The Comedy of Survival

Perhaps the major difference between pastoral and picaresque lies in the application each makes of human intelligence. The pastoral intellect uses the rational capacity of the mind to criticize the inadequacies of present experience and its imaginative talents to create alternatives to the present. It is characterized by abstract ideas — truth, justice, goodness, love — intended to lead toward a fulfillment of human potential at some future time. The picaresque intellect instead concentrates upon the study of immediate reality, and its imagination upon the creation of strategies for survival. Picaresque liberty is not escape from misfortune, but confidence in one’s ability to persist in spite of it.

Modern cities, like ancient Rome, are messy, expensive, chaotic, and dangerous. Those who flee them in search of rural peace and quiet are following a pastoral way that Western culture has endorsed since Virgil. The pastoral tradition also makes it plain that this quest is likely to fail, for the seeker of peach and simplicity is likely to carry inner conflict and anger, and these will govern his or her life more than the rural environment will. Escape into fantasies is not a workable solution to urban and existential ills.

What the picaresque tradition in dignity and respectability, it makes up for in clear-eyed practicality. In the picaresque eye, cities and wild places are all full of both danger and opportunity, and wherever one finds oneself is the place where life must be lived as well as possible. Picaresque life is infinite play, with no hope of winning much, but endless enthusiasm for keeping the play alive.

Joseph W. Meeker, “The Pastoral and the Picaresque”, The Comedy of Survival: Literary Ecology and a Play Ethic.

 

Play Anything (non-pumpkin spiced edition)

The lesson that games can teach us is simple. Games aren’t appealing because they are fun, but because they are limited. Because they erect boundaries. Because we must accept their structures in order to play them. Soccer sees two teams of eleven players attempting to use their feet, torsos, and heads to put a ball into a goal. Tetris asks you to position falling arrangements of four orthogonally-connected squares in order to produce and remove horizontal lines. And yet the experiences games like soccer and Tetris create are far larger than those boundaries convey on their own. That boundary results from the deliberate, if absurd, pursuit of soccer and Tetris on their own terms, within the limitations they erect. The limitations make games fun.

What if we treated everything the way we treat soccer and Tetris – as valuable and virtuous for being exactly what they are, rather than for what would be convenient, or for what we wish they were instead, or for what we fear they are not? Walks and meadows, aunts and grandfathers, zoning board of appeals meetings and business trips. Everything. Our lives would be better, bigger, more meaningful, and less selfish.

Ian Bogost, Preface: Life is not a game, Play Anything

Does FRBR Meet FRBR’s Objectives?

For the manifestation, the “manifestation identifier” that is listed is most commonly the ISBN. This is an important data element, but I do wonder how often users (including library staff) approach the library catalog with an ISBN in hand (or head). The ISBN is, however, heavily utilized in automated processes, such as duplicate detection and retrieval of cover images from online sources. Because there is no definition of users in the document, it is not possible to know whom the group had in mind for the various data elements, nor can we know if some bibliographic attributes were specifically intended for automated processing.

The statement of responsibility is among the elements that have a moderate role for “find a manifestation.” This is not a heading in library data, and I am confused by the assumptions the FRBR Study Group makes regarding the action of “finding.” In fact, the report does not mention indexing, nor whether there is even an assumption that there are headings. Yet the find action does imply that some ability to search must exist, and the Final Report describes the elements of moderate value for find as those “typically used as a secondary search term.” It isn’t clear what “secondary search term” means, but presumably this is a term that can be used to limit results, as with the use of limiting elements in many catalogs by language, resource type, or other characteristic. The Study Group clearly harbored some implicit assumptions about system capabilities, but what these are is not made clear.

Karen Coyle: Does FRBR Meet FRBR’s Objectives?

Emily Short’s review of Aviary Attorney (Sketchy Logic)

The moral choices we make in the game project backward as well as forward. Aviary Attorney is an inconsistent-reality game. Jayjay Falcon’s background is a mystery in every playthrough, but the truth ultimately revealed changes depending on what you decide to have him do. I know some players find that kind of thing extremely irritating, wanting all branches of a game to work together to reveal the same backstory from different angles. I did not find it bothersome myself, especially because Jayjay’s projected backstory is dependent on a choice he makes at a critical moment: essentially the player is deciding what kind of person he is, and thus perhaps what kind of person he used to be.

