- Long lines sink designs. #poetry 3 days ago
- Time for a cask Belgian strong ale with grapefruit & coriander to beat the heat! Thanks @DESTIHLNormal! https://t.co/aow4MfuvMB 3 weeks ago
- You haven't read any books by Hilda Hilst yet? Why not!? 3 weeks ago
- MT @LucinaSchell: I gush in @jacket2mag about Juan Gelman's Oxen Rage in Lisa Rose Bradford's translation ow.ly/wcZc302OFpD @coimpress 3 weeks ago
- I Am a Face Sympathizing with Your Grief: Seven Younger Iranian Poets, ed/trans Alireza Taheri Araghi on July @spdbooks Poetry Bestsellers. 3 weeks ago
Lossiness and the Diachronic Instance: Thinking through Google’s Deletion of Dennis Cooper’s The Weaklings Blog
In late June, Google deleted writer Dennis Cooper’s blog The Weaklings (and his Gmail account that includes literary correspondence) without explanation. Electric Literature is the latest of several outlets to cover Google’s as-yet-unexplained action, which is tantamount to intellectual property theft, censorship, and, well, just plain bad form. While Cooper works in several different media (print books, GIFs, film, and blog), he has lost over ten years of his blog’s work, including an unpublished GIF novel. The blog featured Cooper’s daily writing and promoted independent literature, music, and culture. As someone who has thrown my lot in with Google—I own a Chromebook, use apps like Chrome, Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Keep, Docs, Sheets, and Translate, not to mention search function daily—Cooper’s loss hits close to home and leads to plenty of thinking about what it might mean.
While Nate Hoffelder in Cloud Storage claims Cooper is at fault and he should have backed up his blog’s content, the blog is part of an era in contemporary literature (circa 1999 when Blogger started through 2013 when Google Reader was phased out) when technology (emails, listservs, blogs, and social media) rapidly changed what it meant to be a practicing writer and how literary production and dissemination take place. The medium matters: Cooper’s blog, to my mind, intends to be a blog, which brings up more questions.
What is the value of authorial intention with respect to media, when the media is contingent on technologies beyond the author’s control for its existence for both producing and disseminating content? Cooper’s latest troubles cast a dubious shadow on claims of more access to authorship that accompanied the rise of (free) applications that writer’s use to create content that they expect to have some longevity.
How does the removal of Cooper’s blog relate to conceptualism? In the prevailing model of conceptualism, there is an author-generated concept and then, usually, an art object or text that results from the concept’s conditions, but the experience of the concept is not predicated upon interaction with the object or text. Now, with the total removal of Cooper’s blog in the medium readers had come to engage it, the blog has been made a forced or ex post facto work of conceptual art, in that it exists now only the idea of what it was before it was deleted.
How do the rapid developments in technology destabilize fields like literature and journalism, both of which have become so prone to lossiness? With print as the dominant mode of information dissemination for so long, it has given readers certain ideas about the fixity and stability of set type, whether experienced on the page or the screen. The difference is that all the technologies required to produce a printed object only need to come together to perform their function once or in one instance to create an object that lasts for several generations, at least beyond the lifespan of a typical person.
Digital information production and dissemination has the problem of continual, ongoing dependence on an array of interconnected technologies, as well as the will of the corporations and organizations that develop and maintain those technologies (see Google Reader above), to match the fixity, stability, and longevity of print. The digital is a diachronic instance—oxymoronic—which makes for difficulties. If just one technology breaks or one company folds or moves on from its commitment to develop and maintain a type of technology, loss is inevitable.
The information age is simultaneously rich and fleeting. It seems from my vantage point that as many people are needed to archive and maintain what already exists digitally as there are people working on the developing the new, but this work is less sexy, less profitable, less desirable. Perhaps the biggest question might be: Will the entropy caused by the rapid development in digital text technologies and the interdependence of these technologies on one another to keep information available eventually lead to a pastless future, a dark age illuminated by lossiness, the flameouts of a diachronic instance that doesn’t have the resources to persist?
All my gossip & awards from #AWP15 in a Convenient Best-Of List!
Best Offsite Event: Embawdied Lit: A Drag Reading (Organizers: Tim Jones-Yelvington, Molly Gaudry, and Adam Atkinson) (Historic!)
Best Individual Readers: Julian-Joyelle Assange-McSweeney & the Dead Youth
Best Panel: Revisiting “Embracing the Verb of It: Black Poets Innovating” (If you missed this panel or its first iteration in Boston, you missed literary history being. I left both panels with tears still wet on my cheeks.)
Best Standing Ovation Received in Response to Speaking Out Against Fear: for Duriel E. Harris
Best Reader/Poet of Whom I Was Woefully Ignorant: Sam Sax
Best Print Journal Redesign: Bat City Review (taylor jacob pate)
Best Regret: Missing the LIT reading at Mayday Books
Best “I got off with a warning…” Traffic Stop that Derailed Efforts to Go to a Reading: Holms Troelstrup’s ill-advised turn down a bus and bike only street
Best Beer (tie): Surly Furious (I ride a Surly bicycle, so…) & Lift Bridge Brewing Company Batch 800 DIPA
Best Blood Beer Bong: Cassandra Troyan at Embawdied Lit: A Drag Reading
Best New Bestie & Kindred Spirit: Vidhu Aggarwal
Best co•im•press AWP Sellout Book: Sade Murphy’s Dream Machine
Best Restaurant: The Butcher & The Boar
Best Food Item That I Made a Return Visit to Have Again Becuase it Was Sofa King Great: Red Hot Brussels Sprouts, The Butcher & The Boar (I consider myself a Brussels sprouts connoisseur, so I should know…)
Best Coffee: The Nicollet
Best On-the-Go Breakfast: Bruegger’s Bagels
Best Bookfair Table: Bloof Books & Coconut Books
Best Bookfair Subscription Deal: Black Ocean
Best Bookfair Table Where I Said “One of each, please” and Felt Like a Baller: Anomalous Press
Best Anniversary Celebration: Obsidian 40th Anniversary Roundtable panel
Best Handshake & Best Sense of Humor: Kwame Dawes
Best AWP Re-Meet (During Which I Introduce Myself to Someone I’ve Forgotten I’ve Met Previously & Then Feel Much-Deserved Red, Red, Hot Shame Flood My Cheeks. Whoops!): JD Scott
Best Moment That Confirmed Why I Do What I Do: Hearing Lisa Rose Bradford read & talk on the panel “about a truth that didn’t believe in death”: Honoring Juan Gelman
Best Book Gifted to Me: Lady Humpadori by Vidhu Aggarwal with illustrations by Bishakh Som
Best Dive Bar I Would Be A Regular at if I Lived in St. Paul: The Dubliner Pub
Best All-Robe Wardrobe: Elizabeth Hatmaker
Best Handling of a Douchebag Heckler: S. Whitney Holmes at the NO THOUSANDS: Action/Black Ocean/Fence reading
Best Hug (tie): Nick Demske & Sade Murphy
Best Carpool Pal: Brandi Wells
Best Stopover on the Way Home: Meeting with Alireza Taheri Araghi at The Cafe in Ames, Iowa
Best Sales Pitch: Reb Livingston getting me to buy Bombyonder so she could eat
Best Hair & Best Facebook Post about a Deadlift PR During the Conference: Lillian-Yvonne Bertram
AWP 2015 Winner: Sade Murphy (champion’s pose!)
