Books

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Couple of things

1. I had a weird dream last night. In it, there was this cutting-edge fanfic software program which would read your mind for fanfic ideas and show them on the screen, with the original sets and actors and everything. I don't know how it worked, maybe using one of those bioports like in eXistenZ or something? Anyway, my crossover was Lost and Firefly, in which Serenity's crew came to the island to help the survivors fight The Others. I woke up when it got too violent and they started turning on each other. Kaylee and Sun were hitting each other with hammers and kicking each other, and I got too disturbed.

2. If there are any southern literature folks reading: I want to read a novel by Lee Smith. Which one should I start with? I'm guessing either Fair and Tender Ladies or Oral History, but is there another possibility?

Literary Speed Dating Meme

I've been tagged!

Well, let's see. It's a good thing Jonathan and I didn't meet this way, because if I were trying to impress him, the books probably would have been Jesus' Son, Imaginary Magnitude, and White Noise (or, for that third one, substitute Infinite Jest or Ficciones).

But I'd want to give these potentials an accurate sense of what they'd be getting. So if we want something that represents me, it would probably have to be something like He, She, and It by Marge Piercy, Song of Solomon, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I don't know, though; I'd also feel tempted to include a book that made a big impression on me in high school: The Awakening, The Age of Innocence, or Native Son.

I wonder, would anyone really want to date those books? I feel like they're so middlebrow. It seems like in order to maximize desirability in a literary speed-dating context, one would choose the cleverest, most difficult, sophisticated, intricate, and complex books possible, like maybe Gravity's Rainbow, Tristram Shandy, and Finnegans Wake. But I guess that's my own self-consciousness (and taste in men!) working there.

Hey, wouldn't it be fun to put together some cheesy literary speed dating clichés? For example, here are a couple of guys I'd probably politely back away from*:

1. On the Road, The Beat Reader, and Erections, Ejaculations and General Tales of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski
2. The Diary of Anaïs Nin, The Tropic of Cancer, and The Story of O

* Not that there's anything wrong with any of these books individually, but combined, they're overkill. I accidentally typed "overkiss" there at first. That would work too.

I'm now tagging everyone who hasn't done this yet.

Noted and Recommended

  • A follow-up to my post about the MLA forum on political literacy: Patricia Roberts-Miller has posted the paper she presented at that session. My summary didn't do her presentation justice, especially the "political Calvinism" idea she set forth. Highly recommended read.
  • Also, if you haven't seen it yet, I'd recommend taking a look at Donald Lazere's (another presenter in that forum) textbook Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy. You can download and read chapter 1 (PDF) for free.
  • Finally, via Michael Bowen with a tip from Yvette Perry, a paper (PDF) on race and blogging titled "Black Bloggers and the Blogosphere" by Antoinette Pole of Brown University. I recommend both the paper and Bowen's post about it.

Friedan, Blogging, and Aleatory Research

The Feminine Mystique is one of those (many) books I've never read but intend to someday. After Friedan's passing, I read Rad Geek's tribute and noticed that he had links to Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, so I promptly read them and was, well, impressed is an understatement. It's remarkable how relevant Friedan's work still is. For example, you might remember chapter 4 of my dissertation, in which I discuss themes that are commonly brought up in the where are the women (political bloggers threads. One recurring theme is the claim that "women aren't interested in politics." If you'll allow me a bit of aleatory research, check out what Friedan has to say about this argument in chapter 2 of The Feminine Mystique, my emphasis:

I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of the large women's magazine he edited:

Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs. They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is going up. They've generally all had a high school education and many, college. They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent general interest.

[. . .]

By the time I started writing for women's magazines, in the fifties, it was simply taken for granted by editors, and accepted as an immutable fact of life by writers, that women were not interested in politics, life outside the United States, national issues, art, science, ideas, adventure, education, or even their own communities, except where they could be sold through their emotions as wives and mothers.

Politics, for women, became Mamie's clothes and the Nixons' home life. Out of conscience, a sense of duty, the Ladies' Home Journal might run a series like "Political Pilgrim's Progress," showing women trying to improve their children's schools and playgrounds. But even approaching politics through mother love did not really interest women, it was thought in the trade. Everyone knew those readership percentages. An editor of Redbook ingeniously tried to bring the bomb down to the feminine level by showing the emotions of a wife whose husband sailed into a contaminated area.

"Women can't take an idea, an issue, pure," men who edited the mass women's magazines agreed. "It had to be translated in terms they can understand as women." This was so well understood by those who wrote for women's magazines that a natural childbirth expert submitted an article to a leading woman's magazine called "How to Have a Baby in a Atom Bomb Shelter." "The article was not well written," an editor told me, "or we might have bought it." According to the mystique, women, in their mysterious femininity, might be interested in the concrete biological details of having a baby in a bomb shelter, but never in the abstract idea of the bomb's power to destroy the human race.

