Chapter two does live up to my expectations,
though it challenges some of my preconceived ideas. I had accepted the
conventional view that, since the alphabet is a much simpler technology
of writing, it of itself promoted a "democratisation" of writing in
cultures that adopted it by comparison with syllabic writing. In
particular I have assumed and taught that this was so in the (Southern)
Levant compared with Mesopotamia or Egypt. Now Seth asks the very good
question: If alphabetic writing was so superior to sylabaries how come
it was adopted so slowly between the first known examples and its
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script from Wikipedia
most of the second half of the 20th century the earliest alphabetic
writing seemed to be the Proto-Siniatic inscriptions from around
1500BCE. However, since 1999 the Darnells' discovery of an earlier
example of alphabetic writing at Wadi el-Hol pushes the likely date of
the invention of the alphabet back to probably between 2000 and 1800BCE.
If the superior or easier technology of alphabetic writing was not the driver of its adoption, what was? "What was the alphabet for?"
suggests the new form of writing, associated as it was by its origin
with those on the margins of organised society (as is the [presumed?]
case for examples of Proto-Siniatic), was adopted to express a
different and more inclusive vision of society. At Ugarit (Late Bronze
Age) one ritual text was found in multiple locations, while all others
were found only in one copy. The exception is a communal liturgy of
In Hebrew too, in the biblical texts (presumed to
come from the [late?] Iron Age), one text stands out, the scapegoat
ritual in Lev 16. It was retained among the traditions preserved in
Scripture, despite fitting poorly with the ethos and ideology of
Leviticus or of its presumed Tradents. It like the ritual at Ugarit
involves "the people" as a significant actor.
Sanders criticises the tendency among biblical scholars to focus on the
state (witness all the excitement recently about some substantial walls
in Jerusalem that may now be dated to the tenth century),
whilst there is evidence for an alternative politics not based on the
polis or state, but rather tribal, and typical of speakers of West
Semitic languages. He writes eloquently of the flexibility (with
membership determined not merely by birth, but also and perhaps more
significantly by ritual and declaration) and durability of tribal
authority when compared with a "state" and its kingship.
interesting, almost throwaway line, suggests a connection between the
Hebrew Bible's unusual prominence of narrative prose and the somewhat
lengthy and discursive political addresses found in the Mari diplomatic
Intriguingly, but frustratingly, chapter two
does not explicitly answer its title. To discover, for sure, what
Sanders believes was the purpose of the adoption of the alphabet one
has to read on...
As you can see this is page-turning stuff ;)
indeed this chapter alone asks biblical scholars to overturn a number
of (too little examined) presuppositions. If even most of Seth's many
theses are widely accepted this book will be a landmark in the
discipline of Old Testament studies.
If you have read
this book, and have reviewed it please post a link in the comments to
your review, if you have not (but either agree or disagree with the
opinions and reactions poszted here) please post a comment explaining
how. I am finding this book exciting reading and one reason for posting
my reactions as I read is in the hopes of reading with other interesting and interested readers!
having read the whole book, or even (yet) the beginning and ending of
each chapter put me at a disadvantage in reading the "Conclusion". I am
not sure whether it is a "tell 'em what you told them" or a "so here's
what that all means" conclusion.
Maybe I'll have to rethink and
read the first and last paragraph(s) of each chapter first - different
books need to be read differently. Actually already with chapter one it
is clear that I should read the first few paragraphs, down to the first
section heading, as evidently these are Seth's intro to the chapter as
Actually, I'm going to revise my approach. Not just
because (unusually) I am reading the whole of this book - my normal
approach to reading is geared at avoiding reading more than I need ;)
But because (having peeked at the beginnings and endings) the chapters
look so exciting I want to read them properly before I savour the
Brick walls and motherly God-talk
I've run into a brick wall working on my Amos land and territory material, a belated [well the oral paper was supposed to be only that, thoughts of publication followed the colloquium, and last year was so busy]
literature search has thrown up a highly relevant article that could
impact hugely on what I write, but the journal may not be available in
NZ :( So, if anyone has access to S. D. Snyman, "The Land as a Leitmotiv in the Book of Amos." Verbum et Ecclesia, 2005, 26(2) 527-542 and could scan and email me a copy, I'd be delighted :)
the meanwhile I need to change mental gears and work on the Day of YHWH
and the structure of Amos. To help me with the transition [at least that's my excuse] I have been doing the mindless but necessary job of converting more of Not Just a Father,
my book on the use of motherly language and imagery to speak about God
in the Christian tradition into the format that will allow readers to
comment on, ask questions about and argue with my thinking paragraph by
I need now are people to make comments, so once again (now that I am
back at work after the summer) if you know someone who might be
interested in this topic please point them to the site and suggest that
they really say what they think :)
How could I refuse, the pre-publication
hype and Seth's own descriptions of the book suggest that I'll either
love or hate it. It seems it addresses my passionate interest in the
intersection of culture and technology, especially writing and
communications technologies. And it is focused on the "invention of
Hebrew". My only sadness was that I had to wait till I returned home
from a ten week working trip/holiday in Thailand and other interesting places.
