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August 21, 2006

i'd do something like this

I'm sorry I haven't had anything interesting to say in a while. I know you're disappointed, especially after my recent rush on Terribly Clever entries. It's just that I've been insanely busy lately. In fact, I remember the days where I had two - no, one! - whole day with no work to do. No thesis leftovers to tidy (helloooo CD of clips - you'd better appreciate this Markers), no teaching admin., no MLX crap to do, no giant holes to fill in in the back yard (more on this later), no week's-worth-of-laundry to catch up on, no grocery shopping to do, no writing-up grants to apply for, no journal articles to edit and send back to the editors, no conference papers to write, no... you get the point.
I'd just like two whole days in a row with nothing for me to do. I'd go to lunch at a pub with a friend I've had to put off exactly three (or is it four?) weeks in a row. I'd go to breakfast at a cafe with The Squeeze. I'd do something like this:

"i'd do something like this" was posted by dogpossum on August 21, 2006 10:38 AM in the category academia

August 18, 2006

remember to breathe

Because it is Friday night and I'm huddled under a pathetically thin home made quilt in the lounge room (where I would usually lounge, but am currently huddled over the warmth of my lappy) wishing I knew how to light the pilot light on the heater (yes, I know, I know, learned helplessness = crap) and waiting for The Squeeze to come home and cook me dinner (look, alright, I do realise what this implies about me) prior to my going dancing for the first time in ages, I'm taking time to write crappy blog posts.

I'm also listening to a new Duke Ellington CD (oh, alright, it's this one: ). I adore small group action (see my previous post on Benny Goodman's small groups), and this is no exception. I am pleased.

I've also had my imagination caught by ducky's Remember To Breath meme (over here).
It seems like the sort of exercise I'm into. So here are some things that make me happy:

1. making extremely lame dad jokes to a class full of teenagers, who then groan. I'd like to think it has something to do with my reclaiming the power of pun from the patriarchy, but it has more to do with simple humour and protuding funny bones. I have only one thing to say: "it's not a tutor!".

2. doing silly made up dances in the hallway for my own entertainment. These are not, in any way, cool or technically sophisticated works of art. They are silly dances which make me puff and feel lovely.

3. laughing like an idiot on the bus listening to the Media Report - it's not cool, it's nerdy, and it makes me feel ace.

4. re-reading Robin McKinley books. Also, re-reading a wind in cairo by Judith Tarr. It has horses and deserts in it, so I love it. Unfortunately, I have read it so many times I know each word by heart. But that's not the point, is it?

5. chick flicks, especially ones with cheerleaders in them. I have no excuse - I just LOVE that shit.

6. doing things like this in the park:

and then having things like this happen:

(that's my Squeeze there - isn't he fine?)

7. having breakfast at a cafe with That Squeeze, reading the paper while he does the crossword, having the nice waitress bring us our drinks without us ordering (we are Regulars), and then not having to remember to specify scrambled eggs.

8. riding somewhere with The Squeeze, telling each other stupid stories like this one, laughing a lot and feeling the endorphines and adrenaline pumping through me as we ride down a hill.

9. riding anywhere at speed, when I'm feeling pumped. There is nothing, nothing finer.

10. going to yoga on Wednesday mornings with the older kids. I love that shit. I love the way they make me laugh, I love doing the yoga thing and feeling my body really work. I love talking after class, I love the teasing, I love riding up to Sugar Dough for lunch afterwards. I love all of that very much.

-- I have to add more, because there are lots of wonderful things that I have to mention.--

11. listening to albums like this one (especially songs like 'Rigamarole', 'Viper's Moan' and 'Chimes at the meeting'), or stuff by bands like the McKinney's Cotton Pickers - bands that are really fiery but serious fun as well - sassy stuff, where the musicians yell out with excitement - can't contain themselves when the music really COOKS - mid-song. It just makes me feel great inside - all jiggly and excited.

12. watching clips of amazing dancers from the 30s and 40s - that rocks. I look at stuff like this:

and I just get so excited - that is some SERIOUSLY great stuff.

...oh, I could go on and on and on. But The Squeeze is home and we have to go swap stories of our day.

What are the little things that make you feel good?

"remember to breathe" was posted by dogpossum on August 18, 2006 8:08 PM in the category clicky

jealousy is green


...and if you take care to compare this image with the one in the previous post you'll see why.

