Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Riff on Jeff's "Language Games," Part I

In response to Jeff's post "Language Games" is a brief discussion by Donna, Jeff, and Scot about the nature of argument in new media and agonistic discourse. The discussion and the post itself got me to thinking, but I haven't felt entirely comfortable about commenting on it until now.

Any way, it'll come as no surprise to those who know me that I enjoy a good debate, probably too much for my own good. But a good debate is one in which all parties should be able to walk away in the end happy and having learned something, even if the debate itself gets heated and even aggressive while its running.

The media dynamics of a blog, and especially the comment function, are some of the worst I've encountered for sustained, productive debate. But that really shouldn't be a surprise, least of all to me. Agonistic discourse in the form of productive debate is always problematic outside of face-to-face communication (and when too ritualized, such as with current US Presidential Debates, it's not that productive face-to-face, though one could argue they're not engaged in face-to-face oral communication). And while I'm not sure I really think this yet, my gut thinking, based on years of use, is that asynchronous written communication environments are much more problematic for this kind of this kind of discourse than even pre-electronic and digital ones. In effect, the sense of immediacy that digital technologies afford give us a sense of face-to-face immediacy but lack all the affordances of face-to-face communication. As with all written communication our audience is a fiction, even when we know that audience well. Since we can't just "sit down and talk," we have to let far too many misassumptions and fictional (re)constructions of ourselves and our positions slide by without comment as we try to focus on the larger issue(s), but those misassumptions and fictional (re)constructions keep us from coming to an understanding about the larger issue(s).

Our regular failure to fully take this into consideration is apparent when you google secondary orality. It's commonplace to discuss written online communication (both synchronous and asynchronous) in terms of secondary orality when, in fact, there's nothing oral about it. It's written. Sure, it has some of the characteristics of oral discourse, but that's mostly surface level features rather than the deeper level media dynamics. (I'm still trying to work out a language for all this as well as develop a more complex understanding of what I mean when I talk about surface level features and deeper level media dynamics, and while I've developed my thinking a bit more on the subject, I have two posts on the subject dating back to Oct. 2004 -- oh, wow, I see there's a really good comment to the second one I have somehow overlooked until now and ought to formulate a response to.)

And this brings me back to Donna and Jeff's discussion of argument and its role as a "god term" in composition (great term, Donna) and the desire to drag argument with us as we turn towards new media. The origins of rhetorical argument, as we all know, harkens back to ritualized face-to-face oral discourse practices of Antiquity, and that these practices, in one form or another, were a regular feature of education into the 20th Century (Ong, among others, treats this in detail in Fighting for Life). We've made do in written mediums, but written discourse isn't the best medium for debate (though various writing technologies have differing affordances and constraints).

And from here I step on to more shaky ground.

While I suggesting--exploring, really--the idea that writing isn't well suited for debate, I think it's safe to say that it was literacy that allowed us to systematize various discourse practices into Rhetoric in much the same way it was literacy that allowed the systematization of memory practices that became rhetoric's ars memoria (on ars memoria as a consequence of literacy, see Carruthers' The Book of Memory and Small's Wax Tablets of the Mind. In other words, although we've dragged argument into written discourse, it's really best suited for face-to-face oral discourse.

Again, I'm just tossing out some ideas to think about, and while I'm "buying" it at the moment, that's because I'm in an Elbowian believing mode.

More on this in a few days.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Victorians and Vikings? Huh?

In an attempt to liven things up a bit, I've decided to try a new genre of blog post. While deep down I just really want to write posts like Dr. Fabulous, Dr. Fabulous has already cornered that market and I'd be nothing more than a cheap knockoff. So, instead, I might be morphing my way into an avuncular tweed and Doc. Martin wearing scholar much too influenced by the style of the epistolary novel. Or maybe not. We'll see.

Any way dear readers, I'm sure some of you who have read my earlier post "Barbarian Chic" must surely have asked yourself something along the lines of "The Victorians infatuation with Vikings? How come I've never heard of this?" The reason, dear reader, is politics. The Victorians loved the Vikings. School children were given Vikingish books as grammar school and Sunday school prizes. Iceland, with its saga sites, was a tourist destination. People flocked to public lectures, and study groups were formed to learn Old Norse-Icelandic in order to read the works in their original. People debated the nature of Odin, who he was and what he represented (some believed Odin to be a "mighty Scythian leader who had once challenged the tyranny of Rome and who could now act as a role model for upwardly moble Victorian young achievers." Viking themed songs were sung in Victorian parlors and the subject of a cantata by Edward Elgar. (All this, and more, can be found in Andrew Wawn's The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in 19th-Century Britain.)