I'm home, and along with other goodies the book was waiting for me :)
I'll post the review here in several parts, and I'll follow my usual
procedure for reading a book (rather than for writing a traditional
review, which aims to become a seamless whole) and post piecemeal as I
Preface (unless the first sentence or two suggest it is a waste of time)
The Invention of Hebrew is an attractively produced small volume (171 pages of text - no
small is good, big just means more waffle like an airport block buster
a waste of time, and in an academic book probably not entertaining
either). The paper feels nice, though the print could be larger and
sharper or I could be younger and sharper. It has a short but useful
looking index and a bibliography. (Don't you hate books where you have
to hunt the notes for the first mention of a work you need to consult!)
Priced at $50 but the publisher (University of Illinois Press,
who have a strong stable of interesting Bible related works now) it is
even better value at Amazon for $40. By only complaint so far - and if
you read this Seth please pass it on to the series editor - is that it
follows the idiotic habit of listing the notes at the back and
numbering them separately for each chapter. (This device developed in
the BC period when it was hard work for poor writers and editors to
keep track of all the notes and difficult for typesetters to place them
at the foot of the relevant page. Computers changed all this. But
graphic designers like "clean-looking pages" and actual users are not
considered, once we have bought a copy publishers have no interest in
our reading experience. Readers of academic texts need references, so either use the Harvard system of inline references, or use footnotes!)
The publishers blurb claims
that Seth's book is groundbreaking: "absolutely innovative", "makes new
knowledge", "first book to..." It also suggests that the work has an
interesting thesis that Hebrew was a "self-conscious political
language" promoting "a source of power previously unknown in written
literature: 'the people' as the protagonist of religion and politics".
Which is nicely sweeping and in a bookstore would lead me to open the
The preface is not
at all one of the dead and dull ones that give "preface" a bad name, it
is lively, quasi-autobiographical, and tells us that Seth intends to
address loads of interesting questions:
Language and identity: "Did
writing always flow from your spoken language and everyday identity, or
did the relationship change? And if it did could that change who you
Bible and politics The history of how "the Bible exercises power: through the manner in which it speaks to people". Have maximalists
and minimalists both connived at reducing politics in Ancient Israel to
the exercise of state power? (A question dear to the heart of every
aspiring Anabaptist ;)
Biblical Studies and the academy "What does biblical studies have to say to the rest of the academy?"
The table of contents reads as if the book were a collection of unrelated essays:
Modernity's Ghosts: The Bible as Political Communication
What Was the Alphabet For?
Empires and Alphabets in Late Bronze Age Canaan
The Invention of Hebrew in Iron Age Israel
four chapters are enclosed by an "Introduction" and a "Conclusion", but
their titles do not strongly suggest their coherence and progression.
Each looks interesting but they do not obviously work together.
However, the sort of questions foregrounded in the "Preface" suggests
that the blurb may not be exaggerating, this could be a ground breaking
and interesting book. So I am hoping the "Introduction"will reveal how
the chapters work.
All in all, I can hardly wait to read the "Introduction" and "Conclusion" tomorrow!
(But today I must make more progress on my chapter for The Gospel and the Land of Promise. My chapter will either be titled: "'Exile away from his land:' is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?" or perhaps: "Land and earth, judgement and gospel in Amos".)
I wholeheartedly agree about the use of endnotes. It drives me to
distraction!! And if it really, truly still is cheaper to put notes at
the end, the habit of indexing them as notes to ch 1, ch 2 etc, with
new numbers for each chapter should be absolutely banned!! I rarely
know what chapter I'm reading, so having to put a mark in my place,
then find the beginning of the chapter and then find the appropriate
note is tedious beyond measure. Sequential numbering throught the whole
text and/or a notes section that says "notes from pp 75-87" is at least
semi-reader friendly, but yes, footnotes get my vote every time.
