Sunday, July 24, 2005

A bunch of notes

I was flipping through the new wired and noticed all sorts of McLuhan-like observations. The U2 tour gets a story with a pull out quote explaining that the show uses infra-red cameras to make the crowd part of the show = rock spectacle as rock happening--no more either or, both/and.

Another article on war bloggers. McLuhan notes in Understanding Media that battlefields contained as many typewrites as weapons, but now, in addition to the communication technologies that kept the war effort functioning effectively, soldiers are now using personal communication technologies to "personalize" the war--extend their experiences, undermine the effort in some cases (one soldier was demoted because of what he wroter), therapy, etc. My brother-in-law called us from his cell phone in Iraq--bringing him and the war directly into our kitchen. I suppose such immediacy brings a mix of comfort and discomfort for most families. No longer is war so easily defined as "over there."

I need to return a book to the library: Amped by David Browne. Didn't get into it, but it looks like a journalistic / media ecology analysis of skateboard scene--the new tribalism swept into the media juggernaut.

And I need to return Donald Norman's Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Can y'all shout with me "extensions of the self!!" Need to check on his relationship to McLuhan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

TA Training and goals

I just made a note for the TA Training workshop--I am going to ask the TAs to list 5 goals for the semester. So what are mine?

1. A talkative, engaged class. I know I can't control this one entirely, but last year my 110 was pretty quiet (one student consistently talked), whereas the year before I had good distribution. Work pretty hard on this one.
2. Coach more, instruct less. I feel like my teaching is getting more and more directive, and my comments less supportive and encouraging. I need to get back to coaching.
3. Share more. This relates to #1: my goal is to ask student to produce writing that other students might want to read (reviews, memoirs), and I hope that sharing more leads to a class that knows each other better / well.
4. Meet with students more. I have dropped back to one conference the last few years, but I think 2 might be in order.
5. Discuss more. Another variation on the same thing, I suppose, but as I have gotten more directive and and more specific in my teaching, I have taken away from the discussion element. I still remember a student who said to me my first fall "I like how we sit around and discuss philosophy." I just haven't made much room for that the last few years. I probaby could stand to tell more stories, too--as long as they are good ones!

Oh, and maybe to add a bit of diversity, I want to get more music into the class: a course soundtrack, more playing of and discussing music in class, etc.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Biggest Game in Town

Finished A. Alvarez's book over the past few days--an account of 4 weeks in vegas for the 1981 WSOP, with plenty of background on the game and players. Brunson heavily featured, Jack Straus, the more philosophical but less well known Mickey Appleman, who provides the Freudian analysis of poker as sublimation. The virtuallity of the whole experience strongly emphasized: money means nothing, the chips practically mean nothing, being totally involved in anything becomes crucial (if there isn't a bet on something it is of no interest to these players), the "straight world" is almost non-existent, unknownn to these players. One didn't know there was a war in Vietnam, the election of Carter got almost no response from players or from the Vegas paper.

Alvarez mentioned the no clock factor, which I have known about for quite a while, but it made me realize that I should probably take a look at the clock chapter from UM as well as the others I have already re-read.

I also visualized the Understanding Games project as a full length project: a chapter on poker, on extreme sports, on professionalism / amateurism (probably one chapter, not two), probably an early chapter just on games and technology, games as extensions. Maybe I need to think sections, because games and media are obvious of great importance these days. Oh yeah, a chapter on video games, and perhaps a chapter "life is not a game." What seems to be happening to most of these players is that they do make that switch over and lose some significant grounding, although Appleman who isn't married says the married players have a certain grounding in wife and kids. Perhaps a tenuous and strained grounding, a relationship with a co-dependent person. Which is not to say I want to argue against games--perhaps they simply are very prone to overheating. The escape factor, the fantasy factor, is very tempting, dangerous, and not so unreasonable. Religion offers escape, games offer escape, art and creativity offer escape.

Why is it that we need to stay grounded? To not ignore our material conditions? To help others better there material conditions. To not be self-indulgent? Which is perhaps why players want to recruit others to their games. I have noticed a certain evangelical rhetoric emerging among the poker players. Liberation theology? Perhaps a chapter on religion (closely connected to sport and play). Perhaps a chapter on politics--increasingly a specator sport, and as the poker players say, American democracy requires a $10,000 buy-in.

New long range plan: M for C, UG. Guess I had better get that first project moving again!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

finished FRC

Finished reading Klosterman's first book--looking forward to reading the other two. Got to see some themes popping up that he has since re-worked: guilty pleasures shows up in FRC, as does the notion that some of these stars are so open they can be completed by fans in just about anyway. K. uses that argument for Lenny Kravitz, if I remember correctly, the same argument he used a couple of years later for Britany Spears. Not that re-using the argument is a bad thing. Some stars work that way--what McLuhan might call "low intensity stars," while others are specific and filled out--high intensity, I suppose.

