Thursday, July 02, 2015

Assessing Assessment: Against Managerial Constraint

a guest post by Robert McRuer

[My department chair and good friend Robert McRuer posted the following as a Facebook update, and I shared it, and his post inspired people enough that I thought: why not take Robert to the Venetian Room, ply him with Manhattans, and ask if I can place his post on ITM? I did, and here it is -- JJC]


The grumpiness emanating from my office is a result of the dreaded annual Assessment of Student Learning for the department. It may be the part of my job I dislike most, even if I do take the opportunity each year to put something snarky in my introduction. Here's the current draft of said introduction for 2015:
'The Department of English again begins this year’s Assessment of Student Learning with the recognition that words such as “assessment,” “measurement,” “rubrics,” and “learning outcomes,” while ubiquitous in contemporary higher education, are not merely neutral and descriptive. Put differently, they do not simply name straightforward and preexisting entities or processes; they actively participate, instead, in the materialization and consolidation of a particular sort of institutional context. This managed and managerial institutional context, understood by many contemporary commentators as “neoliberal,” is in many ways inimical to the development of the kind of lifelong learning habits faculty in the humanities often value: a voracious hunger for reading, a wide-ranging curiosity about the diverse and complex world around us, an unbounded desire to generate knowledge and beauty in a range of forms and languages, a deep reflectiveness about the strangeness of our own moment and its differences from other moments in history. We believe that our students develop these habits (indeed, they often tell us as much years later); we also want to affirm, however, that these habits cannot be easily measured or charted on a graph. In our required Introduction to Critical Theory course, our students learn that theorizing entails questioning how arrangements of language and power constrain and produce possibilities for human agency, thought, relationship, community, and praxis. The language of assessment in contemporary higher education obviously produces populations that are easier to monitor; it simultaneously often constrains the imaginative capacities we hope to unleash in our students. 
This year, assessment in the Department of English focused on blah blah blah...'

Friday, June 26, 2015

We like to do the same kind of stuff people do, or, pigs eating pigs in Paris

by KARL STEEL
Touke Psalter, Walters Art Museum, November


Right now, I’m reading/reviewing the proceedings of a Parisian medieval animals conference I attended (my paper isn’t in it, since it was bound for this instead).

With a book in front of me, and therefore without needing to strain to understand the French, I've been able to slow down and be properly shocked by the following entries from the National Archives of France, transcribed by Benoît Descamps in his excellent article “ ‘Chairs loyales et déloyales’: les animaux de boucherie dans les règlements de métiers urbain à la fin du Moyen Âge” [Authorized and Unauthorized Meats: Animals for Slaughter in the Regulations of Urban Trades at the End of the Middle Ages”]

For your delectation:


“les pourceaux de Colin Hoyau estoient montez ou solier et en l’ostel Jehan Moitou, [où ils] despecerent le pot ou la char bouloit au feu, et mengerent la char” (Z2 3264 fol. 45 (July 1408))
"The pigs of Colin Hoyau climbed onto an upper floor of the shop of Jehan Moitou, where they shattered the pot where meat was boiling on the fire, and they ate the meat"

“a emprisonné 3 pourceaulx appurtenant à Jaquet Jarnoy, pour ce que ilz ont mengé et degasté certaine quantité de suif et ont fait en son hostel grant interest, pour la deffaute de la garde dud. Jaquet”
“there were imprisoned 3 pigs belonging to Jaquet Jarnoy, because they ate and destroyed a certain quantity of suet and they have done great damage to his shop, because Jaquet had neglected to watch over them” (Z2 3264 fol. 70 (November 1408))


Thursday, June 25, 2015

"A World of Multiple Natures": On Jamie Lorimer, Wildlife in the Anthropocene

by J J Cohen

Readers of this blog know that my work took an ecological turn in my fourth monograph -- or, to give my past self a little more credit, I began to intensify some of the environmental thinking already within the fabric of books like Medieval Identity Machines (which opens by imagining the medieval body as ecological interface) and Monster Theory (it did not take the Anthropocene to trigger anxieties about the monstrous limits of the human). Most of this ecological thinking has proceeded collaboratively (e.g. here, herehere, & here) -- and that communality is for me a powerful draw. This fall semester I am on leave, funded to work on two more ecocritical projects, both of them also collaborative: a co-written book (with Lindy Elkins-Tanton) on the Earth as object; and co-edited collection of essays (with Lowell Duckert) that attempts to re-imagine the genre of the keyword anthology to gather environmental humanities types across disciplines and time periods. My summer reading therefore includes many books that push at the edges of what environmental thought, writing, theory and action might accomplish.

Among my favorites so far is Jamie Lorimer's Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation After Nature. A professor of human geography, Lorimer redefines conservation as a forward-looking and dynamic practice. Conservation does not attempt to render the present moment eternal, cannot be addressed solely to charismatic creatures, and will not impose boundaries to delimit preserved areas. Instead it is an open and curiosity driven practice of biopolitics (yes he really does attempt to reclaim that word and render it potentially affirmative) that focuses upon wildlife as unruly, discordant, inventive, "multi-natural," and not amenable to management, abstraction, or commodification. This approach refocuses conservation's gaze to include brownfields and urban roofs, which become as generative of possibility as islands and forests-turned-national-parks. Like most who write about the Anthropocene, Lorimer considers recognition of the epoch to herald a cognitive revolution "akin to the shocking thoughts of Copernicus, Lyell, and Darwin" (1). I'm a bit skeptical of such narratives of novelty, rupture and discontinuity, since they obliterate some deep and quiet continuities and pass over enduring epistemological inheritances. Whether in thinking climate change or geological deep time, I believe we are more like our spurned predecessors than we acknowledge, often to our detriment: we need an archive of richer and more complicated stories about the environment and catastrophe. Newness and epochal periodizations too often strive to liberate us from the weight of our history. But I do admire the Lorimer's insistence that a move to biopolitics gives us needed tools for conceptualizing scales vaster than individuals and species; that biopower is about shared existence and inhuman agency; and that both strategies we have developed for the Anthropocene (a [forced or chosen] return to nature; or a salvific embrace of technology) will not solve much of anything. Inspired by the work of Donna Haraway on multispecies companionships, Lorimer stresses the unruliness and rambunctiousness of wildlife (a term he uses to capture all biological life in its creative, nonlinear, open ended attempts to thrive). He contrasts the preservation of a bird called the corn crake (I cannot not hear Margaret Atwood in that choice) in the Hebrides with rewilding efforts in the Netherlands. Whereas the crake is saved by returning to and maintaining the preindustrial agricultural practices upon which its life cycle depends, thereby freezing the bird and the people who live with it in time, the Oostvaardersplassen (OVP) was reclaimed from the sea and used an experimental space for rewilding: marginal land become an open laboratory for migratory animals to populate and for cattle and horses to "dedomesticate" themselves (in the hope that "their grazing and carcasses would create a novel ecosystem, full of surprising and unprecedented events," 98; this would amount to "replacement of relations of trust over relations of dominance" 107). Lorimer is careful to point out that in actual practice both conservation efforts tend towards each other: even though corn crakes are managed and abstracted in order to judge success in keeping their numbers high ("land sparing"), this practice is conducted on the ground by scientists and volunteers who have to invent local and place-bound practices of knowledge (how do you count things you can't see? How do you live with them as you move through their space?); even though the OVP was supposed to be left alone, in fact there has been significant human interaction with the space and learning from practices that yielded animal suffering ("land sharing," 101). Lorimer's sympathy, though, is fully with rewilding, which discards a fantasy of managing nature and refuses to believe in equilibrium, instead trusting that the generation of difference and surprise keeps ecologies resilient spaces for multispecies thriving (116). The book details at length the importance of media to creating human affective investment in such projects, praising the work of curiosity and sympathy (which Lorimer argues motivates scientists in the field as much as the publics that might be convinced to support their work).