Aviary Attorney (Sketchy Logic)

Track Changes #28 – Rational Geographic

[32:31]

Aaron: Nobody understands why a gazetteer is important until they suddenly need one and then they’re, like, wait, oh what, how do we…

Paul: That’s been the miracle of the web, to me, right, it’s that you’d be like I want to build this thing  and then you very rapidly stumble into the need for a large set of data with a lot of tasks. Like, I need historical texts or I need a list of places or whatever and it’s just amazing how often you get back to that.

And that whole part of our world is surprisingly untended. Right? And you go, oh get this a list of businesses but it’s from 2010 and no one has adopted it since. I’ve been actually thinking, like there isn’t really, as far as I can tell – maybe you know better than I would, but there’s an idea that I’m going to adopt this open source project, or give this into to the commons, or I’m going to open this thing but there’s no culture of adopting big data sets and taking care of them in the same way as there is as putting things on github and doing releases as open source software… that I know about.

….

[34:10]

Aaron: I guess the example of people who are doing that are the New York Public Library.

Paul: They are. That’s true.

Aaron: That’s a good example of trying to deal with both just processing the data – whether its the Menus project or the Theatre Bills or Building Inspector…

Paul: Their Labs is very strong…

Aaron: … and then providing tools for letting people work in little atomic units but even then some of it is a question of scale, I mean for all that the NYPL does amazing work they’re pretty reluctant to offer those services outside of New York City.

Paul: No, of course. What’s bugging me is I think that everyone sees code as the infrastructure for creativity and doing new work online, and I think it’s also data, and we don’t really, that’s not a conversation that people really have that much.

Track Changes – Podcast #28: Rational Geographic — Map Chat with Aaron Straup Cope
►iTunes/►SoundCloud/►Overcast/►Stitcher/►MP3 /►RSS

Cloud and Field

If ours is the Information Age, it is not the first. A “quantifying spirit” swept the educated classes of 18th century Europe, too, as they confronted the hyperabundance of data in an increasingly globalized world. 1 Explorers were returning from distant lands with new bytes of information — logs, maps, specimens — while, back home, Europeans turned natural history into a leisure pursuit. 2 Hobbyists combed the fields for flowers to press and butterflies to pin. Scientists and philosophers sought rational modes of description, classification, and analysis — in other words, systematicity.

That age belonged to Carl Linnaeus, whose methods we still use to name new species. (Swedish botanist, zoologist, physician: what box should we put him in?) Linnaean classification proved a “godsend to naturalists at sea in the quantity of their own discoveries,” 3 but that was just the start; its “rationality and practicality gave it entrée everywhere.” 4 Researchers applied its systematic logic to the study of everything from chemicals and diseases to machines and algebraic forms.

The craze reached its height, as ours does, with a most protean subject: clouds

Shannon Mattern, “Cloud and Field,” Places Journal, August 2016. Accessed 05 Sep 2016. <https://placesjournal.org/article/cloud-and-field/>

The comedic future

Alex Steffen—a futurist known for authoring Worldchanging among other sustainability work—is launching a documentary series called The Heroic Future. On the one hand, I am entirely on board with any exercise to imagine different futures, especially given the current paucity of positive scenarios that climate change presents us with. On the other hand, the language here gives me a great deal of pause. I don’t think anything resembling heroism is going to solve our problems or lead us into a new, sustainable future. If anything, we need healers not heroes, people who can adapt and evolve, who can assist others in need. Heroism is far too tainted by toxic masculinity and hubris to be of use to us now. If we’re going to imagine a better future, we’re going to have to start by imagining better models than the tragic hero.

Among the books I turn to again and again is The Comedy of Survival in which Joseph Meeker presents two modes for being in the world: the tragic mode, in which our hero tries to change the world in his (and it’s always his) own image, and the comic mode, in which a motley crew of men and women adapt to their environment, never quite succeeding in getting exactly what they want, but managing to get by nonetheless. Tragedies always end with the hero’s head carted off the stage; comedies end in weddings. Let’s imagine a comedic future instead of a heroic one.

from “The comedic future, 4.3 light years, never read the comments: A working letter” (Tiny Letter)

This spoke to me  as I live in a city in which one of its leading environmentalist now is in charge of a golf course. You have to laugh if just to keep from crying.

The Comedy of Survival: Literary Ecology and a Play Ethic is OOP (out of print) and so I’m ordering it via Interlibrary Loan.

The Future of the Library: Where it’s at

Future of the Library book cover
The Future of the Library: From Electric Media to Digital Media
Robert K. Logan and Marshall McLuhan

Chapter 9 : The Compact Library and Human Scale

As an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, I (McLuhan) encountered a library in the English Department that had immense advantages. I never have seen one like it since. It consisted of no more than 1,500 or 2,000 books. These books, however, were chosen from many fields of history and aesthetics, philosophy, anthropology, mathematics, and the sciences in general. The one criterion, which determined the presence of any book in this collection, was the immediate and top relevance for twentieth-century awareness.  The shelf-browser could tell at a glance exactly which poets, novelists, critics, painters, and which of their individual writings were indispensable for knowing “where it’s at.”

