July 2002 Archives
I know I’m bored when I start reading the news. I’m glad that Toledo is renovating its organ, but amazed to find they’ve discovered a wombat the size of a small car. First the giant squid, and now this. Then it sank in.
I have no idea how big a wombat is supposed to be. I’ve never seen one. Of course, the web was little help. All I found was another graveyard site, World Wide Wombat Web. Nearly all the links are dead. A great idea filling the need for web pages devoted to wombats, but fallen into disrepair. I suppose it had to happen eventually— things turn brown and die.
Is Blogging Browning?
My life has not been that of those whose heaven
Was lampless save where poesy shone out;
But as a clime where glittering mountain-tops
And glancing sea and forests steeped in light
Give back reflected the far-flashing sun;
For music (which is earnest of a heaven,
See we know emotions strange by it,
Not else to be revealed,) it is like a voice
A low voice calling fancy, as a friend,
To the green woods in the gay summer time:
And she fills all the way with dancing shapes
Which have made painters pale, and they go on
Till stars look at them and winds to call them
As they leaves life’s path for the twilight world
Where the dead gather. This was not at first,
For scarce I knew what I would do. I had
An impulse but no yearning—only sang.
And first I sang as I in dream have seen
Music wait on a lyrist for some thought,
Yet singing to herself until it came.
Robert Browning, Pauline 360-379
Life goes bi
For centuries, spoken words were unidirectional, evaporating into space. Ritual pursued preservation, and writing technology was formed to capture stories and manage lists. Recorded sound changed communication as profoundly as writing, but in subtle ways. Words and music of people long dead can haunt us. Is it an illusion of bidirectionality? We hear them, but they can’t hear us. The Recording Angel by Evan Eisenberg deals with sound in a unique way:
But if a record is a time capsule and a phonograph is a time machine, they are so in an unaccustomed sense. A record is a sculpted block of time, repeatable at an owner’s whim. The block may have been carved from another time and place (though only live recordings are carved in one piece) and may be a document or record of its quarry. But a record of music does not record historical time. It records musical time which, though it exists in historical time, is not of it. A violoncello is already a time machine, taking its listener to a place outside time. The phonograph is a time machine of this sort, but with the difference that the listener operates it himself and can take a spin as often as he pleases.
Records, I said, shattered the public architecture of time. The have replaced it with a kind of modular interior design. The individual supplies himself with sculpted blocks of time and proceeds to pave his day with them. Each block is infinitely repeatable. Each is different from, but formally interchangeable with each other.
One of the major problems in semantics is determining the effective limit of a meaning unit. The meaning of words is shaped by their context, and not contained in the words themselves. We can isolate them by function, subject, verb, preposition, etc., but we cannot safely say that a word means anything outside of context. Perhaps words are also like paving stones. How many of them does it take to form a road? Is it a one way trip?
I think writing a blog is different than conventional writing not only because it’s electrified and public, but because of the shape of the path. Software offers the option to display entries in conventional chronological order, but no one I read uses that. Why? Because it would be redundant and confusing to surf in to the beginning of a story each day, scrolling down to where you left off. It’s best to start in the now. Because it’s recorded, it’s always possible to go back to the beginning if a writer interests you. Our experience of a blog can be bidirectional. This makes me ponder its presence in historical time, but more than that, it makes me wonder at the problematic nature of conventional writing methods in this context. With every additional entry, the context subtly shifts, as entries disappear into the archives.
With every use, our words grow deeper in meaning built on associations established before. Random access dilutes carefully crafted meanings built using linear approaches to writing. Blog writing is different because though the window into it is always random, a reader can stroll back down the path and see how the stones are placed; we can trace the sculpted blocks of discourse back deep into the quarry and get a greater sense of the person behind the words. Blog entries are also like modular decorating blocks, interchangeable with any other. Without the conceit that an audience has followed the story, each day I reinvent the wheel driven to make each block self-contained. I’m not sure it’s better than a linear approach or more flexible, but it’s certainly more coherent than a random one.
Most readers don't prowl the archives of a blog, but the possibility always exists.
I feel sorry for all those poor surfers who end up here looking for nude photos. While I can’t compete with the audacious Shauny on a bicycle or Nerve’s Retro porn, I thought I would offer up some stylish daguerreotypes from the 1850s. But as for the person poking around my old blog looking for Marky Mark nude, or the unending stream of surfers who reach here looking for Rachel Griffiths nude, I can’t help you.*caution— may be unsuitable for those with no sense of humor!
Fortunes of Catherine and William Blake
My Wife was told by a Spirit to look for her fortune by opening by chance a book which she had in her hand it was Bysshes Art of Poetry. She opend the following
I saw 'em kindle with Desire
While with soft sighs they blew the fire
Saw the approaches of their joy
He growing more fierce & she less coy
Saw how they mingled melting rays
Exchanging Love a thousand ways
Kind was the force on every side
Her new desire she could not hide
Nor would the shepherd be denied
The blessed minute he pursud
Till she transported in his arms
Yields to the Conqueror all her charms
His panting breast to hers now joind
They feast on raptures unconfind
Vast & luxuriant such as prove
The immortality of Love
For who but a Divinity
Could mingle souls to that degree
And melt them into Extasy
Now like the Phoenix both expire
While from the ashes of their fire
Spring up a new & soft desire
Like charmers thrice they did invoke
The God & thrice new Vigor took
I was so well pleased with her Luck that I thought I would try my Own & opend the following
As when the winds their airy quarrel try
Justling from every quarter of the Sky
This way & that the Mountain oak they bear
His boughs they shatter & his branches tear
With leaves & falling mast they spread the Ground
The hollow Valleys Eccho [the] to the Sound
Unmovd the royal plant their fury mocks
Or shaken clings more closely to the rocks
For as he shoots his lowring head on high
So deep in earth his fixd foundations lie
Hearts in Stone
Nature wasn’t mute to William Wordsworth. Shelley was a big fan of the early Wordsworth, and animated nature in a similar way. Byron used to complain about Shelley forcing him to listen to Wordsworth, which claimed to dislike like a bad medicine. However similar images also occur in Byron. In my favorite short poem by Shelley, Mont Blanc, nature was animated with a voice:
Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repealIt seems likely that Shelley had Wordsworth in mind when he penned these lines in 1816, but he wouldn’t have known The Prelude. Wordsworth would not allow it to be published until after his death, in the version I’ve been referring to as the 1850. A mountain did more than speak to Wordsworth in the first book of The Prelude. Wordsworth had stolen a boat as a boy and rowed out on the lake. Nature stepped in with her “severe ministry.”
Large codes of fraud and woe, not understood
By all, but which the wise, and great, and good
Interpret or make felt, or deeply feel. (80-83)
I dipped my oars in the silent lake,
And as I rose upon the stroke of my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan—
When from behind that rocky steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge cliff,
As if with a voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature, the huge cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still
With measured motion, like a living thing
Strode after me. With trembling hands I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the cavern of the willow-tree. (1799— 104-116)
I just rolled on the floor the first time I read this. It’s like a Japanese science fiction film, where the huge mountain goes after poor kid Wordsworth. I can’t help but visualize it. There were no major revisions of this section in the later versions, though it was moved to line 400 in 1805, and 370 in the final version. Wordsworth did change “trembling hands” to “trembling oars” in 1850. He only stepped back a bit, in keeping with the far more distant tone of the final cut, and I’m glad. To me it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read from Wordsworth.
I’ve done quite a bit of photography in the mountains, waiting for the rocks and trees to speak to me. They never did. I would have loved to have been chased around by a mountain. I wonder if this might have been the inpiration for Zappa’s Billy the Mountain?