Curiosity and hope are, without much fanfare, the words that weave together the book's narrative: Lorimer's curiosity to follow various modes of conservation in the Anthropocene, and hope that unexpected events and forms of living together will emerge from the practices he details; the curiosity that may be conveyed through media modes like experimental film in order to move audiences to hopeful ecological action; the curiosity that is a desire for surprise that will yield the sciences and the companionships necessary for creating a hopeful future in a time of environmental degradation and unchecked market forces that render everything a knowable commodity. Lorimer's posthumanism (which he also calls a cosmopolitics) refuses to give up on humans, conservation, technology, administration, politics -- because only through such things can "life and subjectivity, both human and nonhuman" be protected and valued in the face of relentless, inhumane, resource-seeking neoliberal capitalism. Wildlife conservation (a phrase Lorimer wants to maintain as a paradoxical) enables "companionships" that are not "premised on anticipating and securing fixed identities and territories" (190). The book ends with a plea for "a more open mode of conservation," wilding:  "shorn of the prefix re-, it opens up the temporalities of conservation. It is about the future as much as the past. It offers hope" (190). This optimism is best expressed very early in the book when Lorimer imagines the Anthropocene yielding to the Cosmoscene:
The Cosmoscene would begin when modern humans became aware of the impossibility of extricating themselves from the earth and started to take responsibility for the world in which they lived -- turning to face the future, rather than running from the past, and acknowledging, building, and absenting from relations with all the risky, sustaining, and endearing dimensions of the planet. The Anthropocene would become a staging point, the threshold at which the planet tipped out of the Holocene before embarking upon a post-Natural epoch of multispecies flourishing with its own, perhaps less dramatic, stratigraphy. (4)
I'd push at that metaphor, and point out that running from the past keeps is what keeps faces turned to the future, always at the expense of the present. Why not stop running, catch a breath, account better for the complicated stories we have been telling about multispecies flourishing in the face of catastrophe for a very long time? These stories inhabit us, sometimes compelling us to diminish the possibilities for "multispecies flourishing" ... but sometimes rich in possibilities for imagining that companionship in all its intricacy. Against epoch-making and dramatic stratigraphy, I'd rather see dense archives, porous histories, and the surprising endurance of unconformities.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Not Breaking the Rules Is Unconscionable: Where Punctum is Headed, Why It's Hard, and How Everyone Can Help


by EILEEN JOY

[first, read Jeffrey on Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman]

... because humanities scholarship is so tied to writing and publishing, opening up new possibilities for writing and publishing may, in fact, open up new possibilities within the institution itself. To change attitudes toward academic style means changing practices in the training of graduate students, ... changing the practices of conferences and publishers, changing the practices of hiring and tenure committees. It means experimenting. Every writer and thinker knows this, because to write and to think is to experiment — to try stuff out and risk failure. It's terrifying because in a very real sense this is about people's livelihoods. But given the state of higher education in the U.S., at least, there's little reason not to experiment, because it's only a minority of people who are making any sort of livelihood from this work, or who even have any hope of making a livelihood from it. American academia is a perfect embodiment of capitalism in the way that it wastes human beings: their knowledge, their potential, their good will.  ... The rules are against us. Learning them is important, because we need to know the landscape, the architecture, the logic. But the rules do not like us, they do not want us, they do not have any use for us. Not breaking them is unconscionable. 


A grasshopper walks into a bar, and the bartender says, "Hey, we have a drink named after you." And the grasshopper says, "You have a drink named Steve?"

First, try to figure out what the grasshopper joke has to do with any of this (it might become more clear by the end).

Over the past year (or so), and as related elsewhere (HERE and HERE), I have experienced no little amount of anxiety (and also occasional depression) over whether or not an open-access press (in this case, punctum books), which gives everything away for free (and which is located in the U.S. where, unlike most of Europe, there are no government-funded research councils that actually underwrite OA publishing), and which is also dedicated to fostering radically experimental modes of "academic" writing, can actually survive, and the answer is: without some combination of institutional, foundational, private, and also general public (id est, READER) support ... probably NOT. In addition, I have been working myself beyond a certain physical and emotional breaking point -- albeit, I'm really kind of okay with this, as long as it doesn't last forever (in that sense, I think of punctum as a sort of start-up venture, and I have given myself roughly 3 years, until August 2016, to work these inhuman hours, with the hope that eventually I won't have to). And finally, I am going (or have gone) completely broke. And I'm not the only one. Dan Rudmann, for example, who founded and manages punctum records and Studium, has also been working inhuman hours -- 8:00am to midnight most days -- has also drained all of his personal coffers, and teeters on a very precarious economic precipice.

In the way of SOME relief, I am thus THRILLED to announce that both David Hadbawnik (PhD, University at Buffalo, SUNY and soon to be en route to the American University of Kuwait, where he has been hired as an Asst. Professor) and Chris Piuma (PhD candidate, University of Toronto) are joining punctum as Associate Directors, in order to help me manage the editorial and production workflow, as well as help me focus more attention on matters I have been neglecting due to how much time I simply spend reviewing manuscripts, editing and designing books, and managing correspondence, such as: marketing (social media outreach but also getting books reviewed in as many outlets as possible), developing relationships with distributors and bookstores and institutional libraries, managing metadata, increasing the diversity of our delivery platforms, experimenting with different ways of designing enriched reading environments, and also just generally helping me to strategize where punctum goes from here (wherever "here" happens to be). (We also have a new Co-Director waiting in the wings, more about which in a few months.) And as silly as this might sound, I am so happy that David and Chris, like myself, are both medievalists (who also, like me, have backgrounds as well in creative writing), because I really believe that there is something about the orientation (and training) of postmedieval premodernists (who also happen to be creative artists) that makes us especially suited to chart nighttime raids into the past to poach cool stuff that can be re-purposed, in strategic fashion, for creative (and importantly dis/orienting) interventions into various present moments, and also because, at any moment when anyone is declaring the "crisis" of anything, the premodernists have a very useful LONG historical perspective.