The love and interest in the Vikings didn't begin with the Victorians (Wordsworth and Coleridge were fans of the Poetic Edda, Walter Scott's The Pirate was a best-seller and was adapted for the stage, and Thomas Gray published a number of translations of Old Norse poems (well, really, he translated into English a number of Latin translations of Old Norse poems, my two favorite of which are "The Decent of Odin" and "The Fatal Sisters"). Britian's interest in Iceland and the Old North dates back much further, really beginning in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Before continuing, I should back up just a bit. The first problem with what I've written so far, both here and earlier, is the term "Viking." While its etymology is of some debate, and while it's common for those of us in the English speaking world to refer to the Vikings and the Viking Age (roughly 800-1100 CE) to mean Scandinavians and all their colonies and trading outposts during the Viking Age (from Newfoundland to modern day Russia, and even to Baghdad and Constantinople, where they not only to traded, but formed the Varangian Guard, which itself eventually became the Imperial Guard of the Byzantine Emperors. It may also be interesting to note that after the Norman Invasion of 1066, a number--some sources claim up to 5,000--Anglo-Saxons went to Constantinople to sign up with the Varangians. You can read this in the Wikipedia article I link to above, but I, of course, already knew this).

While we refer to all this Scandinavian peoples as Vikings, the word viking itself is best thought of as a gerund noun. In other words viking is something you do rather than something you are. Well, when you were going a-viking you could be said to be a viking, but you get my meaning. While there were what we might call professional vikings, most did it on a part-time basis. Going viking was a way to make a name for yourself, set up a nest egg, and see new places and meet new people. Really. A group might set off with trade goods, do some viking, sell the goods, hang out in the court of a noble or king, get some more trade goods, do some more raiding, do some more buying and selling, and then return home. A typical man going viking might sometimes go for a summer and sometimes might sometimes go for years. But enough on that.

The second thing we need to know is that for reasons too complex to go into here but which I often simplify down to Franco-Prussian nationalism, we refer to what was, and is, really Scandinavian culture as "Germanic." English? A Germanic language. The Anglo-Saxons? A Germanic peoples. The settled homeland of the Indo-Europeans that we refer to as the Germanic peoples? Sweden and Denmark. As I said, Franco-Prussian nationalism with its roots in the Holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne. It was not just the Victorians who loved the vikings, but Victoria's cousins, Kaiser Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II, as well as Victoria's son-in-law, Frederick III who briefly reigned between the Wilhelms, were vikingophiles as well. In fact, Haggard's Eric Brighteyes was dedicated to Victoria's daughter, the Empress Frederick less than a year after Frederick's death.

So, back to your question, dear readers. In short, World War I happened. The love the British had for the Prussians suffered a blow at that point. And to the extent that the Great North had become affiliated with the Germans, the Great North suffered. I don't think it's coincidence that it wasn't until the late 20th Century that scholars started returning to Friðþjofs saga hins frækna, a Victorian favorite closely connected not just to Victoria herself but the Kaisers. And if the Hunnish* connections weren't enough there is, of course, Hitler's "use" of Teutonic mythology. Now, again, this is all a simplification and there were other factors involved, including the study and influence of Greco-Roman culture which, of course, remained strong throughout this period. But it's worth noting that part of the Victorian Old North movement was a debate over the England's connections to the North vs. the South, i.e., the Germanic rather than Greco-Roman culture. This debate itself stopped after WWI.

*Yes, I wrote Hunnish and I did so for a reason. I might be wrong, but I don't think Hun was used as a slur for Germans prior to World War I. But, either way, Attila and the Huns play a prominent role in Germanic culture. The Germanic Heroic Age (300-500 CE), which corresponds to the migrations of the Goths, Vandals, Franks, Anglo-Saxons, etc., may itself have been sparked by Attila's incursions into Western Europe, and he a character or is refered to in a number of Germanic texts, most notably the Middle High German Nibelungenlied, and the Old Norse-Icelandic Völsunga saga and Poetic Edda. In fact, the Edda has two poems bearing his name: the "Atlakvida" ("The Lay of Atli"), which is believed to be one of the oldest poems in the collection, and the "Atlamal" ("The Greenlandic Lay of Atli"). It's worth noting here that while the Old Norse-Icelandic texts present Attila/Atli as a cruel and greedy bastard who kills his brothers-in-law Gunnar and Hogni because he wants the treasure of the Niflungs (the Rhinegold Sigurd won when he slew the dragon Fafnir, the Attila of the German Nibelungenlied, which tells the same story more or less, is a noble figure. It's also worth noting that the name Attila is probably Gothic and probably means "little father," and that a number of Goths served under him. In other words, the use of Hun as a German racial slur is, I think, directly related to this very topic.