Err, no. If I was preparing to teach in semester one I'd not have time
to read really stimulating and ground breaking work, or writing my own
articles, I'd be busy writing notes for stuidents and course outlines
and the like. But as it is I am one of the fortunate few who are on
sabbatical :) Hence the unusual number of good quality posts in the
last few days ;)
I subscribe to an email from Steve at Actuate Consulting,
which today offered some bullet points on Effective Communication.
Since communication is at the heart of most of what I do I thought I'd
filter and adapt Steve's ideas into a series of short posts.
In my book the number one has to be: Effective communication is clear.
If people do not understand, asking: What did she say? or What did he
mean? communication has not occurred. Communication has not occurred
unless a sensible message is received, no matter how much you spoke or
The best aid to clarity is a picky proof-reader. How I
wish my students had spouses or friends with the courage to say: I
could not follow this bit? What did you mean here? How I wish more
biblical scholars and preachers would learn that to say something
simply and clearly is better than to say something that sounds
profound, but fails to communicate ;)
Most people (from whom one might expect a comment) have already posted responses to Nicholas Carr's The Atlantic article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"
I wanted time to think before I wrote (remember I'm introverted ;) Many
of the kneejerk responses have been along the lines of "Carr's right, and it's a disaster! Now let's move on to the next topic..." Demonstrating nicely that Carr is right, in part the phenomenon he discusses of shorter attention spans when reading, and often writing, and therefore thinking online not only exists, but afflicts most of us. Carr provides a nice example to illustrate the phenomenon:
Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine,
also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I
now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish
article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A
pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of
Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a
telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a
“staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages
of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace
anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog
post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I
Reading online is different from reading print, think Jakob Nielsen's studies back in the 90s which showed that online readers scan. Then bring it up to date and apply it to "academic" readers as well as the metaphorical "ordinary user":
part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer
logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research
sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K.
educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles,
e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that
people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping
from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d
already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of
an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site.
Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they
ever went back and actually read it.
Factor in the fact
that today we live online much more than we did then, and the result is
obvious: "the Internet" is changing the way we think. Reducing our
capacity to process lengthy complex writing. In short, making us stupid!
But, is different worse? The authors of the study mentioned above wrote:
It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense;
indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as
users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and
abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to
avoid reading in the traditional sense.
Carr's argument presupposes that "reading in the traditional sense" is both traditional and
good. Yet for the purposes of the "readers" assessed by the study,
academics researching prior literature on a topic, reading has perhaps
never been the long drawn out sequential process Carr inagines. I have
been trying to teach students "How to avoid reading books" for decades. Why? Because scanning not reading works, for researching prior literature scanning beats reading! As MarkG commented "Selectiveness is the most important characteristic of a good reader."
Reading differently is not necessarily reading worse.
Carr also argues that the structures and processes of the Internet shape and control how we think, claiming:
idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing
machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the
network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across
the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more
opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information
about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the
commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of
data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the
better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely
reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest
to drive us to distraction.
In other words: reading
differently is worse because we lose the capacity for sustained
attention. This is like Socrates argument in Plato's Phaedrus that the new technology of alphabetic writing (to which ironically we owe our "memory" of Socrates) "will
produce forgetfulness in those who have learned it. They will not need
to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written."
Carr is in fine company. Like Socrates he is correct, memory has been
eroded by writing and the capacity for sequential sustained reading is
being eroded by the Internet. Also, like Socrates, he is wrong, the
human capacity for living is not eroded so easily and the new mental
states are not (most of us believe - since few today voluntarily give
up writing and advocate burning libraries to the ground) worse ;)
Google need not make you stoopid, but it is making us think differently, and that needs serious practice and study.
Zotero: Adding journal articles from EBSCO
you search for a journal article using an EBSCO database no little
Zotero icon appears in the location bar, however there is an "export
button". If that is not clear watch the little video!