Open a Book
I was stumbling around the Blake concordance yesterday and found a prose fragment I didn’t remember. Catherine Blake was instructed by a spirit to open a book to tell her fortune. Catherine’s fortune was a rather sexy poem by Aphra Behn. I thought about writing about that, but instead I opened another book. Oddly enough, I saw a photograph of the San Joaquin Valley. I grew up there. I certainly hope that isn’t my fortune. I'm tired of tumbleweeds.
I ended the night there. I had abandoned another post yesterday that ended up being a rant against Ansel Adams. That wasn’t what I intended. I deleted it. I didn't like the direction it was going. I wanted to write about landscape photography and some of the ways it’s changed. Right after I woke up I had a conversation about the same subjects with someone on the phone, and later, I opened up Ansel Adams: An Autobiography to find some commonality with Adams in a letter:Dear Dorothea
Photography, when it tells the truth, is magnificent. but it can be twisted, deformed, restricted, and compromised more than any other art. Because what is always before the lens always has the illusion of reality; but what is selected and put before the lens can be as false as any totalitarian lie. While it is true that we get from pictures pretty much what we bring to them in our minds and hearts, we are still restricted by the content and the connotations of an image before us. If the picture is of a clam I don’t think about flamingos! The connotations of much documentary photography are —to me— quite rigid . . . .
I resent being told that certain things have significance; that is for me, as spectator, to discover. I resent being manipulated into a socio-political formula of thought and existence. I resent the implications that unless photography has a socio-political function it is not of value to people at large. I resent the very obvious dislike of elements of beauty; our friend Steichen has always shocked me time and time again by a self-conscious fear of the beautiful. Does he feel that way about painting, about sculpture, architecture, literature, or just plain nature? He does not. I am not afraid of beauty, of poetry, of sentiment. I think it is just as important to bring to people the evidence of beauty of the world of nature and of man as it is to give them a document of ugliness, squalor, and despair. . . .
Is there no way photography can be used to suggest a better life — not just to stress the unfortunate aspects of existence or the tragic / satirical viewpoint of the photographer? There must be . . . .
You happen to be one of the very few who has brought enough deeply human emotion into your work to make it bearable for me. I wish you would try and think of yourself as a fine artist — which you are; that is a damn sight more important to the world than being merely an extension of a sociological movement.
The nature I grew up in was much closer to the Dorothea Lange photograph below, than any Ansel Adams landscape. The photographs displayed in an exhibition called “New Topographics” in 1975 are even closer to nature as I knew it growing up. As William Blake said, “Where Man is Not Nature is Barren.”
Ultimately, that’s where my affinities lie. I wanted to write about that, not pick on poor Ansel. I’m not afraid of beauty; it’s just that my conception of beauty is the polar opposite of Adams. Unlike Walker Evans, I’m not afraid of sentiment. Like Adams, that’s a quality I can celebrate. But unlike Adams, I never found documentary photography rigid— connotation depends on the photographer, not the genre. “Is there no way photography can be used to suggest a better life . . .” the didactic tone of Adams is quite close to Wordsworth, and that of social documentary photographers. Funny how these things fit together.
Perhaps I’ll return later to the Behn poem, and the photographers Henry Wessel jr., Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, and maybe even Ed Ruscha. So many things to write about, so little time.
I love the Internet. Got hit by a search query, Guy Kyser 2002. It was because of a post I wrote about one of my favorite bands of the mid 80s, Thin White Rope. But 2002? What’s up with that? Thin White Rope broke up in 1992. Subsequent research turned up news that Guy Kyser is back! He just released a new album on July 16 in a band called Mummydogs, named after those little hot dogs on the rotisserie that no one ever buys at the minimarket. Still bitter at the lack of success enjoyed by Thin White Rope? Perhaps. I would be too. They were an incredible band. I just ordered the CD direct from Frontier. I didn’t know that Frontier records was even still around. I’ve got high hopes. I love that overbaked, overcaffeineated desert sound. Maybe the ten year rest has done him good.
I haven’t bought any new CD’s in a while. Yesterday, I bought the latest from Gomez and The Church, which had a subsequent funds depleting ripple because they motivated online orders from their back catalogues. They were both quite satisfying. I haven’t had one of these flurries in a while. Nothing much has excited me since the new Tom Waits releases this year. It’s nice to be excited for a change.
Thank you anonymous surfer, whoever you are . . . I might not have known about Mummydogs otherwise. I don’t read music magazines anymore. Thin White Rope is one of the best kept secrets out there. They explored distant lands for a while, before succumbing to the rigors of the road. It’s nice to know that Kyser’s growling voice is back. I can sleep better tonight.
Meanings change, though the words remain the same. Awful used to mean “full of awe,” not tragic or terrible. Terrible has shifted too. Rather than bad, it also means more precisely “inspiring terror.” Terror, in and of itself is not a bad thing. Moments of terror are sublime moments where the stimulus exceeds our ability to experience it— pushing life beyond the realm of ordinary consciousness. There is an awful and terrible vision to be found even in the mundane. Of course if you claim this, there is the danger you will be pronounced mad, like William Blake:
When the sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty. I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight. I look thro it & not with it. (VLJ, E: 565-6)
That the words awful and terrible have shifted in this way shows how much that Locke’s view of emotion as opposed to clear thinking has permeated society. That Blake used a guinea as an example of the common view was no mistake. In his time, people chased after money causing the sort of problems crashing down on the US right now, reminding us of our lack of vision. There’s more to vision than valuation; there is also an element of celebration. Is vision a gift? In the 1799 version of The Prelude, Wordsworth thought so.
The mind of man is fashioned and built up
Even as a strain of music. I believe
That there are spirits which, when they would form
A favored being, from his very dawn
Of infancy do open out the clouds
As the touch of lighting, seeking him
With gentle visitation— quiet powers,
Retired, and seldom recognized, yet kind
Spots of Time
I don’t care for free verse. I suppose that’s why I’d really rather read Wordsworth than Whitman. But that’s just a personal bias. I agree with Blake that there should be no competition between poets, and with Thomas DeQuincey that works of literature don’t replace each other, no more than the sight of a new pastoral valley supplants the ones before it. I’m really enjoying Loren and Diane’s discussion of Whitman, because it’s hard for me to study him closely; free verse just doesn’t have the hook for me.
I’d been re-reading and thinking about The Prelude, and the issues of self and society that it raises. But more than that, I have always marveled at the way that Wordsworth butchered it. In my opinion, Wordsworth just plain revised it to death. This isn’t apparent in the lines I’ll examine today, but in sections the poem is tortuous. There are three versions to consider: a two book version from 1799, a thirteen book version from 1805, and a fourteen book version from 1850. I feel that the earliest one is incredibly tight, the 1805 is well rounded and lush, and the 1850 version— the version in most textbooks— is totally flaccid. I want to write about some of the changes.
For those unfamiliar with The Prelude, it is Wordsworth's poetic autobiography— a strong lesson in the way we write and re-write our lives. It can be seen as the ultimate in solipsism, or as I prefer to think of it, a man writing about what he knows best— himself. I believe that knowledge of the shifting value of self and the ways we rewrite it is one of those eternally valuable things to be gained from literature. Our conception of self is never frozen immutable and solid. It is in flux. Spots of time preserved, whether in a blog post or version of a poem, make convenient artifacts to examine to get a sense of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how we create. Ultimately, that’s The Prelude.It begins with a memory of a river:
Was it for this
That one, the fairest of all rivers, loved
To blend his murmurs with my nurse’s song,
And from his alder shades and rocky falls,
And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice
That flowed along my dreams? (1799—1-6)
Connectivity has its price
Whistling past the graveyard, it’s hard not to notice all the tombstones. Sometimes great ideas die fast. Other times, questionable ideas linger for everyone to see. When I surf, I always end up finding all sorts of web pages and journals that sit there like dilapidated shacks, with broken links and forgotten promises.