K.'s obsession with cool rose to the surface: clearer all the time. He concludes by accepting that he is not cool, but GNR and other metal bands helped him live a virtual reality in which, by association, he got to experience coolness. Hipsters are not cool. Living by total id, it seems, is cool; living without pretension, living in the quest of pure pleasure (booze, drugs, sex) is cool. Liking what you like is cool (somehow "what you like" is natural--doing what comes naturally). This belief in an id and natural pleasures that are somehow outside of socially constructed values seems core to K.'s views. Yet he throws around deconstruction in a couple of places. If K. is the affective critic of the 21st century, the affective critic is not bound by rigorous or consistent terminology: too much of a print-based value.

Or, to take another angle, if learning to write like television (Ulmer's electracy) is learning to write like K., some of the core strategies seem to be:
--include yourself in the story (K. even explains that rock criticism is always about the rock critic)
--reject intellectualism, or at least the kind of the intellectualism that threatens to make you look stupid
--reject anti-intellectualism by making arguments for the intelligence of anti-intellectual art
--eliminate the theory-practice gap: all practice, reckless use of theory

Not sure this list is really going anywhere. Must go look up affective criticism.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Klosterman II

Still working on course prep, still working on Klosterman. Read his article in Esquire about / with Britney Spears, including his McLuhanesque line that Britney's image is so contradictory and ill defined that everyone and anyone gets to assign her the meaning they most desire: hero to 12 year olds, porn star to their older brother, the reason young women hate themselves to young women, and the slightly creepy line that explains why the guy who hates Chuck thinks he has the mind of a childmolester: dads wish Britney would come to a sleep over with their 12 year old daughter.

But to the point. I read another article about Guilty Pleasures where CK starts out decrying the evils of anti-intellectualism (which surprised me a bit), but he followed it up with his more familiar criticism of feinged intellectualism. He goes on to attack the catch phrase "guilty pleasure" because he thinks guilty pleasure should be reserved for sleeping with your ex-girlfriend's roommate, and it should not be used for things like enjoying the Patrick Swayze movie Road House. Prented intellectualism, he seems to argue, is the result of not enjoying the enjoyable things in life. "It never matters what you like; what matters is why you like it."

He also says that pretend intellectualism leads to anti-populism, which is maybe what he is always arguing for: a ND retrieved populism that does't mean bucking the corporate master in the way good old ND populism did, but it means something like "let me enjoy my pop culture because I take great pleasure in it, and don't try to make me feel like a dumb-ass (i.e. guilty) for liking this pop culture." I am starting to hear in his tone a lot of ND defensiveness--and perhaps that defensiveness plays everywhere because he is usually making an argument for the most popular, the best selling, the most mass of the mass culture. ND is everywhere.

Possible formula: "Liberal" media (hipsters) makes the masses feel stupid, "conservative" media makes the masses nervous about their sins, the "masses" consume but do not produce the mass media. 'Cept CK. Probably wrong again.

Oh, and what would JR do with CK's obsession with coolness?

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Pretty immersed in planning 110 right now; thinking about Klosterman as the first "affective" critic of the 21st century. Affect is the hot buzz word in pedagogy right now, but I haven't exactly seen it applied to writing, a style of writing, a kind of writing that is generally dismissed as emotional, sentimental, etc. He has been described as a "fanboy," fans and critics of his write about his enthusiasm, his optimism, David Byrne is quoted on the back cover as saying that Klosterman writes about how hair music feels, how our media saturated lives feel, and that seems to be a pretty ringing endorsement for Klosterman as affective critic. Oh yeah, and the feeling is in the details.

The affective critic would have some sort of relationship to the organic critic, but I will have to figure out what that is.

Sirc's writing strikes me as "affective," I like how it sounds, how it feels. He is hard on the voiceless, bodiless prose of academic writing.

These tensions continue to bump and grind in the way that tensions between professionalism and anti-professionalism or amateurism always bump and grind. The dynamic is give and take, not a matter of drawing lines in the sand. Sirc's affective writing, alt.dis movements, the personal in the academic, have all pushed the line of professionalism back, which then raises the question: if affective writing becomes the dominant prose style in the field, is it still anti-professional? I guess McLuhan would just say figure and ground have reversed, and that a call for professionalism--perhaps in a new form?--will return.

