Monday, May 23, 2005

Some old posts

I wasn't sure if I wanted to or needed to post my off-line free writing, but then I convinced myself that I wouldn't mind having all these scribbles in the same place. So here they are:

Ten A Day, May 14, 2005

Lyle Lovett in concert, Fargo Theater, like having three friends play in your basement. Lovett was in conversation with the audience the whole time, knew what was going on in Fargo, and offered up postmodern country with cellist and bongos, mixing country, blues, gospel, and stand-up. Can’t help but think about the power of the arts versus the power of critique, production or hermeneutics. Betsy played the cello as a kid and wished someone had shown her that the cello could be relevant and hip, not just a tool of the classical orchestra machine. And then we (John, Cindy, Betsy) all talked about what a bodily / embodied / dialogic event we had just participated in, no polite sitting on hands and clapping nicely at the end of a monument. I suppose if any of us really knew anything about classical music we might have a different understanding of an orchestral performance, but being as unschooled academics as we are, we prefer the pomo country and the range of emotions: the humor, the sadness, the grooves, the insights.

I was thinking about how to write about this experience, about how not academicize the experience, to capture the feel of the experience, to memorialize the everyday, rather than dissect and critique it. And I was just thinking about concert experiences: Lyle and Greg Brown at the Fargo Theater have been spin-tingling, Jonathan Richman at the now defunct club downtown and at the pub in Ames was brilliantly intimate, the Bare Naked Ladies new years eve 1996 in New York City was other-worldly, on par with the Blasters in 1985, Winnipeg. I haven ‘t gotten to any real rock spectacles—maybe the Dylan concert in about 1990, and the Midnight Oil concert in 1988 or ’89, oh and the Bush concert in Ames about 1996. But stadiums are empty sounding and I have never seen the musicians who really matter to me in the big places. But little venues, under a 1000, many under 500, really create the experience that works for me. Oh yeah, Blue Rodeo in the Burton Cummings theater, Elvis Costelo in Minneapolis. The concert tonight convinced me I have to track down David Bynre, and soon, but it also has to be the right place. The fargo theater would be perfect, of course.

May 16, 2005

Just finished Kurt Spellmeyer’s Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the Twenty-first century, a book somewhat sympathetic to the notion of memorializing the everyday because it is so critical of academic professionalism, although in the end Spellmeyer seems to want students (and academics) to focus on global / environmental / social issues, and not so much the everyday. I always get pulled both ways, because I want to do both. I feel guilt for not being more politically active personally, for not “politicizing” my classes more thoroughly or in sophisticated ways, but I also think that in part everyone needs to get to that level of engagement when they can, and one thing they might need to do is get right with themselves, understand themselves and their beliefs, before they can understand the larger pictures.

Spellmeyer definitely finds value in students making knowledge and making connections, which ten minutes of writing a day can potentially facilitate. What the omni-presence of the writing task seems to do for me is to keep me thinking all day, what am I going to reflect on? What is significant today, or how does the lack of significance in a day like today, in which I started to clean up my hard drive and finished off my grading for the semester, connect to my life as a whole, to the (in)significance of my existence. Well, I definitely feel a change in the rhythm of my life at the end of each semester, a relief and a weight is being lifted, but I haven’t figured out yet if that is good or bad. If teaching is indeed my profession, should I feel more sadness than relief at the end of each semester? Should I move through each semester more in tune with the rhythm of the machine, and move up and down less frequently during and after each semester? Is this rhythm likely to count off my mortality in alarming regular patterns (another year older and deeper in depth) or will I find re-birth and re-newal each fall, each year?

Ten minutes a day should improve my typing.

May 18, 2005

So, here is the rub. I can make 10 minutes to write at the end of the day, but I didn’t get my writing done during the day. I am working on a paper about Scott McCloud’s big triangle as a heuristic guide to understanding and producing pieces of visual communication, but I spent the day reading, cleaning up my hard drive, getting my hair cut, then coming home to get ready for a dinner party. On the one hand I shouldn’t be too hard on myself—I have just finished the spring semester, and should be willing to give myself a little breathing time. But on the other hand, I really need to get this paper written, I more or less have the paper figured out, yet I sputter and stop, never really getting into the project today.