- and just to make it absolutely clear, check out the littlest charlestoner* in this clip:

*that makes is sound like Frida is a little dolly. She's not, she's a ravening beast.
Zachi, however, is a sweety. A sixty-metre tall lanky young 20s sweety.

"jealousy is green" was posted by dogpossum on August 18, 2006 6:05 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances

battle by literature review

"So when you've done all this excellent reading, when you really know what you're talking about, you've got to really make it work for you in your essay - you've got to BRING IT!"

You have to ask yourself, what sort of literature review would Frida do?

"battle by literature review" was posted by dogpossum on August 18, 2006 5:58 PM in the category teaching

August 11, 2006

some things are simply true

"It doesn't really matter how big my arse is, because I'm really smart."

"some things are simply true" was posted by dogpossum on August 11, 2006 11:32 AM in the category people i know

August 8, 2006

the tyranny of distance: audiences and performers/texts in high and low art forms

Laura has asked an interesting question here on a previous post:

...I would like to ask a question about "the everyday", in those CS quote marks - is consumption of canonical or high art an everyday activity, and if it isn't what is it? Posted by: Laura at August 7, 2006 03:30 PM

I think the man to answer this question is right up there in the cs canon (or at least the audience studies canon). Take it away Henry Jenkins...

I skip about a bit in the next part of this post (I'm a bit distracted, so I can't really take time to formulate a sensible argument)...

I think the key point (in my approach, anyhoo) is not so much the nature of the actual text or practice, but the way it is institutionalised, commodified and 'valued' by various cultural and social forces.
I've been looking at this issue in reference to dance (of course), comparing the way ballet and vernacular dances like hip hop or breaking are approached by audiences.
[In an aside, the discussions on wikipedia's project dance (esp the talk pages) - people want to capitalise the names of specific ballet choreographies, but aren't so sure about how to capitalise vernacular dances like lindy or hip hop].

I've also noticed that the way swing dancers - DJs in particular - approach jazz is quite different to the way the genre is approached by jazzniks. One of the clearest and nicest illustrations of how different groups imagine jazz lies in the way Bennett's Lane puts on gigs (Bennett's Lane is a well respected local jazz venue - devoted to 'quality' jazz). They are very strict about noise during performances, and do NOT allow dancing. This is such a strange and bizarre contrast to the way jazz functioned socially in the 20s, 30s and 40s - it was pub music. It's also a serious contrast to the way I experience and enjoy jazz at the Laundry in Fitzroy on Saturday afternoons: it's loud, it's full of smoke and drinkers, the band members will get down off the stage and kick audience arse if they give them trouble. They don't care if we dance, and there is - as a consequence - a really exciting and dynamic relationship between dancers, musicians and audience at these gigs.
But at Bennett's Lane (and other venues around the place), there's a definite positioning of jazz as 'art', which must be 'appreciated' from a distance, rather than enjoyed with the body, up close and personal. There are quite culturally specific ways of demonstrating appreciation going on. Just as Jenkins noted that Checkhov fans used different language to describe their interest in theatre, there are clear differences in the way certain groups approach jazz and music.

Here's a quote from chapter one of my thesis about the relationship between audiences and performers, audiences and texts in dance:

Considering dance, whether vernacular dance or performance dance, as a public discourse, allows us to analyse it for ideological content, for the ways in which identity markers such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and so on are represented and valued by a particular community of people. Reading vernacular dance as everyday discourse encourages us to see social dance as an exchange of ideas, and as a site for the negotiation of identity and social relations between individuals and groups within a community. I draw clear distinctions between vernacular dance traditions, where dance occurs in everyday spaces, between ordinary people, and concert or performance dance traditions, where dance is relegated to particular ‘dance spaces’ which are separate from the everyday spaces of a community. Ward makes this distinction: “there is a categorical divide between dancers and the audience in performance dance …that does not exist between dancers and spectators in social dance, where those roles are interchangeable” (18). I read this dynamic relationship between the roles of ‘spectator’ and ‘dancer’ in social or vernacular dance as a clear example not only of call-and-response, but also of the ways in which readers participate in the making of meaning in textual interpretation. (pg5)
Later on I add this:
The word ‘vernacular’ in a discussion of dance refers to the everyday or ordinary, common dance of a particular group or culture. Vernacular dance is distinguished from concert or theatre dance through its positioning in everyday spaces, rather than existing only as a formalised, and usually choreographed, performance of a particular dance on a concert stage. Vernacular dance is intrinsically participatory and happens in all sorts of spaces, both public and private. It is also necessarily mutable and reflexive, responding to the cultural needs of its performers. (pg9)

I wonder if one of the key differences between 'low' and 'high' cultural forms and practices is this issue of distance - there is (in Western culture ...?) a divide between the audience and text/practice in high art forms, whereas the 'low' forms encourage close proximity between audiences and texts - you have only to consider the Big Brother website and voting system to see how particular industries and textual forms encourage audiences to get close to texts. If only so that they can be more easily targetted by advertisers.

