Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Was reading snippets of the interesting Wayfaring Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant by Alan Jacobs via Amazon during which the name of Ann Blair came up in regards to coping with information overload during the 1550's through the 1700's. Lo and behold Ms. Blair is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard. Harvard has taken the kind steps of providing many of the articles that Harvard's scholars are writing/publishing in the plethora of available journals also available through its DASH program (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard).
Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700 and Note Taking as an Art of Transmission are two really exemplary essays contributing to the scholarship, imho, of the history books. Also the former article does a really excellent job providing data demonstrating that humans have historically struggled with how to best navigate the sheer breadth of information that is made available to them in any particular epoch based upon how the medium of publishing/presentation has changed. In browsing around Ms. Blair's home page found this event Why Books? taking place on Oct. 29 exploring different aspects of book history as well discussions of the future of publishing. Robert Darnton will be speaking and it is free to the public which means that a road trip is being planned for late October.
Ann Blair has also kindly posted her History of the book and of reading exam field reading list. Please note that this is a 22 page list of sources. Awesome!
In doing reading for info literacy stuff also found and read Tara Brabazon's Thinking pop literacies and Robert Detmering's Exploring the Political Dimensions of Information Literacy through Popular Film. Both are quite good. Detmering offers insight into the highly politicized aspect of information with encouragement not to ignore this aspect when teaching information literacy courses. Brabazon while focusing more locally (Australia) does present ideas that extrapolate out really well. "Pop is a medium and method to manage classroom diversity and facilitate a critical interpretation of texts and contexts. There is a need to find a stregy to assist sudnets who are not prepared for higher-level writing, reading and research skills. The firs step is to transform consuming pop into thinking pop." (p. 300 Brabazon) Thus we will be trying out stuff from ImprovEverywhere, The Office and Laurie Anderson in class this fall.
This is a conversation I've been having with my colleagues in trying to figure out how to better reach/impact/ interact with students. What avenues are available that will help to spark the understanding for the need and desire to want to "pose significant questions" of the self and the surrounding world? If I can start/connect with the thinking/questioning process with familiar avenues then perhaps we can then apply that same process in unfamiliar avenues because we've seen it work for us. The connecting process not only of concepts but also of methods of questioning that will equip the students with a broad imagination and a verbose information literacy.

Also currently reading Gaddis's The Recognitions. My head is very full.

Monday, July 26, 2010

If we can carry our entertainment with us why should we ever leave the house?

Kara and I went out to dinner on Friday because of the unbearable combination of 89 degrees F and 83% humidity and lacking air conditioning in our apartment thus rendering any cooking or dining experience frankly impossible to even comprehend.
The restaurant, as it was a chain and doesn’t really need the name-drop advertising, and I don’t think the following described behavior would change that much from where we were which was sitting in the waiting area of said restaurant watching the board for our number, chatting through the blasting Americana while also people-watching.
All told there was about 20-30 people that were filtered through the seating area. We were seated toward the far end of the waiting area so that the hostess area was to our right and the end of the waiting area to our left with the outside windows directly in front of us. There was one couple to our immediate left and a father and daughter diagonally across from us with all other stomach-led transients filling in respectively. Since this is a chain restaurant there was a ceiling mounted TV in the left hand corner of the room which was mercifully muted so as not to compete with the thumping speakers.
It was interesting to watch people in this context because this couple to our immediate left were, as far as we could tell, interacting with their cell phones for pretty much the entire time Kara and I sat there.
Even when the guy had gotten up to try to win a stuffed animal from the claw machine under the TV and succeeded in only very quickly losing two dollars which not only failed to elicit any sort of laughter from his female counterpart but also failed to elicit her interest from the poker game she was playing which we could see because the screen was titled in our direction. Other than the claw playing, this couple was not that engrossing except by what seemed to be an intense lack of interest in the other. Eventually my attention was drawn away in other directions to the father and daughter sitting on the other side of the waiting hallway directly across from the cell couple and the father had his phone out and was hunched over the screen the entire 10-15 minutes that they were waiting for a table. And the daughter, who lacked her own portable screen is slouched watching the TV because well, what else is there to do since her father is finding her presence not nearly as fascinating as the 3”x8” screen between his palms. And granted this was not the norm in the waiting room as there were rowdy conversations and family conversations and other couple conversations and our own conversations and seatmate conversations but these people stuck out because they were so absorbed in their own little worlds and the father and his daughter left to and were replaced by a mother and son whom, immediately upon sitting down, the son whipped out his cell phone.

