Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Note on the Marginalia

Via Alissa Wilkinson check out A Year in Marginalia: Sam Anderson. This site offers a snapshot view of the books Mr. Anderson has read this path year with his marginalia included. Since marginalia inhabits its own curious niche of book history this is a really enjoyable post except for the fact that this post is actually what deeply frightens me about any sort of extensive marginalia because in some moments where I think I really do need to write something profound/meaningful in the margins of a really good paragraph/sentence/thought only to find myself thinking "If anyone ever opens up this text and reads it, what are they going to think of my written thought?" which is a fairly crippling thing and keeps my pages cleaner than they really should be as an active marginaliast quote unquote should have a certain amount of disregard for the perceived sacredness of the printed page which presents a sort of double bind where the individual most likely to output really good marginalia is a book person who tends towards possessing an incredible amount of respect for the whole idea of the book in the first place.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Two really good sources on Wikileaks and its implications

1) Twelve Theses on Wikileaks
Good summing up of some of the issues, both positive and negative, that are and might possibly be generated by the WikiLeaks. One of the more humorous parts of the article is the reference to Cablegate which is a nice term and sums up the whole mess nicely.
Lovink and Riemens together have valuable insight into how Assange/WikiLeaks is "...using IT to leave IT behind..." and some of the issues contained therein. What is interesting is that several of the observations made here about the way WikiLeaks has taken advantage of a networked world mirror closely those made by Galloway and Thwacker in their book The Exploit: A Theory of Networks.

2) From Jonathan Zittrain a FAQ about WikiLeaks is also a really excellent summation from a historical timeline perspective. What is particularly nice about this article is that it discusses how the four major news organs (The Guardian, Le Monde,and El Pais. The Guardian shared their cables with NYT.) got the cables, how many were received and a brief discussion of the implications of getting those cables.
The first link is a philosophical understanding of the implications of Wikileaks while the second is a historical summation and description of the ongoing process. These two links provide a good summation of the implications and history of how WikiLeaks got to capture so much media and global attention. If you don't really feel like wading through the seemingly infinite piles of media blitz and news bites, these two articles are your air-boat.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A digital Humement

Tom Phillips now has an iPad and his landmark work A Humement is now available as an iPad app/reading experience. What's really interesting is that Phillips was a friend of John Cage's who got Phillips into the I-Ching and randomness which the iPad, as this interview/article demonstrates, actually helps generate. So that out of an extremely proprietary shop and technology comes a random dependent technology. As it were. Good article!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Metaphors on your Brain

This is your Brain on Metaphor

This is an interesting article and well worth the read. It's always interesting when neuroscientists start talking about language as opposed to a philosopher talking about language because scientists want to track what chemicals the brain fires when you call for a pizza where as the philosopher is interested in how you actually phrased the question and how that expresses your opinion of the world. The studies that Sapolsky cites are interesting because it is always fascinating how our external stimuli affects, often without our realizing it, our responses to the world around us. I'm not sure if that is really metaphor because if you read Lakeoff and Johnson who suggest that metaphor is such a fundamental part of our thinking so that language, how we talk about the world, is the way we view the world and often without recognizing how deep the metaphors go. Where as Sapolsky, and the cited studies, argue the way we interpret the stimuli around us, aware or unaware, is how people view the world rather than the way we talk about it. Wittgenstein's idea that "language is not only the vehicle of thought, it is also the driver" has implications here as well. So what that you though a person was more intelligent because they handed you a heavier clipboard? What if they handed you a rabid badger? The limitations of what is calculated in these types of studies is not nearly as interesting .
I think the one aspect of talking about metaphor that is exceptionally hard to pin down is the discussion of where our knowledge of it comes from. Sapolsky suggests that it is evolutionary but I think that it is learned which very well might be a type of evolution. In the first cited study, when volunteers are asked to think of something immoral and were given the choice to wash hands, what if they had thought about being hungry and then given the choice to wash their hands? While the results are interesting, there is such a wide range of human responses to the world that while limiting the study is necessary to make it actually functional gauging the level of importance can be difficult. Because at a more fundamental level I don't think the brain is confusing literalness and metaphor but that what is understood as metaphor is literally true because language drives our thought processes. Perhaps a group of people are more likely to wash after recalling ethical failures because of a shared way of thinking/talking about an incident (guilt as uncleanliness,innocence as cleanliness) rather than a brain process. I think it depends on your view of what comes first. I would suggest with W. that language drives while Sapolsky would, as of this article, argue that the brain processes drives and there is not a hard and fast distinction, I don't think, that enables to know which is which.

Monday, November 8, 2010

E. O. Wilson (from Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world
henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the
right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make
important choices wisely."

"It is not the finding of a thing, but the making of something out of it
after it is found that is of consequence."

James Russell Lowell in My Study Windows
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Idea of the Book

A recent review in Books & Culture entitled "The Idea of the Book" by Alan Jacobs examines The Oxford Companion to the Book and the idea of the book in general. The article overall is interesting both as a review and an essay exploring what is the nature of a/the book. However I'm not sure that Jacob's focus on defining what a book is succeeds in its endeavor. Agreed that the formats of reading these entities we understand as books are changing both in format and design. The Kindle features location number rather than page numbers. I read this article on my computer rather than the physical copy. Jacob calls for a re-definition of the term 'book' but then continues to use it after sort of complaining about it. Jacobs suggests that the form of the book is under attack. And while that might be true I think it is dangerous to think of these changes as attacks rather than changes to be reckoned with in an intelligent fashion.
Besides the discussion of the definition of the book the review of the Companion to the Book is quite good. Jacobs makes an excellent point that as a reference work this dual-volume lacks the flexibility that has brought the issue of books to the recent forefront of the discussion of content delivery. Jacobs discusses toward the end of the essay a desire for better inter-textual connections within the Companion which raises an interesting point/question. Jacob's understanding of how the printed work ought to work (cross-references, indexes, images, editorial changes, etc.) is based upon his experience with other digital reference works and in fact "'s hard not to see the digital version as constituting an improvement in many ways." Where 'improvement' is defined really as 1) lack of errors and 2) updatability. And for a reference work these are the defining bits that really matter. But it is the fixed nature of a work that I think speaks to Jacob's desire for a proper definition of the book. What is the benefit of being able to constantly and forever being able to fix or update or upgrade a piece of text? The logical conclusion of such an idea may well turn into a Borgesian work that strives to provide a complete map of the world. The physical book allows for the work to stop. For those words to be declared enough and complete, sent out into the world and allowed to flourish. This is the benefit of the book, the measured "sense of an ending" that provides a sense of history and knowing, of boundaries and lines, clear topography and elevations before everything is leveled by simply being information.

Here's an fairly interesting article on student apathy in the classroom.

Friday, October 15, 2010


It’s been a while. Life has been happening. Some really good things and some fairly tough ones as well. God is good and continues to demonstrate it consistently each day.
Part of that goodness was revealed this past Saturday at the Friends of Tompkins County Library Book Sale. This is not just another library book sale. They have their own warehouse. The warehouse has its own map of the stacks. The stacks all have signs on them indicating their holdings. The books are in fairly good shape and a good variety. It would have been really easy to get way more than the 10 books at $3.50.

The list:
Cormac McCarthy All the Pretty Horses
Sartre Existentialism
Susan Sontag AIDs and its Metaphors
William Gass The World and the Word
Documentation of the O.E.D. (compares the amount of quotations of Shakespare vs. Nashe. Nerd fest? I think so.)
Danielwski House of Leaves
Thomas Pynchon The Crying of Lot 49
Nietzche Thus Spake Zarathustra
Franz Kafka The Trial
Flannery O’Connor Wise Blood

Also recently received via the mail :
David Markson Wittgestein’s Mistress (currently reading.Quite weirdly amazing. There’s a bunch of similarities to Bartheleme/ Brautigan in the way the dialogue-as-story.)

Edmund White Flaneur (Waste of money. I was expecting something entirely different and closer to something in Benjamin’s/Baudelaire’s tradition about the flaneur and what I got was a short selected history of Paris. It wasn't uninteresting just not what I thought it was going to be.)

Moore, Lara Jennifer Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organizaiton of Arhcives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 (currently reading. It is fascinating and quite a good/interesting read.)
Rory Litwin, ed. Library Daylight (collection of essays on librarianship from 1874-1922

Starting subscribing to Artifice Magazine this year. It's a bi-annual publication of original works of poetry and fiction. It is really very good and enjoyably odd. Check them out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"All I know is that I love reading books, and when I write I want my books to be like the books I love: solid, thoughtful, cliché-less, and both mindful of the ugliness of the world and also the beauty of being alive."
~David Mitchell@The Rumpus

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

RIP: Frank Kermode

Frank Kermode passed away yesterday. (1919 -2010)

From the London Review of Books obit:
"Frank Kermode, who died on 17 August at the age of 90, was the author of many books, including Romantic Image (1957), The Sense of an Ending (1967) and Shakespeare’s Language (2000). He was the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University. He inspired the founding of the London Review in 1979, and wrote more than 200 pieces for the paper."