Now get back on the Internets where you belong, book geeks, & I’ll see you next year!
Writing exercises or prompts are codified, developed, and tested methods to invent or generate new writing or to work on certain elements of craft in writing.
Writing exercises or prompts develop in two main ways. First, writing prompts come out of writing constraints that authors either establish as a writing experiment or recognize as valuable or significant in the wake of writing a piece that sustains enough interest to perhaps pursue repeatedly and be of value to writers besides the author.
Writing prompts, then, attempt to achieve one or more of several outcomes. First, writing prompts act as a codification of or bridge between the “sacred” moment of impulse or inspiration that drives a work, attempting to capture and define the scaffolding or structural elements of a significant moment and see if that moment might be formally replicated or filled out with new content. Second, writing prompts serve as a means to establish new methods of creative or critical thinking, by attempting to suggest ways to write that do not come naturally to or are unexpected for a majority of writers. Third, writing prompts may stimulate a writer who may be blocked or unable to write by (temporarily) using prescribed or synthetic means. Lastly, and perhaps most commonly, writing exercises are pedagogical tools created by teachers to help students achieve certain valued outcomes or effects in their work, and these outcomes can be explicitly stated or implied by the nature of the prompt itself.
In the field of creative writing, writing exercises or prompts display real value by being one of many potential answers to the question, “can creative writing (creativity) be taught.” As indicated above, writing via prompts may teach writers a great deal about their own organic of natural writing processes by putting them into unnatural or unexpected situations. Through prompts, writing instructors can assist students with working through certain craft issues, and these generative or instructional assignments can often be built from comments that consistently occur during workshopping or to explore how to write certain effects observed during assigned reading. Writing prompts, then, can link the act of reading to the act of writing through the specific effects or outcomes they seek.
When developing writing prompts, it is not only important to think about intended learning outcomes or goals for writers, but also to consider the audience to whom the prompt is directed. For example, I use writing prompts differently in a creative writing classroom where grades are assigned than I do when working with a creative writing club that students attend by choice and for fun, no matter how serious the fun may get. The age level and experience of the writers in question can be a determining factor in how a writing prompt is structured and delivered. In a college creative writing classroom, I may place more emphasis on completing the prompt in exactly the way it is written. Whereas, with a group of junior high writers in a club, I may couch the prompt as guidelines that may be deviated from as the writer sees fit in order to follow their own creative impulses, especially if the goal of the prompt is to invent new writing. In summary, an instructor should articulate whether the prompt’s rules and prescription should be strictly followed or if they may be broken as the writer sees fit.
One of the differences between creative and expository writing prompts relates to genre. When developing creative writing prompts, I am much more inclined to omit genre prescriptions at the outset. When it comes to creative writing, especially for young writers, the prescriptions and limitations of a given genre can be an inhibitor to creativity or to generating new, innovative, or ground-breaking writing. The tents of an extant genre, too, can be plied to writing after the fact. For example, if a piece of writing seems to include a narrative, that aspect of the writing can be identified after it is generated and developed later on. In expository writing classes, I tend to create writing prompts or projects that specifically deal with working in a certain genre or that emphasize comparative learning by writing a genre in relation to one that is well-known (the five-paragraph essay, say).
When authoring a prompt, I use a three-part structure that includes the prompt itself (what is to be done), a rationale for the prompt that lists learning outcomes (why we’re doing it), and finally some considerations for later (what to do with the prompt to expand or revise it down the line). I include the last bit because I like to have students begin prompts during class time, which may not allow them time enough to fully complete the writing. It is also a way to indicate how to work with writing that is fragmented or incomplete (I often find myself with a limited amount of time to really get an idea on paper, and I am constantly in the position where I need to determine if these fragments are worth developing.)
It should be noted, finally, that I use the five canons of classical rhetoric to structure creative writing classes, so invention holds only slightly more weight during the term than style, arrangement, memory, and delivery. Because of this, I use what I call the meta-prompt at the end of the time during the semester or year when invention is winding down. This encourages students to start thinking about prompts not as something fixed by and received from teachers but as something that is in flux, timely, and that they can codify.
Here is a sample of a meta-prompt assignment that I used in a recent creative writing course I taught:
Devise a writing prompt using the format you have seen on the blog: Prompt–Rationale–For Later. Your prompt can be for pure invention, a technique for writing in a specific genre, or a part of creative writing craft or style issues that you feel you need work on. (Like exercising, the thing about creative writing that is the most troublesome for you is probably what you need to work on or do most often.)
I see two levels of creativity in creative writing: the level at which you are creative within a work you are making and the level of creativity about how to cause those works to come about in the first place. This prompt deals with the latter. I think it is important to be able to invent a project for yourself to do, a constraint, a challenge that breaks you out of the ruts and routines of your typical writing practice. This prompt is meant to start you thinking about how to do just that.
Once you have written and edited your prompt, e-mail it to me. I will compile the prompts here on the class web page, and you will asked to complete several of them that sound the most appealing as our class time turns to focus more on performing your work out loud, arranging multiple works in sequence, and delivering work for publication, both via journals and DIY book arts.
Collage is a technique that cuts up or excerpts parts of other things and reassembles them to create an altogether new whole. It is a technique that is perhaps best known in visual art, but it can also be used to create a wide variety of poems and prose.
A literary collage is often characterized by its style. For example, there are collage works that deliberately show the original items being reused in the collage, and the “seams” between different elements. Susan Howe’s cut-up poems are examples of this technique.
Sometimes, writers use collage techniques to make the writing they have already done more strange or dissonant. Ted Berrigan’s sonnets are examples of this method, and this exercise on Global Voices Radio shows how Berrigan used collage techniques in these Sonnets.
The Cento (“patchwork”) is a poem composed entirely of lines from other poems, and the poem can be written to read as a seamless new whole. In other words, one would not know that the new poem was a collage of lines from other poets’ poems unless the author wanted to reveal this, just as Simone Muench does here.
Collages can also turn into large, book-length projects of fiction, nonfiction, or documentary poetry. William S. Burroughs’s novels are composed using cut-up techniques, literally cutting apart and reassembling text sources. The poet Edward Sanders composes book-length investigative poems using documentary collage techniques. The nonfiction writer David Shields writes books of nonfiction using collage that centers around a single topic.
