Posts Tagged ‘joanna russ’

joanna russ interview notes

this I’m trying to liveblog even if it kills me… chip delany is doing a slideshow of the covers of russ books including many in translation.
I’ll keep posting notes every few minutes.

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unsettled, yet sunny


my keyboard barfed up a hairball
Originally uploaded by Liz .

Rook stayed home from work. We had to go do paperwork for a sudden mortgage re-fi, which is kind of interesting and I’ll go into it some other time. I’m working and on track and positive and it’s a sunny day.

My mind is kind of tangled and yukky, like this hairball. We are going to think past the hairball so that flowing sentences of astonishing clarity about gender, genre, Joanna Russ, poetics, and literary quality will flow from my fingertips to the auxilary computer-brain and into the shining grail of my thesis which will transmute my very soul into a beacon of responsibility and maturity.

Oh, and my friend Ax wrote me to ask me to be on her panel. Which was comforting because my prof specifically looked me in the eye and said “If you act like you act, no one will EVER ASK YOU TO BE ON A PANEL. Who would want you to be in their book, or speak at a conference, if you don’t answer their email properly.”

8-P (Imagine italian under the chin hand gesture here…)

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some expansions to the list of women writers

A quick stab at expanding the list of books by women writers… It is off the top of my head. I hope it helps anyone who is trying to construct a (better? longer?) list. I note it is still rather a list of writers of pallor… and that needs fixing.

Christine de Pisan, The Book of the City of Ladies
Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book
Marguerite de Navarre, The Heptameron
Sappho, Poems
*Aphra Behn, Orinooko
*Mary Robinson, Sappho and Phaon
*Xiao Hong, The Field of Life and Death
*The Lizard’s Tail, Luisa Valenzuela
*Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck
Marie Bashkirtseff, The Diary of a Young Artist
*Fanny Burney, Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World
*Fanny Kemble, Journal of a residence on a Georgian Plantation
*Octavia Butler, Xenogenesis
Elena Garro, Recollections of Things to Come
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave
*Claribel Alegria, Luisa in Realityland
*Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star
*Chava Rosenfarb, The Tree of Life
Marjorie Kempe, Book of Marjorie Kempe
*Alexandra Kollontai, The Love of Worker Bees
Anna Comnena, Alexiad
*Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing
*James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever & other stories
*Nawal el-Saadawi, Memoirs from the Women’s Prison
*Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs
Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life
Juana Manuela Gorriti, Dreams and Realities
*Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, The Answer
*Lucile Clifton, Good Woman
*Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
*Rosario Castellanos, The Eternal Feminine
*Flora Tristan, Perigrinations of a Pariah

…..

And now to work.

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Better than venom

Actually… (now more than halfway through) Touched by Venom is quite good… amazingly good. It’s a serious cool work of feminist SF, about sexual politics.

It’s not a silly trashy fun book like, say, those Sharon Green light porn “Crystals of Mida” books where the Amazonian tribeswomen ride around on giant lizards, capturing men and raping them. Not at all!

This scene near the end, where the teenage heroine has gone through complete hell… starvation many times, violence and death, terrible things, mutilation… the convent where her dying mother bought her a place is threatened. All the holy women are starving and are worked almost to death and are addicted to the venom drug… which if you do it right, is this divine sex rite bringing enlightenment. The heroine freaks at the nuns’ request for her to flee and save herself from the threatening disaster – but to help them do their ritual one last time… (And this in a society where women don’t sleep on the “dragon-blessed ground” because their filthy female tears, blood, and sweat would defile it – dragons are ultra-holy -and recall all the heinous rape and prostitution scenes earlier and how the heroine was nearly sold into sex slavery where she would have died very young from horrible diseases – the “mating pustules” – ew….) A scene where in a short conversation the key of the book – power – is laid right out for the first time.

Slowly, carefully, she said, “You don’t have to feel ashamed by your desire. Not among us.”

“It’s wrong,” I whispered, cheeks burning.

“The wanting of it? The act itself?”

“Both.”

“Who gets hurt, Zar-shi? No one is exploited, no one is forced. It’s a divine exchange between beast and woman.”

“Deviant.”

“Tell me you haven’t seen worse elsewhere, worse that is acceptable only because it reaffirms the power-defined relationship of an aggressor over the less powerful. Tell me so and I’ll agree.”