My knowledge, as it were, to Kermode would be through his work The Sense of an Ending which is a truly great work.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cell Phone Plans and Libraries

(Sidenote: This is my 500th post* and it's pretty long. For all 2 people who read this blog, I am grateful. )

In our efforts to participate in what I am sure is becoming an American tradition from the sheer amount of people that we encountered, my wife and I recently went to our cell phone carrier’s local storefront to renew (our) cell phone plan and to pick out new phones. Both of our phones were starting to decay where my wife’s phone’s front screen no longer displayed information and my phone’s right hinge was cracking, so that when then phone is flipped open an unenviable popping sound is resultant followed by a shift, not unlike popping shoulder back into joint of the screen into its proper place. We were due for an upgrade. I don’t pay particular attention to the cell phone industry during the two year interval that your plans other than to things like the iPhone or some of the discussions around reading e-books on cellular devices. I don’t track changes like rate plans adjustments or other related items. Thus, I was singularly unprepared for what is become more and more standard with any but the most basic cell phone/plans; the data plan. It’s not my problem is with the fact that the data plan is designed to engross the users deeply in their portable screens or allow a constant stream of entertainment to be transmuted from the ether into images/words/video/et al. It’s the model of expectation that is built into the use of these devices. This model has at least two different levels/aspects. 1) There’s the really nice phones, the smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, PalmPre) that require the really big expensive data plans ($25 minimum up to $40). However you can tether your phone to your computer to surf the Web, get constant email and tweet out the wazoo. Then there’s the middle of the road phones, the standard messaging phones, that are designed for day to day use without needing to be plugged into business applications but still require a very basic data plan ($10 a month) or an unlimited messaging plan. Then there’s the third group, the go phones, that require no commitment or contract as well as no data plan.
Thus the carrier is building the expectation that to get a decent phone is to require a certain monthly data plan. I understand paying for a phone plan that allows me to communicate directly with friends/family. I have a much harder time with the idea of being required to pay for the privilege to stream data to my phone. Right now you can block the data aspect for the middle of the road phones so as to not have to use the phone. But, as the salesperson said to my wife, you can’t use 6 of the 12 apps on the phone. Which is fine for us. I’m wondering though when the point is going to be reached when the carrier pushes the data plan up to $20 and consumer will continue to pay it because of their level of expectation to access. Us as consumers are oddly comfortable paying a pretty solid amount of money per year for data we may not use and if we do stream data can’t save in any sort of permanent way. My fear is being tied into this model without the flexibility to have a decent phone and not have to pay for a data plan.
This situation has a direct correlation to the world within which I work, that of libraries and paying for electronic databases. The majority of the subscriptions to electronic databases and journals are on a rental basis because 1) for the company to sell access would be a great loss in profits and 2) selling that access would be incredibly expensive for the libraries to afford in one shot. So we rent. We rent the possibility of data trying to pick the databases students might/should use to get the best possible information to them. However if the price of that database goes too high or the library consortium fails to stay solvent the thousands of dollars that were invested into that subscription are gone with nothing tangible to show for the money spent. Perhaps one could argue students could not have accessed the information they did without this particular database and therefore would have failed to pass their class and not graduated on time but this is a difficult scenario for which to successfully argue. I think at the end of day the library is really left with nothing after how many years of renting this space. But this is the main model in which we operate. Granted there are some databases that have made themselves freely available or available for purchase at feasible prices but these are well in the minority. As library’s budgets continue to migrate towards supporting the electronic aspect and as ubiquitous access is both expected demanded, the physical items that provide a physical return on investment are abandoned. My difficulty is signing the PO and receiving a physical box of books that I can then catalog, label shelve and recommend to students as applicable. This versus signing the PO for a url that generates an interface that accepts Boolean phrase or keyword and generates more links that I can save and print in some cases and recommend to students but how many students using the databases does it take to make the payment worth it. How does the library measure the investment return on what it is paying for its databases especially for small schools that do not turn out, or at least expect to manufacture, especially rich students? Is this model of existence tenable? Since we have allowed this “culture of dominance” to determine our rules of existence it is now seemingly impossible to wrest control back into our own hands as we lack either the unified voice or the mass of power or even the desire to make this change.

*That number is slightly inflated because a bunch of posts from two years ago were just links to nyt articles. Which was very lame in retrospect.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Good news for travel plans and DFW

From a very recent email by the incomparable Matt Bucher via wallace-l:

"Just wanted to let you know that if you can't make it to Austin for
the September 14 opening of the DFW rchive, the event will be
streamed live to the web:

Also, there will likely be another event at the Ransom Center next
spring in Austin to celebrate the publication of The Pale King. I
don't know much about the details of it yet, but it will mostly likely
be a multi-day symposium. Next year is also the 15-year anniversary of
the publication of Infinite Jest and the founding of wallace-l. I am
thinking of having an additional event in Austin at that time to
celebrate the anniversary of the list. More to come on the details of
that over the next few months, but if you've ever thought about a trip
to Austin, spring 2011 might be a good time."

Not going to lie, my first thought reading the end of this email was "yes, yes I have thought about going to Austin and spring 2011 sounds like a great time." We'll see what happens.

Monday, August 2, 2010


1) Check out my post over at Cinfolit (cinema+information literacy). It's short but sweet. Hopefully Cinfolit is going to be an excellent source of info-lit/video ideas in the coming future.
2) Was at the Newport Folk Festival this weekend. Highlights include meeting/getting CD signed by four out of five members of O'Death whom had everyone was out of their seats, standing in the aisle for their last song of an amazing set, shaking Bob Boilen's hand (2nd year in a row), saw Steven Thompson of NPR fame at the April Smith set, fairly certain we saw Ben Sollee leaving Saturday night sitting on a park bench playing gorgeous cello music for the harbor evening, briefly met Jeff Prystowsky of The Low Anthem (where briefly met means tapping him on the shoulder as we hurried past yelling great set man. It may not count as meeting but it still counts as awesome.), and fairly certain we saw Joe Kwon (cellist for The Avett Brothers) as we left Sunday night. Edward Sharpe threw it down and you can catch their set here via NPR to stream or download. What you don't hear is the ten minutes it took the people to get pulled out of the front and center aisle which were supposed to be cleared for fire code by the combined forces of muscled security personnel and flat-brimmed state troopers (Images 32/33 here)
So much musical goodness. It was awesome.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Was reading snippets of the interesting Wayfaring Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant by Alan Jacobs via Amazon during which the name of Ann Blair came up in regards to coping with information overload during the 1550's through the 1700's. Lo and behold Ms. Blair is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard. Harvard has taken the kind steps of providing many of the articles that Harvard's scholars are writing/publishing in the plethora of available journals also available through its DASH program (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard).
Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700 and Note Taking as an Art of Transmission are two really exemplary essays contributing to the scholarship, imho, of the history books. Also the former article does a really excellent job providing data demonstrating that humans have historically struggled with how to best navigate the sheer breadth of information that is made available to them in any particular epoch based upon how the medium of publishing/presentation has changed. In browsing around Ms. Blair's home page found this event Why Books? taking place on Oct. 29 exploring different aspects of book history as well discussions of the future of publishing. Robert Darnton will be speaking and it is free to the public which means that a road trip is being planned for late October.
Ann Blair has also kindly posted her History of the book and of reading exam field reading list. Please note that this is a 22 page list of sources. Awesome!
In doing reading for info literacy stuff also found and read Tara Brabazon's Thinking pop literacies and Robert Detmering's Exploring the Political Dimensions of Information Literacy through Popular Film. Both are quite good. Detmering offers insight into the highly politicized aspect of information with encouragement not to ignore this aspect when teaching information literacy courses. Brabazon while focusing more locally (Australia) does present ideas that extrapolate out really well. "Pop is a medium and method to manage classroom diversity and facilitate a critical interpretation of texts and contexts. There is a need to find a stregy to assist sudnets who are not prepared for higher-level writing, reading and research skills. The firs step is to transform consuming pop into thinking pop." (p. 300 Brabazon) Thus we will be trying out stuff from ImprovEverywhere, The Office and Laurie Anderson in class this fall.
This is a conversation I've been having with my colleagues in trying to figure out how to better reach/impact/ interact with students. What avenues are available that will help to spark the understanding for the need and desire to want to "pose significant questions" of the self and the surrounding world? If I can start/connect with the thinking/questioning process with familiar avenues then perhaps we can then apply that same process in unfamiliar avenues because we've seen it work for us. The connecting process not only of concepts but also of methods of questioning that will equip the students with a broad imagination and a verbose information literacy.

Also currently reading Gaddis's The Recognitions. My head is very full.

Monday, July 26, 2010

If we can carry our entertainment with us why should we ever leave the house?

Kara and I went out to dinner on Friday because of the unbearable combination of 89 degrees F and 83% humidity and lacking air conditioning in our apartment thus rendering any cooking or dining experience frankly impossible to even comprehend.
The restaurant, as it was a chain and doesn’t really need the name-drop advertising, and I don’t think the following described behavior would change that much from where we were which was sitting in the waiting area of said restaurant watching the board for our number, chatting through the blasting Americana while also people-watching.
All told there was about 20-30 people that were filtered through the seating area. We were seated toward the far end of the waiting area so that the hostess area was to our right and the end of the waiting area to our left with the outside windows directly in front of us. There was one couple to our immediate left and a father and daughter diagonally across from us with all other stomach-led transients filling in respectively. Since this is a chain restaurant there was a ceiling mounted TV in the left hand corner of the room which was mercifully muted so as not to compete with the thumping speakers.
It was interesting to watch people in this context because this couple to our immediate left were, as far as we could tell, interacting with their cell phones for pretty much the entire time Kara and I sat there.
Even when the guy had gotten up to try to win a stuffed animal from the claw machine under the TV and succeeded in only very quickly losing two dollars which not only failed to elicit any sort of laughter from his female counterpart but also failed to elicit her interest from the poker game she was playing which we could see because the screen was titled in our direction. Other than the claw playing, this couple was not that engrossing except by what seemed to be an intense lack of interest in the other. Eventually my attention was drawn away in other directions to the father and daughter sitting on the other side of the waiting hallway directly across from the cell couple and the father had his phone out and was hunched over the screen the entire 10-15 minutes that they were waiting for a table. And the daughter, who lacked her own portable screen is slouched watching the TV because well, what else is there to do since her father is finding her presence not nearly as fascinating as the 3”x8” screen between his palms. And granted this was not the norm in the waiting room as there were rowdy conversations and family conversations and other couple conversations and our own conversations and seatmate conversations but these people stuck out because they were so absorbed in their own little worlds and the father and his daughter left to and were replaced by a mother and son whom, immediately upon sitting down, the son whipped out his cell phone.

Earlier that day I had read this quotefrom Gary Shteyngart and it seemed/still seems frighteningly apt.
“ We can’t keep up with the technology we’ve created, and it’s like we were invaded by a barbarian horde and we don’t know what to do. Sometimes I think that the iPhone and everything else that is now a major part of my life is a punishment that I’ve inflicted on myself for sins that I can’t quantify. This is maybe—I don’t know—going back to Hebrew school, but since the iPhone came out, my life has gotten progressively worse. I land on a plane and I get nervous if my iPhone—my äppärät—can’t connect. It’s like I’m running a Fortune 500 company. “

What communication or connection are we so afraid of missing?
If we can carry our entertainment with us why should we ever leave the house?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"I like the word believe. In general, when one says "I know" one doesn't know, one believes."
~Marcel Duchamp (1975)

Monday, July 19, 2010


Portable containers (language). Or that snails embody the idea of "Omnia mea mecum porto". Therefore, like the snail, to have bags that can carry the necessary stuff, usually books/pens/passport/gum/etc. A Dickies bag served this purpose throughout college which was often loaded with way more stuff than was possible to carry comfortably or safely. That spot is currently filled with a very sweet Chrome Citizen bag. It is super and carries all the necessary things easily from work to home to KY to PA to ME to NJ to NY to IL.
If you are looking for a bag would recommend Chrome.
Recently came across this company:
Seagull Bags.