Most importantly, collages can be a fun way to imagine new angles to familiar stories, such as the ransom-note retelling of the “Little Bo Beep” nursery rhyme below.
Today, I have brought materials for you to choose what kind of collage most interests you. For any of the below, you can start with an idea or theme for your collage and find things that seem to fit, or you can freestyle it, finding what works in the midst of reassembling things.
- You can make a cut-up collage using scissors to cut out text and glue sticks to reassemble materials on construction paper.
- You can use the literary journals and books I brought to create a cento by copying and reassembling whole lines from other poets’ poems.
- You can make a ransom-note style collage that reimagines a familiar fairy tale or nursery rhyme.
Collage writing techniques can be a great way to overcome times when you get stuck as a writer because you are using existing materials. Since what you are using is already “out there” for you to find, it takes the pressure off of you as a writer to generate new writing from inside your own brain.
Collage writing also makes you read poems and prose in new ways because you may be seeking out specific kinds of words or images that match with your overall theme. When you are finding the materials for a collage, you are actually doing a kind of intuitive research, making decisions about what goes with what and why, but it doesn’t feel like the research projects you are required to do for your classes.
Lastly, since collage is both a technique of visual art and writing, it can encourage you to pay attention to the visual aspects of the writing that you read, instead of just reading it for content or meaning, which is what you do most often in English class.
Using collage methods like the cento and the cut-up have a way of turning into bigger projects. Simone Muench’s “Wolf Centos” (see above) have become a book-length work. Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets is a popular book of collage poems. Many of the other writers listed have also used collage techniques to either create entire books or to use the collage methods to make large sections of books. Do you have a collage idea that you want to investigate and work on more?
Best Offsite Event: Action Books/Dorothy, A Publishing Project at Rendezvous/Jewel Box Theater with Joyelle McSweeney, Niina Pollari, Amina Cain, Don Mee Choi (reading Kim Hyesoon’s ), and C. D. Wright, Forrest Gander, and Valerie Mejer reading from Rain of the Future
Best Individual Reader: Niina Pollari
Best Panel: What Are We Projecting?: American Poetry and Poetics in the Era of the Project. (Sasha Steensen, Catherine Wagner, Rodrigo Toscano, Ronaldo Wilson, Bhanu Kapil)
Best Reading that Corrupted Part of My Childhood: Paul “The Viper” Cunningham’s Winnie the Pooh translations from One Hundred Acres
Best Cartwheel as Response to a Panel Question: Ronaldo V. Wilson
Best Response to a Ronaldo Wilson Cartwheel: “I would do a cartwheel, too, but I’m not wearing any knickers.” —Bhanu Kapil
Best Restaurant (tie): Palace Kitchen and Salumi
Best Food Item: Porchetta sandwich at Salumi
Best Pizza: Serious Pie
Best Place I Was Humbled to Read at Because of its Music History: The Crocodile for Indie Mag/Small Press Editors Offsite Reading with Oh No! Books, TENDE RLOIN, and Smoking Glue Gun
Best Rumor I Started at AWP: That AWP will have its own police force in 2015. (It will probably happen.)
Best Typo: The lowercase “i” on the Row i sign at the bookfair. (Who saw it, editors?)
Best Bathroom Graffiti to Help Put Things in Perspective While Pissing: “UNFUCK YOUR LIFE” at Vermilion
Best Twitter IRL Moment: Meeting Birds of Lace’s Gina Abelkop
Best Books I Read on the Plane Home: Foreigner’s Folly: A Tale of Attempted Project by Ji Yoon Lee (Coconut) and the meatgirl whatever by Kristin Hatch (Fence)
Best Books I Bought on Day 1 Becuase I Thought They Would Sell Out: All Hopped Up On Fleshy Dum Dums by Lara Glenum and SKY RAT by Rauan Klassnik (Spork Press)
Best Bookfair Table: Spork Press
Best Book Gifted to Me: Kill Marguerite by Megan Milks
Best Hair: Nick Demske’s rad braids
Best Anniversary Celebration: 40 Years of FC2
Best Oysters: Seatown Seabar
Best Beer: Trickster IPA from Black Raven Brewing Co.
Best Dirty Reading (tie): Rauan Klassnik reading from SKY RAT & Lara Glenum reading from All Hopped Up On Fleshy Dum Dums at the Spork/Action/Black Ocean/Wonder reading at Highline
Best Prosthesis: “The Hand” at the Similar:Peaks:: reading (Jennifer Tamayo and Johannes Göransson)
Most Fashionable: Monica McClure
Best Free and Much-Needed Offsite Reading Snack: fresh Pike Place donuts at the Spooky Solar Birds reading at Left Bank Books
Best Reunion: Me and long-lost BloNo escapee Nick Mansito
’Tis Academe’s pathologie: deeming
change for change’s sake necessary.
Forsooth, I’ll forswear such insanity,
and feasibly wassail fixity, if results
hath proved creditworthy.
ON THE PROLIFERATION
OF RAPE-FANTASY PORNOGRAPHY,
WHICH IS THE UNITED STATES
JUSTICE SYSTEM: r-
ape is n-
y & why & h-
ow did assault
adopt fantasy stat-
us? (((of course, of
course the vic-
like it, event-
ally except it
like a death-
in corpore))) it is an ex-
tension of a piti-
uration to c-
old cases & en-
during wars & t-
here is no-
t not not a spec-
m of r-
zed or class-
defilable by gen-
us or spec-
y rape is u-
cious & brut-
because a judge
not unlike i—c-
an’t see b-
on the bodies
of a victim,
ache the carca-
ending, the viv-
tied of trans-
ions, the spit-on
spirits less vo-
id or less vapor-
zed, this sen-
tense less i-
—in memory of Cherice Moralez
I recently made the discovery that many of the small press books of poetry and prose that I might seek out from Milner Library at Illinois State University are in a kind of limbo called the CARLI (Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois) Patron Driven Acquisitions Program. The program essentially recognizes bibliographic records for book published in the humanities and social sciences that meet certain CARLI criteria and waits for library patrons to browse for and order these books, at which point they are purchased and rush processed through the library at UIUC, then delivered to patrons via typical iShare delivery methods. Read more on CARLI PDAP here.
For example, I was recently searching the library catalog for Octopus Books titles that had made Coldfront‘s Top 40 Poetry Books of 2012 feature that I couldn’t afford to purchase myself, such as Hider Roser by Ben Mirov and Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood. Lo and behold, the books showed up as part of the Patron Driven Acquisition Program and were purchased once I requested them.
Tonight, I performed a search for the following keywords “Request this item and CARLI will purchase it for I-Share” and came up with over 4,700 hits, including books like The Ravickians by Renee Gladman from Dorothy, A Publishing Project (see screen capture above) and Privado by Daniel Tiffany from Action Books, among many, many others (1,306, to be precise, when I limit the search by “Books” and “Language and Literature”).
