Tuesday, June 30, 2009


In case you were wondering whether the new UCB library catalogue, OskiCat,* could interface with Socrates (Stanford's catalogue) the way that our old catalogue, Pathfinder, could, the answer is no.


*Most undignified name ever.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cathy Davidson on new tools to save scholarly publishing in a digital era. This is smart.
"Open access" doesn't matter if there is no one who wants to "access" what is "open." In other words, our demand for information that is free has to be accompanied by a responsibility to teach/support/develop a readership vitally interested in that information. If learning and curiosity are impoverished, who cares if our archives are lock-box or open? Why poor millions and millions into digital projects if there is no public excited to take advantage of such archives? Technology and information cannot be divorced from learning and the imperative to teach far and wide, beyond a handful of specialized scholars. We need "Citizen Scholars." And we need "Citizen Educators" for the new information technologies or why bother?
Look for the fun surprise at the end!


*A Stanford study suggests that writing on the web makes you a better writer. Writing more makes you better at writing -- who knew? (Chronicle)

*Pedagogical applications of Twitter (Washington Post)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A response to Aaron Bady

Apropos of a conversation here.


I think what I keep taking exception to (and I felt this way about your Double Indemnity post as well) is just this repeated methodological gesture: "Yesyes, it's misogynistic, but that's not what's important here."

I can understand why one would make this gesture as a kind of self-regulation, if one is explicitly guarding against one's own critical tendencies. In a sense I'm criticizing you for doing a thing you never meant to do. But you keep seeming to mean to do it, and I think you should consider trying to put an end to that.

Here 'tis: You tend not to represent these moves as self-regulation; instead they seem to stage interventions in someone else's reductive reading. It's staged not as self-regulation but as intellectual correction: "Here I am to tell you why your reading is simplistic."

The reason this doesn't sit well with me is not personal but positional. This self-regulation-posing-as-intervention seems to misrepresent a position of privilege as critical sophistication, even objectivity. Because the misogyny is not directed at you, you get to say that it's not the important thing about the movie, and this gets turned into a critical virtue.

As a feminist critic who never saw the man-child as a remotely viable alternative to father-knows-best (because they are equally misogynistic), I cannot and will not say that misogyny is not the important thing. These are not abstractions to me, and I do not think it would amount to better criticism to proceed as if they were.

You say that these positions are differently misogynistic, and that the difference is illuminating. You are right about that as far as it goes. I've been arguing that it nonetheless doesn't go very far, because, as you have readily pointed out, these internal dynamics of an oppressive system are not explored in a way that can even countenance, much less suggest a path toward, a genuine refusal of that system. I don't see where it gets us to applaud male directors for making visible contradictions that feminists -- and not just academic feminists -- articulated, raised consciousness about, and fought to ameliorate thirty years ago. It's like applauding Mark Twain for suggesting in Huckleberry Finn that there are some contradictions in slavery. (I certainly don't want to dismiss HF in general, but on political grounds it's distinctly too little, too late.)

I agree, of course, that "Judd Apatow is sexist, sexism Judd Apatow, -- that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know" would be an unenlightening reading. I also think the dream-work model of ideology is productive. Your ideas, as they say, are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter blog.* Where I'm getting caught up is the moment when it seems to translate into a criticism that wants to be both political and detached, where detachment appears to be enabled primarily by privilege. I'm not sure it's possible; I'm even less sure that it's desirable.

*(Actually, I already do.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another one for the "my alma mater sometimes embarrasses me" files: Twitterature.

Admittedly, I am primarily interested in Twitter because of its potential pedagogical applications.

Update: The Chronicle has more.

(Via HUP. Yes, Twitter.)

A simian nativity

I go into the Valley Life Sciences Building quite often to use the biology library, which is filled with treasures. Outside the library is an exhibit space, where I once heard a couple of eight-year-olds disdainfully denying the aura of a mere cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull. I quote: "That's fake." (It was excellent.)

