ified movie about Kinsey, the young Kinsey is figured as liking birds, guys in uniforms, and the Bible (in that order.)

After losing his way, so to speak, toward the end of his career, Kinsey has another epiphanic bird watching moment, captured in this still:

Behold the raptor! I mean rapture!

Though Kinsey didn't spot a Brown Thrasher (instead, the film has him ogling a couple of Pileated Woodpeckers and a Long-eared Owl; maybe some orioles around a nest—I forget), when I came across the thrasher I couldn't help but think of how much I appreciated the emphasis in the film on Kinsey's classificatory consciousness which so strongly informed, I was led to believe (rightly? wrongly?) his later work.


Meta Writing

As the end of the academic year approaches, I thought I'd blog a bit on What Worked in My Classes This Year. One thing that worked marvelously was my "five-paragraph essay about the five-paragraph essay" assignment.

I say it "worked" because every project that resulted from it was different, every project said something new, and it was apparent that through the assignment students thought about writing in new ways. (Oh: they were also very funny! I think the significance of humor in academic writing is like way downplayed.)

I've engaged students in versions of this before, but this year I spent more time on the project, raising some of the expectations while working with students to make sure they were on track and meeting the assignment's main goals. In a line: the five-paragraph essay about the five-paragraph essay assignment challenges students to produce a complex, intellectually satisfying argument using the typically rigid five-by-five form. Form is rhetorically available to them and should be tweaked and manipulated as part of what they want to get across.

project by Katie Bianchi; used by permission
( click image for larger version )

I talked about this "box logic" (ref. to Sirc; image above) uptake of the assignment a bit yesterday during a presentation, and what I said then is what makes this project so compelling: on so many levels, the "essay" is carefully planned and executed. The box speaks to the bottles ... which speak to the labels ... which speak ultimately to the written text: which is outstanding. One paragraph per bottle (with an added footnote-type-thing in bottle 5), this project hums with ideas, repurposing what to many seems a tired, inflexible form.

The five-paragraph essay is only tired, this example shows us, in the ways it is taught and taken up.

I have a file, now, of outstanding uptakes of this assignment. If it "works," and I think it does, it's because it challenges students to think in new ways when they write, asks much more of them than is typically expected, is emphatically writing about writing, and looks back at what, for many, is the origin of their student-lives as expository writers.


The Stare

I spent the last seven years on the quarter system—two years working at Portland State University and five years as a graduate student at the University of Washington. People sometimes ask me: so, like, which is better? Quarters or semesters?

Simple answer: semesters.

Teaching on the quarter system, you have to order books three times a year, prepare syllabi three times a year, and each class you teach runs up against the time constraint that means you can never quite get where you could in those nine or ten weeks. Teaching on the semester system, you feel much less on the assembly line, much more able to build and build and build throughout the semester. Sixteen weeks is a lifetime compared to ten.

But one thing that does not change is The Stare I always see at the end of the year. The Stare is the look students wear as the end of the third quarter/second semester comes near. The Stare says let it be over, let me rest, let summer take all this away. And it's out there this week, The Stare, with just 2.5 weeks to go.


Crosses in the Grass

Call me naive, and I'll openly admit to that, but when I walked out of the building and saw this protest the other day, I first thought it was an anti-war protest. Circling around the front of the installation, though, I saw this placard:

Getting back to my computer for about three seconds worth of research, I found out that the use of the iconography of lots-of-crosses-as-mini-grave-markers in anti-abortion/anti-choice protests is part of a nationally organized rhetoric of protest.

(Aside: I should say that I'm slated to teach a seminar in the fall titled "The Rhetoric of Social Engagement," and while many of the social movements we'll be looking at are coming from various places on the left, I've been wanting to attend to a broader spectrum of political rhetorical engagement so as not to miss out on some interesting tactics. The Crosses in the Grass seemed a perfect opportunity.)