The moral of the story is this: a lot of the books in CARLI’s PDAP limbo are small press titles, but I can get the CARLI to purchase them by requesting these titles, which takes literally seconds for any library patron with universal borrowing access. This bit of activism is secondary, no doubt, to purchasing the book yourself directly from the press’s website or having a copy purchased by multiple libraries in the state, but I think it’s a worthwhile bit of armchair activism to make sure small press titles are available in Illinois, especially in a bulk era like ours where too many excellent small press titles are being published to purchase (or even read) them all yourself.
Publications Unit Professional Development Workshop Series: Notes on Professional Networking & Job Offer Negotiating
Networking is the lifelong process of building alliances and surrounding yourself with a community of advocates. It is a way of matching what you know with who you know via means that are effective for you and best meet your goals and needs. Because networking must be tailored to your own emerging social skill set, it is important to reflect on and learn about how your best and most fulfilling interpersonal interactions occur. Are you an extrovert who can take over a room and meet everyone in minutes? Are you an introvert who prefers a prefatory email that can lead to a face-to-face interaction later? A little bit of both, perhaps? In any case, having a bounty of networking skills will be helpful to you as an emerging professional.
The US Department of Labor reports that 70% of jobs are secured through networking practices, and that up to 85% of jobs are the result of interpersonal communication (networking and recruiting). This is fundamentally different from traditional notions of how people go about securing a job, such as online classified ads or search sites. Networking opens up this hidden job market.
In order to network effectively, it is important to take stock of who your connections are. Networking experts classify connections as either strong or weak. Strong connections are people you know personally and can vouch for your skills and capabilities in a dynamic way—these are people who have seen your work and know you first hand, although their firsthand knowledge may take place entirely through digital means. Weak connections, on the other hand, are people you may know through one of your strong connections or are acquaintances who are not as familiar with you or your skills. And then, of course, there are folks with whom you have no connection. Yet.
A strong connection can often be relied upon to vouch for you to a weak connection and expand your network. It is important, however, when making new connections through existing ones, to deliver on any promises they make on your behalf. For example, if you have a connection vouch for you to an employer by making a phone call on your befalf, then that company hires you and you quit after two months, it can harm both of you. You can weaken your own network as well as your strong connection’s network by burning bridges or failing to act in good faith when people vouch for you.
To expand your network, consider who already know and you might want to know. List-making and self-reflection are good here because you may overlook a strong connection who is extremely obvious. You can find new people through research, investigation, or through interactions with your other connections. It is perfectly acceptable to “cold call” a new person you would like to add to your network, but it is important to contact these people with a genuine interest in them and their work, rather than just satisfying your own needs and goals. Consider an email where you introduce yourself and ask for direction or guidance. Perhaps you are cold calling a person who holds a job that is similar to what you are seeking. You may be able to learn a great deal from a brief exchange in which this person narrates how they came to be in their current position.
Social media and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be useful for professional networking, but they can also harm your professional reputation if mismanaged or misused. I still view these sites as more informal and less professional, although I do engage with people through them, especially if I have no other way to contact or cold meet people. Social networking sites can be a good place to start, but make sure to manage your online image as best you can.
Reciprocity is also important in networking. When you are starting out in a field, you may have little ability to reciprocate within your networks in a meaningful way and may have to rely on others’ generosity. It is important to think about gift economy and exchange, especially if you are in a creative field. Internships, volunteer work, and freelance gigs can all be ways to both network and gain experience in creative employment.
As you advance in your career, however, and are in a position to offer something to others, it is important to network in that way. Reciprocal networking is based on win-win thinking and exchange. Remember that it can take only one person to make a difference in your life or career, and you can also be the difference-maker for someone else when given the opportunity.
It is vitally important to be educated about the field you are seeking to enter. The real education in your professional field often begins once you graduate, since the professional world of your field and its myriad niches are often looked at from theoretical vantage points within higher education. Besides researching your field, it is important to attend conferences and trade shows, as well as to establish and maintain memberships in professional organizations.
Networking, however, is often mistakenly thought of on a macro level, which can be intimidating. It is important to remember to build connections locally, too. When beginning a position with any organization, consider seeking out like-minded people within the organization and building alliances this way. If your organization is divided into departments or divisions, take time to find out about the work going on there and the people doing it.
Typically, your first opportunities to professionally network occur during your undergraduate career. You can network with faculty and staff at your school, as well as visitors in your field of expertise who have been invited to campus. It is also worthwhile to make connections with alumni through alumni associations and events. And don’t forget about peers. Think about this: the peers in your cohort who you are close with have parents who are likely already in the professional world. Children often enter a profession that is similar to what their parents do (how many of your teachers had children who became teachers?). This means that your friends within your field of study may also be able to serve as strong connections for you.
Finally, don’t wait to start networking. It is something that you should be proactive about. If you’re anything like me, you might have been waiting for mentors to seek you out, or for others to recognize you as talented in your field. Well, you can wait forever if the people you want to notice you don’t even know about the kind of work you are capable of doing.
“Professional Networking: It’s Not Just Suggested, It’s Required,” Southern Methodist University Hegi Family Career Development Center: http://smu.edu/career/pdf/Networking%204%20pager.pdf
“Professional/Business Networking,” Communication Career Services, UT–Austin: http://communication.utexas.edu/sites/communication.utexas.edu/files/attachments/ccs/Networking%20Guide%20March%202012.pdf
“How to Power Your Professional Networking Through LinkedIn,” by Haydn Shaughnessy, Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/haydnshaughnessy/2012/03/29/how-to-power-your-professional-networking-through-linkedin/
Job Offers: Salary and Benefits Negotiation
The most important thing I can tell anyone about negotiating job offers, especially if you are from the Midwest and have been groomed to be polite and shy when it comes to discussing money is that you can’t be afraid to talk money and benefits.
It is important to have the confidence to avoid underselling yourself when you are in position to negotiate for salary or benefits in your position.
It is equally important to ask for and take time to consider an offer fully before accepting it.
When negotiating a job offer, it is important to be direct and honest. Ask for what you want.
Make sure that you research expected salary for your position and experience. It also doesn’t hurt to inquire with any connections you might have in an organization to find out about what you can negotiate for (not everything is public knowledge, and relying on an informed network can give you more power to negotiate). For example, a company might have different kinds of relocation packages based on your needs, or you might be able to get a number of years from previous experience put toward your new position, which can affect promotion or retirement options.
When negotiating a job offer, consider what gives you the power to negotiate. Perhaps you have multiple offers. Perhaps you have experience that is unique from other potential applicants.
