Awake before everyone else in the house, before most everyone in your neighborhood. You smell it in the air, taste it. It urges you, ignites your desire to grab the keys and go. Your muscles are stiff from an entire weekend of having not moved much except to cycle through the list of “honey-do”s. You abhor that list, not just because they are things you do with or without the list, but because your version of the list includes the one thing that you need most. But like a child who is told “you can’t have your dessert unless you finish your meal” you are trapped in the domestic limbo of laundry, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog you didn’t want in the first place, grocery shopping, more laundry, entertaining the in-laws, staring at online job-applications because of course you’re drastically underemployed and underpaid, resenting the process of online job applications because of course you don’t even work for these companies yet and you’re already being undervalued and treated like a peon, paying bills on credit, still more laundry, yet more cleaning, and on to infinitum, everything but the one thing you have made explicitly clear that you need solo time for. But, as usual, your needs have been entirely subjugated and swept under the rug of “doing the right thing, placing others first.” Now it’s Monday. In three hours you will once again be bent over a desk and sodomized for nine hours straight by Uncle Sam and Uncle Wall Street. But it doesn’t have to be so bad if only you could get in an hour or so at your favorite break. It’s not the best spot and you’re sometimes chided by others for preferring it, but whether it’s got ankle-biters or those rare peaks that will cut your head off, you always find it to be a challenge. And lets face it, there’s nothing more realigning, more centering, more wholesomely chaotic than sitting alone on your best heavily dinged, delaminated board while watching a pod of three dark shadows pass directly under you and quietly resurface only a few meters away just as a brown pelican glides silently past you riding a pocket of air in front of an incoming wave.
It won’t happen, again, this morning. It’s now a quarter to the hour. Fortunately your commute is only a few minutes, but have yet to shower, eat, and do all the other petty things we are conditioned to do according to the bourgeoisie schedule. “And miles to go before I sleep” repeats endlessly in your head.
You step over your board bag just as you fasten your name badge to your breast pocket. You quickly glance in the mirror to make sure your mask is on properly, then grab your keys, step out the door and arch your back to accept the heavy foot of Moloch.
Hello, this is the introductory post for my blog. Everything previous to this is migrated from a previous blog. This blog will be a series of short, semi-academic essays. In terms of context and subject matter I’m betting that a focal point or certain themes will begin to emerge after a number of posts. Nonetheless, after being a professional student for as many years as I have now I’m starting to feel rather enervated with respect to theory or critical perspective. However, I do feel very much akin to my literary, linguistic, and philosophic predecessors, so I am inherently compelled to write. Like many others, I’m sure, who feel trapped in the “postmodern condition” (whatever that’s supposed to mean, right?), I also often find myself hurling linguistic vomit into some nonsensical, cyclical social eternity. I’ll attempt to hold together some island with which to compile words and ideas upon as I float shamelessly through the universe that Hubble and Sagan helped to define and that Lyotard and Foucault have managed to disintegrate. Whatever manifests (Oxford commas and all), so be it. Take or leave it, that’s your prerogative.
black head suddenly people half word purpose stopped
kurtz heard voice moment kurtzs understand hear idea
made dont white left silence cried hand bush
long earth pilgrims high light stood end place
hands heart trees human knew low put things
I chose to TM this novel to try to test the “subtlety of humor” concept a bit. As anyone who’s read his work before could tell you, there’s very little in the way of humor in Conrad’s work, but I had a hunch that there might be a little bit of the residue of humor coupled with the abject aspects in the novel. As predicted, though, nothing of the sort came up. However, there is certainly a sense of magnificence and raw presence in the novel, like in topic 10, “hands heart trees human.” In the novel there’s a moment where Marlowe first begins to understand what’s happening to the people of Congo and how they’re exploited by ivory trade:
Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The work! And this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die.
Here we find an economic philosophy, capitalism, that bears down on these people. It’s a philosophy that changes the human body, transmogrifies it from life to void. Where human hands were once “infinite in faculty…like an angel,” under this philosophy these hands are become merely kindle in to the firestorm of profit. And while their bodies face an exponential rate of entropy under the weight of capital, so too do their minds and culture decay in the trap that has been set for them. They were sold an idea, and they believe it ceaselessly, and will forever, until the end of their civilization, believe in Kurtz– topic 7, “kurtz heard voice moment kurtzs understand hear idea.”
In other news, eggs are now available from hens that were cage fre…oh, wait.
