MLA 2008

Sunday, 28 December

10:15–11:30 a.m.
Hilton, Union Square 14
Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology

Price (UNL)

  • 2.0rgasm is overrated; digihum is in beta
  • panel in response to Literary Studies in the Digital Age, forthcoming, co-edited by Price
  • still sounding like we might be a bit behind techrhet

Hoover (NYU)

  • not so much whether we're there yet, but where "there" is, and whether it's worth getting there
  • textual studies, esp. portals, specialized analysis software, and general-purpose software
  • bit decay of software is a problem
  • TextMill acts like the "portals" H. is describing — except that it runs locally (but could run on the server)

Liu (UCSB)

  • L. has a new book out on databases and postmodernism
  • online reading project — probably misnamed: reading is only a small part of the activities people undertake when "reading" online
  • Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History: quantitative analysis for close reading
  • late print literacy: reading normalized as individual silent reading, operationalized for labor purposes and private entertainment
  • digital literacy: away from documents to dynamic, template-driven text fragments, with extensive interactive work happening in the margins (often literally, in sidebars and the like)
  • Moretti and social scientists studying social networks draw their maps from above; this is the ideology of late print
  • digital texts are "amphibian forms" in the evolution of writing
  • expert / academic readers must enter into the fray of social writing
  • need to (re)invent institutions, discourses, practices, technologies that mediate between expert knowledge and networked public knowledge [isn't this the problem of classical rhetoric?]
  • pressing r&d goals:
    • metadata for representing social networks
    • scalable solutions for data mining the large corpora of social networks
    • method for reconciling top-down ontology metadata with informal social-network metadata
    • manage contact zone between close reading and macro-discovery
    • research historical "rainforest" of past collaborative writing and reading
    • create educational systems for this
    • create institutional structures for this


  • editing electronic scholarly editions
  • useful for presenting multiple versions of texts


  • some guy from TEI Re crowd-sourcing: don't feel limited by single-sourced texts, because (paraphrasing) they have high information density, because they're coming from experts. Need core of expert knowledge to construct useful crowd-sourced info around.
  • Liu Need to bring some kind of vetting structure to crowd-sourcing.
  • some student Is PageRank a model of collaborative decision-making? [No. Next question?] And what about mobile devices?
  • Hoover Mobile screens too small for comfortable reading.
  • Liu iPhone much more social than paperback or Walkman [but is that how it's commonly used?] Then we wander off into "vast distributed blah blah blah"...
  • Lev Manovitch Many of the brightest people in the world are trying to address the agenda Liu laid out. What can people in the humanities do? What if everyone in the humanities started writing for Wikipedia rather than scholarly journals?
  • Liu Good questions; critiques of Wikipedia more interesting in theory than in practice (though others disagree). What do the humanities have to offer? His answer: we're good at dealing with ambiguous unknowns.
  • Kelley (Brown U) Gradually moving toward a generation that has no experience with a text that is closed and definitive. No more stable texts.
  • Liu Does the public perhaps still want a definitive, stable work?
  • Hoover Markup state of the art is often insufficient; eg even if there were TEI-coded Trollope novels, that wouldn't let you pull out all the direct quotations by speaker to compare how characters speak. [here something like TextMill is useful]
3:30–4:45 p.m.
Hilton, Sutter
Program arranged by the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures


  • Ceremony mashup
  • Silko: "Pueblo expression ... like a spider's web"
  • mentioned problems w/ Google Streetview
  • nice site with lots for students to play with; but no opportunities for students to contribute / expand it

Sheley & Zitzer-Comfort

  • collaborative native lit class between CSU Long Beach and U of Cyprus
  • connected NatAm experiences w/ divisions in Cyprus
  • 47 students, 16K hits in three weeks on their Blackboard-based system
  • students find discussion boards less stressful than in-class discussion


  • Meg at U of M using Second Life to teach Ojibwe, where students have to behave correctly to get language-expert avatars to respond [ergodic pedagogy]
  • [why no Native programming?]

Monday, 29 December

8:30–9:45 a.m.
Hilton, Union Square 18

Smith, "Barack and Roll: The Prophetic Rhetoric of Hope in a Culture of Hate, Hype, and Soundbyte"

(This is Andy Smith from Tenn Tech — we met at Watson.)

  • "False" rhetoric may be what we need [consider in relation to "postclassical truth" thesis: Life of Pi, Varnished Truth, etc]
  • Obama's adaptation of tropes from MLK, traditional Black preaching, etc.