Salary and Benefits Negotiation Links:
“Evaluating and Negotiating a Job Offer,” Career Services, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: http://www.jhsph.edu/sebin/g/i/salarynegotiate.pdf
“Managing and Negotiating Job Offers,” CareerLAB, Brown University: http://brown.edu/campus-life/support/careerlab/sites/brown.edu.campus-life.support.careerlab/files/uploads/TS_OfferNegotiation_1.pdf
“How To Negotiate Effectively,” MIT Global Education and Career Development: http://gecd.mit.edu/jobs/negotiate
“Everything Is Negotiable: Learn the Power Factors,” Linda Jenkins, Salary.com: http://www.salary.com/everything-is-negotiable-learn-the-power-factors/
The Professor Is In.: Karen Kelsky’s blog posts about negotiating offers for academic positions: http://theprofessorisin.com/category/negotiating-offers/
“How to Negotiate a Job Offer if You Are the Employer,” WikiHow.com (n.b., I included this one for a counter-perspective.): http://www.wikihow.com/Negotiate-a-Job-Offer-if-You-Are-the-Employer
This is just the tip of the iceberg for resources on this subject. As usual, I omitted ISU-related resources, since anyone interested in these topics should know to use these resources: http://crmpubs.com/CGsFinal/ISU_SCR_12-13_Online/ISU_SCR_12-13_Online.pdf
I’m working on compiling a list of resources for students about to go on the job market. Any other ideas, links, or resources are appreciated—just add it to the comments stream.
Job Listings & Jobs Resource Finders:
American Association of University Presses (AAUP): http://www.aaupnet.org/resources/jobs-list
Publisher’s Weekly JobZone: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/jobzone/index.html
Chicago Women in Publishing (CWIP): http://www.cwip.org/resources/webdirectory.htm
Elance (freelance jobs): https://www.elance.com/
Midwest Publishing Association: http://www.chicagobookclinic.org/publishing_jobs
Get Copy Editor Jobs: http://www.getcopyeditorjobs.com/
Publishers Lunch Job Board: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/jobs/
Penguin Group (Pearson): http://www.us.penguingroup.com/static/pages/aboutus/employment/jobopportunities.html
Random House/Bertelsman: http://careers.randomhouse.com/wms/bmhr/index.php?fl_randomhouse=1#
Hachette Book Group: https://www.hachettebookgroup.biz/about-hbg/careers/
Simon & Schuster: http://www.simonandschuster.biz/careers
Taylor & Francis Group: http://www.taylorandfrancisgroup.com/careers_home.asp
Oxford UP USA: http://www.oup.com/us/corporate/jobs/?view=usa
University of Chicago (Search “Press” or “University Publications Office” under Division drop-down): https://jobopportunities.uchicago.edu/applicants/jsp/shared/search/Search_css.jsp
Scholastic—Arthur A Levine/Chicken House/Graphix/Klutz/Point/Educational: http://www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/careers.htm
Children’s and YA Publishers:
American Girl/Mattel/Fisher-Price: http://corporate.mattel.com/careers/default.aspx
Disney Book Group—Hyperion, Etc.: http://disneycareers.com/en/career-areas/corporate/publishing/
Harlequin/Harlequin Teen: http://careers.harlequin.com
Other Ideas & Links:
Goodheart-Wilcox Publishers: http://www.g-w.com/aboutus/careers.aspx
nonProfit Jobs: http://www.nonprofit-jobs.org/
Rowman & Littlefield: http://tbe.taleo.net/CH12/ats/careers/jobSearch.jsp?org=ROWMAN&cws=1
Arcadia Publishing: http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/about.html#jobs
Open Court Publishing Company: http://www.opencourtbooks.com/jobs.htm
Chicago Publishes (Directory of Chicago Publishers): http://www.publishingchicago.com/chicagos-publishers/
Human Kinetics: http://www.humankinetics.com/careers
W. W. Norton: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/jobs/
Graywolf Press—Internships: https://www.graywolfpress.org/about-us/internships
Tate Publishing: http://www.tatepublishing.com/careers/
Candlewick—Awesome (though unpaid) internship opportunities: http://www.candlewick.com/about_careers.asp
On Friday, April 19, Joel Craig and Carrie Olivia Adams will be visiting Illinois State University for the spring PUB.UNIT PRESENTS events. Craig and Adams will be participating in a chat about publishing and editing with students, faculty, and the community at the English Department’s Publications Unit at Illinois State University (Fairchild Hall, Room 307) at 3:30 p.m. and a poetry reading from their recently published poetry collections in Centennial West, Room 214 at 7:30 p.m.
Joel Craig is the author of The White House (Green Lantern Press, 2012). He lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. He co-founded and curates the nationally renowned Danny’s Reading Series, and is the poetry editor for MAKE: A Literary Magazine.
Carrie Olivia Adams is the author of Forty One Jane Doe’s (Ahsahta Press, 2013) and Intervening Absence (Ahsahta Press, 2009). She is the poetry editor for Black Ocean Books and a publicist for the University of Chicago Press.
The PUB.UNIT PRESENTS series, in the spirit of the English studies model of the Department of English, invites writers who are editors/editors who are writers to visit the English Department’s Publications Unit at Illinois State University to talk about how they embody each role, noting the interdisciplinary nature of both writing and editing, and to give a public reading of their creative work on the campus of ISU.
Contact Steve Halle (email@example.com) if you have questions or need more information.
The English Department’s Publications Unit at ISU will be hosting its spring Professional Development Workshop Series on Tuesday afternoons, 3:30–4:30 p.m., during the month of April. Please encourage any interested undergraduates, especially those on the job market or seeking internships, to attend any or all of these events.
Topics to be addressed include:
- April 2: Tactics for Building a Resume
- April 9: Professional Documents: Creating Resumes, Cover Letters, and Portfolios
- April 16: Research: Finding and Evaluating Employers and Positions
- April 23: The Interview
- April 30: Professional Networking Techniques
Contact Steve Halle firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
I was tagged by Ryan Clark for this crazy meme. Mad thanks, although I’m a week late…