1. wrong area marine work company gun base tomorrow leaches killing
2. write corps early mar meters hit walked liberty today times
3. vc things daryl back div rations months made part wounded
4. days pretty man letter day setting radio rounds number field
5. night lbs ill ambush riding south shore leave send bullets
What I find interesting is that Daryl’s humor doesn’t come out in the topics. It’s interesting that my understanding of Daryl’s time in Vietnam is that of general humility, humility in the face of great danger and the horrors of war, humility which is maintained through lighthearted humor. Maybe there is a kind of subtlety about humor that escapes the rigidity of databasing, classification, modeling, all of the basic functions of historical archiving and research. It takes subjective inquiry to really get a sense of what’s going on in these letters. Although, I should say, too, it’s likely that Eigen was withholding his true sentiments about what he was experiencing in order to prevent his family from worrying too much. If this is the case, it’s also possible that the topic modeling sees through the veil of humor and picks up on the more realistic aspects of what was happening. However, topic 3, “days pretty man letter day setting radio rounds number field,” does seem to suggest the poetic beauty that Eigen saw in the region.
One of my colleagues, Rutillio Castor, worked on transcribing letters from Cpt. John Safford to his father during the American Civil War. Apparently Safford had difficulty handling money (though, who doesn’t). A Wordle matrix of six of his letters indicates “want,” “soon,” and “know” as the three most common words in his letters. In other words, he knows that he needs money soon.
I also ran Saffords letters through a Topic Modeling tool and came up with the following list of topics:
1. night morning suppose dr mail
2. dont capt stay safford months
3. long write back friends milk
4. day office james discharge adjt
5. george lt home make place
6. commission due st made company
7. put rey discharged papers written
8. send close days bring friend
9. good entittell glad thing half
10. col pay major hope things
Most of the topics are confusing because the data itself needs to be cleaned up a bit first, but the topics do seem to reinforce the the general theme of money, or lack there of. This isn’t much of a surprise, though. It’s common knowledge that a lot of service men were in dire straights during the American Civil War, as they often are in contemporary times. The first topic also suggests the routine quality of the day-to-day, that and there also seems to be a much slower kind of life. Obviously, without iPads, internet, and video games, servicemen back then had much more time to write, contemplate life, and long for home and companionship.
When I was younger one of my step brothers used to sing a short melody whenever anyone would say something that grossed him out, usually having to do with restroom related activities:
My stepbrother and I are long estranged but these days I often find myself humming the short melody (which, if you’re music illiterate, just think “Flin-stones, meet the Flin-stones”). I used to sing the phrase whenever someone said the particular phrase “I have to pee.” Like, for crise-sake, you don’t need to announce it! Just say “pardon me,” or “I’ll be back in a minute,” I don’t need the play-by-play here! Scatological humor aside, these days I hum the tune to myself most often when I’m confronted with tele-researchers, marketing surveys, advertising gimmicks that collect phone numbers (“Text ‘Spiffy’ to 3099 to vote for Spiffdawg as your next American Idol!!”), W9 forms, census collection, grad school applications, insurance waivers at the local brothel, that sort of thing. Why the hell are these people so obsessed with useless information like my phone number, ethnicity, political party affiliation, preferred food brands, waist size, cat’s name, the side of the bed I prefer, the average size of my toenail clippings, how many times a day I wonder what extra-terrestrial genitalia look like, or whether or not I have accepted Sun Ra as my lord and savior. What good is that information to them? Then, once this information is collected, it’s disbursed to so many different places that it starts to precede me wherever I go. For example, one morning I planned to visit my parents out of town. I asked SIRI what the weather was like, she said “It will be partly cloudy and in the high 60’s. It will take approximately 48 minutes to get to Riverside with current traffic conditions.” How the hell did she know I was going to Riverside? Is she a psychic?
I often feel like I am swimming, drowning in an ocean of information, data, the non-sequitur, bureaucratic filth of human history. To the government I’m a social security number, to Costco I’m a customer account number (even though I don’t shop there), and to Disney I’m a source of income and cheap slave labor (even though I don’t purchase Disney products or services). To these institutions I’m a digital file– hyperlinked, compressed, imported, shared, encoded, archived. I’m a modern man, one of countless other digital files. It’s a scary thought that not only are we all “insignificant drops of water in the endless river of humanity,” as Tom Zoellner once described it, but that we are now derelict and lost in the digital universe. Roy Rosenzweig also says that “abundance, after all, can be overwhelming. How do we find the forest when there are so many damned trees?” (Rosenzweig). It’s too much information. Some of us, though, have swallowed the red pill and escaped the matrix…only to create a new matrix.