I thought of roidan yin kasloo, the woman trading between kus [clans]. I thought of Mombe Taro [a ritual] and how the aristocrats, in all their finery, so gleefully whipped and humiliated the apprentices. I thought of the garish, grand mating closet in the glass spinners’ ku [clan enclosure], the place where my sister had been imprisoned and defiled…

I also think of one of the book’s opening scenes, where the male apprentice dragonmasters are running a ritual gauntlet during a city-wide festival, preparing to be whipped brutally by poisoned, drugged lashes. The famed “venom cock” makes its appearance. It’s half a page about how the dragon venom, a powerful hallucinogen and poison, makes the men have erections. In fact, the point of the passage is that the men and women have different ideas about what t his means. The men see it as a symbol of power and patriarchy, the phallus as scary and violent. The women, and Zarq, the young girl heroine, find it trivial and amusing to see the terrified, humiliated apprentices cringing before the crowd with their loincloths tented out; Zarq says :

The only truth I knew about the subject was what my eyes told me. The veteran apprentices looked mighty silly waddling up the lane to the whipping bar, their penises pointing the way.

This is the page everyone’s making fun of, with the lisping little boy tugging on his penis under his loincloth as he watches the parade, and the “bad writing”. What I notice is the gender politics. The quality of the writing is not bad at all – if I were going to critique it I’d say the first couple of chapters have slightly awkward elbows once in a while, until the book really revs up, and part of that might be my readerly adjustment to the book’s style. The same adjustment is necessary whenever you’re reading something that isn’t predigested pap. For example, the coiled energetic style of one of my favorite femsf writers, Doris Piserchia – it takes getting used to and warming-up to learn how to read it. This is nothing to spend energy mocking, when there’s so much truly good writing in the Touched by Venom.

But back to the parade and the young boy. It turns out he is obsessed with power, with patriarchal/phallic power, to the extent that he painfully mutilated himself in order to become a legal adult at age 7 – because his child-name indicated that he was the bastard son of a whore. He’s lisping because his self-mutilation resulted in an infection that made him lose all his teeth. Whoa!

This is just one page – the much-quoted page 8 in the paperback edition. I would like to quote one more line from it, one that carries quite a lot of irony:

“Unwise while in the presence of so much masculinity to mock the phallus.”

And Cross does mock the phallus. How unwise of her! I raise my coffee cup in a lone toast to her brave genius!

The tone of the critical mockery of the book has been to put it down as fanfic, painfully amateurish, prurient to the point of being silly. I don’t accept that as a tactic to put down work. It’s lazy, and it’s damning work by associating it with the feminine, with hysteria, with women’s desire. Of course we all know those qualities make writing ridiculous. From what critics said, I thought the writing would be unreadable, nonsensical filler, stuck in to pad out the frequent dirty sex scenes between humans and dragons, like the “plots” of bad porn movies. A book for furries to paperclip and read with one paw. That was the stereotype evoked… and it’s WRONG.

Instead I find a woman’s hero-tale, one that’s firmly in femsf tradition. The books I now am comparing it to:
- Walk to the End of the World
- Clan of the Cave Bear
- Kushiel’s Dart
- various books by Piserchia and Van Scyoc

Issues explored in the book:
- gender and power and sexuality
- slavery and prostitution
- class, religion, feudalism, serfdom
- race and racism
- the sacred and profane
- the oppression of children
- women’s solidarity
- ways that men are victims of patriarchy etc.
- mother-daughter-sister dynamics
- art
- pregnancy, birth, the labor of caring for children
- magic and mysticism
- personal revenge and revolution
- the line between human and animal

In fact it’s an exploration of a patriarchal dystopia… One of my favorite genres.

I am impressed by many of the subtle touches that show me the sophistication of Cross’s feminist analysis. For example, the heroine’s older sister, Waisi, has this feral core of anger, ambition, cruelty… and midway into the book it’s explained beyond the simple explanation that she was smart, talented, and terribly oppressed. Her mom had the mottled green skin of a jungle woman (savages! perverts! inhuman!) and so all during Waisi’s childhood, the other women of the clan never helped co-parent her:

When my piebald babe cried, no mother in my new clan dried her tears. If she fell, no hands but mine picked her up. Her prattles, however earnest and sweet, went ignored. Sometimes I found bruises the size of an adult’s fingers on her underarms.
But I tried, oh, I tried! I loved and caressed and soothed the other children, trying to buy a measure of acceptance for my own babe with those kindnesses. Yet how often can a toddler fall down and be stepped over and walked away from before hurt is a fluid as constant in the veins as blood?

