using Zotero

I follow a lot of blogs, via my Feedly RSS feed. Mostly I skip through their subject lines quickly, reading only those that seem directly relevant to my interests (which do tend to sprawl) and sending on to various others the URLs that seem to me likely to be of interest to specific interwebs buddies.

For years now I’ve used Zotero to keep track of the blog postings that are especially fraught with meaning for myself, and there’s a link at the top of my blog that connects to

my LIFO Zotero list,

which sort of mirrors the day to day flux of engagements. Missing from this list (because I can’t discern any way to include) is the aboutness categories into which I place the links. I can capture the links to specific aboutnesses (e.g., Trumpery captures the links to postings on that subject; anthro tracks what strikes me as preservation-worthy in that realm; and lexicon for wordstuff… and so on). So I can keep track of my own interests, as reflected in the reverse order of stuff I send to Zotero, and I can figure out when I first encountered something via RSS, though I rarely do that sort of retrospective inquiry. But the whole thing is rather unwieldy.

Perhaps I’m missing or misunderstanding something of Zotero’s powers as an information management tool, but it seems to me there should be some way to hashtag Zotero captures, and thus potentially to incorporate them into discourse. Which is to say that I’m wrestling with how to capture the flow of important stuff and then expose it to wider audiences. An activity I’ve been engaged in forever, it seems.

Entering a liminal state

Being just about to journey to Boston for a prostatectomy, it’s perhaps a good moment to reflect on what I’ve been up to lately, and maybe not so lately too. Here is some of the current thinkage.

I have zero personal history of hospitalization or, indeed, of anything but robust good health: no serious injuries, no experience of pain or physical inconvenience beyond the occasional back spasm, minimal contact with health care systems and their priests and acolytes. I don’t know what to expect from anesthesia or its aftermath: will I still be me? I’m not sure just what challenges I’ll encounter during “recovery” from the surgery, though one hopes for few and those readily overcome.

In the 11 1/2 years since retirement (back in September 2005) I’ve had a wonderful time doing pretty much as I pleased, reading omnivorously, walking, playing (mostly solitary) music, doing photography, sorting through and (selectively) resuming work on long-run enterprises, occasionally venturing to the shop for woodworking projects, traveling some, reconnecting with people and places of the past, and generally working on figuring out What It’s All About.

If there’s anything missing from this mostly-blameless recreation, it’s Audience. The best thing about being a teacher and a librarian was having a constant stream of people to talk with, to pass my discoveries along to, and to collaborate with in assorted constructions. Such interlocutors have been pretty thin on the ground during the last decade, except for occasional visits and visitors and my contacts via electronic media. Of course that’s mostly my doing (or not-doing) and reflects my ineptitude at developing new sodalities.

I do wish I’d been cleverer and more assiduous in using the Web as a medium for gathering and contextualizing and promulgating. My tendency has been to make a lot of pointers but then to skimp on explaining why anybody should thread their way through forests of scantily explicated hyperlinks. The 50th Reunion pages were an effort to entice my Harvard classmates into investigating the tangled webs of my doings, but I have little evidence that anyone was ever inviegled. Likewise the topical links at the head of this blog page (Brisées et bricolage, Quotations, Zotero, etc.), which display all sorts of fascinations but are mostly of interest and use to myself. I sometimes feel that I’m one of the few people still entranced by the blogosphere and following RSS feeds for a lot of blogs, an old dog who disdains new tricks (I’ve never been tempted to Facebook or Twitter, and NOW I know what it was that I was leery of). And maybe the world of the interwebs and hypertext aren’t really the universal solvents I imagined 20+ years ago, when the World was New. Maybe the medium of the codex book is still, or again, where it’s at.

