Monday, August 28, 2006


Okay...I'll admit it. My last post was a bit lame. It raises an important topic--the politics and intellectual worth of social constructionism--but it doesn't really address it. I wanted to post something to D&R since I hadn't in awhile, but in the end I didn't have the mental wherewithal to do more than raise a too-open-ended question.

Where did I want to go with that question? I had intended to talk about Deleuze and Guattari's contributions to what, for lack of a better term, might be called the philosophy of knowledge (and I'm purposefully trying to avoid using the word "epistemology" here). They develop this line of work both individually and collaboratively, though their most pointed statement comes in their final venture together, What Is Philosophy? If I'm reading WIP? and other works (e.g., Deleuze's Proust and Signs) correctly, concepts (what epistemologists might call "knowledge") inhere in things, and it's up to philosophers and other cultural workers to extract and articulate them.

I'll say that I'm seduced by this notion, though I'm uncomfortable with the kind of "reading" practice it seems to imply. Theoretically, from a Deleuzo-Guattarian standpoint, one is affected in such a way by a thing that she/he can be moved to extract whatever concept or concepts happen to inhere in it. Perhaps. But isn't that a hop, skip, and a jump away from the kind of literary reading--of feeling the meaning of a literary work "on your pulse"--that defined the work of people such as F. R. and Q. D. Leavis and others? How is Deleuzo-Guattarian knowledge production not, at some level, a sort of virtuoso protocol for reading culture?

That question seems to me less lame, and honestly it's one I'm going to need some time to work through. For now, because this has been a fairly heady entry (most of my summer posts admittedly have been on the lighter side), I figured I'd end with an image my colleague John Lucaites sent me from Sony, like many these days, apparently is becoming Deleuzo-Guattarian..... ;)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The end is nigh

My research leave is nearly at an end. I can tell that by the dramatic upsurge in responsibilities related to on-campus life that I've been feeling for the last few weeks: preparing and copying syllabi; orientation sessions; meetings with colleagues and students; prepping for classes; and more. I'm at once anxious for the school year to start and sad to bid farewell to what's been a remarkably peaceful and productive time for research and writing.

That's not really why I'm writing, though. I'm writing to draw D&R readers' attention to a hilarious and brilliant skit called "Wikiality" that ran recently on Comedy Central's mock news program, The Colbert Report. You can access the piece on You Tube.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Colbert pokes fun at the online Encyclopedia, Wikipedia. The site, I'm sure most of you know, allows people like you and me to author entries, thereby participating actively in the constitution of knowledge. Wikipedia's been both praised and condemned for this kind of openness: praised, because it facilitates collaborative, more or less democratic knowledge production; and condemned, because, as Colbert and others have noted, if enough contributors agree on something as true, then it becomes true on Wikipedia.

What's remarkable to me about the Colbert piece, and about the debates over Wikipedia more generally, is how in part they reflect debates about the usefulness of "social constructionism"--that is, the doctrine that humans produce meanings, values, and institutions (realities) that we then come to inhabit as though they were necessary and given. The left's embraced social constructionism and put the idea to use in quite critical, politically efficacious ways. What the Colbert piece shows clearly, though, is how the politics of social constructionism are not inherent to social constructionism. He jokingly suggests, for example, that people should access Wikipedia and insist that Africa's elephant population is increasing. (Some, apparently, have followed through on the gag.)

"Wikiality"--both the skit and the notion--underscore how the left needs to do better. It can't simply continue pointing out how knowledge (and what follows from it) is constituted socially, or how people come to inhabit specific regimes of truth. The question--and I'm hardly the first to pose it--is, If devolving into an untenable relativism is undesirable, then what's the alternative to social constructionism?

Monday, August 14, 2006


I work in a box.

Actually, I work in a cinderblock building that was constructed originally to house GIs returning to college after the Second World War. It's since been converted into an office building, though it still maintains many of the trappings of a dormitory. I'm particularly amused by the built-in closets in my office, which have been converted into makeshift bookshelves.

Right now the university is in the midst of tearing down all the buildings in my complex to make way for new high-rise student housing--that is, with the exception of my own. The university's promised to build my department what's called a "generic office building," since we're ostensibly in the way of the looming construction project.

Our current building is configured in such a way that all rooms are pretty much discrete. Each of the faculty has a private, enclosed office with one to two windows that open toward the outside. The classrooms--what few we have--are all self contained. Judging by the name, I suspect that our proposed "generic office building" will reflect a similar architectural disposition.

In some ways, I like my existing building. There's plenty of privacy, and I happen to have a corner office. By the same token, a conversation with a friend of mine in computer science reminded me of just how much difference office space can make when it comes to fostering a certain kind of work environment. He described a lab to me in which seminar spaces are open, as are most of the offices. Conference rooms all have windows facing both the interior and the exterior of the building, which further helps to engender a sense of openness. As a whole, the lab's designed to encourage spontaneous, collegial interactions and to foster the culture of collaboration that's typical in computer science.

I wonder if a similar kind of floor plan would be appropriate to a humanities-based department like mine. Indeed, I've always been struck by the humanities' critique of individualism, a critique that doesn't really get reflected in our work, the vast majority of which consists of single-authored articles and books. Could changing our architecture help foster a more collaborative humanities, one that better practices what it preaches?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Two great new blogs

Apologies for the hiatus. I was away again, this time traipsing around the remarkable Yellowstone National Park. I also was busy finalizing some aspects of my book, which now has a new title: The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture From Consumerism to Control.

I'm writing, though, to promote two great new blogs. The first is Gil Rodman's Revolution on a Stick, which he launched about a month ago. You may know Gil from his wonderful book Elvis After Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend and from his co-edited collection, Race in Cyberspace. Like D&R, Revolution on a Stick is about culture, politics, and stuff. Right now Gil's featuring his paper from the recent Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference in Istanbul, Turkey, and knowing his work, it's sure to be both insightful and funny.

The other new blog is J. Macgregor Wise's Ain't Got Time to Blog, which has been up and running for a few weeks now. Greg's the author of Exploring Technology and Social Space and the co-author of both Culture and Technology: A Primer and the second edition of Media Making. He says that his is Ain't Got Time to Blog will be "an occasional sort of thing, random thoughts, some about work, writing, ideas, some about life." Despite his modesty, though, he's already posted some interesting pieces on media collecting and LP records.

Definitely check them out!