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.
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)
Marcus, Sharon. “How to Talk about Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 467-73. Web.
Combatting the anti-intellectual forces of the world is a strenuous task, not one that doesn’t, in itself, exist. Believe it! And, no, this isn’t elitism speaking. The downturn in an interest in the humanities doesn’t STEM from the ivory tower-ness of the Academy. Thinking is still thinking, just as reading is still reading. The human eyes haven’t changed, just as the human brain hasn’t. Yet, a certain force holds sway now. The kind of malevolence generally witnessed through the perfect 20/20 of hindsight when a society stops to ask: How did things get like this? Can the intellectuals be blamed when political leaders call for more plumbers and less philosophers…when those very voices could neither install a toilet main nor properly define ontology? Ian Bogost’s “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt” cites the incorrect “only possible answer” when he claims that the problem is us? And BTW who’s us? How do we not want to change when our business is itself change: changing the hidden into the revealed, the unknown into the known, the esoteric into the deconstructed?
A severely undervalued point is missed with the accusation that “we have chosen to be marginal”. No one chooses marginality. We as scholars, whether admittedly liberal or otherwise, especially in literature studies, lack the luxury of turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to those pushed to these margins, and that’s why we are there, clanging together pots and pans for the voiceless. And, yes, I understand that we ourselves are in danger of becoming ironically marginal, but the cure-all for this is not to forgo those that need our powers of interpretation and theorization, for the cool kids who are going to be OK anyway. It isn’t a choice to be the pointing finger, always looking for a new way to say that something here doesn’t look or smell right, it’s our duty as those with opened eyes to link the bottom to the top and the center to the margins.
History has shown us the dangers of conceptualizing intellectualism as some exclusionary, nefarious plot to….I don’t know…go blind reading books, suffer silverfish infestations, or be generally awkward at social gatherings. In all seriousness, intellectuals are the first against the wall when totalitarianism grabs power, as in Germany in the 1930’s or Venezuela in the 1990’s, and we know the score. ‘Don’t look to the margins, don’t look toward the marginalized’ and with ease, they are lined up in front of ditches, shackled, or, in many other ways, transformed from the marginalized into the liquidated.
Make no mistake, a grave danger exists in pretending these margins are nonexistent or unimportant, and that the mainstream needs more attention than it already insists upon forcing us to relinquish. How easy should it be to “burn way the dead wood” due to that dead wood’s unpopularity, or in fear that someone, somewhere doesn’t understand the terminology I use to describe the dead wood’s plight? Why not burn away everything we don’t like or understand? We are the “masochists” that the world desperately needs now and will always need. Research isn’t fashionable, and demolition and deconstruction are not synonymous.
Bogost, Ian. “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Web. n.d. 26 March 2016. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/12
*image courtesy of religioustolerance.org
Academic writing is notorious for its abstract language, at times creating and feeding a gap between the general public and the specialists. For Nicholas Kristof, “to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant” (1). Engaging with a select group in a sometimes cryptic language, academics seem to be isolating themselves from the world at large. Kristof goes on to suggest that academics “know little that is practical about the world” (3), an idea reflected by their sometimes pretentious prose; however, Kristof does not seem to hit the nail on the head. While he criticizes professors for cloistering themselves like monks, I disagree that this is really a central reason humanities departments are becoming more and more marginalized. Systemic issues may be larger than anything Kristof seems to imagine.
The Living New Deal https://livingnewdeal.org/, part of the Berkeley Digital Humanities Project, provides digital mapping for over 10,000 public works made possible by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan for American recovery from the Great Depression. The Living New Deal site offers views of art, architecture, and infrastructure that the second tier of Roosevelt’s legacy enabled. Interactive maps of Works Project Administration projects spread across the United States document the whereabouts of these post offices, water towers, public parks, and libraries that are probably unknown by many and in danger of being forgotten altogether. Sewer systems and streets, bridges and dams, are also a part of the many more practical facets of this set of laws and executive orders that made the U.S. government the single largest employer at the time. Many airports and national parks are a direct result of New Deal work incentives and projects. The site places an importance on the role the WPA played in the art world by sponsoring Willem De Koonig, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and Milton Avery to name just a few. The Diego Rivera-inspired murals are worth the visit to The Living New Deal’s site, as you may also learn there that the New Deal is literally responsible for the ground beneath your feet.
*image of Rudolph Weisenborn’s “Contemporary Chicago” courtesy of glogster.com
Distraction is a hot-button topic in the digital age. The staggering amount of information that is constantly available through laptops and smartphones is both exciting and overwhelming, and it gives rise to questions of digital natives’ ability to focus. Admittedly, even while writing this I have been tempted to glance away to my phone or fuss with my music player, effectively limiting my concentration. The question I would like to pose with this post is this: how can we make the digital humanities less distracting for the people that view it?
Nicholas Carr makes a solid case for the effects of internet distraction in his article, “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains,” published on WIRED. He asserts that, “we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us in ever more varied ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the fragmentation of our attention, and the thinning of our thoughts in return for the wealth of compelling, or at least diverting, information we receive. We rarely stop to think that it might actually make more sense just to tune it all out.” However, there was a certain measure of irony in reading this article as I scrolled. Almost from the start I was already distracted by the website itself. A pop-up demanded that I either whitelist wired.com on my ad-blocker or pay a subscription fee. Once I had whitelisted the site I began the article again. However, the ads that my web blocker had held at bay now flooded the right side of my screen, beckoning me to scroll through shiny watches on amazon or watch the latest trailer for a popular TV series. I found it curious that I could not find a focused space even for an article on focus.