Shumway, "How Perceptions of the Former First Marriage Harmed Hillary's Presidential Campaign"

  • Failure to reject Bill may have hurt Hillary with "values voters"
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m.
Marriott, Pacific Suite H


  • place of the body in Badiou's thought
  • artistic event (eg Hayden event): artist faces the trace of the event on one hand, and the world of objects on the other; artist wagers that an event has taken place, and creates a new art (from a new subjectivity) that depends on (or from) it
  • the animal is the sole support of a subject; a certain kind of animal is called upon to convoke a subject in order to follow a truth
  • a subject is an "orientation of bodily effects in accordance with the demands of the trace" (Ethics)
  • ethics of the spectator — to continue the experience of the trace of the real even after the experience of art


  • R. wrote a bunch of books on Lacan
  • an ethical reading of Beckett — keep on writing even in the face of impossible obstacles; do not yield to desire
  • Beckett does try to answer the questions he poses (eg "where would I go, if I could go? what would I say, if I had a voice?") — he destroys to see what resists destruction
  • events happen in Beckett's work outside the law; this is what saves it from Kafkaesque nihilism [interesting to compare this reading with Ishiguro's The Unconsoled]
  • foreclosure of language — limit
  • "the clash of Kantian law with the cogito"
  • "Beckett's sadism stages the torture of the cogito"

[we must return to teaching oratory]

Plotnitsky, "Categorical Imperatives: The Mathematics of Category Theory, Ethics, and Literature in Alain Badiou"

  • B. interested in indecidability and mathematics — grounded his philosophy in mathematical ontology: Cantor and topos theory
  • B.: mathematical ontology is the only ontology; the ontology of the irreducibly multiple ("the multiple result 1") [the only ontology is tautological]
  • "the rigorous proof of the impossibility of one"
  • every event is a crisis; politics defined in terms of the event; thus ethics follows from the event
  • the political is also, but not only, mathematical
  • literature can give mathematics "a degree of thought"
  • event has a dimension of transbeing, and so exceeds ontology; this is the entrance of thought (in the excessive trace of the event)
  • a crisis occurs in mathematical ontology when it's forced to encounter the multiplicity of its own unity; this forces mathematical thought to exceed its existing ontology
  • there is no network of continuous relations which explains any event — incompleteness [I know Plotnitsky is not big on Chaitin and Algebraic Information Theory, but I'd think it's even more appropriate than Gödel. Or by the same token Kolmogorov.]
  • the existence of mathematically-undecidable propositions lets the subject make a decision — opens the possibility of choice — B.: ultimately there is an extension of philosophy


  • Plotnitsky B. moved from set theory to category theory because the latter is consistent but contains undecidables; there's no "set of all sets" problem in category theory; also saw category theory (specifically topos theory) as a way to connect mathematics-as-logic and mathematics-as-thought (ontology)
1:45–3:00 p.m.
Hilton, Golden Gate 8
Program arranged by the Division on Gay Studies in Language and Literature and the Division on American Indian Literatures

Quo-Li, "As Beautiful as the Red Rainbow: Two-Spirits 'Rebeautifying' Cherokee Erotic Memory"

  • Cherokee love incantations contain formulas to rebeautify the speaker's self
  • contemporary right-wing Cherokee Nation politics are erasing the Cherokee erotic past

Bethany Schneider, "Samson Occom and the Queer Afterlife"

  • Occom was a Mohegan preacher in New Haven in the late 18th century; spoke before the execution of a Native man who had killed a white man
  • Occom was a celebrity [be nice to include him in the American oratory tradition...]; the sermon was printed and widely distributed
  • Occom and Paul (the condemned) met extensively between the sentencing and the execution [curiously similar to the writing of In Cold Blood]
  • speech is extensively homosocial, but S. argues that the real queerness is instead in the way Occom manipulates time in the speech

James Thomas Stevens, "Twin Spirit: Queer Reclamation or Validation?" (? check program update)

Alas, it's another of those read-aloud papers with "this paper will" and piles of preface and qualification. Why are people not trained not to do this? And S. unfortunately reads in a near-monotone.

  • reads Brant's "Coyote Plays a Trick" [but frankly not as interesting as the reading I did for it in my 112 class...]
  • queer ndn poet continually risks falling into language of queerness or language of Indianness when trying to express identity [is this different for anyone else?]

No timekeeping happening in this session. We're not going to have much time for discussion, that's for sure.

Janice (respondent)

  • in Schneider's paper, does "queering" imply homosexual relationship, or simply an uncanny one?
  • "there's power in the erotic, but that's not the be-all and end-all of existence" — J. makes a kind of Epicurean argument here
5:15–6:30 p.m.
Hilton, Union Square 3-4