It can't be an accident that high art forms like ballet and opera have trouble keeping audience numbers up, and that various marketing strategies that aim to make these sorts of forms more approachable to wider audiences are at once endorsed, yet also regarded with some suspicion by those sections of our community which have a vested interest in maintaining social heirarchies.

...there's a good article by Joann Kealiinohomoku on reading ballet as an 'ethnic' dance that examines how race and class work in high and low art form (and in anthropological approaches to 'culture' and 'society'): Kealiinohomoku, Joann. "An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance." What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism. Eds. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. 533 - 49.

"the tyranny of distance: audiences and performers/texts in high and low art forms" was posted by dogpossum on August 8, 2006 10:34 AM in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music

August 7, 2006

it's a tall order to claim yourself a guiding force in the dancing lives of a few thousand dancers

I have in the past noted the difference between 'classic' swinging jazz of the 'Swing Era' (ie 1930s-40s) and 'new testament' swing (ie post WWII), focussing on the role of the rhythm section.
I still find julius' discussion of the topic over on yehoodi the most useful for discussion of jazz and lindy hop:

This is all based on informal research, i.e. facts that I cannot document. They are opinions based on watching clips and talking to oldtimers and people who have talked to oldtimers and watching oldtimers and new dancers dance "now" and "back in the day" ... and listening to a LOT of music.

Swing-era music (henceforth called "swing") is driven primarily by the rhythm section. The bass would play on the quarter note and the drummer would beat the same quarter note with the bass drum. The guitarist would also chord on the quarter note along with the bassist and drummer. In addition, the drummer kept the rhythm swinging by playing a swung rhythm on the hi-hat. Rhythmic motifs (such as horn riffs) were often played in unison rhythm (although not unison notes, which were a feature of bop later on). Drum solos often featured march-style drum rolls and rarely used polyrhythmic devices such as playing three with the left hand and four with the right.

The combination of guitarist, drummer, and bass playing on the quarter note made swing music very propulsive. At that time, jazz was not played behind the beat as much as it is now. The rhythm section was almost, but not quite, playing in unison on the quarter note.

The dance reflected this propulsion by emphasizing quarter notes and the swung rhythm. The steps of the basic that we know today are derived from that rhythm: 1, 2, 3 and 4 (swung), 5, 6, 7 and 8. There was very little upper body movement, although the limbs were extensively used to reflect energy and excitement. Charleston steps (often in unison with your partner) were very common because of the tempo and feel of the music. (Note that 20s Charleston is much more staccato and than 30s Charleston, because hot jazz was much more staccato than swing music.)

If we listen to post-war music, we detect a difference in the feel compared to pre-war music. Jimmy Blanton revolutionized bass playing with Ellington's band by using more ornamental techniques on the bass, and Ray Brown brought bass virtuosity to the fore by playing far less staccato than swing bassists did. His playing virtually defined the feel of post-war straightahead jazz by holding the bass notes and creating a much deeper "pocket" for the rhythm section. With the advent of bop, the drums began to lay behind the beat, which was now kept almost entirely by the bassist. Drummers moved the swing rhythm to the ride cymbal; the bass drum was used to "drop bombs" -- playing very loud accents, only barely playing quarter notes, and sometimes even playing on the offbeat.

Arrangements for bands began to feature more rhythmically complex parts and the solos began to use more than the basic major, minor, diminished, augmented, seventh, and ninth chords of swing. The upshot of this new harmonic and rhythmic complexity was a change in the dance, with Frankie notably complaining to Dizzy Gillespie (I think) that you couldn't dance (lindy hop) to it.

In the modern era, people commonly dance to straightahead jazz from the 50s ... not bop, but music heavily influenced by bop's harmonic concepts and post-war, way-behind-the-beat rhythm. The music chosen by DJs today also tends to be on the slower side than swing era music taken as a whole, and there are a lot of influences from West Coast (which was itself derived from lindy hop) observable in modern lindy hop. For example, the upper body is used often to express the music; frequently dancers will acknowledge musical "hits" with motion.