In addition, Alli Crandell (a brilliant and creative graphic and web designer -- see HERE), who has previously donated her skills to help punctum design special web-based environments for punctum titles that are not just analogues of print editions (see HERE and HERE), has graciously agreed to help punctum do several things this summer, including: a) a complete overhaul of our website to make it more easily/logically navigable; b) the creation of a subscription service, or services (that would allow us to offer punctum's entire library through unique interfaces that would be adaptable across all sorts of devices); and c) the launch of what I am calling (for lack of a better term at present) a GRADUATED OA model (the idea for which is partly influenced by projects such as Knowledge Unlatched), in which the downloadable PDFs of titles would carry a very small and reasonable fee for a *temporary* period -- say, something like 6 months -- after which they would be fully "unlocked"; these titles would still carry a Creative Commons license that would allow them to be shared at no cost, regardless, with no restrictions, and the bottom line is that, little by little, and with everyone's help, the open archive of punctum titles would continue to grow in leaps and bounds. The primary idea here is that OA publishing won't work without at least some reader support, and simply asking people to consider making a donation (in any amount of their choosing) every time they download a book is simply not netting us anything that would allow us to even pay one person to do ANYthing (and THANK YOU to everyone who has made donations, nevertheless, and please don't stop). OA publishing will not survive, especially in the American context, without government, institutional, and foundational subsidies, and if we in the humanities want to avoid the author-pay system that appears to be endemic now throughout Europe (and has already arrived in the US by way of, for one prominent example, University of California Press -- more on which, see below), and I believe we should want to avoid this, as I see it as a potential impediment to ACCESS to publication for many authors and projects, then as readers, I think we have to be willing to lend some small support (the Open Library of Humanities in the UK, for which I serve on the Editorial Committee, is one shining example of a different, collective funding model). We should be willing to pay reasonable prices for things we really want and need (whether that is a book, a journal issue, a music CD, a TV series, a software app, and so on), unless you want to live in a world where companies like Google and Apple and Amazon own all of the content and all of the tools and toys and don't ultimately care how any of this relates to democracy and a thriving cultural commons, and who will quickly dump any platforms for making content available if it doesn't suit their ever-evolving-at-hyper-speeds business plans.

It is important to point out here that David, Chris and Alli are DONATING their time, albeit with the hope that their labors will help free me up to spend more time drumming up financial and infrastructural support that would eventually lead to the 4 of us (and hopefully more!) actually running punctum books full-time with the sort of compensation that could sustain us and our collective ventures, and in this sense, we all work on borrowed time. The future, as always, is uncertain, while at the same time I see real opportunities for creating something radically different within the Open Access movement (and the Digital Humanities more largely) with punctum books, especially within the American context  -- although, to be certain, we are an international publisher with authors spread out around the globe, and we have very serious interests in multilingual and translation projects (as evidenced HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE, and with more to come). It's just that, unlike in Europe and in other countries, there are no explicit funding mandates, either at state or national levels, for the cultivation of OA academic publishing. Currently, many university publishers and DH Centers are looking to foundations like Mellon for help with developing the initial infrastructure for projects such as Manifold Scholarship, a joint project between University of Minnesota Press and CUNY Graduate Center's Digital Scholarship Lab, and Luminos + Collabra, University of California Press's new OA Monographs and Mega-Journal platforms. In the case of the latter, it is hoped that long-term sustainability will be achieved through a combination of authors+universities, libraries, and the publisher itself sharing the cost of producing the titles up front, and/or through Article Processing Charges. But the troubling question still obtains, especially in the American context where state legislatures are slashing budgets for higher education and university managerial technocrats are increasingly uninterested in helping to sponsor experimental, speculative, and "useless" (non-applications based) scholarship. If there is, for example, currently no money to be had for say, creating more tenure lines or reducing class sizes or supporting faculty development (such as through travel grants, reductions in teaching loads, and the like) or making tuition affordable for all or adequately compensating graduate student assistants, and the like, then where is the money coming from to sustain these new publishing initiatives into the long term? The answer is: from nowhere ... at least, not right now. Bon Jovi's "Living On a Prayer" comes to mind.

With regard to the larger Open Access movement in general, we are thus at a strange, and possibly troubling moment, and the reasons why were starkly (and serendipitously) brought home to me just this past week when, as luck would have it, the Radical Open Access conference at the University of Coventry (for which I was a featured speaker) preceded by just a few days the annual meeting of the American Association of University Publishers, the proceedings of which I followed assiduously on Twitter (for the first time in my life, as a ghost-spectator to a conference I could not attend, I really *for realz* realized the immense value of those who tweet conference sessions -- the information can only ever be partial, and is sometimes "askew," but it is enough to get a good sense of some of the viewpoints being put forth, and you can also engage with those who are there to ask clarifying questions). There are SO many things I want to say about the ways in which these two events could not have been more radically different from each other (and I don't have room here to go through everything, but ...), especially in the ways in which everyone at RadicalOA was wringing their hands over the neoliberalization of OA publishing, such as by commercial publishers, and especially within the European context where multiple millions of dollars are flowing straight from national research coffers into commercial publishers' bank accounts, with little in the way of what might be called a radicalization and democratization of editorial/curatorial practices (see, especially, Martin Eve on this state of affairs HERE, HERE, and HERE), whereas in Denver, a lot of the sessions at the AAUP conference addressed questions like: when and how and under what circumstances do you both initiate and also kill a book series? what is successful product development? should publishers target libraries or scholars and "end users"? how can acquisitions editors and marketing directors work better together on the "front end"? how can we make backlist titles more widely accessible globally and enhance their "long tails" with minimal investment and positive returns? And so on and so forth. In the meantime (or before this "meantime"), the organizers of the RadicalOA conference (Janneke Adema and Gary Hall, both involved with Open Humanities Press, among other OA ventures) were concerned to "brush" the contemporary scene of OA publishing "against the grain" --
Open access is currently being positioned and promoted by policy makers, funders and commercial publishers alike primarily as a means of serving the knowledge economy and helping to stimulate market competition. This version has become so dominant that even those on the left of the political spectrum who are critical of open access are presenting it in much the same terms: as merely assisting with the ongoing process of privatising knowledge, research and the university. Rather than ‘working with the grain’ of neoliberalism’s co-option of open access, the Radical Open Access conference will reclaim it by asking: what is the potential for supporting and taking further some of the different, more intellectually and politically exciting, ways of understanding open access that are currently available internationally? A particular emphasis will be placed on those that have emerged in recent years, in the arts, humanities and social sciences especially. Radical Open Access will thus provide the impetus for bringing together many of those currently involved in experimenting with ‘alternative’ forms of open access: both to discuss the long, multifaceted critical tradition of open access, its history and genealogies; and to examine a broad range of radical open access models. As part of its refusal to concede open access, the conference will endeavour to strengthen alliances between the open access movement and other struggles concerned with the right to access, copy, distribute, sell and (re)use artistic, literary, cultural and academic research works and other materials (FLOSS, p2p, internet piracy etc.); and to stimulate the creation of a network of publishers, theorists, scholars, librarians, technology specialists, activists and others, from different fields and backgrounds, both inside and outside of the university. In particular, the conference will explore a vision of open access that is characterised by a spirit of on-going creative experimentation, and a willingness to subject some of our most established scholarly communication and publishing practices, together with the institutions that sustain them (the library, publishing house etc.), to rigorous critique.
On the panel that I was involved with, "Radical Open Access in Practice," there was a lot of emphasis on publishing as a practice of care (of persons, of ideas, of relations), on the technological fragilities of the OA enterprise and the Digital Humanities more largely and the ways in which we need to guard against technological determinism + overly simplistic "catching up" narratives tied to the privatization of everything, on the precarious labor practices involved with OA publishing and how to be more mindful of and strategic about that, on how we need to resist "prestige" ranking systems, on cultivating writing as risk/adventure, on promoting invention/intervention over "innovation" (a term toxified through its use within capitalist ventures), on how to resist the neoliberal uptake of OA by commercial presses while also collectively strategizing how to survive that state of affairs, and somewhat interestingly, everyone seemed invested in preserving the print book while also exploring new platforms for digitized interactive-networked forms of scholarship and publication (which, for me anyway, is a valuable stand against the hyper-aggressive planned obsolescence of everything that seems endemic within neoliberal capital). Whereas at the session at the AAUP conference dedicated to "the practical implications and challenges" of the OA monograph, the collective conclusion seemed to be something along the lines of the monograph perhaps not surviving because: a) it will be impossible to get institutions (universities) to subsidize them and it will never pay for itself, and/or b) it will ultimately no longer be required for tenure and promotion and is thus a soon-to-be "outmoded"/ungainly genre, and/or c) shorter-form scholarship will replace it because "the way we read now" is changing, and/or d) dynamic (interactive, hyper-networked), born-digital scholarship will simply supplant it as the "one thing" everyone will be doing in the future.