If said Chrome bag ever breaks definitely would look for the next bag at the 'gull. Check out their stuff in action on Flikr. Really dig the artwork.

Like this:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Only Disconnect

Do you know who Gary Shteyngart is? I did not. However in this week's NYRB there's an article by Gary Shteyngart titled "Only Disconnect". It's brilliant. It is a prose poem. It is one of the best examples of writing about personal inte(dist)raction with the constantly transportable screen that guides the living steps of people. For example: " The device (iPhone) came out of the box and my world was transformed. I walked outside my book-ridden apartment. The first thing that happened was that New York fell away around me. It disappeared."
Let us take a quick look at the idea of space: de Certeau defines " as a practiced place." Place is understood as "...elements distributed in relationships of coexistence." (p. 117 Practice of Everyday Life) What Shteyngart discovers is that he is no longer practicing (in) space. He describes himself as being in a "techno-fugue state" in which he "...nearly knock[s] down toddlers and the elderly..." de Certeau's definition of place includes the idea that two separate and distinct elements cannot occupy the same spot at the same time. However by removing Shteyngart's attention from his surroundings causes him to attempt to inhabit the same places as other individuals moving his walk from a reading of the city (and carefulness of other individuals) to a blind following of the iPhone's touring map. What is interesting is that as people we prefer the type of directions the map gives us (turn here, travel this far, turn here, travel this far, turn here...) The given map is not concerned with what is to the left or the right but the getting from here to there to get, in Shteyngart's case, a taco.
But there is leaving, loss of signal a rediscovery of space that causes Shteyngart to"wake up from the techno-fugue state and remember who I am."By the end of the essay Shteyngart's friends have arrived to " roast an animal and some veggies". Due to the lack of a mobile network, due to location that the iPhone can no longer delineate, the connecting of the iPhone has been replaced by the personal connections with people. Granted, this is a generally romantic view that non-technologists like to advance against the technologists that screens are responsible for the destruction of inter-personal skills and relationships. However it should not be surprising that at the lapse of connective signal we return to previous types of connection. To return to de Certeau "it is the partition of space that structures it...there is no spatiality that is not organized by the determination of frontiers."(p. 123) Shteyngart discovers that his frontiers are determined by his cell phone reception. If individuals are reliant on the map to organize their interactions with space, and that map is delivered via satellite, one's perspective is immediately determined by the connection to that data source. This then determines the partitioning (defining) of the space that the individual is able to inhabit. One cannot practice something that is not known; though we can repeat motions without understanding. This is merely repetition. Machines can repeat. People should know and be known. Thus to follow maps, of any sort, without allowing for our own wandering and practicing of place is to repeat actions without the understanding of how the structure of chosen steps affects our own reading/discourse with the space of the world around us in determining the practice of everyday life. Failure to practice results in an eventual loss of space because the reason for the space's existence (reading a book, walking without a screen, etc.) is forgotten or at least subsumed to the insistence of daily routine which is not the practice of everyday life. Rather we should end everyday "as we commune in some ancient way, laughing and the fading...light." Indeed, Mr. Shteyngart, indeed.

And then there is also this: "American fiction is good. It would be nice if somebody read it. "

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Interesting essay from an interesting to-be-published book

1) Interesting essay on the future of the book by Benjamin Kunkel from a forthcoming book entitled The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books from Soft Skull Press in March 2011.
2) Dr. Alana Kumbier is co-editor of a really excellent book exploring critical theories and pedagogical methods in application to teaching information literacy entitled Critical Library Instruction has a gnarly podcast/interview over on The Newbie Dispatches.
Critical Library Instruction was published in 2009 by Library Juice Press which is a stellar press.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Mondays used to be much less meaningful and enjoyable for me. The start of a new work week. Pulling oneself out of the typically joyous lethargy of a Sunday afternoon. All the issues/tasks that have piled up over the weekend. Then I got a new job and in this instance of being a librarian for a small college in upstate NY during the summer causes Monday to be much less frightening. This is quite enjoyable. There's another aspect of Mondays that I've not only come to greatly enjoy but to also anticipate with some degree of relish.
Two of my favorite podcasts drop on Monday mornings. I always, every single time, listen to them in the exact same order. Every Monday-without fail. There have a couple times where I will rearrange my to-do list so that I can have work at hand that allows me to listen and still get stuff done just so that I can enjoy this particular serving of Monday morning.
The first podcast is the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. I have laughed out loud in my office and have used bits from the podcasts in the class that I teach. I hope one day to have Carl Cassel's voice on my cell phone voice-mail.
The second podcast is This American Life with Ira Glass. This podcast caries from a short story/essay format to spending the entire hour digging into and thoroughly exploring a complex issue throughout the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. Sometimes the program is simply funny or sad while also being deeply journalistic or simply just quirky. Like when the producers/writers put together a program based entirely off of ideas pitched by their parents for the show that the readers/listeners then voted for their favorites of that list. The other defintively endearing aspect of this podcast is what I think is a distinct lack of snarkiness. Rather, at least this is how I think they present their subject/material, the philosophies of the podcast attempt to communicate the stories in their own context with a desire for freshness/authenticity. So the interviewers will go spend time in the Mexican desert with those individuals attempting to assist the Border Patrol or visiting summer camp to talk about the impact of growing up through a camp or talk to Senators about the books they've written and how the book seems not to be born out of any real experience.(Glass mentions this in the interivew, referenced belwo) This whole enterprise is driven by Ira Glass's narration. His voice, which is quite distinctive and finely constructed, insinuates itself deep into my brain stem where it often, just as DFW's voice does, takes over for my brain voice.
Recently Ira Glass sat down for an interview over at Slate entitled On Air and On Error: This American Life's Ira Glass on Being Wrong. This interview is a lengthy and enjoyable read especially in the exploration of the growth through learning of mistakes and the flexibility of our identities as people seem to be tied much more into our abilities to fail and learn from those instances rather simply striving to be right ach and every single time.* Glass, by his own admission, spent about 9 years being hands-down terrible at the radio interview/performance before he was successful.
The other enjoyable aspect of htis interview is that is shifts about 3/4 of the way through into a dialogue where Glass actually asks the interviewer (Kathryn Shulz) a question and the text shifts very much like something out of Barthelme's short story dialogues where the conversation happens without names and identities are blurred by the switching of the call-and-response process. This is what Glass and the show are really good at. This is what makes going to work on Mondays that much better.

*There's this fantastic essay on dialogue from Stringfellow Barr, of St. John's College which deserves way more than a footnote. Barr gives several suggested tenets for successful dialogue, which he calls thumb-rules, and the second should be mentioned here. That in successful dialogue "the will of self-insistence give way to the will to learn." I think that one of the main, if not the, thing is the will to be right.

Friday, July 9, 2010


"Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own. It's the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it."
~John Waters
from Role Models

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Traveling by Sea

Dan Lyon of that famous band Pomengrates has a small bunch of songs under the album name Light up for download over at These songs are art. The tracks stand as constellations to each other- well-crafted and gut-wrenchingly profound. I know this though I haven't listened to them yet.
Simply judging by the cover art/jpg seems to indicate the music will be as good as formerly described.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grinning like an english cheshire

This lovely, lovey comic from over there at XKCD made my day. Hands down.
Also watched Alice in Wonderland this weekend. The new one. There's a couple of ways to read this plot with the following being one of those options. There is a scroll that depicts all the main events that are going to happen in a particular world which everybody knows about and are collectively anticipating, with various levels of dread/excitement as well as various levels of positive/negative participation (though it seems not to matter in the end since all participation leads to foretold day regardless), the occurrence of these particular days. There is a scourge/plague/curse upon the land with an expected individual descending/falling from above to restore order. There is consistent faith demonstrated expecting that one, those things written down will come true and two, those who are depicted within the scroll are expected and desired that their part in the drama should be fully played out. This drama marches on relentlessly regardless of those who choose to participate or attempt to change their roles, perceived or otherwise, in regard to the approaching day. There are consistent, if not quite constant reminders by messengers that the day is approaching. At the denouement there is the battle royale/apocalypse where the dragon, created of the earth, who must be slain by the sent one, from above the earth, wielding a sword who guides its user. Interesting, no?
Is it a simile, analogy or allegory?

Friday, July 2, 2010


I was trolling for images for a presentation and this site R Honey Pots came up. While this mug is my particular favorite (along the lines of Goethe's urpflanze) the entire site features really imaginative and creative thinking and design. It is peculiarly beautiful pottery work, especially the use of animal motifs and the blue/black colors. Check them out!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

up is good down is bad but they both need each other in the end

Being very interested in the way we talk about our lives and how that effects our perception of interacting with reality, the project sad hat | happy hat struck me as really interesting on an awesome metaphorical level as well as neat way to mess with our familiar ways of seeing.
The authors of this project have this to say about it: "...we have a tendency to look up when we are happy and down when we are sad. We want to bring emphasis on the ground and the sky, amplifying one’s mood. The “sad hat | happy hat” can be worn in two different ways, happy (looking up) or sad (looking down). The reflective surface inside multiplies the perception of either the sky or the ground."
Also emphasized is the fact that the individual wearing one hat is prone to injury; the second individual is necessary to help provide the additional perspective that will allow both individuals to successfully navigate their journey.
Not only do we tend to look down when we are sad or up when we are happy but our language also mirrors this tendency. The English language uses up as a direct correlation to happy, and the same with down in relation to sad. A formerly common phrase as obvious stating unhappiness would be to describe a person as "down in the dumps". In contrast if things are going well a indidvidual might respond that "things are looking up" from their previous lower position inferring that life/circumstances/etc are getting progressively better. (Tangentially wrapped up into this idea of up=happy is related to forward as good. Moving up and/or forward are closely tied in our discussion of technology, among other things.)
In biblical language the psalmist discusses "going down to Sheol" (Psalms or in Proverbs where the son is warned to chose wisdom because to choose otherwise one will find themselves in the company of those whose "steps go down to the pit." (Proverbs )
Down has been a traditionally bad direction i.e. Dante and his circles of Hell. Death is down. We bury our dead "six-feet under" and we "put our animals down" while the economy gets "flushed down the toilet.".
Living is traditional understand as an upwar movement. Kids "grow up", adult aged humans are referred to as "grown-ups". Often paradise/heaven/eternal life is considered to exist above us in a transcendent place that in order to access we ascend from our current location aka Jacob's Ladder, Babel or even
"When I die and they lay me to rest,
I'm gonna go to the place that's the best.
When they lay me down to die,
I'm going up to the spirit in the sky." (Norman Greenbaum

We say "don't look down" which invariably we do in direct defiance while calling out the warning "heads up" to pay attention to whatever is coming falling out of the sky. We call people who are constantly looking up optimists or those who are constantly looking down pessimists. (This view of language is not unique to me-definitively indebted to Lakoff and Johnson's work in More than Cool Reason and Metaphors We Live By.)
All this to say that there is a necessary dialectical relationship between these two terms and between the two hats. Each individual wearing his hat in this performance piece, if you will, could take off their respective hat and navigate perfectly well. however the exercise of only looking in one particular direction accomplishes two things.
1) Since what is familiar tends to be transparent, focusing on one direction for a set amount of time allows the viewer to marinate deeply in what has been not been focused on because of the necessity in having to deal with looking in both directions.
2) As cliched as this will sound, the formation of community by allowing one's perspective to be informed by the knowledge of the other. The nice thing about these hats is that they are so obviously blinding. You know that you can't see. Note that the inside of the hat is reflective so trying to look down/up, depending on your hat, reflects back your face rather than the desired direction forcing the viewer to rely upon the other [individual] to communicate directions.
It's a great physical example of our need for one another as well as demonstrating our dependence on metaphorical language to perceive reality.
Besides being great epistemological tools they would probably be a great therapy tool, for families, for engaged couples, for anyone.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Article round up

There's been a veritable storm of articles/writing recently about the effect and use of technology on our brains.
My friend Carl over at PondererPorter shared an article from CNN by Nicholas Carr and after reading his posting, there have come across my screen all manner of writings across the 'Net. (Maybe not really across the 'Net. I read a lot of the NYT as evidenced below.)