It’s written from the mom’s point of view because Zarq is being possessed by her mother’s angry ghost. I think of this, too, as a feminist SF trope — think of how the heroine in “Air” is driven mad by her union with the ghost of her 90-year-old neighbor. Possession by the ghost of an older woman stands for the ways that knowing/learning feminist history makes one mad. (Mad-insane and mad-angry, both.) It’s an exploration of what it means to live with Henry Louis Gates’ “double consciousness”.

Another common trope in feminist SF – the line between human and animal. Geoff Ryman’s Air pays homage to this tradition with its sad, painful, existentially despairing talking dog. Of course we have Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller… and so many others. The telepathic companion animal is the tip of that iceberg. “Troll”, of course. It’s about woman as non-man, non-human, as alien. If we are “other” in the eyes of the patriarchy, then we are on the side of the animals and aliens. What does human society look like from that animal side? What are women to think about animals? I mean, we not only barely got the vote – we barely have *souls*. Patriarchy has a long tradition of speaking of women as non-sentient beings.

I think again of Joanna Russ’s discussion of her reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s books. She read them and they seemed “bad” or at least, not good enough for critical notice. Then she went and read background, read context, read a lot of other African-American writers of the 19th and early 20th century, and realized the complexities of what Hurston was doing. She didn’t know how to read the book until she knew the genre. Janine Cross, right now, is being critiqued by people who are not competent to write the critiques, because they don’t at all know the feminist sf genre.

I’m not talking about the people who didn’t read it and who jumped on the snark wagon anyway. I’m talking about the Kirkus reviewer who said it was embarrassing slush. Maybe he didn’t read it either, but I suspect he did read at least a few chapters, and he was blind because he was ignorant. It’s the usual Ugly Duckling story!

Tobias Bucknell has a very reasonable statement here – he just made some flippant comments on the order of “heh, she said venom cock” — which you know, I also was giggling about the whole thing… how not… But I’m linking to Bucknell because he has a handy roundup of links of reviews of the book at the end of his post.

People assume it’s annoying rapesploitation as well as furry porn, or I suppose “scaly” porn. It’s not! I am gritting my teeth as I think of all the books and movies that have commercial success in which the women get raped or the threat of rape controls women and that’s just NORMAL. Calling it a book that is “about” child molestation is also wrong… it’s like taking a serious book about the history of clitorodectomies in African countries and trivializing it. Okay, I’ll stop now… I could go on for ages…

Buy it, read it, write about it… it’s worth thinking and writing about.

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70s feminist sf

Thanks to whump for the link to Jeanne Gomoll’s 1987 Open Letter to Joanna Russ.

I’m one of those rescuers and recanonizers, and haven’t forgotten or forsaken the 70s!

I do wish that Open Letter were marked up with links. I could go back and do some searching for the content of those APAzines. Surely some of them are online?

I wish the Khatru Symposium were online in full.

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the citation for “integry”

Okay – I finally found it. From What Are We Fighting For by Joanna Russ, Chap.9, p. 223-228.
First she’s quoting Christine Delphy ( and everyone should read Christine Delphy, whatever you can find.) explaining how a woman doesn’t belong to her husband’s social class, and how marriage (and family) is a job. “When the same tasks are done outside the family they are paid for. The work acquires value – is remunerated – as long as the woman furnishes it to people to whom she is not related or marries… The marriage contract… is in fact a work contract. ”

Then – it is actually Jesse Bernard who invented the word integry; Russ says, “to describe the kind of work women do in keeping communities together, the sort of thing Rosalind Coward has called ‘social facilitation’. Like Dale Spender, who writes of women’s communicative work in Man-Made Language, Coward describes as one facet of this work:

the domestic labor in routine social intercourse – “How are you? Who are you? What do you Do? Where do you live? Why the hell don’t you ever say anything?”…. Women function as the currency between men. Women’s speech sustains men’s impersonal relationships between themselves.

[still quoting Russ, p. 224]
Another phrase for the “integry” might be “social infrastructure” — the kinds of formal and informal women’s organizations, networks, and groups that function to make the life of a particular community possible.”

