Saturday, November 7, 2009

More MSA

My partner in crime Jill and I were both pumped about the same panel this morning, the "Trans-Temporality" panel with Claire Colebrook, Rita Felski, Wai-Chee Dimock (she was unable to attend, but the panel moderator, Sara Blair, read the paper), and Jennifer Fleissner. I've long been a huge fan of Felski's and Fleissner's work in particular, so I was eager to go, and was not disappointed. Interestingly, Felski took the opportunity to talk mainly about Actor-Network Theory. I'd have liked to hear a little more about how ANT might alter or intersect with her previous work.

I also went to a roundtable on modernism and digital humanities that was very interesting. Jon Orwant from Google provoked a heated question about the proper treatment of books, one with which I was wholly sympathetic. (I mean, something terrible happened to a book. I would have been ticked myself.) I know it wouldn't have been appropriate to start airing my grievances about Google Books, but do they know that their scan of Geography and Plays is missing most of "Susie Asado"? (SKG, who is eerily omniscient, found me a better scan at Shana Kimball from the University of Michigan Library gave an interesting talk about collaboration between the university library and the Press, which is moving entirely to e-book/POD format. Mark Wollaeger's talk did not move me to want to use wikis in my classroom (why is it that I still mostly hate wikis?), but it did make me reconsider some of my strategies for next semester. I wonder how legal it would be to have my students put their critical editions of texts online. Kathleen Fitzpatrick's talk was mostly drawn from her book, which I've plugged before on this blog. I was able to meet her at the end of the panel, and amazingly, she recognized me from my tiny thumbnail Twitter photo.

At the panel I asked a question that I think was never fully answered, in part because I didn't really articulate the whole of my concern. It seems to me that online projects and/or infrastructures are often seen as a cheap (or even free) alternative to analog apparatuses, because the labor, because it is often diffused across a community, is rendered invisible (and unpaid). I wonder to what extent that impulse can be resisted by digital initiatives at university presses and online peer review projects, which actually do require a huge amount of labor (intellectual labor, I should say) both in starting up and in maintaining them. It seems to me that the conversion to online modes of communication obviously requires a re-valuing of that kind of work for tenure, etc. But it also requires valuing it, maybe for the first time for some people, in economic terms -- with the understanding that truly useful, coherent, and durable online projects and infrastructures require levels of funding that are perhaps not significantly lower than those of traditional formats. The real cost of publishing a book, that is, was never in the paper it's made of.

Relatedly, I spoke with Sam Alexander and Pericles Lewis about the Yale Modernism Lab, also recently plugged on this blog. Seriously, it is a cracking good idea. I think there must be some way that it could get hooked up to Zotero that would be useful, although I don't yet know enough about it to know how that would work exactly.

All in all, it was a productive conference (even if I was stuck in the ugly section of Montréal the entire time). I leave for home tomorrow. Once more into the breach -- I get a new stack of papers to grade on Monday.


skg said...

If the students want ever to publish their work, then it'd be best not to put the in-progress versions online publicly. Password checkpoint is one easy way around this (bSpace, WordPress, Dreamwidth, LiveJournal, plain old .htaccess file, etc.).

Re: invisible labor and digital initiatives, my experience + observation suggest that digital initiatives are more expensive than print-bound ones of comparable scope. For one thing, most digital-publication projects develop one or more project-specific tools; publishing a critical edition in book form, unless it happens also to involve software dev in order to achieve the edition, is a well-rehearsed art as well as craft. Then too, though it's complicated to figure out how many copies to print, how many need to be kept on hand in which warehouses, etc., that kind of maintenance has known parameters, whereas maintenance over time for digital projects still needs to be argued for, sometimes begged. (That applies both to projects with faculty PIs and to other scholarly projects.)

Natalia said...

I see your point about the online editions. In any case, to get them to work well I might need them to learn more computer stuff than I have time to teach, what with all the poetics and writing and research skills that I already need to cover.

skg said...

*nods* This is often the case.

It is also, for better or worse, how some faculty come to believe that, because some staff do have those skills, staff can be treated as grunts who implement the faculty PI's "real intellectual work." (I.e., that there's a necessary and right division of labor between thought and implementation: since the person(s) handling the thought component can't handle the imp side, the implementors must not be able to contribute at all to the thought side.) It's a reaction of insecurity.

I don't believe you'll have this particular blind spot!

skg said...
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