1) Is the Internet making us quick but shallow? (CNN)
2) The Uses of Half-True Alarms (review of Nicholas Carr's recent book The Shallows)
3) First Steps to Digital Detox (NYT)
4) Hooked on Gadgets and paying a Mental Price (NYT-great article, really interesting read.)
5) Op-Ed Response to Hooked on Gadgets (NYT)
6) Mind over Media: Op-Ed Response (NYT)
7) Poverty of Privacy (IDIOM) (Not so much brain effects but thought processes about self affected.)
*8*) Freegan living as a response to technology (This article raises some fascinating questions about what it means to live in a society and an appropriate level of response to consumer waste. I think its interesting that we seem as humans to trade one thing for another. Either we live very close-to-the-earth which requires an extraordinary amount of time and energy as a job or, it seems, that we live as work-people using currency to purchase the needful things. While there are people that do live in the overlap between the two views I think there is an ongoing tension between what we buy and use and don't use that the freegan movement attempts to sort out. )

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Bauhaus for your house

The Bauhaus as an institution has had a fairly profound affect on my reading and intellectual development even though I've never been there. Thus when references to it pop up-I'm keenly interested. Enter the lovely NYRB essay: The Powerhouse of the New listing 11 publications and exhibitions about the institution and people of the Bauhaus. Enjoy!

Friday, May 28, 2010


Is there a connection between the move of humans to pan/post humanity (obsession with being plugged in/removing physical limitations towards constant networkability) and the the move toward electronic books/e-readers (also being plugged in/removing physical restricitons)
The Matrix demonstrates humans enmeshed in the tangles of the machinery both fighting/resigned.
The terminator demonstrates the embrace by technology of the human body to fit in and destroy while operating at a higher level of efficiency and possibility. (How humanity actually wins still doesn't make total sense.)
Presently humans are attempting to embrace technology with their bodies for better, fuller use of time/money/resources.
Why are we so obsessed with being constantly available? Is it importance/status?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pt. 1 of 2 What we talk about when we talk about (using) computers

There are a bunch of ways that we talk about using tech stuff especially computers that I think influences the way we think about it or at least describes how we interact iwth it base on the metaphors that are used. At a fundamental level there's the idea of technological determinism which is defined as "technology as the central force behind progress and social development".
A really good example of this currently is Apple's iPad. The iPad isn't an example so much in and of itself, but rather Apple demonstrates its own belief in technological determinism in its methods of marketing the product. This is a link to Apple's latest TV ad for the iPad.

Take the approx. 45 seconds to watch it-I'll wait for you to come back.


Ok, we're back. What did you think? What stood out?
There's a couple of things that stand/stood out to me almost immediately upon watching this.
1)The first three sentences. "What is iPad? iPad is thin, iPad is beautiful." Whoa. Really? Granted, thin/beautiful is a standard, commercial construct for selling pretty much everything so maybe this blatant statement should not be entirely surprising. Throughout this commercial you do indeed have thin/beautiful parts of people, no actual whole individual is displayed.
2) "iPad" is used as a proper name instead of a thing. Which is odd. You would expect that hipster voice over to state "The iPad is thin, the iPad is beautiful" but instead the device is referred to as a proper name. I could actually insert your name into this sentence. This is progress, right? Such a state of technological development has been achieved through this device it no longer needs an article of speech to delineate it. It stands on its own celebrity power as an equitable name to a celebrity person being used in a commercial. If someone is holding this device out in the world, it is not yet standard speech to ask them "Is that iPad?"(vs."Is that an iPad?") in the same vein we ask about a retreating/approaching individual to confirm their identity "Is that Jeff?".
3) Moving along in the commercial we come to my favorite part. Here's the context/transcription from the beginning.
" What is ipad? iPad is thin. iPad is beautiful. iPad goes anywhere and lasts all day. There's no right way or wrong way. It's crazy powerful. It's magical. You already know how to use it. It's 200,000 apps and counting. All the world's websites in your hands. It's video, photos, more books than you could read in a lifetime. It's already a revolution and its only just begun."

Out of the context of the image-the right way/wrong way statement sets all moral absolutes aside. But my favorite part of this whole paragraph is the statement-It's magical. I'm not actually sure what that means in terms of reality. The iPad is a computer that receives input and produces output. When did processing data become magical? It is definitely a different of processing data but there's no magic here kids. Hopefully iPad puts a disclaimer on the box that users should not expect any Gandalf-like powers with purchase.

4) The last thing about this commercial is that there is nothing about the iPad's functionality that is really shared with the viewer/user. Sure you see different aspects of the iPad being demonstrated but as much as the commercial might say the viewer/user knows how to use it, the viewer/user has no clue until they buy it.

I am aware that this is a bit of a rant and that there are commercials that are far worse. This one just struck me as interesting/frightening/an excellent example of pretending to talk about technology but actually talking about how the user/viewer is going to feel about purchasing.
Part two to follow shortly.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sitting with the Artist's Image: Links and Thoughts

Link to NYT article Sitting with Marina Abramovic

MOMA Live video link of the performance

MOM Link to images of those who have sat with Abramovic

MOMA Interview with Abramovic: (I would highly recommend this interview. It is fairly short but gives some excellent framework for thinking about the previous links.)

The author of the NYT article, Arthur C. Danto, describes Abramovic's face achieving a state of luminosity as he sits in front of her. Just like in viewing an image, each of the quote unquote sitter(s) are having a dialogue that is one-sided, guessing at intentions/purpose/composition. (I.e. many of these images show very deep emotion or blankness. Why weep? What is being thought about/remembered/connected that draws out that particular response?)

To me, the really interesting aspect of this site is the link to the images. Take a couple of minutes and click through the images of the people staring/gazing/______ back at Abramovic. One of the really nice things the MOMA did in setting up this slider was to insert different images of Abramovic at different points. (i'm guessing these different iterations represent different days). This helps the viewer of the images to reengage with the slightly changing 'who', 'other' the people are looking at.
However I would suggest that while this experience of sitting and wordlessly gazing/staring/_______ has the two individuals observing each other as well as those who are waiting observing the two sitting, there is also the level of us as Internet observers seeing a moment frozen as a static pov as though we were/are Abramovic. (There's also the video link as well which allows a quote unquote live view.) The computer screen viewer bc of the camera angle takes the artist's spot via the screen and stares back. The installation, which demonstrates a certain discourse in antithesis to traditional paint/photography/etc., between and being observed by two living people + crowd within a museum is turned back into a static encounter as photograph. Thus the archive of this event, even while it is happening, via photographs, causes the installation to make a complete circle back to the beginning of what it was attempting to subvert/question. Not to abuse Benjamin but the aura of the event, the one-timeness of it is severely undercut by the taking/existence of photographs. The images are even called portraits on the image page. If the point that the Artist is Present, why are those who are sitting documented (MOMA's word). Does the web site provide an additional layer of complexity or is it only marketing?
Conceivably the individual can return home pull up this site and stare back at themselves.Not that this is necessarily more narcissistic or even more solipsistic than normal self-viewing (mirror, digital camera) but it removes the puts the individual into the place where Abramovic was. Is the MOMA simply using the images as advertising to pull people to come 'experience it' for themselves?

Abramovic states in the interview linked at the top that she sees performance as being able to directly link with the public preferring this to not being secluded in the studio. But the idea of what quote unquote public is in this instance is radically changed because I can privately view a public event without physically attending so that even though the Artist may be present in that location the viewer is not. It could be conceivable that none of us would have to physically attend and could simply stare back from our computers leaving the artist with nothing to see or be present to.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are you listening?

Recently discovered that Amazon, besides selling all the books in the world, also hosts free mp3 sampler downloads. Here's what I've been listening to the past couple of days. They are somewhat similar in genre but still really good. Since the library is an empty, quiet place the music in my office gets pretty loud. These fall nicely into the whole summer/spring time listening section.

worn & grazed a park the van sampler

Paper Bag Records Fall 09 Sampler
Merge Records 2010 Digital Sampler
Digital Bang: 2010 Sub Pop Sampler
CMJ 2009: Vol 3
Deep Elm Sampler No. 9 "We Dream Alone"

Roasted coffee last night. Think it went well. No pics this time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Vacation travel blog (of sorts) 1

Currently sitting in a Ramada Inn in Manning, South Carolina about 7 hours and/or 420 miles from Orlando Florida which is our final destination for our week of vacation. We took the laptop with us for GPS-like work. So that if we need to figure out where places are we map it out from the hotel and then head out. Once we are out Kara's ingenuity and map reading skills coupled with my peerless ability to listen to her ingenuity and map reading skills allow us to navigate with aplomb. A vacation travel blog would be way better with pictures, which we are taking, but I forgot to grab the camera-to-USB cord. bah.
We packed up the car and left NY this morning around 7am. It was snowing when we left which made the fact we are headed for Florida that much better. The driving was really uneventful. Kara took over for several hours in the middle of the day, around WAshington, D.C.. Note to ourselves-any place that has issues with volume on a Sunday at noon is not a place we want to live. Today we drove-that was it. However we did have a delicious cheap dinner at the Waffle House. People also are allowed to smoke in restaurants, apparently. Didn't know that and don't miss it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Got Koha 3.00.00 installed and running on the localhost this afternoon! Linux is making more sense this time around which is helpful and the install instructions are/were just spot-on. Thanks to Blazing Moon!! The Koha 3.0 interface is so much nicer than the one we are currently running (2.2.5). This interface will display book covers and other such niceties. Created the first user and using those credentials was able to easily access the user account information, complete with tagging. The user section of the current setup is woefully lacking-like comparing a yurt to a palace. Was able to begin to set the parameters for patrons/users, itemtypes and some of the other global functions. Tomorrow is going to present some unique challenges:
0. Finding instruction to configure Zebra
1. Configuring Zebra (the search functionality)
2. Figuring out why I can't save the Library that I set in the admin interface.
3. Set Up MARC21 framework
4. Successfully porting the info from the old system into the new system. (This is one of the places where massive intellectual/technological bottlenecking happened last time I tried this so hoping that this goes way smoother this time.
Good times!
Listened to this a bunch today: The Classroom is Sacred Siva Vaidhyanathan (The mp3 you can download doesn't always play nice with iTunes (i.e. you can't pause or it completely throws off any sort of timing the file had which is the main reason I listened to it a bunch) but Vaidhyanathan raises some good/interesting/provoking points.)