This experience brought several interesting questions to mind regarding the construction of digital humanities. Many of the DH projects I have seen during this semester have a wealth of information, and understandable fact since the often broad scope of DH projects lends itself to great deals of information. However, the way the information is organized can be problematic. The landing page for a DH project will be crowded with links, each of them interesting trails of the project that I could follow. Oftentimes the overwhelming amount of information can deter me from further discovery because I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to take the time to figure out. Once I do dive into a project, there are constantly new pathways to follow and hyperlinks with additional information, all of which Nicholas Carr would suggest are limiting what I can actually take away from the project.
With these things in mind, how can we make the digital humanities more focus-friendly? If a project is presented in more streamlined, less overwhelming contexts does it become less intellectually sound? Can we strike a balance between focus and project depth? All of these are questions that DH scholars would do well to keep in mind, lest they continue to present valuable projects in methods that reduce audience takeaway.
Carr, Nicholas. “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.” WIRED. 2010. Online.
This question might be one students ask themselves. What’s the point of studying literature in an academic setting?
I’m a huge advocate for college not only being a catalyst to the job market and yet, it seems like that to be the only reason students go to college. Acquiring marketable skills to make money seems to be the driving force for many students. Ask yourself, why are you in college? What are your reasons for getting a higher education? I came to be a better human. And yes, a piece of paper that confirms I indeed can complete a degree program is important to me as well. I am in no way denouncing the idea that a college degree gets you a good paying job. I am only saying that there are other reasons to go to school than just to find a job to make loads of money.
This is where literature comes in and we return to my question of why do we read this stuff. Ellie Chambers and Marshall Gregory discuss the human condition as something that can’t be solved through traditional physical methods. “Life’s most fundamental conditions have little to do with money and are not generally solved by money. How does money solve the problem of grief, sickness, loss, rejection, disappointment? (13). If one were to spend their entire college career preparing to make money, how can these natural feelings of the human condition be rationalized? It may be difficult but there are other ways to understand meaning.
Chambers and Gregory are firm in understanding why we read literature as “It helps students gain a better understanding of their own circumstances through the study of others’ circumstances” (23). Happiness, fun, freedom, and excitement are also contained in the universal human condition that are also presented in narratives. Maybe take an extra literature class. Explore your options and be a better human. Why not go to college to be a better human?
Chambers, Ellie and Marshall Gregory. “The Discipline Today.” Teaching and Learning English Literature. Sage Publications, 2006. Online.
The Princeton Prosody Archive is an ongoing digitization of works studying verse and language that houses pedagogical materials from as early as the middle of the sixteenth-century. With titles such as John Hart’s An orthographie, conteyning the due order and reason, howe to write or paint thimage of mannes voice, most like to the life or nature. or Robert Robinson’s The art of pronuntiation this archiving endeavor provides access to a part of the English language’s history that could easily be lost or overlooked. The science of how we speak and write has been a part of publication for five centuries and this collection holds some form of the study of prosodic systems, metrical laws, versification, and grammar from all five.Princeton Prosody Archive
*image courtesy of lib.udel.com
Bruno Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of fact to Matters of Concern” juggles the human need to place certain phenomena above others—favorite books, films, songs, areas of research—perhaps in an attempt to find some signal point of comfort or control in a large, sometimes extremely cold existence. As Latour points out, this choosing of or fixating upon these objects, examined under certain auspices, is problematic.
Latour questions the difference, or total lack thereof, between beliefs held for emotional reasons and the critical mind’s analyzing structures, (i.e. sciences and other reason-based theoretical views of the natural world) those passionately adhered to by their practitioners. He leans heavily on perspective in explaining the blind favoring of one stance over another in spite of factual experience. “To fact position, to the fairy position, why not add a third position, a fair position?” argues Latour, in requesting some form of new critical thought, some mode that doesn’t discriminate by keeping its own interests sacred or working from a point of subjective certainty (Latour 243).
Latour’s insight possesses an aspect of Eastern spirituality, specifically the Zen Buddhist belief in the destructive force that is human desire. Psychiatric study has long understood the power of confirmation bias as human motivation and its ability to shape belief, as everyone can relate, in one form or another, to the human minds ability to preconceive. Latour uses the political and economic equivocal suspicion of hard evidence on climate change to underscore this desire to shape facts to fit theory, to demand that they fall in line with an agenda.
Is Latour conceptualizing a multi-purpose scholar, beholden to not only no particular discipline, but to no “fixed point” as in the quote form Archemides, father of the round Earth? Are facts far too perspective-driven, or even arbitrary?
Latour requests a return to the pragmatism of William James, using the dire state of the planet as a beacon. At this point, in the Anthropocene era, cam man afford to theorize on anything other than what is directly in front of our eyes? Is it the responsibility of a critic to be “not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles” in this era of our crumbling ecosystem (246).
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 225-248. Print.