Though it seems reductive to say that weblogs are “timestamps, permalinks, and comments”— it is precisely this quality that allows you to tell at a glance that a site is alive, rather than dead. XML feeds and updating make it easier to find the living, in the vast fields of the dead. Without these, the desire to sustain a relatively static page or archive wanes quickly. There are lots of abandoned dwellings on the web. It takes a hook-up of some sort, to separate the peppercorns from the dung-heap.
I find it amazing how many online magazines I find from 1999-2001 that remain static and unchanged. Issues #1-3 are available, but as the owners get distracted or shift focus, the wonderful ideas lay fallow.
Most theoretical articles on web writing in the graveyard are dated 1995-98, before the flock to journal sites. The Compleat Webster's is a good one, filled with broken links and 17th century fishing metaphors. Just being “connected” to the web isn't enough to sustain an idea, however good. It takes an audience, however small, to make working on a site worthwhile. And it takes some color and style— a hook to keep it going.
Improvements in indexing have made old link collections bob to the surface. Like a wall of stuffed trophies, they are completely useless. Sites that frequently update, catching links and letting them pass away are now more standard. I think perhaps we’ve entered an era of “catch and release.” Lots of small fish out there, who flash on the hook and then disappear quickly as they lose interest. The real reward is catching those that have stuck around long enough to grow. Still, perhaps it’s best to just admire them for a moment, and then let them go. The more fish there are in the pond, the easier it is to catch a few.
A Certain Malaise
In spells, writing on the web allows the real world to catch up. “Blogging is so yesterday”— time to invent something new. Though the range of appetites and emotions, noumena and phenomena, are finite— the available combinations of them are infinite and inexhaustible. Retreat into this sort of thinking is predictable, trite, and ultimately yesterday. I’ll side with Iggy Pop in attitude. Just like the real world, the dead far outnumber the living.
Who cares who invented the pencil? I just want to write. I’ll say whatever I want to. At least, for as long as I can. An audience is free to come and go as it pleases. Rhetoric is the economics of attention and I’m bored with malaise.
I decided to have a look at the word itself. It was appropriated from French in 1768 to mean discomfort at the onset of a disease. It was extended, from a descriptor of an individual problem to a societal one in the early 19th century. But it wasn’t until the Victorians that it grew into a force. Malaise became “Uneasiness of mind and spirit” (OED) in the late 19th century. I woke up with it this morning with a sinus infection fitting my head like a space-helmet. Writing- wise I feel fine. I feel happy that no adoring public awaits my every word, and leaves crass comments when I don’t live up to their expectations. A poster in a lunch-room where I once worked said: “Attitudes are infectious— is yours worth catching?” Malaise is contagious and must be resisted at all costs. Especially, when a cult is formed around you. I think anger is an acceptable response. It beats starting a religion, and creating rules in solitude with a heart of brass.
Blake has a cautionary creation story on the subject: The Book of Urizen.
I've been found out as the #1 family ass
If you use Altavista’s image search with the family filter on looking for an ass you find me, due to an old blog entry on physiognomy. I was amazed searching to find the old graphic (since the Altavista search refers you to my blog page) that I got 360 hits for ass on my old blog. This makes me wonder— How do you tell a family-oriented ass from a pornographic one?
Altavista cares, though. While they’ll protect you from viewing potentially hairy bums, they’re more than willing to advertise how to get into porn sites for free on the same screen. If you’re searching for ass, they’d love to offer some more suggestions.
I tried to find ass in the local yellow pages, but unfortunately this isn’t a category labeled with such pride and audacity. There is a niche waiting to be filled, since most communities have ass merchants.
Old English Pragmatism
There is a story I’ve been trying to find for a while. I read it when I was doing research on the history of England. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People there is a recounting of the conversion of King Edwin in 627AD. I was reminded of it while reading Reason to Believe, as it extolled the virtues of Emerson and the American romantics. It was implied that the Americans were the first to view truth as socially constructed, situational, and important to survival. Even skipping over the obvious Greek precursors, the Sophists, something was nagging me about the English. Insomniac as usual, I found it last night. It goes like this:
Isn’t it Iconic?— William Blake takes on William Wordsworth
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Romantic principles, thought by most survivors of survey courses in English literature to be exemplified by the golden boy Wordsworth, are filled with retraction and contradiction. Iconic principles of romanticism beg to be smashed— they were while the “romantic” poets were writing. Conventional lumping strategies in pedagogy presuppose that the romantic poets had a consistency created through proximity in time. Actually, most of these poets had little in common. Some were at least internally consistent, others weren’t. Wordsworth could have easily been the poster boy for inconsistency and the model for Emerson’s comment. In deep contrast to the 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth both expands and undercuts the iconic stricture that personal reflection is the hallmark of poetry in his Preface to Poems from 1815:
THE POWERS requisite for the production of poetry are: first, those of Observation and Description,— i.e. the ability to observe with accuracy things as they are in themselves, and with fidelity to describe them, unmodified by any passion or feeling existing in the mind of the describer; whether the things depicted be actually present to the senses, or have a place only in the memory. This power, though indispensable to a Poet, is one which he employs only in submission to necessity, and never for a continuance of time: as its exercise supposes all the higher qualities of the mind to be passive, and in a state of subjection to external objects, much in the same way as a translator or engraver ought to be to his original. 2ndly, Sensibility,— which, the more exquisite it is, the wider will be the range of a poet’s perceptions; and the more will he be incited to observe objects, both as they exist in themselves and as re-acted upon by his own mind.William Blake annotated a copy of Wordsworth’s Poems of 1815. Under those lines in the preface, he wrote:
Isn’t it Ironic?
My capacity for subtlety must be getting stronger. One weird critique of my work has stuck with me for years— “You aren’t very subtle, are you?” I took this to heart, though it was meant in jest. I strive for directness, but directness is not always equivalent with a lack of complexity or subtlety. It makes me feel good that I made Tom ponder my little indictment of Wordsworth. It was meant to have a certain irony.
There was a lot I wanted to say when I wrote “You’re soaking in it,” but I thought it best to leave it vague. There’s a big split between romantic theory and practice, and I want to write about it at greater length. Even still, I find it more attractive than social constructivism, where everything is reduced to the constitutive nature of social practice. It’s hard to consolidate individuality with appetite. That’s what I was really pondering. I have my own share of problems with Wordsworth— though I admire him— and in reflection, most of those problems are contained in his prefaces rather than his poetry. I’m trying to figure out whether it’s irony, or just misfortune.
”It’s like rain on your wedding day / A free ride, when you’ve already paid”— Alanis knows only misfortune, not irony. Wordsworth, I suspect, was smarter than that. But the contradictory nature of his writings and poetry are maddening. There’s more musing to come on that topic, but for now I just wanted to check the perception of irony on the web. Irony.com provides help for those into role playing games. Unfortunately, Ironymag is for women who lift weights. Irony Maiden is for fans of Daria, but thankfully, Irony Plug-ins are available. This site has an admirable aim:
We are a charitable institution, founded in 1996, devoted to ensuring that standards of English comprehension are maximised throughout the World Wide Web. Our research revealed what many had previously suspected, and reported informally - certain web users were incapable of recognising, let alone using, irony or sarcasm. Problems associated with this included:Reflecting on the joys of sociality while alone in a bathtub was not meant to be unfortunate, but rather, ironic. I’m still undecided whether Wordsworth, Emerson, and Thoreau’s celebration of solitude was ironic or unfortunate. I’ve been reading a lot of Blake today, comparing his thoughts on solitude. I think it’s the solitude=reflection equation that bothers me most. Blake saw problems with it too. There will be more solitary reflections to come.
