522/1030: a structure

Lo and behold, I’ve finally managed something. At least it looks like something. I have yet to decide how useful this thing really is.

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What I have here are all my key words mapped out in some sort of cluster map showing which ideas are closely related and the degrees in which things are related. From this, I am currently building my working outline, so that I know how I want to organize all the fragments I mentioned last time.

So no real information here today, just an update on the organizing work I’m doing, for the 50th time it seems like. But each time, I’m one step closer to an actual usable structure!

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520/1030: some thinking

While on my way home yesterday, I was thinking about what I actually want to do with my Words blog, especially once I actually get into the writing. So far, my work has been fragmented and I used this space as a place to put my fragmented thoughts and know I  can edit them into a complete text, which is what I will do as soon as I have a kind of structure. However, once I have that structure, it will actually make more sense for me to just write my ideas straight into the documents than here.

I’m getting closer and closer to the elusive structure, an outline that actually builds on itself and makes logical sense, but until that happens, this space will probably look the same.

When it happens (my goal is Friday!), this space will probably turn more into a journal where I can reflect on the process of writing itself, and we’ll just have to see how interesting that is for people. In the meantime, carry on!

519/1030: the medium and the message

Once upon a time, there was a Canadian professor who had such a low opinion of literature studies students in the 1960s, or such a high opinion of advertisement and commercials, that he started teaching poetry analysis with media like newspapers. Then in 1964, this once literature professor, now media scholar, published the controversial Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man from which the famous saying comes: “the medium is the message.” With this, Marshall McLuhan started a trend that everyone seems to want to follow, including the French semiologist Roland Barthes. While not citing McLuhan directly, Barthes’ article “The Photographic Message” would not exist without some preconception of the argument that the “channel of transmission” affects the content of the transmission so much, that it becomes the transmission (15). That is, as McLuhan would say, “the personal and social consequences of any medium- that is, of any extension of ourselves- result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs […] by any new technology” (107). Or, said in my own words, the form of a medium has so much autonomy that it can affect the content and make it mean something it may not have in another medium. That is, the medium can control the message. In the end, the medium itself carries so many signs, and the message is so bound up within these signs, that the content of the medium does not seem to exist without the medium. It cannot conceivably exist.

That all sounds much more complicated than it has to be. Trying one last time to articulate it, there is a strain of media studies that believes in technological determinism and that one cannot study media without considering their form and their affect on the message. So there. It is with this understanding that I approach literary text, especially when it is put into contact with other media via intermedial references.

However, before assuming “the medium is the message” again, let us consider the two terms in isolation, since I must be able to have working definitions before I can begin manipulating them.

I will start with defining medium, which is often used in its plural form, “media.”  Historically, a medium is a tool, material or technique wielded by a user (an artist/designer, etc.) and used to communicate/accomplish something.  For example, cement, marble, paint, clay, and charcoal could be considered media and the term is often used this way in an art setting.
Now, medium is referred to the technology that allows something to be communicated: radio, television, print, digital coding, etc.
Media can be print or in-person: Text in books, on billboards, in newspapers, etc., sound waves
or electronic and broadcast: Recorded sound, recorded (moving) image. How it is broadcast can be distinguished between analog means or digital (via code). Hence, one can consider the physical qualities of the film, cassette, vinyl record, versus the “invisible” quality of the internet and mobile devices.

In his chapter “The Photographic Message,” Barthes considers the medium of the press photograph. He is concerned with its form as an “object endowed with a structural autonomy” (15). His definition of medium doesn’t stray beyond what I’ve explained above in that the medium is a physical object that transmits as message. However, McLuhan extends the definition of medium to include anything that changes the ways humans can interact. So to him, the light bulb is a medium, since it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (108), and  it allows us to work and play at night and see in the dark corners of our brain during surgery. Because McLuhan’s definition allows for such a varied ascription of the term, medium is not as easy a term to pin-down as I would like. I may find myself stating that I will only define television and text as media and avoid getting too far into general definitions.

Before actually trying to define the two terms, I thought message would be the more difficult of the two, even if it is a term most readers have an intuitive understanding of message. However, it turns out both are difficult terms to define.

A message (not the thing left on the answering machine, but the one we come into contact with whenever we come into contact with media) is a meaning,  idea or sense of something. It is always conveyed by something, which is why some people say the message is inextricable from the medium, but there is something we talk about when we say “message of this is this.” In the old “form vs. content” debate, the message is the content. Despite these clear statements, defining a message is actually very difficult, since it is an abstract, variable concept. For example, Barthes considers media transmitting two messages, a denoted and connoted message. McLuhan considers that the message of a medium is not the one (or two) message(s) we consider we are being transmitted, but the way in which the medium has changed human interaction. Add to these messages the infinite possible messages an audience or recipient receives based on their/his/her subjective position and interpretation, and one has many possible messages given by one medium or subject of inquiry.

