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Reflections on a Watson

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I have four observations, two personal and two disciplinary.

1. I have basically forgiven myself for needing to spend time during the first part of the conference getting my presentation together, even though it violates my standards about preparedness. This has not been an easy semester, and while I would have liked to have the whole thing together by Monday, as I'd planned, I had the paper itself basically written, and the slides planned in my head. I just need to force myself to feel that pressure a little earlier, esp for MLA this year.

2. This was the first conference that I've been to in my academic career where I wasn't relying on caffeine to get me up in the morning. It was, needless to say, a struggle.

3. Especially hearing the plenaries this time around, I was struck how different my own local situation is from many of the people whose talks I heard. I have been critical lately of work that extrapolates from a small set of local phenomena to the discipline, and that will likely not change in the near future. There were several points during the conference where I wanted to interrupt and explain that not all of us reside in English departments anymore--I don't live in the same kind of neighborhood as many of my colleagues do, and that realization seems to be really slow to sink in.

4. And that brings me to a larger issue. Based on a number of conversations, and based upon some of the very stark differences among the plenaries, I am more and more convinced that the next major dispute in our field is going to be conducted between those of us who reside in English departments and think of RhetComp as a member of the English studies family, and those of us who have in mind something more like Writing studies, and who sometimes see English studies as an anchor that keeps us from doing more with our field. Heck, I've always been a fan of the idea that I first saw at U Baltimore, where literary study was considered a subset of communication design, rather than patriarch of the language clan.

And frankly, I found more provocative those talks where there weren't tacit assumptions about the English-iness of our field. And I know that I'm not alone in that regard. I think that we're going to see, increasingly, scholarship that takes some of our most deeply embedded conceptual disciplinary metaphors to task over the next decade. Some of that work happened at Watson, which was nice. But there's more on the horizon, I think. As I thought about how I would answer the question implied by "the new work of composing" over the last few days, I kept circling back to a set of issues and directions for inquiry that owe much more to the social and design sciences than to English studies. I think we're starting to see these developments in various locales, but I think too that it's on the verge of trickling up.

We'll see.

[Update: Laura's posted the thoughts that she promises in the comments...]

Hall of Rain Game

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Under the umbrella

Meant to blog this a few days ago. On Monday, I went down with some folk to Cooperstown, to see the Cubs and Padres play in the annual Hall of Fame Game.

Unfortunately, we had to sit through a couple of brief hailstorms before the game was finally cancelled. The picture above came during hailstorm number two. I did get a few pictures, though, which I posted to Flickr for your enjoyment.

Kind of a bummer, as I'd been looking forward to seeing the Cubs, and possibly getting an autograph from Greg Maddux, who is my all-time favorite pitcher. And I'd been looking forward to it for a couple of months now. A 90-minute drive in soaking wet clothes and temps in the low 60s? Not looking forward to that so much. Ah well.

That is all.

Stop and smell the exhaust

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[Flickr: Pierce Place]

No C's for you!

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As most people who expected to see me in New Orleans have learned by now, I'm not there. It's not as dramatic as some may think. I've been struggling a little health-wise this semester--nothing big, but a lot of small things, and it's taken me longer to recover than it did when I was, say, 20. Or 30 even. I was sick again last weekend, when otherwise I would have been leaving on the road trip that took me to NO and to CCCC, and I thought to myself that it would be sooo much easier on me physically if I simply bailed on it this year. And so I did.

I feel sad not to see everyone, and a little guilty about bailing on my co-panelists, but I feel really good today, and it took a few days of sleep that I wouldn't otherwise have gotten to feel that way. So I think it was the right choice.

I have a couple of QuickTime versions of my talk, which I used to test out Keynote's recording and exporting functions. It's a pared down version of the talk I would have done, and the visuals are done up a little as well. It's not great, but it's there. I've got two versions that you can either watch on screen or download: a smaller 10MB version and the monster 44MB version. You may need to right-click the links to download. The larger version is more faithful to the smart builds in the original presentation, but still a little choppy. It would have looked and probably sounded much better in person. Deal.

And have a good time in NO, everyone. That's all.