The Crosses in the Grass interest me because of the existing iconography they borrow from, how that borrowing amounts to a repurposing and reframing of arguments in the antagonistic pro-choice/anti-abortion debate (to be simplistic), and how some slippages in rhetorical relationships seem not to matter in the rhetoric of this protest.

(Meta-commentary: I know I've just launched a three-part "preview" or "mapping" thesis statement or quasi-thesis statment, and for that I apologize. It's just that I've been reading "five-paragraph essays about the five-paragraph essay" assignments all week, the topic for a later post, so maybe they're wearing off on me.)

On borrowing:
There are two obvious sources from which the iconography of this protest are borrowed. In planting immaculate rows of tiny crosses, a reference is made to Christian grave marker imagery (the cross) and child graves (with the size of the crosses). This has obvious motives.

The second borrowing is enacted through the immaculateness of the rows, the density of the imagined plots, and the similarity of all the grave markers. To my mind, this references military cemeteries. Only in those grave plots does one find the invariability of matching grave markers characterized in the iconography of this protest.

On repurposing and reframing:
Both borrowings repurpose and reframe the iconography they borrow from, locating visual display in a newly situated rhetorical system of social and political protest.

The first reframing (of grave markers) is really quite simple and too uninteresting to say much about: a mass of tiny Christian crosses argues that there are vast numbers of dead "babies" being figuratively buried each day.

The second reframing involves creating a relationship between aborted fetuses or pre-fetuses and war dead. Fetuses/pre-fetuses are aligned with people killed in battle, so we have soldiers (and other people killed in wars) and fetuses/pre-fetuses aligned, as well as adults and fetuses/pre-fetuses.

On slippages and the rhetoric of protest:
One obvious slippage in the first reframing (of the grave marker) is in the argument that they are Christian aborted fetuses and pre-fetuses; why else would they have earned crosses as grave markers? This kind of weirdly reminds me of other instances of cross-denominational retro-active salvations and things like that, but what is obviously a slippage is that it seems to work against a primary rhetoric of anti-abortion/anti-choice arguments: namely, that this is an issue of life. In the protest, it seems it is not any more an issue of life but Christian life. However, as with the next slippage, I get the sense that this slippage does not function to compromise the rhetoric of protest in the Crosses in the Grass. Instead, such a slippage seems allowable in the creation of a larger visual and spatial text.

In the alignment of war dead with aborted fetuses and pre-fetuses, there is another slippage. By connecting the two vary different groups, simultaneously it seems implied that 1) "the unborn" are victims of a war, but also that 2) war dead are akin to the result of a medical procedure. This second implication is a way in which the appropriation seems to work two ways at once, saying something about war dead while the Crosses in the Grass attempt to say something about "the 3,600 babies."

As I mentioned, these slippages (a result of appropriations and reframings) seem not to compromise this kind of rhetoric of protest. At the same time, it seems surprising to see the otherwise sacred iconography of the military cemetery brought into this debate, if only because I don't think of pro-life rhetoric, despite the name, as anti-war just yet.

Of course, I thought this protest was anti-war when I first saw it; in a strange sense, it almost is in that it symbolizes war dead as akin to a "mass slaughter" (real or imagined) here at home.


A Bit More On Chalk Writing

Now that we all know there will be ceremonial fire extinguishing going on on campus (too many easy jokes to make on that one), I thought I'd post the other remnants from my campus.chalk.writing documentation. These are largely from the recent student government campaign, two other sites of advertising being the traditional fliering and newer uses of Facebook for candidate statements/profiles.

(some of the more standard chalk writing; it uses a physical structure well, but is messy messy)

(detail shot of a typical chalked campaign text)

(a brilliant Tina Wei text working with the brickwork)

(and the one I posted a few days ago)

(detail work of repetition)



A Bit More (on) B.S.

In trying to get the students in one of my classes to develop an "Anatomy of Bullshit" (not as gross as it sounds), they came up with a much more robust understanding of the term than what I found in Frankfurt's new book. (That book, btw, is available here for free and is not really a book so much as a micro.book that once was an essay.)

