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Sharon Marcus, in “How to Talk About Books You Have Read,” labels the work done on the online review Public Books as being “Janus faced, attuned to the academy and to those outside it who are interested in scholarly ideas and research” (476). Before I decided to go to college in my thirty-somethingth year, I was one of those “outside it” yet still interested in the literary world. I’ve always possessed the desire to at least know what the world of literature is focusing upon or what philosophical thought is being bandied about amongst the life-of-the-mind crowd. You know, has anyone figured out this human-being business yet, that sort of thing.

As Marcus and her fellow contributors at Public Books seem to be furthering, the proliferation of public intellectualism and the Digital Humanities is filling a very specific void in the world, one that arguably has existed for quite some time. When we ask ourselves about the efficacy of the Public Humanities and the shift to readily accessible scholarly work, aren’t we being a bit short sighted? As Marcus notes the “fantasy of an indefinitely free and open Web,” sites that promote public interest in the Humanities already pull advertisers while being perused by hundreds of thousands of visitors (479).

A common myth of our atavistic society, a myth that is a symptom of our adoration of the wealthy above all, is that those that work with their hands, blue and gray collar workers, are chained to rocks they call jobs in purgatorial mind-numbing wastelands. This simply isn’t true and amounts to logical fallacy. The educated/enlightened man standing above the barely literate grunt, the vocational school certificate holder suffering from a disastrous choice, is also more stereotype than truth. In fact, we know well what miniscule percentage of the population could benefit from a little horizon broadening. The success of sites like Public Books reflects the truth about those outside of the super book-geek crowd and their need for knowledge and willingness to look in the direction of the Humanities. The human being is a curious animal, always attempting to dissect instinctively whatever can be pulled apart or pondered over, and this movement of scholarly work from the relatively small circulation of specialized-and expensive-academic journals into cyberspace underscores this willingness to learn, or at least look.

 

Works Cited

Marcus. Sharon. “How To Talk About Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 474-480. Print.

Critical Mystique and the Dangers of Disappearing Evidence

In the recording industry, certain unspoken rules govern what reaches the ears of the public. It’s considered damaging to an artist’s image to release demos and other raw forms that are, in truth, necessary steps in the creative process, steps that are rarely skipped even by those considered geniuses. Lili Looofbourow and Phillip Maciak debate in “Introduction: The Time of the Semipublic Intellectual,” whether or not this same feeling of mystique, and its power, extend to the academic and public realms, as well as where the two overlap. The Evgeny Morozov New Yorker article http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/13/planning-machine the one cited for its questionable reliance on Edin Medina’s research, is used to ask whether the need for detailed research in academic writing needs to be streamlined for the ‘public.’ And while Loofbourow and Maciak continue on to argue where and how the lines between academic and public scholarship exist, noting several frighteningly totalitarian instances of the guillotine blade of inoffensiveness-above-all falling on an intellectual’s professional neck, I argue that we stop at Morozov’s justification for this omission of detailed citations of Medina’s work (the link provided shows that Morozov does refer to Medina within the article), to pose some important questions.

We all, as readers, understand the mystique of genius. We would like to believe that inspiration descends upon the blessed, or perhaps we entertain our own ideas of how concepts are born or what they mean in relation to our own lives We also know the tinge of disappointment we feel when we find out that works we thought were rife with symbolism and insight are actually as literal as they can possibly be. The ‘mystique’ as it’s known in show-business terminology adds to the legendary status of the creative mind. Recently, poet Austin Cleon, during his Tedx talk “Steal Like an Artist,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oww7oB9rjgw  revealed the ways we all, in one form or another, incorporate others work and the persistent voices prepared to jump at the opportunity to quickly label someone’s work as stolen, no matter the intention. As what was once cloistered becomes popular, and as Harold Bloom believes critical writing to be just as much a creative endeavor as any, do we streamline this need for painstaking citation? Do we apply the ‘immature artists borrow, mature artist steal’ logic to the realm of public intellectualism?  Does the level of research and the need for ethical use of sources turn off those readers we hope to reach? Loofbourow and Maciak write of the “reactionary” stance that feels like the new normal standard regarding responses to scholars’ blog posts and nontraditional writing, leading to consequences we must address before they become standard practice (442).

