Category Archives: identity

politics and anthologizing

In this past year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how the form of the anthologies I study (literary individual author anthologies in Japan at the turn of the 20th century) impacts possibilities of reading and interpretation. I’ve also commented at a couple of conferences that the narratives of who these authors “belong” to have been shaped and guided in these anthologies, and have written that taking works out of their original contexts fundamentally erases a part of their meaning (in terms of the ways readers encounter them) and simultaneously alters the work in terms of its received meaning.

After doing some reading this morning, I realized that one thing links these various threads in anthologies, and it’s a word I wasn’t using: politics.

I want to talk specifically about the example of Higuchi Ichiyō. For much of her career, she wrote for the magazine Bungakukai (among others) which was a driver of the first Romantic movement in Japan. In her anthologies, of course her serial works from that magazine are included as whole pieces, as though they were wholes from the outset, which has its own implications for reading. But the other piece of this is that just as the editors were writing the Bungakukai coterie social and ideological connections out of her career in their prefaces, they simultaneously erased this connection – this fundamental supplier of meaning – from her works by taking them out of their original Romantic context.

The first readers of Ichiyō’s works would have seen them embedded in theory and poetry heavily influenced by western Romanticism, including translations of English works and illustrations of faded ruins and statuary. The readers of her individual anthology, as well as reprints in wider circulation magazines such as Bungei kurabu before her death, would have encountered a very different context: in the magazines, other “modern” mainstream Japanese literature (presented as unaffiliated with any coterie or group other than the influential publishers of the magazines), and in the anthology, Ichiyō’s own works as a cohesive and self-contained whole. No longer would her work be infused, by virtue of proximity, with the politics of literature at the time she wrote in the early-to-mid 1890s. She becomes depoliticized, ironically despite the heavily social and what I would call political themes of her work: that is, the plight of the lower class and the inequity of Japanese society at the turn of the 20th century.

Especially in her second anthology, published in 1912, Ichiyō becomes a timeless woman writer, an elegant author of prose and poetry whose works are infused with tragedy – just as her poverty-stricken life was, to paraphrase the editors of the two volumes. Yet it is not a structural tragedy that pervades society, as it is in her work, but a personal, elegant, and heart-wrenching individual tragedy, one that makes her work even more poignant without necessarily having political implications. I can’t speak to the Romantic movement’s attitude toward this kind of theme found in Bungakukai, not being as familiar with its politics as I should be, but I can say that Kitamura Tōkoku – the founder of Bungakukai – basically started his career with the publication of Soshū no shi, a piece of “new-form” poetry about a prisoner, written at the height of his political involvement in the late 1880s.

So there is an association, simply by virtue of publishing in the same venues, between Ichiyō’s politics and those of Tōkoku, and the literary politics of the Romantic movement vis-à-vis the multitude of other ideologies of writing that existed at the time. Yet in her anthologies, this politics disappears and her context is lost entirely, in favor of a new context of Ichiyō alone, her works as something that stand alone without interference from the outside world. It is a profound depoliticization and something to think about in considering other anthologies as well, both early ones in Japan, current ones, and those found elsewhere in the world.

my disagreement with authorship attribution

I’m torn: I’m very interested in stylometry, but I have issues with the fundamental questions that are asked in this field, in particular authorship attribution.

In my research, I’ve thought and written quite a bit about authorship. My dissertation looked at changing concepts of authorship – the singular, cohesive, Romantic genius author as established in collected editions in Japan at the turn of the 20th century – and also at actual practices of writing and authorship that preceded and accompanied these developments. My conclusion about authorship was that it is a kind of performance, embedded in and never preceding the text, and is not coextensive with the historical writer(s) behind the performance – pseudonymous, collective, anonymous, or otherwise.

These performances are necessarily contextualized by space, time, society, culture, literary trends, place of publication, audience. They are more or less without meaning if one doesn’t take context into account, even if not all relevant contexts at once. For a performance takes place within a historic, cultural, and literary moment, and does not exist independently of it. I see that place of performance as both the text and its place of publication, its material manifestation; and it is a performance that is inextricably linked to reader reception.

