Category Archives: media

fans, collectors, and archives

In the course of my research, I’ve been studying the connection between the first “complete works” anthology of writer Ihara Saikaku, his canonization, and the collectors and fans who created the anthology – a very archival anthology. (I say this because it has information about the contemporary provenance of the texts that make it up, among other things. It names the collector that contributed the text to the project on every title page!)

It’s struck me throughout this project that the role of fans – which these people were – and their connection with collectors, as well as their overlap, is of crucial importance in preserving, in creating archives and maintaining them, in creating resources that make study or access possible in the first place. They do the hard work of searching, finding, discovering, buying, arranging, preserving, and if we’re lucky, disseminating – through reprinting or, now, through making digital resources.

As I’ve become more acquainted with digital humanities and the range of projects out there, I can’t help but notice the role of collectors and fans here too. It’s not so much in the realm of academic projects, but in the numbers of Web sites out there that provide images or other surrogates for documents and objects that would otherwise be inaccessible. These are people who have built up personal collections over years, and who have created what would otherwise be called authoritative guides and resources without qualification – but who are not academics. They occupy a gray area of a combination of expertise and lack of academic affiliation or degree, but they are the ones who have provided massive amounts of information and documentation – including digital copies of otherwise-inaccessible primary sources.

I think we can see this in action with fandoms surrounding contemporary media, in particular – just look at how much information is available on Wikipedia about current video games and TV shows. Check out the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages and other similar wikis. (Note that UESP began as a Web site, not a wiki; it’s a little time capsule that reflects how fan pages have moved from individual labors of love to collective ones, with the spread of wikis for fan sites. A history of the site itself – “much of the early details and dates are vague as there are no records available anymore” – can be found here.)

I’m not a researcher of contemporary media or fan culture, but I can’t help but notice this and how little it’s talked about in the context of digital humanities, creating digital resources, and looking at the preservation of information over time.

Without collectors like Awashima Kangetsu and fans like Ozaki Kōyō and Ōhashi Otowa, we may not have Ihara Saikaku here today – and yet he is now among the most famous Japanese authors, read in survey courses as the representative Edo (1600-1867) author. He was unknown at the time, an underground obsession of a handful of literary youths. It was their collecting work, and their dedication (and connections to a major publisher) that produced The Complete Works of Saikaku in 1894, a reprinted two-volume set of those combined fans’ collections of used books. Who will we be saying this about in a hundred years?

For my readers out there who have their feet more in fandom and fan culture than I do, what do you think?

citing from the kindle

My thanks to my colleague Toranosuke for pointing out this fundamental issue with the Kindle (and e-readers generally) and practices of citation.

The issue? It is a fundamental point: there are no page numbers that go along with Kindle books (or any book I read on the Kindle, whether from Project Gutenberg, Aozora Bunko, or elsewhere). There are “points” in the book, but because the font size can be changed, so can these “points” be changed along with it.

These are great for tracking one’s progress through a book while reading, and for bookmarking and jumping to different points in a text. (Though there are often so many thousands of points that for locating a specific spot – like one would do with a page number – it ends up being almost meaningless)

For many books I’d read in the Kindle – what I unfortunately refer to as “throwaway” books like light novels and light non-fiction – this isn’t a huge issue. But it isn’t a huge issue because I don’t care to cite them in other writing, for the most part.

It’s what’s been keeping my colleague from buying anything vaguely academic on the Kindle, and woke me up to this problem before I made what would perhaps be a wasteful purchase. If I’m writing anything from a paper to my dissertation to a blog post, I want, and need, to cite what I’m referring to. I often need to quote directly. But how am I to do this, with no set point of reference?

With Web pages, there are standards for citation, and this goes for online journals without page numbers as well. One can pinpoint a section and paragraph number. But with an e-book, the length is such that this becomes completely impractical.

