Monthly Archives: November 2007

I spend all my time on scheduling…

Some of the people I’ve started to know on Facebook are Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx, otherwise known as Ubermorgen. We’ve talked about all kinds of things, from our kids, to the joys of Ikea, to what motivates our work. And we spend a lot of time sending each other drinks and throwing sheep and all the silly Facebook stuff.

So now I’m trying to arrange for them to come and speak at our school. Of course one reason is that their work is cool–I loved “Vote Auction,” for example, and I think it would be great to feature such amazing reality hackers here. But also I just like them and while Facebook is fun and all, and skype is pretty good (assuming Hans gets his audio working 😉 ) still none of it beats meeting in person. So hopefully we will work something out for early spring.

Tiny update on a European meet-up

So now I’ve been talking to Paweł about this plan, because everyone (well, ok, all three people) I spoke with from SFRA about European members said “you should ask Paweł about that.” Of course I could have guessed that already, but he was away. I didn’t guess that he would be the only person… but this can happen in smaller groups; if someone appears to be interested and willing to own some issue, others may assume that they can leave it all to that person. This happens to me all the time around tech-y stuff at my school. In my college (Humanities and Social Sciences, people now think of me as resident tech-head, so they refer everything about that to me.

Anyway, Paweł is also interested in helping and so far he and Sandor both agree that the Netherlands would be a good location. So I guess we will really try to make something happen there next July. 🙂 I was bummed that the change in venue meant a change in guests–maybe we can get Zoran Zivković to attend our gathering instead. That would be nice, since I just got a bunch of his books! I had been planning a paper about him and John Crowley and magical realism (or something like that), and I had been loathe to give it up, even when I thought I could get to the moved SFRA ’08. (Before they announced the date change.)

So, more about this as it develops…

More Con. scheduling…

And the San Diego Comic Con is July 24-28. Normally I wouldn’t mind missing it; but Tart will be 10 years old and we plan to celebrate. And Connie Willis is a guest. I love her SF. Argh. Once I was so used to living on a shoestring that didn’t know what I’d do if I had piles of money. Now I know exactly what I’d do with some; travel without worrying about whether dates and locations were all coordinated!

And now there’s a chance I could attend an SF Masterclass in London from 6/20-6/22. It’s tough; earlier (late June to mid July) works better for me personally, but doesn’t work so well for some of the people I’m trying to work with in the NL. But we’ll see.

European Science fiction meet-up

Ok, so my going to SFRA 08 is not looking so good, unless I get major grant money. But we’ll see. I and my partner in crime have had several discussions about investing in our own research, so maybe… In any case, I’ve been talking a bit to Sandor Klapcsik (who doesn’t seem to have a webpage anywhere) about how to increase European participation and the sort of vicious circle that can occur because if you don’t have a European event, it’s hard to get people involved, but if a lot of people aren’t already involved, it’s hard to have an event. Because I already think that meeting in person is crucial, I am going to try organizing some kind of meeting next summer, probably in early July, so it won’t conflict with SFRA. While we may have some scholarly discussion, my main hope is that people connect sufficiently that we are inspired to collaborate and more people get involved with SFRA. Maybe I’ll do something like the Barcamp held recently in Rotterdam. In fact, that might be just the thing, only for two days. Maybe Worm would even be a good space, if Hajo were willing. Hmmmn. The question would be finding inexpensive housing for everyone. Rotterdam is less expensive, but hotels anywhere…ideally I’d find university dorm rooms or something like that.

Before deciding though I will talk to Paweł and see what he thinks, since he seems the resident authority on the European SF scene. –And I’ll just gloat for a minute that now another scholar has joined Facebook at my instigation. Mwahahahah. How long can I resist having my vampire bite him… 😉

Well, I’ll post updates here, as plans solidify.

Embodied experience and the post-conference buzz

I’m not sure if it’s true for everyone, but I notice that starting by the end of my first day at a conference and lasting for weeks after, I often have so much more energy for writing than usual, even though I’ve keeping long hours and maybe having drinks as well. So what accounts for that?

On one of the now numerous email lists of which I’m member, someone posted about how interacting face to face always creates some energy that flows around between people. I’m not sure if that’s always true; sometimes socializing can be a bit of a strain, if for some reason it feels awkward. But on the whole, I think that’s right. Whenever I go to conferences and meet even one person I really connect with, I’m energized. Once I’ve made these connections, I can usually solidify and sustain them through a combination of email and skype, facebook messaging (and playing) and so on. I even find these virtual contacts energizing, if I have real conversations. And lately I’ve experienced something of that energy even with people I’ve never met in person, but in those cases I also feel an even more urgent wish to meet in person.