But, you might ask, would Robert E. Howard have known any of this? The short answer is yes. I say this having read through a number of Howard biographies, bio-bibliographies, collected letters, accounts, and the like. If you want to know more, I'll gladly give you citations. Or, you can wait. While a full-fledged study of the Victorian Viking medievalism and sword and sorcery fantasy is far down on my list of scholarly projects, behind social memory and Old English literature, medieval and contemporary rhetorical memory, and various Ong/orality-literacy/media ecology issues, it is on my list.

Toronto School of Communication

I came across an online essay describing the "Toronto School" of Communication, hosted, appropriately enough, by the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology and written by Senior McLuhan Fellow Twyla Gibson. The Toronto School is, essentially, media ecology. Among other things, the piece discusses the importance of such figures as Marshall McLuhan, Walter J. Ong, Eric Havelock, Harold Innis, Milman Parry, John Eisenberg, and Rhys Carpenter. It's worth checking out.

Cross posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Barbarian Chic

I thought I'd provide a link to short Washington Post review of Del Rey/Ballantine's The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan. These are Robert E. Howard's Conan stories without the rewrites, pastiches, and finsihed fragments that got published with Howard's completed stories during the 1960s and 70s.

I devoured the Conan stories in 8th grade, both the good and the bad (yes, there's good Conan stories, almost always written by Howard himself), and then returned to them in 2004 when I realized I couldn't talk about the late 20th Century sword and sorcery fantasy's indebtedness to Victorian Britain’s infatuation with the Vikings without talking about Conan (this was for a MLA panel on the 19th and 20th Century reception of Old Norse literature and I began with the idea that the self-conscious medievalism of Pratchett's The Last Hero and Holt's Who's Afraid of Beowulf? was linked to Victorian medievalism. I knew it in that gut-level way of knowing things and my diss. director agreed, so I ran with it. Among other things, I learned that while medievalists and medievalismists regard H. Rider Haggard's Eric Brighteyes as the best modern novel written in the medieval Icelandic saga style, it's considered by fantasy scholars to be one of if not the first sword and sorcery novel.

But then there's Conan. Howard grew up reading Victorian adventure stories and Haggard was one of his favorite authors (we might also recall that in King Solomon's Mines, Sir Henry Curtis an Englishman of Danelaw ancestry, is described as a Viking warror during the climatic battle). While Howard's usually connected with the Celts by the handful of scholars who study him, I kept finding Viking references in his letters and other writings. And, well, there's "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," one of the earliest Conan stories, in which Conan tells his Aesir friend that he feels much more akin to the Aesir and Vanir (Howard's Hyborian Age proto-Scandinavians) than he does to his own Cimmerians peoples (Howard's Hyborian Age proto-Celts). Turns out, Howard plays with the Vikings nearly as much as the Celts, though most scholar's haven't picked up on that because Howard's friends wrote about Howard as a Celtophile.

Any way, Michael Dirda's review is short and good. I'm not saying Howard's a literary great, but at his best, he's damn good. At his worst, well, the man made a living, during the Depression, as a pulp fiction writer, churning out everything from boxing stories to erotica. And yes, he was a racist and a sexist. But his writing's not fluff. He was engaged in a long running debate with H.P. Lovecraft over the issue of civilization vs. barbarism, with Lovecraft seeing civilization as our salvation and Howard seeing it as our weakness. Their letters make fascinating reading. And these philosophical debates made their way into Howard's writing, as Dirda explains:
Yet without making grandiose claims for them, Howard's Conan chronicles are also a bit more than that. They are, as Patrice Louinet demonstrates in his forewords and afterwords to these three volumes, studies in the clash of Barbarism and Civilization. In Howard's grim and all too realistic view, the barbarians are always at the gate, and once a culture allows itself to grow soft, decadent or simply neglectful, it will be swept away by the primitive and ruthless. As a character insists in "Beyond the Black River," the most deeply felt and complex Conan story, "Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. . . . Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."
Regardless of what one thinks of Howard, his writing, and his philosophy, only Tolkien has had as much influence on 20th Century fantasy. In fact, while Tolkien didn't create "high" or "epic" fantasy and while Howard didn't create sword and sorcery, the two subgenres were reshaped by them to such an extent they are the two fathers of modern fantasy literature.