And here we come to the crux of the matter, and to something that troubles me about the AAUP conference overall: its emphasis on profits and monetization (not the only subjects, of course, but they predominated a lot of panels). And here I must say that, of course, university publishers have done amazing things to advance scholarship in our fields and they are staffed by very well-meaning and super-smart people with real investments in cultivating, curating, and pushing the boundaries of knowledge production (to whit, historically, the Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics series at Stanford UP, the Theory out of Bounds series at Univ. of Minnesota Press, Series Q at Duke UP, Prickly Paradigm at Univ. of Chicago Press, and so on), and they have absolutely every right to worry about profitability/sustainability and to talk about and collectively strategize the long-term sustainability of their enterprises, and they have a lot to worry about (as I do) that would necessitate such strategizing. Nevertheless, I personally want to see university presses (which are typically designated as non-profts, I believe, with some institutional subsidization) spending more time distinguishing themselves from commercial academic presses, especially vis-a-vis the question of sustaining, not profits, but the most radically open public commons possible, and to do so in tandem with collectively insisting (through a variety of activist and interventionist measures) that state legislatures and public universities INCREASE their support for underwriting the work of university publishers, who should be spending less time on monetizing everything and more time on sponsoring and caring for radically creative forms of academic writing. This isn't easy, of course. This is the hard part. What might be called "centralized" funding for OA publishing is an absolute necessity, and yet, such does not exist within the American context.

Obviously, those of us within OA publishing should do everything in our power to be savvy about the ways in which we might generate income to help keep our (non-profit) ventures afloat, but that should not be the primary factor driving most of our editorial conversations because as anyone with half a (financially-savvy) brain might understand, that sort of emphasis will ultimately harm (or at least deform) the larger, valuable objective of a democratically rowdy and open commons "without condition." Here's why: if your primary concern is making money to stay afloat, then you adopt the tools of the strategic winnower (you keep what supposedly works in the model of increasing profits, and you eliminate, or stop at the front gate, whatever is not increasing, or might not increase, your profits), and there is not much time you can spend concentrating on developing talent and even more important, taking risks. To be fair, many university presses may not have a choice if they find themselves in a position where the subsidized support rug has been pulled out from under their operations, and much of the conversations at the AAUP conference were likely influenced by that already palpable state of affairs. The other problem is, in the rush to chase money in the face of less and less institutional support (especially in the context of seeking funding from private foundations such as Mellon or government agencies such as NEH), a sort of bandwagon strategy emerges where certain key concepts dominate both the "asks" and the "gets" (such as: born-digital, big data/metadata, dynamic/networked, multimodal, megajournal, iterative/interactive, gray literature/short-form scholarship, encoding/mapping, and so on). There is a lot of pressure as well, when seeking money from foundations and agencies, to serve up the "next big thing" that will somehow provide all of the solutions to whatever problems currently inhere within the contemporary landscape of academic publishing and to declare, "X (often defined as one particular platform, no matter how networked/multi-modal) is THE future."

There is no, and never can be, just one future. Of necessity, certain futures will materialize and others will only emerge partially and still others will be suppressed, outright killed, etc. Our job in the present is to keep all options in play and to maximize what is possible over what is determined in advance (usually by the powerful) to (supposedly) not be possible. This is an ethical, as well as a political, project, and it is not one that could ever be made to be "profitable," although it could be sustainable if enough persons -- in the administrative towers of academe, in the state legislatures, in the gilt halls of the (hopefully socially-minded) privileged, and also in the streets -- banded together to make it a reality. This brings me to the core mission of punctum books, and why I also think what we are doing is truly different from any existing university press and even from most independent presses (although we have our allies, such as Open Humanities Press and re.press, among others): we are an Open Access press, not because we make our titles broadly available to the public (to READERS) without exorbitant fees and high paywalls (although we do do that, and it matters, especially in the context of public universities where research should never be shuttered from the public), but because we are dedicated to opening up access to publication for AUTHORS who otherwise might not find a publisher, either because their work does not fit within a readily recognizable current disciplinary paradigm or because they want to experiment with the forms and styles of academic writing or because their work engages in disciplinary mashups that make marketing their work overly difficult and so on. It's a question of personal freedom and how the publisher (however defined: university-based, independent, etc.) is an agent of both sustenance and change. It's about supporting the WEIRDOs and recognizing that the university, and especially the humanities, should be the haven par excellence for the weirdos and for the weird -- for you, for me, and for grasshoppers named Steve, which is where the ethics of "care of the self" enter in, because I believe that publication is both a practice of care and curation as well as of "seeding" new publics (in Michael Warner's words, this is public-ation as "the poeisis of scene-making"), around which persons, who otherwise might become marginalized, suppressed, lost, etc. can "groupify" (in important counter-cultural modes) with others who share certain predilections, values, orientations, affinities, etc. (see my further thoughts on that HERE). And you can't subject all of your editorial decisions to the marketing team on the "front" OR the "back" end. But you can't NOT worry about how any of this might, or might not, be sustainable, either. You still have to worry and care about, and also agitate for, the money. It really is, in the end, about the money and whether or not, in the United States, state legislatures and public (and also private) universities will decide that the OPEN and unrestricted dissemination of scholarship should be a chief public concern worthy of being underwritten in some manner.