Owing to the Darwin bicentennial, I think, there is currently an exhibit on evolution in that space. As the photograph above indicates, it is a rather odd arrangement. Various primate skeletons (one of them human) crowd around a grave-manger where lie casts of Australopithicus afarensis bones, as if to pay tribute to the newborn/long dead missing link. The chimpanzee skeleton crouches like a sheep; a gracile ape (I don't remember the name) hovers overhead like an angel -- or like a crucified, er, ape.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Joining the great sugar-cookie question of our time:

Time scales

Giles Slade's Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America offers a history of planned obsolescence.
Made to Break is a history of twentieth-century technology as seen through the prism of obsolescence. America invented everything that is now disposable, Giles Slade tells us, and he explains how disposability was in fact a necessary condition for America's rejection of tradition and our acceptance of change and impermanence.
I recognize the irony of thinking this just after joining Twitter, which is perhaps the consummate purveyor of Benjaminian information, "[t]he prime requirement [of which] is that it appear 'understandable in itself'" (89). But it seems to me that the same desire for innovation as such characterizes contemporary scholarship: forward-thinking yet wasteful. Scholars keep hoping for the newest "killer app" -- indeed, we keep hoping to publish it ourselves (nobody wants to be doing ordinary science; everybody wants to be Einstein). And yet old theoretical ideas are still productive. I'm not talking about theory (TM) so much as scholarship per se. I just finished reading Carolyn Dinshaw's Getting Medieval, which is ten years old and yet full of ideas that were new to me, and not only new but theoretically rich. We will certainly continue to teach Foucault and Barthes, but will we teach Dinshaw and Halperin? Perhaps this is just griping over canonicity, and perhaps my view of this is skewed by my position as a young(ish) scholar. But it seems, you know, wasteful to produce so much knowledge at what seems like a fairly pressured pace. I remember a professor talking about the time she spent reading George Saintsbury's History of English Prosody. "I don't know why I thought I had time to do that," she said, laughing. But: oughtn't she have that time?

One is tempted to argue for a "slow scholarship" movement parallel to "slow food." Like slow food, it would be problematic. It would require the revaluation of time (difficult), and if there ever was a golden age of slow scholarship it probably rested on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women and people of color, as in the case of food. What's odd is that in contrast to publish (something very innovative)-or-perish, the dissemination of literary-critical ideas through popular culture, and even in teaching, seems quite slow. Witness high schools: still New Critical and proud. And yet it is precisely mass culture that is (alleged to be) the culture of planned obsolescence. From a mass-cultural perspective, literary criticism itself is outdated. Or as Carolyn Dinshaw says of her historical period in particular, "This American present abjects the medieval -- in such manifestations as Gregorian chants -- as irrelevant, by definition lifeless and inaccessible" (177). What Dinshaw is pointing out is a conflation between the ideas of "old" and "obsolete." Perhaps what is at issue is not fast or slow but a multiplicity of time-scales, as Mark McGurl suggests, that are not (cannot be?) aligned.

Lorine Niedecker writes: "I must possess myself, get back into pure duration" (28).


(Via Harvard UP.)

Benjamin, Walter. "The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov." Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1968. I am aware of problems with these translations.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham: Duke UP, 2009.

Niedecker, Lorine. Collected Works. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Berkeley: U of California P, 2002.

Every single university press is currently tweeting the Chronicle's coverage of AAUP. That's old news, Columbia UP!

Paul Muldoon on Stephen Colbert

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Paul Muldoon
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq

In the interview Colbert mentions that he has also interviewed Pinsky. I await Ron Silliman's commentary on that score.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Skg's Juneteenth post links to an unbelievably great letter from an ex-slave, Jourdan Anderson, to his former master, responding to an offer to return to the plantation as a worker (paid, evidently).

The sarcasm is priceless:
I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living.
I highly recommend reading the whole letter.

Black Oak Books

Black Oak Books closed its store on May 31. (They say that they are still taking orders online!) Alas and woe: it had the best used math section in Berkeley, and it was the only place I could find a copy of Hope Leslie (1827) when I was studying for my qualifying exam.

Berkeley is still a good book town, what with Moe's, Pegasus, University Press Books,* the tiny-but-cute Analog Books on Euclid, the endearingly weird Other Change of Hobbit, and of course Small Press Distribution. Even Shakespeare & Co. is a lot better than it used to be. But Cody's-that-was is still an empty shell on Telegraph, and what kind of vulture would move in, anyway?

Nigel Beale argues that between rents and states' decisions not to tax Amazon orders, most independent bookstores are doomed, and he laments the loss of "unique places to browse, touch, talk about and buy books," urging, "Patronize your local independent bookstore, new and used." (Via Neil.)

Ron Silliman, in contrast, has met the issue with a tone of weary resignation for a long time.