Via Neil Gaiman

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

First Class, Defining SF, and a Book on Books

First day of my Science Fiction course. About a third of the students said they were regular science fiction readers, which is /much/ larger percentage than my previous SF course, which was about 1/10. It'll be interesting to see how this difference plays out in the classroom.

We started off by talking about what science fiction is. Three students offered suggestions: that it's set in the future and usually in space; that it's usually about science and/or technology; and that it's a work of fiction that offers something new and tries to provide a rational, scientific explanation. Fairly standard definitions, all good in their own way and all problematic as well. And that's the point. The science fiction community (authors, critics, scholars, fans) don't agree. SF Scholar and critic James Gunn has an acendote, which I should have shared in class, about inviting SF Damon Knight, influential SF book reviewer and critic, to his class to define SF. Knight argued that there is no significant difference between SF and fantasy, and Gunn insisted that there is a fundamental difference. I then offered five definitions to get us started (that link also includes Heinlein's rules for a “Simon-pure science fiction story,” which we didn't discuss today.

We then looked at my Reading SF Handout, and discussed the protocols of reading SF. in short, that SF requires different reading protocols than other literary genres (see, for instance, Tom Shippey's "Hard Reading: The Challenges of Science Fiction" in the Blackwell A Companion to Science Fiction, edited by David Seed). I then introduced Darko Suvin's concepts of the novum and cognitive estrangement and gave them one last definition of SF: "SF is, then, a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment." What else would you expect from theorist working in the tradition of Russian Formalism? We did unpack the idea, though I expect we'll need to return to it. But, again, that's my goal for the course, to unpack these definitions while also adding (and unpacking) additional ones.

I brought along the first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex just in case, but the above took most of our time and a brief run down of the course and course site took care of the rest, so we'll watch Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex "Section 9" Thursday as well as discuss their first reading.

And pleased to say that the beautiful and inexpensive Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700 arrived today. I'd ordered it while at MLA. How could I pass up a book with chapters like "Dimensional Thinking"? From the U of Chicago Press Web site:
[Add to cart] or
Print an order form.
[jacket image]

Cormack, Bradin and Carla Mazzio Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700. Designed by Joan Sommers. Distributed for the Joseph Regenstein Library, The University of Chicago. 144 p., 75 halftones. 9 x 11 2005

Paper $15.00sp 0-943056-34-9 Spring 2005
What might it mean to use books rather than read them?

This work examines the relationship between book use and forms of thought and theory in the early modern period. Drawing on legal, medical, religious, scientific and literary texts, and on how-to books on topics ranging from cooking, praying, and memorizing to socializing, surveying, and traveling, Bradin Cormack and Carla Mazzio explore how early books defined the conditions of their own use and in so doing imagined the social and theoretical significance of that use.

The volume addresses the material dimensions of the book in terms of the knowledge systems that informed them, looking not only to printed features such as title pages, tables, indexes and illustrations but also to the marginalia and other marks of use that actual readers and users left in and on their books. The authors argue that when books reflect on the uses they anticipate or ask of their readers, they tend to theorize their own forms. Book Use, Book Theory offers a fascinating approach to the history of the book and the history of theory as it emerged from textual practice.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is Your Book Title Bestseller Material?

According to Lulu Titlescorer, The Q-U Conspiracy and Other Oddities of the English Language has a 10.2% chance of being a bestselling title. does Social Memory and Old English Literature. Maybe I should just write Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive, which has a 35.9% chance....

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Beowulf and Grendel Trailer

The trailer to the Beowulf & Grendel, due out later this year.

Years ago, this movie was going to be true to the poem, but they couldn't raise the money, even with the backing of the Canadian and Icelandic governments. So the movie has morphed into "Predator meets Braveheart," or so it was described by the director a few years ago. I'm not a stickler for movies being slavishly faithful to the text (few texts can be remediated without changes anyways), and especially so when they're honest enough to indicate they're not trying to be the text on screen. The movie's controversial within the Anglo-Saxon community. For one thing, we watch Grendel watching Hrothgar kill Grendel's father, which positions Grendel's attacks on Heorot within the larger context of natural, secular blood feud (as opposed to the monstrous race of Cain and their war with God feud).