Friday, April 30, 2010


1) This is strangely heart-warming.
2) Installing Ubuntu desktop 8.04 in hopes of finishing the gui install tonight as I forgot that the server edition doesn't install a gui. dumb. I got all the way to the sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop and googling why that didn't work before remembering/reading that the server lacks a gui. bah. This is the problem of waiting 4-5 months between working on these things. The really bright side is that the server is actually in my office making the entire process exponentially easier.
3) Still at work because the Library is hosting Video Game Night from 9pm-12am at which point we will all head over the Cafe for breakfast. Really early or really late-depending on your point of view. It should be awesome. It was good last year and hoping this year is at least as good.
4) Heard this today: "Be fascinated with a subject as a teacher." But what if I'm fascinated by everything? Well not everything but a lot. I.e. I have three books on library service that I really need to read but am continually distracted by the other stuff on writing or technology that is sitting and taunting me from my office bookshelf.
5) Currently barefoot-It's rather nice.
6)William Vollman's got a new book. The title is only slightly shorter than the 504 page work itself. (throat clearing) Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater With Some Thoughts on Muses (Especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines. It looks interesting, at least from the review. . Something else I'm interested in-dang.
7) This is just amazing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Round-up: Most recent writings on the ebook vs. book

Here is my offering to you of a brief roundup of articles that have come my way about the continued change to the publishing world from the vantage point of the ebook.

1)NPR's FreshAir hosted an interview with Ken Auletta regarding his recent article in the New Yorker on the Ipad as the e-pub savior. Literally. Notably the iPad is seen in some quarters as the quote unquote Jesus tablet.

2) From a design and integration standpoint Mr. Craig Mod delivers a fantastic piece on Embracing the Digital Book. Mod delves into the issues of design with some really helpful discussion and side-by-side screen shots of the iPad and the Kindle. Mod takes a slightly different path on the e-reader discussion where he suggests that "...reading was an act of solitude by design, with most residue of the process locked in a book's physicality. This is no longer true." His excitement about the digital book is the potential ability, once the publishers release their death grip on the e-book, is joint read, joint/shared/cloud marginalia, etc.
Related is Mod's earlier essay/article on Books in the Age of the iPad.

3) A recent study on the changes in reading via First Monday.

4) Gutenberg 2.0: Harvard's Libraries deal with disruptive change by Jonathan Shaw Any article that starts with the phrase "Throw it in the Charles" regarding a library collection is bound to be interesting and this article does not disappoint. Besides a good bunch of quotable quotes Shaw captures the essence of the difficulty of navigating the historical waters of the existence of libraries and the new roles that they are called to. Do we need to own the books or is access to the information enough? "How do we make information as useful as possible to our community now and over a long period of time? "(p. 40)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Recent articles on dangers of cell phone use

In the past week two articles of fairly significant length and research dealing with the dangers of cell phone use, specifically bombarding our heads with microwave radiation, have come out in those most scientific of organs GQ and Harper's. The GQ article, written by Christopher Ketcham, entitled Warning: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health has a picture of a pack of cigarettes and a cell pone side by side. (This article was also featured, along with an interview of Ketcham by Glass, on the most recent iteration of This American Life. The cell phone segment hits around the 46:45 point and run about 13+ minutes. It's worth listening to.)

The Harper's article, authored by Nathaniel Rich, is entitled For Whom the Cell Tolls. (Unfortunately you need to subscribe to access the whole article-the Library does have this issue on the journal shelves.) Both articles are good to read in tandem as they cover slightly different areas but collaborate on the important stuff.

1) There are a bunch of contradictory studies about the effects of cell phones. Most of the positive ones are funded by the cell phone industry and most of the negative results are coming from Europe.
2) Both articles admit this sounds like a conspiracy theory. Both articles also offer fairly compelling research and information that suggests humans are not meant to have microwave radiation regularly emanating into their skulls.
3) Neither article suggests an alternate course of action mostly because as Ketcham indicates "modern in the grip of wireless technology". For instance: cellphones as credit card readers.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Coffee Roasting

Roasted two batches today. First batch was an Indian Organic-Jasmin Esteda. Thoroughly messed up the timing of the heat so first crack was incredibly long in coming so these may produce a pretty terrible cup of coffee when brewed.

Second batch: Brazil Cerrado DP (this is actually an espresso bean so brewing this quote unquote straight should be fairly interesting.)
Way better-hands down better in terms of timing and heat. Hit first crack right at about the five minute mark and dropped the heat on burner to the lowest point. The temperature hung right around 350 for most of the actual roasting. First crack went pretty decently and I think this should be a pretty good roast-at least for my level of expertise. My only concern is that I may, in a sort of reaction against the length of time for the first batch, yanked these a bit early. However the bean texture/color is fairly uniform throughout this roast. Hopefully this demonstrates some sort of improvement in thinking and execution of the whole roasting process.
Only have one more bag of sample left-El Salvador, and then will need to order a five pound bag. Need to give some consideration as to what bean that will be.

In other coffee-related news: From Dung to Coffee Brew with No Aftertaste. Who wants a civet?
In non-coffee related news: Recently finished Lanier's You are not a gadget and Lipsky's Although of couse you end up becoming yourself: a road trip with David Foster Wallace. Both require some sort of interaction/review. Hopefully this week.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

State of American Libraries

Just got an email stating that ALA's State Of America's Libraries Report 2010 is now available.

Also this article on e-reading was interesting, especially the sentence "The book is the book, whereas, in electronic formats, the book often seems to be merely the text" which arguably is the most important part. I think this is entirely accurate. In the electronic format the focus is on the text as a delivery system and is flattened, technologically androgynized into bits that only look different based on how the physical book appears (cover/font). the e-book holds a book-like shape only because of the strong tradition built around the physical delivery system of page/text/cover/etc. The medium is (still) the message. The e-text can be anything while a book can only be itself. That is to say there is no concern of cracking the spine, deckle edges, loose sheets, good/bad binding. e-text is only a vehicle that would willingly subsume all individuality of a physical book into a manageable uniform whole. Granted many books look very similarly (color, size, construction) to many other books. but. to exchange the tactile and delayed interaction (where e-text is instant interaction-desire it/order it/read it/repeat) of a physical shelf with its representations of measurable progress (bookmarks, even) versus the fully infinitely reaching e-text with no discernible ending is to let go of a particular philosophy and approach to life. Perhaps less dramaticly e-texts tie us to individual screens. Do we need more screens to feed us information-cell phone, mp3 player, laptop/netbook, TV, mini-van, Wegman's check out line, the Price Chopper self check out line w/ touch screen interface, ____________.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

wallace-l Interviews David Lipsky

Wallace-l had the stupendous opportunity to interview David Lipsky in regards to the book he wrote after spending several days traveling with David Foster Wallace.
Matt Bucher, who is also the mediator/list serv curator for wallace-l, posted the interview to his site For ease of use, and by permission, the interview in its quote unquote Jestian entirety follows. Enjoy!

"In 1996, David Lipsky spent five days with David Foster Wallace at a pivotal moment in Wallace’s life—the very week he finished promoting Infinite Jest. Lipsky never wrote the resulting Rolling Stone article, but now the interview is published in full: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (Broadway Books). Rarely do we get to see such an extended portrait of a writer during the moment their masterwork enters the public arena.

Matt Bucher: Many of the members of the wallace-l mailing list have followed Wallace’s career from the beginning. What’s surprising about your interview with him is that he seems to be willing to talk about parts of his life he’d never discussed with any other journalist in any other interview. By the end of the trip, he told you stories we’ve never heard before. Were you aware of that at the time? Why do you think he was so open and honest with you?

I wasn’t at the time—I could see that he was trying very hard (he was working) to get his answers right. Particularly in the last two days, he keeps turning the tape machine off as he collects his thoughts, sort of air-writing, then turning it back on when he’s got things the way he wants. I think he could tell how much I loved his work and he also knew my tastes: we’d spent days talking books and movies, and there was (Nabokov, DeLillo, not Updike) a good bit of overlap. And there was also just the time and distance. I joke in the book that he got open and honest by the Henry Ford principle: any people driving together more than forty miles can’t help becoming comfortable.

But during the drive, it didn’t seem like he was being honest and open; it just felt like a conversation. When I reread the talk once I got home, I was amazed by it. Really: why had he told me that stuff about McLean, about Michael Pietsch’s edits and printing the book in nine-point font? He could have skipped all of it, and nobody would have been the wiser. But also I think that’s just him. One of the lessons I get from his work is personal non-editing: giving a chair to all thoughts and impressions, which will include the best and the ugliest. It’s why other writing often seems comparatively flat: more formal and more ritualized, more like nametag conversations at a convention. He’s inviting in every thought. (So much David was afraid critics would notice. “But the fact that she [Michiko Kakutani] would think that this was just every thought I seemed to have for three years put down on the page, just made my bowels turn to ice. Because that was of course the great dark terror when I was writing it. Is that that’s how it would come off.”) So if he was going to talk about his very grim time at Harvard and MacLean hospital, or nice stuff at Amherst and Arizona, he was going to talk about it all the way.

