CanonWar!

Well, maybe not, but it was still exciting to see two of my colleagues from Stanford get some Newspaper of Record facetime today for their work on video game research. Henry Lowood and Matteo Bittanti have both been involved in the study of games as cultural forms and it’s nice to see their work reaching such a major audience.

The article discusses their efforts to create a draft canon for game studies. Of course, this is just as contentious in video games as it is in literature or film, and the difference between a formal canon and a top ten list is awfully thin. However, I think both Henry and Matteo would be quick to argue that the point isn’t to isolate a few games for special treatment but to get the rest of us thinking about games as artifacts worth studying and archiving. Henry has done an amazing job of building up the Stanford Library’s collection of games, consoles and more.

Taking the Weber show on the road

How time flies! I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. I’ll try and do a little better. One reason things have been so busy for me is that I finally completed a draft of a seminar paper that has been steadily growing into something bigger.

On Monday I submitted an abstract based on this evolving opus to a conference at UCLA. The theme of the 18th Annual Southland Graduate Student Conference is “Synthetics” and the paper I’ve been working on connects Max Weber to contemporary questions of identity and production, so this seems like the perfect venue to work on my ideas. Here’s my abstract:

The Networked Shell: Max Weber and the Ethic of Work in the Digital Era

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber twice used a metaphor that has become a touchstone in cultural analysis for the past century: the “iron cage” of capitalism in which we have all been trapped. The Puritan overtones of this translation represent a semantic intervention by Weber’s first American translator, Talcott Parsons. In his translation of the work Peter Baehr makes a convincing argument that this iconic metaphor should in fact be translated from the German (stahlhartes Gehäuse) as the “shell as hard as steel.” In a close reading of Weber’s original text I will flesh out this reading: the “shell as hard as steel” is an organic, protective carapace that shields and defines as much as it limits and confines its inhabitant. I will follow the metaphor of the shell as hard as steel from Weber to the darkness of World War II and the intellectual and technological revolution that sprang from its ashes. From there I will pick up the story of how cybernetics and post-war military-industrial research blended with the 1960s counterculture to create the network society of the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently, our own synthetic cultures of virtual production. By following its thread from Max Weber through the twentieth century, I hope to create an interpretive foundation on which to answer a very Weberian question: what is the ethic of work in the digital era? What does it mean to be an individual trapped/integrated/liberated by the networked shell of contemporary capitalism?

We’ll see if they like it.

How Fred Writes

I’m about to sit in on a talk in the series How I Write at the Stanford Writing Center. Tonight’s speaker is Fred Turner, who wrote a great book on the emergence of the digital counterculture in the 1960s and beyond.

I’m particularly interested in what he has to say about his writing process since he also lived a life in journalism before returning to grad school and academia. His time in journalism was much more serious and successful…but I’m hoping the experience will still translate.

Oh, wow: I just discovered that the “How I Write” website has an amazing archive of audio and video! Very neat.

Actually listening to poetry

How often do we really listen to poetry anymore? Perhaps it is true that contemporary poetry is meant to be read more than to be heard, but I find that once I hear a poet reading his or her own work I can never read it the same way again. That’s right, I’m looking at you, Paul.

The PENNsound poetry site collects audio files from all sorts of interesting people. We’re using it this week in a class to listen to William Carlos Williams reading a few excerpts from Paterson.

The Extreme Contemporary

Two weeks ago I helped organize “The Extreme Contemporary,” a conference put on by the Center for the Study of the Novel. We had some excellent speakers and some very interesting discussions. I’m hoping to get podcasts of some of the talks up in the near future, but for now you can learn more on the event page.

One of my favorite talks was Alan Liu’s analysis of The Agrippa Project, an early new media “art book” that attempted to embody the ephemerality of digital production. Highlights included fading ink, DNA encoding and a diskette with a self-encrypting poem by William Gibson. He pointed us to a scholarly site that attempts to recapture some of the work’s original glory.

Getting it together

Greetings. This will, I hope, become the site of a new academic blog tying together some of my varied activities around the Stanford campus. For right now, however, please bear with me while I eke out web development time during a very busy winter quarter.