Also added to the movie is character Selma (fine, we toss in a female character to help Beowulf and function as a potential love interest, but couldn't we at least give her a Scandinavian name, or, since she's a witch, a Laplandish name if she's to be one of those foreign, imported witches? Also of note is the "Necrophile," still listed on the movie Web site's cast of characters but not on IMDB. I'd wondered about that when I first saw it (actually, I first read it as necromancer and a friend pointed it out to me that it was necrophile), and was told by a former consultant to the movie that the necrophile
is a twist on the whole rape and pillage motif. (Maybe the idea is that rape isn't so bad if its done to a corpse, or the idea is that the rapist is so depraved that he rapes corpses? The former consultant wasn't sure either, and had questioned the need for a corpse.)

But don't let those changes and additions get in the way. If the movie's good, the movie's good. It is, after all, Beowulf & Grendel rather than Beowulf. The movie was filmed in Iceland, and from what I've seen, they make the most of the Icelandic landscape. And it's produced by my favorite Icelandic director, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson. (I know, you're thinking, "What? John's got a favorite Icelandic director?" I do.) Producing not the same as directing, but still.

Friday, January 13, 2006

M.A. in Medieval Icelandic Studies

From Úlfar Bragason, director of the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar (Sigurdur Nordal Institute):

A new program, the M.A. in Medieval Icelandic Studies, started in the Autumn of 2005 at the University of Iceland. The program is run in cooperation with the Manuscript Institute (Stofnun Árna Magnússonar in Reykjavík) and the Sigurdur Nordal Institute (Stofnun Sigurðar Nordals). The course is aimed at providing postgraduate students with the necessary tools to study Old/Medieval Icelandic Texts in the original and in their manuscript context, with a special emphasis on interdisciplinary study. Classes will be taught in English.

Deadline for application is 15 April 2006.

More info: [English version]
This is great news. One of the best academic experiences of my life was the Sigurdur Nordal Institute's two-week Medieval Icelandic Studies Programme I took in the summer of 1999.

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Revising the Science Fiction Course

A few days before school starts and I find myself seriously overhauling the plans for my Science Fiction course. I'm in the middle of redoing the reading schedule and a number of the assignments.

I've given up on pulling together a bunch of short stories--still worth doing sometime, but not now. Instead, I've decided to use Visions of Wonder: The Science Fiction Research Association Reading Anthology. No anthology is perfect, and this one has its flaws (heavy focus on the first half of the 1990s), but it's got a good mix. The only anthology I've seen that has a comparable inclusion of women is the Le Guin edited Norton Book of Science Fiction, which I refuse to use for ideological reasons (Le Guin's, not mine. Because she dislikes cyberpunk and its ethos, she leaves it out of her anthology. Like it or not, leaving cyberpunk out of science fiction anthology that focuses on SF from 1960s to 2000 is akin to an editor of a Romantic literature anthology leaving out Byron because he was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." It's too bad, really, because Le Guin's anthology is really good otherwise). In addition to a good mix of stories, Visions of Wonder has a number of accessible essays on SF interspersed throughout (it appears, though I can't say for sure until I've read the whole thing, that the essays and stories are grouped together. The layout of the table of contents suggests this and my reading in a few sections seems to support it). I'm still figuring out what stories we're going to read from the anthology (last week I'd set up a schedule where we read nearly all 700 pages, but I'm cutting back). Including the anthology, the final book list is as follows:
  • Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. Aspect, 1997. ISBN: 0446603775.

  • Capek, Karel. R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). Penguin Books, 2004. ISBN: 0141182083.

  • Hartwell, David G., and Milton T. Wolf, eds. Visions of Wonder: The Science Fiction Research Association Reading Anthology. Tor Books, 1996. ISBN: 0312852878.

  • Heinlein, Robert A. Starship Troopers. Ace, 1987. ISBN: 0441783589.

  • Masamune Shirow. Ghost In The Shell Volume 1 2nd Edition. Dark Horse, 2004. ISBN: 1593072287.

  • Miller, Walter J., Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz. Spectra, 1997. ISBN: 0553379267.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm using as a course site, which is a free Wiki service that includes blogging, tagging, commenting, and custom permissions (ranging from "must be logged in to view page" to "anybody can view, comment, and edit page"). I'm going with rather than setting up my own Wiki or CMS like Drupal for a few reasons. First, the Wiki and multiple blogs (group and individual blogs both) in one space means fewer interfaces for the students to deal with. More importantly, however, I'm always conscious of the fact that my use of technology serves as an example to others in the department of what can be done. While SLU has Wiki and blog software available to use, it took me 3 months of repeated asking to get anyone to set up a group blog for my fall class and I never did get a Wiki. And after six months of asking for a blog and Wiki for the English Graduate Organization, I've given up on using in-house materials (and no, they won't let a graduate student set up something on their servers). So, while I could set up something on my own site (actually, I do have Media Wiki installed), the chances of anyone else in the department running out and installing their own Wiki or blog or Drupal on their own personal site is unlikely (assuming they have a personal site--few maintain a SLU based site on their own). The chance of someone seeing how I'm using and deciding to try it out, especially since we're also going to start using it for the English Graduate Organization, is much more likely.

