March 11, 2008

The Kind of Writing You Do Elsewhere

Filed under: beer,writing — jrice @ 10:16 pm

A friend in the Math Department wants to write a book on the local farmer’s market, but even as a full professor, he feels the time is not right. “Oh no,” he says when I prod him to write the book. “My department would never go for that.” “But you’re a full professor!” I insist. “It wouldn’t work. Not right now,” he insists right back.

We always want to write something else. I want to finish the next academic book (though that won’t be for awhile yet), and then immediately afterwards, I want to write about beer culture and obsession. The craft movement is an obsession; it is my obsession, but it is also an obsession that belongs to a larger movement of folks seeking out tastes and experiences. I don’t want to write a history of the craft movement, nor do I want to write a memoir. I want to write an obsessed text. A text about and that is obsessed. Not academic in scope, style, or substance, this writing I will do can only be defined as the writing you do elsewhere.

What is the “writing you do elsewhere?” I was reading Brian’s blog today and saw that Ray has written a new book on film and the ABC method. What Ray teaches that is so useful is the detail. Fed up with the rhetoric of critique and academic essays that all sound the same in their analysis and cultural studies stagnation, he searches for writing that comes from something other than the text’s supposed meaning. Following Barthes’ interest in details, this “something other” is captured in details, or in the case of Ray’s work, the filmic detail.

The writing I do elsewhere is always in debt to a detail. A liner note. An album cover. An anecdote. A memory. An image. A joke. A bit of the imaginative. A beer I want to drink. Always, a beer I want to drink. Most of the time, I want to allow the detail to drive my writing. For now, the writing I do elsewhere, I do here on this blog. This writing is marked by obsession (always on the heels of the question: why would anyone blog?) and desire (the urge to express).

This writing is told in details. Today I have a cold. Every day, we stop much of what we do around 5 p.m., and we have a beer. The fridge offers up its choices. We drink via the logic of the share. One beer divided into two glasses. One beer shared. One extends the tastings by the share. Jenny mostly lets me choose what we will have for each day. I have a six month rule for the beer stash. By six months, if it has not been opened, the beer must be opened. The cellaring movement popular in beer circles still has little meaning for me; I am eager to taste, not to age. Still, I have to pay attention to styles since IPAs are better with freshness; stouts, barley wines, saisons, and porters can sit longer. But today I have a cold. The Austin airport does me in every time I pass through it. I have never passed through the Austin airport without being sick a day later. Thus, we did not have a beer today. The stash did not shrink by one beer today. The obsession associated with building a stash is the same one you have when you are trying to work your way through it. For every purchase, a consumption must occur. Austin has delayed my consuming power.

And why write this? The details. A cold. A pattern interrupted. A story. A moment. If narrative is the driving force of print culture, and the database is the driving force of digital culture, the detail might be the driving force of writing done somewhere else, regardless of print of digital media. I don’t imagine this book on craft beer being short anecdotes about having colds; I do imagine, however, a series of obsessed moments, points, anecdotes, experiences, and so forth. I imagine its rhetoric as that of details.

Zuckerberg

Filed under: facebook — jrice @ 7:51 am

During the Zuckerberg fiasco at SWSX – the audience twittered their negative feelings about him, the interview, and Facebook while the interview was going on – the complaints rained down: what are you going to do about privacy, how can we deal with all the information, what about data ports?

In response to this new media moment where information comes all at once in McLuhanist fashion, I want to paraphrase my wife’s response for a minute: “GET A LIFE NERDS! IT’S A FREE APPLICATION! IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, DON’T USE IT! IT WAS MEANT FOR KIDS, NOT GROWN ADULTS! IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, GO MAKE YOUR OWN.”

March 10, 2008

Eating Austin

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 10:46 am

We ate our way through Austin. For four days, I felt like Anthony Bourdain. I was eating when I wasn’t hungry. I was enjoying the food – Mexican, sorbetto, burgers, breakfast tacos, and so on. We moved from place to place, meal to meal. We were like babies. Constantly eating. Like Bourdain, I should have finished every meal with the refrain: “This is the way cooking was meant to be. Using the parts we think you can’t use. Down home. Back to the basics.” Whatever.
Were we tourists? Nostalgia seekers coming home again? Academics taking advantage of their work schedule to have a break? Part time researchers? Baby sitters? All the above?

We saw the SWSX Interactive computer nerds dragging their swag around. Bags with new upstarts printed on the side. Next door to the hotel was the Convention Center. “Why doesn’t CCCC come to Austin,” Jenny asked. Too hip? Too hipster? All those hippies and hipsters mixing it up with young urban professionals surviving the dot com boom and bust and now gentle sway. Can’t we all just get along? “You should do SWSX Interactive,” Jenny said to me. “It costs about $400,” I said. “And then you have to listen to people tell you that Facebook is a way to observe hegemonic teens. No thanks.”