This is an issue that e-readers are going to have to overcome to truly take over the book market. It’s not something that your average Kindle purchaser might think about, but it’s something that a significant community of readers depends on daily. And it raises serious technical and intellectual issues for the use of e-books in a “serious” way. (Now there’s a loaded word for you.) I wonder, is there anyone working on this, from the end of style guides all the way to those implementing e-readers and e-book standards? I have no answer to this, but I’d like to hear what my readers think.

new magazine: yū

I came across a new magazine online recently that, as always, makes me wish I were still in Japan so I could grab a copy of myself. It’s called Yū 幽, or spirit in my translation – and by spirit I mean the supernatural.

In case you can’t guess, it’s all about the supernatural and ghostly, and is your typical “literary” magazine in Japan – some fiction (short enough for a single issue, usually), plus essays and other relevant short non-fiction. When in Japan (and now, through my sizeable collection of back issues) I consumed these kinds of magazines regularly. I would say voraciously, but it makes for some somewhat slow reading given that it’s literary fiction not in my native language. Still, I love magazines, and I love this type in particular. (Some of my favorites in Japan are Bungakkai and Yom Yom.)

Best of all, Yū has a fantastic web site: Web Yoo. It has a number of blogs, including by authors that write for the magazine, about related books, and ones that have news about current and upcoming issues. They even have their own supernatural fiction prize, 幽怪談文学賞. (Never quite sure how to translate that one; I like to use “weird” as in “weird tales” of the early 20th century here in the US.)

Please check it out, especially if you’re in Japan and can get ahold of it. At the very least, you’ll be treated to great content and some seriously fantastic images and typography on the web site.

is it ephemeral?

I work largely with sources that you would call “ephemeral” in my research these days. By that, I simply mean “in danger of disappearing easily, or have already done so.” Things prone to disappearing can range from things like theater playbills and concert programs to magazines and newspapers, to gum wrappers and signs and internet forum posts, not to mention non-archived Web sites and things that can be lost easily in a hard drive crash with no backup.* I’m being somewhat narrowminded by considering “non-ephemeral” sources to basically be books, but they are made for persistence through time, and they are often so redundant that they are de facto preserved through this.

In any case, I’ve been thinking as I write my dissertation, especially the current chapter that I’m working on, about what happens to ephemera when one decides to preserve it in a non-ephemeral form. Here, I’ll use the example of reprinting something in a book or putting it on microfilm. Not all magazines and newspapers are thrown out completely, although they do tend to be tossed out en masse every week throughout the world. Newspaper companies keep archives and libraries bind periodicals for preservation and (through) access and redundancy. Things get microfilmed. Sometimes they are reproduced in a traditional bound form at some point, as though they were books to begin with.

I’m working with two authors in particular who published almost solely in magazines that are now extremely hard to get ahold of, about 120 years ago. I’m studying the act of reprinting those stories in book form, here in anthologies of the “complete works” of those authors.** I talk a lot about the crucial role that reprinting in the form of an anthology plays in access and preservation: without reprints, these stories, published in sources that are very easily lost to us, may never have been accessible at all after a few decades of their original publication. The paper of these types of publications is rarely very durable and as time goes on, the surviving owners of the publications tend to throw them out, or the executors of their estates do it for them.

In fact, one magazine in particular is an extreme example of ephemerality. It was a handwritten magazine – really, a zine from the 1880s – that was passed around between members of a literary club, who annotated it as they went along, writing in the margins and then passing it on to the next member, sometimes making their own handwritten copies as well. In this way, the publication and distribution was profoundly decentralized and depended entirely on the efforts of the members of that club. Yet, they were all quite committed to literature and to each other, and so it was relatively successful – if you can call a magazine with only a few hand-written, hand-circulated copies successful.

The problem with the issues of this magazine (before it later was printed and sold commercially) is that they are literally no longer available. Garakuta bunko from the late 1880s is simply inaccessible to us as literary scholars and historians. There are no accessible copies, and possibly no surviving copies at all. This was the case even in the early 20th century, when the extant copies dwindled to a single set held in a private collection; only the tables of contents were published, reprinted in a book on the literary club. Now, that private collection is even inaccessible, and all we have left are those reprinted tables of contents.