Really, if anything, this attempt at defining  message and media was nice, and may be useful as a general introduction, but I don’t know if I have a working definition yet. Talking about them in general terms is probably what makes it difficult to understand. Once I start using examples, I believe I will be able to work with the terms better.

Now I have to figure out how to integrate this into my dissertation later in a productive way. Sigh.

Works Cited:

Barthes, Roland, trans. Stephen Heath. “The Photographic Message.” Image Music Text. London: Fontana, 1977. 15-31. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium Is The Message.” Media And Cultural Studies: Keyworks. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006. 107-116. Print.

232/1030: reflection on writing, Eastern Europe, and ethnocritique

Today (yesterday), I typed over 1000 words (not including this post)…and I don’t even know if I will use them. I’ve never had a problem throughout my entire academic career in reaching a word limit. Rather, my challenge is that I reach the word limit before I’ve said what I mean to say. So I go back and revise. And revise. And re-vision and revise. I guess some people do that revision in their heads and then spit out the finished sentence on the page, spending another ten minutes to create the best sentence to follow after that. However, how can one know if the best sentence is the one one comes up with the first time? And that it’s not the sentence that comes four or five sentences later? How can one keep track of all the different sentence possibilities? So what I do is just write everything and do the work afterwards. I’ve always been a rather tactile learner, so having the sentences on the page to rearrange is easier for me that doing it all in my head. So there you so, some writing style notes from me.

I didn’t actually get to do all the homework I meant to over the weekend. I covered most of my notes on Eastern Europe and the conception of the region by the rest of Europe and the eastern Europeaners themselves. Surprise surprise, these conceptions significantly differ. Also, ethnic violence and “structured hate” as Olga Grjasnowa puts it, are more complex than made out to be by external media. I have my work cut out for me, then, when looking at Stanišić and Grjasnowa. 

So I came to the office with the rest of my WiSe 2017 notes and primarily looked at James Clifford’s introduction to Writing Culture. It was a productive session. I managed to categorize the reading and considerations of ethnographic writing under “representation politics.” Just realizing this was enough work for the day because, while I did annotate the reading, knowing when to draw upon it in my dissertation is the bigger half the battle. 

Tomorrow (today, since I’m late in posting), I’m beginning the highlighting adventures of notes from 2014/15. Wish me luck? 

228/1030: German Colonialism and other nationalist projects. Oh, and autobiography

The buzzwords in my title are to help me remember what I did at work today at a glace, but they do throw one off guard a bit and need to be explained enough to know what I was thinking when I mentioned them today.

To begin with, German colonialism is not longer “a thing” in the historical sense. Whether they still participate in a kind of globalized and/economic colonialism can be discussed with those in the “post-colonialism is a misnomer” corner. Germany also technically never had colonies, because by the time Togo, German New Guinea, Cameroon were called colonies, Germany had already lost them as a part of the Treaty of Versailles. Until 1919, Germany’s colonies were called protectorates, and Germany’d only had control in these regions for the last years of the 1800s, officially having a Ministry in 1907. So basically, Germany gets excluded from colonials party, which I guess could be said in its favor? I’ve actually written about all this before on day 18 of the 1030 project (woah! so long ago).

But the point is, German colonialism was an extension of the inflated nationalism the country went through since finally becoming an actual unified country in 1871. The idea of colonialism as playing a role in Germany’s nationalism is something I’ll want to address when I get to the German texts in my dissertation.

Another thing I’ll want to remember is that bureaucracy in one of the most well-wielded instruments of nationalism that we’ve seen in the 20th Century, but also in the 19th Century.

Finally, many of my primary texts are fictional, but with strong autobiographical elements. Therefore, I want to consider Paul de Man’s critique of Rousseau’s Confessions and other considerations of the subject in autobiography and how reference (to real people, the author, not media in what has become the regular-for-me sense) works in these kinds of texts.

p.s. I reviewed the difference between metonomy, synedoche, and metaphor today. Yay me. Think crown: authority, wheel:car, and butter:snot

All these notes come from a set of documents from the Winter Semester that I finally finished working through today. The “to be sorted” pile had been visually nagging me since February, and it felt good to get rid of it! I even did my homework… albeit not at home and not in the morning as I planned. But this past week has been a really productive one after a week and weekend of anxiously waiting for scholarship announcements. I didn’t get any actual writing done yet, but starting on a draft for my introduction is firmly on my to-do list for next week.

My homework for the weekend is to collate all my notes from my semesters at the Uni Hamburg and type up the notes that would be relevant for my thesis. A good half of the notes come from my New English Literatures class, so I can expect these to have the most relevance.