I also think we were having fun—I mean I think the book is a record (him kidding me about wet dreams and my Updikephilia) of us having fun. I was sitting on the living room carpet, him playing Brian Eno, his dog’s kind of batting me over, all of which is conducive to being open. The trip, aside from everything else, was a very good time. The reading was good tense fun. (Every time I read that guy on the signing line asking about David’s “heart song,” I smile. Or the escort decoding one of his jokes. Or his jokes about escorts.) The plane ride was fun, the mall was fun. All of which is one big reason I wanted to do the book: to give people the chance to be around him and to spend those hours the way I had. And I hope and like to think one reason is he was having a nice time too.

But here’s the reason David gives. We’re talking about LaMont Chu from Infinite Jest, how it seemed to me that LaMont’s anxieties about fame as a tennis player were pretty clearly a stand-in for a young writer’s drive for reviews and profiles. He laughed a sort of dark, exposed, pleased laugh. “Only a writer under, like, thirty would have known that that came out of bitter truths.” I said he must’ve guessed someone would notice and ask. “Except only another writer would. That’s the good and bad thing about choosing you to do this. I’m serious, man—like this would have been over a day ago if you hadn’t been somebody who writes novels.”

Maria Bustillos: When you met Wallace, did you get a sense that he was an ongoingly troubled man? Could you ever have guessed, at that time, that his life would end this way? Did the first-person account of his problems with depression strike you as indicators, as possible harbingers of a catastrophic breakdown? Will you comment on how his suicide has affected your own attitudes toward depression and mental illness?

David Lipsky: First — I’m sorry, talking about Wallace puts me in a good mood — I’d like to say to Maria, and everyone on wallace-l, that very nice thing Wallace taught all of us how to do. Which is to compress sentences, spring-load them, by wedging in what would otherwise be four or five dribbling words after the sentence’s action as a modifier. That “ongoingly troubled man” is a great Wallace front-loaded sentence. Just the way my last one was. A great writer changes the way everyone unconsciously thinks, writes, speaks. He taught thousands of people how to do that.

Not for a second—but to jump ahead, I don’t like thinking about his suicide, and another big reason I did the book was to not have that be the picture people had of him. It’s why I pushed the afterward to the front: so the last image you get, when you close the book, is of Wallace happy, alive, thirty-four years old, confident, leaving for a dance. (The other reason I don’t think many people outside wallace-l will get: I thought how Infinite Jest begins in Glad instead of Y.D.A.U., and A Supposedly starts with him recalling the Nadir at the Fort Lauderdale airport coffee shop. A friend of mine was reading the book at my house and looked up and said “Wallaceian,” without being able to put a finger on why. So I’ve focus-grouped this.)

But about his suicide: I don’t think of it as an expression of his will. The friend who read the book actually then had an argument with me about that. I think of it as a medical story, a prescription drug story. I interviewed a Harvard Medical School professor, and he understood the story immediately: if you’ve been on the same agent for a very long time (“agent” is the term of art, and David’s agent, as everyone here knows, had been Nardil for two decades) it’s impossibly hard to get off it, and there’s also a small chance that you might not be able to come back on. That’s what happened to David. So my attitude towards depression and mental illness is stay with medications that work. I don’t think his death had anything to do with The Pale King or any other personal situation; if he hadn’t wanted—for smart, legitimate health reasons—to go off Nardil, Maria and all of us wouldn’t be thinking about this.

I was shocked when David died. I got an email that I was pretty sure was a mistake or a very odd joke. David talks a lot in the book about depression; but he talks about it as something in his past, an awful place he visited, got to know gruesomely well, and then fought his way out of. He called what happened to him, around when Girl came out, “the most horrible period” he’d ever gone through. “And I admit I have got a grim fascination with that stuff. I’m not Elizabeth Wurtzel. I’m not biochemically depressed. But I feel like I got to dip my toe in that wading pool, and not going back there is more important to me than anything. It’s like worse than anything.”

He didn’t even call what happened to him a depression. “It sounds weird—but I think it was almost more of a sort of an artistic and religious crisis, than it was anything you would call a breakdown. I just—all my reasons for being alive and the stuff I thought was important, just truly at a gut level weren’t working anymore…It may be what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis or whatever. I think I had lived an incredibly American life. That, ‘Boy, if I could just achieve X and Y and Z, everything would be OK.’ And I think I got very very lucky. I got to have a midlife crisis at twenty-seven. Which at the time didn’t seem lucky; now it seems to me fairly lucky. But now maybe now you can understand. That period, nothing before or since has ever been that bad for me. And I am willing to make enormous sacrifices never to go back there.”

So, to move back, I may have been naive or not paying the right kind of attention. I didn’t see any harbingers. He was just a huge amount of fun to be with — so smart to talk to, so awake to everything. (There’s that “record digitally” joke I talked about with Mark Athitakis . That’s not a depressed mind at work. That’s lightning.) And his work—even when it goes dark—always has the tremendous buzz and energy of perception in it. That’s what he was like to be with in the car. He told me some very hard stuff. But if you’d asked me to name the most mentally healthy American writer in August of 2008 I would have said, without hesitation, “David Foster Wallace.” I cried, in 2005, when I read the last two pages of “Good Old Neon.” Especially the last parenthesis: “considerable time having passed since 1981, of course, and David Wallace having emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself with quite a bit more firepower than he’d had at Aurora West.” That was the sound of a man at peace. I don’t cry in books but I cried there.

He’s seemed warm and wise and kind—even when he gets pissed off at me, he forgives it and stays kind. There’s a part in the book with a quote from Jonathan Franzen, who I’m sure you all know was his last decade’s closest friend. Franzen says, “Does it look now as if David had all the answers?” His dying the way he did doesn’t alter my answer to that question. There’s stuff he says in the book that I think of all the time. Really unexpectedly. If I’m quizzing myself on what I should or shouldn’t do (that’s more the kind of reading I do: I turn to books for advice; the whole library is self-help), or thinking about books, or why I love certain kinds of writing: A David remark will pop up. I think the way his life ended was a medical error—the thing from his twenties coming back, a brain suddenly deprived of what had become a necessary element—but for me it doesn’t shine its way back through his life and work to the beginning. And looked at from the other side, from when I parked near his lawn, nothing in the five days together made me guess this.

Brian Cochran: Would this book really be coming out now if he were alive?

David Lipsky: That’s a good question, Brian, and no, I don’t think it would be. I read the week again about two and half years ago and loved it, and was trying to think of some way it could work as a mammothly long piece. Because there David still was, happy and open, talking about things I hadn’t read him talking about. And on the page, there was the preserved experience of that time, what he was like when he was young.

But one reason I wanted to publish this book, as I was answering to Maria, was an image coalescing around David that was heavy, sad, dark: What he’d done, what it meant. And there was a chance that people would begin to picture him as always grim and lightless, a cautionary tale, which isn’t at all what he or the books are like. (His books and thoughts are best-case. And they’re comic.) There’s something his sister said, in the beginning of the book. “My own anxieties are many. My brother was a hilarious guy, a quirky, generous spirit, who happened to be a genius and suffer from depression. There was a lot of happiness in his life. He loved to be silly, he made exquisite fun of himself and others. Part of me still expects to wake up from this, but everywhere I turn is proof that he’s really most sincerely dead. Will he be remembered as a real, living person?” That’s why I wanted to do this, and do it this way: David in action, not as a bio moving towards an end we all know. And with the reader seeing that that—generous, funny, happy—was what he was like to be around.

Allan Wood: Is there any indication that DFW knew or hoped or imagined that IJ would be the important novel it has become? We’ve read Pietsch saying that after he read some of the manuscript, he wanted to publish IJ more than he wanted to breathe. Did Wallace give any indication that he felt he had really nailed it?

David Lipsky: That’s funny, Allan. I really smiled when I read this, because I asked the exact same question, in two parts, in more or less the exact words that you did.

Lipsky: “Michael Pietsch’s presentation. He went to his sales force, at their conference, and said, ‘This is why we publish books.’”

David: “I wasn’t there. I know he really liked it. And I know he really read it hard, because he helped me—I mean, that book is partly him. A lot of the cuts are where he convinced me of the cuts. But also, editors and agents jack up their level of effusiveness when they talk with you, to such an extent that it becomes very difficult to read the precise shade of their enthusiasm. What’s being presented for you and what they really feel.”

And then at little later I asked your second part—exactly the way you did.

Lipsky: “But when did someone come to you and say, ‘David, you really nailed it’?”

David: “It’s very odd, because Michael would say really nice stuff to me, and he’d say it in the context of having critical suggestions. So I could write it all off as you know, Well he, this is the sugar that’s making the medicine go down.
“And Charis [Charis Conn, his first Harper’s editor] liked it, but Charis likes everything I do. There was some stuff—because Mark Costello is really good friends with Nan Graham, who knows more about the publishing industry than anybody. She was DeLillo’s editor, which as far as I’m concerned does it for me. So I can remember—when they did this postcard thing, and they wanted to do signed bound galleys and sent me boxes full of paper—my not knowing what to make of it. And calling Mark and having Mark find out, I presume from Nan, that this meant that they were going to support the book, and that they were into the book or whatever. Which given that the book is a thousand pages made me think that they thought it was a pretty good book.”

I think David hoped it’d be a great book. Mark Costello told me David announced to him all at once in college, “I want to write books people will read 100 years from now.” David said he worked harder on this book than any other. But he was immensely prickly with himself—he graded himself on a very steep curve—so he didn’t take the early reviews seriously. He said, “The book takes at least two months to read well. If two years from now, I’ve got people who like have read the thing three times, who come up and say, ‘This thing’s really fucking good,’ then I’ll swell, if I have a bunch of conversations, like with this guy Silverblatt [Michael Silverblatt, host of NPR’s Bookworm], or with Vince Passaro, or with like David Gates, somebody who clearly read the book closely. And a bunch of people are saying it’s good, then I’m probably gonna start feeling wholeheartedly good about the book. As it is, there’s a kind of creeping feeling of a kind of misunderstanding.”

He also said a great thing about how you start to write a really good book. “I think I have a really low pain threshold. I think the ‘I’ll show people,’ or ‘People are really gonna like this’— thinking that way has hurt me so bad. That when I’m thinking that way, I’m not writing. That that’s this thinking in me that’s gotta reach this kind of fever pitch, and then break. In order for me to even start—not to get in the groove, but to get started…And I would still hear the, ‘This is the best thing ever written,’ and ‘This is the worst thing ever written.’ But it’s sort of like, you know how in movies there will be a conversation, and then that conversation gets quieter, and a different conversation fades in. I don’t know, there’s some technical word for it. Just, the volume gets turned down. . . I mean, this is absolutely the best I could do between like 1992 and 1995. And I think though that if everybody’d hated it, I wouldn’t be thrilled, but I don’t think I’d be devastated either. It’s about that it got, it became alive for me.”