Citation Nazis get U2?
you write, as a student or academic (and you do not yet use Zotero)
this is one video you MUST watch, and if it amuses you please pass it
By the way, for David (when he returns from lazing on the beach!) there is a mobile version, it is just over 1/2 the size of the WMV, but I'm showing the Flash version above (so Mac users can watch it ;-) which is 3x the size of the WMV or 6 times the 3GP...
can I say to excuse this arrant sales pitch for Zotero? Well, it is
Saturday, so I'm unwinding, or possibly coming undone ;-0
Jim might see this as an example of the Wikiization of education, I
prefer to think of it as an example of the fallibility of the
librarians on whose work World Cat works, and my own failure as a
proper Citation Nazi to spot such errors!
Brevity and the Bible
In a post below Writing differently
I went on at some length to extol the virtues of writing briefly.
Especially online. My attention has just recently been drawn to a Wall Street Journal (you see it is not on my usual reading list) article about a new presentation of biblical texts: "High-Design Bible Draws Attention" in the article (back in February!) Andrew Losowsky describes the project called Bible Illuminated, thus: "The Swedish-language Bible marries the standard text to glossy magazine-style design."He provides a description, but also a photo, and as we all know a picture ≈ 1Kwords:
Now, as well as not reading the WSJ,
I also do not read this sort of Magazine. The mags I do read I scan,
when I meet a full page of text, like this, I scan it for nuggets and
then flip on - incidentally forwards, since I read mags, like Hebrew
Bibles from right-to-left ;) If this Bible's intended audience read
mags the way I do, they won't get quite (what I'd assume) the intended
effect of the opening of Joshua! Andrew links this to the Samuel Pepys blog:
Bible Illuminated is an example of a range of classic texts that are
attracting new audiences through modern methods of storytelling.The
diary of Samuel Pepys has been turned into a blog, with daily entries
corresponding to the 17th-century original, at www.pepysdiary.com. The
creator, British actor Phil Gyford, says the site gets around 35,000
unique visitors each month. "I thought I'd like to read the diaries,
but the 10 volumes were a daunting prospect,"he says. Transmitting it
as a blog "seemed obvious," he says.
Now, it seems to me
too, "obvious" that Pepys diary would make a good blog, the form and
medium "fit". But I am not convinced that either the new Swedish Bible
Magazine, or the earlier Teenage Mag versions, do fit form and medium
to the content and genres of the Bible. Now, Joshua is not a good text
for my argument, since narrative can perhaps be effectively transposed
into very different forms and still "work", but imagine one of Paul's
letters... One big glossy picture, and one page of Pauline prose...
Yawn! As you know I prefer the audio route... (to check it out try some
of the recent Romans from PodBible).
Remediation, aura and technologies of (biblical) authority
notion that the Bible has authority has been very significant in
statements of faith and constitutions of many churches and Christian
movements. Yet understandings of what textual authority might mean are
inevitably different when the text is expressed in different media.
Concepts of textual authority that have dominated understanding of such
church documents have been drawn almost exclusively from
print-dominated cultures. Yet, in addition to a historical progression
from oral to written, from scroll to codex (at least in Christian
circles), and from manuscript to print, the biblical text has always
been variously mediated. Oral and written mediations of the text
existed alongside each other since the precanonical phase. The biblical
manuscript tradition remediated (Bolter's term) the text in many ways,
adding spaces between the words, adding commentary around the text,
illumination and other "decorations".
remediation of the Bible is even more varied and extensive. In print
medium a plethora of consumer Bibles each mediates the text in distinct
ways, as each also imitates earlier mediations of the authoritative
text. From early renderings of the Bible in audio tape and video film,
more recently digital delivery and production of such non-written media
has enabled an explosion of non-written biblical "texts".
This paper examines the "technologies of authority" (the term used in different fields by Akkermans and Schwartz, Katznelson and Zolberg, Salmón Muñiz, and Tatlock)
that different mediations of the biblical text utilise. It will also
explore how the concept of "aura" (Benjamin) throws light of discussion
of biblical authority in an electronically dominated media culture. It
then attempts to generate a framework for understanding how notions of
the (biblical) text as authority interact with changes of medium.
Akkermans, Peter M. M. G., and Glenn M. Schwartz. The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban. Cambridge UniversityPress, 2003.
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 2000.
Katznelson, Ira, and Aristide R. Zolberg. Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe And. Princeton UniversityPress, 1986.
Muñiz, Fernando. “Technologies of Authority in the Medical Classroom in
the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.”