But I think there is something about physical presence that so far can’t be replicated or replaced by any virtual modes of contact. In a way it’s like falling for someone in that there’s a a similar feeling of immediate connection, of excitement, except it’s over a different kind of prospect; an intellectual potential, rather than romantic. –Or maybe romantic too, for some people. 😉 Or maybe only I feel this way. Most academics would hesitate to admit this, even if they felt it, I think, because though even porn is starting to be accepted as a subject for study, it’s still not really ok to talk about being motivated in our own work by pleasure, other than the most intellectual and abstract. I think that so many academics are suddenly not only joining Facebook but also getting really involved in it is that it allows expression of some of that same kind of pleasure that we experience when meeting in person.

Conference scheduling conflicts. Bleah.

I don’t travel all that much, and because of that I generally only attend conferences about intersections of tech and culture, so you’d think it would be fairly easy to avoid conflicts… but no. Having just joined the SFRA, I was happy to learn that the 2008 conference, which is held during summers, would be in Dublin because I already have plans to be on that side of the Atlantic in late June-Early July. Unfortunately, thanks to the plummeting dollar, the organizers shifted the conference to the states, to Kansas. If it was even on the East coast, I might have been able to work something out… (or if my school had anything approaching reasonable levels of support for travel).

Well, so, now I’m investigating if there are any other SF conferences that are being held in Europe during the time I plan to be there, but so far all I can find listed anywhere are conventions that don’t include scholarly presentations. Sigh.

Favorite foods and identity

During my visit to Portland (Maine) I enjoyed the chance to eat many of the foods that are hard to find in my little Central Valley city. I had sushi, Indian food, organic pizza and of course lobster, plus lots of different microbrew beers. Of course, Portland isn’t as diverse as some cities; it’s relatively small and for a long time has been rather homogenous, though that is changing. This got me thinking about my own collection of favorites foods; those associated with places I’ve lived or visited, and those that I’ve loved so well that I search them out or learn to make them wherever I go.

Food is one of the most popular identity markers; it can identify very easily and precisely an ethnic and/or geographic affiliation, but it’s generally “harmless” and unlikely to draw fire the way physical description or linguistic characteristics often do. I think this is because even though it often signals a certain background, it’s also a matter of taste. Anyone could develop a taste for durian (at least theoretically) or haggis, or salty licorice; or more readily perhaps, for mooncakes, dolma, pierogies… well I could go on and on and on.

And this is where (one place) identity becomes interesting. Because you can run right into the fact that on some level, people believe in the biology, even if intellectually they know race is a construct. On the one hand, people will proffer food preferences as evidence of belonging to a certain group and agree that it is some kind of evidence, but try saying that someone blonde and blue-eyed is Chinese because he/she love duck’s tongue, speak both Shanghahua and Putonghua (Mandarin) and even was raised in China. Then forget it.

Or, by contrast, European countries. I could learn a language, love the food, and adopt the appropriate name and I’d blend right in, at least in many places. Apart from the legal definitions, how many years until I can call myself Dutch or Italian or Polish or whatever? Some people might say now amount of time is enough to erase the difference. Then of course you have the US and Canada (not sure about Australia or the UK) Where theoretically anyone can become Canadian (if you don’t mind a process that takes years) and at least officially no one can say they aren’t real Americans or Canadians no matter what they look like, like to eat or language they are able to speak. So where does that leave definitions based on physical characteristics or geographical background?

I got into this tangle with students at MIT once where they were talking about the assumption that most students there are Asian. This led to the following exchange:

I asked “Asian, or Asian American?”
“Well, not American. I mean, look at this class, there are actually only a few Asians. Most are American”
“But Derek is from California, not Asia. And Alex, George, Maria, and Christian are all from from Europe. How are you defining American? Do you mean white?”

And here we would have had an uncomfortable silence except the European students were insulted that they had been mistaken for Americans and were only too happy to clear that up. 🙂

So what does it really mean to be from a culture or country? How many years does it take and which ones? At MLA a few years ago, everyone was arguing over who got to claim Ang Lee; Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, or the US. On a more serious note, what about Israel? What definition of that state will really hold up? What definition of any state is more than an arbitrary legal code, these days?

And here I thought I was just going to write about how settlement patterns are reflected in food and how I missed the Northeast and the wide variety of European food available there. (and Asian, but that being absent here hasn’t as much to do with settlement patterns as with class, I think). But I think academics often end up in the position of not feeling really firmly bound to any single locale or identity, because we go where the graduate program or the fellowship or the job takes us. And we go to conferences all over as well. I at least have ended up with a hodgepodge accent and a similarly disparate taste in food.

–I also was quite spoiled as a grad student in Amherst, Ma. Within a 5 mile radius (all covered by bus routes) I could eat decent, and often really good, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, Moroccan, Indian, German, Greek, Polish… I think I most miss the Moroccan and Polish food because I’ve had less luck finding it elsewhere than the other cuisines. Sigh. In Ma. I could get freshly made pierogies any time and now I can’t even find them frozen!