Why is this important? It is now impossible for me to investigate, for example, early uses of pseudonyms by some of the authors that I study, and impossible to read their earliest works to evaluate their first efforts in literature. As this group became extremely influential from the late 1880s through the early 1900s, this is a big problem for studying its development over time, its roots, its connections with the literature of the late Edo period (1600-1867), and its early influence on others. In short, this work has been rendered impossible and these questions unanswerable.

Even as early as the 1920s, there were reprints of the publicly distributed, later issues of this magazine. It was a set of only 500 copies and its preface is extremely telling. Edited by former members of the club, the reason for the reprint is stated unequivocally: the number of surviving copies is very few, they are limited to the collections of private individuals, and the early works of club members are nearly impossible to get ahold of. It has been reprinted for posterity and for access at the time of the reprints. There are those who would like to read the works, and the reprints are made and distributed so it becomes possible again to do this.

This is a noble undertaking, and one that is extremely important to our access now. It is reasonable to wonder whether, if not for this early reprint set, even more of Garakuta bunko would be lost to the ether over time. We have more reprints now, in book form, and they are likely to persist through time thanks to this. But what if those reprints had nothing to reprint?

Finally, I come to the sticking point of all of this. It’s prompted by a question from a month or so ago: if ephemeral materials are preserved in such a way, through a digital archive, through photographs, through reprints, does that fundamentally change their nature as ephemera? I don’t have a concrete, definitive answer to this, but I do think there are two issues at the heart of this. One is a practical issue – the major difference between ephemera and other sources when attempting to create a digital archive is that there is even more impetus for careful preservation, because the danger of loss is so high. If a magazine could almost entirely disappear less than 50 years after its initial publication, what does that say about even more volatile materials? We lose a major part of the historical record and in most cases we will be unable to ever retrieve it. This means that there are historical, cultural, and literary questions that we simply cannot ask – or rather, can never answer. It reduces our understanding of the past and even of the present, given that ephemera can disappear in the blink of an eye, historically speaking.

The other issue is thornier. My answer on reprints or digital reproductions is this: it does not change the status of the source as ephemeral. Rather, I think that in some way it both attempts to obscure its ephemeral nature, and yet also makes it even more evident. What is the need for a reprint, after all, if there is no danger of disappearance? If a work is already persisting through redundancy, is there a need for preservation? And there is the issue of the reprint fundamentally altering the context, and thus the meaning, of that ephemeral source. That highlights even more its ephemeral nature, because by recuperating its pre-reprint context, its pre-preservation context, we cannot help but focus on its ephemeral nature, because we are reprinting ephemera, preserving ephemera.

In other words, we can perhaps think of reprints or digitally archived versions as separate objects entirely from the ephemera that they preserve, and this stresses even more the ephemeral nature of what has been preserved. Of course, a work reprinted in book form is less likely to be ephemeral. But what has been reprinted, a serial in a newspaper or in a magazine, is tremendously so, and this very gap in the nature of the medium is emphasized in the process. These are ephemera, preserved. Preservation does not change the fact that these sources are always, will always be, in imminent danger of permanent loss.***


* In fact, I have lost some of these things that I had never considered ephemeral until they were gone. How fragile is an older hard drive full of personal data and artwork? Very. How about things you burn to a CD-ROM for safekeeping? Even worse. A personal web site that you had a few years ago? If the Internet Archive didn’t grab it, it might as well never existed. We talk quite a bit these days about the danger of things never being erased if you put them out in public, on the Internet, but they’re more endangered than we give them credit for.

** Take that with a grain of salt; “complete” is more aspirational than literal, and it has quite a lot to do with “completely” being able to know or possess the author as an author, rather than a complete set of works in themselves. I digress.

*** The fact that Garakuta bunko was reprinted in the 1920s, after all, does not change the fact that the original copies of the magazine are in grave danger of being completely lost to us. A reprint is not the same as the source that it reprints. The reprint, if not an ephemeral source in itself (this short print run of the Garakuta bunko reprint suggests that it can qualify as such), is not ephemera. But what it reprints will never stop being ephemeral.

nhk and tbs radio podcast apps for android

Here’s another short post about some apps I found for Android that are really helpful for getting ahold of Japanese content – and, of course, learning and practicing Japanese.