I also don’t see these performances as necessarily creating a unified authorial identity or unified author-function across space, time, and texts. This may sound extremely counterintuitive given that many performances of authorship share appellations and can be “attributed” to the “same” author, and I recognize that my argument is downright bizarre at times. I blame it on having spent too much time thinking about the implications of this topic. But in a way, our linking of these performances after the fact is artificial, and these different author-functions are, for me, so linked to the time and place of both publication and reading – whether contemporary or not – that they can be seen as separate as well. This is why I concluded that collected literary anthologies are constructing – inventing – an entirely artificial “author” out of the works associated, after the fact, with a historical, individual writer, whose identity and name may not have coincided with that of the authorial performance at all in the first place.

So, that said, let me get to my disagreement with authorship attribution. It’s fundamentally asking the wrong question of authors and authorship: who “really” wrote this text? My argument is that the hand of the historical writer “behind” the authorial performance is a moot point; what matters is the name, or lack of a name, attributed to the text when it is published, republished, read, and reread over time. It’s the performance that takes place at the site of the text, coinciding with and following the creation of the text, deeply associated with and embedded in the text, and located within reception rather than intention. It takes place at a different site than the hand of the historical writer holding a pen or the mind creating an idea. And so the search for the “real” identity of the author is beside the point; what is happening here is really “writership attribution” that is something separate from authorship.

A colleague recently asked me, too, what the greater goal of authorship attribution is – what is it beyond finding out the person behind the text? What is it besides deciding that the entity constructed with the name Shakespeare “really” wrote an unattributed or mysterious text? And I couldn’t answer this question, which brings me to my second fundamental problem with authorship attribution. I don’t see an overarching research question guiding methodology, besides the narrow goal of establishing writership of a text. This could be my own ignorance, and I’d be happy to be corrected on it.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

Japan in Days of Yore

I found an interesting book in the library a while ago that I’d like to introduce before I return it. It’s entitled Japan in Days of Yore and is from 1887.

There are several interesting tidbits about this book. First of all is the translator, Walter Dening: he’s a mathematician and missionary who was friends with Lafcardio Hearn. Second, what on earth is the random text that has been translated here, a samurai tale? Who knows.

The book contains a pull-out illustration at the beginning, an “old-fashioned” woodblock print that is in keeping with both the book’s content and its binding. Despite being a hardback book, the paper is bound in Japanese style, with pages printed on only one side and then folded in half, with the edges bound in the spine, instead of being single sheets printed on both sides. This means that each page edge is a fold, creating “double” pages that one can peek into (although there’s nothing printed on the inside).

This isn’t the only book in the Days of Yore series. There are at least five books, three of which are a three-volume life of Miyamoto Musashi. Japan in the days of yore definitely consists of epic samurai tales. The last volume I’ve found was published in 1906, but even then, the traditional Japanese-style paper binding persists even within Western hardback covers. It’s a fascinating combination of technology, American missionaries, ideas about tradition and past, and the persistence of Edo-period (1600-1867) fiction into the 20th century – even in translation.

Given the dates, these stories are some of the first Japanese literature translated into English. Yet they would have been considered light fiction, adventure stories. They’re not considered the great literature of Japan’s past, like The Tale of Genji (which was first translated by Kencho Suematsu in 1900, contemporaneous with Days of Yore). They’re not even generally read anymore: they’ve disappeared into the mass that is samurai tales from the Edo period, hundreds upon hundreds of titles – not to mention the massive amount of parodic fiction and love stories that also exist from this time. Edo literature is often skipped over these days, save for Ihara Saikaku (who only became part of the canon after these translations were published). We read Genji and Kawabata and Murakami Haruki instead. But at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are what Americans in Japan found worthy of translation and publication, and clearly Japanese publishers felt the same way. Days of Yore came out around the same time as Hearn’s translations of Ueda Akinari’s ghost stories, again from the Edo period. Samurai and ghosts: Japan of yore to American missionaries of the late 19th century, and Japanese translations of yore to us now.

disciplinarity and undergraduate education

I have a quick comment on a recent blog post I read: “The Politics of Disciplinarity at the Undergraduate Level” (Natalia Cecire) This is adapted and expanded from a lengthy comment I left at said blog.

I have an admission to make: I was a naive, stereotypical computer science major. How so? I looked down, so very much, on the humanities – on what I perceived to be the humanities. Soft, vague, insular, self-interested, and ultimately irrelevant to my (or anyone else’s) life. “Learning for learning’s sake” was my hobby, but somehow it seemed ridiculous as a university course. How would humanities majors get jobs? Perhaps it’s partly my humble background, but majoring in something that didn’t have a definable endpoint in a career that would make up for the investment in a college education just seemed worse than pointless. It seemed irresponsible and naive.