In a previous post I referenced a video that was recently released to the internet which is reportedly produced by the graffiti artist and social satirist Banksy. The video is right up the alley of my personal tastes, complete with geopolitical satire as well as, to put it bluntly, grade A, e-ticket level Disney bashing. (Though, to what extent we can classify it as ‘bashing’ is up for the zeitgeist to decide, but considering previous political-activist-esque “works” attributed to the phenomena “Banksy,” I think it’s safe to assume “bashing” is an appropriate category.) In the minute-or-so video a group of presumably Islamic militants fire a rocket to shoot Dumbo out of the sky and kill him. “Allahu Akbar!” they chant as Dumbo plummets to the ground. The whole video is shot and edited as if it were filmed with a cell-phone camera. It has that shaky “handheld” and distorted quality common to videos posted to Youtube by militants and revolutionary forces all over the middle east to be vicariously ogled at by bewildered suburban Westerners. What’s funny, though, is that Dumbo’s execution here is very much like a Pythonesque exploding person/animal. Like the rocket that brings Dumbo down, the video itself brings Disney back down from the heavenly realm of family-friendly morality and soaring box-office-franchise profit margins. As Dumbo crashes, so too does the mouse-headed dragon that feeds on “piles of eyes.”
I have to admit, the first time I saw the video I was so tickled that I felt just as excited as the militants to see Dumbo’s demise. I almost started chanting “Allahu akbar!” right along with them. To briefly summarize my disdain for Mr. Mouse I can say this– Disney is pure escapism (which in of itself is a topic of discussion for some other time, but is very much a topic concerning comic theory in terms of moral epistemology; i.e. what is the morality of escapism?).
The video has “gone viral,” and it can be found in many places on the internet. I originally posted a link to a video of it, but Youtube deleted the user’s account. Of course, I simply updated the link to another user’s video of it.
In any case, digital is a relatively new medium for Banksy, although it’s not surprising because the internet is one of the main of reasons why he has gained so much attention and popularity around the world. Yet, most of the body of art attributed to Banksy remains street art, or graffiti. In this way culture is forced to remember its analogue– the material world. A Banksy piece can be easily reproduced on a large scale (like Warhol’s work), but it cannot be easily moved or sold, much less digitized. Though, apparently there have been attempts at removing whole slabs of plaster and cinderblock walls containing a Banksy piece which were then shipped to local galleries and sold to the highest bidding yuppies. With his or her foyers into digital universe though, Banksy becomes a phantom to the digital universe, nondescript dark matter that leaves theorists and critics puzzled. He is the “the art world’s Wizard of Oz” (Branscome). Banksy gets to control the shots here, and his audience follows along for his exciting guerilla art. There is a bit of irony here, though, because when “the jester rules the court, it is hard to tell when subversion of the system becomes cynical complicity” (Branscome).
The parodic element is the principal quality of Banksy’s work, which is the steak-and-potatoes (or bread-and-butter depending on your dietary preferences) of comedy and satire. In context of his medium, parody and satire blend to become what’s known as “high-street-irony.” However, what most interests me is Banksy’s relative obscurity, his or her anonymity that is “as controlled as that of Greta Garbo” (Branscome). There are plenty of sources and bits of information available that suggest “Banksy” is a real dude–an actual person roaming the streets at night (and day) poking fun at the world’s geopolitical and socioeconomic powers–but, for the most part, the evidence remains non-substantial. Unless someone comes forth as the official face and name behind that famous molotov-bouquet-tossing dissident (like Shepard Fairey was eventually revealed from behind the mask of Andre the Giant “OBEY”), Banksy will remain “Banksy” the “carefully positioned” persona, idea, force, theme, movement (Branscome). (We don’t need to make the V For Vendetta connection here, so for the sake of everyone involved in this discussion, please, please, all you coffee shop wanna-be revolutionaries, puh-leez don’t strap that annoying V mask over the term Banksy, otherwise it becomes clear that you’re missing the larger point.)
