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April 16, 2009

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What's Still In The Inbox

Some people keep tabs open in their browser for days or weeks; I keep them open in my well-loved RSS reader NetNewsWire. (NNW doubles as a browser; I almost certainly do more READING of web content there than in Firefox.)

I like it — it keeps the old stuff next to the new stuff, and puts little pictures of what I want to read or re-read. I usually use MarsEdit to blog stuff, and MarsEdit is really well integrated with NetNewsWire, so it’s a good workflow to keep things open that I want to post to Snarkmarket eventually, or to make some other use of. (MarsEdit doesn’t play nice with Movable Type 3.2 [edit - but see below], which is why I occasionally have crazy characters in my posts for smart quotes, apostrophes, em-dashes, usw.)

Anyways, like any other workflow, this one gets backed up; I can’t think of exactly what I want to say, or (more often) other stuff gets in the way. But I think it’s still good to take some time to register the things I’m thinking about, because you might want to think about them too. Here’s what’s still in my inbox.

  • if:book, “design and dasein: heidegger against the birkerts argument.” E-book readers and phenomenology? Content, thy name is Carmody. Disappointingly, author Dan Piepenbring hasn’t actually read a lot of Heidegger, so the argument is a little underdeveloped (check my comment down the thread). I really want to blog about this, but I also wanted effectively to remake the whole idea from scratch, and I don’t have the time right now to do that.
  • CFP for Wordless Modernism at MSA 11. Academic CFP listservs come in RSS form now! This is so, so sweet. So is the CFP here: “If, as W.J.T. Mitchell has argued, the ‘linguistic turn’ of the early twentieth century took place alongside a concomitant ‘pictorial turn,’ how does this change the way we approach modernism’s engagement with visual media and theories of sensation?” See also “Film Grammar and Literary Modernism”. If I can’t get a paper in Montreal this year, I need to hang it up.
  • Two other cool CFPs: Multiple Perspectives on Collecting and the Collection (for a Spanish-English journal — I may submit something from my chapter on Borges, Melville, and Citizen Kane) and Re-viewing Black Mountain College, for a conference at the BMC museum.
  • “Beyond Life Hacks: Reusable Solutions to Common Productivity Problems.” Gina Trapani is so, so good. I look at this fight-procrastination guide every day now, trying to read it first thing in the morning.
  • “Gabriel García Márquez, literary giant, lays down his pen.” In 2005, García Márquez didn’t write a line. There probably won’t be any new books in his lifetime. (PS: Go read One Hundred Years Of Solitude. Just do it. I won’t tell anyone you haven’t yet.)
  • Clement Greenberg at 100. “I’m so excited. I’m one of the few graduate students who will be presenting at a centennial symposium looking back to the life and work of the legendary Clement Greenberg. (So my name isn’t listed yet on the official publicity, and that’s all right. I haven’t paid enough dues yet to warrant headlining status. Rosalind Krauss and Thierry de Duve, Luke Menand and Serge Guilbaut have).” I wonder how this conference went?
  • Diana Kimball drops this perfect quote from Bruno Latour:
    In politics as in science, when someone is said to ‘master’ a question or to ‘dominate’ a subject, you should normally look for the flat surface that enables mastery (a map, a list, a file, a census, the wall of a gallery, a card-index, a repertory); and you will find it.
  • Wyatt Mason on Proust and Nabokov. I’ve really been loving Pale Fire lately.
  • Jason Kottke, “Gairville.” A Brooklyn neighborhood (now Dumbo) once named for the guy (Robert Gair) who invented the modern cardboard box. Jason’s interested in the neighborhood; I’m interested in the boxes.
  • “Obama Offers Plan to Improve Care for Veterans.” Electronic records come to the VA. I want to write a post called “In Praise of Bureaucrats,” about how “bureaucracy” has such a mixed meaning as an insult/complaint (meaning both robotic impersonality and feudalist inefficiency) and how much really good information science (and scientists) could improve, um, everything. Not a new liberal art as such, but maybe the new engineering.
  • “Substance and Style” (on Wes Anderson). Watched The Royal Tenenbaums the other day, and thought a lot about the subtleties of the writing, especially for Royal.
    Royal: Can I see my grandsons? Chas: Why? Royal: Because I finally want to meet them.
    That little inversion — “finally want to,” instead of the expected “want to finally” — which could (almost) be unintentional — tells you so much about Royal. Nine out of ten phrases are like that.

Now, to fill up the tabs again.

Posted April 16, 2009 at 7:20 | Comments (14) | Permasnark
File under: Self-Disclosure


I would like more of the Heidegger and the Kindle argument!

