Thursday, May 28, 2009

revisting the medium is the message

(This is a little jumbled and is a sort of practice run for something else I'm working on so please feel free to comment/share/critique-thanks.)
"...the medium not only structures what one will see and believe, but is in fact, inseparable from what one sees and believes."(101-Postman/Weingartner from Teaching as a Subversive Activity) AKA the medium is the message.I think this is brilliant on all kinds of levels and that it has been largely forgotten how much the medium is actually the message which is a distinct problem in an era where the medium of the web/Internet is so prevalent (esp. in the use of the metaphor of the word "web").
however my focus is slightly more lighthearted in that this idea of the medium structuring what one sees and believes plays out in Barnes and Noble (B&N) on a regular basis for me. It typically happens right when I walk in the first set of double doors into the postage stamp size foyer which hold, as I have termed them, "the stealable stuff". (These are called the stealable stuff bc they are on the other side of the sensors thus implying, in my mind, that if you really want to steal something from B&N this is what should be takend b/c it is already halfway out the door. Admittedly this is not a hip title so I'm open to suggestions) B&N puts out two types of items into this area. The first being gift-type books i.e. books for Father's Day, books for Mother's Day, books for your cat's birthday, etc. (I'm using the word "book" in the sense that there are paper/plastic pages of text/images between two cardboard/conglomerate of other materials occ. w/ dust jacket. Any other relationship of these items to books that actually contain real content is purely coincedental.) The other type of book is the castoff, the books have been tossed off even the clearance rack space and are now awaiting their final resting place at the bottom of some Chinese garbage pit.
How does the medium of location effect how we look at these books? Consider that these
books are placed closer to the door(s) then they are to their topically-related companions who are being sold for much higher prices. Ironically the logistically closest books to these items are, at least in this particular B&N, the new books. The attitude of the placement of these books is one of departure. The point of this display is to structure the buyer's pereception, whether or not the store means to, that these books are pretty much worthless and the possible reason they are out here is because there happened to be some shelves built in the foyer and there were not quite enough gift books to fill them so the selected "filler" is the stealable stuff. Please note that I have rescued at least one (maybe two my memory's faulty here) Douglas Coupland hardcover(s) from this shelf; a hardcover that would have ordinarily retailed for $23.99 I scored for $4.98. One has to ask does the location of the book in the medium of the stealable stuff affect the buyer's view of the book?
What I'm trying to say is that I believe placing legit books in this section, such as Douglas Coupland, in w/ titles that are consigned to this stealable area affect how we/I see and think about them. The context (or medium?) deteremines how we see or how we read situations. This is important because much of the time, if not all the time, we don't realize it or think about this transparency of medium, unless of course part of your living is based on the sale of purloined gift books and castoffs. We/I see through our medium(s) particularly, if not entirely, the medium of language. I.e. above mentioning gift books you probably have a good idea of what I'm talking about but I'm assuming you share a similar language/metaphorical frame of reference(s) w/ me. We experience it and talk around it rather than talking about the medium in which we are operating which can cause some interesting issues especially when interacting w/ certain types of media w/in a particular medium.

Chrysler Cures a Bankruptcy, but Tests Loom

"Chrysler Cures a Bankruptcy, but Tests Loom" (original article here)
This is an article heading/title from the NYT  today which apparently indicates that Chrysler is moving from car production to blanket weaving. Maybe they will take up car blankets to push back into the market?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maps of the Seven Deadly Sins

Maps of the Seven Deadly Sins
"Geographers from Kansas State University map the spatial distribution of the seven deadly sins in the United States. These types of maps are always kind of iffy as they draw from data from various sources gathered with different methods and usually use some kind of researcher-defined metric. Still interesting though...right?" Actually not so much. As there are 1) no criteria what actually determines the parameters of the sins listed, 2) what the actual point of this study was 3) and how in all that is good and right in the world did these people get money to conduct this type of study? Who does this actually benefit? This type of thing comes across more as a sort of ridiculous mucking about with a weird conglomerate of statistics made to do what the researchers wanted it to do. This is simply an empty exercise to distract us from the true issue threatening our country-zombies. Hopefully KSU will have a map on the spread and impact of that issue soon....

UPDATE: Here is an article from the LasVegas Sun which has the best sentence in describing this entire project. "This is a precision party trick — rigorous mapping of ridiculous data."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Coming! Footnotes: New Directions in David Foster Wallace Studies

Footnotes: New Directions in David Foster Wallace Studies

This looks seriously awesome! More details below:

"The critical discussion of David Foster Wallace has thus far been
limited to a few aspects of his most popular works. Our conference
seeks to expand the response beyond the popular imagination’s
categories of “difficult,” “postmodern,” and “genius,” and beyond the
author’s own articulation of his project as a response to irony. We
invite a reconsideration of Wallace with an emphasis on new
perspectives of his entire oeuvre.

The Graduate Center of the City University of New York is pleased to
announce a one-day conference devoted to the discussion of Wallace’s
work, to be held Friday, November 20th 2009, from 9 am to 5 pm. Please
send your abstracts of no more than 250-words by August 15th, along
with contact info and institutional affiliation (if any), to:

We welcome papers exploring any aspect of Wallace’s work. Some suggested directions:

1) Reconsideration of Wallace’s Oeuvre: Papers examining Wallace’s
neglected early works Broom of the System and Girl with Curious Hair;
new perspectives on Infinite Jest; the direction of Wallace’s later

2) Wallace’s Literary Context: The reception of Wallace’s work and
the way his image has been shaped by his fans, the media, and the
academy; examinations of Wallace’s relation to his literary forebears,
both 20th century and earlier; Wallace outside the bounds of
“postmodernism”; Wallace’s influence on contemporary literature.

3) Theorizing Wallace: Wallace’s treatment of language and formal or
figurative qualities in Wallace’s writing; applications of narrative
theory to Wallace’s texts or consideration of his narrative
innovations; Wallace’s analytic, phenomenological, or existential
contexts; treatment of the self and subjectivity; relation to
ethics/values/morality; feminism and gender issues.

4) Interdisciplinary Approaches to Wallace: The use of math, logic,
philosophy, science, technology, politics, sociology, psychology, law,
etc. in Wallace’s work; pedagogical issues related to Wallace’s work."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

David Foster Wallace-Kenyon Commencement Speech 2005

This speech was originally transcribed and posted at until recently (though it is still available elsewhere) In order to help keep this speech that was free, and can still be found here, here is the originally transcribed version.

"(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about "teaching you how to think". If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education--least in my own case--is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master".

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Marked as Spam (thanks robots!)

This morning I received an email indicating that the blogger robots had marked my blog as spam and in order not to get deleted I had to click on a link to prove I wasn't a spammer or spamming or doing anything spam related and in two days they would get back to me. I think I was marked as spam for 1) writing a whole bunch more in the past month then normal and 2) posting back to myself in the process. Which is somewhat ironic as the point of a blog is to post and connect and the fact that I get punished/blacklisted by a robotic automated system based on an oddly stringent bit of criteria, not even a real person no less is somewhat disheartening and black humoresque.
I've been contemplating the move to the Wordpress platform for 1) additional chance to play with my html skills (which are minimal) and 2) to avoid this nonsense and 3) Blogger is owned by Google which 4) means that not only is my email, RSS feeds and home page via Google but so also is my blog. And if anyone from Blogger reads this the move to a quote unquote competitor won't really matter because I wasn't paying for it in the first place as who would pay for a blog when they are free but since they are free I have no leverage when I get marked as spam? Seriously though have you seen a blogg spam site? They look like this which was only five jumps from this blog using the next blog button. To Blogger's credit I went about 50 more jumps and this was the only one I found. However I don't read Spanish, Norwegian or Chinese and thus could have missed one or two.

I just read this, enjoy.
About twenty years ago, there was a lecturer presenting an explanation on the workings of the solar system at the local library. At the end of teh presentation, a little old lady in the back of the room gets up and announces firmly : "What have you told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."
"What is the tortoise standing on?" the lecturer asks patiently.
She replies: "It's tortoises all the way down."
(P. 27 The Landscape of History John Gaddi [FYI: Gaddis is a genius and this book is excellent.])


