State of the blog address

As should be clear to anyone who has bothered to follow me for the last year (if you haven’t I don’t blame you) I have grown increasingly disinterested with writing/reading the Internet. I sort of hang on to the nostalgia of it by posting a fragment now and then, but the times when I was genuinely excited to be able to write in an arena where a public (however small) might be reading it are long gone. No matter how I might try to fight it—I just don’t care what the world thinks anymore. There are only a few people I’ve conversed with on the internet that I hold dear.

In the 3d world, I have lost almost every person I’ve ever cared about in the space of two years. One part of me wants to turn to the virtual environment for consolation—and around fifteen years ago, in similar circumstances, I did. It turned out well, and is perhaps the reason why I am married and happy and don't require consolation from strangers anymore. But that’s simplistic. The internet was, and is, more than a repository of potential friends.

I’m not new to public discourse, and I am hardly surprised when things get ugly for no apparent reason. People who have no real responsibility to each other, as is the case of the imaginary internets (sic., for the humor impaired), can be unbelievably cruel. I won’t go into the reasons behind this observation, although a google search might ferret out the trigger for my discontent. It sort of puts a damper on my desire to actually start to write in public again. Chances are it won’t stop me, but it does make me sad that exposing oneself to the public is to invite being abused.

Things have changed, and I’ve updated my about page to reflect that. It’s been a cruel few years, though now on the other side of it I’m happier and more comfortable than ever before. I’ve recently rediscovered reading for the joy of it (books, not the internet) instead of for “work” and thought I might like to write again just for the joy of it instead of taking notes for work. This blog has oscillated between work notes and moments of personal whimsy while I have avoided strenuous mental activity.

I have become increasingly interested in image work again, and other types of physical work that don’t involve reading. I have read incessantly for most of my life, and it hasn’t always been good for me. I’m not giving it up, but I think it’s time I moderated it.

Dealing with so much death, stress, and disaster has left me sort of hollow. I worked so hard for so long that I cannot leave my research interests behind, but I want to approach them in a more grounded way. I’ve got a solid roof over my head and am secure personally and financially (for perhaps the first time in my life). More often than not I have the sense to turn these bloody machines off when they are not useful.

It's a harvest time, of a sort.

Posted by Jeff at November 10, 2009 1:01 PM

Holding on

hcb1.jpg
Henri Cartier-Bresson Pour l’amour et contra la travail industriel (For Love and Against Industrial Work). 1931. Paper collage

This blog has stayed in a holding pattern for the last few years. It’s overdue for a change, and that will happen in the next few months. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I started blogging right before I started teaching—in 2001. I will continue to blog as I quit teaching, as of now. Perhaps “quit” is too strong of a word. It’s more like refuse to participate in a degrading system that values teachers at about the same level as Walmart greeters. My wife has secured a good job as a teacher, one that pays a worthwhile salary—most don’t. File me with the most. I was offered an adjunct post, but I feel as if the time has come for a career shift.

I am not really bitter about the situation—but as a profoundly middle class guy, I was actually looking forward to making that good “professor money.” Oddly, along the way I figured out how to make substantially more with far less effort; surrendering teaching comes easy when it only involves nearly trivial wages. In this environment, perhaps even because of it, intelligent investing pays quite well.

I won’t be deprived of anything, and my wife’s job will allow me to maintain access to research databases, good libraries, etc. without missing a beat. I plan on being one of those weird people labeled as an “independent scholar.” But I wear that label with no illusion that it is better or worse as being affiliated with an institution—each approach has its perks. This is just the situation that life has dealt me; I’m quite comfortable, perhaps for the first time in my life. I plan to continue following and creating rhetorical scholarship, just not as a poorly paid “professional writing instructor.”

I’ve got seven years of being a writing instructor in, so I feel like I’ve made some contribution, but shifts in the field make me feel increasingly estranged from the educational “industry.” You see, educational institutions are at their core focused on institutional environments and practices. I have no hardcore interest in “technical writing” though I have a degree and years of coursework in it. Yes, I’m interested in technical subjects but not technical communication practices. I’m interested in communication practices, and increasingly I’ve found myself more aligned with scholars in communication studies rather than the emergent field of writing studies. But my degree path has not pointed me there, and crossover is difficult on the professional level.

At the core, what I have practiced/taught is Rhetoric (with the capital R) which is a discipline that seems to lack any specificity or exclusivity within academic departments. It wanders, passing in and out of fashion without ever really disappearing or finding a home—labeled as techn√©, not epistemé. Thus the containers are filled with it, e.g. communication uses rhetoric, but is not necessarily rhetoric; most if not all writing deploys rhetorical methods, but is not strictly speaking rhetoric. It is confusing to anyone outside the problem—why not call it communication, or writing? Well, because it’s different—but what is it? The modern trend is simply to pluralize the practices as rhetorics as if that resolved the definition.