Earlier that day I had read this quotefrom Gary Shteyngart and it seemed/still seems frighteningly apt.
“ We can’t keep up with the technology we’ve created, and it’s like we were invaded by a barbarian horde and we don’t know what to do. Sometimes I think that the iPhone and everything else that is now a major part of my life is a punishment that I’ve inflicted on myself for sins that I can’t quantify. This is maybe—I don’t know—going back to Hebrew school, but since the iPhone came out, my life has gotten progressively worse. I land on a plane and I get nervous if my iPhone—my äppärät—can’t connect. It’s like I’m running a Fortune 500 company. “

What communication or connection are we so afraid of missing?
If we can carry our entertainment with us why should we ever leave the house?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"I like the word believe. In general, when one says "I know" one doesn't know, one believes."
~Marcel Duchamp (1975)

Monday, July 19, 2010


Portable containers (language). Or that snails embody the idea of "Omnia mea mecum porto". Therefore, like the snail, to have bags that can carry the necessary stuff, usually books/pens/passport/gum/etc. A Dickies bag served this purpose throughout college which was often loaded with way more stuff than was possible to carry comfortably or safely. That spot is currently filled with a very sweet Chrome Citizen bag. It is super and carries all the necessary things easily from work to home to KY to PA to ME to NJ to NY to IL.
If you are looking for a bag would recommend Chrome.
Recently came across this company:
Seagull Bags.

If said Chrome bag ever breaks definitely would look for the next bag at the 'gull. Check out their stuff in action on Flikr. Really dig the artwork.

Like this:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Only Disconnect

Do you know who Gary Shteyngart is? I did not. However in this week's NYRB there's an article by Gary Shteyngart titled "Only Disconnect". It's brilliant. It is a prose poem. It is one of the best examples of writing about personal inte(dist)raction with the constantly transportable screen that guides the living steps of people. For example: " The device (iPhone) came out of the box and my world was transformed. I walked outside my book-ridden apartment. The first thing that happened was that New York fell away around me. It disappeared."
Let us take a quick look at the idea of space: de Certeau defines " as a practiced place." Place is understood as "...elements distributed in relationships of coexistence." (p. 117 Practice of Everyday Life) What Shteyngart discovers is that he is no longer practicing (in) space. He describes himself as being in a "techno-fugue state" in which he "...nearly knock[s] down toddlers and the elderly..." de Certeau's definition of place includes the idea that two separate and distinct elements cannot occupy the same spot at the same time. However by removing Shteyngart's attention from his surroundings causes him to attempt to inhabit the same places as other individuals moving his walk from a reading of the city (and carefulness of other individuals) to a blind following of the iPhone's touring map. What is interesting is that as people we prefer the type of directions the map gives us (turn here, travel this far, turn here, travel this far, turn here...) The given map is not concerned with what is to the left or the right but the getting from here to there to get, in Shteyngart's case, a taco.
But there is leaving, loss of signal a rediscovery of space that causes Shteyngart to"wake up from the techno-fugue state and remember who I am."By the end of the essay Shteyngart's friends have arrived to " roast an animal and some veggies". Due to the lack of a mobile network, due to location that the iPhone can no longer delineate, the connecting of the iPhone has been replaced by the personal connections with people. Granted, this is a generally romantic view that non-technologists like to advance against the technologists that screens are responsible for the destruction of inter-personal skills and relationships. However it should not be surprising that at the lapse of connective signal we return to previous types of connection. To return to de Certeau "it is the partition of space that structures it...there is no spatiality that is not organized by the determination of frontiers."(p. 123) Shteyngart discovers that his frontiers are determined by his cell phone reception. If individuals are reliant on the map to organize their interactions with space, and that map is delivered via satellite, one's perspective is immediately determined by the connection to that data source. This then determines the partitioning (defining) of the space that the individual is able to inhabit. One cannot practice something that is not known; though we can repeat motions without understanding. This is merely repetition. Machines can repeat. People should know and be known. Thus to follow maps, of any sort, without allowing for our own wandering and practicing of place is to repeat actions without the understanding of how the structure of chosen steps affects our own reading/discourse with the space of the world around us in determining the practice of everyday life. Failure to practice results in an eventual loss of space because the reason for the space's existence (reading a book, walking without a screen, etc.) is forgotten or at least subsumed to the insistence of daily routine which is not the practice of everyday life. Rather we should end everyday "as we commune in some ancient way, laughing and the fading...light." Indeed, Mr. Shteyngart, indeed.