What’s most important is that Banksy’s anonymity pushes the artwork to the forefront of the discussion– art’s rightful place, anyway. Art critics and academics, I’m sure, have already began to play that worn-out game of tug’o’war with Banksy’s work, which has the New Critical approach (“The work only, all other information is irrelevant!”) in one corner vs. the Modernist (“The Artist is paramount, historical context is key!”) in the opposite corner of the analytical ring. (Personal note: I think most academics are completely unaware that the rest of us often share many laughs at their expense because these debates–new critical v. modern, feminist v. patriarchalism, inner-directed v. outer-directed arguments in rhetoric and composition theory, and so on–are the stuff of comedy. Picture here, Bugs Bunny v. Elmer Fudd, Tom & Jerry, Itchy & Scratchy.) That battle is an equally interesting subject to pursue, but for purposes of this blogpost, the work is what we have to focus on. The artwork itself is the only tangible manifestation of Banksy that we have. In other words, Bansky, whoever he or she may be, is free to go about his life, undetected, obscure, unscrutinized by “the gaze” of “the other”– society. Of course Banksy’s true identity is just as susceptible to the power/knowledge ramifications that Foucault went on and on about, but at least he can suffer through it on his or her own terms as opposed to the hyper-broadcasted yet static pangs of celebrity. If Banksy were revealed, he would cease to exist as an infinitely multifaceted person and become the single entity BANKSY, known solely for his soon-to-be archaic artistic style. Another famous (or infamous) example of this strategic anonymity is one of my favorite rock bands (no surprise), Tool. At one point in time they were basically phantoms to pop-music journalists. Interviews with band members were few and far in between, which is something their fans came to appreciate because the music, their art, became the focus of discussions instead of the the latest MTV “Cribs” episode featuring Danny Carey (which doesn’t exist, of course). It allowed the band members to maintain comfortable home/family lives and branch out to other great projects that would also become the stuff of rock-legend. This same focusing on and valuing of the artwork is extended to Banksy in this case.
My dear friend and bassist for the band Dantes Boneyard, Casey Peterson, once used a phrase to describe his trepidations about his emergence into general, tax-paying society after many years of relative transience. He said, “I can’t stand being on the grid.” He described to me how uneasy he felt about being in debt to a bank for his car loan, a job he’s obligated to report to at unnatural hours of the day, a job from which the government feels entirely justified in taking an ever greater portion of his income. Those who fall just outside of the parameters of our society are considered criminal (Foucault again for ya). This is what Casey is referring to– the dichotomy of his new existence, a “criminal” that has put on the mask of the citizen. He feels that his reintroduction to the big masquerade of society meant giving up his core, uncorrupted identity (in the Rousseauian sense) and taking on a new, uniform, simplified, mono-dimensional identity completely foreign to his natural self. Of course, we could get bogged down in all kinds of discussions about what I like to call “the postmodern man” here, but for the moment let us forgo endless deconstruction in order to address some real concerns, the ever more pertinent fears that people face as we spiral further and faster into the post-human world, taking on the new paradigm of Haraway’s cyborg (mentioned in a previous post).
Banksy is lucky. Because we only have the work, Banksy is able to remove himself from “the grid.” The outlier Banksy is the one that society and (I’m inclined to believe but not quite convinced) language cannot touch. He is free to produce, to turn the magnifying glass around and focus scrutiny instead on society, relieving the stress on the individual. Banksy, then, becomes the faceless Other and takes the power/knowledge relationship into his own hands to utilize as he sees fit. Might this be the very definition of subversion? Obviously there are some qualitative issues that arise if this is to work, but I feel the more theoretical analysis and rhetorical jargon I, or anyone, else might pile on, the more we fall into Banksy’s trap. That’s not to say “okay, that’s it, we’ve figured it out, no need to dig any deeper,” and I encourage any feedback offered, but how many categories can we place Banksy, or anyone else, into before we have a hot, steaming mass of meaningless information? Make a spreadsheet, start a Google map, compile a Prezi presentation, document, archive, store, collect data, data, digitize, digitize, digitize digitizedigitizedigitize CONSUME! Do whatever necessary, but what does it all mean?