I didn’t think I’d make it to the office so much this week, but I actually really like going there and sitting out my four hours. At home, I feel like I never get into the work enough to actually get real work done (I typically spend about 1-2 hours replying to emails and taking care of life first, as well as wandering to the kitchen and back, taking field-trips grocery shopping and the gym), so the office has been a positive change in my life. Of course, I can’t wait to get a desk at the uni and all that, but for now I’m really happy with how things are moving forward.

As you’ve seen, I do have some work lined up for Saturday/Sunday, but also some fun as well. Hope you reader(s) have a nice weekend!

227/1030: The productivity of reorganization 

While at the “office” today (if you missed my last post, I am renting a desk for the summer), I spent about two hours just catching up on email and contacting people I’ve been meaning to contact. I also wrote up a report for my local German-American club and took care of business like that. In hindsight, I do ask myself: may I have, perhaps, used my time better? But those stuff were all in my agenda for days now and I figured if not now, when? I wonder how much I could get done if I had that same attitude towards dissertation work. I think I’m slowly getting there, though!

With about two hours left before I’d have to go to my “real life” job, I realized well, shucks. But I think I did get enough work done to be in a better spot tomorrow to actually get some writing done.

The main objective for today was to get a little more of a sense of what material I’ve collected over the year and organize them into lists that I conceivably could then tackle more successfully. I now have five (or is it six?) working bibliographies of articles/ chapters I’ve collected that can be grouped into: subject and discourse, postcolonial literature broadly speaking, intermediality/intertextuality/mediality, voice/language as a medium, and primary sources (okay, so only five).

I also have new dividers in my binder for all my primary authors (ignore the fact that only Monica Ali and Olga Grjasnova have their own divisions, the other eight or so authors are currently unceremoniously plopped together), transnationalism and identity, media reception and use by migrants, and the subject/identity role in discourse.

Finally, I started a list of sources I still have to read and those I’ve read, but still need to annotate digitally (so that I have material I can actually write from). The list is missing A LOT of sources that I’ve sporadically cited in various different working bibliographies, so not only do I still have some organizing to do, I still have a lot to read and annotate. And I’m still working through the pile of messy notes on my desk to figure out where those belong as well. That’s what’s on deck for tomorrow.

This may sound overwhelming, and it is. However, whenever I start to panic, I remember Douglas Adams and press the giant red button. Then I tell myself what I hope to gain from this and where I’ll go from here: once I have my sources organized into categories of relevance, I don’t actually have to read them all before I start writing. I’m actually going to start writing and then draw upon the sources when they become relevant reading/rereading as necessary. I imagine that’s how scholars work anyway, and it should work.

In the meantime, my homework for tonight is taking the small pile of assorted scraps I’ve collected and typing the relevant notes up to be sorted with everything else in the morning.

Sounds good, right? Now I just have to make sure I make it to the desk by 8 AM.

May the force be with you and me.

226/1030: Update in work and life 

I’ve been following a blogger (maybe I’ll remember to link him here at a later date) who recently has been posting daily updates of what he accomplished with his dissertation each day. It really is a log of his work in a way that seems more productive than trying to produced polished (barely, if at all) posts each time. I’m probably going to do a mix of what I’ve been doing and what he does.

This new style of logging may become especially productive given the fact that I’ve recently been forced to rent a desk due to a shifting home situation and actually have to commute to work on my dissertation now, which somehow motivates me to get stuff done again. I’ve relocated the stack of articles and notes that have been gathering dust on my desk in the apartment to my new desk. Along with a binder where I’ve already started sorting, a new binder, a hole-puncher (two-hole, as the Germans do), a remote keyboard and my motivation, coffee, tea, and milk, the items I’ve brought have yielded a few hours of work and some organization of old material.

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While I have a serious problem to tackle with the large amount of stuff I’ve read and haven’t annotated or organized properly (and the task seems very daunting), I somehow manage to just keep adding new material. But I think if I can have the discipline to start annotating and organizing those right away, I may slowly see a way through the morass.

Most recently, I attended a conference about discourse in public places and the search for resonance, and I selectively attended the one presentation where Bakhtin, my favorite Russian theorist, was the focal point along with Yoko Tawada, Habermas, and a few others. The main takeaway from that session was that a) Tawada would be a productive author to look at for “voice,” b) the difference between voice and Bakhtin’s “utterance” may be found in the body/language discussion, and I’m a Bakhtin pro, or at least more than the academic laymen (this is not to be confused with actually being an expert- I just know more than the basic understanding of his theories, if there even is such a thing). This realization of my position in the academic world is further validated by acceptance into a prestigious research school and the award of a scholarship.

That’s right, the biggest news for my dissertation work is that I’m soon going to be paid more for working on my dissertation than I got paid working a part-time “real” job. Not only do I have 20 hours more a week to work on my diss, but I have more resources with which to do the work (and party afterwards). Work hard, play hard. Life is pretty sweet.

While I am writing this on day 227, I plan to post somehting else today as well, so it’s filling in for the 226th day that I missed .