NHK news is notoriously difficult to listen to. I’m not going to argue there. But I still enjoy listening to it, and even more to TBS’s various podcasts, so I was delighted to find a very simple RSS app for my phone that lets me download and play individual NHK news broadcasts (7 am, noon, 7 pm, 10 pm, and sometimes midnight). Once in a while (about once or twice a week) you’ll get the “news journal” at midnight, which is an hour long and has breaking news such as there being garbage at Mt. Fuji. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

I don’t listen to TBS podcasts as much – and there are more comedy and entertainment shows there, although you can find news as well – so I haven’t evaluated that app, but it’s by the same developer and is the same idea. By the way, you can subscribe to these same TBS podcasts on iTunes, and I’ve enjoyed doing that so far. This is just one step more toward convenience!

If you are learning Japanese or want to stay in practice – or just like listening to NHK news – please give this a try. I haven’t had it crash on me yet and it’s done its simple function very well!

Here are links to NHK Radio News and TBS Podcast Radio on Android Market. Enjoy!

android slashdot reader: 和英コメントで言語学び!

Now that I have an Android phone and have found some pretty great things on the Android Market for getting ahold of Japanese content, I would like to start sharing with you all what I’ve been using and whether it’s worth downloading.

First up is my favorite new find: Slashdot Reader. Yeah. It’s an RSS feed reader for Slashdot. Why so great?

Well, can you imagine my reaction when I read its description and saw images of posts from and showing up all mixed in together? Then I read the description: “just a feed reader, nothing more” – for both Japanese and English Slashdot.

It’s like I found an app made by my doppelganger. Really.

If you don’t want one or the other of the languages, it allows you to toggle both, Japanese only, and English only.

Because it’s a feed reader, you only get the headlines and leads from Slashdot, but can easily click through to the full story, and therein lies the amazing language learning tool that somehow never really occurred to me.

All of these years, I could have been learning Japanese through Slashdot comments! That’s right. Of course it’s not textbook Japanese. I already know how trolls (荒らし) talk after just a minute or two of reading. How nerds talk. (They always use が and never けど, although they do use ね sparingly for emphasis. A certain language teacher from several years ago who forbid us from using けど in class for an entire semester would be proud.) And how random users talk.

I also know how they’re basically saying exactly the same things that commenters do on Slashdot in English, only they’re saying it in Japanese. (open source != free as in beer, anyone? I seriously just read this. 無償 is free as in beer, and note that it’s not the same as the widely-used word for “free” 無料 – so I just learned something new about software licensing.) So if you’re a Slashdot reader, this is going to help you immensely. It’s all about context.

Yes, so there are people out there who would disparage the idea of learning language from internet comments. But I counter that with: it’s real language! And this is a specific forum where you know what is coming: some nerdspeak, some posturing, some trolls, some reasonable people, talking about a rather limited set of topics. So you are going to learn voices, not just “Japanese.” You are going to learn what people say in a certain situation, and also what not to say. I can’t think of anything more helpful than that!

And here you go: Slashdot Reader for Android (this takes you to Android Market).

footnotes: paper books still do it better

Obviously, being in librarianship (training) and at the School of Information, I hear lots of things about the “death of the book” and the rise of e-books. Many are mainstream media articles that border on the downright silly; others are from tech leaders with interesting speculations; still others are inflamed (but sometimes reasonable) discussions on our school listserv.

To summarize, I hear the following: 1) you can’t get rid of paper books (because you’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands) because there’s just something special or nostalgic about them that I can’t put my finger on, or 2) market forces will drive out paper books for good shortly in the future, because there just won’t be enough demand once everyone is on board with e-readers. Get used to it, suckers.

You’d think I have a strong investment in one or the other, but I don’t. Both sides sound vaguely ridiculous to me. I say this as someone with a used book collection that is really larger than a sane person should have. It takes over large regions of my apartment and yet still at least half is in storage elsewhere. I don’t buy a lot of e-books.

