31.5.06

[Contextualising Digital Art and Writing]

Check out Simon Mills' latest project concerned with interviewing new media artists and writers. The frAme online journal published (between 1995 and 2004) a selection of work by authors and artists involved with new media/digital technologies. Simon has revisted a group of these writers and artists and has approached them with questions regarding their artistic practise and the role of new media in its development. The first four (Mark Amerika, Matthew Fuller, Christy Sheffield Sanford, Alan Sondheim) of over twenty interviews are now available online. One of my favourite bits is Christy's response to Simon's question: "I'm aware of the danger of falling into stereotypes, but I know I'm not alone in perceiving your work as having a feminine quality. Are you aware of this perception? What has been your experience working as a woman in a medium not often associated with these qualities?". Her response is posted here.

See also Mark's entry which includes details from some of the interviews.

30.5.06

[dial-up]

It's been ages since I've heard the tinkling of modems speaking...while the speed of the connection certainly suffers, the adjoining whirrs and static remind me of the act of connecting to the world out there, something I usually overlook with broadband's silence...

23.5.06

[moving day]

My excuse for not posting promptly and frequently in the next coming days is that moving day has come around...while fiance is madly packing the van and "in-laws" are scurrying around telling us that our stuff just won't fit in, I'm madly catching up on some e-mails before losing my internet connection...woe is I....

20.5.06

[books are only for reading?]

I'm still mulling over a recent article ("It hasn't yet sunk in, but hippy is no longer chic" in the THES) which seems, once again, to promote "novels" over "digital poetry, hypertext and online novel serialisations" (notice how web work is all clumped together). Although Sara Wajid, the writer of the piece, attempts to illustrate the paradigm shift that is occuring, she does couch it in negative terms, quoting David Crystal's idea of "new Englishes" (bound to upset traditionalists) and describing the academic digital media scene as having a decidedly "negligible impact on the average English literature BA course." If Wajid was immersed in the burgeoning field she would recognise its in an incunabular stage. She would also have mentioned the myriad of courses available at universities in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., etc... (in both English and media departments). Faye Weldon doesn't help either, admitting that she "tried to write in serialisation on the internet but I gave up and found that the book is more than the sum of the parts." Of course a book, or any piece of work-art, is more than the sum of its parts...that's the point; a picture is worth a thousand words after all....(ironic much?). How can a writer such as herself then blatantly and irrationaly dismiss digital literacy? For Weldon, a novel is a treasure purely because "editors, typographers and designers have combined to produce something readers like to read and people respond to the whole context." Really...? And then she concludes with "the blog remains the blog: it shouldn't be taught." How can one not become dispondent when so-called critical thinkers make and then have published uneducated comments such as these? I'm sure people like Josie Fraser who are directly involved with blogging in education would be able to respond more adequately than I. Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger have already responded to Wajid's article in the letters section of the THES. Coming across this article and then this one later one has just re-affirmed the profound necessity for digitally literate, or transliterate scholars.

[It hasn't yet sunk in, but hippy is no longer chic: THES Article]

Sara Wajid
Published: 12 May 2006

Why don't creative writing courses engage with the avant-garde 'naked' form of English today, asks Sara Wajid