We Read Everything

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the problem with words

There was an ad on Facebook today for library gear which constituted of various mindless ‘stuff’ for people who work in libraries should theoretically find interesting but in reality actually reflect a rather archaic view of how libraries (should) function. This site features mugs, stickers, t-shirts, bags,etc. traveling ad infinitum into the fading obscurity of commercial blather. Regardless of the form one of the repeated designs was various riffs on the word ‘read’ including a riff on a t-shirt. There are actually several implications involved derived from the idea of a librarian wearing this shirt. These implications are based upon, I believe, logically provable assumptions. T-shirts are very much portable billboards so the idea of wearing this type of advertisement is for the librarian essential to their profession. There are certain ideas that are implied by a librarian wearing this type of ad.
1) The first assumption inherent in a librarian actually wearing this type of t-shirt is the underlying assumption is that the reading being done is in book form. For a librarian to think the word ‘read’ the historical assumption to connect with the particular word read is to ‘read a book’. Here the form of the book should be understood as a printed, bound, physical object. This first assumption is tied into a sub layer assumption to the first in that reading a book is a beneficial practice and not reading is an un-beneficial practice. This engages an additional sub layer assumption again to the first major assumption in which it is assumed that reading enhances the culture, both personally and corporately. The evidence of what books one claims to have read seem to affect individuals’ respect/interaction between one another whether it, the book-read-evidence, should or not.
2) The second major assumption, based on the first is that the type of book being read carries a certain cultural/intellectual weight, either negative or positive. A negative weight would be a pop magazine with a positive weight going towards works by Shakespeare. If a patron approaches the librarian wearing the ‘read’ shirt and asks should I read this 10,000 Best Tales of Erotica or should I read Tolstoy, upstanding librarian should, and based on the first assumption would, argue for strongly Tolstoy.
Why are these two assumptions problematic, thus, why is this shirt problematic?
3) Historically, going to the library was designed to provide the patron with the printed word. One went to the library to read or to bring works home to read. Now the library can function, and does function, from anything as various as an information commons or a job resource center or simply a place for free wi-fi and a cup of coffee. Based upon the two previous assumptions this t-shirt could very be feasibly read as an unhealthy clinging to a very dead, cadaverous past. The word ‘read’ is a signifier that has not shed its historical trappings. The number of books were read in the past X number of years has become the standard of our culture where a lack of reading books is a notation of the lack of culture. This is also illustrated by the fact that accreditating agencies look at the total number of books in a collection rather than gauging, or trying to figure out a way to guage the actual quality of the books in the collection. As libraries move forward to better embrace technology to serve patrons this idea of gigantic collections will hopefully be discarded for a framework of agility and flexibility to answer the patron’s need. This is not to say that books won’t be important but that maintaining a massive collection of everything simply is not the direction to be headed.
4) There is a certain ironic linguistic aspect at play, whether or not the marketing gurus meant it, in that one has to read the word ‘read’ and has to actually guess at the contextual meaning. The word ‘read’ by itself could be both a present tense imperative ‘I command you to read!’ or a past tense statement of fact in ‘I have read’ or even future tense ‘I will read’. The word ‘read’ on a librarian chest actually signifies very little once it is thought through. It may actually serve more to confuse the reader with context of the command then inspire them to checkout more books.
Truthfully, and this is my main issue with the shirt, the problem is not reading. The 21st century individual reads constantly i.e. text messages. In some ways we cannot help but to read. There is now more text available to us via emails, blogs, web sites, RSS feeds, e-books, webzines, online chats, etc. now than ever before. The current textual situation borders very closely on having to read constantly just to keep up with the flood of information.
5) To be entirely accurate the shirt should probably read ‘read well’. The idea of well is that critical thinking is directly applied to the choices of what is to be read. This is not to encourage cultural elitism or to represent Dee Garrison’s 18th century missional librarian but that the life of the mind actually matters. The life of the mind is fertilized by reading within a limited confine across genres and across media(s) or medium(s).
a. Reading should happen in the context of discussion and writing. Reading in isolation and only reading causes obesity of the mind. It is the encountering of the ideas of others that actually allows one to figure out why one read something in the first place. If a text cannot be connected to other texts, if one cannot make the logical/feasible mental connection to other texts, there needs to be a re-examination of the reading one is doing. Reading is a difficult practice because it is based on consumption. Even at this point the sheer amount of published materials encourages mental and intellectual gluttony. The desire to ‘read everything’ written by an author and then the commentary/biography/critical aspects of scholars on this author blossoms into an incredibly tangle and intricate web. And this is just one author. It is necessary than to limit the consumption, to guard is carefully and erect Sertillanges ‘zone of silence’ while at the same time genuinely interacting with other’s thoughts in the best Nietzchean fashion.
To be a ‘good’ librarian one cannot simply say Read. To embrace the ethos of the librarian service and then to command people simply to read, or to read what I tell you, is to commit a very severe disservice. Perhaps a better t-shirt would be ‘think’ as there seems to be a definitive surfeit of that action which seems to be crippling us culturally more than reading is and thinking is indeed a perquisite to reading. The problem, as Postman has stated, is that print culture as a prior driving force to American thought has changed. A command to read is perceived as an archaic command rather than to be challenging mentally. I’m not sure what role librarians should actually play in this pursuit of reading or how to approach it with patrons. One thing that I am sure of is the fact of wearing a $19.99 T-shirt is not going to positively affect the situation in the least.