Where It’s At (It = The Environment)

This remarkable phrase “where it’s at” may be the only one in any language to express the idea of both corporate consensus and sensory focus — a kind of “consensuality” of persons, places, and things in a single instant of awareness.  This phrase, invented by young rock musicians to indicate areas of relevance and aliveness in the present time, is, of course, an acoustic, resonant expression, quite alien to anything like “clock time.” Nothing could be further away from “where’s it at” than “time of day” or “time of year.” The English language has gone without even a corporate word for the French on. Now we have this phrase, which is enormously more sophisticated in its aesthetic range and sensibility.

The library of which I spoke existed in a corner of the English Faculty Library at Cambridge, but it enabled hundreds of students to share all the relevant poets, painters, critics, musicians, and scientists of that time as a basis for an ongoing dialog. Would it not be possible to have similar libraries created by other departments in the university? Could not the History Department indicate those areas of anthropology and sociology that were indispensable to the most advanced historical studies of the hour? Could not the Department of Philosophy pool its awareness of many fields in order to create a composite image of all the relevant of many fields in order to create a composite image of all the relevant speculation and discovery of our time? Only now have I begun to realize that this unique library represented the meeting of both a written and oral tradition at an ancient university. It is this figure-ground pattern of the written and the oral that completes the meaning of the book and the library.

The Future of the Library: A Figure in Many Different Grounds

Future of the Library book cover
The Future of the Library: From Electric Media to Digital Media
Robert K. Logan and Marshall McLuhan

Chapter 3 : The Library: A Figure in Many Different Grounds

The poets were the librarians of oral society. The very first things that were recorded and preserved by a culture when they acquired the ability to write were its national sags or epics…

The library of the oral society is democratic. Every member has equal access to the information, since the epic poems were recited in public for all to hear. It is only with literacy that learning became the domain of the privileged, those who had the leisure to learn the art of reading and writing.

The library of the oral society stores its information in the collective memory of the entire society. The form of poetry is conductive to memorization through devices such as plot, meter and rhyme. Writing, an extension of man’s memory, actually had a deleterious effect on memory. It created a dependency for its users…

Writing necessitates the library, since it destroys memory.

Every day we seem to piling heaps of ashes on the divine light within us. Men who read the Times every morning or it may be serious works on such different subjects as geology, philology, geography or history are systematically ruining their memories. They are under the suzerainty of books and helpless without them. (Müller, 1901)

Let us trace how the dependency on the book developed. With literacy, the role of the poet as preserver of the culture, passed on to the scribe.

The Future of the Library : User as Content

Future of the Library book cover
The Future of the Library: From Electric Media to Digital Media
Robert K. Logan and Marshall McLuhan

Chapter 1 – The Library: The Physical Extension of Man’s Memory (Mother of the Muses) — A Study in Media

User as Content (pp. 12-13)

The cognitive agent is and becomes the thing known. — Aristotle

The twelfth-century German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote ‘A book is a mirror; when a jackass looks into it he does not see St. Paul looking back.” The eminent librarian Jesse Shera expressed a similar sentiment.

A book is a “container for things contained” yet what that thing may be dependent upon him who reads. For the author the book is the physical embodiment of that he thought he put theme, but to the reader its content is a variable. (1971, p.21)

Both the physicist and the librarian are making the same point, namely, the user is the content. This insight into the nature of the book applies to all media, including the library. The content of a library, paradoxically is not its books but its users, as a recent study of the use of campus libraries by university faculty revealed. it was found that the dominant criterion for selection of a library was the geographical proximity of the library to the professor’s office. The depth of the collection in research’s field was not as important a criterion as convenience (Dougherty & Blomquist, 1971, pp. 64-65). The research was able to convert the nearest library into a research facility that met his needs. In other words, the content of this conveniently located facility was its user. Any library can be converted from the facility it was designed to be, into the facility the user wishes it to become. A library designed for research can be used for entertainment, and vice-versa. As we move into greater use of electronic media, the user of the library will change even more. As the user changes, so will the library’s content or the use to which the content of the library will be subjected. In other words, as the ground in which the library exists changes, so will the figure of the library. The nineteenth-century notion of the library storing basically twentieth-century material will have to cope with the needs of twenty-first century users.