There is a trio of Futurama characters who have remained in my thoughts ever since Bender’s Big Score came out in 2007– the Scammer Aliens. They’re creepy as hell. They’re creepy in the same way as Bob (Bill Murray) in What About Bob or Cable Guy (Jim Carey) in The Cable Guyare creepy– they have an illogical and insatiable appetite for very personal information. The Scammer Aliens have large noses, called a “sprunjer,” which they use to sniff out information (similar to the way Marilyn Manson’s adaptation of the Child Catcher from Roald Dahl’s screen play for Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang sniffs out children– “Mmm, smells like children!”). They are very gluttonous characters, hoarding information in order to scam Earthicans (citizens of earth in the 3000s). There is no bit of information that is not accessible to them. In other words, every piece of every Earthican’s personal information is entwined and stored in the Alien Scammer database. This becomes the new paradigm of life for the Earthicans– their very identities essentially stored, databased, archived, consumed, shared. The Futurama film doesn’t necessarily dwell on this idea for too long, but it’s the same idea that my friend Casey and Banksy are probably critical of. Again, we can imagine Haraway’s cyborg here (a concept which I am admittedly captivated by lately). For now I’ll skip over the obvious connection to the Star Trek universe and use another more relevant Futurama reference– the Eyephone. In the real world, every time we use our phones, or “mobile devices” if we are flight attendants, the phone sends and receives data, sharing information about us with the abstract ether of the digital universe (which apparently used to look like this, but was reconfigured to look like this:
…it’s all better now, apparently). Yup, every time we use our phone to check an email from grandma’ Google is using it’s sprunjer to snoop through the body text, searching for words that give it clues to our lives, needs, desires, infatuations, you name it. Grams says “Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry you and Jackie split up, but at least you got the kids,” and Google knows–oh it KNOWS–that you’re in need of legal council, dating services, personal finance, an extra-wide casket, day care, and some how it also knows your social security number, the birthmark on your left buttocks looks just like Richard Nixon (or Bob Hope, you’re not quite sure which of the two), and that you prefer 3-ply TP (which Bob Nixon is appreciative of). The Eyephone is just the more absurd version which, for its users, replaces the material world with the exchange of data. An Eyephone user no longer exists in the material world. Instead, they exist solely as their avatar in social media, their digital identity, an identity which is entirely public. Replace the term “Eyephone” with “iPhone,” “Galaxy S,” “Razor,” or any other “mobile device” and the same is true. The Alien Scammers, a.k.a. Google, have made our identities completely public, and no one escapes the omniscient eye of Google, the NSA, Pepsi…Disney.
Banksy, though, I think is somehow able to subvert the eye. There is, somehow, an inversion of the public/private relationship. Where Google, with its sprunjer, makes information public, Banksy’s art, like the spry Bugs Bunny out-witting the cumbersome Elmer Fudd, subverts the obtrusive, indeed intrusive Google-eye. What better place to hide a secret message than in plain sight, right? We might not notice it at all, but when we do discover that pesky little rat
…we probably notice it when we are alone, in some obscure place, at some obscure time of the day. It’s a seemingly inconsequential image that is so simple that it sticks with us throughout the day, irking us. It makes no sense, but we ponder the image’s meaning, tease out any number of ideas, and it becomes unnervingly thought-provoking. The image is totally analog, but it has consequences that reverberate in the digital realm. If Banksy is at once everything such as the rat, the Pulp Fiction banana parody, the molotov-bouquet-throwing dissident, the great demolisher of walls, and so on, then his digital identity is just one of an infinite identities. What good is Banksy’s digital identity to the all-seeing-public-Googleeye if it can’t neatly fit “Banksy” into a few, concise categories in order to “personalize his ad experience”?
What if everyone embraced their own sense of, well, nonsense? What if we all understood that our digital-selves (our archives, our databases, records, files) are just one of our many selves. What if we learned to poke the Google-eye? Dumbo would’ve have probably crashed long before anyone had the chance to fire a rocket at him.
System error 583940. System restart in 5…4…3…2…
Branscome, Eva. “The True Counterfeits Of Banksy: Radical Walls Of Complicity And Subversion.” Architectural Design 81.5 (2011): 114-121. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
PynchonWiki (PW) is the host site dedicated to Wikis annotating Thomas Pynchon’s (TP) eight novels. Launched in 2006, the website is designed and curated by Tim Ware, who’s company, HyperArts, also maintains ThomasPynchon.com. PW is designed with MediaWiki software and annotations regarding TP’s works are made by anonymously registered users. PW’s intended audience includes both scholars and casual TP fans alike. Since the creation of the Wiki associated with Pynchon’s most recent novels, Inherent Vice (2009) and Bleeding Edge (2013), PW has received approximately one edit per every fifty visitors, which might indicate that its visitors are most likely college students using the site as a quick-reference guide rather than a comprehensive source of critical review (Rowberry). No information regarding funding could be located, however it’s likely that Ware funds the project himself.