I don't think looking at ready-to-hand and obtrusiveness is the way to go; most people seem to complain about the connection of information overload which screams "Gerede."


"Idle talk is the possibility of understanding everything without previously making the thing ones own"

compare with the anti-Kindle article:

"I imagined an info-culture of the near future composed entirely of free-floating items of information and expression, all awaiting their access call. I pictured us gradually letting go of Wallace Stevens (and every other artist and producer of work) as the historical flesh-and-blood entity he was, and accepting in his place a Wallace Stevens that is the merely the sum total of his facts—a writer no longer cohering in historical imagination but fragmented into retrievable bits of information."

Posted by: John on April 16, 2009 at 09:08 AM

Hi there - I would love to try to get to the bottom of your "MarsEdit not playing nicely with MT" problem. This is not something that generally affects MT users, so there might be some configuration change that would help alleviate the problem.

Some pretty high-profile blogs such as Daring Fireball are based on Movable Type and use MarsEdit for editing, with no character problems :)

Drop me a line if you want to follow up about finding a solution.


Hi Daniel! I *love* MarsEdit, which is why I use it even though I often have to come back and tweak smart quotes, m-dashes and the like.

Part of the problem is that Snarkmarket uses Movable Type 3.2, for server reasons that I don't understand. We're in the middle of switching to WordPress, which is probably why we haven't upgraded to the new version of MT. But - yeah - anything you can tell me that can make MarsEdit work better with our older installation of Movable Type would be awesome.

John, here's what I wrote at if:book about Heidegger and the Kindle:

It's a little weird to invoke Heidegger on e-books without looking at any of the texts where Heidegger talks about reading and writing technologies, or technology as such.

For example, in his lectures on Parmenides, Heidegger argues:

Writing, from its originating essence, is hand-writing. ... In handwriting the relation of Being to man, namely the word, in inscribed in beings themselves. ... Therefore when writing was withdrawn from the origin of its essence, i.e., from the hand, and was transferred to the machine, a transformation occurred in the relation of Being to man. ... In the typewriter we find the irruption of the mechanism in the realm of the word. ... The typewriter veils the essence of writing and of the script. It withdraws from man the essential rank of the hand ...

I don't think Heidegger would like the Kindle, no matter how handy or natural it seemed to be.

Tim, I noticed that the garbage characters for instance in this post seem to be caused because somehow the characters are "Windows ISO Latin" format when the blog (I think) expects them to be UTF-8.

If you open up the blog settings in your MarsEdit installation, and look under "Posting" you should see a "Use Character Encoding" option. What is that set to right now? You might try changing that setting and sending a test post up with some smart quotes, etc.

If that still doesn't work, I would be curious to know how you're entering the smart quotes. If they're coming from Word or something that might help explain the problem.

Hopefully when you migrate to WordPress you'll start off with a fresh, modern version that handles character encoding well :)


Alas! I've tried UTF-8 (which is what I have been using) and ISO-8859-1, and tried both of them with/without encoding with HTML entities. It still gives me wacked-out characters -- just different ones each time. MarsEdit always previews the text as flawless.

ISO-8859-1 gave me question marks, which I guess were the least obtrusive -- I don't know if it's good or bad.

And I, at least, can't find settings to change the way the server side handles character encodes. Looks like it's manual cleanup for a little while longer...

Indeed ! It is a shame but maybe we can chalk it up to the old MT version. Let's look forward to a happier posting experience on WP :)


Here's my thing about Birkerts: often, his lamentations about the destructive effects of technology, or the loss of the deeply interior, introspective nature of reading are often simply lamentations for the death of Enlightenment values.

So this is deliberately trite, but: isn't the threat of free-floating, context-free information much more 'a result' of people like Derrida and Deleuze than Jeff Bozos?

Here's a good Hubert Dreyfus essay that elaborates on Heidegger "the guy who lived in the black forest and hated typewriters" and Heidegger "the guy who saw technology as an infinite expansion of human possibility"


I will look up the rest of the typewriter passage later, but I'm not sure that Heidegger's distrust of typewriters really persists into later life or that his views on the typewriter in Parmenides apply to technology in general.

Here's the money quote from the Dreyfus essay; on seeing a gross, technological concrete onramp as something wonderful:

"If we now turn back to the autobahn "bridge" example, we can see the encounter with the interchange as a chance to let different skills be exercised. So on a sunny day we may encounter a interchange outside of Freiburg as we drive to a meeting in town as soliciting us to reschedule our meeting at Lake Constance. We take the appropriate exit and then use our cellular phone to make sure others do the same."

