Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
My English in the World talk at Saint Louis University addressing the intersections of technology, science fiction, and monsters.
A key question in science fiction specifically and, I think, in our culture at large, concerns the human relationship with the nonhuman. We are concerned about the shapes of these relationships as well as the possibilities of these relationships as such. Buried within these concerns is a more general anxiety about the very boundaries between the human and the nonhuman. Such concerns manifest an ongoing anxiety about the place of the human in the world. Monsters of all shapes and sizes are thus symbols and stand ins for this general anxiety. The human/not-quite-human intersection that forever threatens the very limits of what makes a human a human.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
We build our world around the things we love—food, films, books, beer, motors, music—and the people with whom we share them. And we build these worlds by sharing the things we love through all means of communication: we take pictures of our food, write reviews of books online, and endlessly debate our favorite songs in dorm rooms and at bars. And in this course, that is exactly what you will do: write about the stuff you love. But there is catch, of course. You must write about the things you love in ways that will help others to love them as well—no mere diary entries or talk among aficionados, you must produce public texts for unfamiliar audiences who might not yet share your love of cheese, craft beer, Carmen Sandiego, or Death Cab for Cutie. To engage such audiences, you’ll need to write persuasively and in media that grab that audience’s attention. Some students might produce podcasts, some might maintain a blog, and still others might film a series of video shorts. The goal of this course is for you to write in public so that your loves might become someone else’s loves—so that your world can be shared with others. Students in the course will produce a series of texts (loosely defined) devoted to a thing they love. The texts will be composed for a particular public and will be released on a regular basis (think in terms of a podcast episodes, magazine issues, or a television series). Students have complete creative control over their productions in terms of medium, style, and content. The only requirement is that these texts be public and for an audience that needs to be persuaded.
Monday, February 10, 2014
To explain why, over the last couple of Games, curling seems to attract some attention I would argue that it is because it is very much unlike the other Olympic sports, which are, we must admit, largely like each other. A majority of the sports from skiing to bobsled to speed skating are go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Super G as much as the next casual viewer, but after awhile even I get bored watching the clock. This is not say that doing the sport is boring or that skiing isn't in many many important ways not the same as bobsled (or that I am always "bored" watching them). Again, I am talking about spectators.
Curling, in large part (there is a clock even here), takes place out of time, or, better said, in a different sort of time. There is no rush. A lot of it is, to be honest, four men or women standing around staring at and talking about a rock. And this is precisely what makes it interesting. Some have explained that fans like curling because it looks like something we could do. While there is merit to this argument, it seems far more likely that we like a lot of Olympic sports, particularly the go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports, because they look precisely like things we would never ever do unless we were dared or otherwise tricked. The Winter Olympics, which have been very popular this time around, have a much higher percentage of utterly "insane" sports relative the Summer Games. So I don't see curling as the Everyman sport because we like the rest that surely are not for us.
Curling is attractive because it offers a rhythm different from the rest of the Games. We get to see the athletes' think about what they are doing because their thinking happens out loud and in public. For the opposite reason, however, I like things like speeding skating and skeleton because you watch the athletes' think through their bodies. For the casual viewer, as well, curling does not require constant engagement. I can miss a rock or an end (I may miss something cool, but I am not out of it completely). This level of commitment makes curling the Olympic sport designed for the long haul. I feel engaged in the games, interested in the spirit of competition, and the engagement, because of comprehensive television coverage, is nearly constant. It is the sport I know and love between and behind the sports that excite me through terror and time. In this way, the go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports are not boring (or do not become boring) precisely because I have curling to watch in between them.
Curling, the sport that should be the "boring" one, serves the important function of keeping all the other sports from becoming so. Curling is evidence that "excitement," like "boredom," is relative, and that all kinds of things have value if only we find a way to experience them as valuable.