Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy holidays from D&R

I just wanted to wish all of my readers a happy and healthy holiday season. This probably will be my last post until the new year, so here's a link and another one to some holiday inspired classic D&R to tide you over. Peace.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Star Wars "on Ice"

My only question is this: wouldn't it have made more sense for his Vanilla-ness to have worked his mojo on Hoth, the ice planet?

Monday, December 17, 2007

A few of my favorite things

Because it's holiday time, I figured it might be fun to share some thoughts about a few of my favorite things. Now, don't get your hopes up. If you're looking for gift ideas, these recommendations won't exactly help you. They belong more to the category, "useful things I've discovered online" than to the category, "things you can buy for friends and loved ones at the store." Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

Grammar Girl
For those of you with grammar questions--or, for that matter, for those of you with grammar guilt--this is the place to go. Mignon Fogarty is an authority on the subject, and her posts and podcasts will tell you all you need to know about how to make your prose sing. What I especially appreciate is her sense of English as a living language, and thus her sensitivity to the history of its grammar. So, for example, my high school English teachers drilled the "never split infinitives" rule into my head ad nauseum, presumably because most had had the rule driven into their heads ad nauseum. Fogarty, however, explains that the rule is a hold-over from the world of Latin declensions, and that it's little more than a vestige in the English language. There are lots of other gems like this, so I'm grateful to my friend, Suzanne Enck-Wanzer, for turning me on to the site.

An anonymous commentator on my last post turned me on to this site. As a professor of media and cultural studies, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know about its existence beforehand. In a nutshell, SourceWatch is a wiki site dedicated "to produc[ing] a directory of the people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda." In other words, it's dedicated to peeling back the layers of public information, in an effort to shine a light on all the public relations and advertising folks who are working behind the scenes. The site is a project undertaken by the Center for Media and Democracy and, of course, by its many contributors. (I just wonder how they keep all the PR mavens from spinning their own entries.)

The Century of the Self
This video was recommended to me by my friends Elaine Vautier and Timothy Roscoe. It's a four-part documentary directed by Adam Curtis, and it focuses on the history/uptake of psychoanalysis in the United States and Britain in 20th century. What's especially fascinating is to see how different approaches to psychoanalysis fell in and out of favor over time, and how the vicissitudes of the profession affected the way in which psychoanalytically-inclined press agents and advertisers imagined both their audiences and their work. The third installment is the most interesting to me, in that it charts the rise of the "empowered" self. There seem to me some fascinating connections to be made here to the rise of so-called "active audiences" in cultural studies.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An important addition to tbe blog roll

One of my primary research interests (and indeed one of the ongoing discussions here at D&R) concerns the politics of scholarly publishing. Apropos, I've decided to make a long overdue addition to the blog roll. Peter Suber is one of the leading--and surely one of the most intelligent--advocates for open access publishing. His blog, Open Access News, is a must-read for anyone interested in these issues. Please make sure to check it out!

If that's not enough for you, you might want to subscribe to the SPARC Open Access email newsletter. You can do so by clicking here. The newsletter's a great way to stay up-to-date on the latest in the world of open access. This information is especially important, given recent initiatives by opponents of open access to roll back some of the gains O.A. advocates have made.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Uh, did I miss something?

From today's Inside Higher Education comes a story about a recent symposium, convened at George Washington University, to explore copyright issues on university campuses. The sponsoring agency? A new group benignly calling itself "Copyright Alliance." Its mission, according to the piece, is to "promote strong copyright protection for artists."

Did somebody say, "thinly veiled PR front?"

What struck me most about the story was this particular passage, which refers to "a lack of critical engagement with copyright issues at the university level and the result that students often don’t understand the logic behind prohibitions on illegal file sharing."


For my part, I can only imagine teaching about intellectual property critically, and trying to cultivate a critical sensibility in my students with respect to I.P. issues past, present, and future. Indeed most of the folks I know who teach about I.P. do exactly the same thing, trying their best to balance a healthy respect for the law with a recognition that, at least in some cases, I.P. law may well have been extended too far beyond the parameters set forth in the United States Constitution.

The question I'm left with is this: since when does "critical engagement" really mean "acquiescence?"

P.S. You can check out Siva Vaidhyanathan's (somewhat off-the-cuff) thoughts on the so-called Copyright Alliance by clicking here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Some advice about writing

The end is near.