So this all brings me, finally, to what punctum books is currently doing to (hopefully) ensure some sort of sustainable future, and how YOU can also help. To be frank, I have spent a good portion of the past two years striving mightily to convince certain universities, and also funding agencies, to provide partial support and/or infrastructure for punctum's operations, and all to no good outcomes (so far), but I just (perversely) see that as yet another opportunity to continue refining the pitch, and as I've explained above, the situation (and conversations) in both Europe and the US round OA publishing convince me that we're on to something unique that is not (and *will* not be) served by current reigning paradigms. So this is what we're going to do next (again, with your help) --
  • first, we will be redoubling our efforts to convince at least one (if not more) universities to consider engaging in OA publishing "incubator" experiments, along the lines engaged in by Daniel O'Donnell and his colleagues at the University of Lethbridge (see HERE for a recent article about their experiment and the proposals they have about how this can be duplicated elsewhere). The primary reason for this: keep the money (however much or little there is) for publishing and scholarly communication within the departments, units, schools, etc. where it can have the greatest benefit; STOP the outflow of money to commercial, and even university presses, where it is going to fund often bloated overhead and infrastructure, and where, for better or worse, editorial decisions are being made with too many "business"/marketing/"prestige" considerations and not enough emphasis is being placed on maximizing what it is possible to SAY, and in what modes/genres/styles, within the humanities.
  • second, with the generous, pro bono assistance of Sally Livingston (who I am now outing here as one of punctum's angels), we will be developing a task force this summer to go after private philanthropic money, because punctum's mission is just weird and non-dominant-keywordy enough that seeking money from established foundations and funding agencies (such as Mellon, Ford, NEH, etc.) might be a dead end. To that end, I am also happy to announce here that Pioneer Works, a center for art + innovation based in Red Hook, Brooklyn helmed by the mad artist-genius Dustin Yellin, has awarded punctum an institutional residency for Spring 2016, during which time we will be running our primary editorial operations out of Red Hook while also developing an internship program with universities in the NYC area.
  • third, as the Ford Foundation recently announced that they have completely revamped their mission to focus exclusively in their giving on INEQUALITY (see the recent story HERE),  including unequal *access* to information/knowledge, with one of the 6 key funding areas being "Creativity and Free Expression" (and within that, "Advancing Media Rights and Access"), we will be working on seeking a Ford Foundation grant.
  • fourth, when we release our Graduated OA platform this coming Fall/Winter (see par. 3 above), please be an enthusiastic booster. Purchase our PDF e-books (which, I promise you, will carry very affordable price-tags, and only for a brief, temporary period), distribute them freely to friends and colleagues, and thus help to "unlock" these titles for the greater, common good while also contaminating the system with the punctum virus. Purchase our titles in print whenever you can, and also assign them to classes. When you go to the website to download the free PDFs and you see the pop-up window asking you to donate something, please do so. DONATE as often as you can, and go HERE to do that (right NOW, even!). Or go here --
And the reason WHY you should want to help us with this is because we (meaning me PLUS SO many persons, many of whom inhabit very precarious positions both within and outside of the University, who have given selflessly of their time to help edit and design the books) have been working so hard to secure the SPACE that is so necessary for others to do exactly the sort of work they want to do (as opposed to doing the work they are often subtly, and not so subtly, coerced into doing), and at a time when more traditional university and commercial academic presses are simply not wired to help provide for such space that hasn't already been deemed in advance to be "profitable," "marketable," "trending," etc. Because the future of academic publishing cannot be just ONE thing, or one wagon, that we all have to get on (or risk being left behind), and it won't be secured by funneling all of the money into corporate entities that have no real concern for the public commons other than the profits to be gained thereby, and because we don't want our work to be shaped by forces that have no regard for the the singular desires that lead us to our work in the first place, and because we desperately need a publisher that puts a premium on EXPERIMENTation, as summed up beautifully in the epigraph to this post and worth repeating here:
... given the state of higher education in the U.S., ... there's little reason not to experiment, because it's only a minority of people who are making any sort of livelihood from this work, or who even have any hope of making a livelihood from it. American academia is a perfect embodiment of capitalism in the way that it wastes human beings: their knowledge, their potential, their good will.  ... The rules are against us. Learning them is important, because we need to know the landscape, the architecture, the logic. But the rules do not like us, they do not want us, they do not have any use for us. Not breaking them is unconscionable. 

Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman

by J J Cohen

Even though the (petro)genesis of the book was extensively blogged here at ITM, I never announced that Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman is now in print. It is! The book is not all that expensive, either: less than $20 on Amazon ($14.49 for the Kindle version) -- though if you want to be a good-souled consumer and can afford it, think seriously about purchasing Stone directly from the University of Minnesota Press website. UMP is a not-for-profit publisher, so any money generated from sales goes directly towards bringing more titles into print. Stone is my 5th book for Minnesota, with #6 on its way; Richard Morrison and Doug Armato have made it a superb organization for authors, and I am an ardent advocate. Having worked fairly extensively with corporate publishers who are ruining the field as well as not-for-profits like UMP and innovative OA presses like punctum books, I urge you to support the latter two as much as you can, including with your own coin when possible. They care so much more for innovative, accessible scholarship -- and what future do you want?

If you'd like a taste of Stone (warning: it tastes earthy, with a hint of mineral, and strong terroir), you can read an excerpt from its recursive introduction at continent. And here's an interview that I did with Schlock just before the book appeared, and Anne Harris's extraordinarily generous blogged reading of the book. And now Steve Mentz has also blogged his experience of readingStone is a melancholy work, limned by catastrophe and loss. Its narrative attempts to stay affirmative but the suspicion that the struggle will be lost haunts. Its scholarship is interrupted by three personal excursus, all of which are drawn from blog posts (for example, this one from 2009), and an afterward set in Iceland. These blogged portions have been revised for the book, but not all that much: posting to this blog has been essential to completing the project. The community that social media enabled around its completion also deserves celebration: I could not have completed this project in solitude. Stone is a force for companionship.

The book is likely to annoy many readers: too personal in parts to seem sufficiently scholarly (the bleed-through between the sections marked as an excursus and what follows is going to make for some irritated reviews; I can pretty much frame the take-downs in my mind already), too scholarly in others to seem accessible and readable (it's by a medievalist so of course there are chapters with 100+ footnotes in a miniature Babel of languages living and dead). Stone took a very long time to write. Even after the research was as complete as it was going to be (which is to say, once I drew an arbitrary line and said that gathering materials could go on forever, but it is not going to go on forever), the process of finding the proper form and voice that the book wanted was full of dead-ends and abandoned starts. I am not completely satisfied, and would likely rewrite the whole thing if I could ... but I am also very happy to have the book in the world.

And it has been a delight to have some reactions to Stone already: unexpected emails from people far outside my field who read the book because they are fellow geophiles (and the emails often arrive with images of favorite rocks or petric artworks); the appearance in the mail of small stones, poems, books and pamphlets from people I don't know who wanted to share something with me after reading the volume; the sound artist Elysia Crampton dedicated a song to this work; and the posting to social media of pictures of the book being read in rocky places. A book wants to be read, and it makes me happy indeed to see that happen with Stone.

And in case you do not get your hands on the book, I want you to know that you as a reader of In the Middle are thanked in the acknowledgements. Stone was crowdsourced here. I could not have completed this project without you.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Object Oriented Environs

by J J Cohen
Julian Yates and I thought you might enjoy an advance preview of our forthcoming collection of essays, Object Oriented Environs, through the introduction we wrote. Look for the volume this autumn at punctum books.