- inability to appreciate humour more complex than Benny Hill or Adam Sandler comedies;
- difficulty distinguishing between emails and websites satirising other people's beliefs, and emails and websites that actually promote those beliefs;
- fundamentalist religious beliefs and political naivety;
- general stupidity.
You’re soaking in it
I gave up. I was frantically looking for a bit from Henry Miller regarding the difference in attitude between the French and the Americans. Paraphrased, it goes something like this: In America, they teach their children that they can grow up to be president. In France, there is no such delusion. They grow up happier as a result, and more comfortable with who they are. Miller was quick to spot that romantic/pragmatic strain in American thought which brings with it the albatross of possibility, and the sinking feeling that remains when you don’t grow up to be president, and are forever doomed to be who you are instead of someone set apart, special, and above all different from everyone else. But I couldn’t find the quote.
I decided to soak in a tub instead. Something Mike Sanders said was bugging me. “Introspection must ultimately be done in private.” This is of course the hallmark of Wordsworthian romanticism, and goes along with the definition of poetry in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads:
I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.This delineation of introspection as constitutive of feeling and more significantly, that the feelings which come from memory are the most powerful ones of all, has colored Western society— feeling is taken as a private rather than public, reflective rather than reactive, individual rather than collectively consitituted response. This is deeply at odds with human appetites. Humanity is far more social than that. Coleridge, no matter how much he agreed with Wordsworth in theory, subverted it in practice. He was loquacious, providing a great deal of his introspection in public. Thinking of the contradictions of publicly generated privacy gave me a headache, and I really needed to soak my head.
Freedom of Information
I’ve been distracted lately by library history. Any suggestions of good books on the subject are welcome. As the keywords are common, net searches just aren’t providing much in the way of useful information. I’ve found some compendium sites, but I'm really looking for a more general overview. For the first time in a long time, I actually had to turn to an encyclopedia, and gasp may have to physically visit a library to satisfy my craving. All the books I’ve seen so far seem too tangential, and expensive to add to my personal collection without reviewing them first. I thought a few years ago that I might go into the LIS field, but I got distracted by writing.
The article in Encarta was surprisingly helpful, but filled with vague generalities:
Fundamental shifts in economies and political structures throughout Europe during the 16th century forced libraries to assume new practices and responsibilities. Members of the growing middle class benefited from the emergence of capitalist economies during this period. They soon began to demand access to information that could help them solidify and advance their socioeconomic position. Libraries eventually became a central source of information for most Europeans.The phrase “began to demand access to information” needs to be substantiated by contemporary references. Who demanded? What tracts are there on the subject? Inquiring minds want to know. This assertion echoes Ian Watt’s version of the history of the novel, where the “middle class” suddenly becomes responsible for everything. I suspect it isn’t that simple.
If the demand for public access to information was so prevalent in the sixteenth century, why did it take until 1850 for public libraries to gain support in England? I’m somewhat familiar with circulating libraries, and the growth of the coffeehouse as an information center as well as a seller of stimulants. What I wasn’t familiar with was the seemingly crucial role of the colonies in fostering the growth of libraries as a public institution. The target of libraries in the US was not just a middle class, but seemingly everyone. The missionary zeal of the Puritans was also applied to increasing print literacy in the new colonies.
The problem of free information is always rests on the question— who pays for it? National libraries and theological libraries are paid for because they feed the egos of the institutions. University libraries are paid for largely through charity, and thus feed the egos of the patrons like John Harvard. England seemed to coast along on dubious business models, somewhat like the modern video rental business, where subscriber support provided for the acquisition of new material. But in the US, the distribution of printed materials was at first, primarily pragmatic— it rested on the consequences of use.
Between 1695 and 1704 clergyman Thomas Bray of Maryland established 70 small circulating libraries of carefully selected volumes meant to convert the natives. This to me just speaks of egotism of a different kind, but his gift to South Carolina did result in the passage of an act creating the first public library in the US in 1700. Rich planters established schools that even the poor were allowed to attend in 1757, and libraries as public, civic institutions seem to be entrenched in the US long before most other countries. These facts shock and amaze me. The first tax-supported public library was formed here in 1833, compared to 1852 for England and 1869 for Australia. The easy access to information seems to be pivotal in the formation of stable social structures, regardless of initial motives.
Business models eventually seem to break down in the face of the demand for access. But they stubbornly cling, in some countries longer than others. This seems worth of consideration in light of the battles over intellectual property in electronic information systems. Free distribution of information is good— from a purely pragmatic standpoint— and produces a promising future. But that nagging question always remains— who pays? I don’t think our present short-sighted republican administration will be willing to pay the bill, and the middle class which elected it doesn’t seem to be too hungry for information.
PENSIVE at eve on the hard world I mused,
And my poor heart was sad; so at the MOON
I gazed, and sighed, and sighed; for ah how soon
Eve saddens into night! mine eyes perused
With tearful vacancy the dampy grass
That wept and glitter’d in the paly ray:
And I did pause me on my lonely way
And mused me on the wretched ones that pass
Oe’r the bleak heath of sorrow. But alas!
Most of myself I thought! when it befel,
That the soothe spirit of the breezy wood
Breath'd in mine ear: “All this is very well,
But much of ONE thing, is for NO thing good.”
Oh my poor heart’s INEXPLICABLE SWELL!
— NEHEMIAH HIGGINBOTTOM
Blogging, then, is like my mental scratch pad made visible: it's much more stream-of-conscious, though still composed and relatively controlled. I think about what I'm going to post for a few minutes or a few hours, then pretty much just write it as I type. Along the way, ideas I hadn't expected pop up and make themselves known, screaming for attention, and often they turn into other ideas, other posts, or even other projects. I actually, ideally, become more productive in my offline writing because of blogging— in effect, the impermanent work, the scratch pad, feeds what is intended as 'finished', lasting work.
It would surprise no one that I agree with this, and feel exactly the same way. That’s why, as part of my attempt to change my attitude, I changed my scratch-pad. Like it or not, this quest for permanence can have deleterious, rather than positive effects on writing. You never start, because you’re desperately afraid of being wrong. Blogging, for me at least, is liberating because I don’t care if I’m wrong. I can always write the idea a different way tomorrow, and try to make it work a little better. Forcing myself to place it in this venue may have potential consequences that puts the writing at risk: the risk of misinterpretation, or the risk of totally alienating of my small audience.
Blogging disclaimers abound, I think, for this very reason. “Don’t take it so seriously, it’s only a blog.” The question of affirmation is touchy at best. The community— as it stands now— I find liberal and friendly. But there is always the potential that they can turn on you like a pack of wild dogs and devour you whole. But it’s just sketches, you see? Does that matter if you are ripped limb from limb for voicing an unpopular opinion? It hasn’t happened to me yet. I’ve been misread, but not disemboweled, and if I were, I suppose I could only blame myself for choosing not to be private. But the benefits outweigh the rewards. I get to peek inside certain corners of people’s heads, and pick a few choice ideas to exploit. I get to record sites that I find during research, for easy retrieval later. I can make bold conjectures, and later modify them into more well rounded arguments. I can modify my process, as I figure out what works and what doesn’t. It has not detracted from my writing in the slightest.