Lynne . “Authority, Prestige, and Value: Professionalization in the
Musicians' Novels of Wolfgang Caspar Printz and Johann Kuhnau .” In The Construction of Textual Authority in German Literature of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods .Edited by James F. Poag and Claire Baldwin. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2001.
On Monday we head off for Sri Lanka, so if you want to hear from me over the next couple of months please subscribe (by RSS or email) to the blog that will have writing, photos (and we hope video interviews with interesting people) relating to this travel and teaching Old Testament in South Asia including a refugee camp. (If you have a blog yourself please link to it, so that people find it before we return ;)
I have begun collecting reading for the chapter on "Jesus and the
Father" for the book about the use of motherly language and imagery to
speak about God, whose title might be Not Just a Father.
Targuman read International Academic Writing Month: the Final Scorecard - Chronicle.com as a result he proposes some sort of "International Biblical Writing Month"
with a bunch of bibliobloggers as its core. I'm game if others sign up,
I have a couple of articles that need finishing urgently! However,
since it is already 7th December and Christmas is coming and the geese
are getting fat I suggest January 2008 as the auspicious month...
Unless we declare the month to be Holidaruary which runs from 10th
December - 9th January in the old currency...
PS: in view of Jim's request below, and because I am one person who certainly does not know what it is all about - but I suspect most others in the biblioblogger circus don't either (except AKMA who knows everything, or at least everything that Dr Jim West does not ;) I'll explain, at least what I understand by the proposal, and therefore what I am offering to "sign up for".
upon a time a bunch of people who thought they "had a novel in them"
got together (virtually) and assigned the month of November to write,
to proclaim on their blogs how much they had written - or confess how
little - and to support and encourage each other in writing. They
called the scheme MiNoRoMo or some such name (NineOhTooWonOh?),
then years later a bunch of academics, who know a good thing when they
see it, and who must publish or die, made up their own version with a
much more serious and grand name. Few if any biblical studies writers
joined in. But many among the biblioblogger circus have writing
projects, theses, articles, books... and perhaps we could leverage
(trendy marketing term thrown in to make this all sound respectable)
the community spirit of blogging to help us actually write and finish
something... We're proposing now till the end of January.
idea is you announce on your blog what you'll be writing, and then post
updates on progress, and link to other people's updates and projects.
As a result (a) you are encouraged or shamed into writing and (b) you
get feedback that may improve what you are writing...
Ah--- so, we're supposed to be writing something (anything in biblical
studies) and tell folk that we are writing and thus all be together in
a great and grand orgy of 'get it done thou foul slacker or thou shalt
the gist? Cuz I think we are ALL working on something- whether it be a
paper (for those lowly students amongst us) or an article or a book
review or a book.
If I've got it aright then I'll be happy to
join in the fun. But if I've missed the boat (as Michael Halcomb thinks
I did in relation to gross rap and hip hop) then please instruct me
Or, as the Ethiopian eunuch said to Phillip- "how can I understand this mysterious thing unless someone explain it to me..."
Yea verily I think thou hast grasped the idea rightfully, unless I'm up
the pole, except I suspect the goal is to focus more on encouragement
than threats - though even in our society the threat of public shame
can work wonders ;)
As I understand it, the point of NaNoWriMo entails getting around to
writing a novel, in a month. Some of my friends actually did write
novels (of a sort); more often, people's literary energy peters out after ten days or so.
is an extremely awkward month for me, holidays and an excursion to
Canada and all, but I would welcome the public obligation to make some
headway on writing projects (of which, I hesitate to confess, I just
accepted another today). So count me possibly in, and I'll try to keep
you posted about how I'm doing.
Two articles I read today raise questions about whether we should rethink writing for screen.
how we learned, slowly and painfully, that writing for screen was
different from writing for print? On screen people scan rather than
read, so terse writing, bullet points and headings are all desirable.
They facilitate scanning... We also learned, first that text is fluid
on the web, that everyone's browser is different, and also
(paradoxically) that it is really important to make sure the essential
stuff gets "above the fold". "Fold" is legacy language, from the world of print newspapers, meaning visible on screen without scrolling.
First, The Interaction Designer's Coffee Break cites Milissa Tarquini "Blasting the Myth of the Fold". She presents strong evidence (from AOL) that users do
scroll. Then, she discusses the design considerations that allow us to
help them - basically letting them know that they are scrolling for. Actually this post though very sensible and based on good research reorganises stuff we knew and hopefully already practice.