1. What is the working title of your next book?
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I wanted to write improvisational (in the tradition of jazz musicians or david antin, say) works in real emails that I sent directly to friends and family immediately after they were composed, no matter how strange the content.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
hybrid (prose poems and/or flash fictions)
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Tila Tequila: herself
Psychic Dermatologist: Geraldine McEwan
Ornette Coleman: himself
Al Gore: Bill Pullman
Hillary Clinton: herself
The seer/SUCKER: Aaron Paul
King Cialis: Phillipe Nahon
The Anti-Man: Vincent Gallo
The Bag Lady: Meryl Streep
The Street Carp: Lindsay Lohan
Genius: James Franco
Tyranny: Samuel L. Jackson
Pan: Ryan Gosling
Pinocchio: Daniel Tosh
Ms. Pac-Man: Roseanne Barr
My Kimchi: Halle Berry
The Starfucker: Nick Demske
Hamm: George Clooney
The Horror Pornographer: Dick Cheney
King W(h)en: Bryan Cranston
A Hyena: Chris Rock
played by their ghosts
played by the exhumed corpse of Fatty Arbuckle
ALL OTHER CHARACTERS WILL BE PLAYED BY MAX VON SYDOW
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A collection of wild, syntactically dense or erratic, corrupted-but-visionary writings that cry out to the dead and the imaginary through address to the living.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
No agent or agency. If I can’t find a publisher by the end of 2013, I’m just going to do it myself.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Much of it was written in a six-month burst sending emails every weekday, but it was three years before I had a real manuscript together.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Maybe books like Dear Ra by Johannes Görannson, Discipline by Dawn Lundy Martin, The Book of Interfering Bodies by Daniel Borzutzky, The Cow by Ariana Reines, With Deer by Aase Berg (trans. Görannson), or For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiriade (trans. Sawako Nakayasu). These are certainly amazing books–the kinds of books I would want “seer/SUCKER” to be like.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
everything i’ve ever read and every piece of art i’ve seen or heard, including Ornette Coleman, david antin’s i never knew what time it was, Rosmarie Waldrop’s Curves to the Apple, Mei Mei Bersenbrugge’s I Love Artists, Frank O’Hara’s “Personism: A Manifesto,” Radiohead’s IN RAINBOWS, J. G. Ballard’s Crash, David Cronenberg’s Crash, Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary, Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you interest isn’t piqued by now, then I’ve failed again. Blast!
The English Department’s Publications Unit is excited to announce Roxane Gay will be visiting campus on Tuesday, April 17, as the first guest of the Pub. Unit Presents series, which, in the spirit of the English studies model of the department, seeks to bring writers-who-are-editors/editors-who-are-writers to ISU to talk about those disciplinary intersections. Roxane will be giving an informal presentation and chat aimed at students and faculty interested in publishing studies and creative writing at 2:30 p.m. at the Publications Unit, Fairchild Hall 307. The Publications Unit will be giving away three copies of Ayiti to chat attendees. Roxane will be reading her creative work at TheatresCool in Downtown Bloomington at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
Roxane Gay is the author of Ayiti (Artistically Declined Press, 2011), which is described as “a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.” She is the founder and editor of Tiny Hardcore Press (publisher of Normally Special by xTx in 2011, already in its fifth printing) and co-editor (with M. Bartley Seigel) of PANK Magazine. Gay frequently contributes to the literary sites HTMLGIANT and The Rumpus. Her story “North Country” from Hobart 12 will appear in Best American Short Stories 2012, and she was the winner of the Literary Death Match at AWP Chicago. Gay tweets prolifically @rgay and maintains the website i have become accustomed to rejection, where she blogs about literary rejections and popular culture. Gay is Assistant Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, where her research interests include how university faculty frame student writing and construct students as writers, the use of creative writing strategies in technical communication pedagogy, new media writing, and teaching with technology.
Even though I’ve not written about it in awhile, I’ve been thinking a great deal about techno-dread, especially in relation to affect and the emotion that poem try to create in an age of immediacy where representations of unbridled, if uncultivated, emotion seems to surround us.
I’m thinking of the kind of raw, almost kitschy or compulsory emotion of social media, where the representation of emotion, although raw, is put on display in a certain kind of way, an expected way that counters the unfamiliarity of the medium in which it is delivered. Tumblr projects, like Kate Durbin’s Women as Objects, are examples of this odd mixture of form and kitschy sentimentality, which creates performance art out of the raw emotions and images of a specific kind of teenage girl culture emerging through the Tumblr space. To read and see stereotypical teenage emotions re-represented and removed from their previous semi-private space jars us with its mixture of the expected stereotyped teenage emotions undergirding thousands of quasi-unique instantiations of the emotion mediated by an emergent form (we know of them through films, music, and pop culture, but we used to lack a direct connection to these emotions). The form allows the thousand singular examples of prepackaged teenage emotion to jar us by the sheer vastness and scope of their emergence in immediate media, as if looking as a wave as a vast concern of molecules continually exceeding their objects in a tidal regularity.
To see this kind of raw emotion invade poetry is an equally jarring effect of techo-dread and the kind of technological occurrence captured by Durbin’s project. A poem may seek to affect the reader with a range of emotions, but the expectation is that these emotions will be stylized (or else categorized as perjorative low, light, or comic verse). In a poem that gets after a particular emotion, the emotion must be stylized, must be brought up to a level higher than its baseness, must push against the disgusting rawness that may have produced it.
Traditionally speaking, this rawness has not place in a poem, which is supposed to be human but not embarrassingly so, which means the (immediate) emotions we find disturbing or unpalatable get edited out or transfigured into higher, headier versions of their raw brethren.
One product of technology’s immediacy is to create a tension between a particular poet or poem’s need to fit this realm of seemingly heightened emotional awareness (a feeling of admitting that while we feel these base emotions, it is also the duty of poetry to redeem them by morally exceeding them) while contending with a new immediacy of forms permitted by technology. While I believe that refined immediacy in an art is possible and is called improvisation, that word still holds such pejorative connotations in poetry, equating to sloppiness, that it almost can’t be mentioned.
But then there is the bulk. The bulk by its vastness creates tension with the traditional need to redeem emotion through poetry’s possibility to affect the reader with elevated sentiment. The bulk is so huge as to be irremediable, which displays contemporary critic’s techno-dread by revealing that all of the poetic happenings of the moment cannot be mastered, creating a sublime void of idiosyncratic styles that must be fumbled through, ignored, or admired for the sublimity of their bulk alone. The bulk’s sublime bulkiness changes the project of engaging with poetic happenings from trying to master a meta-narrative of poetic progress to finding the idiosyncrasies of what’s happening now.
It’s no longer about the field of poetry, it’s about particles in relation to the bulk of that field, and the ties that we can argue bind each particle to it.
The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing
by David Morley
(Cambridge University Press, 2007)
The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing is intended to be a textbook of sorts for beginning creative writing students at the university level, and it offers a primer on the field of creative writing for these students (as opposed to Myers’ The Elephants Teach or Dawson’s Creative Writing and the New Humanities, which are institutional histories of the field intended for scholars).
Morley offers fair coverage of the three genres generally taught in creative writing programs: prose fiction, prose nonfiction/creative nonfiction, and poetry. He does not seem to favor one aesthetic practice over another (i.e. official verse culture or experimental, etc.), moving from Mary Kinzie to Oulipo, often in the same chapter. Morley also does a good job of covering different modalities by including writing that is performed or writing as performance, either oral or digital, although these modalities are given considerably less weight than practical concerns.
The book is divided into ten chapters:
- Introducing creative writing: This chapter merges the history and purpose of the field of creative writing, articulating why it belongs in the academy and theorizing its development since the start of history. Morley advocates for writers to also be voracious readers, mainly within their genres, eschewing how-to books and literary criticism.