Here are my notes from after class:

I say more robust because, while Frankfurt gives examples of b.s. that amount to a definition of b.s. as "specious" (I think this is dead wrong), the students I was talking with worked closer to a definition of b.s. as, in the most general sense, "filling up space with language."

If you can't read/translate my little yellow note, it goes:

  • lies

  • stupid stuff added

  • overly obvious discourse

  • repetition without a rhetorical purpose

  • manipulation

  • many unnecessary small details (aka "filler")

  • all about length

  • going down in evaluative contexts with high stakes


Nano Study of Chalk Writing

I have been meaning all semester to post a micro.study of chalk writing on campus, but now looking at how little time remains and seeing how much I have left to do, I think I will have to settle for a nano.study.

What I find interesting about chalk writing at UIUC includes:
  • the exuberance students bring to the forms

  • that there are many forms of chalk writing (genres within the technology), ranging from expository to personal to political to advertising

  • that this is an exclusively undergraduate writing technology (Facebook used to function this way but has recently been encroached on by folks, including myself, from other strata of the university)

  • ways that, at times, chalk writers work with the materiality of what they are writing on to create their texts

This last bullet point is what we see going on in this image (above), as the writer uses a patch of bricks as pixels in a larger, brick-bound composition. A few weeks before this one appeared I saw (but failed to photograph ... darn!) a related but different use of this same "canvas." In that use of the bricks, the writer located one letter in each brick. That failed to reference the pixel, though, which is what I like so much about this one.

Elsewhere on campus, sentences wrap with curvatures in the pavement, or bend around corners, or line up with neat brick work.

Anyway, that's my nano.study of chalk writing. In the fall I'm slated to teach the course "Writing Technologies" again, and as it will be linked with the very cool EOTU project, I plan to have students document chalk writing around campus while doing site-specific analyses. Those projects, no doubt, will transcend the nano.


Blue Text

The article I thought I was wrapping up last week ended up needing a re-write, so I closed "Facebook 3.3.doc," opened a new "Facebook 4.0.doc," and got going. With a new outline and the experience of composing the 1.0 series (a video montage), the 2.0 series (an argument about modification), and most recently the 3.0 series (on template composition, but not enough so), things have been going pretty smoothly all week.

I sometimes find re-writing refreshing, more so than revising, particularly because my texts often tend to get messy. I'll write some kind of introduction, then another introduction beneath it, move on to a later section, cut back across the text to intro number one, find myself writing bits and pieces of the conclusion, and so on. At various points I'll re-order the whole thing, and when this re-ordering or re-framing is dramatic enough, I'll save-as the .doc with the next number in the series in an attempt not to cover my old work too much.

This week's rewrite was no exception. After writing five or six pages in the new 4.0 series I found myself in a section I had written a lot about back in the now abandoned 3.3. So I opened 3.3, found the relevant chunk of text, and copy-and-pasted it into 4.0. Only knowing what a mess I can make when I write, I decided to make the imported text blue.

Blue text, then, would serve as a marker for possibly contaminated elements from a prior series. Blue text would mean: go through this thoroughly before accepting it as part of this new thang.

So as I wrote sections and paragraphs, revised other sections and paragraphs, and continued to import possibly-contaminated bits and pieces of the latest version, blue text functioned as a simple code, within the text, of what needed attention and what was "done" or "done for now."

And though I seldom do anything "new" when I write, this new little trick became a lot of fun and totally relaxing. Back now to the processing of blue text.


PhDs and Social Class

There is what I think is an interesting and important string emerging over at D. Hawhee's blog. What I like about strings like this one is not only that and when they elicit comments, but that and when the discussion spins off into other blogs and sites. (Clancy gave a nice talk about this in CCCChicago.)

So in the spirit of that kind of spinning-off, I have a few questions to throw into the convo. I'm going to use the term GTE (Golden Ticket Educated) instead of Ivy Educated to cover schools like Stanford and Berkley in addition to Ivy League schools.