If we can, at the present time, conceptualize of a future without paper or an infrastructure-free research community, now may be the perfect time to address these issues of research integrity. As Loofbourow and Maciak ask, “[c]an scholarship exist at…two speeds, can these modes be complementary?” (442). They are asking, in short, if what remains will be entertainment dressed up as true research, with the authorial mystique intact and the many hours of others spent in libraries and databases lost in the shuffle, and more importantly, is the need for–and benefit of–verifiable evidence in danger of becoming an issue of little importance.

Works Cited

Loofbourow, Lili and Phillip Maciak. “Introduction: The Time of the Semipublic Intellectual.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 439-445. Print.

Going Semipublic

In her article “How to Talk About Books You Have Read,” Sharon Marcus links the role of the ‘semipublic’ intellectual to the profession of the teacher. She asks, “How does one do this kind of writing, which involves distilling copious research and complicated ideas about difficult texts into crystalline points that any intelligent eighteen-year-old can understand? We have a name for this in academia: we call it teaching. . .” (476). Marcus makes a well-argued point; academia is already invested in conveying complicated points to uninitiated undergraduates. Why not approach public intellect the same way? Why not become a teacher outside of academia as much as inside?

This argument handily combats the idea that public or semipublic intellectual work is inherently less rigorous and intelligent than work published in academic journals. In fact, we may even be able to view the semipublic intellectual as occupying a more difficult spot, making intelligent points that are still accessible to a general readership. Although this approach will inevitably step on some toes, stagnation is never combatted by people afraid of offending. If anything, a sort of productive offense must occur. Intellectuals must encounter and counter current publishing practices, searching for a new method for disseminating intellectual work.

I support Marcus’ stance and would like to further contend that it is important for the humanities to shift towards a more public face, not because of an attack or crisis within academia, but because the nature of the humanities should be human. Humanity is an incredibly diverse thing or project or idea, and academia, regardless of the diverse backgrounds of faculty, has remained surprisingly homogenous in its publishing mores. To reconnect the study of the humanities to the thing that fuels it (that is, the human experience), the intellectual community must cast their net further. For what use are the artifacts and studies of the humanities if they remain proudly pinned on the walls of an ivory office? Spread them to the masses and see what wonderful things may happen when you become a teacher of the many instead of the few.

Works Cited

Marcus, Sharon. “How to Talk About Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2: 2015. 474-80. Web.

New Little Magazines: An Intermediate Space

In reaction to the growing schism between scholarly and nonacademic writing, Evan Kindley asserts that we may be able to learn a thing or two from the tradition of little magazines. Offering a platform for both academics and journalists to reach a wider public, publications such as Public Books and the Los Angeles Review of Books create a productive inter-professional competition that impels writers to rethink their craft. This intermediary space may just be the future of two or more fields.

Continue reading “New Little Magazines: An Intermediate Space”

video game

Did you know there was such a thing as videogame criticism? Well, there totally is and it’s surprisingly fascinating even for someone who refuses to play anyone but Toad in Mario Cart and only dabbled into World of Warcraft during an awkward stage. But, videogames are a part of culture, so shouldn’t they be studied critically?

Ian Bogost is one humanist who studies videogames and even wrote a book called How to Talk About Videogames. Also published last year, Carly A. Kocurek produced Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade and Michael Clune wrote Gamelife, all discussing videogames in extensive detail. An even further form of criticism is Matt Margini’s article “How to Write About Videogames” published on Public Books (a platform I wrote about in my previous post) (I’ve been exploring this site all morning and I’m slightly obsessed because it’s awesome). Read more about this sort of research:

http://www.publicbooks.org/artmedia/how-to-write-about-videogames

Flow of Public Scholarship

publin books image

Does academic writing need to be so academic? This question asks if academic writing needs to cater to only other scholars who could possibly understand academic concepts. This is a question that has been circling around the classroom lately. An issue with scholarly writing is that it’s marginalizing itself by focusing its audience on other scholars who would understand a higher level of writing.

However, all book lovers aren’t always interested in pursuing a degree in literature, so how can the general public also contribute and read intellectual writing without subscribing to a library database? It seems that Sharon Marcus has found a sort of “in-between” platform for intellectual writing called Public Books. In “How to Talk About Books You Have Read,” Marcus claims “Readers outside the academy are clearly curious about what scholars have to say about contemporary books” (475).

This literary platform reviews books, fashion, film, television, emerging trends in environmental history, technology criticism, museums, and music writing by embracing an immense and diverse range of contributors from scholars to journalists to undergraduate students. Marcus’s idea is to treat Public Books as a site for teaching the public more complex and enticing concepts present in aesthetic forms.