- Creative writing in the world: Morley uses a conflicts approach to show literary criticism and creative writing to be two sides of the same coin and advocates for writers to practice reflective criticism of their own work. He covers how to use experience as well as language play to make creative writing and briefly describes the field of publishing and editing.
- Challenges of creative writing: In this chapter, various writing blocks are described, both imposed by the world and self-imposed, including indifference, rival media, procrastination, etc. Morley then examines challenges for translation, as well as experiment, design, and quality
- Composition and creative writing: This chapter outlines different practical matters necessary for the writing practice, everything from establishing discipline to dealing with how-tos and rules to finding the right notebook. The chapter then covers ways to vary or change one’s practice productively.
- Processes of creative writing: Morley describes seven process for creative writing here, all of which are heuristic: preparing, planning, incubation, beginning, flowing, the silence reservoir, and breakthroughs and finish lines. He then extends out into post-writing practice and some non-traditional practices like appropriation.
- The practice of fiction: Genre-specific introduction to writing prose fiction.
- Creative nonfiction: same as above
- Writing poetry: same as above
- Performing writing: In this chapter, Morley describes ways that writing goes from the page to the stage, arguing that since writing began as a speech genre, that the true measure for a work is to hold up when delivered as a speech act. Again, practical advice is offered first and then Morley branches out into lesser considered spheres of performed delivery.
- Writing in the community and academy: This chapter talks about connections between creative writing practice and the larger community, arguing that many writers need to be active in the community by necessity, as the academy or self-sustaining practice is for the few. He also argues for multidisciplinary creative writing practice within the academy, sort of a CWAC approach, if you catch my drift.
One thing I did not like about the book is Morley is dismissive of criticism/theory/philosophy, going so far as to say these things will detract from writers’ practices. I am fond, however, of using theory or introducing theory to creative writers as a way to allow for the development of complexity, which Morley doesn’t allow for. I guess he has to be polemical to fight off the literary factions within the English department.
Overall, I’d recommend adopting this book for classroom use. The book is conceptually similar to Wendy Bishop and David Starkey’s Keywords in Creative Writing, but this book’s structure makes it more appealing to teach with (Keywords is organized alphabetically and it could be useful to assign readings from it as topics come up and need explication). In addition to the chapters that introduce the field fairly well, Morley peppers his pages with gray boxes that include writing exercises, each one with an aim (rationale) for doing them. I suspect this book would work well in a multigenre introductory workshop course, where class time might be devoted to generating new writing and examining student writing in workshops. The book will allow students to get a feel for whether the field of creative writing is for them, while allowing the teacher to develop a class that focuses on students’ writing practice.
I read an interview today with Breaking Bad creator and mastermind Vince Gilligan where Gilligan talked about trying to re-make Star Wars in his basement with his brother, and I immediately contrived a Breaking Bad–Star Wars saga allegory that will sum up the remainder of the show’s run in a general way. Indulge me.
It’s no secret that Walt has become a father-figure to Jesse, and now that Gus can no longer attempt to divide and conquer them, it seems that this element of Breaking Bad’s plot will be what the remainder of the show is about.
Here’s where the allegory comes in: Walter White is an Anakin Skywalker who has now fully become Darth Vader. Now that Walt has moved from anti-hero to full-fledged villain, the only huge question that remains is what will happen to the conflicted, tortured hero, Jesse Pinkman, who still has a sound moral compass that is occasionally put askew (in a way that evokes Huck Finn) by his pseudo-familial loyalty to Walt as a father figure. Will Jesse completely turn to the dark side and lose all sense of moral direction? Will he be strong enough to simultaneously save and destroy father-figure Walt as Luke Skywalker did Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the Star Wars saga? (I am certainly in favor of the former, as it is rare for any show to completely plumb the depths of despair for its resolution. This kind of series ending would push the show into uncharted dramatic terrain.)
It should also not be forgotten that Mike, Gus’s main muscle and fixer, spent much of the season as a second father-figure for Jesse, building up his confidence as part of Gus’s plan to divide Jesse and Walt in order to eliminate Walt. Mike certainly built up Jesse’s confidence, not unlike Obi Wan Kenobi or Yoda in Star Wars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike resurfaces in this sage-like, fatherly capacity in the coming seasons (Too, I wouldn’t be surprised if Walt needs to and does succeed in killing Mike off, which could undo his connection with Jesse as much as the Lily of the Valley plant at Walt’s condo).
I’m sure I could extend this allegory further. Is Hank like Han Solo? Is the US government, the DEA, the IRS (Ted Beneke thread), or the multinational parent corporation that owns Los Pollos Hermanos akin to the Empire? The writers have certainly left themselves with a great many ambiguities as the show moves forward. And it is certainly fun to speculate about these ambiguities and create wild allegories about how Breaking Bad will end.
Rancor has taken over the Illinois State University English Department listserv on account of the new dean of the library deciding to do a low-cost revamp of the inadequate and outdated library space by transferring up 40,000 (mostly history) to the Milner Library’s shadowy and not directly accessible storage space. The move will create more in-library study space for students at a time when the library needs a major overhaul but lacks the funds to do it.
Many ISU English professors feel this is a violation of shared governance of the university as well as an affront to these books as knowledge containers, as faculty and even department chairs had little input into the decision and little recourse in its correction (if that is what is needed). From what I understand, these volumes are not “going away” but will be accessible via librarians using Milner Library’s request system. So what we are talking about is a process change, as library patrons will not have the opportunity to stumble upon these volumes in the stacks but will instead have to browse for them online (the Milner library web access is not great, so I can see why this might upset folks, although a combination of Amazon.com, Milner, and iShare typically works for my searches).
The problem, in my estimation, is not really about the loss of precious books (and their archival purpose as housing the evolution of knowledge in a given field) in favor of more physical study space for students. The loss of access is not really a loss of access but a change in process. While the removed books may not be browsed in the brick-and-mortar library, they may be browsed at home from a remote location, ordered, and picked up without even venturing into the stacks. I see this as an extension of the debate about the fundamental purpose of a library.
Libraries have evolved to serve a number of purposes, but the library is rooted in an archival function. To the best of my knowledge, the changes to Milner Library are not abandoning that function, simply acknowledging that library patrons are in the midst of a technological shift where a wired space with access to digital resources is of equal importance to the physical object of the book.
Furthermore, addressing the issue of shared governance of the university, or lack thereof in this case, the relationship of the library to the colleges and departments of a university is flawed by design. Where colleges are archipelagos of related fields and departments themselves are islands, the library becomes a kind of colonial mainland with which the archipelagos and islands must have a strained relationship because they do not have control over the essential tools that provide for their day-to-day work. This essential division calls attention to the tension between disciplinary territory and interdisciplinary needs.