She goes on to talk about southern black churches. and about networks women keep up in other communities — “the usefulness of the integry to the community as a whole,” citing Cynthia Macdonald’s studies of public housing, how the men function as chauffers or handymen, charging for their work, while the women create “creative, fluid networks of practical and emotional support among the women.”
Also – during epidemics…

from p. 225: “If creating community feeling is work, then work may be something other than we’re used to describing by that name, or at least something broader. ….
If work is indistinguishable from politics in one direction (maintaining or challenging the status quo, as in Bernard’s “integry”) and from affection in another (caring for a sick child or a friend), then a good many activities may really be work, even though they’re not really described that way. Is giving emotional support to a husband who is tired at the end of his day work? Is sending out three hundred New Year’s cards work? The feminist answer to questions like these must, I think, be yes. To take another example, are emotions work? Is the “spontaneous” and “natural” activity of smiling work?”

I didnt’ remember that it wasn’t Russ’s idea – but comes from Jesse Bernard. In the footnotes to the chapter – note 35 – “Bernard has taken the term from Kenneth Boulding but notes, as he apparently did not, that the integry is populated largely by women. ” I think the book cited is The Female World, New York: The Free Press, 1981. Rosalind Coward’s book cited by Russ is Female Desires: How They Are Sought, Bought, and Packaged (Grove Press, 1985).

Russ’s book, besides being fantastic, is worth buying just for the notes and bibliography to any one chapter!

Also from the notes (note 40, p. 234)

“for example, the actual creation of political power is work…. such a concept of power is unlikely to lead to the kind of grassroots, mass-movement participation – the creation of “power” among the “powerless – that can not only challenge the polity-as-it-is and do so effectively but that can also change the nature of power from a discrete force at the top, which is ownable, to something that is part of a new integry.”

Doesn’t that make you think of blogging? Power (information) that is not ownable. At least we hope not.

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whew!!!!!

*******
identitywoman.net.
samuel dlany, times square blue book, porn & theory. theoryporn! porntheory!

ping! he says someone came up to him and said “hi token male…”

jen complalins that she doesn’t get hatemail or trolls. melissa offers her a new trolll…..

**

law chick. reading something to us. hello, boring! shut the fuck up! cpm what? who cares!!! sorry. you don’t have to shut up, really… I’m having a bad attitude in the back of the classroom moment…

flaming, blaming, and shaming!!!

la queen sucia. yay!
ellen sperdis. yay wow! i love her!!!
someone else. someone who is giving away prizes!!!

flaming, from wikipedia!
hostility.
emails that say “why don’t you shut the fuck up.” er, i just said that. but i didn’t mean it…
is there a difference in “why don’t you shut the fuck up” vs. flaming women differently, why dont you shut the fuck up BITCH.”

a little bit of “women are politer.” er whatever. let’s be a little ruder, and be more tolerant of rudeness.

women speaking in groups. susan haring (herring?) when women post more than 30% of the content, men say that the women are taking over and they become more hostile in a group. this was an analysis of a professional linguist list. using the masters tools ont he masters house.

jo spanglemonkey pokes me in hte arm. “i just blogged about you. go look.” ha….

la queen sucia says she was a staff writer at the boston globe and la times. frustrated at mainstream media. wrote 4000 word resignation letter while 3 months pregnant, men w/ same job description and who hadn’t even finished college… Oh!!!! i read about this. her resignation letter was sent all around the n3ewsroom and to other media and was nonconsensually published in the st. petersburg times. she suddenly got 800 emails in one day. media talking about her as the crazy journalist who had a breakdown. all the language used to describe her was special putting-down-woman language, like “histrionics” or “sassy”. our table erupts in bitter laughter. and jen of notcalm going “perky. sassy.” “feisty.” “fiery.”

luuuuke f0rd is her creepy stalker from australia son of a baptist minister who converted to judaism and covers the porn industry. and he is super horrible creepy jackass. omg

OMG this is the best story ever. I remember whenthis happened. “men don’t have to directly tell you that they don’t like you , or why, because you are a LOUD WOMAN. they will do it by using those words to keep you down.” I’m sniffing a little with tears…

mobile? mobol? an anonymous blogger. but she says not anonymous at all. debi jones. her real name is in the feed.

audience. “when I came out as a woman…. uh, isn’t that weird…. hahaha… people who thought I was a guy, got really upset. the flaming I get now is very different from the flaming i get n ow. some of the top bloggers, the political ones. it’s your issue, you’re talking as an interest group, it’s your issue, you’re emotional, it’s not the big picture” la queen sucia says it’s racial too, when the see the last name they get defensive t hat you hate white people… “my cuban ancestors were white slaveowners… hahahah… it shows the way they think that they assume i hate them …”

person who said whenI came out as a woman.. who is she ? that was funny…

politicalpanel – ugly character assasination… they people who enjoy politics sometimes enjoy mixing it up and yell at peoepl, but it’s alienating. it’s the tone set by the authors even when using software that is designed to allow community to form. eventho some people are always going to act in an ugly way, how do we encourage community andmore respectful dialogue space.