For a start it is not
based on research, rather on some evidence and a lot of gut feeling.
Then, while it seems clear her claims are true for some web writing.
Her own delightful "stories" are a good case in point, one hardly scans
them, rather they are read much as one reads a novel (only they are
briefer - vignettes). Evidently also many bibliobloggers finest posts
are the long ones that encourage real, deep reflection on a topic.
yet, if a site basically offers information and/or ideas may it not be
better to provide them in easy to scan format? If the writing is not
the point might bullet-points and brevity still be good? Even better than finely crafted sentences...
Incidentally, and ironically, the image that accompanied Amber's article somewhat undermined her point. though I am still thinking about it - so this is a partial think
I think that some writing is better for finely crafted sentences (the
quill pen approach) while other writing is better if it provides a
targeted dose of information (the syringe)...
I have adapted this post in the light of Stephen's comment below,
putting the asides into boxes. Let me know what you think of this
"punctuatuion"... Incidentally, writing this post has
reminded me that I need to think about my punctuation - not all the
misplaced commas and missing semi-colons, which I know about, but the
bigger question of how I punctuate different sorts of parenthesis. I
like parentheses, my thinking is a web of very loosely organised
parenthetical material. But I need/want to help the reader distinguish
parentheses that introduce a new thought (unconnected) from those that
explain, or somehow fill out..,. Maybe I should use () for the
interruptions and - - for the explanations...
Bob McD is a writer, he blogged The beginning of a story
(from the New Testament period) and it strikes me as a near perfect
beginning, polished, supple and interesting language, that hints and
teases the reader into beginning to construct a world. That's how
beginnings ought to be. Not all the time, for that would be boring, but
Now he has followed up that beginning with a Prologue
and I am still being carried along, though I wonder what NT specialists
will make of the decisions he took to create the tale - I look forward
to any discussion.
Incidentally, Stephen there's another
nomination for the carnival, make sure that all the NT bloggers see the
series, and so we get some juicy responses.
A post on the always stimulating IFbook blog, about recording the writing process ("Poetry in Motion"), pointed me to the intriguing QuickMuse.
The site is devoted to presenting poets writing poetry. Not videos of
poets talking about writing poetry, but screen captures of the actual
(almost physical) process of writing.
Each poet was given a stimulus, so Marge Piercy got this quote about exodus:
people with a moral vision for themselves and humanity emerged through
the birth waters of the Sea of Reeds. This vision was created out of
the dark night of slavery, from being crushed in the cruel womb of
Egypt. They now march toward Mt. Sinai, to meet the Divine Presence
that has called them into history.
(You need Firefox or Safari for this to work, apologies to those with
sub-standard browsers ;-) for such impaired folk, and for those without
the time (or too lazy) to go watch as you read here is the (final) text:
this system will visualise the composition process, as well as any
mistakes the author makes in transcribing thought to page...
wonder how such a writing "space" might affect the process of
composition. For certainly the "word processor" impacts the way we
write [do I need to check the reference for that book?]...
putting a recording like this on a blog inhibit, or would we all - good
exhibitionists that bloggers are - write rubbish at great speed, or
indeed learn to think BEFORE we write - now that would be novel ;-)
started this with no idea where it was going... and I still do not know
how to title it! [I must have missed that bit in skimming the
This whole experiment was stimulated by reading
the post on the IFbook blog at
then looking at some of the poems they link to, and then wondering, how
would such a tool (if always available) impact writing - after all
writing is as interesting as reading!
I've now started wondering what this process does to our reading...
and how cool it would be if someone produced an edition of Amos that
reproduced this using Wolff's redaction critical analysis to make the
"edits" would one "see" the canonical shaping process at work more
clearly? When I have time I must try...
AKMA's post Very Good and Write rightly focuses on focus, but (to my mind at least) carries good advice too far.