My plan has been, and continues to be, to make extensive use of the Wiki and blog as a student created database of content that we can then draw upon for other projects. I'd come up with a number of ideas before December, only wrote some of them down, and forgot most of what I didn't write down until I followed Jeff's link to his Theories of the Digital course. In particular, his comment about the function of the Weblog as reading journal reminded me of my earlier plans. Jeff writes: "Weblog notes are not critiques of the readings. They are notes. Notes serve as databases you draw upon for future work and for making connections. Notes are not evaluative."

In addition to using the Wiki and blog to create a glossary, for a short story project (more on this sometime this term), for reading journals and a group blog, and for "letter exchanges" (while written to meet the needs of ReadWriteThink's K-12 focus, and therefore quite different from how it plays out in my courses, my "Exploring Literature Through Letter Writing Groups is an example of how these exchanges work), I wanted to push the database idea a bit further by having students post class discussion notes and to make carnival posts. Each class, two or three students will be required to post notes to the class site, which anyone can then come in and flesh out, and every two weeks, 3-4 students will be required to write a carnival post drawing the past two weeks blog posts (both individual and group). The take-home essay and midterm, as well as the short story project and the letter exchanges, will ask students to draw upon the already created content (thereby acting as a database). So, since I'm already revising the plan, I've decided to rethink some of the other assignments and how it will all come together.

I'll finish adding content to the site this weekend, and students should start adding to it by this time next week. I'm going to encourage, but not require, that their reading journals and short story projects be made public to those not logged in, but I want to leave that up to them. Right now the glossary, which they'll be creating most of the content for, is set to be public. I'm going to fill in a few entries for terms I want to start the course with (such as cognitive estrangement), but until they get to work on it, it's mostly going to be a list of terms.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

CW 2006 Proposal: Ong's Digital Turn

Computers and Writing 2006 (as opposed to Computers and Writing Online 2006) proposals are due Jan. 15. Call for Papers | Submission Form. For what it's worth, here's my proposal:

“Ong’s Digital Turn: Published and Unpublished Writings after Orality and Literacy”

Although the merits and particulars of Walter Ong’s study of orality-literacy contrasts are the subject of some debate, the influence of Ong’s work on many who study computers and writing and digital culture is not. While Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word remains his most influential and widely known work, Ong continued to work with orality-literacy contrasts for another 15 years, much of it focusing on the role of digitization. Ong’s digital turn can be found in such publications as “Hermeneutic Forever: Voice, Text, Digitization, and the ‘I’” (1995), “Information and/or Communication Interactions” (1996), and “Digitization, Ancient and Modern: Beginnings of Writing and Today’s Computers” (1998), but it can not be fully understood without considering such unpublished works as the short talk “Secondary Oralism and Secondary Visualism,” the article “Time, Digitization, and Dali’s Memory,” and the unfinished 40,000-word manuscript Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization.

This presentation will summarize and contextualize Ong’s digital turn and identify a number of its implications for technorhetoricians and others seeking to apply Ongian thought to digital culture, including such issues such as the debate over Ong’s thought, the use and misuse of secondary orality, visualism, the relationship of digital technologies to analog electronic technologies, and the role of digitization in Western Culture. The purpose of this presentation is not to argue that Ong’s digital turn was groundbreaking or that its implications will revolutionize the study of digital culture. Rather, the goal of this presentation is to bring to light Ong's own reworking of orality-literacy contrasts after the publication of Orality and Literacy so that we may better understand his thought as we continue to use it as a point of departure for our own work.
Cross posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archives.

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Computers & Writing Online 2006 Registration Begins

Via Kairosnews:
Just a quick note to say that registration for Computers & Writing Online 2006 is live and ready to go. Visit to register.

From the conference home page, you will also find a list of all the presentations accepted for the conference. We have an excellent line up of presentations, and I hope you are making travel plans to attend now:

E-Forum asynchronous presentations Feb. 6-28
Tuesday Night Café Reunion Feb 7
Symposium—-real-time presentations, poster sessions, and keynote conversation Feb. 18 10-3 PM CST.

We also have in the works some special GRN (Graduate Research Network) events, and we are working on a recreation of the infamous Technorhetorician's Bar & Grill complete with Lou the bartender.