Well – what I think is that public discourse is a bit messy and ugly by nature… but yes actuallyk I agree that things get way too hostile. I want to be hostile here sometimes, … but then can come down off my high horse and change my mind, or feel less angry and hostile later.

ellen sper. wrote a filter to recognize insulting hate mail. hahahaha! back in 1995.
if life gives you shit, make free fertilizer.
flame research. instead of feeling bad when someone flames me, I feel like it’s more data. we can do that with hostile comments to our blogs!

****

one-upping. vs. bonding.
we need more one-upping practice. and boasting.
heh. la reina sucia does an essentialist take-down!!!!!! applause….
contentious blogger talks avbout the various types of onlikne vermin.
search on online vermin.
deborah tannen, the argument culture.

debi jones, i’m a flamer.

i’ve had my hand up for like 10 minutes, alas. dying to say that How to suppress women’s writing would be an ideal starting point for ellen spertus’s idea of codifying misogynist flames

chick who i cna’t see… who got flamed on alas a blog… she was used to being flamed on nytimes cinema stuff, but… the level of stupidity was way greater… a nasty usenet group level of stupid.

editing comments. Yes – lots of people do.

la sucia… from albuquerque… weird that people think of her as famous… she has a book….
yow, i’ll totally buy her book. she’s so brilliant! She got rid of anonymous comments. the more visibility – the people look at you and read you, they see themselves. they are dealing with their own issues. they look at you as a mirror of them.

her stereotypes… in her 2nd book she is making a right wing republican born again xtian from texas…. and makes her loveable. to fight stereotypes. those people are the ones who love the book… and then they go read the blog and cry when they realize she is a progressive who hates bush. and those peoepl actualy hate her. and she worried about losingn readers. but… it is best…

drive-by zealots. aliases, can say whatever, no accountability. a whole new level of idiocy.
develop thick skin.

dooce talks about how we need tools to deal with comments, trolls, debates, flame wars in one’s comments. (what about self-policing community in comments? ranking, slashdot style, and de-ranking? ) Trollrating. the moderator brings up trollrating….. we need more of that. hard to manage….

i get to coment suggesting joanna russ how to suppress, and suzette haden elgin books….

la reina points out the demeaning way chick lit is used… the pink stripe on the book “means” it’s fun, trivial, unserious….

mobile jones speaks up again in favor of flaming and anger. they have a place. they can be okay. (again – I agree with her… and think we can’t expect safe space, safety all the time..l..)

oh the moderator’s name is Liza. she’s cool!!!!

*******

jo a nd I run off to the hijacked men’s bathroom. i strip & am photographed in an exuberant pose! In homage to nakedjen. Yay nakedjen, we all love you!

“naked” panel.

quote from dooce. “this blog has been my main … somethign… in my fight against oppression….” wow good! link to this.

audience member (what is her blog? name? ) benefits of being “blog-out” in personal life. a constant struggle… i got dooced… but it was all for the best. benefits vs. what you worry about. how to balance.

dooce: everyone goes thru this. you feel inviniclbe, powerful, exhilarating, people listening, you feelyou can say anything. what i didnt’ take into account is that you ahve responsibilities to the people in your life. specifically if you want a good relationship with your mother, don’t write a diatribe against the mormon church 2 days after 9/11. would you say it to their face, or not? as for the public face… working thru depression…. a sort of group therapy session with my readers. developed a group of friends, they helped me through going to the hospital, couldn’t cope with motherhood., a hard thing to admit to the world…

someone else on panel- benefits. benefits enormous personal ones of knowing myself. crabby old lady, or me… my alter ego, she gets to bitch a lot more than i do and is much funnier. writing in the 3rd person is like that. can say more. iv’e leanred more in the last 2 years than i have in the previous 62.