Why this change has occurred, I cannot say. One of the first people I encountered who taught this style of dancing were Paul and Sharon. When I was first learning I learned from people who had learned from old-timers directly, and were commonly emulating the rhythm-based style of lindy hop dancing. Then I saw people in San Francisco dancing and they were doing a more melody-based style of lindy hop.

Over time I think lindy hop has embraced both aspects of musicality (rhythm and melody), but some areas of the country are still locked in one or the other.

Edited to add something a bit more judgmental:
Dancing to the melody makes it very hard to dance fast, because it feels as if one is being unmusical in not acknowledging the music going by. Dancing to the rhythm makes it very easy to dance fast and requires better balance and technique because there is less time to recover from mistakes. However, dancing to the rhythm makes dancing slow less interesting.

The very best dancers in the world dance to the music, employing whatever is appropriate and not worrying whether the music is "too fast" or "too slow", because they have integrated everything about the music into their dancing. Dancing reflects the music, not the other way around. I am fairly sure that lindy hop, alone of almost every social dance in the rest of the world, is danced to the widest tempo range of music. That's one of the things I really like about it, that I can go balls-out on some insane flag-waving swing anthem, or dance more intimately if I want (Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 8:55 pm).

Personally, I prefer the sort of 'classic swing' sound to the post WWII sound, which I tend to think of as Old and New Testament, respectively, in part as a response to the influence of Basie on this issue - the man's career ran from the 20s to the 80s, and he was one of the most influential band leaders in the big band swinging jazz genre.
I've been listening to some Jo Jones recently, and reading the Allmusic entry here, where they note:

Jo Jones shifted the timekeeping role of the drums from the bass drum to the hi-hat cymbal, greatly influencing all swing and bop drummers.

This is an interesting point, as Jones played with Basie's band for a chunk of his career, and formed the backbone of Basie's rhythm section, with Walter Page (bass), Freddie Green (guitar) and Basie himself (piano). To think that this man might have played a key part in the shift from bass drum to high hat in the foundational rhythm of a big band is kind of a tall order. I know nothing beyond the stuff I read in liner notes and on the internet (hardly excellent sources, but you know how it is - I'm too busy with other stuff to read up on this... though I'd dearly love to audit a decent undergrad course on the history of jazz), so I can't really comment intelligently on this topic. But it's worth thinking about.

I am a fan of Lionel Hampton, who was a percussionist (drums, vibraphone, assorted other) and bandleader (though I'm not sure what role he played in his bands' arrangements and compositions), and I've noticed that big bands tended to reflect the instruments and interests of their leader - so you get a different emphasis in Benny Goodman's stuff, than you do with someone like Basie, in part because they played clarinet and piano, respectively.
This stuff is really interesting to think about when you're comparing the work indivdidual members of a group did with their other bands - I'm obsessed with Benny Goodman's small groups, and have been enthralled by the differences between this group, Goodman's bigger band stuff, and the role of Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, etc, in those small groups and in their own big bands. You can really hear the musical emphasis shift from Goodman and the clarinet to, for example, the vibes/rhythm section in Hamp's bands.

So the fact that Basie played in his rhythm section, and that his band was so influential in swinging jazz is kind of important.

...I'm not sure where I'm going with this, really.

But I suppose that one of my ongoing concerns as a DJ is how how to balance the old testament sound with the new testament. As a dancer, I much prefer the chunk-chunk sound of the old testament rhythm section - that high hat action in some of the 50s stuff (and late 40s, depending on who it is) gets up my bum. As a DJ, I'm much more flexible - I will happily play stuff from the 30s through to the 50s for lindy hoppers (with deviations into more modern stuff in the old school style), and from the 20s (and more recently if it rocks) for charleston and other dances. I feel I have a 'responsibility' as a DJ to sample good music from all these historical periods, and more importantly, from the range of swinging jazz that is available. While I feel I can comment on musical choice and taste and its impact on dancing in my local community as a dancer, I am more reluctant to make those value-laden judgements as a DJ, perhaps because of the perceived power and influence of DJs in the swing scene. I've seen people do some awsome shit on the dance floor to all types of music, and who am I to dismiss something simply because it reflects the music of a period which post-dates the 'original' swing era?

It's a difficult issue, because I do feel that I need to promote the old testament stuff in Melbourne because it is so under represented in the DJing of local DJs, and in the teaching of local dance teachers. We have a preponderance of 'groove' music, a definite emphasis on not-old-school dancing, to the point where new dancers frequently fail to recognise someone dancing in the 'olden days' style as lindy hop (and often don't know that name for 'swing dancing' at all).