Update:It occurred to me that it might be nice if, prior to downloading a 40+ MB file, you had some idea of what it is you were downloading. Here's the abstract that I submitted:

Speaker X: Visualizing the Invisible Collage of Research

In 2006, Brad DeLong likened the academic blogosphere to an invisible college, a metaphor familiar to those of us who use email, discussion lists, and blogs to maintain our social networks of friends and colleagues. Speaker 5 argues that Web 2.0 represents an opportunity to make public other disciplinary networks as well. These technologies allow us to conduct practices like annotation, referencing, and collection collaboratively; in doing so, they permit a different model for knowledge production to emerge. If the blogosphere makes visible the invisible college, our journal web sites may help us reveal the "invisible collage" of texts and ideas that each of us now assembles in isolation.

Ahhh, prognostication. My talk ends up being less about "journal websites" and more about the college/collage play on words, I think. And my examples are drawn more from my own experimenting than from anything happening right now in the field, I fear. But the talk's true to the spirit of the abstract if not the letter. My favorite moment is a slide with Robert Boyle (17th C originator of the phrase "invisible college") and "Ye Olde Webbe 2.0" in an old English font. Cracks me up every time. Anyways. That's what all you're in for if you take a peek. The panel's in a matter of hours, and I have it on fairly good authority that they're going to screen my cast. So you'll sort of see me there. 'Night.

Big week

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It is not the best week to be (slowly) recovering from back spasms. In a couple of days, we have our annual recruitment visit from prospective students (posts from years past on this process). The good news is that I'm heading into this event with more sleep than I've apparently gotten in years past. The bad news is that I've been getting lots of sleep because there's not much more to do than nap when you're lying on your stomach in bed with a heating pad on your lower back.

I thought I blogged about this, but just about everyone I tell is surprised, so apparently I haven't mentioned it. This year, inspired in part by Wordplay, I'm an entrant in The 31st Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which is happening next weekend down in Brooklyn. So while our prospective students are flying back to their home bases, I'll be taking the train down to NYC to prove just how nerdy I can be.

And actually, I'm looking forward to it. If my practice has been accurate, I'm probably not going to finish much higher than middle of the pack. I'm a little sloppy when I'm under the gun, and I have the same bad habit that sometimes plagued me on multiple choice exams--"how can that be a good clue for this word?!" I've been stepping up my crossword solving to maybe an hour or so a day right now, but other than that, I'm not doing anything special. No stacks of notecards with obscure names of rivers on them for me. Just me and my brain and a bunch of pencils.

If I think of it, I'll try and do a little bit of blogging from the tournament, but it'll depend on how social I'm feeling and how much I feel like putting words outside of the grid...

That's all.

Eclectic Youth

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A couple of quick interruptions of my (admittedly intermittent) biographical musings. The first is a picture of me and Paul that Jenny posted yesterday. This summer's midwestern swing was like the Tour of Babies, seeing my nephew Patrick and meeting Paul and Vered for the first time each. This is the only photographic evidence of the Tour, however.

Feel free to suggest captions for the photo either here or at JB's.

4 Cs, 4 days, 16 panels

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Inspired in part by Donna's theme review of CCCC:

CCCC 07 summed up in 16 panels

There was more to it than that, to be sure, but as far as my presentation went, at the risk of sounding like I'm fishing for sympathy, having a featured presentation on Saturday afternoon was a lot like being called up to the big leagues the day after one's team is knocked out of competing for the playoffs. Hard to know when or if I'll be back.

I continue to be grateful to Cheryl Glenn for the opportunity, grateful to those good people who did come, and grateful to Derek and Deb, whose presentations were excellent. And I'll go ahead and screencast my talk this week, for all of those who couldn't make it.

I may post a little more about the conference over the next couple of days as well. What won't I post about? The squawking that Alex references that's going on right now over whether or not it's better to read or speak.

That's all, except to note that I did this with Stripgenerator 1.0.1)

Update: You can find both my slides and Derek's at We'll both have screencasts soon as well.

This should explain it.

Yes, that's me 1/4 responsible for keeping the chuppah adequately aloft.

Congratulations, Jeff & Jenny!!

A la Road

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If you haven't already gathered that I'm going to be intermittent whilst on the road, then I just don't know what to do with you.

Anyhow, I was thinking today about nothing much in general when I came across Laura's psuedo-signoff. Like the folks leaving comments, I hope that she takes some time off, reconnects with the people around her, and later on (post-diss, perhaps), finds a way to reintegrate blogging into her daily grind.