The series of Blurb books I’ve produced since July 2015 has loosened a logjam of tangled projects and nudged me to think about legacy—about the meanings tied up in the stuff I’ve accumulated, and about what I might do to prepare for its eventual disposition. I’ve been a collector all my life, and harbor materials lovingly gathered across most of my sprawling interests. Each thing (book, LP, mp3, video, CD, DVD, instrument, photograph, downloaded image, electronic device, tool, scrap of realia, nubbin of memory, screed of text) fits somewhere into a (or is it THE?) personal saga, and so is an element in the grand Narrative that lives in my head. I suppose everybody has kindred arrays of stuff, and I could only wish that everybody gets as much pleasure from exploring their hoards as I do from spelunking through mine. It’s sobering to consider that the Indra’s Net [as Wikipedia summarizes: “a metaphor for the complex interconnected networks formed by relationships between objects in a system”] that organizes my mental world goes when I go, unless I somehow manage to build and promulgate distributable versions of what I’ve known, thought, imagined, accumulated. Not that there’s any market for such self-indulgent gallimaufries, but one doesn’t want to leave too much of a mess, and exculpatory discourse is at least a form of context-building.

Putting those Blurb books in one place (large files, so download to view):

  • Bluenose Physiognomy Nova Scotia Faces: an exploration of photographs from Nova Scotia junk stores (July 2015)
  • Beyond 7000 Ångströms More than our eyes can see: Six months of infrared exploration (January 2016)
  • Forebears: Exploring Franklin Blackmer’s family photo archive (March 2016)
  • Order Up!: My life and times at Home Kitchen Cafe (May 2016)
  • Who was Joe Wilner?: A forensic farrago (May 2016)
  • Remembered: A graveyard book (July 2016)
  • Tessellations: photographic palindromes (August 2016)
  • YMMV: Studies in occultation (September 2016)

Others are in the pipeline.

So we’ll see what emerges once I’m home again. I hope for a lot more photographic work and study, for new musical inspirations, for heaps of new books to read and episodes to watch, for many miles of roads and trails, and of course for culinary epiphanies.

Make of it what you will

From time to time I happen upon a bit of text that just has to be passed around. Here’s today’s:

Wake words*

Perhaps he was mothersmothered
(born into the muddlecrass, at a time when wimwin).
The mamafesta delivered when he was yung and easily freudened.

For a while, a tenorist who saw the world cycloptically—
in his bachelure flat, the life lamatory, listening to ladies’ lavastories—
bewilderblissed and inn sane, he mistributed the unfacts alcoherently.

Nowanights, he looks at the fadographs with violet indigonation.
An iciclist who fell on a pineapple but still climbs the bannistars
With his tellavicious langurge (or langwedge) points a colliderorscope
at the chaosmos, tells with puerity his rheumaniscences
and awaits a funferall, barks like a duck “quark quark”!

[* Almost all of these words were invented by James Joyce and used in Finnegans Wake]

Peter Kennedy, Literary Review Dec 2016/Jan 2017 pg 58

Not My Circus; Not My Monkeys [but surely some nearby somebody’s]

I’m forever finding things that seem to apply to people and situations that aren’t precisely my own but do need rediffusing in some medium. Here’s one that just snuck up on me:

Imagine a world where speaking or writing words can literally and directly make things happen, where getting one of those words wrong can wreak unbelievable havoc, but where with the right spell you can summon immensely powerful agencies to work your will. Imagine further that this world is administered: there is an extensive division of labour, among the magicians themselves and between the magicians and those who coordinate their activity. It’s bureaucratic, and also (therefore) chaotic, and it’s full of people at desks muttering curses and writing invocations, all beavering away at a small part of the big picture. The coordinators, because they don’t understand what’s going on, are easy prey for smooth-talking preachers of bizarre cults that demand arbitrary sacrifices and vanish with large amounts of money…

The analyst or programmer has to examine documents with an eye at once skeptical and alert, snatching and collating tiny fragments of truth along the way. His or her sources of information all have their own agendas, overtly or covertly pursued. He or she has handlers and superiors, many of whom don’t know what really goes on at the sharp end…

(from Ken MacLeod’s preface to Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives)

balm in Gilead?

Trump connected to the segment of the population that was prepared to believe that racism was realism, misogyny was locker-room talk, inconvenient facts were media myths, and viciousness was the new normal. Just as surely as he has redrawn the electoral map, he has radically altered the Overton window. No Presidential candidate before him had ever mocked a disabled reporter, or bragged about his penis size during a debate. What kept every other candidate before him from stooping to these tactics, presumably, was deference to social norms. But norms can be swept aside.