Yet, at the same time, my job as a DJ is to get people dancing, and if old school jazz doesn't do it for them... I can either trick them into it, leading them gently back to the Good Old Days, using such tools as the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, Mora's Modern Rhythmists and the Kansas City Band, or I can hop on the old high horse and play with no reference to what's going on on the dance floor around/below me.

This seems the perennial question for a DJ who plays almost exclusively in their own, local scene (particularly one which is as parochial as Melbourne).
My solution, though, has been to follow my nose - to seek out the artists and music that I really enjoy, and to combine them in ways while I'm DJing that will get dancers out onto the floor despite themselves. Kind of a honey rather than vinegar approach. There are a number of on-the-spot techniques for doing this, from quick transitions between musical styles and tempos, through to using a combination of old recordings, new remastered recordings, and recordings by new artists, and I'm endeavouring to master as many of these skills as possible.
One of the key parts of this process is simply collecting and listening to as much music as possible.

In Melbourne today, many, hell most of the DJs simply swap their collections, rather than seeking out new music on their own. One of the clearest results of this has been a definite lack of variation in the music we hear out dancing in this town. One of the less direct results is a lack of diversity in the dancing and improvisation we see on the floor - if dancers do not hear 'new' music (whether in terms of individual songs, or different styles), and dance is about making music visible, we are unlikely to see 'new' stuff on the dance floor if DJs continue with these small-pond approaches to music and DJing. And speaking as an old school hippy feminist, diversity = good. It's sure as fuck more interesting than homogeneity.

As I am finding, though, the exchange of music between DJs serves as more than simply the sharing of music and the expansion of individual collections - it is a key vehicle for the development of interpersonal and professional relationships between DJs, and between new and more experienced DJs. To refuse to swap is a delicate matter, and one must tread carefully the line between ethical approaches to copyright legislation and forging relationships with other DJs. Particularly when one does not access to other avenues of becoming part of 'the gang' in this community.

With all this in mind, then, how can I go about both satisfying dancers' desire for the familiar, and exploring and sharing my own musical tastes and passions, and consequently, encouraging DJs to include music that suits my tastes, so that I have the opportunity to dance to this stuff as well?

One the one hand, there are the practical DJing techniques I've discussed above.
But I'm also increasingly of the conviction that DJing for new dancers is really important.

I enjoy DJing for new dancers. The first set of the night is usually considered the 'beginners'' set in Melbourne, in part because of the importance of pre-social dancing classes (usually populated by beginners). When I began DJing earlier this year, that first set was dismissed by most other DJs, many of whom wouldn't accept sets in that slot. As a new DJ desperate for experience, I happily took on thost sets. I discovered that the new dancers were not only fresh and excited about dancing (unlike the more jaded, cynical and decidedly picky more experienced types), they were also excited about the music, and far more open to a wide range of music.
So I enjoy playing for beginners, even if it means that I have to be careful with tempos.
And it means that I'm wondering if perhaps I should be strutting my stuff as a DJ at more beginner-friendly, after-class venues in order to advertise my tastes, create a market and perhaps ensure a greater tolerance for wider musical styles in the future?

Those sorts of claims feel insufferably smug and arrogant: it's a tall order to claim yourself a guiding force in the dancing lives of a few thousand dancers.

But I'll report back, and we'll see what happens.

"it's a tall order to claim yourself a guiding force in the dancing lives of a few thousand dancers" was posted by dogpossum on August 7, 2006 4:29 PM in the category djing and music

the researcher in their work: natural passions

I really need to get on and do some work, but I did want to write a tiny bit about how our own interests and passions motivate our research. So, for example, I'm a keen lindy hopper, and this lead (eventually) to my writing about lindy hoppers.
This point was brought to my attention in class last week when a student blushed and declared embarassment for his passion for an 'uncool' film star. I took this as a neat opportunity to talk about people like Matt Hills and Jenkins and other fan studies doods, pointing out the idea that much of audience studies research - fan studies in particular - begins with the author's own interets. In the simplest terms, our attention is caught because we give a shit about the topic. And is kept because we're passionate about the things and people we are writing about. So being dismissive of someone's interests simply because they're 'low brow' isn't terribly productive.