Well this post is going nowhere, but I guess it had to go somewhere so I could stop thinking about it. –Assuming that writing it here acts as a form of exorcism! 😉

I don’t know if this bothers other academics(or others who move a lot) but I’ve always kind of liked it. I’ve never minded, and now might even say I enjoy being a little (or a lot) alien.

Brian Massumi at SLSA

“Signs of Danger: The Political Ontology of Threat”

This was quite a talk. Massumi set out, step by step, the arguments used by Bush and his cronies to justify war in both Afghanistan and Iraq and every other vile act they’ve committed. And as was lucidly explained, the same trick was used every time: a feeling of threat was created based on what bin Laden/Hussein/terrorists would do if they could. This equation can’t be denied with factual evidence because it exists always in a speculative future–no WMDs? Well they would have had them if they could have. No evidence of terrorist acts by those prisoners in Guantanamo? They would have done it if they could have.

The way Massumi described the tactics was often extremely funny, but often I felt I was laughing more in pain than amusement, especially when remembering how hard people worked against our going into Iraq and how that accomplished exactly nothing. In the end though, I hoped he would say something about how humor operated in or against this dynamic of fear, and there was even a question about that. But he didn’t address possible counters, humorous or otherwise, and in a way seemed strangely distant from the whole subject.

After this talk, everything was over, the weather was foul and we tried to regroup for dinner and many drinks, as we’d been vowing to really enjoy since Thursday, leading to another sort-of adventure, but that’s another story.

Finally news on my blogging chapter, and identity projects more genrally

Quick burst of good news: finally I’ve heard from the editor of International Blogging; it’s coming out from Peter Lang in 2008 and my chapter will be the conclusion. 🙂 A draft of the intro is here.

It’s weird; I wrote this so long ago and now that it’s appearing, my work has moved on in another direction, focusing much more on participation, subversive cultures, and on the institutionalization of discourse around new media. I still work on identity, just not so much national identity by itself. I look at it in other contexts, like in comics, or genre fiction, or video games. Just recently I was searching for articles on this, and found some entries in Henry Jenkins’ blog that discuss comics and games and national identity in Poland, which he visited in 2006.

He goes on in later entries to also talk about Russia, Japan, and globalization, but I haven’t gotten to those yet. But anyway, he mentions a series generally referred to as the “Witcher” books that sound like I might like them, but they don’t seem to be out in English or maybe just not in the US. I’d really like to see what reviewers mean about the stories incorporating national characteristics. The author, Andrzej Sapkowski, seems cool; he even has links to fanfiction–one of the few words I could decipher, since the site is in Polish. But here’s another page with some info in English.

Where was I? Oh yeah, identity in genre fiction. Right, so I think I will have to take that up pretty soon.

Back to SLSA — Code Play panel

Ok, backing up to talk about what I think was actually the last panel I saw. Speaking were Dene Grigar, Jamie Bono, and, well, I’ll get to that later. I’ll go out of order…Dene spoke about an interactive kinesthetic system she and others are developing that creates a live game space that they are trying to use in a pedagogical way. The original system was used in dance clubs (and looked really fun for that). The presentation basically described the system, but I would have liked to hear more about how they had actually tried using it. At the end, even though Paweł tried to ask about what kinds of classes or material would work with the system or not, we still didn’t get much more detail. I think though that while the right design the system’s application beyond obvious subjects and categories, still some kinds of knowledge and classes work better as, say, discussions, or through textual exchanges.

Jamie argued that players who searched out and used cheat codes were little different from scholars who engaged in close reading and who used esoteric textual knowledge to glean further, new, and richer knowledge of the text. That’s an interesting proposition and I wish Jamie had gone through just a few examples and really traced the parallels. But as often happens to people speaking about their dissertations, the details (of user behavior in this case) overwhelmed the larger structure some, which I think led to our grilling Jamie at the reception later, wanting further explication.

The most interesting point, I think is the relation between the game authors (!) and players. Clearly those creating the games do deliberately plant easter eggs, trapdoors, and so on, and they rely on gamers to find these hidden treasures and figure out how to exploit them. But more than that, the desire for gamer to play games that contain these kinds of elements have shaped game design–really I wish Mirko had heard this talk; it’s right up his alley.

Finally the talk I thought would be most interesting, about how we exist in an info-cloud and where the borders between ourselves and others lie in the all of the communities in which we participate. Now this sounded like it fit right right in with my work, so I was really looking forward to it. Well, the speaker spent the first 20 minutes defining list after list of terms that were all just for background info. Then, in the last 5 minutes or so, he raced through about 20 more slides of what looked like the heart of the talk so quickly that I couldn’t even read one word. And I read pretty fast. So I was completely irritated. Thanks goodness it was the last talk (except for Massumi) and I had the reception and pleasant conversation to help revive me.