useful and useless archives

In class this week, my role is the antithesis (I almost put a shopped image of myself with an evil Spock beard. Almost.) on the topic of archives in DH. Based on the readings, I have created the following matters of concern:

If one of the goals of DH work is to expand the audience beyond the academic sphere to the public sphere, how can archives be used to accomplish this? If ownership, authorship, and interpretation are factors, and DH makes strides to incorporate its readers as collaborators/builders/authors, how can the “public” (i.e. those outside of an academic institution physically or conceptually) gain access? Considering: location of archive, design of archive as user centered, permissions and data standards for collaborating, purpose of the archive project. Why should the public be interested? What are their stakes? What are they to gain?

Do we make archives? Do we make databases? Do we make collections? Do we make interfaces? Or do we make something similar, but just different enough? The conceptual usefulness in borrowing concepts come with shortcomings and pitfalls. With DH projects often blending and borrowing from established disciplines under the coherence of DH what might our work be complicating for the disciplines we borrow from?

How can DH address concerns of trained archivists, as expressed by Kate Theimer in Archives in Context and as Context, “What concerns me is that in the broadening of “archives” to extend to any digital collection of surrogates there is the potential for a loss of understanding and appreciation of the historical context that archives preserve in their collections, and the unique role that archives play as custodians of materials in this context”? Particularly when the conceptualization of the project and the design of the collection is often meant to expand as fluid, as ecology, as networks? If archive differs between DH and archivists, how does context hold up?

What are DH scholars doing to learn from archivists and librarians? How does a DH scholar interested in archives become an archivist-scholar?

What are the lifespans of DH archives? Who/what/where/how keeps them alive?

Are our archives just archives of our work?

Thinking of our readings made me recall Jeff and Jenny Rice’s 2012 CCCCs panel with Geoffrey Sirc, “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere: Writing in the Musical Age.”

Useless Archives: From Jeff Rice’s Useless Dylan

“The archives – in a university library, on a university website, in a university special collection – provides access to knowledge. Teaching the archives teaches a method for acquiring ideas, contextualizing ideas, and framing ideas anew. In the age of new media, archives, however, are institutional practices, and thus, they shape what is or is not important to a given research project. What about the peripheral items not featured in a given archive? How important are they to research?”

Do we view artifacts in an archive at a different scale? A different point of focus?

“How can I call “useless” what I value? Value is the wrong way to look at subject matter, whether musical, political, or some other item. Instead of value, I want the scraps, the outtakes, the speculation, the guesswork.  If I am to understand anything when I assemble a useless archive (and I do not promise any understanding), it is how the fragments of experience, when juxtaposed, allow insight previously prevented by what Vilem Flusser called the programmability of the political experience in the age of media”.

Can we make useless archives as serious scholarly pursuits? What are the potential consequences of the useless?

“The useless archive merely brings together. What I get from that combination, juxtaposition, linking, etc. depends. I may get a series of patterns. I may get a surface level “cute.” I may get affective response. I may get nothing. Whichever I get, that doesn’t mean that useless is “no good.” My archive is virtual. It is based on arrangement.”

How does arrangement get at/not get at selection—”archivists select materials for acquisition and accession” (Kate Theimer)?

essential elements: particles of study

I feel like I’ve been at a lull as of late; too much thinking and striving for concrete or complete thoughts, which always results in stifled activity. My head’s at capacity and nothing is being created for anxiety over spark like thoughts (a flash | quick burn). So I turn to my creative catalyst: wandering the aisles of Meijer in flickering fluorescence and listening to Radiolab like voiceover narration to my daily activities.