PynchonWiki is created by Tim Ware and has become one of the largest literary wiki resources with over twenty-thousand edits since it was launched in 2006 (Rowberry 1). According to the Tim Ware Wikipedia page, Ware (b. 1948) “is an American composer and musician, born in Sacramento, California” and he is “the owner of HyperArts (“HyperArts Web Design), a web design and development company” fittingly located in the Jack London Square district of Oakland, CA (“Tim Ware”).
Ware’s music is very much like that of Béla Fleck or Pat Metheny– prolific, and crosses many genres (“Tim Ware Group”). It’s no wonder, then, that his scholarly and professional achievements are just as prolific as his creative endeavors. In addition to PW, Ware created the Infinite Jest Wiki, Finnegan’s Web (which has since migrated to a different server and curator), and he has also worked with Erik Ketzan to co-creat of the an Umberto Eco Wiki for The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (“The Mysterious Flame”), as well as Literary Wiki (“LiteraryWiki.org”), which is a site designed to allow anyone to create a Wiki for a literary text (Rowberry 1).
During the creation of PW, Ware received help from David Morris Kipen who is a writer, editor, and broadcaster and who from 2005 to 2010 served as the Director for the National Endowment of the Arts (“David Morris Kipen”). Ware also consulted Minnesota State University Professor of English, Donald Larsson, who had previously created the website A Companion’s Companion: Illustrated Additions and Corrections to Steven Weisenburger’s A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion (Larsson), which launched in 2000 (“Thomas Pynchon Wiki: About”).
For the Vinland Wiki, Ware integrated work from another website, Babies of Wackiness: A Reader’s Guide to Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, by John Diebold and Michael Goodwin, which was launched back at the dawning of the web in 1990 (Diebold and Goodwin). In terms of the logistical side of PW, according to the “about” page of PW, the site “runs on MediaWiki, a wiki software package licensed under the GNU General Public License. It is written in PHP and uses either the MySQL or PostgreSQL relational database management system” (“Thomas Pynchon Wiki: About”).
PynchonWiki and DH:
I would love to see a larger website like PW dedicated to contemporary avant garde and experimental writers. Such a project could be a complex and massive network of hypertext annotations that cross-reference works by Pynchon, Barth, Joyce, Fowles, Danielewski and Tomasula, among many others. Because these works use intra- and intertextual references as a stylistic element, the sheer volume of hyperlinks within each annotation would be daunting for any one person or small group of people. However, using the Wiki, or user-edited format, such a project could be nearly complete in a short time. However, while I think PW is very user friendly and intuitive in terms of its site-map, I also think that it’s a bit dated in terms of its aesthetic quality. Each page of annotations looks like it was designed in web 1.0 html, giving it an almost flimsy quality. Each clickable link seems like it’s guaranteed to navigate to an “Error 404” page. Also, each header level is clearly visible the same way that the waistline of a guy’s underwear is visible when he bends down to pick something up, or for that matter, an exposed bra strap. This older style is fine for the sake of clarity, where there is a 1:1 ratio of 1 Page in the book to 1 section of annotations. The issue, though, is that the eyes easily wander because of the repetitive nature and length of each chapter’s-worth of annotations. Every time a user creates or edits an annotation, the page length expands, causing each individual annotation to get lost in the endless pattern of “Page” header and “note” body text. In other words, each annotation loses its value in a labyrinth of information, which defeats the purpose of the annotations. As Rowberry suggests, PW is not a “paradigm shift for the use of Wikis” partly because it “does not fully depart from traditional forms of interpretation,” and thus ignores “the multimodality and multidmedial aspects of Wiki” (Rowberry 1).
Quite frankly, too, Pynchon fans–who came up in the age of television and media boom–are likely to be finely attuned to the visual and graphic arts and well versed in other art mediums (“Thomas Pynchon”). In this case it might be worth providing adequate space along with the annotations so that the visual references in the novels could be represented in some other way than an image gallery at the bottom of the page. Though, considering that the site is maintained by HyperArts, who clearly have the technical ability to create a more streamlined website, I think that the archaic aesthetic of PW is by design, or intended.
The sheer gravity–pun intended–of annotating Pynchon’s work presents a unique set of issues with regard to the field of DH. Wiki software has made it easy for one or two people to compile the same amount of material that it might otherwise take a whole team of people to research simply because the curators of the project appeal to the mass Pynchon audience for help and input. As noted on the website, Ware used material from earlier websites to establish and build upon the annotations in PW. Then, anonymous editors who are registered to the site filled in the nooks and crannies of referential minutia in each sentence from TPs novels.