Yet I was the one who was naive, along with my fellow CS majors who mocked MBAs and even the information science students. They were the ones who couldn’t hack it, right? If you’re not in a hard science or engineering (and we counted ourselves among them), you’re just playing around; you can’t make it to our league.

Who was I kidding? Myself.

I am now, as you know, in a humanities PhD program. I’m in an area studies department but study the history of the book, and came to it via literature (and before that, via a very social-science oriented history department, which is also partly the explanation for my attitude toward things like cultural studies and other vague humanities, including history departments with this bent).

It’s been a hard road, admittedly, for me to come to terms with this. I’ve never felt fully at home in the humanities and it’s because of the carryover of this attitude. And yet at the same time I’ve been doing a dual degree in information science, the very discipline I used to mock along with my CS buddies as for the kids who couldn’t hack our program, who couldn’t move from pseudocode to real programming, to real work.

And as you may guess, I’ve changed my mind in that I’ve become less naive (I would hope) and much more broad-minded about what can mean. Of course it’s more difficult to get a job that translates directly from a humanities degree to something concrete – but that doesn’t mean that one’s degree isn’t widely applicable and doesn’t prepare one for a variety of life paths. I know that’s often considered a platitude uttered by career counselors at universities everywhere (not to mention tenured professors who don’t understand undergrads’ lack of appreciation for “learning for learning’s sake”) but it’s true.

One of the things that was lacking from my CS education was a strong dose of critical thinking. It wasn’t until a few years into my humanities PhD program that I could think critically about the science discipline that I had come from, about  the inability to be truly objective but rather the ability to recognize and be aware of one’s own biases, and about how the questions we are able to ask, the problems we are able to pose, are not self-evident. Thinking critically about code, about programming, about application design from the very concept of applications to the endpoint of execution, was not in my DNA until I had already left the field and joined the legions of critical thinkers that inhabited another.*

The blog post referenced above speaks to the implications of politics at the “academic” level about disciplinarity having perhaps unintended consequences for attitudes at the undergraduate level, and so I’m sharing my undergraduate attitude, and gradual attitude change, above. Below, I’d like to address another consequence that the author brings up: the possibility of differential undergraduate tuition that could reflect perceived value of various “hard” versus “soft” majors. This is what I had to say in my comment on her blog:

One school, at least, has already implemented the policy of differential undergrad tuition: University of Michigan (where I am currently a student). The tuition varies by college, with Engineering being the best example, but since Computer Science is in the college of Arts & Sciences but veers toward the money-making assumption about engineering, it also gets differential (higher) tuition at the upperclassmen level.

I was a computer science major as an undergrad, and this kind of system would have strongly discouraged me from pursuing the degree. As a woman who was often the only woman, or one of perhaps two or three, in a class of 40-60 students, this has serious implications for the demographics of the major, which are already an issue. I also have to say that as a computer science undergrad with a double major in history, I held that unfortunate attitude: CS is “real work” whereas history is something fun I did on the side, something not really relevant to anything but history and academia itself.

I’m now a PhD candidate in the history of the book (within an area studies department – humanities, in other words), and I see now the patronizing and narrow-minded attitude I have. But it is so prevalent that even I – and I naively considered myself broad-minded – held it for a long time, and actively mocked those outside the “hard” sciences because of it.

It’s so pervasive, and I’m glad that you addressed the fact that what is often written off as academic squabbles and pissing matches impact undergrads profoundly as well.


* That’s not to say that everyone who majors in the humanities ends up being able to think critically. I meet many who get by completely unable to do so. But here I speak from my own experience and say that it is what allowed me to do so.

pseudonymity and the bibliography

My research is on authorship, and specifically on varied practices of writing and ways that authorship is performed.

For my study – that is, late 19th-century Japan – the practice of using pseudonyms, multiple and various, is extremely common. It’s an issue that I consider quite a bit, and a practice that I personally find simultaneously playful and liberating. It’s the ultimate in creativity: creating not just a work but one’s authorship, and one’s authorial name, every time.

This does raise a practical issue, however, that leads me to think even more about the meaning and implications of using a pseudonym.

How does one create a bibliography of works written under pen names?