Radiolab’s short Solid as a Rock, interviews Jim Holt on his book Why Does the World Exist?, and works to push on our conception of the universe as solid/physical matter to consider the material stuff of the world as less solid – what we can put our fingers on resembles something more like a thought, a mathematical equation, or an ethereal cloud instead of fitted blocks. Holt explains “whether, at its very base, the universe is made up of solid bits and pieces of stuff…or a cloudy foundation that, more than anything else we can put our fingers on, resembles thoughts and ideas.” He goes on “If you start slicing and sleuthing in subatomic particle land — trying to get to the bottom of what makes matter — you mostly find empty space. Your hand, your chair, the floor…it’s all made up of mostly of nothing. So what makes it all take shape?”

My mind sparked. I wondered if this might be a useful way of thinking/questioning disciplinarity (what defines the field/discipline of rhetoric and composition) – something I often find myself questioning as a newcomer. Thought embers:

Our world(s) as appearance – thought, not substance – so what is our truth/reality made of?

What is the most essential nature of a rock? A thing? Or something harder to pin down…a  thought? What makes a rock a rock? When you hear the word rock, what do you imagine? And why this thing with these characteristics? Where does thing material and thing semiotic end?

Cutting up the stuff of reality into such itty bitty pieces it can go no further – atoms (the work of atomists). Is this how we think of our field’s materiality? And if not, if we look at larger assemblages of these small atom components, what is lost?

Gravity – what is the mechanism that mediates? Does a field need something that acts as gravity? Gravity created by the equation itself holds our matter together – but nature/reality has to be made of hard stuff, elements. Or at least an apparent solidity. What are the effects on what we can/can’t do?

(A connection, follow the link) Quantum Field Theory of Physics: a field is a stream of information through spacetime – where particles might be. We can’t see the thing itself, only the effect it has on other things – we can’t observe it, so how are we illustrating/understanding it to exist?

Micro/macro: big data and the minutia – what effects do they have on one another? What can we learn from them? What can be observed (and how)?

And what of time/situation? How do ideas shift, decompose, remain, fade?

In the field are little/big events, hiccups/hydrogen bombs of energy – stuff comes into existence. And then what? We need networks, energy transitions/traces (balanced equations?), shadows of ideas (Roland Barthes – that which has been). Structure without rigidity.

Reality is a flux of information.

The cosmos is ultimately a concept: the necessity and the difficulty in definition. I find myself thinking again of Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By and how we often conflate things/materials/matter with language/semiotics by metaphor or symbol referent.

Contemplating disciplinarity in terms of field, but in the sense of quantum theory: what are we terming field? What is this based on? Is this observable? Can there be individual (or small collectives) fields? Are these subfields?

What is the most essential nature of a field?

What remains to study: the materiality of thought, of concept, of construction and the drawing of circles and borders.

David Tong: Lectures on Quantum Field Theory, University of Cambridge

MMLA 2012 and conference parlor invitations: RSVP

Last weekend I presented at the 54th Annual MMLA Conference in Cincinnati for the first time. I delivered a paper from my developing MA project in the Teaching Writing in College section, on a panel themed “(Re)Defining First Year Composition” – a variation of debt, the conference’s theme. A hearty thank you to Andre Buchenot for chairing the panel. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss my work to a representative sample of “outside” folks. It was sort of novel to be the sole student (re)presenter from EMU.

lone student presenter

Spending the weekend with literature folk. I left with questions of disiplinarity and where/when/through what we converse and share ideas, especially having given a paper on conceptual borrowing and imagining through metaphor. Where are these inbetween spaces? Intermedias and intermediaries? Is the new Burkean parlor the conference venue – the hotel or convention center lobby and hallway? Or is this “unending conversation” metaphor unbegun? Sometimes I wonder, as I scan the faces that (don’t) populate the room. Not to crash the literature party, or be a party pooper, I will note feeling this way at 4C’s as well, and even more so not getting accepted to present at 4C’s next spring. Who is on (gets to be on) the conference guest list?

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Is this parlor: a waiting room, an oil painting, a haunting echo in mahogany paneling, a members only clubhouse, a conversation in an elevator, a paperbound journal, a divided department, a history, a mythology, a snapshot, a missed connection?

répondez s’il vous plaît

Please, as notice of attending, or as regrets.