thoughts on not actually finshing my MLIS

In direct contrast to the previous post where I happily proclaimed my completion of my MLIS degree I have discovered that there one class left to take. Thus I’m not done. This may seem at the first glance like a downer, which it was, however this instance has helped me realize something about my current relationship to higher education.[1] That realization being, that the structure of school and the current American educational process actually helps me function, at least mentally. There are a couple of reasons for this state of affairs. The first is that I have a continuous number of benchmarks to understand my ‘progress’ such as the syllabus, the required readings, the required postings for discussion or even the grades. These items give me something with which to gauge my understanding of a topic and my time with it. Last week when I thought I was done there was actually a feeling of let-down and searching lostness which was enjoyable for about two days. This is not to say that I don’t have a serious number of books to read or have other projects to work on it is that the removal of the time requirements of the pursuit of the master’s degree seem to remove from my mental state a barrier to gauge my time constraints against and allows my other creative efforts to dialectically spark off the required items. This has some relationship to, possibly, the way that education is pursued and may mean that I’ve completely missed the point of education in that I only understand my own education within a system beyond myself in which I must pay a rather large sum of money in order to stay within it instead of being disciplined enough to create my own structure. Since no one else is currently requiring anything of any additional reading or progress on these other projects outside of work I begin to drift. I wonder in some ways, strictly a priori having never enlisted, if I am treating the institution of higher education much like the military which I doubt is an original observation but struck me earliest this week so here we are. The military gives commands and serious amounts of structure, especially in basic training (based on anecdotal information from friends who have enlisted and various childhood library books), in order to ensure that when placed in a combat situations the soldiers either respond ‘instinctively’ or will obey orders. Thus refusal to obey orders in basic training is met with serious recriminations or even dismissal. Prompt, continual obedience combined with a certain ability to think about military ‘stuff’ in correct military ways enhances the possibility of promotion. If the individual distinguishes themselves, w/in approved military measures on the field of battle, promotion is often forthcoming.[2] So here comes higher education.[3] I am rewarded by doing well in a class with good grades and the thinking that I have a certain mastery of the subject. There is a lot of structure even in Master’s work as attending each class period, participating in the class discussion and correctly and excellently completing the required assignments. Here’s the part where this begins to break down for me and probably reveals some deep poverty of mental processes. I.e. On this blog I was working through Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians and have not posted on it for several days now. (Admittedly part of this is because I haven’t really found anything else worth saying but the other larger part of this is that the point of doing it began to lose its flavor.) This is the crux of the issue for me, which is recognition. The process of grading recognizes the individual for either doing a good, mediocre or even a really bad job. The military rewards staying with them for long periods of time with colorful bands of thread which is interesting in and of itself. If I work though a book and write about it on my blog where’s my sense of recognition and accomplishment?[4] I find myself seeking a certain amount of praise for this ‘accomplishment’ and when none is forthcoming it directly saps the desire to continue. This is really problematic and I tend to assuage this tendency by deeply freaking out my wife by beginning to immediately talk about where I should like to go next to work on another degree. I’m now an addict of structured recognition. Admittedly publishing is a great way to keep one’s hand in and be recognized and is something I would like to do except 1) I network about as well as a half-dead goldfish and 2) as of yet have not yet figured out what I should write about.[5]
I started my, officially and completely, last class of my MLIS program today. I will start teaching my first undergrad class in the fall which may help w/ this sense of structurlessness as possibly the one thing I dread even more than being lost is not begin able to answer questions especially when in front of 20-25 freshmen. But I am excited about it and I think it will provoke good thinking and possibly something to write about.