The easy version of the problem is this: I have a choice when making my master dissertation bibliography of citing works in a number of ways. I can cite them with that instance’s pen name, then the most commonly known pen or given name in brackets afterward. I can do the reverse. Or I can be troublesome and only cite the pen name. Then again, I could adopt the practice that is the current default – born of now attributing works solely to the most commonly known name rather than to the name originally on the work – that is to not bother with the original pen name, obscuring the original publication context entirely. I can pretend, for example, that Maihime was written by Mori Ogai, and not Mori Rintaro. This flies in the face of convention but is the only way that I can cite the work and remain consistent with the overarching argument that I make in my dissertation: that is, use of and attribution to specific, variable pen names matters, both for understanding context and also understanding the work itself. It goes without saying that this is crucial for understanding authorship itself.

But there is another issue, and it goes hand-in-hand with citing works by writers whose name does not follow Western convention of given name first, last name second. Of having two names at all. The issue comes in the form of citation managers.

I’ve been giving Zotero a go lately and quite enjoying it. But I find myself making constant workarounds because of most of my sources being by Japanese writers, and the writers of my primary sources not only being Japanese but also using pen names. My workaround is to treat the entire name as one single last name, so I can write it in the proper order and not have it wrangled back into “last name”, “first name” – both of those being not quite true here. For citing a Japanese writer, I’d want to retain the last name then given name order; for someone using a pen name, the issue is that no part of the name is a last or given name. It’s what I’d like to call an acquired name.

Mori Ogai is now the most commonly used name of the writer Mori Rintaro (Mori being the last name, Rintaro being his given name). Ogai is a shortened version of his early pen name Ogai Gyoshi. Ogai Gyoshi isn’t a false last plus given name. It’s always in the order Ogai Gyoshi, neither of them is a “real” name, and it is a phrase, not a name. It’s as though he’s using a word that happens to have a space in it.

So when I put some of Mori Rintaro’s writing into Zotero, I put in “Mori Rintaro” as the last name. Sometimes I just put in “Ogai” as the name, when he signs a piece that way. Occasionally it’s “Ogai Mori Rintaro” (this is, in fact, the author of Maihime – I made a shortcut above in my example). And then there are some pieces in which the last name in Zotero is “Ogai Gyoshi.”

I don’t know how to go about this any other way, but it’s less about me having be a little hacky to get it to do what I want, and much more of a constant reminder of our current (Western) assumptions about names, authorship, and naming conventions. It’s a reminder of how different the time and place that I study is, and how much more dynamic and, frankly, fun it was to write in the late 19th century in Japan than it is now, either here as an American or even in Japan. Names are taken a bit more seriously now, I’d argue, and more literally. It’s a little harder to play with one’s name, to make one up entirely for a one-off use, at this point – and I think it’s for the worse.

(Obviously, there are exceptions: musicians come immediately to mind. And it’s not as though writers do not adopt pen names now. But it’s not in the same way. And this, incidentally, is something I love about the early Internet – I’m referring to the nineties in particular. Fun with handles, fun with names, all pseudonymous, and all about fluid, multiple identity.)

the internet is free for the taking

Right? Right?

As I sometimes find when I check out my Flickr statistics, I’ve got a picture with an abnormally high view count and that means only one thing: it’s been posted on another site with a link to mine.

Usually, I am totally thrilled. I love links back to me. I love for people to see my work and that anyone liked it enough to put it up on their own personal space. Good!

And 9 times out of 10, there is a nice caption with my name under it. For, this is the only thing I really ask of someone using one of my photos. I hold the copyright, but I use a Creative Commons license.* I am leaning toward changing everything to a more lenient one, but in any case, the real point of it is the “BY” clause.

You can use my photos without permission as long as you credit me (and I appreciate a link back to Flickr, which all of the people so far, good and bad, do – this is how I find their postings). I’m sure there are people out there who posted them with no link, but it seems that they generally want to not host the image themselves, and also want to post a small version with a link to the gigantic ones (and mine are non-watermarked full-size images). So I find them in my stats.

This is only the second case of someone borrowing an image, placing it on their site with absolutely no credit at all, and totally making me annoyed at 7:30 am in the morning when I see it happening.

The first time, it was an architecture blog and site, which will remain nameless because they rectified the problem after I commented on the photo (there was no other way to contact!) asking for credit or to take the image down. I never heard back, but lo and behold, after a few months someone must have saw the comment because now it has a very nice caption. I get a fair number of hits from this site so it makes me very happy.