But I do think it's a strength to write from what you know, or rather, from what you care about. Whether you're writing about a favourite telly program or about women and capitalism. I feel that bias is a strength, if only because it serves as sufficient motivation to get us through a massive research project like a PhD or a book.

I don't have time to go on into detail about this, but there's a chunk of lit talking about the ethical and methodological issues which attend writing from 'inside' the community you're studying.

Some of the most interesting is from dance studies. Check out this nice quote:

I am an anthropologist, but I am also a dancer and I begin my investigation of gender in ballet by using my dance experiences as a case study… I adopt this approach because it allows me to shift between my memories and comments as a dancer and my analysis as an anthropologist, in a sense using autobiography as fieldwork data.

The researcher…is an essential component of all research. …It is important to take account of the fact that I (the researchers/interviewer) was an active agent in the research setting, attempting to make sense of and contributing to the dancers’ discussions about an activity that is not bound by verbal language. I would contend that my intervention in the … process was enabling rather than, as an objectivist approach would argue, a hindrance to the research. … the idea inherent in an objectivist framework that the researcher is an invisible being who drops into and reveals the practices and ways of others (the researched) becomes redundant, in favour of a reflexivity of accounts. …this does not mean that the project should be full of ‘soul searching’ or ‘navel gazing’. It entails, rather, that the researcher reveal or uncover his/her grounds for speaking; that he/she should be reflexive on the context, methods and procedures adopted and at the same time, enable the voices of the researched to speak (35 - 76).

(Novack, Cynthia J. "Ballet, Gender and Cultural Power." Dance, Gender and Culture. Ed. Helen Thomas. London: Macmillan, 1993. 34-48).

I've written in greater detail about this in my thesis, combining fan studies stuff and dance studies stuff, with an emphasis on feminist and African American writers in the latter. In fact, a significant portion of my argument throughout my work is devoted to the notion of participation in discourse, where dance is discourse, and participation is not only important, but non-verbal.

...ok, I have to run. I'll see if I can write more later...

"the researcher in their work: natural passions" was posted by dogpossum on August 7, 2006 10:10 AM in the category academia

August 4, 2006

oh yeah

And I had my paper approved for the CSAA conference (read about it here). I didn't unfortunately, score the bursary/grant thingy. Which means that it'll be next to impossible for me to get to the conference to give the paper. Got no money for airfares, no money for conference registration, no money, no money, o.

The scholarship ends on the 19th, which is ok, as the thesis is totally done (did I mention that? I'd like to say there's been some quiet triumph in our house ever since, but The Squeeze says it's more the fact that there's been a significant increase in shouting, carousing and declarative one-stanze (one-line) songs about how great the Ham is). But it does mean that I now, officially, have no income.

Oh, no, wait. I'm tutoring like total tutoring stooge instead. I am taking sixty million classes in a media studies subject (best not to name it, as the little darlings are a wee bit internet savvy, and google will get me in trouble... note to self: do not mention thesis topic ever again in class), so I almost have enough money to cover my PT tickets.

There are some good bits of this, and some crap.

I love teaching. I think it's a power thing. I goddamn LOVE being in front of an audience, and I LOVE to talk, so it's all good. But I have been practicing Shutting Up this semester, which is hard, but rewarding: we have dialogues rather than monologues.
I love teaching media stuff: who doesn't have something to say about telly or books or magazines or the internet?
I learn a lot. Ask me about CD next time we meet. Your brain will be blown.
It gets me out of the house.

It costs a lot to get there.
I can't ride my bike and I miss it.
I'm overworked and exploited.
I'm really really tired.

Anyway, I'd like to go to the conference, but can't afford it. Looks like academia is for rich kids, huh?

"oh yeah" was posted by dogpossum on August 4, 2006 6:57 PM in the category academia

tell me place and geography aren't important here

There's been a bit of talk about Helen Garner around the traps recently:

I wrote this comment in the latter:

(dogpossum on 3 August 2006 at 1:29 pm)
Nice post, Weathergirl.

I remember reading all Garner’s work when I was an undergrad - I fell in love with her style. In those pre-GST days I had enough cash to splurge on books whenever I liked.
TFS almost lost me for her, but I changed my mind… no, wait, I think I was just distracted by other authors (C.J.Cherryh, most probably - nothing like a little hardcore SF by a woman writer to get things in perspective)…
When I first moved to Melbourne I’d pretend I was recognising places from Monkey Grip (though I was finding it easier to recognise places in Brisbane in the Nick Earls books I was reading, probably because I was busy enjoying be Away From Brisbane at the time). And Garner’s pieces in the Age about ordinary Melbourne stuff helped me feel at home in my new city (what can I say - I’m a stooge).