Most writing is deservedly impermanent. It is a way of working things out, of accomplishing work, of getting things done. Poetic moments don’t come when called and striving to record those momentary flights of fancy in unpolished and imperfect form is an excellent writers tool. It is dangerous to concentrate on the ends, rather than the means. That’s my complaint with narrow views of pragmatism. But if pragmatism were extended to embrace the celebration of method, of experiment, of imperfectness (as argued in the book I just finished) then the means themselves, are in a certain way, the active crucible which incubates the birth of new methods— an end, worthy of considering as productive writing, however impermanent.
Blogging, inevitably rests on some powerful fantasies. I’m brilliant. I’m interesting. That was good. People will care. Fantasy is healthy— concentrating on grinding out great classic works, for most people, is purely delusional. Can’t we just play, have fun, and write?
The question of how to respond to the other kids on the playground isn’t a simple one. I’m always grateful for responses, but I don’t usually get too hung-up on it. I don’t comment all that often, unless I have something to say. Most of us are of necessity, somewhat egocentric about our own playing. That’s where the value of writing rests, in my opinion— in the personal satisfaction that everyone is free to gain from it. No one else can give you that, no matter how often they stroke your ego. That part’s up to you. Accepting blog discourse for what it is entails certain elements of forgiveness. You have to put aside the quest for perfection at the door, and accept the fragments for what they are— moments of shifting value.
I knew it had to happen eventually— an intrepid reporter from the NY Post found what I wrote after Steve Earle’s performance here, and wanted me to call him with more details. Blogging can be dangerous. Hopefully, he won’t twist my observations into something they're not. But I’ve had bad experiences with that in the past, so I feel rather apprehensive about the whole thing.
He asked me what I wrote about (er... anything?) and if I wrote about music much. The timing was weird, because though I’m struggling with writing my final summation for Reason to Believe (and stalling it until tomorrow), and had thought about writing something about Gang of Four, since Badger seemed to find them so humorless, just as a diversion. I think they’re one of the funniest bands of the eighties, but then, I’ve got a twisted sense of humor. Another day.
There’s just something that derails you after talking to a rock journalist. He asked me if they played Steve Earle on the radio here. I told him it was pretty much a clearchannel town, and said “not likely.” I haven’t turned on a radio in years. We were better off with Alan Freed. I hate radio, mostly because I prefer to listen to music rather than egotistical DJ's.
A Model of Open Source Behavior?
A question has been bothering me for the last few years: why did it take so long to invent photography? Studying the romantic period in Britain, I was constantly amazed at how forward thinking and innovative they were. Sir Humphry Davy, when he wasn’t rubbing two ice-cubes together or getting his friend Coleridge to sniff nitrous, figured the basics out in 1802.
The experiments were economically motivated. Working for Josiah Wedgewood, Davy pottered about with ways of reproducing drawings without employing expensive engravers, like William Blake. It was a limited success, though, because the images couldn’t be made permanent. For a time, the engraver’s jobs were safe.
John Herschel, distinguished astronomer and friend of computer pioneer Charles Babbage, found the solution to the problem in 1819— sodium hyposulfate, now commonly known as “fixer” (go figure). However, it wasn’t until the race for patents in 1839 that Herschel told his friend Fox Talbot about it.
Puttering around yesterday, I happened upon The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot. The website won’t be completed until May of 2003, but it promises to be fascinating. What happened between the production of this negative in 1835, and the perfection of the process in 1839 is probably well preserved in letters. Interestingly enough, Talbot also corresponded with Humphry Davy. I have little doubt that this venture into photography was economically motivated, and patent driven. It wasn’t an open source environment in England at the time.
Fox Talbot was a scholar, and there may have been no work on the project between 1835-9 because he was easily distracted. He was a specialist in classical languages and mathematics, not chemistry. It is thought that he didn’t pursue photography during this time, because he thought Daguerre’s work was similar to his own. It wasn’t. So, the race was on from 1839-41 to secure patents for his own unique process. One of the interesting oversights in the patent race was that the use of “fixer” was not patented, even after it was discovered to work.
Daguerre did an incredibly bold thing. He made his invention open source— that is, to everyone except England. Anyone was free to modify and improve his process, except those in England (where he patented it), who had to pay a license fee. There was an instant boom in daguerreotypes and all their variations around the globe after 1840. The freely available process spurred improvement and modification to Talbot’s calotype process, to make it more economically competitive.
The problem with daguerreotypes is that there is only one original; it can’t be infinitely reproduced like the negative/positive process developed by Talbot. Daguerreotypes were ultimately, of lesser commercial potential. But it lit a fire under the commercial developers to make their product more useful, in order to compete. There’s a lesson in that somewhere. Hopefully, it isn't that open-source has a limited utility and lifespan. Daguerreotypes anyone?
The letters are among a collection of artefacts kept by Alexander Davison, a confidant of the three members of the love triangle.
Fanny Nelson was eclipsed by the glamorous Lady Hamilton after she stole her husband, and historians have struggled to gauge her reaction to Nelson’s cruelty from the few remaining scraps of her writing. Although Lady Hamilton believed that Fanny “never felt in her life”, the tortured letters of the abandoned wife tell a story of “extreme misery” battling with undying loyalty.
—Times Online via NASSR-L
Celebrity Porn and Anonymity
Looking through some mail (I just can’t keep up on listservs anymore) I found some interesting discussion on C-18L. A question was raised by Ellen Moody regarding the dominance of women’s first names being taken as titles for novels, whereas novels named after male characters are usually given as two names— Pamela, Emma, etc., vs. Robinson Crusoe, Joseph Andrews, etc. The rule has many exceptions, such as Moll Flanders, et. al, but it would be easy to argue that for feminine heroines, first names clearly dominate. One idea proposed by Moody is that this was standard because women changed names after marriage, so it was less confusing this way.
However, Olaf Simons countered by asserting that it was not gender specific. Prior to the second decade of the eighteenth century, it was commonplace for heroes and heroines to be named in the “romantik” fashion, with one name only. Simmons argues that the differentiation in names occurred largely because of demands of the marketplace. When authorial identity became a salable commodity, women were as quick as men to establish two names for both themselves, and their characters.
Moody countered with a bit of a challenge, asking that Simons name single-named male characters, but also refined her question to suggest that the use of single names for women reflected their lower status. Elvira Casal provided an interesting twist to the issue, suggesting that single names were more intimate and private, whereas full names were a more public presence. Therefore, the choice of single names reflects the more intimate and private nature of the novels named for female heroines. Interesting stuff— I agree that naming affects the construction of identity.
All this lead to the discovery of Simons’ site, Pierre Marteau’s Publishing House. Named for a fictitious, anonymous Dutch publisher from the eighteenth century, it’s under construction, but full of good stuff. For those interested in anonymity, Margaret Jacobs’ The Clandestine Universe of the Early Eighteenth Century is a great read. I was struck by some interesting parallel behaviors. Remember all the noise about the porn industry as a model for Internet business development a year or so ago? It seems that the porn industry was also instrumental in the early days of the novel:
Pierre Marteau’s earliest French language publications were primarily anti-French and anti-Catholic polemics that could have been written by devout Protestants. Almost simultaneously, the genre of Marteau’s books became experimental, as if the authors were trying to write in the new fictional style we now call the novel. The precise nature of French corruption and decadence required narrative description: young nuns and Jesuits, readers were told, use dildos to give one another pleasure, although their actual intercourse finally occurs on the dunes near The Hague. The Capuchin monks are said to run a “university of cuckcoldry.” Marteau’s books also particularly targeted the French aristocracy. Illicit love among the great and the noble clearly sold books.I was reminded as well of the fact that pornography was also important in the development of photography. In the early days, pornographic pictures of prostitutes sold for more money that the prostitutes themselves. Maybe Internet porn isn’t such an outlandish model after all. But more than that, perhaps how we name ourselves has an impact on how we are perceived as public or private personalities on the Internet.