I suppose I need a good old-fashioned “night-before” approach. I should probably just set an arbitrary deadline (my birthday on the 22nd might be a good one), and really stick to it. Work late, work hard, stay focused, get lost in the project. If I had to guess at one major change in my working habits, I seem to have lost the ability to get lost in a project.

I have just been writing for 5 minutes, and I could easily stop here. I don’t know what else I want to write about, but I suppose this is also part of the discipline of 10 a day. Being able to push through, and perhaps being able to discover an idea, a phrase, a theme that I haven’t been able to draw out from my unconscious. Something about “engagement” would be good—most of the reading I did today was pretty critical of Scott McCloud’s idea that icons lead to involvement on the part of the viewer, while reaslistic images present a particular representation of a person, place or thing, an image that we might take pleasure in viewing, but not one that draws us in. Most of McCloud’s critics don’t seem to see or take much stock in the way that McCloud is drawing on McLuhan’s hot and cool but they also have some good points. Griffin is as thoroughly involved in Harry Potter as he is in Pokemon and Yugioh. All three are the kinds of stories that allow for fairly easy insertion of self: the school environment for HP, the battling and dueling in the others. The iconic Pokemon is most clearly directed at younger viewers, with Yugi becoming more realistic, and finally HP being “hot” in terms of media—print novel to film.
My inclination is to talk about the demands these types of representations place on viewers, but that demand does not necessarily result in involvement. Clearly personal history, background knowledge, all sorts of non-textual elements influence the level of investment and involvement. Time is a factor. Adults generally lose this ability to become significantly involved because our lives fill up, but we probably seek it through things like following sports, pornography, playing games, or simply watching TV. TV is really brilliant in terms of not demanding a lot of viewers (in most cases), yet (or therefore) resulting in high levels of involvement, in a fairly ongoing, rhythmic way (the Thursday night or Sunday night ritual).

Ritual is significant here, but I went from struggling to read 10 to writing for 15. Better save my energy.

May 22, 2005
Thirty-seven today: better get to work. I am at the statistical half way point (or something close to it).

Hot and cool media revisited. I am still working on the McCloud paper, and having a bit of trouble working through his definition of realistic images received, iconic images perceived. I really hit the wall when I realized that what he is saying about icons is that we fill in the blank icons, the smiley faces, and he suggests that high level of closure makes them more universal. He has been taken to task for this definition because of course what people want from icons is not “universal subjectivity” but universal agreed upon meanings. Washroom icons need to be agreed upon, not subjectively determined, at least in our cultures that want to keep men and women separate when it comes to private matters. McCloud is trying to figure out “why are we so involved, and he uses essentially the McLuhan hot and cool distinction to suggest that we get involved with these simple cartoons because they are open (cool) to our involvement, but as I have been writing and thinking about this, I just don’t see the observation holding up very well. There are too many examples of hot media that people become too involved with: Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, pornography. And more generally, as I was working on my analysis of the Gap ad, or if we think about the Beneton ads, those realistic images, when un-anchored by text, become abstract, open, unattached from constraints, provide many affordances. Anne Wysoki’s reflection on the Kinsey ad also seems to show how a viewer brings so much more to an image that just what that image seems to invoke. In other words, that ad is really hot—realistic image, fairly specific text, anchored, transactional—but she brings to bear her experiences, her background, her feminism, her politics. High definition visual-verbal communication may not invite closure, may try to limit closure, but it cannot entirely prevent a reading against the grain. Wysoki goes on to call for a different aesthetic, a new approach to design, but such a result seems somewhat arhetorical. Will changing design really change attitudes? Really change patriarchy? What if a Cindy Sherman show had used the same design but inserted the dismembered dolls and garbage where the Kinsey model currently resides? We definitely need to thinking about gender, race, class representations in our visual-verbal texts, and we can / should explore new designs and relationships that might upset the easy associations, but we also probably need to realize that those new designs will be difficult to perceive, to make sense of, the indexical relationships will be stretched and challenged.


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