Introduction (An Environing of this Book)
Jeffrey J. Cohen and Julian Yates
The best television arguments and discussions are … those which open themselves towards people not assumed in advance to be already represented … Some of the worst, for all their internal skills, are those that simulate a representation by their own criteria. [Raymond Williams, Television (1974)[1]]
In the spring of 2013, we were invited to propose a possible session for the Shakespeare Association of America Meeting in St. Louis for 2014. The SAA is an organization that, in addition to running paper panels at its annual conference, offers participants the opportunity to share work-in-progress through themed seminars. The two of us had been in conversation for some time about nonhumans, things, animal, vegetable, and mineral, medieval and renaissance, about questions of ecology, and how to craft nontraditional conversation and thinking spaces in which something unanticipated might unfold. We decided to collaborate to build a gathering that would bring together these interests, objects, and possibilities for eventuation. The title of the seminar we proposed was “Object-Oriented Environs in Early Modern England,” which took its cue from the philosophical movement called Object Oriented Ontology (frequently abbreviated to OOO) in the hope of provoking a conversation about how early modernists, or humanists in general, parse the question of matter, of things. We called the collocation OOE @ SAA.

Beyond or beside this thematic set of concerns, our hope was to have the seminar itself constitute an object of sorts, a thing in the word’s etymological sense of a gathering that might become more than the sum of its papers and our parts. We wanted to create an experience akin to the open spaces that Raymond Williams imagines in Television, a conversation that unfolds not by fulfilling a set of criteria laid out in advance, simulating a sense of fullness, a sense of community or comprehension, but remaining open to the unexpected, comfortable with pauses, meandering, moments of silence, experiments that might fail, that might solicit still other sets of criteria, viewpoints, orientations than those we were able to imagine at the start. José Esteban Muñoz calls such unforeclosed expectancy cruising utopia: finding the openness where an unknown or queer futurity might start, a journey with companions and with a destination difficult to know in advance.[2] We wanted not a gathering that maps terrain already covered in the hope of attaining some certain prospect, but a seminar on the move. Or to adapt Williams a bit, we wanted to collaborate with the seminar participants and the gathering of objects they would make to create openings towards people and things “not assumed in advance to be already represented,” towards strangers unknown and unanticipated, possibly even hostile to the unfolding project yet welcome all the same.

While it may seem odd to invoke a televisual signal and form as a model for face- to-face conversation, all communication occurs across gaps. We are all, however intimate, however habituated or oriented to one another, tele-friends or tele-beings, operating at a distance, bridging those divides and crossing the gaps by way of sound, vision, affect, touch, and forms of technical mediation. Like Williams, what we hoped for was something on the order of a community or “charity of production” as opposed to the frequently happy, even festive, “charity of consumption” that tends to characterize our shared spaces.[3] It seemed to us that this might be accomplished by calling attention to the distances between us, that we still endeavored to cross, distances rendered lively by the objects that oriented us, the objects that we threw in each other’s way, and so came between us. The resulting book, Object Oriented Environs, archives this endeavor. But it is a strange form of repository for its existence was mooted, projected, planned for, and announced to all-comers, to all members of our seminars in advance. Writing, compiling, this book began as a collective endeavor and putative product—some thing that everyone, seminar participants and their objects, and the turn to which their objects put them, helped to make, enabled us to compose. OOE is an archive of hazard (from the Persian word for dice): an aleatory recording of things fleeting, perilous, embarrassing, embraced; of enthusiasms and reluctances; of objects and bodies that cross distances for a while to become an ephemeral gathering with a powerful trace.

Rubrics

We began by publishing the following rubric in the notice of seminars disseminated by the Shakespeare Association’s Fall 2013 Bulletin:
This seminar will stage a confluence between two important trends in critical theory: the environmental turn so vigorous within early modern studies and object oriented ontology (vibrant materialism, the new materialism and speculative realism). Our aim is to imagine a conversation that moves beyond anthropocentrism and examine nonhumans at every scale, their relations to each other, and the ethics of human enmeshment within an agentic material world. How does our apprehension of the inhuman changes when texts become laboratories for probing the liveliness, mystery and potential autonomy of objects, in their alliances and in performance?
To this invitation we received thirty-five requests to participate and, at the request of the conference organizers, agreed to run two seminars. We agreed that these would be held back to back on the same day to engender continuity, intensity, and exhaustion. We also agreed that the two of us would share a hotel room and much conference time. The planning for the seminar’s unfolding proceeded through the mediation of email, FaceTime chats, meals, and rambling walks.

This collection of essays archives the endeavor and offers its essays as the still remarkable, surprising fruits of the conversations we shared in St. Louis in the course of a day of two-hour long seminars, the email conversations that preceded and post-dated them, and a collective feast at an Indian restaurant to end the event. Full of bees, bushes, laundry, crutches, lists, poem, plague, planks, chairs, rain, shoes, meat, body parts, books, and assorted humans (living and dead), these are the essays that those papers and conversation became. Each responds in its own particular way to the rubric we offered but also to this further prompting we sent in advance of the sessions as we invited participants to think expansively about the topic, and to bring an object or totem to St Louis:
Dear Object-Oriented Environers, 
Welcome to our seminar and collective adventure. We hope that you are as excited as we are by the prospect of our collaboration. We are delighted by the response to the topic, but in order to accommodate everyone who signed up, we have decided to run two parallel, independent seminars of roughly 15 people each. Obviously, you are all invited to attend both sessions as you are able – we should be delighted in fact if you did. In terms of format, we would like to imagine each two-hour seminar as an opportunity to stage an object-oriented event-space focused on the things / issues you are embarked on studying and writing about. Each seminar will take on its “feel” from the inventory of things you provide.

To that end, in place of the usual 12 page (3000-4500 word) papers, we should like each participant to write a 6-page (1500 word max) position paper on his or her object and the environs it orients that names the importance of the thing in question, outlines what it enables you or prompts you to think / say, and so do. We will pre-circulate these papers as per SAA deadlines and then Jeffrey and Julian will work out a way of ebbing and flowing through them or setting the things into a cascade that opens things up to discussion for each seminar. We will provide a current that you can allow to take us, that you can buck, or dam, as the mood / orientation takes.

To help anchor us in the “thingliness” that our papers will convoke, we ask also that on the day of each seminar, you bring some version / iteration of your object or a totem with you to the seminar.

We realize that the words “object” and “thing” carry with them a range of philosophical and theoretical moorings anchored to a succession of names and movements (Martin Heidegger, Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, Object-Oriented Ontology, Affordance Theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, the object relations theory of Winicott, as well a the rich and varied bibliography of material culture studies and preservation studies). We welcome all these orientations to the table as, in our view, each tends to emphasize some differing aspect or property of an object—its physicality, psychic life, finitude, function.

We are fortunate also, in the context of this impossible wealth of a bibliography, to have invited four respondents (Drew Daniel and Julia Reinhard Lupton and Eileen Joy and Vin Nardizzi) who have worked extensively with objects in different registers—and we have asked them to share with us a short excerpt from their work to serve as an example of some of the work that medievalists and early modernists have embarked upon. In addition, because the movement gives it name to our seminar, we recommend reading the following excerpt from Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology as an emblem for the broader development of an object oriented ontology / speculative realism as developed by philosophers such as Quentin Meillasoux and Graham Harman. (Readings are attached at the end of this message in PDF).

In terms of imagining our flow of work, we provide a timetable below:
· December 1, 2013 please circulate a brief introduction and “hello” to the group from you and your object (4 -5 sentences). Please also let us know at this point if it would be useful for us to have any particular kind of a/v help on site if that is necessary to staging your object.
· March 1, 2014 SAA requires that all participants pre-circulate their papers by this date to have their name included in the conference program. We ask that you do your very best to honor this date—especially given the number of participants involved.