But on the other hand, he chronicles the losses faithfully.

*Thanks for reminding me, Ed. Can't believe I forgot that one.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"You can't get much more scientific than graphic representations of how this product works on your skin cells."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Statistical Panic

Kathleen Woodward, Statistical Panic: Cultural Politics and Poetics of the Emotions. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2009.

Statistical Panic challenges the idea that the category of the emotions is altogether psychological, and therefore a refuge from the political. By constellating a variety of texts -- literary, critical, social -- Woodward interrogates the emotions as sites of political thought and political action. The emotions have, she argues, a "cognitive edge." I find this formulation less illuminating than an example she returns to over and over, the moment in A Room of One's Own (one of my favorites) in which the narrator, sitting in the British Library, finds herself doodling a caricature of a professor, realizes that she is angry, and then realizes that her anger is a defense against the professor's anger. Anger is, for the narrator, a diagnostic and then analytical tool. Woolf's narrator offers a model for Woodward's meditative readings of the emotions.

In the first section of the book, Woodward explores the ways that feelings like anger, shame, and compassion have been theorized to different ends, and what different narratives about the emotions mean politically. These are suggestive and politically aware chapters that particularly point up the emotions surrounding identity politics: "feminist anger," the anger of the aging, racial shame, and politicized compassion. These chapters do important work to set up how Woodward thinks about (and with) emotions, but the real heart of the book, I think, is the second half on "new feelings," and particularly the final essay, titled, like the book itself, "Statistical Panic."* In these chapters, Woodward offers rubrics for thinking about the emotions occasioned by postmodern life, such as "sympathy for nonhuman cyborgs" and "bureaucratic rage," emotions that are often "impersonal" (you aren't really angry at the particular unhelpful bureaucrat on the other end of the line, for example, but rather at the bureaucracy itself). "Statistical Panic," I find, very powerfully names a "structure of feeling" embedded in what Ulrich Beck calls the "risk society." "Our bodies," Woodward points out, "are figured as being in a perpetual state of risk. The statistics profiling the body are for the most part melancholy and grim .... fatally we feel that a certain statistic, which is in fact based on an aggregate and is only a measure of probability, represents our very future" (196). Since the very nature of the statistic is to belong not to individuals but to groups, the emotions that statistics occasion oscillate between panic and boredom, postmodern analogues, Woodward suggests, to the modern dyad of shock/ennui.

Statistical Panic does not operate by argument but rather by constellation, juxtaposition, and suggestion. Woodward's language is most frequently a language of presentation: I refer to... I turn to... I take up ... Benjamin offers... X represents [emotion] in this way, while Y represents it in this other way. The book is therefore frustrating precisely when it is the most successful; at its most suggestive moments, I found myself wishing that Woodward would take an idea or a reading further, only to have her move on to some other, equally provocative text.

I particularly wished for greater pressure on the literary elements in this book; Woodward's eclecticism is clearly intentional, yet I frequently found myself wishing for a more explicit articulation of what role genre was playing in this map of the emotions. While Woodward often discusses popular culture in the familiar condemnatory terms ("postmodern televisual culture" and its tabloid obsessions, for instance, or the too-pat representation of statistics in the television drama Chicago Hope), any theory of the relationship between genre and feeling is at best only hinted at. Although in the introduction she suggests that "countering a fragment, or providing nuanced context for an information-story, is a more ample narrative -- a story," I wished for more on just what a "story" was, in contradistinction to the "information-story." These terms immediately conjured up for me Walter Benjamin's distinction between the "story" and "information" in his essay "The Storyteller," an essay that Woodward explicitly alludes to in her chapter on "Bureaucratic Rage" (172). But while Benjamin's terms are useful for Woodward, she ultimately and perhaps misleadingly uses them in quite a different way. The "story" that she privileges is above all the memoir, which she describes as "a medium promising (although not always delivering) intimate voices that allow us entrance into [the authors'] lives" (191). I cannot help thinking that this is more or less the opposite of what Benjamin means by "story," as I remember the moment in "The Storyteller" when Benjamin writes that
With the [First] World War a process began to become apparent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent — not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes from mouth to mouth.
It seems to me that the memoirs of "the tiny, fragile human body" that Woodward examines work much differently than the Benjaminian "story," and yet they do something for Woodward's account of postmodern feelings that is worth theorizing in greater depth. Precisely because, as Woodward so lucidly observes, statistics seem to encapsulate stories about our futures, a theory of how stories work in the age of statistical panic -- sometimes called the "information age" -- seems warranted.