Koan. benefits. grace said somethingn about narcissism. I’d like my blog to be absolutely redunant because it’s totally normal. but no. it’s difficult. so going thru the process i’m going thru… (what process, trans I think.) i’m trying to give hope and comfort to people like me who are lonely… identity blogger…. i used to be able to say this (takes off jacket and shows tshirt back, “proud to be a trans person” ) and now I can. *wild applause from audience*

the crabby old lady always makes a point of saying how old she is. she always does. because you’re not supposed ot. and now… it’s just not a big deal anymore! everyone’s doing it! this little corner of the blogosphere is beginning to change. Oh, her name is Ronnie.

moderator. The world has been able to accomodate this information. Could we have done this 5 years ago? wrote about our personal lives?

ronnie – personal life blog 4 years ago. was anonymous. I was afraid to put me out there. This time around (you’ll never know that that blog was… ) I made the decision to put me out there. I talk about what it’s like to get older. I can’t ask people to talk about that with me if i’m not honest about what I do. and who i am.

dooce – 5 years ago there was no way a mainstream amagazine would hire a stay at home mom to write every day about her constipation. Now I can… it’s going to get better & better and bigger and bigger.

Jen – mama needs coffee. Did you ever have amoment when you weren’t sure you should… When I came out about being a recovering addict. and got comments about how i shouldn’t and should be more cautious and about how my kids should be taken away.

dooce – i ‘ll be naked. i came off zoloft. and it made me sick and I had been depressed most of my life… and people warned me… but post partum depression, i was in denial many months about it, that i was that weak. i wasn’t feel naturally maternal. my husband was having a hard time living with me. you’d never know it bc I never wrote about it.. i felt i was lying to him and to people who had supported me most, my readers. my readers wer supportive though, we’re not going to judge you for it. in telling them i’m finally admitting it to myself. but .. the fear of having your children taken away….

{I should say here as badgerbag and as Liz that this is my own really huge fear. i wish I could be out. and rook thinks it is only a matter of time. but I’m terrified of it. I’m tearing up here… it’s really hard for me NOT to be out.]

Ronnie . on taking care of her mom for the last 3 months of her mom’s life. she didnt’ pull punches. every day when someone’s dying something else goes wrong and no one can tell you what to do about it. because no one talks about it. but the email from readers.. who had the same stories, or yhounger people who were looking forward and thinking “what to do when this happens?”

moderator – says that a lot of peopel in the room are right now thinking about taking it a step further ont heir blogs. everyone on panel says it’s the best thing they ever did. they expected to be flamed, harrassed, stalked, but it didn’t happen.

i speak up about my own fears and about sj and i, asshole.

ronnie suggeests private password blog for some things.
mina talks about LJ and the importance of anonymity. she then goes off… anything she writes reflects on the company… i couldn’t write about my own vacation, because people would give me grief about the company…

then – also – cherish your small intimate readership. don’t go looking for more traffic too hard.

well, oops, too late as i just thoughtlessly handed out like 50 little cards with my blog addy on it.

person in audience – she likes stranger-readers. hates when people she KNOWS find it. prefers people she doesn’t know.

Koan – if you write a post, imagine that worst person in the world to read that post. and if you would regret it, then don’t post it. Also — respect for other people in life and their risks.

moderator – I had to clean up my relationships. when i got more traffic. and i had a number of uncomfortable conversations. but it ended up being a good thing. i explained my intentions.

ronnie – you deon’t have to let that get in the way of a good story. when there’s a good story, i change the name and tell the story. i don’t have to say who they are or their relationship to me.

susan – stalkers and personal attacks. one woman writing about her sexual life. and someone started stalking her. and on my blog, a professional blog, i had a troll who knew me and was very nasty. how do you handle it?

(Are these issues all that different from other kinds of public life?)

dooce… actually the address on my site is a p.o. box.
stalkers. all women who hate her. “i threaten them with my legal team. but, my legal team is… my dog.”

Koan – living in new forest in england. No one can threaten me with outing, because I already outed myself in every possible way!!!!!

Ronnie — you shouldn’t post photos of your kids on the internet. (hmmph.)

liz ditz – it’s nothign new. it happens on and offline.

guy with glasses – has 2 daugheters, 12 and 9. they videoblog. my one daughter ended up on abcnews. people were concernedd but we all talked about it and agreed it’s okay. what, mostly kidds get abducted by non custodial parent – not by internet stalker.

ronnie strongly disagrees. shse says there are scary crazy peopel out there…..