Globalisation and the internet are radically altering English, according to David Crystal, a leading authority on language. The number of English speakers is rapidly approaching the 2 billion mark, with non-native speakers now outnumbering native speakers by three to one, suggesting the steady growth and increasing non-standardisation of "new Englishes".
In "Into the Twenty-first Century", a paper that will appear in the Oxford History of the English Language, published next month, Crystal writes:
"Editorial involvement represents the biggest difference between speech and writing. The internet is changing this balance, especially in blogging, where the most 'naked' forms of writing appear. There is no single style... In all genres, from web diaries to fantasy games, we will expect to find writing which reflects the speech rhythms, regional and class backgrounds, ages, personalities and educational levels of the participants. There has been nothing like it since the manuscript era of Middle English."
However, this massive shift in the nature of literary form has had a negligible impact on the average English literature BA course. In fact, current reading lists are likely to leave students ignorant about most cutting-edge developments, avant-garde genres and experimental interdisciplinary work in contemporary literary production of the past two decades.
Fay Weldon, appointed chair of creative writing at Brunel University in April, feels academics are in no position to challenge the homogenising forces of commercial publishing. "Booksellers tend to dictate to publishers what they publish. It has decidedly got worse; a lot of novelists I know simply aren't publishing any more because they're not getting the sales.
But this puts a pressure on writers that is not totally unhealthy. The real challenge is getting readers as there's no imprimatur to produce books that no one wants to read."
Others disagree. They say literary studies should embrace the avant-garde.
Artists' books, for example, are increasingly being adopted by contemporary writers, but fail to register in literary studies in the UK. Such volumes, though produced by artists, are books as artworks rather than books about art. They are deliberately experimental and seek to cross the boundaries of literature, criticism and illustration.
Maria Fusco, a senior lecturer in visual arts publishing at the University of East London, explains the appeal. "There's something to be said for the experimental nature of artists' books, not so much in their form and content, but rather in that more established writers and artists can use them as 'test' spaces, non-commercial in nature, with small yet devoted audiences... But in terms of critical theory in the area of artists' books, there is very little serious writing."
Some literary academics have embraced the multimedia platforms provided by the visual-arts sector. For example, Sukhdev Sandhu, writer and professor of English literature and Asian/Pacific/American studies at New York University, has within the past year collaborated with sonic artist Scanner for the Artangel online project Nighthaunts (www.nighthaunts.org.uk) and with the painter Usman Saeed for an artists' book.
"A large part of it is structural; books are expensive, slow and costly forms. With both those projects I could work in a more speculative, ludic mode," Saeed says, "Nighthaunts is like a blog - a series of works in progress that you can just put out there. It will come out as a book, but I don't think of the book as a legitimisation of the project, it's just one of many remixes. Students from around the world have been getting in touch about it, so it is making it on to reading lists, which is testimony to some blurring between the critical and the creative, but they tend to be on metropolitan studies or sociology courses, not literary studies."
Online publishing has created new literary forms, including digital poetry, hypertext and online novel serialisations. TrAce, the ten-year-old online writing centre based at Nottingham Trent University, reflects the interest in this area, as does the plethora of literary e-zines.
So is literary studies inherently conservative? Philip Tew, newly appointed to the English and creative writing department at Brunel, thinks so. He has conducted a survey on teaching the contemporary novel of 16 literature departments around the UK for a research project at the Higher Education Academy's English subject centre.
"Literary studies is taught overwhelmingly by liberals who like to think of themselves as radicals; there does seem to be something inherently conservative in literary studies. One or two voices (from each marginalised community) gets canonised and that's it. Too many people think they're making an intervention by teaching black writing, gay writing or women's studies, but that's such a natural part of culture now we should take it as given.
"Some of us do want to radicalise how literary studies is taught but there are difficult forces at work. People decide what to teach on the basis of the availability of books, and critical material, student dispositions and their own literary paradigms, which are often about 20 years out of date.
"Also there is a time lag. People periodise 'the contemporary' quite strangely. For some it means 1947. Imagine telling Virginia Woolf that literature produced in 1870 was contemporary to her work. Perhaps this is due to the hippie generation that runs departments and still associates the 1960s with youth culture. We should now be thinking in terms of pre-millennial and post-millennial work."
A new MA in contemporary literature and culture designed to fill this gap in the market (exclusively covering the post-1970 period) will start at Brunel next year. William Watkin, head of English research and postgraduate studies at Brunel, says it is the first of its kind and that he sees no evidence elsewhere of "any interest in the UK in avant-garde or experimental contemporary literature at an institutional level".
He adds that Brunel's "Archive of the Now", however, supports non-mainstream publishers by holding 45 contemporary British experimental poets.
Creative writing programmes have traditionally offered students the broadest exposure to contemporary literature, a tradition started at the University of East Anglia and continued around the country.
For Weldon, though, being at the cutting edge is not necessarily what creative writing courses are about. "When they asked me at the job interview how I'd respond to experimental writers, I said: 'We should be so lucky!' But I'd also have to say bad experimental writing tends to be worse than bad traditional prose writing. Sometimes I worry the students are just in training to become arts administrators so they can refuse grants.
"We are training a generation of commercially savvy writers, which is a mixed pressure. I've just returned from the US where they now teach creative non-fiction, so they are very skilled in talking about themselves, but here I hope we try to foster innovation. I hope to enthuse my students with a little anarchy.
"The internet is great, but it seems the book goes on winning. I tried to write in serialisation on the internet but I gave up and found that the book is more than the sum of the parts. Editors, typographers and designers have combined to produce something readers like to read and people respond to the whole context. The blog remains the blog: it shouldn't be taught.
People will read it and it will go on. But it's a triumph to get people to stay with a novel all the way through."