Such a belief, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 1960, a perceptive social psychologist showed me some sad statistics which seemed to prove unmistakably that American women under thirty-five are not interested in politics. "They may have the vote, but they don't dream about running for office," he told me. "If you write a political piece, they won't read it. You have to translate it into issues they can understand--romance, pregnancy, nursing, home furnishings, clothes. Run an article on the economy, or the race question, civil rights, and you'd think that women had never heard of them."

This quotation'll be going into the revision of chapter 4 somewhere, that's for sure, if only as a footnote. For now, back to chapter 5.

Literary Representations of India (Fiction and Nonfiction)

A decade ago, a couple of friends of mine invited me to go to India with their family. I declined, both out of inertia and the fact that I wasn't sure my friends' parents and their extended family in India would be okay with having a friend tag along. Sometimes I wish I had said yes, though. I always like to read fiction that's set in India. Years ago, it was Kipling: Kim, "Without Benefit of Clergy," "The Man Who Would Be King," etc. Right now I'm a little over halfway through Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. But Margaret Cho's excellent posts about India are making me want to continue my India reading with some Rushdie. Any particular recommendations?

Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis

I might as well start my MLA panel-blogging with a report on my own session. It was titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," and the other presenters were David Blakesley and Kristine Blair. Mary Hocks was also scheduled to present, but unfortunately she couldn't make it.

After Kris introduced us, I did my presentation. If you read my planning post, then you didn't miss anything. Still, I've attached my slides in .ppt format and in .sxi format for OpenOffice. I'd publish the whole thing here, but I generally don't present from scripts, and at the time I didn't think to open up Audacity and record the talk. Oh well. One point I think I made more clearly in the Q&A after my talk than in my post is that the MLA, CCCC, and several individual universities all have statements with guidelines for reviewing work with technology in the hiring, tenure, and promotion process. In every case, these documents support the scholars who work with technology and generally favor the legitimacy, or legitimation, of electronic publishing. Why, then, is it still so risky to do this work?

Dave talked about his work with The Writing Instructor, a print journal that has made the transition to electronic publishing. He had a handout, which I've copied in its entirety:

The Writing Instructor
Publishing since 1981 and now in its THIRD WAVE, TWI will feature...

  • Interactive and distributed peer review
    Peer review is conducted Slashdot style, with scholarly review teams and multi-tiered response and feedback
  • Born digital projects and printed archives
    Fostering hypertext and multimedia projects authored for the Web, TWI also remembers its heritage with print archives
  • Print-ready and distributable, with stable URLs, ready for dossiers and classrooms
    TWI articles can be made into elegant off-prints on the fly, by any user
  • Creative Commons licensing for easy dissemination
    New articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license
  • Open source and open access via Drupal and the DrupalJournal Project
    Taking open access to the next level, with no author subventions or fees, using open source content management; interested journals and editors may collaboratively develop a DrupalJournal release, customized for most journal functions
  • Community driven and authored content
    Wiki-style functionality, with version tracking, facilitates distributed editorial management and production
  • Integrated blogging and commenting, with RSS feeds, news aggregator, and daily notifications
    Content stays fresh and is distributed across the Web, inviting readers back and reaching out to new ones
  • Automated feeds to indexing services like ERIC
    Simplifies the process of submitting content to major indexing services, like ERIC
  • Web-based management of all editorial processes
    All editorial management, including author notifications, review tracking, and production are Web-based and accessible

This handout represents the bulk of his talk, but he also discussed some of the problems with electronic publication. What really caught my interest was his explanation of the prejudice that e-journals aren't peer reviewed at all or aren't referreed as rigorously as print journals. You might have noticed that most electronic journals have on their main page a link to a "Review Process" page which gives a detailed explanation of their peer review process (e.g. this one from Into the Blogosphere -- though, it should be said, ITB is an edited collection, not a journal. Everyone gets confused about that. It's a one-time thing -- an anthology.), intended for tenure files. Do assistant professors who are up for tenure have to give this kind of apologia for print publications? Anyway, Dave emphasized the importance of publishing not only a description of the review process, but also the acceptance rate. I agree.

Dave also talked about a new distribution of Drupal called DrupalJournal, which would offer features that would be desirable for journal editors. In the Q&A, John Holbo asked with great interest when DrupalJournal would be available. It must be a very new idea, because I combed the Drupal main page and didn't see any mention of it, though if you're curious to see what's in the works for Drupal in the coming year (or could be in the works), check out Dries' predictions and the ones at Drupal.org.

Finally, Dave mentioned the efforts of the people who run the WAC Clearinghouse. It's a great resource which all of you should look through if you get a chance. Parlor Press, which Dave runs, releases books online (whole books!) at the WAC Clearinghouse site.

Kris was the respondent, and she had a lot to say about multimodal literacy and how our publication models aren't connected well with our students' literate practices. She also spoke about her experience as the editor of Computers and Composition Online, mentioning that multimodal scholarly compositions still have some problems. Some of them, she said, are much flash, little substance, or much substance, little flash in the way of engagement with the media. Achieving a balance is still a problem.