Technological things that provide us with little epiphanies or expand our possibilities get a thumbs up.

From the Atlantic article, I would assume that the woman who blackberried a quotation and knew how to use it in a conversation gets a Heideggerian pat on the back, but if she just randomly posts it to her blog to seem deep then she gets a wag of the finger. Likewise, reading on your Kindle to expand the number of books available in many settings is good; reading the NYT on your kindle just to keep abreast of things to blog is bad.

Tim gets a Heideggerian pat on the back for posting a list of topics he will approach later, in depth and not just toss around for idle chatter.

Posted by: John on April 16, 2009 at 10:38 AM

I'll work this backwards:

1) Jeff Bozos! What a slip! Or pun - I can't tell. :)

2) The deliberately trite argument about Derrida and Deleuze assumes that Derrida and Deleuze somehow CAUSE the death of Enlightenment values through their floating signifiers. They'd most likely say that they're diagnosing something that has happened already. (Like Nietzsche's the Death of God, even for the people who have done it, the even is still on the way.)

3) The Heidegger quote is worth discussing in this context because he thinks that the big, Birkertsesque shift in "the relationship between man and Being" happened with the typewriter. You could easily say that we lost the "deeply interior, introspective" mode of reading with the newspaper -- a reading medium that's designed, after all, to be read in public, in a café or streetcar, and then thrown away.

4) There are at least three ways to parse this historical slide (i.e. not the iPhone/Kindle but the newspaper and typewriter).

a) We have been through these "destruction of the reading/writing experience" scenarios before, and they never really amount to much.

b) We have been through these "destruction of the reading/writing experience" scenarios before, and this particular transformation is small change compared to the REAL transformation, which was _________. (The newspaper, the printing press, the alphabet, usw.)

c) We have been through these "destruction of the reading/writing experience" scenarios before, and this particular transformation is comparable to those in the past, which were genuinely significant.

I am most predisposed to c. I always add, though, my favorite Al Swearengen quote from Deadwood:

It’ll be different after the annexation. That’s all. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of.

Everything changes. Don’t be afraid.

Oh - that's why I put 'a result' in quotations. I didn't actually mean 'D&D' (ha!) caused anything. I may be a half-assed grad-student, but I'm not *stupid*! ;)

But I am also partial to c.

My experience with Heidegger is, however, fleeting. I wonder though - the newspaper came to prominence at a time when more people than ever before were reading the novel and at a time when the novel was really starting to do cool stuff. So even if the newspaper did change something about how we think of reading, it didn't somehow prevent or preclude the interiority of reading or what I would argue are the experiential benefits (or whatever) of reading fiction.

I wonder if something similar will happen now or, conversely, if the screen and page are so 'epistemologically different' that the shift envisioned will be more akin to speech --> writing than handwriting --> typewriter.

Love this thread.

Since this all began with Tim's tabs, a question: Is tabbed browsing actually something interest/significant, or just a weird passing info-perversity of a select few super-nerds?

I've found tabs have changed the way I read dramatically. And I've come to fear the horror of checking the little "what tabs do I have open?" menu in Firefox only to discover a list 50+ long -- it's like a list of all of these little half-completed thoughts that I will, let's be honest, never do anything with.

For me, a Heideggerian punch in the nose.

Any interesting (even tenuous) analogy to tabs in previous media?

It's just so weird. Sometimes I look at my Firefox window and I see, not a document, but a sort of electron cloud of documents that I might or might not read, all in this tabbed superposition. And I sort of stumble through, processing some, closing others.

In the graphic novel Watchmen, Ozymandias watches rows upon rows of televisions, each set to a different channel, to "[allow] subliminal hints of the future to leak through.

-- Wikipedia, "Cut-up technique"

This is the crazy thing about the screen: the simultaneity of information and, possibly, the way all those bits and information linger in consciousness even when they're hidden in another tab (I like this idea of a 'tab superposition' - or maybe even tab suspension). Maybe this is also an example of a non-linear, network-y way of producing new readings: you might have seven seemingly unlinked tabs but, simply because you have them open at the same time, you can produce connections that wouldn't be possible with a more linear, less simultaneous approach.

And my possibly silly example of tabbed reading: today, I jumped back and forth between 4 magazines. They were all Canadian and all, as always, contained some rambling about 'the idea of Canada'. It did have a similar effect in terms of me producing a reading of 'Canada', but it was also a lot more tenuous and difficult to recall. I mean, it may have been the beer w/ lunch, but still.

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