I don’t find it difficult to enjoy the way Garner puts words together, and yet also have some trouble with the ideas behind the words. Frankly, a nicely written bit of opinion is far more likely to convince me to consider a topic than something difficult or clunky… I like the line about energy, and the thought that nasty bits of writing can inspire us to do great thinking and writing and talking ourselves. I mean, that seems to define feminsim for me: being inspired to think and write and talk and act by nasty bits of writing and ideology-in-action.

As for Garner herself… I met her once at a party, and knew her daughter through Uni, but that’s all I can say. I wouldn’t pretend to know her through her writing - just as I wouldn’t expect to know a blogger through their blog, or a singer through their songs. But I might admit to vague feelings or unsubstantiated impressions.

And had this response:

(weathergirl on 3 August 2006 at 1:33 pm)
Dogpossum, thanks for contributing! I read a tiny bit of Alice Garner’s PhD thesis (something about holiday imagery on French beaches), which I think she then published as a book. She inherited her mother’s writing talent.

But please don’t mention Nick Earls on my beat. I like to think this is about interesting literature.

I did start writing a response to the response, but I ended up feeling like an idiot. Some things are best written on your own blog (especially when they stray into true blogging territory: long and boring). So here it is:

I feel like I'm dragging the discussion off into irrelevent territory, but one of the things I liked about Garner (and Nick Earls, John Birmingham and Shane Maloney*, actually), is/was the way they write about cities and construct/represent ideas of community and place. I choose those three because of their accessibility, their popularity. I choose those three in particular because I was reading them before, during and after my move from Brisbane to Melbourne, in book and newspaper-column form (the latter is a reference to Garner's spots in The Age). I think that in that period of moving to a city where I knew perhaps 3 people, away from family and friends, I was busy making new social and professional networks - making this new city home (I want to reference the space/place thing, but I don't have the brain right now).

I was interested in the way these authors use lots of specific references to local landmarks and people to create a feeling of 'knowing the city', or more usefully, 'knowing the community' in which their stories are based. It's an interesting idea, especially when you take into account things like Garner's decidedly middle (or upper?) class experiences in Melbourne today, compared to the Monkey Grip days, Earls' Brisbane of the 80s, Birmingham's Brisbane of the late 80s and early 90s. These are quite definitely experiences of a city inflected by class, gender, sex(uality), education, market forces, etc etc etc. Yet they are all represented as 'common sense' or 'normal' or 'familiar', particularly in the case of Garner's work (which seems to rest so firmly on the strength of 'common sense' or 'diary-esque' writing as a tool to convince. I, for one, am a little sceptical of Garner's (occasionaly quite irritating) use of 'oh, this is just what I think, and I'm probably wrong, but...' arguments. Can you spell passive aggressive?).

But I'm interested in the way, while reading these people at that time, I could say 'hey, I know that place', or more scarily (esp in the case of Birmingham), 'I know those people!', and found that so comforting.
This is the sort of thing that comes up all the time in discussions about Garner's work (and in this thread above) - the idea of 'journal-diaryistic' writing and 'journalism': levels of 'real' and 'true' and so on. I think it's worth my pointing out, at this point, that I take Earls and Maloney as writing with as 'diary-esque' a style as Garner, largely in response to the incredible detail about 'real' places in their work. While Garner writes using her 'real' (and autobiogaphical) emotions as a bit of a blunt object in the 'reality' stakes, Earls and Maloney use 'reality of place' in much the same way.

That I could point to a building or street in Melbourne and say "that's where Helen went swimming or rode her bike or saw a band" or think "I remember that shopping centre in the Queen Street Mall", was kind of comforting for a person alone in a new city. It certainly shaped the way I thought about my place within my current and past home-cities. Nothing new for 'the media': kind of the point, really, constructing consensual notions of place and community**.
But I do think that it's a key part of Garner's work, and there have been quite a few comments already [in the LP thread] about the way she uses phrases like "Any woman who has left home for university could fill in the gaps": inviting us, explicitly to identify with Garner (or her characters), as if it was a natural and inevitable thing.

Isn't that interesting, that the language of domesticity (and Garner is all about domestic spaces) and 'home cities' and 'the familiar' is such a useful tool for convincing us that the author's point is 'just common sense'? That an 'emotional honesty' in writing is somehow more relevant or convincing than an objective account?