[1] I’ve been listening to a lot of David Foster Wallace interviews, readings, discussion, etc. and currently I believe it’s mostly his voice that has substituted for my usual brain voice. This footnote to attempt to head off any DFW parallels or explain them is most likely only worsened by this footnote and its subsequent fellows. I’m also hoping that this well help exorcise some of that DFW-brain-voice.

[2]This based on loose reading/anecdotes from several years ago and I have no specific examples. I’m still pretty sure I’m right, though.

[3] This is why I think, at times, the military’s structure would actually have been good for me as much as I claim, in my own head, to be a free-thinking kind of person.

[4] This accomplishment becomes almost self-defeating because I semi-dread finishing a book as I know there’s a pile after them. There is something mildly therapeutic about the knowledge of a 1.5 foot stack of books continually awaiting my attention though it can also be fairly damaging to my psyche, as this bit seems to indicate.

[5] Part of this problem may indeed be related that I’m looking for an ‘e=mc2’ sort of idea which is very unlikely to occur at this juncture in my mental growth.

The Critical Flame - A Journal of Literature & Criticism

Came across this new web-based journal this afternoon. Interested to see how it will develop.
The Critical Flame

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DFW online and teaching

I came across this site today david foster wallace which has functioned as the teaching site/blog for Kathleen Fitzpatrick's (1st link is teaching site/2nd link is blog) class on DFW from this past semester at Pomona College. The class created a wiki about DFW and his works which is really nice especially the Secondary Sources and Criticism page. Not only is this site a good resource it is also a continuation of the class period which provokes some interesting thought on the purpose of the blog/website because it is not just the immediate students who benefit. It also benefts those, like myself, who have a combination of amateur and scholar excitement and interest in
Wallace's work to see how much smarter and more experienced people are teaching and interacting with it.
Not only is this a great resource for reading about how other people/classes process through Wallace's work it's also a great way to explore the use of technology in teaching. As i'm thinking about and readying myself for teaching my first class, Computers and their Applications, next semester these methods of tying in familiar vehicles with learning opportunities are very much on the forefront of my skull.
This site is interesting because it highlights not just the research process where much of the information about DFW is available and is only being published online. Simply check out The Howling Fantods as a case in point. This also raises, from a librarian and archivist point of view who is responsible for maintaining this information? If these sites stop being maintained how much of this born-digital information will be lost? As a community interested and writing aobut DFW in new and intuitive ways it is simply not enough to write especially if it is good writing. A large part of this communal work is to preserve and maintain other's writings about him and his work.

Information Literacy as Information criticism

It is not possible to encompass all the possible sources of information so I (we) seize upon the handful, our pet favorites and point out their flaws and graces hoping through
the exegesis of what we know to inspire the student(s), including ourselves to investigate, evaluate and substantiate their research with these and their own sources.
So that they can start to learn through the process of education and become life-long students of all texts.
This is the goal of information literacy.

for myself, reading wokrs like Gass, habitations of the Word makes me want to read everything that he references that I have not yet read. This is not the case for all students but is hopefully the case for some of them and if so, the foundational items that are being broached should be done carefully and with conviction.

"...that now ideas carry bombs in their briefcases." which ones are dangerous. Which ones should be entertained or rejected or defused or set off.