Looking beyond SAA, we invite all who would like to do so, to turn their 1500 word position paper into a short essay of 3000-4000 words that we hope to include in a book (likely with Punctum Books http://punctumbooks.com) that aims to archive the work of our two seminars along with responses from our respondents.

Please feel free to write us both with any questions you may have.
Best, Excited wishes to All! 
Jeffrey and Julian[4]
The book you now possess marks the end of a collective work cycle that aimed to allow a series of projects or object orientations to cohabit for a day, to cross pollinate, and so provoke juxtapositions, quandaries, epiphanies, and frustrations. We think also that the mooting of a book project, a collective home but also moment of ending at which ideas become papers become essays, might be alienated, even as some of us continue to work with our objects, provided an important impetus and sense of shared endeavor, a sense that the time we spent together in St. Louis would lead to more than individual memories or remembered conversation—always partial, always fragmentary.

Reading over the essays these papers and our conversations became, we cannot help but still feel a welcome sense of surprise at the object-oriented environs together we crafted, environs that occurred in and around, anchored to and by the ligatures that formed between and among the contributors, the respondents, and the objects that oriented them, the seminar, and this resulting book.


Arrival

When a fountain runs red, an object enacts its etymology and throws itself into the world and in our way. We knew the local sports team was at the stadium, that the crimson of the city's fountains was offered to the Cardinals and not some record of sacrifice. Yet gathered in St Louis to speak of Shakespeare, objects, and environing, it was difficult to look at the fountains and not see the joyful excess of early modern plays that revel in red. As civic architecture, fountains domesticate water into the soothing center of a park or the obligatory ornamentation of corporate plazas. Most function by remaining invisible. They are simply part of the mundane cityscape, below notice. Their mineral means of relaying water obey the seasons—or condense them to a binary on and off as they are “winterized” and then allowed to spring forth once more. Seasonal change registers in the human maintenance of an infrastructure that the weather might corrode. Stony desert become spring’s new gush, the fountain testifies merely to the maintenance of a network against the changes that local environs might wreak. Yet the shift in the water's spectrum through the addition of some dye proves estranging. The cascade of red de-cloaks the fountain from obscurity.


As we walked around the city, pondering the shape of the seminars to come, we found ourselves drawn to the flowing red waters. One of us may have reached a hand into the liquid, performed a strange anointing. The other may have proved too shy, too timid. Red proves uncanny. And we wonder now if the fountain full of red is a story that offers a parable. Maybe no truth of the object inheres, only a tale of humans and dye, sports or academic meetings, and a desire for a world that is assertively nonhuman.

Objects throw themselves in the way of human (in)attention, as when the water of a public fountain runs crimson and triggers thoughts of blood, of Shakespeare. How disorienting, like a golden apple that tumbles the path and ruins the race. But the apple was tossed by human hand; it did not "throw itself in the way of" (ob iacere) Atalanta's attention. Someone dyed those fountains and made of them a human story, not a tale of water. Or maybe the tale is too tangled to unloose its smaller strands, so that worrying about human versus object agency limits our expanse. And what about objects that abide, the apples and the streams and stones that enable cooking, transport, friendlier relations? Objects offer quiet environments most of the time. We are used to their compliance. And so that is why we walk. Peripatetic philosophizing traces some new routes, or follows familiar paths in the hope that something not so ordinary will surface. The anthropologist Tim Ingold calls the process “thinking with the feet.” Rejecting the relegation of the pedestrian to mere “stepping machine,” he advocates a process of unknowing quotidian environments by wandering them sensually, in bare feet if necessary, so that perambulation becomes a mode of cognition.[5]

To heighten attentiveness, environing is best done in company.


Playtime

Tradition dictates that an SAA seminar remains in its assigned conference room for a two-hour span, perhaps with a very short break in the middle. With its nondescript chairs and tables, its hotel meeting room beige non-style, the space and its furnishings want to be invisible. We could be anywhere: St Louis or Boston or New Orleans. Upon arrival then, or perhaps before, we decided that in seminar, Jacques Tatti-like, rather than let the table at which we sat rest as a given, we would seek to render it urgent by inviting all our participants to take a break mid-conversation, get up, and follow us on a perambulation through the hospitality confining space of the hotel’s infrastructure, up and down escalators, through doors, and back—changing our orientation, rendering the world that we take as a support, something now that we need to take cognizance of. Halfway through our conversation, we invited our participants to take a walk (or not), to spend the interval between talking on his or her or our own recognizance. The break, the walk, did us good; provided a necessary break to the flow of conversation (an on and off switch) that enabled us all to take our seats again and respond to what we had heard anew, as a group that now had walked together or clustered in corners around the table, refreshing coffee cups, water glasses, nipping in and out to the bathroom, devolving into smaller, serial, serendipitous polities. 

Table you have become urgent to us—that urgency tied to the mundane eventfulness of getting up and sitting back down, the becoming lively of the table as environing object. The course of the perambulation was left to the respondents (though we did give suggestions). In the first seminar we strolled as a group out the doors of the room and down the long escalator to the hotel lobby. On reaching that public space we made a U-turn and took the escalator heading back up, passing seminar members still descending. Some of them may have tried to reverse their own steps; resist the pointlessness of our way finding but the downward drag of the escalator proved too much. They gave in and allowed the machine to do their walking for them. We confess that we enjoyed their looks of surprise when they realized that we had departed the confines of the room to wander together. We enjoyed as well the wonder of those who were not at the seminar, those just milling around outside to catch up with friends or gossip about the plenaries, witnessing their quiet space traversed. The second seminar wandered farther: through a door marked STAFF ONLY DO NOT ENTER and into the portion of the hotel where the labor that enables a meeting to unfold is hidden. Those who walked into the service area (and there were many who turned back to the conference room at this point) saw where the coffee is made, the tablecloths laundered, the dishes washed. We stopped and chatted with people at their interrupted tasks, who seemed pleased not to be invisible for a few moments (but we admit they may also have been annoyed beneath the contracted cheerfulness the hotel demands of its employees or hospitality technicians) and to guide us through the winding corridor and out a “secret” exit on the other side, the route they used to access our meeting space without walking among the visiting scholars. You will have guessed that a story about race, privilege, and access unfolded here and was carried into what followed when we returned to the beige room.

These walks fractured the group. That was also their purpose. There was no correct way to walk. The point was to enable this devolution of the group into smaller ones; chance decisions or demarcations; deliberate and accidental. It was not possible then or now to map all the routes we collectively described. And those who wandered, who left the room assigned to us, cannot begin to know what passed among those who stayed put with the table or chatted with the onlookers (these seminars have audiences) or took the elevator back to their room to retrieve this or that or snatch a moment alone. And this fracturing, which designated also a moment of formation, enables us to return to the table and begin a second time, bodies and minds registering the fact of the conversations we had had and attuned also to the urgency of the time that remained.