George Carr: What do you know about DFW’s decisions about what to submit for publication and what to keep tinkering with? And were there any early pieces that he later regretted publishing or later disavowed?

David Lipsky: He’s very funny and negative about Broom. He’s talking about how some reviewers use strong early work as a club to beat later stuff. “The nice thing about having written an essentially shitty first book is that I’m exempt from that problem. There were a lot of people who really liked Broom of the System, but unfortunately they’re all about eleven.”

He also sad, about Broom, “I wrote Broom of the System when I was very young. I mean, the first draft of that was my college thesis. There are parts of it that I think are good. But it’s—I wince.” I liked Broom, so we went over this some more. David had written a 17-page letter to Gerry Howard, his editor, explaining why he’d resist certain changes, especially to the last pages. I asked whether he’d reread the letter.

“Oh sure…It’s a brilliant little theoretical document, unfortunately it resulted in a shitty and dissatisfying ending, right? And in fact it was a very cynical argument, because there was a part of me—this was a year and a half after I wrote it, and I knew that that ending, there was good stuff about it, but it was way too clever. It was all about the head, you know? And Gerry kept saying to me, ‘Kid, you’ve got no idea.’ Like, ‘We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if you hadn’t created this woman named Lenore who seems halfway appealing and alive.’ And I couldn’t hear. I just couldn’t hear it. I was in…Dave Land."
“I had four hundred thousand pages of continental philosophy and lit theory in my head. And by God, I was going to use it to prove to him that I was smarter than he was. And so, as a result, for the rest of my life, I will walk around…You know, I will see that book occasionally at signings. And I will realize I was arrogant, and missed a chance to make that book better. And hopefully I won’t do it again. It’s why I will not run lit-crit on my own stuff. And don’t even want to talk about it.”

It just occurred to me: I mention in the book that David is carrying a Heinlein novel around on his tour—reading it on the plane, in his hotel. I didn’t give the title. It was Stranger in A Strange Land. Now I wonder if that might have been a small meta-joke on his part: how odd it felt for him to be on this tour, surrounded by all these eager-to-be-helpful book people.

Extra credit Carr point: After he wrote “Westward,” he had a terrible time getting started on anything else. He wrote a long piece on adult film that’s different from the AVN piece, but never published it. (“I have some really riveting taped interviews with porn stars, too.”) And he struggled with fiction. “I started hating everything that I did. I remember I did two different novellas after ‘Westward,’ that I worked very hard on, that were just so unbelievably bad. They were, like, worse than stuff I’d done when I was first starting out in college. Hopelessly confused. Hopelessly bending in on themselves…”

George Carr: Rumors about DFW’s drug habits are plentiful but unconfirmed. Was there a period in DFW’s life when his recreational drug use was casual (non-addicted)? And was there an event that signaled/caused a shift to more self-destructive use?

David Lipsky: He talks about it. I think he was casual as a teen. We’re talking about TV, and how he faced in-house restrictions, a screen-ration per day. I asked if he ever went over to friends’ homes to sneak a little extra. “When I went to my friends’ houses we would do bones,” he says. “That’s what I went to friends’ houses for.”

He began smoking (like Hal) on his tennis team. “I started to smoke a lot of pot when I was fifteen or sixteen, and it’s just hard to train when you smoke a lot of pot. You don’t have that much energy. So I was still going to tournaments. But I was mostly doing it, going to hang out with the guys and party. And I was getting to the quarters instead of the semis of these tournaments. And there was just a general kind of slippage. Fifteen, sixteen, something like that. I mean, starting really to kind of like it.” He says, “I smoked a reasonable amount of dope, particularly in college and grad school. And…uh…and drank a lot.”

I don’t think, George, that it was an event: it was a kind of sadness that came to him around the time he finished “Westward”—which he felt had kind of ended one course in his fiction. “It was after finishing that and doing the editing on that, that I remember getting really unhappy.” He was at Harvard, having the trouble writing that you asked about a little above. At that point, it was mostly alcohol. “I was really stuck. And drinking was part of that. And it’s true that I don’t drink anymore. But it wasn’t that I was stuck because I drank. I mean, it was more that—and it wasn’t like social drinking going out of control. It was like, I really sort of felt like my life was over at twenty-seven or twenty-eight. And that felt really bad, and I didn’t wanna feel it. And so I would do all kinds of things: I mean, I would drink real heavy, I would like fuck strangers. Oh God—or, then, for two weeks I wouldn’t drink, and I’d run ten miles every morning. You know, that kind of desperate, very American, ‘I will fix this somehow, by taking radical action.’ And, you know, that lasted for a, that lasted for a couple of years.”

A friend emailed, very generously, to say I should quote David less when talking about him—but I love his work so much I’m going to go ahead anyway. I mean, that’s the book’s point, to let David’s story come from him. So here’s another reason why he drank, and apologies in advance if my friend reads this. “I was sort of a joyless drinker. I think I just used it for anesthesia. I also remember, I mean really buying into—I don’t know how much you yourself escaped this. But it’s fairly hard to get a book taken when you’re in grad school. And to get a whole lot of—to get your juvenile dreams fulfilled real fast. I think I had this idea of: you know, went to Yaddo a couple times. And I saw that there’s this whole image of the writer as somebody who lives hard and drinks hard. You know, is found in amusing postures in gutters and stuff. And I think when you’re a kid, and you don’t have really kind of any idea of how to be what you want to be, you fall for these sort of cultural models. And the big thing about it is, I don’t have the stomach or the nervous system for it. I get really, really drunk. Then I’d be sick for two days. Like sick in bed, like a bad flu. Just kind of debilitated.”

A bit later he says, “I’m also aware that some addictions are sexier than others. I think my primary addiction in my entire life has been to television. And the fact that I don’t have a television, but now enjoy sitting in the second row of movies where things blow up—this is not an accident. But I am aware that that’s of far less interest, than the idea of heroin, or of some grand, you know, something that confirms this mythos of the writer as some sort of titanic figure with a license to. . .”

Extra Carr Point 2: Stopping, to his surprise, didn’t offer an immediate improvement. “The scary thing to me was that…I mean I was going through a lot of confusions about sort of writing, and art, and all this kind of stuff at the time. And I thought quitting drinking would help. It made things worse. I was more unhappy, more scared, more paralyzed when I quit drinking. And that scared me. And I think the period that I really consider a kind of dark— The period that I think you know about, where I went in on suicide watch, was months after I had stopped drinking.”

Jonathan Goodwin: Did you happen to chat with Wallace about why he chose to go to the U of Arizona MFA program, esp. given his later open disdain for how fiction was taught there?

David Lipsky: I did. I was curious too; it’s not in the book. For better or worse—and to his annoyed and still-sore surprise—he didn’t get into Iowa, which is probably the best-known writing program. And he couldn’t attend Hopkins, since John Barth taught there: “I was so in thrall to Barth, I just knew it would be sort of a grotesque thing.”

He thought Arizona hadn’t been his sharpest idea. “In a way I made a stupid choice: They are a highly, incredibly hard-ass realist school. I was doing very abstract stuff back then, most of which was really bad. But it was just funny, because it’s also a really careerist place. And they had to go from almost kicking me out, to this sort of tight- smiled, ‘we’re proud of you,’ you know, ‘that you’re a U of A man.’ I felt kinda embarrassed for them… It was just so delicious. I had gotten to have unalloyed contempt for them, they showed what they were like. They didn’t even have integrity about their hatred.”

On the other hand, he felt very lucky to have found Tucson. “Arizona is the only place—it’s the first place I’ve ever lived, that I truly absolutely loved. Like geographically. The warmth and the—have you ever been there? It’s an interesting town, you can live there on practically nothing, because all the houses have carriage houses behind them that people rent out for like $150 a month. And it’s a great—it’s like a town preplanned for Bohemia, almost. And there’s a whole lot, there’s a really cool like leftist cultural world. Because a lot of grad students just end up teaching part-time at the U of A and living there for like ten, twenty years. And it’s just really gorgeous.”

Lisamichelle Davis: It seems to me that the key to the heart of “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” (as opposed to the work’s many fun, ironic, meta-, and po-mo features) is Wallace’s distinction between the statements “you are loved” and “I love you.” The final sentence of the story, “You are loved,” not only highlights that distinction (which Wallace discusses in detail earlier in the story), but also suggests that the narrator and/or author believes that “you are loved” is the far more important of these two statements. Why? As human beings, what do we gain from feeling that we are loved that does not or cannot also flow from feeling that a particular person loves us? What does that say about Wallace’s views on loneliness and connection?

David Lipsky: Lisamichelle, I think you kind of slyly answered that question yourself at the end. Marie Mundaca wrote a beautiful essay at I think , that ends with her walking home after leaving the Little, Brown offices, having finished up the design for This is Water, seeing the words “You are loved” chalked on the pavement. She has a photo of it in the piece. And that’s the thing I flashed on just now. Aside from that moment’s eeriness, just how good and broad those words feel: “You are loved.”

This is just me as a reader. I think there’s a fear, in David’s work — it’s at the margins of the stuff about Hal — of being loved only for a specific achievement. And then there’s a different fear, which Orin seems to have, of the implied possession — of being pocketed when someone says “I love you.” (On the other hand, David says a kind of tetherless, emotional-brakes-locked sex can leave a person feeling “rather lonely. And if you’re thinking of Orin in the book a little bit, that’s fine.”) “You are loved,” seems boundless and non-determinate. It means the whole of you, wherever you go: it’s a wide map you can walk over anywhere. I think David, from the little I got to know him, had very keen receptors for fraudulence: his own, where he found it and tried to excise it, and others peoples’. My favorite story of his is “Good Old Neon,” where that’s not just the subtext but the whole thing. (A few days ago, I found this great question on “Ask MetaFilter”: “How Do I Stop Being Neal From ‘Good Old Neon?” A bunch of people tried to answer—this one, presumably, came from someone in the hospitality industry: “This is a very vague question, but the first thought that came into my head is ‘travel.’ Just buy a plane ticket and go there.”) And what makes Neal finally want to leave is learning that his own problem, inability to love, is such a cliché it’s a sure-fire laugh-getter on Cheers. And there’s the Depressed Person in “The Depressed Person,” who can’t feel anything other than her need for relief; that’s how other people loom to her, as relief. And then the pop quizzes in “Octet” seem to all be about tipping the answerer towards selflessness. Away from “I love you,” towards that “You are loved.” (Think of the difference if you’re serving a meal: “I fed you,” “You are fed.”) And in “Adult World”—this has become a tour of the Wallace short-fiction oeuvre—happiness steps into the Roberts’ marriage when the couple learns to, essentially, both masturbate. That’s a comically successful marriage, no love at all. Wallace ends with the dry line, they were “…ready thus to begin, in a calm and mutually respectful way, to discuss having children [together].”

