Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
night owl's blog
I haven't really been following the Ian McEwan plagiarism ordeal, but I happened upon (i.e. Google News pointed me toward) this article in the UK's Daily Telegraph. McEwan has been accused of plagiarizing multiple portions of a WWII nurse's memoir for his 2002 book Atonement.
Plagiarism is obviously a rich issue, but the main point I want to raise here is about its relationship to advancing technology. It's easy to imagine a future in which plagiarism (at least of the physical, word-for-word kind) would be impossible to get away with, for any amount of time. Not only will there be more people accessing and commenting upon written works, but, as more and more is digitized, there seems the opportunity for immediate, thorough and computerized cross-referencing. Will we then search more vigorously for writers to ostracize for plagiarism of ideas?
I just downloaded iTunes 7. And the "Get Album Artwork" feature is my new favorite thing. Even albums that I stole off the internet -- iTunes hooks me up with the art. This is the future. Finally. (And I'm pretty sure it's the first sign that album art has anything resembling a future.)
And the catch?
So far, there is none.
I've avoided installing the new iTunes for this long because every time I've updated it so far, my computer has died for a few days. In the past I've blamed Apple, but this new version is so cool I'm starting to wonder if I've been wrong about them. Maybe they're not all style and marketing.
Or maybe they are. Anyway, Microsoft Publisher did a great job preventing my final project from working in anything but Internet Explorer, so I'm just looking to support the competition.
I can't take the Alexander Litvinenko saga seriously. For some reason it seems entirely anachronistic, when I'm scanning the news online, to read about an ex-Russian spy being poisoned with radioactive material. It's too... 80's... or something.
But I don't know if anyone else feels that way, and it's one of those things that seems like it ought to be mutual. How do I know if something stands out against the zeitgeist if I'm not tapped in? As it stands, everyone I know who's mentioned it has found it odd and amusing, in a general way, but that could just be the novelty of it -- it's not as if spies turn up dead and radioactive every day.
I was fairly suspicious of N. Katherine Hayles' essay, "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers," when I first began reading it.
First off, my feelings about the notion of "materiality" go back and forth. On the one hand, it does sort of make sense that the physical embodiment of words -- or lack thereof -- would be an important issue. This just seems to be a more nuanced take on the tension that exists between writing and speech, which people have been writing and speaking about for a long, long time. And despite these roots in antiquity, it's thoroughly postmodern to suggest that we are shaped so significantly by our environment. On the other hand, I think that language exists and interacts in more abstract states (another idea at home in the writing v. speech and language v. thought dyads) than materiality addresses. I don't think that an emphasis on materiality is necessarily antithetical to an understanding of language as something partly insubstantial, but I do think that materiality is a convenient tool in the hands of a reductionist. It's easy, when materiality is foregrounded, to pre-emptively decide what the concerns of a piece are. I think we've often been guilty of it this semester -- we look at a work, and maybe even without reading it in its entirety, conclude that its chief concerns are all the technological/theoretical ideas that we float in class. Sure, form can be as crucial as content... but materiality as a dominant mode of thinking threatens to let form obscure content as violently as content has often obscured form.
I didn't like Online Caroline when I met her. The first time that I visited the Online Caroline webpage, I took one look at the faux-webcam -- showing her running around her house acting like a doofus -- and decided that I didn't really want to be "friends" with this person. But it was an assignment, so I registered my email address and waited for my first e-mail.
And the first e-mail was annoying, too.
So, I'll confess: I didn't bother with Online Caroline again.
The following Monday, we discussed Online Caroline -- and the Jill Walker essay that gave away the ending -- at length. Not being at all invested in Online Caroline, I had no reason to worry about her impending death, so I kept on ignoring the e-mails that were imploring me to visit the site. I wondered if maybe I'd get an email from XPT, anyway, to inform me of Caroline's disappearance or whatever, but no... I received nothing of the sort. Then, yesterday, I finally got this:
Like probably most of us, I've been working on my project draft this weekend. And while I've run into a number of problems, I'd like to think they're at least somewhat interesting (that is, blogable) ones.
I decided to do a creative project for Writing Machines, and my goal has been to use photographs and text together -- one on top of the other -- to convey a story. And the photograph-plus-text part works fine. Early on I had wanted the two media to be incoherent if displayed separately, but I found that this was pushing my project in a gimmicky direction, and I relaxed my rules. Now I'm using photographs essentially as "pages" for my text, and it's pretty interesting to see how they lend atmosphere (and, literally, shape) to the writing.
This isn't related to anything we've been talking about in class or on the blog, but it is pretty cool: Literature-Map - The tourist map of literature.
When you enter an author's name, a page springs up with that name in the middle and an explosion of other authors' names, which slowly organize themselves around your chosen author. The closer two authors are, the site claims, the more likely it is that the same people read them. And everything keeps shifting around a little bit, just to make sure you realize that something way futuristic is happening.
Since last Monday's class discussion, I've continued wondering about the ways in which our relationship to words -- and, by extension, to writing and thinking -- may be changing in the electronic age. With the proliferation of personal communications technology, there's been an explosion of words. Some are new ones, but mostly there are just way more of the old ones flying around. (Article brought to my attention by this post on if:book. (Is this sort of thing really necessary? Are there any consequences to pilfering blog material, beyond grumpy bloggers?))
The Guardian Unlimited Arts Blog gives me hope for the vitality and usefulness of blogging. It takes the best attributes of the Guardian -- great writing, focused arguments, and a classy presentation -- and combines them with the best attributes of the blog -- astonishing timeliness, personal perspective, and an open forum for commentary. The contributors are not constrained in the way they might be by their bosses and editors in the process of writing articles for the Guardian proper, but their approach is still uniform and stable. Entries fall under prominent headings, as in "Art," "Film," "Music," etc. They have cover images and subheadlines. And, in general, the entries contain well-reasoned, specific arguments. Except there are notably fewer content restrictions. For example, this bit of hilarity would probably never make the print (or online) Guardian, but it is perfect blog material: