Visual language: or a new wander

In which I begin a new intellectual wander amongst the idea of visual language, particularly in comics, or at least that is how I got interested in it in a roundabout way.

My son and my friend Dave will probably laugh at me as this is the kind of thinking they’ve both done for much of their lives. They are visually arty. And musically. I am neither.

Past wanders

I am not sure that I am going to continue homebrewing and I am, after my last session of doing so, seriously reconsidering my beer judging. But those are different stories. This is about a new rabbit hole. “Psst, over here. “

Context

As my Thursday AM coffee shop book, I am currently reading Smits, Rik. The Puzzle of Lefthandedness. Translated by Liz Waters, Reaktion, 2011, and it is fascinating! At least to a left-hander from a family of left-handers. Old enough that my parents were “seriously discouraged” from using said left hand and that even my doing so was looked down on, at the least, at school. Yes, I smeared a lot because that stupid non-smearing way to supposedly hold your pencil was dreamt up by a right-handed zealot with a sadistic streak. [That’s my story.]

Anyway, fascinating book! It is a series of 38 essay-ish pieces (I am about halfway through) about left-handedness but also about the concepts of left and right and their symbolic meanings, and so on. Sort of like 38 takes at tossing a dart at the dart board of the topic from 38 different points in space from all around the target. So, thus, not a coherent, long-form, argument, but a truly interesting way to break off into related topics.

The last couple chapters I read started with one on left and right in the murder genre of Western painting. Because of course “we” have one! ::sigh:: Then there was one on the violence towards women—almost always sexual—in Western painting. This also included the object of the male gaze, the “harlot.” Next was one on left and right in married couples portraits, and single portraits also, which also translates into where the woman stands in a traditional church wedding and which side she exits on, etc.

Interspersed throughout these chapters were talk about how all this depiction of movement [arriving vs departing, messengers with good news versus bad news, etc. transferred to most other forms of art and much of culture, including the stage, the silver screen, comic books and graphic novels, advertising, and so on. Much of this was also looked at cross-culturally; in literate cultures, much hinges on direction of writing and reading.

The point

All this really got me thinking as I have been reading so many graphic novels, comics, and some manga and I am often lost by the artwork and I am self-aware enough to know that sometimes it isn’t simply me or bad art but that I just don’t understand the conventions; especially true regarding manga and other forms of Japanese comics/anime.

Neil Cohn

Over the past weekend I discussed this with my wife and she started poking the Interwebz and found the the following article: Cohn, Neil. Comics, Linguistics, and Visual Language: The Past and Future of a Field. http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/P/NC_Comics&Linguistics.pdf. Accessed 6 Mar. 2018.

Yesterday I got a chance to print it and read it and it was mind-blowing how perfect it was for me. It isn’t exactly a practical lexicon of comics art, if you will, or not at all, which is what I sort of wanted: something to the point without being overly theoretical or way too wordy or …. I wanted the perfect “document” for me. This is a very close second and, in many ways, better, in that it provides a great entry into what I am looking for.

The article is exactly what the title purports to be: Comics, Linguistics, and Visual Language: The Past and Future of a Field. It shows why “a language of comics” is the wrong object of study and that it is actually “visual language,” akin to “spoken” and (I forget what he called them, but) “manual,” that is signed languages.

Lots of great citations, as he has a good lit review early on, and then looks at the topic from most angles of study in linguistics, covers the research done in that area and the research needed, along with what the proper questions and concepts are in that area, and how they map, if at all, and whether that matters, to other forms of language (for instance, photology versus phonology).

Scott McCloud

The heaviest cited piece he uses is: McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. First HarperPerennial edition, HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, of which he says, “…, contemporary works on comics in a linguistic light—both in America and abroad—have exploded since the publication of comic artist and theorist Scott McCloud’s (1993) graphic book Understanding comics.” and “McCloud’s approach has permeated nearly all linguistically-driven studies since its publication” (4). Ten total cites to it. The author has 20 cites to his own work. But that is spread across 11 different titles versus one. [Not saying that isn’t fair as he seems mighty prolific. I still need to check out Cohn’s website, http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/] But McCloud’s book seems to be the object to engage with in the article and in linguistics and comics since 1993.

When I looked up McCloud’s book to see if we had it at COCC—which we did—I saw that we had a 2nd McCloud book so I grabbed it too when I went up to get Understanding comics. It too is a graphic novel, McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Harper, 2006. And next to it was another early classic, also cited by Cohn, so I grabbed it as a possibility: Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist; [Incl. New and Updated Material. Norton, 2008.

 I have read his fiction graphic novel, The Sculptor.

Wissenschaft

Of course there is language to this kind of thing but at what level of analysis and so forth? Or is it all practical versus theoretic and where and how have they influenced each other? I need a Wissenschaft on visual language.

Seeing as I do not have one—although that linguistics article went a long way towards portions of theory, and McCloud’s books, along with possibly Eisner’s, will hopefully provide some great practical knowledge—I will have to construct my own.

But that is par for the course:

“Wissenschaft incorporates science, learning, knowledge, scholarship and implies that knowledge is a dynamic process discoverable for oneself, rather than something that is handed down. It did not necessarily imply empirical research.

Wissenschaft was the official ideology of German Universities during the 19th century. It emphasised the unity of teaching and individual research or discovery for the student. It suggests that education is a process of growing and becoming.” (Wikipedia, “Wissenschaft.” Emphasis mine; spelling mistake Wikipedia’s)

I love Wissenschaften since they are, amongst others things, intellectual histories and that is my favorite kind of history by far. I also agree with the philosophy of education.

A New Wander

I have been needing a new rabbit hole—a new intellectual wander—and I do believe I have found it. No idea how far I will go but there are still a handful of citations to look into from Cohn’s article. I mean, seriously, how could I, with my assorted background(s) not read “Impossible Objects as Nonsense Sentences”? A title like that is like an opiate to me. And I have a few books to begin with; two of which are nonfiction graphic novels, my favorite kind.

What’s up so far in 2014? Home buying, it seems

[N.B.: Mostly written 6 January with minor updates over next 2-3 days. Current follow-up follows.]

So what’s up in 2014 so far? 2014 got off to a great start. For one day.

Sara and I do a kind of annual review, along with a semi-annual review and weekly reviews using assorted tools such as calendars, OmniFocus and some text documents. Neither of us do resolutions but we do want to have goals for the year, and to check up on them now and again so that we might have a chance to actually accomplish most of them. We entered 2014 with this year’s annual review pretty much done. Mine was primarily complete except for final formatting as a document in Scrivener.

Then on the 2nd of January the mail was delivered. Our place was recently bought by some out-of-towners and we got notice that our rent was going up 15%! We are already stretched pretty thin and that is just ridiculous. We immediately jumped into “can we buy a house” mode. We have been considering that anyway but we figured it was at least 6 months to more like 2-3 years in the future for us. Nope. [We need to find out right now whether we can get a loan for enough to buy a house here in Bend or we need to find a cheaper place to rent until we can qualify for said loan. If we can get a loan then we need to be seriously looking for a house that meets all of [ok, much of, hopefully]  our criteria.

Either way, (update to follow)] almost everything I had planned for this year has now been indefinitely placed on hold. My 2014 annual review/plan has been scrapped by the second day of the year. Yay, me!

Thankfully a lot of stuff is still in boxes from when we arrived here in August 2012. That will make moving somewhat easier. But we also have not weeded out near enough stuff that we were supposed to have gotten rid of by now. And we have probably acquired more stuff than we have gotten rid of. My surgery in May put in a big damper on my weeding which I had hoped to do this past summer. Sara’s full-time job has prevented her from making any progress on her stuff.

I have jumped into weeding pretty heavy the last couple of days and hope to continue. We’re donating a bunch of stuff to the Humane Society Thrift Store, some of the better books to the public library, and recycling a crapload of stuff. There is, sadly, plenty more to go through though. As we free up a bit of room by getting rid of stuff I have a bit more room to get at and sort through even more. So I guess one can say it’s looking up.

It is, though, extremely demoralizing to have just committed to and documented one’s goals for the year and to then have to toss it all away on January 2nd.

So what were/are some of my plans for 2014?

  • Read 75 books http://marklindner.info/blog/2014/01/01/reading-goals-2014/
  • Wrangle our ebooks into some kind of order, usability, etc.
  • Do some more beer tastings
  • Help with Central Oregon Beer Week
  • Do another book talk this year for Central Oregon Beer Week
  • Meet some of the beer folks in Bend who I haven’t been able to yet
  • Do some beer trading
  • Finish my “article” on Prohibition in Bend
  • Perhaps work on my Cicerone certification
  • Blog some book reviews that I am way behind on
  • Learn to make better use of Evernote, OmniFocus, Scrivener, etc.
  • Meal planning
  • Get my new tattoo started
  • Track down a citation for that damned Paracelsus quote or show that it is not attributable to him
  • Exercise more and get back into some semblance of shape
  • Visit some places in Oregon: Broken Top, lava tubes, Crater Lake, etc.

23 January update:

We found a house, put in an offer, got their counter and accepted. We have the inspection set for Saturday a.m. and are meeting with the mortgage broker tomorrow morning to do more paperwork and get VA appraisal scheduled. If all goes well with those we’ll be moving late winter / early spring.

I have been in full-on moving prep mode for about a week now. I am so damned sore. But. I am much closer to being ready. I have a good idea of what is packed, more stuff was topped off and packed and many binders and articles were packed, it is mostly segregated from other stuff, and the inventory is updated. More books were weeded.

We should have a couple weeks to move in. It kind of comes down to when we close and the 30-day notice we give our landlord. Current estimated closing is March 17.

My only big concern is weather. Well, and will my aging body hold out: preferably for it to treat all the labor as weightlifting and other “good” exercise. Seriously though, moving in the rain or a snowstorm or having ice/snow on the ground are the worst for moving. So far our winter has included almost none of any of that, which is not good. We need snow, at least outside of town.

It is all moving so fast. Which, of course, has deepened even more the feeling of upended plans. Not all is a loss, though. I am reading some and not quite as slowly as I suspected. I am helping with Central Oregon Beer Week as a member of their team this year. If you need me for any Central Oregon Beer Week business feel free to email me at mark@centraloregonbeerweek.com. I am trying to figure out what I want to do as Bend Beer Librarian for COBW; not up for another book talk for this year. Considering things and talking with people but need to decide soon to save 15% as a returning sponsor.

I met a few more Bend beer people, including one I wanted to meet in person, but, intriguingly, we met them in Portland. We attended the 1st Big Woody put on in Portland and a boatload of Bendites were there as attendees, volunteers, brewery folks representing, and event organizers/staff. That was nice and I finally met Matthew Ward (Bend Brew Daddy) and his wife Lisa. Definitely hope to hang out more with them. We also got to spend some time with non-Bendite but extremely nice guy Christopher (PortlandBeer.com) at Hair of the Dog. So possibly future trading and/or nice bottle swaps as it sounds like his are the kind of quality we are looking for. Maybe we can get Christopher to Bend, although we explored so little of Portland last weekend.

Blogging and other forms of writing have been practically non-existent, book reading is way down, research for either major topic of current interest is on hold, and most other projects listed above or not are pretty much forgotten about.

I hope this place works out and we can get settled in quickly. I’d like to get back to some of my projects recently put on hold and others, many of which have been a long time coming.

It is an adventure, and so far easier than expected, but its timing seems a little sudden.

 

 

Hysteria (movie)

[This, too, is a late DigiWriMo post.]

Thankfully, later after watching The Tree of Life we watched Hysteria, which we have also been wanting to see after seeing the previews a couple years ago. It by no stretch came to conservative Sioux City so we missed it in the theater. We couldn’t even find it in Omaha, although we could be wrong on that count but we had looked repeatedly while it was in theaters. Ninety miles one way is a long way to go for a film but we would have.

After we watched it I tweeted,

Cleansed my movie palate with Hysteria, based on this most excellent book by Rachel Maines http://marklindner.info/blog/2011/02/02/maines-the-technology-of-orgasm/ [tweet]

The next morning, Karen Coyle tweeted to me:

@mrlindner One of my favorite books. See: bit.ly/UYGA8X [tweet]

Check out her review at that link. It is much better than mine.

We saw the preview for the movie in the cinema shortly after I read Maines’ excellent book and I knew that it was (somewhat) based on Maines’ book immediately. It looked hilarious and as The Technology of Orgasm is one of my favorite books of all time—which I had discussed a fair bit with Sara as I read it—we really wanted to see it. It did not come to Sioux City or environs and time went by. We moved and even more time went by. Sara got it from the public library finally and we watched it last night. The movie was as good as we hoped and we are in the process of watching the documentary (actually excerpts from Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm) that comes as an extra feature on the DVD. It is also pretty good and features a lot of Rachel Maines, along with a couple of others, so I am happy to be able to hear her talk about her research also.

The Technology of Orgasm The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual SatisfactionRachel P. Maines; The Johns Hopkins University Press 1998WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder  
Katherine Young (Ph.D. and author of Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine) puts forth the idea that the Copernican Revolution was revolutionary in another way than is typically thought. She had been outlining some long time ideas on human sexuality in that males were thought to be of the elements of fire and air, thus hot and light, and that women were of earth and water, and thus heavy, cold and wet. When the Copernican Revolution replaced the Earth (female) as the center of the solar system/universe with the sun (male) then female sexuality as a topic disappeared from discourse.

It is an extremely interesting idea but I would really like to see some good supporting evidence. If anyone knows of any books or articles that address this idea I would be most grateful. My initial skepticism leans toward the shift having started well before and that the displacement of the Earth from the center was perhaps the final straw. And even if the idea as presented is true, then I imagine it is hingeing on a highly condensed version of reality, in that the Copernican Revolution involved an awful lot of historical, political, societal and religious changes that were highly intertwined and influencing each other in multiple ways. Symbolically this idea is highly interesting, but I imagine the reality of the shift away from a supposedly fairly prevalent knowledge of female sexuality and needs to one that pretty much discounted female sexuality would have to be far more complex than a shift in symbols.

I would love to have my skepticism discounted though so please do pass along any sources you may be aware of that address this issue. [I went back and re-watched that section and got her name and the name of the book she wrote, Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine, which Sara has requested for me.] So, if you are aware of any other sources that address this intriguing topic please do pass them along.

Synopis:

Hysteria: Good romantic comedy based on an excellent and important book.

Follow-up: Tonight (3 December) we watched the full documentary, Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm, which we got through ILL. It was good but it was only 74 minutes vs. the 47 minutes of excerpts on the DVD of Hysteria as an extra. The additional material was interesting but probably not worth going out of one’s way to acquire. You can find more information about it here.

Young’s book has also arrived by this point in time and I look forward to having a go at it, but I am highly disappointed to say that neither Copernicus nor Copernican Revolution are anywhere to be found in the index. I want to know more about this symbological interpretation but am remaining highly skeptical as to its actual explanatory depth.

 

frenetic, or a comment on the New Media Citation digped of 2 Nov

digital citation in new media.
one hour, twitter,
go! #digped.

wrong tools.
tweets & convos
race past.

reflection,
@Jessifer files
Storified version.

On Friday the 2nd of November I participated in a Twitter chat on the topic of new media citation practices. It was quite “raucous” as Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) calls it in his post at Hybrid Pedagogy. For me, it was “frenetic.” [OED online. Sense 2b: Of a quality, power, act, process, etc.: frenzied, manic; wild, passionate; rapid and energetic in an uncontrolled or unrestrained way.]

As soon as it was over I attempted to write a poem describing my experience of it. I got the first two stanzas out fairly quickly but then got no further. This morning, Jesse posted his Storified version to Hybrid Pedagogy and I read it through. I think he (and it) does a good job of capturing much of what was said, although clearly not everything was captured, as he used about a score of the total of 440 tweets.

The second stanza of the poem above reflects more my frustration with the tools I was attempting to use. I have participated in less than a handful of tweet chats previously and I was not prepared for this raucous freneticism. I was at my desktop for it—wouldn’t even begin to think of trying it on the iPad—where I use the Twitter app for Mac from Twitter. But I wanted to keep that kind of separate from what I was doing so I opened Twitter in a Chrome tab on the desktop I am using for DigiWriMo and ran a search for the #digped hashtag.

Perhaps the biggest problem was that the Twitter search on their website was not showing me tweets (or more specifically, replies) from some of the folks I follow. For example, @Jessifer’s responses to me were only showing up in the Twitter app for Mac. I figured this out fairly early as my phone was next to me and kept vibrating as I got replies that I wasn’t seeing.

Robin Wharton (@rswharton) suggested I try Tweet Chat but I, in the moment, assumed it was an app and not simply a website. Later, Sara seconded it as a good tool also. I will definitely try it the next time.

The next biggest issue, not directly related to the chat but to DigiWriMo, is that I was trying to copy my tweets and the links to them into Scrivener to save them towards my word count. This was much easier from the Twitter app than the browser. This meant switching desktops and multiple windows and …. I eventually moved the Twitter app onto the same desktop but things stayed hectic due to the volume of things going on in the chat.

On the other hand, stanza two in the poem above also reflects my firm belief that Twitter is simply not the place for such conversations. Sure, it sort of worked. If you look at the comments on this post at Hybrid Pedagogy you’ll see that a few of the participants think differently than me. And that is fine. I have had these conversations before. Twitter works great for some conversations but, at least for me, fails horribly for others.

There were so many differing, and frequently unexplicated, assumptions behind (most of) the tweets and no way to tease out philosophical, departmental, temperamental or other differences. There were, on occasion, conflations, or at least lack of specifying, between whether one was talking about a standalone bibliography (annotated or not) or one attached to a specific work (article, book, blog post, etc.). There was little actual real discussion about what purposes/roles/functions a citation actually does or should play. There was much agreement that things are, and probably should, change in academia regarding citation practices. I am fairly sure that sometimes some of us were bringing “old” media issues back into the discussion supposedly about “new media.” But I am not sure there is, or should be, a lot of difference. Certainly the how of how one goes about making a citation in many new media might frequently need to be different than how one does in a print medium, but I remain fully unconvinced that the why is different.

To me, these sorts of higher level questions are of more interest and ought also be more immediate. Once the larger issues of why—multiple reasons corresponding to different roles/functions—are sorted out, then it is time to figure out best practices (within disciplines/communities/media/etc.) for actually doing so. One of the larger questions—or perhaps more intermediate—to me then becomes answerable, or at least addressable.

Back in the day, over 5 years ago now, myself and others (and no doubt many others elsewhere including such folks as the makers of Zotero) were wondering what and how bibliographies could be of the web and not simply on it. Sadly, I never got very far with that, and all of the people involved in the conversation with me at the time have also moved on to other things, although I am willing to bet that they are still highly intrigued in how things could be different if we had better tools.

Some of my questions were:

What purposes (if any) do bibliographies serve on the web? Is there one?
What form should web-based bibliographies take to support those purposes?
Should embedded COinS or some other OpenURL or similar technology be employed?
What would be the best way to present our literature in a web-based bibliography that might entice you to read some of it?

I was also trying to get at things better tools could do for us and allow us to do. My brilliant friend, Jodi Schneider, hit the nail on the head, as usual, with her comment:

Ok: in my ideal bibliography system:

You would be able to:
* filter, search, and sort items by any metadata field.
*select any subset of the bibliography (including the whole thing)
*and do actions on the whole or your selection

Here are some actions I would want:
*download citations to your own collection (online or locally hosted on your own computer)
*mark the subset for later use in the online system
*search the full-text of all items in the subset. Results would show KWIC snippets and could generate subsets for further actions
*add all references to your collection (preserving field structure)
*use an associated “bibliography processor” to download all the associated items. Your processor would be able to authenticate for your library access and individual subscriptions. It would create a new subset of problem items, for manual inspection, which could easily be passed to other services (like ILL).

Other bibliography thoughts:
*free online resources and subscription resources would be distinguished by an icon
*a good bibliography should give a sense of the field–clustering and facets may help with this, and leveraging the structured data (e.g. by journal, tags/descriptors, etc.)

If we had tools that easily pulled citations, references, links, pointers out of new media documents, web pages, reference managers, and what-have-you, and that easily added them to other documents, whether web-based or not (prior to printing, of course) and that allowed us to easily manipulate sets and subsets of them and to perform assorted actions on them easily, then not only would our lives be easier (and, arguably perhaps, better) but much of the discussion that took place in the tweet chat would be moot.

Only the larger questions of why we would cite or compile bibliographies would remain, along with some issues of formatting. But, despite the amount of effort that goes into formatting citations into the almost innumerable styles that are out there, the reasons for specific formatting styles is rarely ever known by most users of them, and even less frequently ever actually theorized (and how much of this formatting is just bullshit wasted effort in the first place?). We truly need to get rid of about 95% (or more!) of the styles that exist for formatting citations (in any medium) and revisit the why of the specific how of doing so, with good and proper reasoning for each choice.

Ah. Now Mark the librarian and inveterate footnote/citation tracer is talking. ::sigh:: I think for now I’ll just wander off of this obviously passionate topic. It seems clear that many of my first-order concerns with citation practices are not the same ones as many of those who participated in the chat. And that is perfectly OK, too.

I do want to add that I did, though, despite the poem or any of the above comments, enjoy myself in the chat. It was just a very frenetic enjoyment which could have been helped by better tools.

“Better tools.” Maybe that ought be the title of this post.