No, not that end. I’m talking about the end of the semester, the time when everyone I know starts scurrying frantically to finish up projects and to take/administer exams before we finally get to recess for the holidays. For my part, the students in my graduate seminar on cultural studies are turning in papers this Monday, and my teaching assistants and I are administering a final exam in my undergraduate class on—get this—the very last time-slot on the very last day of final exams here at Indiana University. No one’s thrilled, but what can you do?

A recent blog post from one of my former students (and current TAs) reminded me of just how much writing angst emerges around this time of year. I thought it might be worthwhile, therefore, to share a bit of writing-related advice that I’ve accumulated over the years. Maybe it will help some of you, who find yourselves stuck, to break through whatever impasses are getting the better of you.

(1) “Just write…”
This piece of wisdom was given to me by one of my former mentors, John Nguyet Erni, while I was writing my undergraduate thesis. I had hit a roadblock and told him I couldn’t go on; my head was just empty, my creativity, tapped. He responded by telling me to “just write.” I subsequently learned an important lesson about myself as a writer: I often write best when I start with a writing “riff.” Instead of trying to begin by forming complete sentences, I often compose short, half-formed phrases that I subsequently develop. Just getting something down on paper sometimes can be the key.

(2) “There’s a problem…”
I inherited this little pearl from another one of my mentors, Lawrence Grossberg, when I asked him for his advice about what causes academic writers to block (I was blocked at the time—notice a pattern?). He told me that writing blocks often result from specific errors or problems that can be easily fixed. These have tended to take two forms in my experience. First, they can be organizational, as in when I include material in the body or conclusion of my paper-in-progress that really belongs in the introduction. Bad architecture makes bad buildings, as it were. Second, these problems can be research related. I’m embarrassed to say that on too many occasions I couldn’t write because I simply didn’t have sufficient data to write about. I know enough about myself as a writer now to recognize when this is happening, and so I get myself back to the library immediately.

(3) “Thank You…”
This one I picked up during my research on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Long about the year 2000 or so, Ms. Winfrey invited author Andre Dubus III onto her TV show to talk about his novel House of Sand and Fog, which she’d selected for the Book Club. There, he mentioned having discovered the writing diary of his father, Andre Dubus II, who was also a novelist and who’d recently passed away. Whether Andre Dubus II had written six or six thousand words on any given day, he chronicled the number in his diary and unfailing appended two words thereafter: “thank you.” Being able to write anything was something to be grateful for, as far as Andre Dubus II was concerned. He never beat himself up about not having had a stellar writing day, every day. Instead, he focused on the positive aspects of what he actually managed to accomplish. I’ve learned from the Dubus’ that maintaining an affirmative disposition can help you to avoid writing paralysis.

(4) “It’s not f-----g Shakespeare!”
This one also comes from TV. A few years ago I watched the American Film Institute’s tribute to actor Sean Connery. During the show, Andy Garcia reflected on what he’d learned as a relatively young actor when he appeared with the veteran Connery in The Untouchables. In one scene, Garcia recalled, his character simply had to answer the telephone and utter a few utilitarian lines; thereafter, the scene was Connery’s. There was just one problem, though. Take after take, Garcia couldn’t get it right. He flubbed his lines several times and over-acted them even more. Frustrated, Connery finally turned to Garcia and shouted in that thick, Scottish brogue everyone’s so fond of imitating: “My god! It’s not f-----g Shakespeare!” Garcia apparently delivered the lines successfully on the very next take, having been relieved of the feeling that his small contribution was supposed to carry the whole scene.

There seems to me a useful parallel to be drawn here when it comes to writing. Sometimes, you just need to be a hack who gets through the unimportant stuff so that you can focus on the really significant material. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: isn’t it all important? No, it’s not. Get over it, and get over yourself. The trick lies in figuring out when to linger on certain aspects of your prose and when to let other aspects go. But at the end of the day, you must remember: much, and perhaps most, of what you’re writing isn’t “Shakespeare.”

If only Deleuze had had access to YouTube...

D&R readers absolutely must watch this video! It's modeled after the political "attack ads" that appear frequently on U.S. television around election time. Here, though, politicians aren't dueling, philosophers are, and Immanuel Kant is on the receiving end of the smear campaign. It's truly hilarious, if, ultimately, rather apt.

Thanks to my colleague John Lucaites for passing along the link. Share and enjoy!