I agree with the dude in glasses. What, culture of fear thing? arrrgh!!! I mean… you could say the same thing about women being in the public sphere at ALL. we gonna get stalked, abducted, raped, killed? WTF. Ronnie you are perpetuating culture of fear mindset. “Who’s going to stalk a 64 year old woman.” what… i have to be afraid but you don’t?

mindy of themommyblog. you can get stalked ANYWAY. internet or not. I post photos of my kids…. I didn’t back away from using their photos and real names.

have topic blog and identity blog? do people have multiple anonymous ones?

amy gerron – contentious. poly. open and aboveboard. yay!!!!!

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amazing books

BY the way… I am reading Christine Delphy and oh, she rocks. It’s getting late and I have to calm down to go to sleep, but am thinking about delphy with words like “clarity” — “incisive” — “devastating” — “so good it hurts” — “you are a fucking goddess christine delphy” —

Oh, little words like that!

Yes, when joanna russ cites someone approvingly, run don’t walk to the nearest out-of-print-online-bookstore! Because of course it will be the best thing you’ve ever read, and … OF COURSE IT WILL BE OUT OF PRINT. *cough*evilfuckingpatriarchy*cough*

More on this later – and I will scan some of this amazingness, at least one essay… and pdf it and put it somewhere and link to it.

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for my thesis

I am realizing that the same themes keep coming up in my classwork and I keep referring to particular useful books of theory. Then I flounder around trying to tie in what’s fashionable, but it doesn’t quite work. So enough of the trying to figure out which are the proper theorists to cite. ( I like Joanna Russ, Dale Spender, and Espen Aarseth. And in case I haven’t made this clear enough all my life, screw Lacan – right in his earhole. And his little friends, too.)

I’m going to build my “anthology preface” on the talk I gave on my search engine model of literary value. It’s odd how clear this is in my head and I can give the talk in 10-15 minutes, though longer is better. And to me seeing everything as information flow seems so natural. Anyway I wrote this, what, a year and a half ago? It has its flaws. I’ll post the diagrams that go with it too. What the hell.

The preface has to incorporate a lot of this. It’s a waffly way of saying, “I’m choosing what I damn please.” But a necessary one. It’s a constant bother to read anthologies that act as if their criteria are unshakable and as if their personal editorial arbitrariness isn’t a factor in creating canons. The important thing is not trying to build this engine for real – it’s being aware of the engines in your own head, and the imaginary engine that publishing, discussions, academia, blogs, and readers are building together.

****

A Structuralist Approach to Literary Value:
Proposal for an Intertextual, Dynamic Method to Determine Textual Importance

What if we look at literary texts as data? Specifically, if we look at literature as a web of data similar to the world wide web? Search engines evaluate web page quality based largely on their relationships to each other. To do an analogous judgement that is dynamic and ongoing for literature requires several things: data (the texts, in electronic format), and judgement algorithms – a series of programs that process and quantify various aspects of the data. First I would like to explain briefly how search engine spiders or web crawlers work.

How web crawling (spiders) work for search engines
Spidering -> processing (where the endless feedback loop happens) -> the construction of an index or a frozen moment in time.

Relevance vs. Importance

Relevance and importance are expressed as numerical values.

The relevance of a particular page is relevance to a particular search. It expresses a judgement of the relatedness of the page to whatever was typed into the search box of the search engine.

Relevance doesn’t have anything to do with importance. Importance depends on various factors, some internal to the page text, some external to the text, and some intertextual.


Internal External or extra-textual Intertextual
Text/graphics ratio. Domain name. What other pages link to the page.
Language of text. IP number.
Text in tags. Inclusion on a blacklist.
Repeated texts. Cash paid to increase ranking.
Hidden text.
Text of the link itself.
Filters for common spam.

Intertextual:
Citation is heavily weighted in determining importance. Number of citations count: being linked to, or cited, a large number of times, is generally good. What pages point to you, and their importance, is even more heavily weighted. New pages continually enter the system, so importances constantly change. At W33bcrawler/Eggc1te, we called this process and system of algorithms link voting; at Go0gle it is called P4geRank.

A literature spider
To apply this technique, get a bunch of literary texts in electronic format – as many as possible. Get a source of new texts to be fed into the system, to make it dynamic. As new books are published or put in electronic format, they can be added to the system.

Make a preliminary pass of importance-determining with internal and external factors.

Since there are no “hyperlinks” – we must create a list of the book and author titles of all texts in the system. then go through each text – if it mentions another book or author, make it a link. This could be done automatically, but would have many flaws, which I will discuss later.