After the presentation, there were some great questions posed by Amardeep, Scott, and others. Maybe they'll reiterate those here. Or maybe I will, a little later. Overall, I think the session went well.

A Scattershot Stump Speech

Back in September at the New Media Research @ UMN conference, I saw Lee Rainie give a wonderful, enthusiastic stump speech about internet research (his characterization, not mine). At the beginning of his talk, he told us that he was going to give us some background about the Pew Internet & American Life Project and its history and then he would gesture, scattershot-style, toward some of their current and future projects. The speech was excellent in every possible way, and when it was over, I thought, that's what I want to do at MLA.

I was invited to be on the NCTE-sponsored panel at MLA, titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," along with Kristine Blair, David Blakesley, and Mary Hocks. I'm scheduled to go first, so I'm planning to give about 3-5 minutes of background on "the crisis" for the uninitiated, but after that, I'm going to talk about some of the work that people are already doing online every day. For the purposes of this talk, I'm positioning myself as a human aggregator, gathering and presenting the best ideas of what scholarly publishing could be, well, beyond the crisis.

The crisis, as I've always understood it, is an economic problem, an unsustainable business model, consisting of 1.) the conflict between the book-for-tenure model and the financial troubles (and subsequent cutbacks of number of titles published) of university presses; and 2.) price-gouging on the part of scholarly journal publishers and libraries' declining ability to afford journal subscriptions (which also affects book sales). This article in Inside Higher Ed provides a good status report on the latter. The former was heralded by Stephen Greenblatt in his famous letter to members of MLA. Greenblatt outlines the problem, pointing out that "books are not the only way of judging scholarly achievement." He suggests:

We could try to persuade departments and universities to change their expectations for tenure reviews: after all, these expectations are, for the most part, set by us and not by administrators. The book has only fairly recently emerged as the sine qua non and even now is not uniformly the requirement in all academic fields. We could rethink what we need to conduct responsible evaluations of junior faculty members. And if institutions insist on the need for books, perhaps they should provide a first-book subvention, comparable to (though vastly less expensive than) the start-up subvention for scientists.

This letter spurred a lot of discussion, at least in circles I frequent, about alternative requirements for tenure, especially online publishing. Certainly we in rhetoric and composition have been thinking about online publishing's place in the tenure and promotion process. I'm going to try to condense the major points of all those sites I linked into a few minutes of background information on the conversations about online publishing in our field.

Then, I'll segue into the scattershot ideas by making a few remarks about the work that Collin Brooke is doing and summarize some of John Holbo's many contributions to the thought about the future of scholarly publishing. Obviously there's no way I'll have time to do their work justice, so I'll need to decide what's most important in conjunction with what I'm talking about and then create a bibliography with all the articles I'm linking to here.

Then I want to focus on some particular cases.

  1. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. This is an edited collection of essays that we published using weblog software.
  2. Computers and Writing Online 2005. For this online conference, we made the review process public (a "public feedback process") and have kept the content up at Kairosnews, with a Creative Commons license, so that others can copy and distribute the presentations -- e.g., for a course pack.
  3. Rhetoric and Composition: A Guide for the College Writer. Matt Barton of St. Cloud State University, along with students in his rhetoric courses, has done a lot of work building a free rhetoric and composition textbook using a wiki.
  4. Carnivals. Collections of posts on a given topic, like informal journals representing the scholarship that's being published on academic weblogs.
  5. Massive Multi-Thinker Online Reviews. Holbo's play on MMORPG, these are seminar-style events in which a group of bloggers reads the same book or article at the same time and blogs about it.
  6. CC-licensed online readers for courses. This is something I've been trying to plug for a long time, but it hasn't caught on just yet. There's all this Creative Commons licensed content online, and it would be so easy to reproduce essays on a given topic, group them into themes, write an introduction à la an edited collection, and assign it in a class. I'm working on one, which I'll unveil as soon as it's finished, but I'm too busy with my dissertation right now, so it has gone unattended lately.

I want to close with a return to the larger social context, meaning, and goal of scholarly publishing -- to disseminate new knowledge -- and point out the benefits of open-access online publishing to anyone (academics or nonacademics) who doesn't have access to a large research library. I might draw upon some of the arguments presented at a recent conference at the University of Minnesota, Publication, the Public University, and the Public Interest.

Sigh. There's a lot more to say on top of that. I haven't even touched the problems related to archiving and indexing all this content, and I haven't said as much as I'd like about intellectual property and alternative copyright models. Maybe during the Q & A.

What I'm reading after I FINALLY finish Evelina

It's been decided. When I get to the end of Evelina -- yes, I'm still slogging through it a couple of pages at a time and am done for the moment with even pretending to enjoy it, but maybe it'll pick up toward the end -- I'm going to read The Zanzibar Chest, which has been on my shelf itching to be read for nearly two years now.

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