=> Is the distribution of non-GTE scholar-educators into the "higher" tiers a worthwhile goal?

=> Is the distribution of GTE scholar-educators into the "lower" tiers a worthwhile goal? (I ask this because of my recent findings that many GTE scholars still have no teaching experience.)

=> What are some tactics for disrupting the ongoing circulation of GTE-amorous hiring practices if and when they are seen to be counter-productive at an institution? (Here I'm thinking of my former institution, which truly suffered from this practice.)

=> Can something transferable and tangible be said about holding a PhD in the humanities and designations of social class? Is this inextricably tied to employment in the years after getting the PhD?

=> Can it be said anymore that GTE is simply a high-status marker within the academy, particularly when it seems increasingly the case that many schools will not look at job applicants with GTE cred?


Another List (sic)

Yesterday, on the walk home from campus, I came across this found list:

Pocketing (I mean archiving) the note, I thought "Geeze, that's funny: why would someone make a list of pricey cars and then cross off the most priceyest of them?"

Getting home and showing the artifact to BP (a thrilling moment for us both, no doubt), I was quickly alerted me to the fact that I had not found a list at all, but a prognostication heuristic. (Okay, for the record I feel I should say that BP did not in fact use the words prognostication heuristic, but that is only because the term was not yet introduced. Though this may misrepresent our convo, I will continue to call this device a prognostication heuristic, or PH for short.)

I doubted BP. How could we know for sure? So BP was then nice enough, in a sort of teacherly demonstration, to recreate a PH of the kind that had been rent, discarded, and picked up by me. This instructive sample is HERE.

And if you never encountered or don't remember the mechanics of this particular PH, the deal is that The Seer (in my case BP) asks the subject for three answers to various questions: dream car? dream date? dream pet? etc. Then a number between one and ten. This number is then used to crossout all but one item from each list and ... Voila! the truth is foretold.

Induced into an uneasy state of elementary-school nostalgia, thus did I learn that I had not found a list but a piece of somebody's future.


Yes or No? Redux

After posting a little note, found at an elementary school near my house, yesterday, I wrote some, read for class (at the gym), grabbed lunch, taught class, ran around to a few meetings, and then pooped out for the night. This morning, I was back at the writing and finished up a draft—at which point my mind immediately drifted back to that little found note.

The thing I love to wonder about, whenever I find vernacular forms such as this one (and in a sense formulaity expressed in everyday disposable writing), is How do these vernacular forms circulate? Of course, I can imagine a parent giving instructions on how to create such a text, or older kids instructing younger kids, or even a teacher defining the genre to a student or a group of students—but while those modes of disseminating the genre knowledge are possible, they would have to be robust and regular enough in practice to keep this form alive for decades.

Another possibly more generative source could be tests and quizzes, which create a context kids live in that could create the conditions for such a form auto-generating whenever there is need for a query of this kind. What's cool about this line of thinking is that it positions the student as appropriator of scholastic technologies for purposes of knowledge harvesting, mapping positivist informatics and yes/no simplicity onto affective relations. Ha! That is sooooo funny.

"Do you like Zane yes or no?" not, "How are your feelings toward Zane?"

Okay, just one or two more things I like about this found note and the conventions it is part of. I like the way it maps the way third parties get all involved in matchmaking, particularly at this age but also, I'm reminded, in just about every book by Jane Austen. It's not "Do you like me yes or no?"—and how could it be? This form harvests much too raw of a data set; who could take a circled-no response directly? Instead, interested or disinterested third parties are the authors, distributors, and collectors of the form ... and Zane gets to find out later, if at all.

Another potentiality in this form, and this is the last thing I'll say (that manuscript sits waiting on the kitchen table), is academic and appropriative. As in:
Dear Judith Halberstam. Do you like Judith Butler? Yes or No

Dear Tenure Committee. Do you like my work? Yes or no?

Dear Students. Now that this class is over, did you like it? Yes or no?