Most scholars realize early on they cannot function solely on the scholarship within a given discipline or even within an array of related disciplines. Eventually, even members of the English department seek out philosophy, history, sociology, gender studies, and maybe even James Gleick’s Chaos, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, or Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu-Li Masters from the science stacks (How I love those nontechnical science tomes!). If departments could go it alone could, then wouldn’t it make more sense to have a particular discipline house and govern its own library? If the university is going to remain a collection of loosely confederated islands of knowledge, then why should the library serve all of them as a collective entity?
The tension ISU is experiencing regarding Milner Library is the equivalent of when a large, colonizing body makes decisions that affect its colonies, throwing certain colonies into turmoil while affecting others less. Personally, I am for the dissolution of the archipelago-like setup of college and departments in favor of a holistic university centered around a universal focal point of academic pursuit like creativity (which I have written about at length in an unpublished article called “Creativity and the Holistic University” or something), but that is for another post, another time.
The types of art that I find most engaging are those that include what I would call techno-melancholy or techno-dread. This aesthetic celebrates the possibilities of technology and the post-human-ness, which is a light, airy feeling, and is mitigated by a deep melancholy or fear of the vastnesses to which technology makes us privy. This vastness is a corpulent and ever-expanding waste land of code and data.
This aesthetic is also a catalyst for what I call the knowledge paradox, which means that part of knowing any given field or area of knowledge implies knowing what you do not know about that field. Accruing knowledge means that I also acquire anti-knowledge. This is the dark matter of anyone’s knowing, and it serves the ego to pretend that it does not exist, which sublimates the growing inadequacy that comes in tandem with knowledge to the culturally favorable status of mastery. Any work one does in getting acquainted with a field is mere surface scraping, superficial digging. Mastery is illusive and elusive. Technology is instrumental in servicing the knowledge paradox, but it does not do much to relieve the stresses created therein, except to offer capsules and headlines that aid in the breadth of one’s scrapings. These are like crumbs of dirt that get caught in one’s arm hairs.
Techno-melancholy mixes momentary deep satisfactions of access to and experience of things that heretofore I might not ever have discovered (let alone gained near-instant access to them) with the unfulfillable dream of also observing or engaging with the infoscape, the fat of the land. I would liken the old feeling of gaining knowledge of a field to climbing a mountain that was always enveloped in fog, save for the ridge or face upon which you happen to be climbing. In this way, the experience of the mountain’s vastness does not happen so quickly, as I have only the present moment’s discrete ridge to focus on along with the internal memory I am constructing of my experience in climbing.
As present piece and memory, the mountain’s totality is not revealed and feels more manageable. Technology’s addition to knowledge is more like climbing in the full sunlight of a clear day, in which the mountain is exposed for all of what it is, base to summit. In this instance, I have to cast my abilities as a climber in relation to the possibility of the mountain as a totality. In full exposure to a vast expanse of mountain, I am more inclined to succumb to the mountains stresses, as the illusion of progress often causes summit-thinking rather than focus on the singular task at hand. This can lead to premature defeat at the hands of the stress.
The tension of experiencing this kind of worldview, however, can fuel artistic productions that use the dialectic to edge us toward the sublime. In terms of my engagement, the kernels of techno-melancholy begin in Radiohead’s album OK Computer. This album uses concepts of avatar creation to revision the self in the midst of surveillance paranoia. Thinking and being, in the world of OK Computer, are not enough. The concepts of thinking ahead and being elsewhere become more important, which, when looking back, feels even more visionary and revelatory than the album did at the time.
The opening track “Airbag” is as good a place to start as any to reveal the techno-melancholic dialectic. The track uses the premise of self-mythologization as its premise, from the grandiosity of the opening guitar chords to the refrain “In an interstellar burst / I am back to save the universe.” This is not unlike the ubermenschen we create when we make our second self in Facebook, in our web presence.
The key into the dialectic and the feeling given off by the album is in the lyrics containing the song’s title: “In a fast German car / I’m amazed that I survived / An airbag saved my life.” The embodiedness of our speaker here does not matter as much as the technologies upon which his being is predicated, where the zero-sum game of existence is replaced by a technological waltz. One technology, the “fast German car,” needs another to offset the probability of disaster implied within car’s existence.
What really gives pause here is how the decision to live or not is mediated by the technological interplay. “Airbag” is decidedly ambivalent about how one should feel in the presence of technology transporting one literally in the vehicle and metaphorically by making us feel thought-ahead-for. Whether the speaker wanted to continue living or was attempting to commit suicide is irrelevant, the technologies’ accord make the speaker appear to be superhuman, so why not believe one is exactly that? That “Airbag” also was the vehicle for the Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP, which questions whether an airbag makes one less cautious behind the wheel, like the “How’s My Driving: Dial 1-800-Eat-Shit” bumper sticker, knowing that technology has thought ahead for potential human error.
Of course, Radiohead uses all kinds of technological artifice to create their techno-melancholic aesthetic (distorted guitars, computerized voices, computerized music) across the Kid A, Amnesiac, and IN RAINBOWS albums, pulling back some on Hail to the Thief and The King of Limbs, as if these more traditional rock-oriented albums are humanity checkers. The choice to use expand their use of technology has drawn criticism, citing Radiohead being not-music or being part of an altogether-new category of post-rock music. Technology is part of a dread- and paranoia-creating palette of musical options that appears to be at war with the ideal of the artist as genius creator. In fact, the criticism of Radiohead for their use of “synthetic” technologies is hilarious, considering rock music’s popularity is predicated on technology (electric guitars and amplification, both of which have ceased to be identified as technologies any longer because they are so taken for granted).
I see Radiohead’s music as having certain correspondences with newer bands like Battles and Animal Collective, both of which focus on obstructing the lyric elements in their music. The lyrics of a popular, each of these bands might argue, are distracting, using language to sway a listener’s attention away from the conceptual core of the song, rather than the lyrics being seen as part of the music. Lyrics help corporate media outlets to sell a song’s concept in a snippet, a sample, an iTunes preview, rather than forcing a listener to find a correspondence between the lyrics as part of the song in total.
On Merriweather Post Pavilion, I find Animal Collective to be experts at embracing divergent concepts in the music and lyrics, where the vocal fits in with the dreamy, pop-infused psychedelia, but the lyrics do not quite merge. My favorite example of this is the tune “Daily Routine,” which is the techno-melancholic answer to the Beatles’s “A Day in the Life” across forty-plus years. “Daily Routine” features tension in its slightly off-kilter organ music and the pounding synth drums. The lyrics are distorted and percussive echoing or echoed by the percussion and punctuated by the psychadelic organ, which sounds not unlike an alarm clock in the back of the lyrical dreamscape, populated by the narrator, his “kid,” and machines (presumably not only the machines used that make music but also seemingly the bicycle which transports narrator and kid).
Animal Collective and Battles, by using minimalism and deliberate obfuscation of lyrics, challenge the attention, and the pull of divergent forces on the attention is a large part of techno-melancholy that I will write more about in an upcoming post.