What strikes me about all this is the degree to which I'm basically the opposite. And I think that's a function largely of my lack of local connections. Asked last night if Iowa still feels like home, or if Syracuse has supplanted it, I ended up with a relatively unsatisfying "neither." It's not a sad nor a happy thing especially, but I was struck today by the fact that I feel more of the burdens and pleasures of connection here than I do in any particular locality. No, I'm not going to start waxing on about how this space is my home--it isn't. I don't feel anchored to any particular place. I have ties, and lots of them, to people and places, I suppose, but none of them seems to bear the weight in my head that's signified by "home."

I sympathize with and sometimes even envy those with a strong feeling of home, and I don't discount the possibility that I'll feel it myself at some point. And I'm fully willing to acknowledge that the fact that I'm currently traveling may have more than a little to do with how I'm feeling lately. Right now, I feel a little ghostly, floating around the country, not really tethered.

Like I said, it's not a good or bad thing. Just describes how I'm feeling at the time.

CCCC 06 Roundup

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I would have posted this a little sooner, but I've spent the last day or so figuring out how I can cast aspersions on a field that I'm only peripherally involved with, reaching the conclusion that the best way to argue that the field is going in the wrong direction is to "cherry-pick" 5 panel titles, out of hundreds, from their annual conference, and then not going to the conference so as not to complicate my thinnnnnest-slice impression (which I'll describe, of course, as a "fair portion" which provides the double-entendre of both representativity and fairness) of what it is that they're doing.

That's all I have to say on that bit of nitwittery.

It was a good conference this year, although I definitely feel older and less able to keep up than I used to. This year's CCCC had the strange distinction of embodying two strange trends: each night, I got to bed later, and each morning I had to get up earlier. If I had stayed one more day, these trends might have passed each other in the wrong direction--I might have had to wake up before I went to bed. Eek.

As far as sessions went, I only hit a few of them, and they were pretty much superstar caliber. I didn't go to anything before Derek's and my performance at the Computer Connection on Thursday, but afterwards, I saw Jim Porter, Catherine Latterell, Dà€nielle Devoss, and Stuart Selber (E.28 Why Plagiarism Makes Sense in the Digital Age: Copying, Remixing, and Composing). It was a solid panel, doing some of the work necessary to bridge our disciplinary (and pretty traditionalist) notions of authorship with the implications of new media. Shockingly enough, after a 7 am breakfast meeting, I caught David Blakesley, Thomas Rickert, and Diane Davis all give really intriguing papers revisiting KB's notion of identification (F.15 The Rhetorics of Identification; Or, Me and You and You and Me, So Happy Together?). All three were strong papers, but I was especially interested in Diane's--the idea that mirror neurons suggest an originary, pre-linguistic "togetherness" which is first broken and then imperfectly healed through identification was (a) a really smart take on neurobiology's implications for rhetoric and (b) a very original challenge to some of our cherished disciplinary assumptions. After a brief pause to fill my body with sugar and caffeine, I went to see Becky Howard, David Russell, and Sandra Jamieson (H.15 Authentic Arguments: Information Literacy and Case Studies in FYC). Becky and I chat IL all the time, but I hadn't seen before the work that Russell was doing to track how students use sources in building arguments. Interesting stuff. Having been up at 6-ish, by the end of their session, I was pretty much wiped, so I skipped on the next 2 sessions plus the other general (the awards one).

(I didn't get to see the morning general session on Thursday, either, although I heard vaguely unflattering things about it, or rather that the Address itself had less than flattering things to say about some of the things that I do. Rather than offer a 4th hand response, I'll wait to see/read a version of it...)

Saturday morning, with my sleep and energy quotients approaching zero, I attended my final session of the conference, K.23 From Panel to Gallery: Twelve Digital Writings, One Installation, and no, I won't list the 12, although several are friends. Being able to walk around the room and futz was perfect for me, though, and there were some really sharp pieces. If I can find the URL, I'll post a link to Tim Richardson's thingamajig, which was a Flash interface that positively hypnotized me. It reminded me of the stories I've heard, and pics I've seen, of SIGGRAPH interface galleries. Cool Cool Cool.

Anyhow, that was my formal CCCC. Counting my own, I went to 5 sessions, which is about right, and I met lots and lots of people and strengthened ties with others. Can't ask for much more.



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