Surrendering the element of teaching writing (or composition, if you prefer), what remains is my research agenda—which I have tried to place inside the container of “visual rhetorics” with little success. The fundamental problem with this, simply swept under the rug for the last several years, is the stature of visual images as propositions. The propositional nature of images, hotly contested for a time, is simply assumed without proof and endless interpretations are being spun from those propositions. But the assumption bothers me. Although I’ve made the claim myself for photographs—each photograph includes an implied verb “to be” making it implicitly a proposition that the subject “is”—I am no longer so sure that this is a sufficient explanation.

The problem of photographs as rhetoric lies in the domination of rhetorics that lie completely outside the object itself; thus the rhetorics are not at their core “visual” at all. The label itself is a red herring, an argument based simply in indirection. As W.J.T Mitchell has argued, “visual studies” may not necessarily need to exist as a self-contained discipline because cannot be mapped into a stable configuration. Just as “writing” is unstable, moving from English departments to business schools to writing studies departments, etc., visuals also migrate to where they are welcomed most. Photography first found a home in chemistry and physics departments, then art departments and journalism schools (coexistent with writing!) and now it seems to be taking up shop in communications departments (as visual rhetorics) at least to a minimal degree. My two obsessions, it seems, have no constant home.

Ultimately, I think that rhetoric and photography are intellectual twins. Both are wedded to industry, but at the risk of sounding maudlin, both can be attached to the humanities in an urgent sense. As Jim Corder once described it, “Rhetoric is love, and it must speak a commodious language, creating a world full of space and time that will hold our diversities.” Classical documentary photography began from the same premise. I started revisiting Corder today because my mentors at the University of Arkansas, when I first started this public writing project had placed him high on the reading lists for teaching composition. Perhaps it is just nostalgia, revisiting where I began as a teacher, or perhaps Corder has been lost through consistently shallow readings.

The Rogerian approach has long fallen out of fashion (both as documentary photography classically conceived from the "family of man," and expressivist composition centered on actualizing the self) but it had an influence deeper than I sometimes admit. I prefer love to industrial work.

What next? I suspect that my sidebar for this Public Address 5.0 will change from “rhetorician/photographer” to “photographer/rhetorician”—because photography is always what I have loved the most. I’ve just been away from it for a long time. It’s a large move, physically, from Minnesota to New York. But it’s a small move linguistically. As I suggested back in 2002, “It’s easy to move, hard to change.”

Posted by Jeff at May 23, 2009 10:53 PM

Unintuitive

Sometimes I really miss Greymatter (Noah Grey's ancient blogging platform). Things just made sense. The new MT 4.0 isn't making much sense to me yet, but I suppose I need to post this test entry to see if things are still working.

So far, ahem, the upgrade process has been a nightmare. I hosed my first installation, but thankfully not the database (I hope). I'll know for sure in a second.

Case in point: I went to preview and then publish this test entry. The preview screen displayed the entire individual page archive (with comment form). Without thinking about it, I hit the "post" button at the bottom of the screen, which then attempted to post a non-existent comment to a non-existent entry. To post the entry, I had to hit "Save" at the top of the screen. Change frequently sucks.

Posted by Jeff at August 20, 2007 3:29 PM

Disinteresting

I’ve been thinking about the links/representations of a conference called Interesting 2007 every since Boynton linked to one of its speakers. My first reaction was abject horror: “Everything is NOT interesting.” I thought of writing some polemic, but it wasn’t until AKMA linked to the Simpson’s avatar generator (just as Boynton had the week before) that I was jolted into writing this. I make a conscious effort to not be too curmudgeonly; I can remember having a debate with arch-curmudgeon Dr. Earl Ramsey at UALR on the same subject around six years ago. At that time, I argued the position of the librarian at I Like—now, I find myself more sympathetic with Ramsey. Intellectual habits change.

I was arguing with Ramsey regarding the approaches of Susan Sontag and Michel Foucault, which involve taking a HUGE bite out of culture and then writing about it—I’ve always felt that polymaths have all the fun. Why not be interested in everything? Ramsey’s argument was simple: life is short, and to attempt to read/study everything simply results in frustration and being half-assed (I paraphrase loosely). It was his position that Foucault was simply a shoddy scholar. Sontag, on the other hand, was at least interesting because she did not favor grandiose claims—though the majority of us could not hope to sustain her reading regimen. I wasn’t ready to surrender my desire to read everything just yet. Now, I may have finally come around to that.

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Posted by Jeff at July 12, 2007 3:20 PM

From Gallery to Galleria

Mackinaw City, MI
Stop

I wrote a paper I didn't read. I'm not really happy with it, and it is unfinished. It seems like the Internet is an okay venue for it (below the fold). I feel like I cheated my audience by not using some of it; but it's hard to do a 12 minute presentation that actually says much of anything.