(Andrew Marantz, in New Yorker news blog)

I wrestle with the personal means to come to terms with the new sociocultural reality, and consider employing tools like Colin Woodard’s recent books (which deserve a careful rereading: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America and American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good), and the prescient writings of Thomas Frank in The Baffler and in his Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, and George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. As so often before, Christopher Lydon’s Radio Open Source is helpful in reminding me to think more broadly about what’s in front of my nose.

I’m not sure that gnawing old bones of socio-political argybargy is good for the blood pressure, let alone the soul, though I can’t entirely ignore what comes at me via New Yorker and NYRB and various lefty blogs I follow. As an antidote, I’ve found it soothing to read Ursula Le Guin’s novellas and short stories (The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin and The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin), and I’ve just picked up the beloved Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller Jr. –can you believe it first appeared in 1958???) for the fourth or fifth time.

I’ve also been deeply into Thomas Rid’s Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History, and via that engagement I’ve dipped into Gregory Bateson again, via Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, a book I tried to read maybe 20 years ago but bounced off of, feeling discomfort with Bateson’s concept of epistemology (I basically didn’t grasp what he was talking about). This morning I ventured to the Auxiliary Library in the barn and quarried my copy of Bateson’s Naven and what did I find but

What has happened has been the growth of a new way of thinking about organization and disorganization. Today, data from a New Guinea tribe and the superficially very different data of psychiatry can be approached in terms of a single epistemology—a single body of questions.

We now have the beginnings of a general theory of process and change, adaptation and pathology; and, in terms of the general theory, we have to reexamine all that we thought we knew about organisms, societies, families, personal relationships, ecological systems, servo-mechanisms, and the like.

(Gregory Bateson, Preface to the second edition [1958] Of Naven)

“And the like” indeed. So: back once again to General Systems Theory, which beguiled me 45 or so years ago, abstractions high-flown enough to calm the yammer of daily helpings of News of Fresh Disasters.

As Adam Fish just put it:

What is needed are new modes of counter-hegemonic governance. Towards that goal I am going to do nothing. Social evolution is slow and silent not obvious and obnoxious. It is time for a break into scholarship and away from reactionary tabbing back and forth from The New York Times and Breitbart, The Guardian and Drudge.

on the Harmless Drudge account

another passage from Jonathon Green’s Odd Job Man

The slang lexicographer is by very nature a voyeur. The lexis undoubtedly leans toward pimping and prostitution, crime and imprisonment, violence and cruelty, drugged and drunken debauches, but the lexicographer is neither whore nor thief, thug nor prisoner, addict nor drunkard. Or not professionally. They are linguistic reporters, except that unlike the tabloids’ traditional formula they make no excuses and they do not leave. The job is to collect knowledge, to explicate it, and to disseminate the information that emerges. As I say, a voyeur, but ideally an informed one. (pg 38)

Green’s Dictionary of Slang

A week or two ago I saw the announcement for Green’s Dictionary of Slang in its online version, and almost bit (at about $60/year). Intrigued, I looked on Amazon and (1) found that the 3-volume print version could be had for a bit less than $600 via Prime, and in used form for around $300; and (2) that Jonathon Green’s Odd Job Man: Some Confessions of a Slang Lexicographer (2014) was about $4, plus shipping. I ordered the latter, and started reading it when it arrived. Fantastic so far, and I’m only 20-odd pages in. His first substantive chapter (‘Beginning’) is a fascinating and utterly unique take on autobiography, raggedy bits of wry memory:

This is in no way a conventional memoir, but some things must be said. Or so it seems to me, whose working life is so committed to searching the past for origins and roots. It is a beginning that, without the memories that those from more settled lineages have on tap, has always seemed abrupt. Perhaps, like newly arrived immigrants looking forward to their future and rushing to move beyond the past, the young have no interest in asking questions about ‘before’? Perhaps that was merely me? I failed to ask and remain in ignorance. And since the past was quite literally another country, and that country no longer exists remotely as it was, I am not going to find out. I have been trying to make up for it, by proxy, ever since. (pg 15)

A quick calculation tells me that $60/year is not all that much more than $1 a week, cheap at twice the price for a subscription. So I bit. And it looks like a real winner, now that I’ve browsed a bit and tried out the various features.