A complete conference-going guide will be sent to all those who have registered for the conference by Feb. 1st. In the meantime, feel free to explore the conference website and contact me if you have any questions.
The conference is free, so why not register and participate as you can?


4 Things Meme

Because Clancy's doing it.

Note: I've decided to change some of my answers. Deal with it.

Four Jobs You’ve Had In Your Life:

1. Paper route
2. Cashier at the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool (one of many positions I held there in high school and college)
3. Sales associate for Godiva Chocolatier
4. Student employee in the Media Library of University of Colorado, Boulder

Four Movies You Could Watch Over And Over:

1. Grosse Pointe Blank
2. Blade Runner
3. Seven Samurai
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Four Places You’ve Lived:

1. Agoura Hills, CA
2. Glenwood Springs, CO
3. Boulder, CO
4. Hillsboro, OR

Four TV Shows You Love To Watch:

1. The Simpsons
2. The Daily Show (How could I have forgotten this?) Time Team
3. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
4. South Park

Four Places You’ve Been On Vacation:

1. Orcas Island
2. Reykjavik
3. Victoria, British Columbia
4. London

Four Blogs You Visit Daily:

1. Neil Gaiman
2. Yellow Dog
3. Depraved Librarian
4. The Truth Hurts

Four Of Your Favorite Foods:

1. Green chili
2. Lamb stew
3. Italian Supreme pizza from Round Table
4. Bread pudding

Four Places You’d Rather Be:

1. Central Western Colorado (i.e., in the mountains)
2. Orcas Island
3. Portland, OR
4. ?

Four Albums You Can’t Live Without:

1. Box Set, Led Zeppelin (or if that's cheating, Led Zeppelin II
2. Nihil, KMFDM
3. Siamese Dream, Smashing Pumpkins
4. Cowboy Bebop CD-Box Orignial Soundtrack (Actually, I could live with the box set which includes clips from the show; what I'd really want is my iTunes Cowboy Bebop playlist.) or Symphony No. 9: From the New World, Dvorak

Four Vehicles I’ve Owned:

I've never owned a car until I got married when, legally, my wife's car became our car. When I started college, my parents gave me the choice of a computer or a used car and I went with the computer....

1. An battery-powered car made by a family friend in the early 1970s (imagine a 4x2 foot piece of plywood with four bicycle wheels, one seat, and handle bar steering on a metal frame. I think it could go about 5 mph and could run about an hour before the battery needed to recharge overnight. We got it when I was four and I was too heavy for it by the time I was eight)
2. 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (an old car that my parents kept around as a second car--my dad had a government supplied car for work).
3. 1995 Dodge Neon (the car my wife had when we got married)
4. 1999 Mustang (not a car we'd have normally bought, but my wife's offloaded it on us for cheap when they went nomadic)

Four People To Be Tagged: Following Clancy's lead: If you haven't done it yet, you're one of the four

Friday, January 06, 2006

Year of Ong Blog

With a nod to Steve's "Will 2007 be the year of Ong?" post, I have a question for anyone who cares to comment. I've begun putting together a small web site to house the various calls for papers and other information about the Orality and Literacy 25th anniversary plans when I thought it might be more interesting to put the whole thing together as a group blog. Crucial posts, such as the CFPs and session information, could be linked to in a sidebar so they'd always be easy to find, and, of course, there'd be an RSS feed. Ideally, over the next year and especially once the sessions begin, the blog could also become a site of conversation about Orality and Literacy, Ong, and related issues.

Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Orality and Literacy Turning 25 (1982-2007)

Ong's Orality and Literacy turns 25 next year (1982-2007), and as many regular readers know, I believe the book is both widely misread and misunderstood. See, for instance "Reading and Misreading Orality and Literacy," notes for my CCCC 2006 RNF presentation, interview response, and this rant. To mark the 25th anniversary of the book's publication, I've decided to organize a series of conference panels for MLA 2006, CCCC 2007, C&W 2007, Saint Louis University's Ong conference (assuming the plan to make the Ong conference bi-annual holds together), and maybe MEA 2007. One could argue that the MLA panel ought to be held in Dec. 2007 rather than Dec. 2006, but it seems odd to have a concentration of panels in March (CCCC), April (Ong Conference), May (C&W), and June (MEA) and then wait six months for MLA, so I'm starting with MLA 2006. The spring issue of the MLA Newsletter should have the brief (35 word) CFP, which is as follows:
Walter J. Ong's Orality and Literacy at 25
Papers relating to Ong's Orality and Literacy. Suggested topics: considerations/reconsiderations, its reception, extensions, critiques, contextualizations. Inquiries and 1-page abstracts by 15 Mar.; John Paul Walter (walterj at
In the next day or two I'll put up a web page where I'll post all the CFPs as they come available, and, eventually, abstracts and the like.