Yet my desire to see such a theory articulated is, I recognize, a measure of the success with which Statistical Panic maps out an emotional terrain and places crucial issues in conversation. One cannot fairly complain that a book is not three chapters longer than it is, and I come away from reading this book with a raft of notes and references, especially on the studies of aging, illness, and disability, areas that have tended to be insufficiently attended to in theories of postmodernity.

*An earlier version of "Statistical Panic" appears in differences 11.2 (1999): 177-203, Duke Journals Online, PDF.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Digital Youth Project

Ages ago I heard a talk by Christo Sims at a new media symposium. His talk was on the Digital Youth Project, a three-year project funded by the MacArthur Foundation studying the way that adolescents actually use digital media (as opposed to your usual anecdotal kids-these-days rant, into which category most journalism on the topic falls).

When I heard Christo's talk, I was particularly excited by the pedagogical implications of the project. Composition is the ghetto of the English department (not my English department in particular but The English Department writ large), but composition is of course what I currently teach. And although the grading is definitely wearing, in a deep way I believe in composition. I believe that a literature course should always be writing intensive, because I believe that writing is a glorious technology that helps people think well. After hearing Christo's talk, I began thinking more consciously about how I use media in my pedagogy, and in particular about how to exploit students' existing media literacies.

I don't just mean blah blah blah blog. I also started thinking about how to foreground the workings of technology as a way to help students be more conscious of form. One of the reasons I never spent much time with the New Media Working Group is that I'm fundamentally an old media person -- the old medium of choice being, primarily, the modern print book and its relatives (like the feuilleton). But as Andrew Rabin pointed out to me when he told me about his public school outreach program, people are more likely to be interested than not when you start telling them about how people used to write on goat skins. So I've tried to adopt a media-conscious pedagogy that contextualizes print in the history (really, histories) of writing.

The Digital Youth Project was completed last year, and I'm happy to see that they have a book forthcoming from MIT Press, Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. There is also a white paper [pdf] available through the DYP site.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Academic publishing

There are two interesting articles on academic publishing in the current Chronicle, the first a roundtable with several UP editors on "The Future of Scholarly Publishing," the second Ellen Bauerle's "Women as Authors: Get Aggressive."

The roundtable is enlightening in some ways, not enlightening in others. The editors' remarks, unsurprisingly, very much reflect their presses' lists. For example, Lindsay Waters thinks that the Frankfurt School holds a lot of promise. Surprise.

Bauerle's article pointed out subtle gendered behaviors that could materially affect women's careers; for instance, she says that women are less likely to approach a press with an incomplete manuscript. While a more complete manuscript might lead to more productive peer review feedback, the delay in securing a book contract might lead to delays in promotion and raises.

* * *
Funny search string of the day: "ezra pound feminist"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Deep thought of the day: Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno is the original lolcat.


I would like to say that if I hear this one more time I will scream:
"Oh, Marianne Moore's precision. So you're talking about her syllabics, right?"


A poet uses meter.

Wow, amazing. I am amazed. Let's reduce that poet's entire poetics to the fact that she uses quantitative meter. Yep, that is what her poetry is all about. Syllables: you can count them! Oh, and did you know she was a spinster?

To borrow an idiom or two, this particular baloney really gets the Cecire goat.

And yet, I know I must not scream when I hear it, because I will keep hearing it for as long as I work on Marianne Moore, which I hope will be a long time.

It is obvious that Moore did not always write in syllabics. It would not even be accurate to say that most of her poems use syllabics. Looking at multiple versions of her poems reveals a tendency to draft in syllabics and revise into free verse. People who think that syllabics are the defining quality of Moore's verse are wrong.

* * *

Unrelatedly: Sociological Images has a great post on pants.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Shorter Gertrude Stein chapter:

Brains and robots!!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Slavoj Žižek says this is required reading for college students.

I am starting to worry that I will have to sign up for Twitter one day. I actually have three relatives on it, it turns out. And, you know, Žižek. (Or is that "Žižek"?)

I'm reading Kathleen Woodward's Statistical Panic right now. It's fascinating.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Adventures in racial misidentification

Earlier today...

SCENE: I am leaving the office for a meeting on campus. DUDE is sitting on the steps outside the office door with an assortment of cassette tapes (!), enthusiastically chatting with another dude. He and his tapes are blocking the exit.