. . . According to the clandestine literature no social group could be as debauched as the Catholic clergy. Sometimes a woman was claimed to be the author of a tell-all account of the passions of Catholic nuns, whether in Portugal or France. In these Marteau books monks appeared as especially evil sorts, and their erections and masturbation with one another — “all the diverse emotions are rendered visible by the erection . . . ” — were recounted with relish for the supposedly naive public.
Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing by Hephzibah Roskelley and Kate Ronald promises to be an interesting read.
The subheading on the title page doesn’t match. It reads: “Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Possibility of Teaching.” Perhaps this reflects an earlier working title. I like it better, myself. This situates the book in the continuing debate (since Plato) regarding the very possibility of education. Indeed, the title of the first chapter reflects concern over these issues— “Is Teaching Still Possible?”
What lead me to this book was its engagement with Romantic ideology. While the book is specifically focused on American Romanticism, Emerson in particular, the general principles are of importance to me. This book is the only rhetorical scholarship listed in the Bedford Bibliography that deals with Romanticism and pedagogy in a positive light. Elsewhere, Romanticism is a demon to be slain. Here, the authors propose that engagement with the issues debated during the Romantic period can be a redemptive force in writing pedagogy.
Chapter one opens with contemporary theory. Chapter two continues the discussion, and procedes into American history. The third chapter provides careful consideration of Emerson, Thoreau, Fredrick Douglass, and Margaret Fuller. The fourth deals with pragmatism, and the fifth, neo-pragmatism. Chapter six deals with the presentation of romantic pedagogy in Dead Poet’s Society, and the final chapter presents real world examples of teachers using the romantic/pragmatic method.
Maybe it was the gold-spangled eagle uniform of Judge Dredd, but it suddenly dawned on me that the national symbol of the US is an endangered predator. There’s something downright poetic about that. I digress, as usual.
It seems as if everyone has redesign fever these days. From the minty-freshness of Shauny’s new look, to Alex and Euan’s surrender to MT, lots of folks seem to be moving and changing. If you haven’t seen Stavro’s miraculous floating boxes, be sure to have a look. In case anyone noticed that my boxes can resemble frames on a roll of film, I can assure you that that is intentional.
I’m still in the tune-up phase, as you might have noticed from the addition of a dictionary search box (to avoid constantly defining the vocabulary I slip into, and as a convenience to me as I struggle with everyone elses’). I switched everything to PHP enabled pages, and started using a beta-test script to help manage my links. I figured it was better to do it now, so as to avoid a bunch of broken links in the future. I suppose I resisted the urge because PHP sounds too much like PCP, and I never cared for that at all. Yeah, I know it’s silly. I also installed the MT related entries plug-in to make navigation easier for people who just happen by. What I’m aiming for here is user friendliness, so if there are any issues, please let me know. But I’m digressing, again.
What I really wanted to do was point at Kiri’s new site, which contains a fun little zine in PDF format. If I had the free time, I’d love to do some book dummies in the same way. But there’s only so many things a person can do at once.
While I'm at it though, if you haven't seen this page of Ozzy soundbytes, it’s rather amusing.
I've just taken four seconal . . .
That went down like a nun’s knickers . . .
Things always overlap for me. Lara Croft was up on screen next, attempting to unite the past and present, not unlike Roskelly and Ronald in my current reading project. I must say that I prefer what’s up now— Tank Girl.
I must warn against an opposite error—namely, that if Reason, as distinguished from Prudence, consists merely in knowing that Black cannot be White—or when a man has a clear conception of an inclosed figure, and another equally clear conception of a straight line, his Reason teaches him that these two conceptions are incompatible in the same object, i.e. that two straight lines cannot include a space—the said Reason must be a very insignificant faculty. But a moment’s steady self-reflection will shew us, that in the simple determination “Black is not White”—or, “that two straight lines cannot include a space”— all the powers are implied, that distinguish Man from Animals—first, the power of reflection—2d. of comparison—3d. and therefore of suspension of the mind—4th. therefore of a controlling will, and the power of acting from notions, instead of mere images exciting appetites; from motives, and not from mere dark instincts.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
There is something intimidating about blank space. I think that’s why the existing templates for blogs don’t provide distinct visual separation between entries. It’s usually a subtle thing, a line, blank space, but nothing like the abrupt space of a canvas.
I think that the implied cohesiveness of words, generated into a space that is not a blank, helps most beginning writers feel more comfortable adding words to their blog space. The first stroke is always the hardest. It’s as if you’ve violated the blankness, and you feel the pressure to make what you put there worthwhile. But with the support of a few lines written before, the pressure is mitigated. Once you start adding words to the screen, it’s easier to continue.
Because blogs are always works in progress, the writer feels more at ease. A blog is never really finished. Like a painting, blogging only pauses in interesting places.
The particles of a blog are not seamless. Each entry is a line in a poem, read in reverse, and situated by relation to the disappearing text that scrolls off underneath. Having written in the space before, adding to it becomes easier. Each new entry becomes a mutation, upsetting the stasis of the ethos conveyed before. A violation of stasis, but seldom of emptiness.
Did I mention I was a photographer?
It occurs to me that as my site traffic has grown, new readers won’t realize that I was a photographer. The past tense is intentional— though it’s sort of like saying I used to be a junkie. Once you’ve been swallowed-up by photography, it never really lets you go. For the last five or six years I’ve been seduced into becoming heterotextual.
I’ve been composing all manner of texts, excepting fiction. I approached photography much the same way, experimenting with everything except fabricated tableaus. Eventually, I’d like to be bimedial. That’s part of what this website has been about. Experimenting with combinations of words and images, just trying to see what I can make work. It think there is a synergy between text and image that is rarely explored, let alone exploited to full advantage. The only work that springs to mind that has integrated all the elements that obsess me: text, photographs, and found objects— is Bill Burke’s Mine Fields— but that’s a subject for another day.
Yesterday, I was looking at the gallery presentation I put together about a year ago. It’s right here, though few people bother to access it. Invisible Light, the online version, contains around a hundred images, available in a nice big slide show. I’ve noticed since I put it online that few people look at the big pictures. The thumbnail sketch is pathetic by comparison. I’m not sure if it’s a bandwidth issue or not, but I checked and it still works. That portion of the website was a lot of work. Posting an occasional photo to my blog isn’t. Please don’t email me with technical questions about infrared photography. All the questions gearheads might want answered are there on the main page under, surprisingly enough, hardware and technique.
The search module was put online today (though obviously there isn’t much to search here yet) and Professor Salo has generously given me some tips regarding MT templates that should speed the progress of getting the final design together. There’s a lot more stuff I want to play with here, but in case you think I’ve been sloughing off— I did manage to complete my reader’s notes to Literature in its Place today. I like stretching out like I did in that entry, giving myself the time to work things through. The book, in case you’re curious, is easily read in a day. However processing it into a form that another person might understand, well, that takes longer. But it’s rewarding to me, even if it’s only of use to a limited audience. That’s what I like most about the “new” look. It makes me want to be more concise— perhaps my biggest problem as a heterotextual. When those atoms start colliding, it often turns into an explosion.