While I haven't decided yet, for CCCC I'm thinking of something along the lines of "25 Years of Reading/Misreading Orality and Literacy, and for C&W something like "Orality and Literacy in the Digital Age."

If you're interested in getting involved, be it proposing a paper, helping organize a panel for one of the above conferences (I don't see why we couldn't propose more than one panel), suggesting panel topics, or even organizing a panel for a conference I don't list above, please leave a comment or email me.

And yes, I am keeping in mind the possibility of some sort of edited collection, either a book or as a special issue of a journal. We should have Constructing Nations, Reconstructing Myth together well before C&W 2007, so I'll know by then whether I'm up for playing editor again.

Cross posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Back from MLA

I'm back from MLA. Unlike a number of people I like the conference. Its timing isn't the best for most people, but as we don't have kids and as my wife isn't allowed time off between Christmas and New Years thanks to the end of the year rush of people who want to use up their insurance benefits for eye exams and glasses, we can't do much of anything the last week of the year. MLA is big and it is diverse, and therefore thin, in its offerings for any one subject, it's a great big smorgasbord for me: rhetoric, medieval literature, composition studies, digital studies, medievalism, textual studies, science fiction and fantasy, Scottish literature, professional issues, philology and linguistics.... Generally, my problem is figuring out which panel I'm going to go to and which time slots I'm going to attend. Three or four sessions a day is my limit, and with MLA offering up to 8 sessions a day (8:30 AM - 10:00 PM), that's a lot to miss.

I'll write more about the conference and type up some of my notes over the next few days. Unfortunately, as I don't have a laptop to carry around and remind me, I'm still not in the habit of taking notes to blog sessions, though I did much better job of taking notes than I have in the past (i.e., I can actually blog about some of the sessions this time around). But, for now:

Sessions I went to:
1: A Preconvention Workshop for Job Seekers: The Job Search In English
8: The Subject of Composition
118: Indexing for the MLA International Bibliograpy
148: Alternative Models for Writing Programs: A Critical Conversation
214: Old English Poetry: Bodies, Aesthetics, and Sexual Difference
291: Cash Bar Arranged by the Division on Old English Language and Literature
418: Indexing Scholarly Web Sites in the MLA International Bibliograpy
541: Old English Literature and Its Celtic and Scandinavian Affinities
600: The State of American Writing: Perspectives Popular and Professional
662: Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Culture and the Visual Imagination

Sessions I really wanted to attend but didn't:
42: Chaucer "after Theory"
58: Innovation through Tradition: Medieval Perspectives on Textual Authority
110: Situated Rhetorics
149: The Poetic Line in the Age of New Media
157: Siðakipti: Spirituality and Change in Old Norse Literature
168: Braw Lads and Bonnie Lasses: Gendering Scotland
173: Revisiting Intention through Rhetoric
222: Troilus and Criseyde
224: Outside in the Archival Machine: Graduate Student Scholarship and the Archive
226: Literary Representations of Historical Medieval Women
232: New Media and Literary Criticism
262: The Language of Soundscape: "Rhythm Science" and Reading Electronic Music
265: Byron, Scotland, and the Scots
269: What Video Games Teach Us about Literature
329: Ancient Rhetorics and Contemporary Pedagogies
351: Electronic Journals 2005
383: The World Wide Web as Metamedium
408: Ranges and Reaches of Early Middle English
443: New Technologies of Literary Investigation: Digital Demonstrations
465: Comparative Spirituality: Old and Middle English Texts and Traditions
470: Electronic Media in Nineteenth-Century American Studies
484: Who Owns Composition?
493: Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis
496: Literary Theory and the Electronic Text
511: Editing New Media
516: Taking It Digital: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century
519: Scale and Scholarship in the Digital Humanities
534: Language Theory and the Cognitive Sciences
567: Early Modern Science Fiction
599: Writing Program Administration and (Multi)Media
625: New Angles on Graphic Narratives
665: Textual Analysis: What's Data Got to Do with It?
669: Troubling the Tradition: Intersections of Literature and Composition
675: Anthropology, Archaeology, and Medieval Texts
678: Studying How Genres Change
704: The Verbal and Visual: Images within and between Texts

Looking at what I missed by choice (as opposed to because of conflict) is depressing. There really was just too much. I'll write up some summaries of sessions later.