Well, now some person on Tumblr has stuck one of my images in their blog, at least with a link back to the original, but with no caption at all. I hate that. But what makes it really bad is that I can see visibly how many people “liked” and shared the post. “Great, others are seeing my work!” Yes, there is this part of it. I’m not the kind of person who wants to hide my stuff unless I personally am showing it. Far from it!

But here’s the thing that really upsets me. The people sharing this post are sharing it as the work of that blogger – at the very best, as an object found by that blogger. They may be sharing it because they like the photo, but the implied attribution stops at the blog itself. I’m thinking big-picture about “authorship” here, as I am wont to do. I have stopped being the author at this point, without an explicit caption marking it as not the blogger’s work, and not as some anonymous, possibly public-domain thing that he or she happened to find. Something pointing out that the hard creative work was not, in fact, looking on the internet and finding something interesting and sharing it, but was rather my finding the scene, situating myself, taking the picture, editing in Aperture, and creating more metadata than you can shake a stick at. (As usual.)

And on top of it? As you can see from the two screenshots below the cut, these are not only being viewed quite a few times, but they’re being shared – ie., reposted as-is on other Tumblr blogs, also with zero attribution.

A reaction that I have gotten in the past to someone lifting my artwork (including selling it on a T-shirt without permission, even though they defended it with “but we’re not making a profit) is that I’m getting bent out of shape over nothing, or that I can’t expect my work not to be stolen and re-used as people see fit because I’ve put it online.

Here is my response to that: Of course I can’t. But that doesn’t make it right, just, or legal, and I don’t give up my rights the minute I upload something. I am well within my moral rights to address this as a problem and to take polite action to correct the situation. We need a lot of calming down these days: We don’t need laws like SOPA and Protect-IP (I am getting nightmares), and I don’t think the DMCA is an appropriate law either, but that doesn’t mean that taking others’ work and reposting it without attribution – or passing it off as your own, or selling it without permission – is okay.

I think we academics know a word that comes quite close to describing all of this: plagiarism. Mixed with copyright infringement. What a fun situation.

Conclusion: The internet is not free for your taking. But the majority of it is, especially from those of us who are rabidly pro-Creative Commons, if you just ask us.


* I toyed once with making all of my photos public domain, but while I’m still alive and while they’re still taken within the past 5 years, I don’t think I can emotionally deal with it yet.

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wuthering heights: a review 160 years after the fact

I recently reread Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for the first time in about 15 years. In fact, I devoured it in only 36 hours, and was so struck by it this time around that I am writing a little review here.

My own history with the book: I read it in high school, for English class, and was knocked over by it then too. I quickly started putting it at the top of my “favorite books” list, despite having only read it once, and having not read it since then. I wondered recently, did I love it so much because it was literally (sadly) the only book I had to read for school that I’ve ever liked? Was it something about being 15 and the book being so over-the-top with crazy drama? Or is it actually really that good? I was hoping it was the last, but this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve revisited a loved thing from my childhood or teen years and had all of my good memories ruined by its reality.

As you can see, this was not the case. In fact, I liked it more this time around. So I can happily say, now, that it is one of the best books I have ever read, with no reservations.

First, the most amorphous: This has to be one of the most well-written works I have ever come across. It’s not every day that a book forces me to stay up half the night reading it, despite almost falling asleep on my Kindle (I’m reading the Project Gutenberg copy – go Gutenberg!). Throughout, I was practically shouting at the page, “Nelly Dean, don’t go to bed! Get back here and finish telling us what happened!” But it’s more than simply keeping a fast and absorbing pace. Emily Brone’s writing style is powerful and unique; I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before or since. Sadly, I can’t put more of a finger on it than that at the moment. I’m still fighting my urge to reread it immediately, after all.

But I want to spend the remainder of my short review on what I value so much about this book and its narration, and why.

I was looking around for information on the reception (because I’m a book history nerd) after I had finished, and I was really, truly astounded to find this book referred to as a romance and a love story everywhere I looked. Heathcliff himself was being referred to as a romantic hero! I nearly fell off my chair when I ran across that one, but then I kept seeing it again and again. Did these people read the same book that I did?