ME: Excuse me.

DUDE: Oh, hey, sorry, lemme get out of your way. (He half-looks at me.) Hola.

ME: ...

DUDE picks up some of his cassettes, leaving a path for me.

ME: Thank you.

As I leave, DUDE looks up at my face for the first time.

DUDE: Oh! You are Chinese!

ME (halfway down the block by now): wtf.

Melanctha Herbert never really killed herself

Stein reflected the same independence and freedom from convention in her successful and controversial literary career, which ended with her death in France in 1946. Unfortunately, the subjective, freethinking, artistic spirit so necessary to literary accomplishment has little place in the precise world of neuroanatomic investigation.

Thus ends an article by Bruce S. Schoenberg, M.D., Dr.P.H., titled "Gertrude Stein's Neuroanatomic Investigations: Roses or Thorns?"

The article begins by saying a few things about Stein as a writer, but dwells principally on Stein's time in medical school. It ends by abruptly detailing a few highlights of Stein's writing career and the above-quoted mention of her death, with a moral attached. The woman dies; the typology remains.

I enjoy how the structure of the article reproduces the structure of "Melanctha."

Southern Medical Journal 81.2 (1988): 250-8. UCSF Library. 1 June 2009. PDF.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mechanicity and gendered muppets

Because I live under a rock, I saw this video for the first time only recently.

First of all, gendered muppets. Physically, Mahna Mahna is gendered masculine, with a low, gravelly voice and masculine dress. The Snowths are gendered feminine; they're pink and have exaggerated eyelashes. Let's just pause for a moment to register how odd and not-odd it is to gender muppets. Insofar as they are anthropomorphized and people are preceded by gender, it is not surprising that muppets are gendered. But given how far the producers go out of their way to make them nonhuman, the degree to which they are gendered is surprising.

Even more surprising is how well the muppets' physical gendering harmonizes with the gendering of the actions that they are made to undertake in this video. Supposedly the muppets are just singing a song, but in the process they stage a drama of creativity and regulation that echoes Victorian gender stereotypes.

Muppets are by definition mechanical; they're puppets manipulated by artists from below, and this song is more mechanical than most; syllables, "words," and phrases are repeated over and over. But within the framework of that mechanicity, Mahna Mahna keeps attempting to improvise solos or otherwise depart from the repeated chorus. The Snowths -- two entities acting not as individuals but as a (female) class -- seem to have stepped out of Desire and Domestic Fiction; they survey Mahna Mahna and, with their gaze -- first wondering, then disapproving -- constrain him within the bounds of the repetitive, mechanical chorus. They are not violent; they are not coercive; they simply shake their heads. Influence is all.

Shrinking before them, Mahna Mahna curbs his desire to deviate from the mechanical pattern in which the Snowths, moving synchronously, seem to delight. Like the Widow Douglas trying to "sivilize" Huck Finn, the Snowths set and enforce rules, unable to understand Mahna Mahna's masculine creativity and his capacity for play. The Snowths are didactic Maria Edgeworths to Mahna Mahna's fantasizing George Macdonald; they are petticoat government to a fun-loving Rip van Winkle.

Repressed, Mahna Mahna attempts to escape into the background, turning his back on the Snowths in order to engage in his play. He cannot escape the feminine gaze of social order, however. Even with his back turned, he is aware of the Snowths' disapproval and rushes back to do his manly duty, planting a firm "mahna mahna" between the two bopping Snowths, who continue the chorus in an ecstasy of repetition, as enthusiastic as ever.

Ultimately, Mahna Mahna lights out for the territories -- but he does not forget to call home.

Thus the Snowths' ecstatic repetition of the mechanical chorus, performing the female mechanicity of the "typewriter," the telephone operator, and other modern female cyborgs, returns as technology, only to be shut down thereby. This final utterance of "mahna mahna" puts an end to the repetition that it has so far enabled. Even if Mahna Mahna remains constrained to play house with the Snowths, he can now do it remotely, away from their surveying gaze.

(Far more information than you could possibly want about this song is located here.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Its leaps should be set/ to the flageolet

* * *

I am so very late on this; nonetheless:
Saving Salt Publishing: Just One Book
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

    Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world.


    1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

    UK and International




    2. Share this note on your Facebook or MySpace profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Salt Publishing

Via Archambeau.