You can see why, at this point, I hesitated to post this comment on LP.

But my attention was caught by the way Weather Girl dismissed Nick Earls as 'uninteresting' work. Sure, he's no great literary talent, but some time was spent in that LP thread making similar observations about Garner - she's no great literary talent. But many of the commenters in that thread (and most of whom were women - perhaps just an indication of LP's reader/commenter -ship) declared an affinity or affection for Garner based on her use of the personal and the invitingness of her lovely prose.
I'd argue that Earls has similar appeal - the use of the personal, and an inviting style (in his case, though, the invitation was to share the joke, rather than marvel at a lovely turn of phrase). With Maloney, the appeal lay in the minutiae of everyday life in Brunswick/Coburg/Melbourne (my new home suburb), and of local politics (which fascinated a girl who'd just completed an MA on women in Qld politics). In addition, I'd argue that they're very Australian writers (though from different age/social groups), and I like to read in the vernacular.

Though we must keep in mind the fact that Garner's books have stuck around, while Earls feels a bit stuck in that 'grunge fiction' moment - do people still read him, or is it just me? Maloney, on the other hand, has made his mark on the pop culture landscape, especially with the television programs based on his work.

I know that I'm a little biased, but isn't this bias kind of the point? I was attracted by the invitation to share the everyday lives and everyday experiences of these authors' lives, and that made me feel 'at home' in a new city. I certainly wasn't 'sucked in' to believing that this was in any way a 'true' story I was being told. But that was part of the appeal: I was reading one person's interpretation and experience of a city, and that very subjectivity was part of it's appeal. It invited comparison with my own experience, and a dialogue with the text.

I should note: I was so interested by The First Stone when it came out that I did a pgrad essay project on the topic, exploring the newspaper responses to the book, and to their representations of 'feminism'. This was a sort of test-run for my eventual MA project.

...and all of this has strayed quite a bit from the love/hate/niggle-fest that began in the original articles on Garner and her writing, but, well, like I said: blog.

*It's worth checking out the 'official' Shane Maloney site and noting the background image of the site: Melway maps of Brunswick.
Tell me place and geography aren't important here?

**I'm paraphrasing old school Stuart Hall there

--EDIT: fixed the dodgy link up there at the top - sorry everyone--

"tell me place and geography aren't important here" was posted by dogpossum on August 4, 2006 10:41 AM in the category books and brisbane and brunswick and melbourne and travel

August 1, 2006

i want a big shouting man and an analogue mouse


I just can't get enough of this man's shouting voice.

We're listening to that album I mentioned here. It's far too late for such exciting music, but we like to live dangerously.

I should go to bed. The Squeeze is watching some old skool computer nerd peep action: The Mother of all Demos (you can read about it here on wikipedia).
The Squeeze likes to read about old computer stuff. The other day he went to see a talk about the first computer mouse:

"The first computer mouse and other terrific tales of technology!"
The Stork Hotel Café, 504 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Who says the history of computing is boring? Experience the droll delights of Information Age nostalgia in a raucously profound evening of low-tech storytelling with your host School of Business Information Technology academic John Lenarcic in conversation with Museum Victoria curator David Demant.
He had a lovely time. I went to see Super Dood Returns and had a lovely time.

When I make up the bed in the back room, I usually find at least two books about olden days computers (today I found the phone that I lost yesterday), the remote for the imac, and some sort of cord for the computer. And usually a belt and a pair of pajama pants. He must own at least a million books about computer history. I've read a few of them - ones about macs, or ebay or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or other stuff. It's mostly dull, and written by semi-literate journalists, but The Squeeze is a big fat sponge for computer knowledge (and hardware - he's a bit borg I think. All technology is belong to him, and will be assimilated. Resistance is futile).

But this demo on google movies is pretty impressive - this dood Douglas Englebart invented a mouse in 1968, and demonstrates it in this film. That's some awesome shit - we didn't start using them til the 90s. And this guy is there, in a black and white film, with his massive quiff and black horn-rimmed glasses, demonstrating some scarily advanced technology.

The Squeeze is about to pass out with delight. When he stumbled onto the film moments ago, he declared: "I didn't think this existed!"
That and the Big Joe Turner shouting action - this little freckler is going to expire from delight.

I, however, am going to pass out from exhaustion.

"i want a big shouting man and an analogue mouse" was posted by dogpossum on August 1, 2006 12:11 AM in the category clicky and music