“Starsky and Hutch”

Of course, memory idealizes, inoculates itself against the lapses or losses, the erasures. Our seminars were not utopian, or were precisely so in the sense that the only “end” they knew was provided by the clock. We begin now. We end now. Our time together unfolds between. Let’s make the most of it. Still, St. Louis punctuated our conversations with its own strange writing, its own comprehending or environing of the bubble we sought collectively to blow. The Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial framed our time together, proclaiming this river crossing an entrance, a gateway to an America that retrospectively re-articulates that crossing in stone and steel. You can still cross the river; drive coast to coast; plying the trails become freeways; but you can also ascend the arch from within by way of a tram of tiny capsules, and achieve a synoptic view of the land that travelers past lacked even as the trails and tracks their wagon wheels and trains left made today’s view possible. (You will be warned as you enter the capsule that you may experience claustrophobia, and that these conveyance devices were designed for a time when Americans better fit their seats). We enjoyed our space travels; enjoyed the social awkwardness that our newfound capsule friends and we finessed with time-honored scripts and hunched up knees. They thought we might have been in St Louis for the skin care products exhibition at the city’s convention center, a conference far better attended than the SAA. But what a short journey we had in comparison to those whose wagon-riders, whose collective writing enabled the translation of those tracks to stone, glass, steel—to the concrete, tar, and trade of the manifest destiny of the interstate below us, as though the road wanted to run that way, wanted to carve out a track through the land, obliterating or over-writing what came before. Of course, those wagon trails are themselves now idealized. In the nineteenth century, there were in fact lines and long waits at treacherous crossings, handbooks or how-to-do-it guidebooks as to when to set off; which trails to follow; and sites of mass graffiti to memorialize the fact of the journey, fellow travelers who died en route, ephemeral traces of those human subjects whose destiny manifested precariously whatever the state or the nation claimed as its rights.[6]



Of course that imperative proves to be of shallow foundation. Outside of the city are giant mounds, the remains of a vast indigenous Mississippian settlement that vanished before pioneers built St. Louis and dubbed it the “Gateway to the West.” These structures tell a deeper story about habitation, one in which cities rise and fall long before European-descended settlers colonize, one in which a variety of peoples come and go, build and abandon, one in which genocide and white agency do not yet dominate story, but unfold as merely one chapter within a larger structure of relation. No one is quite certain why they left, but the city was empty long before Europeans arrived. We rented a car to get there; joined the handful of tourists; a minor parade of elementary school children; tramped the curated walkways alongside city-dwelling joggers who drive out to experience the muscle burn these artificial mountains now afford in this place of flatness. Cahokia Mounds is located in Collinsville, Illinois, just off the interstate, fifteen minutes east of St. Louis. During the Middle Ages, the city dwarfed London. The people who dwelled there over the centuries were accomplished builders. They constructed ordinary houses, vast public monuments, roads and walkways. They planned their city. Not a gateway but a destination. Goodbye Old World. Goodbye New World.[7] 



St. Louis also spoke to us—called us out if not exactly to account. Out walking early one morning, we met almost no one, but turned the corner to be saluted by a glance and the wag of a finger and a voice that greeted us with the words “Starsky and Hutch,” a phrase we processed, inevitably, instantaneously, for we knew the reference, had watched the show, maybe even owned or once upon a time played with the iconic car, as Starsky and Hutch, the late 1970s police procedural set in “Bay City, California” (no such place has ever existed) starring Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul. At the time we were delighted; played the giddy game of academic tourists, who routinely make lemonade out of the bitter but not un-sweet realities of the environs that host their presence. Environs bought and sold by municipalities and City Fathers, contracted for a certain period of time within the calendrical liturgy of the conference scene and circuit, bartered in terms of services offered and opportunity costs, but whose residents are never asked whether they might like to have the purveyors of the bard or skin care products set up their respective shops in their town, in their environs. We kept on walking; enjoyed our breakfasts; debated who of us was Starsky, and who might be Hutch?

But, thinking back (or even at the time), it seems best that we own the fact that we did not know and do not know now what those words meant—“Starsky and Hutch”—even as they seemed to beckon to us, to address us with a televisual past, with the memory of one island in the “flow” of programming that, once upon a broadcast time, in Williams’s sense of things, kept time.[8] Yes. The man’s words, his naming of the show, formed a momentary relay between us that (despite our respective environs—when and where we were coming from and going) linked Jeffrey to Julian to this old man who seemed emphatically not to be passing through. What and how did this cry of the city mean? To whom was it addressed? To us, perhaps—or not—just a note to self, or an address to the environs: look who’s coming now. It seems important also to admit that, while we might have smiled, both of us knew that we had been remarked and had acknowledged that remarking, been hailed, hallowed, named or maybe simply seen and designated as if Starsky and Hutch, a duo of white guys who do and do not belong, who move ghost-like along the sidewalk through neighborhoods that are not their own, and get into their car and drive off. And who, whatever their associations with the likes of Huggy Bear (who stole the show), bore guns, brought violence with them even as they might like to think of themselves as peace officers. In a city that everywhere bears the scars of racial violence both slow and sudden, we were hailed as if the police, addressable, stunt or touristic keystone cops whose exaggerated movements weren’t funny any more, just evidence that we got to inhabit a different time and space even as we inhabited another’s. We never met this man even as he remarked us. All we can recall is the impression he made on us and the way in which our turning of a blind corner accosted him in his environ.[9]

Later in the summer of 2014, Michael Brown would be shot to death in nearby Ferguson. Thinking back to what had seemed a little theater of the street, it stops us now in our tracks, brings home to us that whatever we may have managed to do in our seminars—they were no community or charity of production, of if they were, then the price for them was paid by a host of others, who were there also even as they went unacknowledged. “There is,” we know “no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”[10]

This book entails its own erasures.



Notes
[1] Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form [1974/5] (Routledge: London and New York, 1990), 49-50.
[2] José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009).
[3] Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 30-31.
[4] To the seminars we distributed as readings an excerpt from Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); the epilogue to Drew Daniel, The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance (New York: Fordham, 2013); Julia Reinhard Lupton, “The Renaissance Res Publica of Furniture,” Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, ed. Jeffrey Cohen (Washington DC: Oliphaunt / punctum books, 2012) 211-36; Eileen Joy, “You Are Here: A Manifesto,” Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, ed. Jeffrey Cohen (Washington DC: Oliphaunt / punctum books, 2012) 153-72; and an excerpt from Vin Nardizzi, Wooden Os: Shakespeare's Theatres and England's Trees (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).
[5] Tim Ingold, “Culture on the Ground: The World Perceived Through the Feet,” in Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge, and Description (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), 33-50.
[6] Signature Rock in Wyoming and Newspaper Rock in Utah are the two most famous sites of graffiti from the period of migration West. http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/potw/historical-graffiti (Accessed, May 21, 2015).
[7] You can visit the online, curated remains of Cahokia at http://cahokiamounds.org (Accessed May 20, 2015).
[8] Williams, Television, 78.
[9] In recalling this moment, we are alluding obviously to Louis Althusser’s account of ideological interpellation or hailing in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 127-186. Crucially, however, the scene of nomination we describe functions a bit differently casting us in the guise of the police. The address calls our world into question. In this sense, our little street theater enacted something that Donna Haraway adds to Althusser’s account of interpellation—that the moment of ideological hailing can function also as a calling of the question, a call for recognition or the recognition of a shared world. See Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 278.
[10] Thesis VII of Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 256.