– photographs and messages from inside the Sausurrean Bar –

Blog archives for May, 2011


Archive for May, 2011

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

A moment of truth

picture of a letter, half opened

DFDF this weekend was awesome, and I got a lovely lovely bag from one of my Time for Talking students as a farewell gift tonight (photo to follow) (DFDF thinky thoughts and images to follow, too), but for now here’s a photo of a letter that was waiting for me when I got back from Bad Salzdetfurth. It’s from the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), telling me that my application for funding for my trip to the ASLE conference in Bloomington was accepted. YAY!

I love the DAAD,  both (rather pragmatically) because they sent me abroad in 2001/02 when I was still a young and inexperienced student (I learned and changed so much during that year, and got to know people that I got to meet again just this weekend), but also because I really believe in the goals they want to accomplish (international student and academic exchange is a good thing!).*

And now they’re helping fund my conference trip to the US!
YAY for travel grants! Thank you, DAAD!


*that’s why I’m an active member of their Alumni network – and meeting the students the DAAD sends to Flensburg is always interesting and enriching, so its not exactly a hardship to be an active DAAD Alumni :-).

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I think she dreams of beauty and singing rhythm

a picture of a bowsprit

“I lay on the bowsprit, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight towering above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment lost myself – actually lost my life. I was set free… dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm and the high dim-starred sky… I belonged within a unity and joy to life itself.”
Eugene O’Neill

There’s this three-master that has been moored in Flensburg for more than a year now and that serves as a café during the day and a bar at night – and while the location is nice, as you’re right on the water in the harbor, I think (blatantly and shamelessly anthropomorphisizing the ship) that she would really rather be out there, sailing the oceans, and not be anchored in one place forever (also, I really like the O’Neill quote).

a no parking sign at the harbor

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

There are doors

Things are really busy at the moment, so all I have for you is a photo that came about from a combination of learning the macro function of my new camera and the finer details of the photo editing software that came with said camera, and a quote by William Blake that one of my colleagues recently posted to his door, and which I think rings a lovely bell:

 

“In the universe, there are things that are known,
and things that are unknown,
and in between, there are doors.”
William Blake

 

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Upon Yellow Cross and Crown

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Old School Research

No cameras allowed in the British Newspaper Library, so a photo I took with my phone (very sneakily, for those aren’t really allowed either). So, yep, that’s how I am spending my days, tracing the elusive connection between Earth Day and Apollo.

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Spinny thing is spinny

Spinny thing is spinny

This isn’t the best shot, perspective wise – but I really like how the colours came out, and how playing with the shutter speed influenced the dynamics of the central image. Spent parts of the afternoon putting the camera-on-trial through it’s paces – am definitely impressed with the 24x optical zoom (one of the main reasons why I really wanted this camera. I love my Dimage A200, but it’s seven (?) years old now, and 24x vs.  7x optical zoom … yeah).

Next step – print some pictures, see what I think. (Anyone want a b/w guinea pig poster?)

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Post

Post says yes, she actually is black and white, thank you very much – and also certainly dynamic.

(I shot this photo with the “dynamic B&W setting” on the camera I am trying out right now – I foresee an expedition to the “fish market” [where you can find a lot of stuff, and maybe also some fish] in between PhD-ing tomorrow, to put it through its paces. For now I’ve mostly fiddled with the macro options, and not at all yet with the super zoom. Pictures seem a bit pixel-y when viewed at their actual size, though, so I might have to get some printed to see what I think.)

(And, yes, her sister is indeed called Modernism – just in case you were wondering. [I know you were wondering.] [Or not.])

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

In which I share a revelation

And one that I can time quite precisely, at that! It happened on Easter Monday, somewhere on the German motorway between Hamburg and Flensburg, as I was driving home from visiting friends for the weekend. I was listening to the radio pondering to maybe switch over to a podcast, but all the podcasts I had on my phone I’d either listened to or they weren’t what I wanted, and I was rueing the fact that I hadn’t put enough Itunes U materials (Itunes U distributes free lecture recordings made at major Universities around the world) on there to last me the drive, because I have some unheard lectures on Byzantine Art and I never finished that lecture series on the laws of thermodynamics that I started listening to for the Postmodernism class last term and … . And suddenly I sat there and thought, “Oh dear, education is like levelling up in roleplaying games, and I’m the eternal multi-class character!” Which might seem extremely obvious and extremely far-fetched at the same time, but bear with me while I explain.

But first, a brief side-trip into the mystery of levelling up – feel free to skip if you know your XP from your RPG and your DEX from your INT etc:

I haven’t been role playing recently, but during my student exchange year in London I was a bit of a regular table top role player (D&D3rd Ed. mostly), and from that year of getting my MA in United States Studies some of my fondest memories definitely involve Game Society evenings, sitting around a big table with fellow students, a map, character sheets and lots of dice, and navigating the convoluted politics of Ezra’s realm.