I’m going to go ahead and make a statement that I don’t think will be terribly controversial to anyone else who has read this novel: This is not a love story. It contains one, but it is not primarily about the love story. This is a book that has one foot firmly in the horror genre, and at times borders on terrifying if the reader has any sense of humanity. It is about unspeakable evil, here personified in the not-exactly-“romantic” main character, who I would also refrain from calling a “hero” in any sense, except perhaps “hero of unnecessary revenge through evil means.”

This is, for me, a tale of abuse and its results; of real, almost unimaginable evil; of madness (and in a sense, the madness that results from the characters and from the environment and experiences that they face); and of a borderline-horrifying environment in which the characters are so isolated that the rest of the world may as well not exist.

Now I’m going to make a much more controversial statement: Emily Bronte was Lovecraftian before H.P. Lovecraft was born.

No, she may not have a Cthulhu lurking among the heather on the moors, but she has the same type of setting as Lovecraft’s freakish isolated New England villages and awful countryside, and if she’s not talking about evil as manifested through fungus and occasionally monsters and aliens, she’s talking about the same kind of incomprehensible evil as personified through our favorite Heathcliff. If you pushed me, I’d rank Cathy Earnshaw just below him on the evil scale. And if you want some more Lovecraft precursor: The theme of madness in Wuthering Heights is overpowering. I’m not one to ascribe bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes (what I’m sure I’m seeing in Cathy, though I am not a doctor) to seeing the face of evil in person, but it’s undeniable that it’s a major presence in the novel – something more than a theme – and goes beyond a simple character attribute.

It is Bronte’s frequent attempted descriptions of Heathcliff – and failed descriptions, for the most part – that make me recall Lovecraft so closely. Obviously, we have a link in their racism and linking of “brown” characters to base evil. I’m being overly general, but bear with me, because if you pay attention you will find it throughout the entire novel, not just in the main characters. More than this, though, is that I truly struggled to envision Heathcliff – especially his face – while reading, despite paying close attention to every word that conveyed any physical characteristic. It’s as though the characters often had to stop at simply concluding that he is the devil or a demon incarnate, describing the terror-inducing emotion they see on his face (the eyes!) rather than his basic appearance. There are attempts but they are repetition of the same few facts over and over.

Lovecraft can point to unspeakable evil, but it is just that: it is indescribable, beyond words. Heathcliff, as a person, appears to be in the same category.

As a final note on my categorization of this book in the horror genre, and close enough to Lovecraft to be in the same corner within that genre, I want to remark that having been to Yorkshire, and having been to the moors – they are terrifying enough on their own. They’re a landscape as bizarre and vaguely horrifying to be eligible for most of Lovecraft’s work to have been set there rather than in New England, although I understand the point of setting a story where New World villages can have been simultaneously without history from newness, and forgotten already. This is what, in my opinion, really sets apart the United States in particular as a setting quite different from any European country. But in these isolated, threatening places, I can imagine the same kinds of stories taking place without too much strain on my part.

This review isn’t as coherent as I’d like it to be, but I’d love to hear what my readers think about my shifting focus here from the “love story” of the novel (which really doesn’t take up a whole lot of space, and in light of the second half of the book, isn’t the overall point) and toward the idea of unspeakable evil personified – and having taken up residence in an isolated, abusive home in a bizarre landscape and threatening world. Not quite the evaluation I’ve been coming across in my online reading, but I can’t be the first person to praise the novel for these points.

why I’m on Google+, and why I love Twitter

Why not?

I thought I had all kinds of answers to that. My kneejerk reaction to just about any new social networking service is “because it’s annoying.” Possibly, it is still totally annoying and I may come to neglect it as much as my Facebook account (which I largely have because “librarians are doing it” and I’d rather have a visible page that I control speak for me on the internet, rather than let others do it).

Here are some reasons why – and why I haven’t found it that annoying (yet).

It’s largely based on the fundamental difference I feel between Google+ and Facebook. Facebook is for personal stuff, even when it’s at work. I have a busy job pruning my account if I even allow people to be able to post on my wall. I use it to broadcast that I have a new blog post, and to broadcast my Twitter feed to people who don’t use Twitter. But the majority of my “friends” on it largely use it as a social space to socialize in inappropriate ways with people who aren’t really their friends. If I’m presenting my Facebook identity to the world, under my real name, I’m going to be very careful about how I present myself – and being careful means very, very limited information. I have enough on there to look legitimate, but I see it as a way to market myself, not a platform for socializing.*

Why do I see Google+ as different? I think it’s the general feel of it. It feels to me like Twitter, and that’s a very positive thing. I love the Twitter model. No reciprocal friending expected; follow people whose posts you think will be interesting (like a blog), who you probably don’t know in real life and don’t have any expectation of contact with. (I have to say an @ message from someone I was following, or from someone following me (one way), is exciting and flattering. So that’s good too.) There’s no need to grow an insane network of people you don’t keep track of and don’t really know. They can follow you, but you don’t have to follow them. Prune as needed.