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Posted by Jeff at May 19, 2007 10:29 AM

Eight Days a Week

Long time readers may be aware of it, but the title of my blog is self-consciously ironic. The name came from some unpublished notes on a speech that was probably never delivered by William Blake. Its subject was the “state of the art” of the techné of engraving. It’s taken some time (I’m thick) to really have the difference between painting or drawing and engraving sink in. Engraving is publishing; drawing or painting are not necessarily publishing. Keeping a blog is publishing; keeping a diary or commonplace book are not necessarily publishing.

Notebooks don’t have settings. They don’t often have tables of contents, indices, or categories. They don’t have links or trackbacks.

Decisions are involved in this enterprise. For a long time, the front page contained a week’s worth of entries. I changed it to seven entries because the move to more graphically intensive content made the loading sluggish. Now I’ve changed it to eight. It’s not an eight day week, but with spending five days a week on campus, it seems as if the weeks this year have been longer. I’m regaining some of the urgent compulsiveness I used to have. Just when I write something about silence, I have the urge to say more.

In case it hasn’t been noticed, I’ve been experimenting with making the connections between my notes here more explicit through trackbacks. I think they provide a nice trail of crumbs between my lapses in attention span in a looser fashion than categories. Since the blogging “public” has largely abandoned trackbacks, I decided I’d just use it to trackback myself.

Lately, I keep thinking about the difference between photographing and publishing. Some photographic enterprises are clearly publishing while others aren’t. Stereographs were most often published; tintypes, #2 Kodak snapshots, etc. were not. Cabinet cards? They seem to be a sort of vanity publishing not unlike the long tail of blogging. Swapped among friends, with a few “A-list” collectables of celebrities, CDV’s defy easy description. Just thinking . . .

Posted by Jeff at February 18, 2006 4:55 PM

Equivalent Ambivalence

I missed it by a week. I just forgot about my five year anniversary writing this thing. Since February 10, 2001, it hasn’t been a Blogs to Riches experience and I’m glad. No advertising revenue, not now, not ever. I steadfastly refuse to think about writing in these terms:

A blog is like a shark: If it stops moving, it dies. Without fresh postings every day—hell, every few minutes—even the most well-linked blog will quickly lose its audience. The A-listers cannot rest on their laurels. Federated Media owner John Battelle recently published a book on Google, and while on the book tour, he neglected his own well-trafficked blog (No. 81 on Technorati’s rankings) for several days. “And suddenly I was getting all these e-mails going, ‘If you don’t get your shit together, I’m out of here,’ ” he recalls. He stayed up late that night frantically adding posts. “If you start sucking,” he says, “it’s through.”

I suck. I suck a lot. I fall to the bottom and drown because I can’t breathe the water. I didn’t start it to further a career either. I’m oddly ambivalent about audience, and no one succeeds with that approach. I’ve not only refused to engage with most of the “public” save a handful of people who have read me for a long time, but I’ve stopped (verbally) engaging with myself. It isn’t that I don’t care, though that would be quite punk of me, but rather that interaction is only one of several reasons why I do this. For a long while, interacting with any sort of “sphere” has been near the bottom of the priorities. Growing myself has been the major priority. The moments of clarity have been few and far between.

Instead, there have been increasing networks of associations, lately more visual rather than verbal that dominate my public space. Some of it makes sense to me. Much of it doesn’t. If you can’t make sense of it, you’re not alone. This blog has become more like a coral than a shark. It grows slowly accreting its way along as a filter of things that concern me.

Posted by Jeff at February 18, 2006 2:27 PM

Blogging and Habit

Because I have not had the time to either read blogs, or writing posts here, I’ve reached sort of an impasse. It amazed me just how little I really missed it. It’s been a persistent habit; I’ve been doing this for many years. I’ve also started taking drugs—Zyban to try to quit smoking. Though I’d like to give up the smoking habit, I really don’t want to give up the blogging habit—either as a reader or a writer.

I started asking myself pointed questions about my reading habits. It crossed my mind, while teaching the photography class, that I only read photographic (technique and news) magazines for around three years. After that, they were really boring. They repeated themselves over and over again with the same clichéd techniques. Was blog reading like that?

The same sorts of questions about authority, authenticity, and voice just go round and round and round again. Somewhere at this moment I’m sure someone is having deep thoughts about women in blogging, or about the latest governmental injustice, or about the future of literature in the age of five-minute attention spans. After several years, it gets really old. But then I thought— no—the people that I’ve read consistently over this same span don’t usually spend too much time on this sort of thing. Most of them are as bright and lively, unique and interesting, as they have ever been. It’s just that I have less time to keep up.