I’ve kept thinking of something David says near the end of the trip. “There are all kinds of reasons for why we’re so afraid. But the fact of the matter is, that the job that we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time. And not in a position of using all kinds of different things, and using people to keep that kind of terror at bay. That is my personal opinion.” For me, that’s the line I think of, as the difference between “I love you” and “You are loved.” It’s giving something without wanting anything back. It’s the warmest thing in the list of lessons learned by the residents at Ennet house.

David Hering: Did Wallace’s feelings about “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” change once Infinite Jest had been published and well received? Was he able to accept that piece more or did he still feel that he didn’t like it?

David Lipsky: More “Westward”—which I guess is why it’s such an ideal group read. David wasn’t sure yet how Infinite Jest had been received; he said, very self-effacingly and with a good canny knowledge of the book business, that he’d have to wait a couple years to find out if it was any good. He was happy to offer that clear negative estimation of Broom. Which he thought “in many ways a fuck-off enterprise.”

But “Westward” was one of the few things he wrote, he says, that got up off on the table and walked on its own. “You talk about, I’ve said that three or four times something came alive to me, and started kind of writing itself, and that was one of them. Although it wasn’t a very happy experience.”

So I never got the impression he didn’t like it: he loved it, it had been important for him, but writing became a lot harder afterward. I’m going to try to combine some different things he said about “Westward” into one block. I think, for him, that novella was the closing the office and packing the bags of an early writing self.

“I really think that for me just personally, ‘Westward’ was this real seminal thing. Like I really felt like I’d killed this huge part of myself doing it…. This is what’s embarrassing. I know it’s not that powerful for anybody, but I really felt like I’d blown out of the water my whole sort of orientation to writing in that thing. And had kind of written my homage and also patricidal killing thing to Barth... That story at the end of Curious, which not a lot of people like, was really meant to be extremely sad. And to sort of be a kind of suicide note. And I think by the time I got to the end of that story, I figured that I wasn’t going to write anymore… Well, I just thought I’d, I just didn’t see the point of it anymore. I mean, the stuff that I was interested in seemed—I mean, I really felt like ‘Westward’ had, at least for me, had sort of folded it up into this tiny, infinitely dense thing. And that it had kind of exploded.”

It’s after “Westward” that things, he says, got trickier and grimmer at Harvard. But when I told him I’d enjoyed the story, he was very pleased. The strange thing is, he’d written the first draft by hand—and then came to New York for an Us photo shoot and it was stolen from his trunk. He found the airline bag it was in, and walked around Washington Square hunting for the pages. And then he went back to Yaddo and wrote a complete new version in a week. “The first half was real different,” he says. Which meant he loved the story so much that he wrote it, and let it write itself, twice. Which I think you’d only have the heart to do if you were loving something.

Dan Scharf: I’d be interested to know if DFW talked to you about future professional plans, i.e. did he have ideas for books or essays that he wanted to write in the future (other than The Pale King), did he ever think of writing in any other mediums (always wondered if he ever thought of writing a screenplay or play)?

David Lipsky: I’ve read somewhere his saying he didn’t want to write screenplays because he liked to maintain control of both sides of the chess set. He said a smart thing about the difference between movie-work and prose-work; he’s just described himself as both a bit of an exhibitionist and shy. “At the same time, I think that somebody who’s writing, has part of their motivation to sort of impress themselves and their consciousness on others. There’s an unbelievable arrogance about even trying to write something—much less, you know, expecting that someone else will pay money to read it. So you end up with this, uh…I think exhibitionists who aren’t shy end up being performers. Plying their trade in the direct presence of other people. And exhibitionists who are shy find various other ways to do it. I would imagine that maybe film directors, it’s the same way.”

He was just very enthusiastic, incredibly enthusiastic. He says, “You know, I’m thirty-four. And I’ve finally discovered I really love to write this stuff. I really love to work hard. And I’m so terrified that this—that this is going to somehow twist me. Or turn me into somebody whose hunger for approval keeps it from being fun. I mean, I think Infinite Jest is really good. I would hope that if I keep working really hard for like the next ten or twenty years, I can do something that’s better than that. Which means I’ve gotta be really careful, you know?” And he says, “I know this is gonna sound drippy and PC. I’m just, I’m really into the work now. I mean it’s really—and I feel good about this. Because, you know, we wanna be doing this for forty more years, you know? And so I’ve gotta find some way to enjoy this that doesn’t involve getting eaten by it, so that I’m gonna be able to go do something else. Because being thirty-four, sitting alone in a room with a piece of paper is what’s real to me.”

Barbara Warren: I’m interested in artists’ marriages and families. What did David think/say/feel/hope for/fear in the domestic realm?

David Lipsky: I am too. I think he was. He’s very clear about it. The year before we spoke, his sister had gotten married. “And it was a tough summer. It was very hard for me, because I would like to be married, and I would like to have children. And it was hard for me when my sister got married, who’s like younger than me.”

But he anticipated it’d be difficult—that he didn’t work on an especially marriage-conducive schedule.

“I think if you dedicate yourself to anything, one facet of that is that it makes you very very selfish. And that when you want to work, you’re going to work. And you end up using people. Wanting people around when you want them around, but then sending them away. And you just can’t afford to be that concerned about their feelings. And it’s a fairly serious problem in my life. Because, I mean, I would like to have children. But I also think that the sort of life that I live is a pretty selfish life. And it’s a pretty impulsive life. And I know there’s writers I admire who have children. And I know there’s some way to do it. I worry about it.”

And he missed the nice parts of a marriage, as Infinite Jest succeeded. “I really have wished I was married, the last couple of weeks. Because yeah, it’d be nice to have somebody to—you know, because nobody quite gets it. Your friends who aren’t in the writing biz are just all awed by your picture in Time, and your agent and editor are good people, but they also have their own agendas. You know? And it’s fun talking with you about it, but you’ve got an agenda and a set of interests that diverges from mine. And there’s something about, there would be something about having somebody who kind of shared your life, and uh, and that you could allow yourself just to be happy and confused with.”

Charis Woods: Given DFW’s frequent use of nightmares in his work (the face on the floor in IJ, Gately’s dreams in hospital, Oblivion and more...), I was wondering whether he ever talked about having terrifying dreams.

David Lipsky: Charis, it never came up. He mentioned that he was an uneasy flier. But then on the airplane out (flight to Minneapolis), he was totally relaxed and happy, and then on the way home (tour over) he dropped the Heinlein in his lap and fell asleep. I watched the clouds and landing lights out the window behind his profile.

My first night in his house, we didn’t get a huge amount of sleep. One of his dogs (Jeeves, who’s in the cover photo with him) got caught on a cycle. Howl, pause, repeat. Finally, David said, “Jeeves—enough.” Maybe noisy active dog ownership precludes nightmares.

He says he took a lot of instruction from the way David Lynch deploys nightmare on film. “That whatever the project of surrealism is works way better if 99.9 percent of it is absolutely real. And that’s something, I wouldn’t even be able to put it that clearly if I didn’t teach. Where I see my students, you know—‘not enough of this is real, you know?’ ‘But it’s supposed to be surreal.’ ‘Yeah, but you don’t get it.’ Surrealism doesn’t work. I mean, most of the word surrealism is realism, you know? It’s extra-realism, it’s something on top of realism. It’s that one thing in a Lynch frame that’s off. That if everything else weren’t picture-perfect and totally structured, wouldn’t hit. Wouldn’t punch the viewer in the stomach the way that it does.”

Trent Cable: What kind of roadtripper was Wallace? Did he like to snack and drink, if so what were his snacks and drinks of choice? What did he like to listen to when there were breaks in conversation--CDs (if so, what), local stations, NPR?--and I guess more generally, what his taste in music was and what was the level of passion? Did he like to play road games? Stuff like that.

David Lipsky: No road games. Complaining about other, lane-jumping drivers (“this guy is a true asshole”), an open Diet Pepsi can to spit in. His music tastes were pretty eclectic. He loved the REM song “Strange Currencies” (“I mean, I will find one or two songs—I listened to ‘Strange Currencies’ over and over again all summer”). He knew the music he liked very well—the way Nabokov could track certain themes and lines across a centuries’ novels—so well he could hear where they were being picked up by other artists. On the other hand, he says, “I have the musical tastes of a thirteen year old girl.” He listened to Nirvana while writing Infinite Jest; and also to “this woman named Enya, who’s Scottish.” (On Nirvana, it was only because a grad student had given him a tape; he was that kind of listener, too—he got his playlists from other people.)

Ben Timberlake: Did he have any surprising ethics and principles ready at hand? Do you ever wish to be able to read his writing without having had a closer relationship to him than most readers? I add my thanks to Lipsky for considering questions from the list.

David Lipsky: Not at all. You’ll have to tell me, if you read the book. The surprise really was his kindness. He said a thing I find really beautiful, that I put on the back of the book. I think this was his main principle; it’s one of the last things he says. It had to do with finding a way to be kinder to yourself—in a forceful way that would come from being kinder to other people.

“There’s a kind of queer dissatisfaction or emptiness at the core of the self that is unassuageable by outside stuff. And my guess is that that’s been what’s going on, ever since people were hitting each other over the head with clubs. Though describable in a number of different words and cultural argots. And that our particular challenge is that there’s never been more and better stuff coming from the outside, that seems temporarily to sort of fill the hole or drown out the hole.”

I asked whether internal means could fill it too.

“Personally, I believe that if it’s assuageable in any way it’s by internal means. I think those internal means have to be earned and developed, and it has something to do with, um, the pop-psych phrase is loving yourself. It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious.”

Scott Handy: I would like to know what brand of dip DFW dipped. Seriously… Somehow I had him pegged as a Kodiak guy.

David Lipsky: Kodiak. Absolutely. It’s what he brought with him, it’s also what Hal chews (“I really need to quit, it makes your fucking jaw fall off”). I double-checked with his family, who say, “Kodiak.”

I’d just like to thank Matt Bucher and everyone who contributes to wallace-l. I’ve learned a tremendous amount by being one of the serv’s lurkers. When I met Matt at the Footnotes Conference, I was meeting a celebrity."