First the good advice, which I'm summarise as cave canem! Beware of the (shaggy) dogs. Everyone must agree that "just putting something out there doesn’t imply that it will contribute to getting a message across". Focus on the message to be communicated is indeed vital. When crafting words, I know I should follow his advice "don’t confuse and distract your readers with pointless, vague, superfluities"
more than I do. (I am addicted to digression.) Indeed these wise words
from a preacher (from the start of the following footnote) might
beneficially be engraved on every screen:
however, assess such indulgences with a pretty rigorous criterion of
whether they contribute to communicating the greater message. (I’m
looking at you, preachers who include irrelevant shaggy dog stories in
Yet, AKMA is not primarily writing
about writing, or about speaking, rather the focus of his post is the
use, in writing, of images. With this focus, I find myself less
agreeable to the direction of AKMA's advice:
If what you
write, or if the images you use for graphical communication, do not
contribute to expressing clearly and precisely the message you’re
hoping to convey — then don’t confuse and distract your readers with
pointless, vague, superfluities.
What he says is true,
but a partial truth. And partial truth is more dangerous, or in this
case more stifling than arrant fiction. Certainly, images should not be
added willy nilly, nor be pointless or superfluous. And yet the tenor
of the advice is to resist strenuously the visual equivalent of a
digression, to focus on images whose communication coordinates closely
with the words'. How much depth and richness is lost when this advice
An image which "connects" to the text, yet connects
obliquely, can so often encourage the reader (and all readers need such
additional courage) to create new and added meaning of their own. While
narrow and tightly controlled focus seeks to constrain readers to paths
prepared in advance by the authoritative author!
So, for example, in my notes on the Genesis class' session on "Abraham's children (16 & 21)"
I included in the sidebar images and text of Ishmael (see below) found
from a Google search on the name. What exactly a reader makes of the
implied connection between these modern Ishmaels and their ancient
namesake I do not know, cannot know, but I suspect that their reading
is richer for the side trip.
This Ishmael was (I believe) Technical Assistant in the Journalism Dept at Technikon Pretoria http://www.techpta.ac.za/
suspect there is a personality difference here, Barbara (and some of my
colleagues) like (I suspect AKMA) prefer more ordered and orderly
communication. They may be infuriated by my Ishmaelite style, but
others (like me) delight in such invitations to imaginative play.
Two answers: first, it sounds as though the more diffuse, provocative
response is what you actually want. As such, if your readers ponder
beyond some specific message-reception, that fits your hope in
incorporating the images. I don't have a problem wtih that. (My
objection involves what Edward Tufte calls “chartjunk,” the supposedly
decorative elements that serve no informative purpose.) The
arch-offenders are digital presentations that include images simply
because they can, without regard to whether the images advance the presenter’s communicative purpose. So, “imaginative play,” huzzah!
I felt a wave of apprehension when I spotted your examples. Cultural
situations very, and I have no idea what reaction those images might
engender in NZ, but I’m startled that you chose to illustrate the story
of disfavored Ishmael with two images, the more prominent of which
specifies that the subject is accused of child molestation and has a
name that suggests Muslim identity, and the second of which is slightly
optically distorted. In my own setting, I’d expect readers immediately
to deplore my racial/ethnic insensitivity. There’s strong reason to
expect that my readers would (for instance) interpret the juxtaposition
of image and text as implying that Ishmael was [unfavorably] black,
criminally harsh to young Isaac, with cartoonishly exaggerated
features. I don’t expect that’s what you intended, but at least some of
my colleagues and students would latch onto that aspect of the
illustrated text in a heartbeat, and (in keeping with my original
counsel) I’m inclined to try to head off that sort of
AKMA, I did not at all mean to suggest that you are not a skilled and
entertaining digressor. Rather to confess my own temptation to digress
you I resent "chartjunk" and other forms of irrelevant visual
distraction. I did though intend to illustrate that visual material can
add depth that is not immediately "relevant" or whose relevance is not
fore-ordained by an omniscient auteur.
However, it seems that
due to cultural difference all I succeeded was in reinforcing your
original point. A nice irony, and a text that neatly self deconstructs
;-) In my defence, and briefly I fondly imagined that my readers would
notice the South African Black "Ishmael" who succeeded and created a
useful life where one might have expected failure. (Though I suppose
here in 2006 the "war on terror" is better known than the terrors of
apartheid, wrongly or rightly.) So, thanks for the warning! Perhaps I
should have used a different example. (I'll address the question of
Arabic sounding names in a separate post perhaps...)
(as usual) we almost agree, I think there is a significant difference
between writing (and included visual material) which majors on focus
and on what the author intends and writing which seeks rather to open
avenues for the reader to explore. Although I dislike "chartjunk" I
would prefer to commit such a crime than to stiffle my readers'
possible imaginative extension of their reading.