The criticism regarding PW focuses on the “Quantity v. Quality” issue where traditional, more academic Pynchon critics question the verisimilitude, or credibility of the annotations collected in the Wiki. These critics make the point that “substantial criticism”–academic articles–appear three to four years after the novel is published “due to the lengthy peer-review process” which ensures that the article is filtered through rigorous scrutiny so that the information is verified and the arguments are concise (4). This peer-review process is a “considered reaction,” protecting criticism with the interest of qualitative research, in contrast “to the knee jerk from the web.” Rowberry goes on to say that “what is lost in prestige is gained in scale and speed, thus facilitating a larger and faster feedback loop.” However, there is also the argument that web-based annotation format actually facilitates research rather than allows amateur scholars to blithely rush through the material without regard to qualitative concerns. Lisa Spiro makes the point that the format of the Wiki annotation process is collaborative rather than singular and critical as in the the more traditional academic article: “scientific research often requires scientists to collaborate with each other, whereas humanities scholars typically need only something to write with and about” (Spiro). Pynchon audiences, among all the literarily inclined, are methodical and almost scientifically minded when it comes to reading a Pynchon novel; they have to be. This in mind, the registered editors of PW have joined a larger, more accessible, but focused community of Pynchonites to create a database of intertextual references within their favorite novels.
Contrary to what the traditional academic establishment might argue about the lack of qualitative research in the Wiki format, the PW community aids in the proliferation of “more comprehensive, more accurate” information” because “many people are checking the information,” and even produce the information faster, “it only took 3 months for the wiki to cover every page [for one] of Pynchon’s [novels].” Spiro also points out that a more traditional book of supplementary annotation and criticism authored by a single person–the example in this case being Steven Weisenburger’s A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion–“is fixed,” unchanging and unable to adapt to newer, more informed analyses of Pynchon’s work, “while the wiki is open-ended and expansive.” For any one person to take on the solitary process of sifting through every possible annotation may, in fact, be a terminal endeavor in terms of sheer volume of personal resources and time. Spiro echos the research of a TextGrid project describing “how 3 different editors attempted to create a critical edition of the massive ‘so-called pseudo-capitulars supposedly written by a Benedictus Levita,’ dying before they could complete their work.” The suggestion, here, is that scholars no longer have to fear keeling over, their bodies eventually collecting dust and cobwebs while attempting to pan for gold flakes in an ocean of Pynchon’s jovial mind and literary interplay, for this is “much easier now that a team of scholars is collaborating to create the edition, increasing their chances of completion by sharing the labor.”
To further address concerns about the quality of the research, the element of illegitimate, or unsubstantiated annotations must, of course, be acknowledged.
Daniel Cohen discusses issues of quality in a DH project he had put together at one point, called Syllabus Finder. He talks about the limitations of API and KWIC in extracting information from a scanned document. He mentions that he had attempted to retrieve information regarding George W. Bush: “it may come as a surprise that the encyclopedia entries scanned to create such lists do not have to be perfect– only fairly reliable and openly available on the Internet” (Cohen). In other words, he is acknowledging that quantitative material doesn’t equate 1:1 with its qualitative measurement. “Indeed,” he continues, “the reference source I used for this experiment was Wikipedia, the democratically written encyclopedia much disparaged by publishers and professors. Despite its flaws, however, Wikipedia will probably do just as well for basic KWIC profiling of document classes as the Encyclopædia Britannica.” In short, Cohen is saying that the Wiki is a more accurate resource than traditional, more trusted print sources which have been scanned into databases (such as Google’s library scanning project) when using API and KWIC filters when data-mining for specific information. This is because “one can instruct a program to download the entire” Wiki page “and then subject that corpus to more advanced manipulations.”