Things are moving along nicely. I had to modify the comments template because the link attributes were causing a problem. No one else had tried linking yet, and when I did I found that they disappeared (black on brown- not really legible). I’ve been beta-testing the mt-search add-in, because search functionality is really what makes blogging much better than just taking notes on things. I can’t believe that MT doesn’t have a user search as standard equipment, and what’s up with the “recent entries” thingy they put on the sidebar? Unless you are using a single day on your front page, it’s a little redundant, isn’t it? Carping aside, I’ve now tested this thing out with Opera 6, Mozilla, I.E. 6, and Netscape 6. I really love the rendering engine in Mozilla and Netscape— it makes this page look really nice. I’ve still got some minor alignment things I can’t resolve, and Opera behaves kind of screwy because it seems to cache style-sheets. If I change them and revisit the page, Opera uses the old sheet unless refreshed. So, if you’re using Opera and the screen looks a little funky, hit refresh.
I love blue. It was hard to give that up for the new layout. It was perfect for image-oriented things, since it was easy on the eyes. However, for text it just wasn’t cutting it. In order to keep the somewhat restrained overall appearance and maintain chromatic coherence with paper-toned text box insets, brown seemed like the best alternative. It works fairly well with images too, sort of an off-white matte board. Mostly, it’s just more readable. Anyone who tries to follow some of my more elaborate rants should appreciate that.
I felt like I needed the boxes. Something that would contain the content. One of the peculiarities of web writing is that it is scroll oriented rather than codex oriented. I really enjoyed exploring that for a while. But, fundamentally, web writing is also page oriented. The archives of the old blog are best viewed in their weekly format because of the unfolding of the scroll, as the week progressed. But that’s not how I chose to maintain the entries. They exist on individual pages, so the real scroll effect gets lost when linking or responding to them. So, I think I want to work with a more atomistic view for a while, where each individual entry can stand on its own better, without the comfort of its companions in the scroll. It makes for a more jarring, frame-like experience when visiting the main page, but it helps stop the sprawl.
However, by instituting an “in progress” status for some of those atoms, I feel like I can have the best of both worlds. Currently, for example, my notes on Britton’s book are forming a cohesive scroll of their own. To try and maintain reader-friendliness, I am using links within these entries. So, if you’ve started to read an entry like this, a hotlink will appear to the continuation on the main page so that you need not scroll to exactly where you left off. It’s actually quite easy to code it this way. Rather than leaving the entry in its original place, I could change the date after successive revisions causing it to move up the page, but I’m resistant to that. I like the idea of limiting the presence of any particular post to one week. It will force me to finish it, or give up on it after a while.
Wood s lot uncovered Romanticism on the Net.
Might I further suggest Romantic Circles, which has published an article written by my mentor, Dr. R. Paul Yoder, on the language philosophies of John Locke and William Blake:
Blake’s system differs from Locke’s in significant ways. First, it accepts, indeed insists upon a human standard, the standard of the human form rendered divine by the incarnation. Blake does not seek to remedy the obscurity to which language is "naturally liable" as Locke puts it. Instead, he sees this obscurity as having been appropriated by the Savior for the work of redemption when he took on the human form. Second, Blake’s system is not based on an atomistic object-reference language in which one must always use the same word for the same idea.
Sometimes that grain of sand is a whole world; sometimes that one man is a multitude. As is so often the case for Blake, it all depends on perspective, the expansion or contraction of the organs of perception. And third, Blake’s system respects the integrity of the minute particulars; it does not celebrate the general terms that Locke says are so essential to human thought. (21)
Generalities, though essential, are not all there is to theory. This issue, from March 2001, dealt with Romanticism and complexity. There is an odd relationship between complexity and obscurity. I like Yoder’s take on “fractal self-similarity” in all aspects of Blake’s work. The more deeply I studied Blake, the further my jaw dropped to the floor with his mastery of the manipulation of a reader. Most authors that write on Blake tend to play a similar game, insisting that Blake must be read as obscure and difficult to unravel. That's what keeps the Blake industry in business.
It depends on your perspective, I suppose. A great deal of Blake’s work is frightfully simple— though fractured through levels of reference that seem to recede into infinity. Once you “get it” it’s actually fairly easy.
We're scribbling hostages to fortune, and there is no guarantee that anything will refrain from drying up and fluttering away. Our stuff might not even stick around long enough to prove our efforts more than vain to our own nephews. Traces remain of neither Nero's Fall of Ilium nor Claudius' histories of Carthage and Etruria, and these men were better placed even than Mark Helprin, if that can be imagined. I have a great uncle whose novels were made into Clark Gable and Alan Ladd movies, who lived like a king on the Riviera, and even abebooks.com can't locate his titles or his name. And, remember, unlike us, these guys used to be in hard copy in a big way.
. . .
We are all Juvenals, and the web is our Bum-Fuck Egypt. The web's our Patmos, and we share it with the ranting epileptoid Sons o' Thunder of our time, our beloved fellow deportees, who dare to write the truth about, for example, America's Reichstag fire last September. We're saints producing and propagating the apocalypses of the day, but also the good news of the future. We're Baudelaires kicked, safely and gratefully, out of Babylon.
I tend to write things out. By this, I mean that through the act of writing I resolve issues and situate myself in relation to ideas which I tend to consume like most people consume food. My blog isn’t for everyone. I get downright obtuse as I twist myself like a pretzel around concepts. No, I don’t walk around all day with a pencil (or a keyboard) in my hand— instead, I tend to pace and rave until I think I’ve got it figured out enough to start writing.
Moving from Greymatter to Movable Type, I feel like a hick in the big city. It’s got a lot of potential I like, but I’m still a little homesick for the modular nature of GM templates where small changes would affect many pages rather than just one small family. It’s worth the price though, for the flexible category system and its integration into the larger stream of blog discourse. However, I find myself wanting to tweak the tool, not so much code-wise, but by setting up a certain kind of grammar for my postings rather than the free-form skating across thin ice like I used to do. Consequently, I set up a category for “Blog Pragmatics.” This will be used for posts relating directly to the navigation and philosophy behind this blog, not navel-gazing regarding blogging in general. I set up a more typically titled category for that, “Metablogging,” though I suspect there will be a certain amount of overlap between the two. Being able to assign multiple categories makes this easily possible. I love new tools— I’m a tool junkie.
One idea I’m stealing from AKMA is the Blog in Prog thing. Most people who use writing as a tool discover writing is a recursive process. Revision is not just something you do for pieces submitted for approval, but a thing that allows you to flesh out and expand any writing you may do. It’s more powerful than just hitting publish and forgetting about it. Publishing on the web is addictive though, and you want to get the rush as soon as possible rather than deferring your pleasure, so often things are pushed up on the screen in a relatively unpolished condition. I think this is a good thing— for web writing, anyhow. It gives a writing the immediacy of spoken discourse. But, what if you want to develop an idea? The best lines always occur to me right after I hit post.
Being a compulsive reviser, my posts generally get pruned and embellished for hours. Often, posts are built around things that I’m reading, which upon reflection, display new nuances. My old method of dealing with it was to compose another post. This makes things difficult to follow, for people who just surf in or people who don’t have the time to follow all of my verbal diarrhea. To try and ground my conceptual threads a little more firmly, I’m going to allow myself to edit past the 4-5 hour cut-off I constrained myself to— with stipulations. Posts which display the “in progress” image I’ve constructed may be revised up to seven days after the original post. This should help stay the wandering river effect, where I refer to the same book for weeks on end. To be more reader friendly, if I update it the following day or beyond, I will place an updated notice on it. This way, a reader will not be forced to chase my tail with me as the idea or reading develops, and it will be more easily accessible to me if I should want to review it in the future— I’ll be able to look at one post instead of several. If the rumination continues past seven days, then I will create a new post on the topic.