Still,  such trips aren’t without their social networking. “How have you been?” “What’s new?” “Will I see you in Seattle or New Orleans?” We make casual gestures towards future drinking and hanging out. I might be the only one around not looking forward to New Orleans. I’ve never been impressed with the urine smell or overpriced bad beer and “cajun” food.  Bourbon Street is mostly pole dancing anyway. “Will you be in New Orleans?” Yes, we will. This is, after all, the conference we have to get into so that we do not go to any of the panels we think are beneath us. Conferences, after all, are a lot like eating too much as a tourist. You keep going and going and going….even when you are full. Or full of it. Whatever.

March 6, 2008

Sabbatical?

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 11:15 am

I’ll riff on Debbie’s sabbatical breakdown, which Steve riffs off of:

Q: Are you doing anything fun on your sabbatical?

Here’s the thing. In six years, I have never received one. I did get approved for one at Wayne State, but then I left the university and came to Missouri. I would have been eligible for one at UDM, but then I left there for Wayne State. Each time, so far, that I have come up for or been approved for sabbatical, I move on to another place. Sabbatical, for me, is this imaginary space where people get to write all the time and avoid all their other academic activities and obligations. Make no mistake about it; I want that, too. But in the meantime, I still seem to get the writing done and to get it out there. Two articles and a book this past academic year. Three articles about to come out this academic year. I’d like to have the time to myself right now to really work on the Detroit book, but all I can do is adjust: make time when I can. Multi-task. Find the overlaps in work. Balance Vered on my knee while I learn how to type with one hand.

March 3, 2008

Album Cover Notes: Notes on Writing and Invention

Filed under: music,writing — jrice @ 9:49 pm

In the heuristics of music writing, driven by new media logics and thoughts of public intellectualism (writing with public iconography or meaning), there are also Album Cover Notes. Album covers circulate in public ways. Abbey Road. Led Zeppelin IV. Some Girls. The pictures are recognizable. They are iconic. For that reason, the covers and whatever meanings they may contain or project are public.

Take Wish You Were Here. The burning man image is a common one. The band’s name does not appear on the cover. Just the flames. Still, we know this is a Pink Floyd record. Does it matter that I may like or dislike this record? The purpose of Album Cover Notes is not to focus on albums one loves, fetishizes, adores, or believes in. To do that writing would be to narrate affection or emotional attachment. Album Cover Notes is, after all, new media in design. The album is the technology that holds the sound or composition. We call that technology a medium. This new media logic asks us to work with media design: Work from intuition (Ulmer) and affect (Barthes). Pick what strikes you. Let the icon draw you in. Make its detail(s) or juxtapositions your focus.
borrowed from http://www.studio18.co.uk/shop/images/Thorgerson/Wish_You_Were_Here.jpg

Like all immediate readings, I should be drawn to the burning man. Or the irony the cover rhetorically expresses. Or the critique (robotic bodies bursting into flames when drawn into capital). But I’m not. I notice the warehouse district or movie lot. I imagine this lot as a warehouse district where shipping, automotive work, small factories are located. Instead of the burning man, I notice the less immediate reading. Barthes called it the punctum. We could just as easily say: detail.

The details are the focus of all writings. I worked in a warehouse district as a teenager. A high end garage where I cut brake discs wrong and got yelled at. The boss hired me so that he could mentor me. I was a terrible mentee. I didn’t want to hang out after hours. I wanted to rush home. Why? Because I didn’t know better. At home, I strummed the chords to the Pink Floyd song I knew best.

So, so you think you could tell

Heaven from hell

Blue skies from rain

But could you tell this feeling

During breaks, we drank Cuban coffees. Half sugar, half coffee. Cafe Cubano. Sweet and rich. The owner, who was not Cuban, spoke Spanish with a perfect Cuban accent. Another mechanic claimed proficiency in six or seven languages. He was from Switzerland. He, too, spoke Spanish with a Cuban accent. “I want to learn Jewish,” he once told me for no reason. “It’s like German.” He switched languages like an actor.

We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl

Year after year

The corny lyrics echo this moment. Identity. Ethnicity. Working in a garage. Teenage memories at their best. If in a movie, the kid would come to terms with both life skills (finally learning how to cut brakes right) or ethnicity (we are equal but different). Often, in this garage, we took the Audis and Volvos waiting for repair out to run errands. One time, however, I got yelled at for doing so. I didn’t understand. We had done it before. I had my only experience driving a Maserati at that job. The boss took over and ran it to 90 down a small street behind our district. It, too, felt like a movie. A high speed chase.

Did they get you to trade

Your heroes for ghosts

The purpose of narrative is to tell stories. Spatial stories, de Certeau writes, are the stories cities tell. Miami, in 1987, tells me a story that I can’t figure out. Why am I remembering this? Why is Pink Floyd my invention principle? What does narrative to do for me that a critical reading does not? That is the nature of the concept. It may suggest referentiality, but it is not obligated to reference anything. In pedagogy, concepts without reference are called into question: “But is it practical?” In music, they are the basis for performance. In reading, critique asks for reference: this shows this discrepancy. In music, one gets two men; one burns; the other watches. They shake hands. It’s a concept.

And did you exchange

Your walk on part in the war

For a leading role

In a cage

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