And then there is also this: "American fiction is good. It would be nice if somebody read it. "

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Interesting essay from an interesting to-be-published book

1) Interesting essay on the future of the book by Benjamin Kunkel from a forthcoming book entitled The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books from Soft Skull Press in March 2011.
2) Dr. Alana Kumbier is co-editor of a really excellent book exploring critical theories and pedagogical methods in application to teaching information literacy entitled Critical Library Instruction has a gnarly podcast/interview over on The Newbie Dispatches.
Critical Library Instruction was published in 2009 by Library Juice Press which is a stellar press.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Mondays used to be much less meaningful and enjoyable for me. The start of a new work week. Pulling oneself out of the typically joyous lethargy of a Sunday afternoon. All the issues/tasks that have piled up over the weekend. Then I got a new job and in this instance of being a librarian for a small college in upstate NY during the summer causes Monday to be much less frightening. This is quite enjoyable. There's another aspect of Mondays that I've not only come to greatly enjoy but to also anticipate with some degree of relish.
Two of my favorite podcasts drop on Monday mornings. I always, every single time, listen to them in the exact same order. Every Monday-without fail. There have a couple times where I will rearrange my to-do list so that I can have work at hand that allows me to listen and still get stuff done just so that I can enjoy this particular serving of Monday morning.
The first podcast is the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. I have laughed out loud in my office and have used bits from the podcasts in the class that I teach. I hope one day to have Carl Cassel's voice on my cell phone voice-mail.
The second podcast is This American Life with Ira Glass. This podcast caries from a short story/essay format to spending the entire hour digging into and thoroughly exploring a complex issue throughout the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. Sometimes the program is simply funny or sad while also being deeply journalistic or simply just quirky. Like when the producers/writers put together a program based entirely off of ideas pitched by their parents for the show that the readers/listeners then voted for their favorites of that list. The other defintively endearing aspect of this podcast is what I think is a distinct lack of snarkiness. Rather, at least this is how I think they present their subject/material, the philosophies of the podcast attempt to communicate the stories in their own context with a desire for freshness/authenticity. So the interviewers will go spend time in the Mexican desert with those individuals attempting to assist the Border Patrol or visiting summer camp to talk about the impact of growing up through a camp or talk to Senators about the books they've written and how the book seems not to be born out of any real experience.(Glass mentions this in the interivew, referenced belwo) This whole enterprise is driven by Ira Glass's narration. His voice, which is quite distinctive and finely constructed, insinuates itself deep into my brain stem where it often, just as DFW's voice does, takes over for my brain voice.
Recently Ira Glass sat down for an interview over at Slate entitled On Air and On Error: This American Life's Ira Glass on Being Wrong. This interview is a lengthy and enjoyable read especially in the exploration of the growth through learning of mistakes and the flexibility of our identities as people seem to be tied much more into our abilities to fail and learn from those instances rather simply striving to be right ach and every single time.* Glass, by his own admission, spent about 9 years being hands-down terrible at the radio interview/performance before he was successful.
The other enjoyable aspect of htis interview is that is shifts about 3/4 of the way through into a dialogue where Glass actually asks the interviewer (Kathryn Shulz) a question and the text shifts very much like something out of Barthelme's short story dialogues where the conversation happens without names and identities are blurred by the switching of the call-and-response process. This is what Glass and the show are really good at. This is what makes going to work on Mondays that much better.

*There's this fantastic essay on dialogue from Stringfellow Barr, of St. John's College which deserves way more than a footnote. Barr gives several suggested tenets for successful dialogue, which he calls thumb-rules, and the second should be mentioned here. That in successful dialogue "the will of self-insistence give way to the will to learn." I think that one of the main, if not the, thing is the will to be right.

Friday, July 9, 2010


"Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own. It's the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it."
~John Waters
from Role Models

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Traveling by Sea

Dan Lyon of that famous band Pomengrates has a small bunch of songs under the album name Light up for download over at These songs are art. The tracks stand as constellations to each other- well-crafted and gut-wrenchingly profound. I know this though I haven't listened to them yet.
Simply judging by the cover art/jpg seems to indicate the music will be as good as formerly described.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grinning like an english cheshire

This lovely, lovey comic from over there at XKCD made my day. Hands down.
Also watched Alice in Wonderland this weekend. The new one. There's a couple of ways to read this plot with the following being one of those options. There is a scroll that depicts all the main events that are going to happen in a particular world which everybody knows about and are collectively anticipating, with various levels of dread/excitement as well as various levels of positive/negative participation (though it seems not to matter in the end since all participation leads to foretold day regardless), the occurrence of these particular days. There is a scourge/plague/curse upon the land with an expected individual descending/falling from above to restore order. There is consistent faith demonstrated expecting that one, those things written down will come true and two, those who are depicted within the scroll are expected and desired that their part in the drama should be fully played out. This drama marches on relentlessly regardless of those who choose to participate or attempt to change their roles, perceived or otherwise, in regard to the approaching day. There are consistent, if not quite constant reminders by messengers that the day is approaching. At the denouement there is the battle royale/apocalypse where the dragon, created of the earth, who must be slain by the sent one, from above the earth, wielding a sword who guides its user. Interesting, no?
Is it a simile, analogy or allegory?

Friday, July 2, 2010


I was trolling for images for a presentation and this site R Honey Pots came up. While this mug is my particular favorite (along the lines of Goethe's urpflanze) the entire site features really imaginative and creative thinking and design. It is peculiarly beautiful pottery work, especially the use of animal motifs and the blue/black colors. Check them out!