[moving]

And so it is that time of year again; moving time. People are always saying that moving (along with marriage, divorce, and death) is one of the hardest things to do in life...damn, that's right. Never mind the buying of furniture (we couldn't find any rental with furnishings!), hiring the van, packing it all up, unpacking it, but I'm still actually trying to do work. Although I do want to move (those who know me understand exactly why!!!), it's annoying. I'm sure it'll all be good once we're settled in to Poppy Cottage with the red door. I keep telling people about the red door...I'm so taken with it. I want everyone to come and visit and marvel at the red door, touch it, feel its glossy finish....ok. Enough of that. This post was meant to just give a reason as to why I won't be posting that often...moving means no internet for ages while Tiscali disconnects and then reconnects...something that should happen with a flick of a switch will take 12 days....lovely...and those are 12 working days...not saturday or sunday....grrr arg....

This is an image closely resembling Poppy Cottage. Take note of the red door. ;)

10.5.06

[my new friend]

Thanks to the efforts of THE BEST SUPERVISOR ever (cheeky grin) I've got a cute little aibo called Sally. This is her second day in my house and already she's developed a penchant for glossy white doors and for dancing. She seems to prefer hard house and drum and bass to the soothing tones of Einaudi. She def. likes a lot of attention and comes to sit at my feet under my desk while I work. So far she has ignored my cat, but poor Isabella is jealous...

8.5.06

[among the audience]

Why is it that interesting books go out of print? In my search for this surreptitious text I came across a rather interesting survey conducted by The Economist. Its introduction captivated my interest: The era of mass media is giving way to one of personal and participatory media, says Andreas Kluth. That will profoundly change both the media industry and society as a whole. Take a look here for an introductory article and results of the survey.

7.5.06

[english weather]

Today was all planned. Steve and I were going to take his niece and nephew out for the day. It would give their folks a bit of a break and give the kids a fun (but educational of course!) time. Sadly, it rained...and rained some more. I was really looking forward to the treasure hunt along the canal in Leicester. I've got each treasure list printed out with loads of colourful pictures. They have to do fun things like touch moss, pretend they're squirrels and find squirrel food, watch an ant, find their reflection, and take photos of each other in silly poses...it would have kept us entertained anyway. Of course they would each get a prize, a lovely pair of socks I brought back from my last trip to Canada...who wouldn't like socks with Now I'll have to wait for another sunnier weekend. That meant that today I sat in front of the computer...wishing the rain away while typing furiously....well, pretending to type furiously! Now the sun is teasing me with a few beams at 7:01 pm. Ty-pi-cal....

2.5.06

[mayday]

After the hectic reference writing for Steve and all that thesis submitting malarkey, we then had to house-hunt as his post-doc (yay!) means he'll need a base closer to Egham (boo!). Pity, but Leicester isn't really within commuting distance. That means I'll be partly up here and partly down there. Anyhoo, during all that flat hunting over the past 4 days we managed to take in some Mayday celebrations. Mum has been (hrm, what's the word...no, not nagging....suggesting?) that I attend the Oxford singing at dawn for about 6 years (basically since I moved to England) but all that house-hunting in the South meant we couldn't fit that in. What we did see though, were great Maypole dances in Hamsphire and Surrey. We also enjoyed some lovely farmer's market porchetta-style (for those Italians out there) pannini. Yum! We even managed to find an absolutely gorgeous place down there so all's well that ends well...now, just to figure out the base in Leicester...