There are, however, clear examples of qualitative issues that need to be addressed in PW. Because of the informal nature of the Wiki and a general obscurity about ethical practices on the web (though, the last decade has seen a shift towards more standard ethical practices), misunderstanding of the Wiki’s “rules have led to a community that can add knowledge to the Wiki in either great depth, or just superficial additions that can be expanded” endlessly by other users (Rowberry 9). These superficial additions are actually on verge of being a distraction. It’s not hard to find annotations within PW that are either totally blasé, biased, or entirely uninformative. For example, in the Bleeding Edge Wiki for chapter 23 the following annotations are made:
Page 249 “He meets her gaze and then sits staring at her, as if she’s some kind of screen…” Crap. More Lacan references, only now Maxine’s a TV with a difference: instead of tubeside, Avi is Maxiside. Page 250 “…Avi pretends to be absorbed in the television.” Told ya. (“Bleeding Edge Wiki”)
I was simply curious to see if I could find any annotations that, having not yet read any of Pynchon’s work, would stand out to me as careless or sophomoric. I found these annotations almost immediately with only a 15 second search, which must mean that this kind of annotation must be rampant throughout PW. Honestly, though, I almost prefer its conversational tone. Because I don’t know the voice or the identity of the editor, I am free to project some sort of Bakhtinian dialogic conversation onto my experience of any of the PWs. “Crap. More Lacan references,” says one of my selves. “I wouldn’t have thought of that, but, ugh! come on! Why does everything have to be about the Other?” says another of my selves; still a third self says “The TV acts as both mirror and a conduit for power/knowledge,” to which the first two reply, “No! No more Foucault!” In other words, the anonymity of the edits, coupled with the less formal style of the internet community allows for my personal experience to be one of process, where a single line of text from the novel is offered many options of interpretation.
Here, in my opinion, is the crux of the argument about the qualitative measurement of the Wiki– process. The more traditionalist, or academic position is concerned with upholding the standardized final product of the annotation supplement as well as the peer-reviewed, critical article. On the other hand, much like Gertrude Stein believed that the creative process was as important, if not more important than the final product, the Wiki is in a constant state of flux. It is an on-going process as users add or delete content, begin threads of theoretical conversations within a single annotation, and adopt emerging critical views of some aspect of the novel:
The contributors to the Pynchon Wiki have tended to be more interested in annotating new material rather than improvising existing content. This is likely due to the synchronous editing process and the sense of community revolving around exploring new ground rather than retreading material in a slightly more daunting context of Pynchon’s older novels and their impressive range of scholarship (Rowberry 10)
Ironically, the more traditional–borderline elitist–Pynchon scholars who would disregard the Wiki argue against what is arguably a key manifestation of the very post-modern world which is also a constant process, unstable. The value of PW is in its compatibility and open sourcing– it is a source for databasing much larger bibliographies and intertextual references than the print (analogue) world could ever assume to be. Cohen says,”resources that are free to use in any way, even if they are imperfect, are more valuable than those that are gated or use-restricted, even if those resources are qualitatively better” (Cohen). This suggests that, because qualitative measurement is subjective, the value of PW comes down to an aesthetic preference for the user. In that sense, PW’s “output has not been substantially different to expectations of the [traditional] Pynchon critical industry” (Rowberry 5). Because of the democratizing nature of the internet, the academy is losing it’s control over information as it once appeared in a hierarchical form. Now the information is removed from that hierarchy and has taken on a different aesthetic. It’s no wonder, then, that the younger generations of online interpretive communities have “gained traction in a third of the time the academic community have achieved the same thing.”
My suggestion on the matter– use or use not; keel over and collect cobwebs in your search through the Pynchon labyrinth, or join the community of Pynchon enthusiasts to turn that lonely labyrinth into a bustling metropolis.
I recently used Google’s Ngram Viewer to do a quick search of comic ideas in history.
Ngram works by searching for instances of words or phrases in all of the books that Google has been digitizing over the past few years. I searched two terms and two comic theorists: laughter, comedy, Henri Bergson, and Francis Hutcheson. I was surprised to discover that “comedy” and “laughter” spike in usage around the tail end of the enlightenment (late 18th century). Although, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. It makes sense that comic spirit and laughter would begin to captivate theorists around this time because of the massive shifts in the geopolitical structure during the time as well as a rethinking of the religious influences on politics and economy.
The terms are most often dramas, such as Woman is a Riddle: A Comedy (1729) By Christropher Bullock and critical essays such as “Reflections Upon Laughter, and Remarks Upon the Fable of the Bees” (1750) by Francis Hutcheson. Bergson then later references Hutcheson in his writing at the turn of the 20th century. I’m familiar with Bergson, of course, but my initial Ngram search actually led me to Hutcheson, whom, as it turns out, did as much for comic theory early on as Bergson did with his writings.
Another interest of mine, moral epistemology, which is very closely related to comic theory, takes up much of the interest of theorists late in the 20th century. For example, “Motivation and the Moral Sense in Francis Hutcheson’s Ethical Theory” is the title of an article by Henning Jensen in 1971, which looks very interesting. I think, if I had the time, I would definitely focus my research more on moral epistemology in regards to comic theory. (Lol, yeah, right! Like I have time for that these days. HA!)