I think the thing that has always attracted me about blogging is that things are constantly being made. Not in the sense that anyone has a master plan about what they want to achieve through public writing (though some do), but in the sense that by developing the habit of trying to say something interesting on a regular basis, a sort of chronicle of interesting things happens. Each one is as unique as the individual behind the page. The snowflake metaphor comes to mind. But at the same time, the amount of interesting things to read sometimes approaches blizzard proportions. You want to go inside and shut the door.

I’ve always wanted to approach blogging as a techne in the Aristotelian sense: an activity that is dependant on a sort of awareness and reasoning about the object being made. It isn’t an empty habit, but rather an art of maintaining a sort of liminal awareness of the activity without being overtly conscious of it. It favors the accident, the subtle twist of fate, and above all—sustain. Having faded back into a distant echo, I’d like to find something to make noise about.

But there is a weird sort of emptiness about the prospect that just doesn’t abate.

Posted by Jeff at June 19, 2005 3:08 PM

Breton, Bakhtin, Blogging

What matters is that the particular aptitudes of my day-to-day life gradually reveals should not distract me from my search for a general aptitude which would be peculiar to me and which is not innate. Over and above the various prejudices I acknowledge, the affinities I feel, the attractions I succumb to, the events which occur to me alone—over and above a sum of movements I am conscious of making, of emotions I alone experience—I strive in relation to other men, to discover the nature, if not the necessity of my difference from them. Is it not precisely to the degree I become conscious of that difference that I shall recognize what I alone have been put on this earth to do, what unique message I alone may bear, so that I alone can answer for its fate?

Such reflections lead me to the conclusion that criticism, abjuring, it is true, its dearest prerogatives but aiming, on the whole, at a goal less futile than the automatic adjustment of ideas, should confine itself to scholarly incursions upon the very realm supposedly barred to it, and which, separate from the author’s personality, victimized by the petty events of daily life, expresses itself quite freely and often in so distinctive a manner. (Andre Breton, Nadja 12-13)

Discourse in Breton’s surrealist novel reflects an interesting sort of distanciation. Most scholarly writing on blogging tends to reflect on its centripetal pull, the bringing together of communities. However, there are also centrifugal forces which threaten at any instant to make writers pull apart in order to “find” themselves among a constellation of consumptive choices. I sense myself as being apart from what I read; is this a false consciousness which betrays the fact that I am essentially constructed through the process of reading? Blake’s infernal method of reading sets the process of locating oneself within the ideas consumed as critical of self and other; it is an exaggeration of a productive kind.

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Posted by Jeff at May 20, 2005 3:48 PM

Deixis

Every time I am away from writing on the blog the task of starting up again seems daunting. A lot of things have been happening (conceptually, not physically) and it seems like I should leave some sort of pointer for myself or my audience as to why I have abruptly shifted tracks. These changes, to me at least, are never really all that sudden. They grow slowly, as I read different things and compare them to things I’ve already read. I am forever seeing patterns. It’s a curse of sorts.

In Croquet space, they have “beacons” you can drop so that you can find your way back in the multiple worlds you might wander through. No such feature exists for consciousness, save an occasional sensual marker that triggers that Proustian flood of thoughts connected with an object of some sort. Real life has no such markers; it seems to just move on without end.

I’ve tried to get myself to write “manifestos” from time to time, to lay out the basic things that I can agree with and those that I don’t. But it never works. The core concepts of what I’ve been researching have shifted a lot in the last several years. I always tend to return to photo history, because it is material that (I think) has a greater resonance to a broader audience that the nit-picks of various rhetorical constructs. But by avoiding writing down what I really can’t buy about some theories I think I risk losing the critical path I followed to reach my conclusions. It becomes increasingly important to remember them—I can’t invest the effort needed to reconstruct these pathways. But when I do elaborate these tangental paths, I fear that this “public space” becomes a lot more boring.

There must be some sort of balance to be struck. Some way of placing a marker so that I can find my way back without provoking too much discussion about it which would derail me from where I really want to go. Talking about what seem to me to be really simple concepts requires a great deal of justification depending on the audience I am speaking to. Talking to a group of people who had not taught writing (and a few that had) I recently had to justify my attempts to “spatialize” such concepts as tropes and essay structures. I think it makes them easier to understand—but most people just can’t “see” how you can talk about writing as having a “shape.”

Is writing a pointer or a shape? That’s a discussion that I just can’t really get into right now. I was attempting to set down a pointer, not argue any sort of point.

Posted by Jeff at April 1, 2005 4:57 PM

November 2009 (1) May 2009 (1) August 2007 (1) July 2007 (1) May 2007 (1) February 2006 (2) June 2005 (1) May 2005 (1) April 2005 (1) March 2005 (2) February 2005 (3) January 2005 (2)