What happens in a role playing game is that all the players set out with a character that knows very little and that is very inexperienced, and he or she or it progresses during the game into a more experienced and more knowledgeful character, by solving riddles, completing quests, … . There are many different systems for regulating this progression, but the ones I played used a level structure, where you start on a low level (usually 1) and progress to higher and higher levels of knowledge and competence. Depending on what kind of character you play there are certain skill-sets that the system says you can develop more easily, some that are harder to expand – and some are available only to certain classes of characters and forbidden to all others (a wizard can learn spells, say, but a fighter cannot, because the fighter does not know how to cast magic).

To get around this narrow focus, some players prefer to play what are called multi-class characters, characters that have, for example, a level or two of ranger and then switch classes and progress as bards instead. More variety – but consequently when everyone else reaches level six with their single-class character, you’re only at level four with your bard yourself (because you also have 2 levels of ranger [thus the total is still six]), so while everyone else is zapping around with the awesome new spells (sorcerers) or fighting skills (warriors) or musical enchantment skills (bards) that they gained, you’ve only reached a level right now that is ‘old hat’ to the single-class bard in your group, because he or she reached it two level changes ago.

Still with me?

But, wait … how does all that levelling up connect to academia?

My theory is this – most people have one (or maybe two or even three) classes (skill sets / knowledge areas / specializations) that they spend a lot of time levelling up, where they increase their knowledge continually and try to become experts in their field. They also, from time to time, might become intrigued by something and then spend some time and effort increasing their knowledge in that field, but will also at some later point become satisfied with their level of knowledge and move on, either back to their field of expertise or to some new field that intrigues them.

So, to take a real life example and to tie the picture on the right hand side into this post, if those fictitious people were to encounter a podcast on Byzantine history and to listen to it and to absorb some of the facts in it, they might gain what we’re going to call “Level 1 in Byzantine History” by doing so. Faced with the decision of whether or not to invest more time and effort into the subject area to reach “Level 2 in Byzantine History” (more complex, thus far harder to reach than level 1), statistics might say that 90% of the listeners of said podcast choose not to do so – they might research one or two facts or people they found interesting, or look at Byzantine icons with better informed eyes when they encounter them, but they’re unlikely to acquire a book on Byzantine history, and certainly not more than one.

 

And here’s where the revelation part from the car on Easter Monday comes in:

If one were to translate the levelling system from a role playing game into ‘real life’ in order to rank experience and diversity of interest (or levels of being side-tracked), then I am your typical multi-class character. I have a hard time tearing myself away from subject areas, and am always tempted to keep levelling them up. All of them. Only give me spare time and books, and … there you go. Level two Latin? Accomplished. Level three ancient history? Well, if there’s time … why not! I don’t wander away from knowledge areas, I just keep adding new ones to my existing ones. (Oh, there are the ones central to my job and vocation that always take priority, and some lapse because there are only so many hours in the day and there is so much other stuff to be done, and some other I avoid because they don’t interest me – but  once something does interest me then I find it really hard to stop at “knowledge level one” with it).

And of course all if this leads to precisely the frustration that the level-2-Ranger/level-4-Bard encounters in our fictive role playing game – the single-class characters always get to skill levels before the multi-class character does.

Would my life be more streamlined if I hadn’t studied four subjects at university (English/American Studies, Media Studies, Business Studies and Public Law), or spent time completing two masters degrees, instead of one (one in three of the aforementioned four subjects, the other one in United States Studies)? Yes, undoubtedly. But it also wouldn’t be my life anymore, the one that is not terribly streamlined but rather filled with fascinating 6-month spare-time detours into Byzantine History or Ruin Theory or Convergence Culture Research or the Iconic Turn or drivers licenses for yachts or Richard III or … .

Still, adding  all these spare-time side-interests on top of work and the  work I do for work and the reading I do for work (I love, love, love having a job that does, in part, pay you for reading books and discovering things) sometimes makes me feel like I’m destined to be an amateur of many things, and a master of none (or, well, possibly a very few). But if the trade is being a master of more things but an amateur of nothing, well, then I’ll happily keep to my meandering and whimsical path instead. I might not get to level 18 as fast as everyone else, but I also won’t get lost in the woods on the way (like the bard without ranger skills just might. … I’ll be wandering the garden path that leads past the fascinating fields of varieties of knowledge to get there instead).

Still, I remember quite well that being two levels behind everyone else used to be … frustrating, sometimes. (And it still really, really is.)

 

This entry brought to you courtesy of people far younger than me who manage to finish their PhD in 3 years while working at the same time. [How does that work?]