Here’s my very strong opinion on the issue: I use both at the same time, and I want to keep doing so. I have a strong preference for e-books (because I have a Kindle now and find it so easy to read on) for pretty much everything that suits the medium, because frankly, they won’t take up physical space and create even more of a nuisance for me than my book collection already does. Why carry around some big trade paperback if you just want to read, and your Project Gutenberg edition is free anyway, for God’s sake. I love having an e-book option and I spend most of my time angsting not over the change, but over the fact that a lot of the selection still sucks, the quality often sucks, and I can’t get enough of what I want on the Kindle.

But why do I still maintain that I need print books, if I love getting an electronic version so much? Because e-books can’t do what paper books do best for me: serve as reference books that demand looking in multiple places at once. I don’t rank “the tactile sensation of paper and the smell of a new (or old, ugh) book” as the positive qualities that paper books offer. Incidentally, I am frustrated that people do not think about the tactile qualities of e-book readers and tablets and their computers, ever. At least no one’s talking about them. Reading PDFs on my 27″ desktop monitor has a certain physical quality that I really enjoy (that big screen where I can read about 3 side by side and move them around!), and my Kindle has some awesome tactile qualities that I really love. (Being approximately the same reading experience on the page as a small paperback book is particularly great, because it is nostalgia central for me.)

So, because of this lack of ability to conveniently and easily keep multiple pages “marked” (often with fingers, right?) to flip back and forth between easily, or even look at them semi-simultaneously (I know I’m not the only one who kind of keeps both sections of the book half-open when I’m looking back and forth), I cannot give up paper books. This is a key feature for at least 50% of what I read and it’s so important that if an e-book does it poorly, I am not going to put up with it.

Most of my experience is with PDFs on the computer and the Kindle, but I haven’t found any electronic book that does footnotes well – I’m talking about endnotes here too. The Kindle tries and fails pretty miserably. The process is so slow that it is nothing like mimicking flipping back and forth between the endnote section and the page you’re reading. PDF hotlinks are pretty much as bad, or worse.

So what I use my Kindle largely for, right now, is reading some stuff that I don’t have to read too hard (news, fiction, short or light non-fiction), and for previewing books that I have to buy in physical format.

The ones I can’t buy on the Kindle (even though yes, a version is available): Reference-style books. Any book with a lot of foonotes. Programming or technical books. (seriously, who wants to try to view code examples on a page that small?) Any book that needs to be larger format to be readable. Books with a lot of pictures. (Duh.)

Books for “school” (i.e. related to my dissertation or other research) fall into this category too: I fill them with post-it notes and frequently have to flip between sections when I’m writing, keep track of many pages that I’m using all at once, referring to earlier or later sections, using the abundant footnotes. There’s no way I can look at this stuff on an e-reader, or on a computer.

Yes, a PDF viewer on my large monitor that let me keep pages from the same book open in new windows all right next to each other would be helpful, but as far as I know this doesn’t exist. Tabs wouldn’t cut it. The problem with “flipping” between foonote links and a page, or between tabs, is just too slow. E-book don’t give me the speed that paper books do.

Honestly, I would be a happy camper if someone were to solve this ergonomic problem and let me buy more e-books to free up valuable apartment space. O’Reilly books are a particular offender. But I’m not holding my breath here; like being a PPC user, am I relegated to a shrinking and soon-to-be obsolete “user” or “consumer” base here? I hope not.

literature in fashion

Now here’s something you don’t see every day – a photoshoot dedicated to literary-inspired fashion in Vogue.

‘Summer Reading Inspired by the Fall Collections’

Oh wait, of course, I have that the other way around. Some creative Vogue employee(s) actually dreamed up novels FOR these outfits.

Now that is impressive. Seriously!

Being that I’m in Nebraska for the summer, I did a cheer for Willa Cather and My Antonia. The first one at that!

using a cable too difficult for reporter

This one is going to be quite off the topic of research – well, maybe it links in with digital humanities. The digital part. The part that uses computer hardware.

But seriously? Writing a whole article about your own incompetence (and ignorance) when it comes to hooking your laptop’s headphone jack up to your stereo? With one cable? When what you should be talking about is the new Thunderbolt connection in MacBook Pros?

Spare us! Please!

But since you won’t, at least indulge me in a response.
Continue reading using a cable too difficult for reporter