The pragmatic question is: will affective criticism do the work we want it to do? It does seem to be writing that is more like television, more like electracy; oh yeah, K. has written a MyStory. The formula: personal encounter / personal significance, cultural perception, cultural perception re-considered.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Thinking about teaching

I have spent most of the last six weeks working on conference presentations and essays for publication, but for the next two weeks, I plan to focus on prepping my composition class and my TA training class. I was just working on my 10 minute a day assignment, which prompted me to come to my blog and think through all my tasks.

I have the syllabus more or less ready to go, and I am starting to work through the daily plans. Day one and two are in good shape, but #3 was scattered and way too ambitious. I think I have got it worked out. Trying to keep things straightforward is always a challenge, and the first few weeks of a course are always tricky because I always want to immerse my students in information--I need to work on the pacing. Slowing down too much can be the opposite problem--if students are primarily immersed in high-speed electronic culture, the two options are either to "pick up the pace" or convince students that the classroom is a "time to think." I haven't used that distinction before--i should give it a try. I should try to track down that David Brooks one page editorial.

Will have lots of work to do with unit 2: teaching FRC for the first time. The new TAs seem excited about using it, and I had a fun conversation with my neice this weekend who just saw Motley Crue in WPg--front row seats with backstage passes. I think my neice is exactly the same age as Klosterman--I wonder if I am just 3-5 years too old for the metal scene? I know that by 1984 I was listening to the Talking Heads, so I am thinking that I might have been pretty immune to metal by then. I had tried Led Zepplin and a bit of AC/DC, but neither really worked for me. I actually don't mind either of them now--maybe I do see more of the humor and less of the bombasticness (is that a word?).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Read and interesting essay by Tony Tremblay--brought Freud and McLuhan together to argue that the Internet, as a new technology, a new extension of the self and specifically the nervous system, is an autoerotic technology. Puts the internet in the historical context of the novel and film--both had similar autoerotics properties when first introduced, then regulated (censored, hence cybriety), and then split in roughly two directions: mainstream art and underground. Interesting history of how the film industry fought censorship in the 1970s in order to take advantage of the sensual / voyeuristic properties of film at a time when the industry suffered. Tremblay suspects that the Internet is and will go throught similar patterns--autoerotic, largely unregulated, gives way to regulated mainstream and underground sites. Tremblay also draws on McLuhan's plea to understand media more effectively, and perhaps to disrupt this historical pattern in ways that productively draw on a better understanding of this emerging technology.

Trying to think about how this article will help me understand online poker. All sorts of social stigma associated with poker, and specificially going to the public poker rooms, is removed from online poker (more or less). The pleasure of the game--simple, fast, engaging, erotic--now penetrates wider spectrum of players, drives the poker train. The issue of regulation is hot--still technically not legal in the US, states like ND have debated whether or not to become the hub of legal online gambling, but the state legislature just turned it down this spring, largely based on moral arguments trumping economic arguments, although some argue that a gambling economy is never a good economy. I guess Tremblay's piece should help us understand the regulation issue somewhat: if we understand what the technology is enabling/enhancing, what it is being obsolesced, what is retrieved, what is reversed, we can atleast have a starting point for regulating (or not) online gambling in effective ways. Sin taxes would be a start, although very anti-American. Re-channeling the intellect and energy that is going into online gambling would be useful, but perhaps not realistic. Not letting it go underground /offshore is perhaps a good first step--the marijuana argument, I guess. Put in the context of American moral conservatism, online poker is going to be an interesting challenging to the religous right.

Monday, July 04, 2005

school is back in session

Not exactly, but it is July, and I will be changing my work pattern from "all research, all the time," to class prep plus research. I really want to get myself organized for class prep, and what better way to do that than a blog list?

110: where am I at?
My review unit is in pretty good shape--review class preps, gather more materials, perhaps refine some class activities. Informal review: voice, style, insert readers. RS review: voice + analysis; comparison. Formal review: music, lyrics, image. Well, style, style, style anyway. Write some reviews of my own. Get the whole Johnny cash class ironed out a bit--develop the materials, use the web. Do more good exercises. Play around. Get them to work with words.

Finish FRC, figure out everything, write my own memoir, contact Klosterman. Emphasize reading in this unit. From description to analysis, making arguments, the K. way!

New literacy: settle on readings right away. Get the video project instructions set up more clearly. Wow--have I really taught this class before?

Oh yeah, other random notes: start with a 5 factors blank sheet--get students to fill it out on the first or second day. Maybe do so again mid-term, plus start to add additional terms. Make the final exam closed, no notes, fill out sheet again.

A bunch of other things to do:
collect the info on grades for the grade inflation talk.
start working on a website / bb site: map them out, figure them out.
do more to plan the future 110 and 120. Figure out where to start and what to use.
Get back to work on TA Strategies.
Do more with ongoing TA assessment.

That's enough--no sense spoiling a 4th of July holiday!