Then start the spider/engine going.

The algorithm to quantify importance could differently weight qualities such as:


Internal External Intertextual
Text/graphics ratio. Publisher. What other texts in the system refer to this text?
Language. Date of publication. (This system could optionally include reviews,
Grammatical correctness. Number of books sold. journals, movie reviews, newspapers, etc.)
Sentence length. Author importance. What other texts does this text refer to?
Repetition. Media of publication(web or print version).
Subject matter. Personal relationships.
Genre. Journal circulation.
Filters for cliches. Personal aesthetic judgement.

Language, for example, could be emphasized if we want to know the most important book to be published in Finnish, or French, or English. Date of publication could be weighted in favor of newer or older texts, or limited so that we could ask the system only about books published before 1850. Or – these factors could be completely ignored for a purely intertextual judgement system.

An option to include extraliterary sources such as movie reviews or newspaper articles in the textual system would allow correlation between spikes of importance: In March 2003 books on Iraq might have become suddenly more important, or when the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou” came out, we might see a sudden spike in the importance of The Odyssey.

Often a work of literature will make reference to canonical books – as if the author, or the text, is asserting, “Because I refer to Virgil, and Moby Dick, I imply that I exist on the same plane of greatness.” The literary spider could consider this as an intertextual relationship, as well as considering, like a search engine’s spider, who ‘links’ to the text immediately in question.

What results?

We expose:
- The flexibility of the canon. It is possible to build a dynamic picture over time: could make a lot of charts, lists, etc. of fluctuating importance of a single work over days, months, or years. Could easily look at historical subsets of texts: “In 1800 what were the most Important texts?”
- Arbitrariness of judgements. It is easy to change the weight or scope of the different factors that determine importance, and then look at where texts end up relative to each other.
- Textuality as a system. The way books have value in relation to each other and in relating to each other.
- The judgement of literary value would in this way not necessarily be the direct result of institutional or personal status.

Openness and cheating
We must consider the ways to cheat or manipulate the literary engine. If the algorithms are open source, or exposed to public view, then authors or publishers will find a way to manipulate rankings.

- incestuousness or hype circles: publish a lot of books that all refer to each other
- publish short runs of a thousand different books that all refer to one book you want to make Very Important.

Is this preventable? In the web world, such “cheats” came from relatively few people who could be identified by various means, mostly requiring human intervention or judgement based on suspects pulled out by a computer analysis. Bogus “spammer” publishing houses would arise, and would be identified and blacklisted.

Simple circles of ‘incestuousness’ are identifiable, but complex ones are not. For example, if a book includes 100 references to other texts, and 90 of them are to books that are put out by the same publisher, that could be suspect. Large media conglomerates and uncertainty as to who owns who would make this kind of identification difficult and untrustworthy. Also, consider that elite groups of academics who constantly cite each other or who cite their own books are not usually seen as using the same techniques as web spammers who sell Viagra or low mortgage refinancing.

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thesis/anthology preface

It’s hard to write this preface, or proposal, or defense! I keep writing a couple of paragraphs but they’re all wrong and I scoot them down on the page in order to start over.

All morning! For hours! Starting and restarting. Looking things up hither and yon, reading prefaces of anthologies, pondering Why, questioning everything! Trying to squash Joanna Russ into literary theory boullion that I can reconstitute in different water, in order to talk about (non-)modernista poetics!

It’s hard work.

I might need to stop for a while and translate something as it would be a concrete task, accomplishability more or less guaranteed. Quality not guaranteed – I’m realizing that E.H.’s work, I just don’t really know how to do it. I am translating it, and I love the work, but I haven’t had a key insight in how to translate the way she uses language to be light and airy, above the earth, above language, full of holes and a feeling of pervasive nowhereness. I can do dense, I can do digressive. But how to do delicate – vaporous – yet somehow clumsy and lumbering at the same time, the way a pelican or an airplane is squat, waddly, but soaring ? I’ve done something similar once in a while but only short poems – this pelican poetics of graceful clunky soaring. E.H.’s poem goes on for fucking EVER and leaps from style to style… At least I see it in spanish even if I’m not (yet?) doing it justice in English.

Or maybe this is the point where I need a break and should go fold some laundry or buy cake mix and bread… A little digging in the soil, a little physical labor… And I’ve got that writerly loneliness gnawing at me a little…

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