The second thing I love about Twitter is the sharing, and Google+ has integrated that with both +1 likes and the ability to post to your feed. It’s like Twitter on crack, only if Twitter were a tired old wrestler rather than a nimble little bird. There’s a lot to be said for the 140 character model. I personally think it’s the force that drives the insane level of communication that goes on there every day. It’s so easy to post, so quick, and so easy and quick to send an @ reply. But even quicker to hit “retweet.” It’s a magical system for dynamically generating temporary networks that ebb and flow, that come together out of nowhere and then just as quickly disappear.

Someone referred to Twitter as “ephemeral in nature” when talking about its downsides. I think rather that this is a strength. Twitter moves at the speed of the little events of everyday life, no matter if they had to do with what you’re eating for lunch, the conference session you’re sitting in on, or trying to avoid the cops at a demonstration.

And its the quickness of Twitter that I would argue leads to its power in briefly but powerfully harnessing the masses. As I type, several #anonymous tweeters are calling for a boycott of PayPal. These retweets are traveling faster than I can type. This is a far cry from setting up a web site petition, or even a facebook group petition. I can’t think of a way for information to spread faster, and I think it’s tied directly to the often-derided 140 character format.

What does this all have to do with Google+? I am on Twitter (under my real name) to keep connected with my profession (DHers are big tweeters), communicate my ideas to a big community, retweet stuff from groups that interest me, and generally keep tabs on my spread-out intellectual and personal networks. Mini-updates. And they’re from people I want to communicate with in a largely professional way. Under my real name.

Google+ has me under my real name. If this were a network like Facebook, I’d have already freaked out and registered under a dummy gmail account with a pseudonym. I am very private about my private life. But I see this as more of an opportunity to start turning my Twitter activities into longer-form posts. The huge advantage is that people outside of the wall of Facebook could come across them easily; people who follow other people in DH that I don’t know might find them and comment; and it’s a perfect platform for marketing myself now that I’m going to be searching for a job in the upcoming months. It’s the platform I’ve been waiting for: professional Twitter+.

Of course, Google+ is still in the early stages but I don’t see it as a Facebook-killer at all. Facebook will continue to do what it does best: allow people to friend each other and waste each others’ time as effectively as possible. Facebook stays within Facebook. Google+ feels so much more connected with the rest of my Internet life, just as Twitter does. (e.g., the fact that I have it feeding my Facebook status updates.) I’m interested to see where Google+ goes, and hope that the invites keep coming out so I can collect more of the people I know and, just as importantly, the people I want to know.


* There’s a time and a place for that; you can find such places on LiveJournal and by using Facebook and Twitter with pseudonyms.

what can you do with a million (non-digitized) books?

I am growing into a scholar with a foot in literature and a foot in information science, I have a stake in asking and answering that newly liberated question: What can you do with a million books? What do you do with a million books?

It’s a question that’s being asked a lot in the past few years, and what’s more, so many answers are beginning to be offered in concrete terms rather than speculation. It’s an exciting and promising time for literature, for other humanistic fields. Digital humanities are here, and we finally have both the ready means and ready material to start interrogating texts in ways that were logistically not possible before now.

It’s a question that I’d like to offer my own answers to, in the form of experiments and projects, as so many others are now doing. But there is always another question nagging at me when I look, with real enthusiasm, at the kind of work that is being done to take humanistic inquiry to an unprecedented scale.

At first I asked the question that made me feel like an outsider, despite sharing the same desires and the same curiosity as those whose web sites I visit, and whose articles I read. I asked, why is this happening in the same departments, in the same fields? Why does it seem that this is limited not to a discipline, but to a time, to a place?

To be blunt, the vast majority of projects are dealing with texts in English or French, or more broadly in European languages, with the classics, and with texts from the early modern period through the early 20th century. Why did I read an article today whose very title asked “what is the place of digital humanities in English departments?”
Continue reading what can you do with a million (non-digitized) books?