I don’t expect to do this often, and I really don’t expect everyone to be interested in the things I extend this way. Most of them will probably be academic in nature, and it will be a way of avoiding that sort of starched-blanched-bleak ocean of text that is often generated, particularly regarding linguistic issues. It should make the blog a bit more entertaining for those who don’t come here for deep thoughts.
No, it isn't a misdirected ploy to encourage people to scroll down. It’s keeping my recursive side and my wandering side in play with minimal confusion. I figure that only a handful of people are interested in the heavy theory stuff, so if they want to keep up with where I’m going, the little bit of scrolling shouldn't bother them.
James Britton’s Literature in its Place begins by invoking John Stuart Mill’s definition of imagination: “that which enables us, by a voluntary effort, to conceive the absent as if it were present, the imaginary as if it were real, and to clothe it with feelings which, if it were indeed real, it would bring along with it.” Mill later glosses it as “the power by which one human being enters into the mind and circumstances of another.” He might as easily have used Percy Shelley’s definition from Defence of Poetry, but the first chapter leans heavily on the anti-romantics, like Eliot, Pound, and Auden. I remember being struck, while reading Eliot’s critical articles on Shelley, that Eliot seemed to damn the qualities in Shelley that were distinctly apparent in his own poetry. In this context, Harold Bloom’s Oedipal hypotheses don’t seem too far off the mark. Similarly, Britton invokes the ghost of Shelley without ever mentioning his name.
Seen in such severely logical terms, I don’t think anyone could doubt that imagination is an essential element in the powers of perception and cerebration that characterize the human mentality, and not a special gift, bestowed only upon writers, painters, and other artists. And then, like so many of our abilities, we have to admit that it grows above all from use— from use in ever wider and more complicated areas of our concern. (vii)
Amen. I particularly like his nominalization cerebration. It is homophonic with celebration, and should be a synonym, at least when approached with the fervor of Shelley. Literature in its Place is a short little book, and I want to make some notes as I read through it. Britton makes an interesting case for the utility of imagination as a driving force for the foundation of identity, and the development of language skills. It starts, as many works on rhetoric do, with cognitive research regarding the acquisition of language by children.
One of the most common observations by people I meet, regarding my personality, is: “You’re so creative.” I’m never sure what to say about that. I firmly believe that everyone is. They just don’t label it as such, and perhaps don’t flex it quite as often. I suspect there are cultural reasons why cerebration— for most people— is not equivocal with celebration. This isn’t the case when we are growing up.
Independence Day Greetings
Dancing for validation.
The primary reason why I wanted to change my blogging space was standards compliance. It can be nightmare-like to try and validate every document but over the long-haul I think it’s worthwhile. It’s sort of like processing for archival permanence in photography. As long as a page is compliant with an existing standard, then it will be readable in the future rather than degenerating into unreadable code.
The second reason was accessibility. Without standards compliance, accessibility is impossible. Web accessibility is built on a variety of things, and I remember getting really irritated in my web-writing class regarding the issues surrounding using graphics and images. I thought to myself— I’m not constructing my pages for blind people. How can you describe an image adequately? Captions and such partially destroy the reason for using an image to begin with—they do work that words cannot do— things that words interfere with. I refuse to give-up my non-descriptive captioning privileges. However, faced with the failing eye-sight of my brother and parents (though I’m not designing for them, either) it seems prudent to include things like dynamic text sizing to help those who don’t desire to squint at tiny-tiny-type.
Standards compliance can be a real nightmare if you are used to little things like, er, punctuation. I like composing in Word, because the spell check is unobtrusive and my dictionary is filled with all the weird words I commonly use and I can’t spell worth shit. I also like the “smart quotes” thing too. However, my easy cut-and-paste days are gone. Now I have to worry about character entities. I’ve memorized the em-dash, since I use it so frequently, but now there’s the apostrophe situation to deal with, on top of the quote problem. I suppose this is as good of an excuse as any to start figuring out how to use the macros in Word. I don’t mean to be so anal about this junk, but I think regular straight-quotes are ugly, and I don’t want to give up my short-and-curlies, especially now that I have a more ornate font— and I certainly don’t want to exchange using a word-processor for typing on the screen.
A few quick words about the template— I decided that I was thinking about this mess as an amorphous, massive textual blob. Entry after entry was beginning to run-together into a sort of associational conceptual soup. I liked it, but I was getting too comfortable with it. Comfort is sometimes a danger sign. So, in order to shake myself up, I decided to shift into more of a rustic missive, epistolary look. Think of it like scraps of paper, or little postcards.
I do have a bone to pick with the validator (or the standards, really). Who decided you can’t have a block quote inside a paragraph? I do it all the time, and now I must adjust my habits to make the validator say it’s okay.
We are urged by the persistent requests of teachers to draw together in a brief space some certain points about the principles of letter writing. But we ask that the expert not laugh, that the spiteful tooth of the envious should not bite, and that the unskilled in the art should not back away — for after all, even if the fullness of the moon is wanting, this undertaking is not on that account useless in every part.
Therefore let honest men hear honestly what here is honestly set forth, and by hearing understand, and lock what they understand securely in the treasure box of the heart. And even let those who are advanced in this art add in some other points, just as grain is thrown on the threshing floor for the sake of separating it out.
Preface to The Principles of Letter Writing, Anonymous, ca. 1135.
I like the threshing floor analogy, applied to the activity of writing as a whole. I suppose that’s why a commenting system is important to me. If I’m wrong, I’d rather know, and it seems to me that jotting down a quick note would be easier than firing off another missive to explain why my “letter to the public” is misdirected. Approval and or disapproval can be expressed more easily, by adding a quick gloss to the sort of “letter” that a blog entry represents. Rather than flogging the “blogging as letter-writing” model, I merely cast this bit from an old treatise on the heap to highlight how the appearance of honesty, as a trope, permeates most communicative activities.
Treatises on how to write letters were popular in the Middle Ages. Largely modeled on Cicero’s books on rhetoric, they presented a sort of scaled-back, simplified version with lots of stock advice on composing correspondence. The emphasis on honesty continues throughout this particular version of “letter writing for dummies,” though it becomes easy to see that the aim of the practice is to appear honest, rather than to be honest. This can be achieved by flamboyant overstatement and the substitution of the correct key-phrase for the situation. I particularly liked the section on Salutations of Delinquent Sons to their Parents:
“To Peter and Mary his parents, N——, once their son but now deprived of filial affection.” “Once dear to them but now without cause become worthless, does whatever he can though he seems to be able to do nothing.”And the like. That about sums it up. Just substitute a suitable groveling phrase, and you’ve composed the proper salutation. Genuine repentance has absolutely nothing to do with it. You’re just writing a letter, after all.
Another example: “To N——, most beloved lord,” or “dearest father” or “relation” or “brother” or “comrade,” “N——, shackled by iron chains” or “subjected to the harshest confinement of prison” or “tied by heavy bonds,” “sends wishes for all manner of good fortune which he himself utterly lacks,” “sends wishes with his greetings for all the prosperity he does not have,” and the like.
Through-out the middle phase of rhetoric as a discipline, the search was on for a sort of plug-and-play architecture that would function in any situation. This runs counter to views of writing as analogous to thinking, suggesting that stock phrases are interchangeable with invention. It’s no wonder that rhetoric was eventually reduced to questions of style. The question of “how” raised by Cicero, was reduced to catalogues of “what.”
Welcome to the new place. Much debugging and templating remains, but I'm getting Movable Type together finally. The old blog will remain intact, searchable, and unchanged. You see— it's more than just a move— it's a change.
Bug reports and comments are welcome. Font sizes are adjustable now, so if you don't like the size, resize it yourself.