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Some days she wishes …

… she could just sail away

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

So, on Friday I wanted to blog a little about Elihu Katz & Daniel Dayan’s book Media Events – the live broadcasting of history, since that would have been something tied in perfectly with the royal wedding taking place in England. Instead, I found out that my copy of Media Events has gone missing from my media studies bookshelves, and a 30-minute investigation showed that it’s not simply been misfiled into a different subject area (yes, I sort my books by subject areas, rather than by authors – I am bad at remembering names, so it makes for a much better system than running an a-to-z [Hey, Mr. Atoz!] shelving system across two different rooms) but has, in fact, gone missing. I suspect I lent it to someone and forgot all about it (I often do).

Thankfully, at least part of it is available on google books, so I can offer you a (critical) reading recommendation peppered with some quotes (if maybe not the most central ones, filtered through my five colour marking system :-) ).

Katz & Dayan, Media Events – what is the book about?

Media Events concerns itself with what Katz and Dayan call “the festive viewing of television,” with “Contests, Conquests, and Coronations” (1), that are “live and remote, on the one hand, and interrupt[ive] but preplanned, on the other” (7).

Thus, live and remote excludes a) studio programs that might be broadcast live, but that are not happening in a location remote from the studio (news programs, chat shows, …), and b) remotely filmed but pre-recorded television series, documentaries and shows like Roots or The 10’000 Day War or … .

Thus, it is about the live broadcasting of remote (filmed outside the studio) events on television, but about premediated events instead of spontaneous events. Events that have been scheduled in advance and that interrupt the normal scheduling of television stations, rather than sudden occurrences. Thus, both the Olympic Games and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton fall under the scope of Katz and Dayan’s definition, whereas a) the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia upon re-entry in 2003 does not (a sudden, not a preplanned event) or b) a weekly talk show taking place on top of a mountain (remote, preplanned, but not interruptive of the normal programming since it is a regular occurence) do not.

Kazt and Dayan themselves sum this up as: “our corpus is limited to ceremonial occassions,” and thus is follows that “these broadcast events are presented with reverence and ceremony” (7) and that “this book is an attempt to bring the anthropology of ceremony to bear on the process of mass communication.” (1f)

Why study media events? Katz and Dayan give a number of reasons, amongst which are the following: “media events […] create their own constituencies” (15) … “have the power to declare a holiday, thus to play a part in the civil religion” (16) … “certain events have an intrinsically liberating function, ideologically speaking; they serve a transformative function. However hegemonially sponsored, and however affirmatively read, they invite reexamiation of the status quo and are a reminder that reality falls short of society’s norm” (20) … “the rhetoric of media events is instructive, too, for what it reveals not only about the difference between democratic and totalitarian societies, but also about the difference between journalism and social science, and between popular and academic history” (21).

In their book, Katz and Dayan take a look at how these media events are created and negotiated, as well as at their meaning for a feeling of societal union and the conditions under which media persuasion might be effective (222), the “transformative functions” that media events have and that help shape public perceptions and political responses.

What I’m critical of:

For me, Katz and Dayan are a tad too uncritical and indescriminate in the theories of the relationship between ritual, culture and society that they use – the view that ceremonial performance is mainly used to express consensus and to accomplish social integration can (and ought) certainly to be questioned (in lieu of a view of society as structured by inequalities and power relations maybe), and viewing broadcasting institutions as independent from governments and political power is also a problematic point.

Why then read the book?

I first encountered Media Events early in my student days and for me, this has been one of the cornerstone readings of my introduction to media studies (we’re all shaped by the things we’re told to think about). It’s well written and precise, yet understandable, and while in-depth knowledge of media studies certainly helps one field references to Benjamin, Weber, Leví-Strauss, Fiske, Raymond Williams &c, it isn’t a prerequisite of reading – and enjoying – the book. And while there are points to view critically and while it has undoubledly aged a little – it was published in 1994, well before the internet-as-we-know it – it is still a fascinating insight into the creation – and effects – of media events, and something that might just make you watch television a little differently than you do right now, or ponder the television (and media studies) of the 1990s a little differently, at any rate. (We’ve come a way since then!)

Juggle says: “Analyzing such public spectacles as the Olympic games, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, John F. Kennedy’s funeral, the moon landing, and Pope John Paul II’s visits to Poland, they offer an ethnography of how media events are scripted, negotiated, performed, celebrated, shamanized, and reviewed.” (Or, as the Luhmannista in me wants to add – while it does not tell you what people think about an issue, it might just tell you what issues people are thinking about, and why.)

If you want to know more:

Dayan, Daniel and Elihu Katz. Media Events. The Live Broadcasting of History. Harvard University Press. Harvard: 1994.

Excerpts on Google Books