“What we might call teacherly writing does not avoid difficult ideas or terms; it explains them. Professors teaching undergraduate courses on the novel don’t drop terms like focalize or free indirect discourse into lectures and expect students to know their meaning; a good teacher denies those terms, illustrates them with examples, and helps students to see how naming these techniques improves our understanding of novels” (476). This seems to be the antidote the Humanities have been looking for to de-marginalize themselves. By providing a digital landscape, Public Books attributes to the Digital Humanities and especially to providing accessible intellectual and scholarly reviews.

http://www.publicbooks.org/ (This is really awesome)

Works Cited

Marcus, Sharon. “How to Talk about Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 467-73. Web.

HUMANities

I chose the humanities because this space made sense for me. This academic life that feels as though it is constantly shifting where there always new knowledge to be gained, and a general buzzing excitement for lofty ideas taking shape in our minds. These are my people. As I gathered more knowledge, and began to apply it to my writing, I began to excitedly accept the closing of my audience base. I would say things like, “All I really want out of life is to write things that, like, twelve people understand and want to respond to.” This must mean that I have found my niche. This means I have achieved something, unlocked a new life level, and am ready for the steady ascent up in the world of academia. But it sure feels awfully isolated, pretentious, and lonely.

Recently, humanities scholars have noticed that this way of situating the academic voice is, in fact, problematic. As humanists, we should be the most human in the academic world. That is to say, the people most concerned with what it means to be human. Maybe we are, or we think we are, but in practice we have all become isolated, pretentious, and lonely; as Ian Bogost puts it, “Humanism does not deserve to carry the standard for humans, for frankly it despises them.”

Bogost continues, stating that  “We don’t make reform our mission because we secretly hate the idea of partaking of and in the greater world, even as we purport to give it voice, to speak of its ills through critical esoterics no public ear could ever grasp.” That is to say, the very disciplines with which we align ourselves keeps us out of a constructive dialogue with the world around us. While I do not purport that academics and activism go hand in hand, it seems that what Bogost is pushing toward which is a position with which I tend to agree, it seems that there is a dividing wall placed between academics and the rest of the world that needs to break down. If all the knowledge that we have and produce as humanities scholars has been made largely incomprehensible to humanity, what then are we actually doing?

The Difference Between Life and Extinction of Academic Writing

As some critics have pointed out, the academic pool is shrinking. Joshua Rothman argues that “Academic writing is the way it is because it’s a part of a system,” a system in which scholars and professors live in, but did not necessarily make themselves. He claims that this system peaked in the seventies, and has since changed, “making academic work more marginal.” Thus, the audience for academic work is shrinking as well.

Nicholas Kristof argues a similar point, but instead blames the academics themselves for such marginalization, instead of the “system.” While on the the farthest end of the spectrum, Ian Bogost claims that there is marginalization because people do not want centrality, to the extent that “We masticate on culture for the pleasure of praising our own steaming shit.” Thus, there is a wide debate in circulation on the actual cause behind academic marginalization. In this light, one might ask , shouldn’t our efforts be on fixing this marginalization, rather than trying to point blame?

A handful of critics attempt to find possible solutions to the situation. For example, Rothman concludes that only if we make academic writing more expansive can we then fix the problem. Kristof goes along the same lines and urges that professors become more accessible by using blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Finally, Bogost only offers a handful of metaphors in which multiple interpretations can exist.Therefore, as it turns out, if we want to expand the academic members pool as well as it’s audience, we must expand as Rothman notes; however, one of the most efficient ways in expanding is through the digital world, as Kristof suggests. Professors, academics and scholars need to live in the present and take advantage of the tools they are given in the twenty-first century. This does not mean that we need to completely disregard the traditional methods; however, having both traditional and modern forms can be the difference between life and extinction. If we don’t, it could be the end of academic writing as we know it.

Works Cited:

Bogost, Ian. “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt”

Kristof, Nicholas. “Professors, We Need You!”

Rothman, Joshua. “Why is Academic Writing so Academic?”

 

Drama Online is an exciting online tool that “allows you to create ‘Part Books’ and compare words and speeches between acts with your chosen combination of characters.” From there, the software compiles the information into accessible graphs and charts for further analysis.

Check out this one on Frankenstein.

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