Monthly Archives: August 2011

Paradise

Paradise has been on the ol’ brain lately. Although it always is in some way, swinging slowly and wildly between “wow, where am I” to “wow, I want to go there” to “wow, the world is an amazing place, just look at this!” I have however been forced to think in a more focused way for a collaboration with NY writer Elizabeth Rush, and our collection of photos/a book called Paradise is What We Do (now on exhibit at Proteus Gowanus gallery in Brooklyn if you’re in the area). We have been going back and forth with our titles and the introductory essay. The process inspired a bit of a personal retrograde into my MA thesis on a Marianne Moore poem called Black Earth.

Moore was a modernist, pal of Pound and Eliot et al. She may or may not have ever had a lover in her life. She lived with her Puritan mother. She was a major collector of ‘trivia’. She had a wicked way with words. Reading one of her poems can be a bit like trying to find yourself out of a maze in a dream. The more you try to make sense of it the harder it is to find your way.

Black Earth is written in the voice of an elephant, an elephant who rolls around in the dirt (as they do) and loves the way the mud is encrusted on it’s skin (as they would, natural sunscreen amongst other things). The elephant questions the spiritual reasoning of a ‘fallen’ earth and an elsewhere after-life paradise. “The elephant is? / Black earth preceded by a tendril?” The tendril, a question mark, an elephant trunk, a shoot of new growth. Without going too far into the poem (have a read of it below, it’s beautiful, Moore knows her natural world well, every creature, species, thing, she mentions is worth a closer look), basically it is a round about, carefully thought out, way of asking, what if paradise is right here? right now? Maybe all it takes is perspective.

In the Paradise is What We Do book, Rush and I have put together a series of photographs taken with half-frame cameras (two photos on one frame). Each frame is titled after what happened in between the two photos, the bit that you can’t see and which is signified by a big fat black line. The photos are taken from all over the world, on all sorts of adventures, but the titles are mostly internal and/or relatively mundane. The point is, paradise isn’t a place, it’s how you choose to be in any old place, any old obscure absurd imperfect place. There isn’t really a point, just seeing and hearing and being there. The simplest things can somehow be the hardest things to do, especially when the lynch pin to our collective identity as a species is our capacity for ‘reason’, which we feel we have to legitimise whenever we can.

Black Earth
By Marianne Moore
Openly, yes,
With the naturalness
Of the hippopotamus or the alligator
When it climbs out on the bank to experience the

Sun, I do these
Things which I do, which please
No one but myself. Now I breath and now I am sub-
Merged; the blemishes stand up and shout when the object

In view was a
Renaissance; shall I say
The contrary? The sediment of the river which
Encrusts my joints, makes me very gray but I am used

To it, it may
Remain there; do away
With it and I am myself done away with, for the
Patina of circumstance can but enrich what was

There to begin
With. This elephant skin
Which I inhabit, fibered over like the shell of
The coco-nut, this piece of black glass through which no light

Can filter—cut
Into checkers by rut
Upon rut of unpreventable experience—
It is a manual for the peanut-tongued and the

Hairy toed. Black
But beautiful, my back
Is full of the history of power. Of power? What
Is powerful and what is not? My soul shall never

Be cut into
By a wooden spear; through-
Out childhood to the present time, the unity of
Life and death has been expressed by the circumference

Described by my
Trunk; nevertheless, I
Perceive feats of strength to be inexplicable after
All; and I am on my guard; external poise, it

Has its centre
Well nurtured—we know
Where—in pride, but spiritual poise, it has its centre where ?
My ears are sensitized to more than the sound of

The wind. I see
And I hear, unlike the
Wandlike body of which one hears so much, which was made
To see and not to see; to hear and not to hear,

That tree trunk without
Roots, accustomed to shout
Its own thoughts to itself like a shell, maintained intact
By who knows what strange pressure of the atmosphere; that

Spiritual
Brother to the coral
Plant, absorbed into which, the equable sapphire light
Becomes a nebulous green. The I of each is to

The I of each,
A kind of fretful speech
Which sets a limit on itself; the elephant is?
Black earth preceded by a tendril? It is to that

Phenomenon
The above formation,
Translucent like the atmosphere—a cortex merely—
That on which darts cannot strike decisively the first

Time, a substance
Needful as an instance
Of the indestructibility of matter; it
Has looked at the electricity and at the earth-

Quake and is still
Here; the name means thick. Will
Depth be depth, thick skin be thick, to one who can see no
Beautiful element of unreason under it?

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Journalism?

New Zealand Herald Columnist Deborah Hill Cone triumphed US billionaire Julian Roberston and the Teach for America programme he backs through one of his charitable foundations in her recent column. Hill Cone says that Robertson is set to bring the re-named American programme Teach for All to New Zealand. This is not the case and misinformation may have come from New Zealand Herald reporter Audrey Young’s interview with Robertson while she was in New York trailing Prime Minister John Key.

Young stated the Robertson Foundation, his charitable vehicle, were planning to set up a version of Teach for America in New Zealand – Teach for All. This is not the case Teach First New Zealand have confirmed with the PPTA that Teach for All will not be coming to New Zealand. The charitable vehicle Aotearoa Foundation is one of Julian Robertson’s many foundations. Robertson has little direct involvement with it and the foundation did not know he had an interview with Audrey Young, thus the information he gave about Teach for All coming to New Zealand was incorrect. Teach First New Zealand have also confirmed that the woman who established Teach for America and developed a “rock star-type reputation”, Wendy Kopp would not be coming to New Zealand.

The proposed Teach First New Zealand is a collaboration with Auckland University’s Faculty of Education. If approved it would recruit a new group of teachers to work in hard-to-staff low decile secondary schools for two years. Graeme Aitken, Dean of Education at the University of Education told the PPTA the scheme proposes an initial six-week residential summer intensive for top graduates. The scheme is not closely modeled on Teach for America but draws closely from the Teach First Britain scheme which has the backing of a university.

When the PPTA were asked by Deborah Hill Cone about its position on her volunteering in her daughter’s school we replied that we had no issue with this as a qualified teacher would be supervising. Hill Cone claimed the PPTA were against members of the community “chipping in” to help schools. This is simply incorrect. PPTA president Robin Duff said it was problematic when unqualified members of the community started teaching in a core capacity, full-time as this would see a return to the 1960s and 70s when there was no policy to have trained and qualified teachers.

Hill Cone misquoted and stripped the context out of PPTA’s response with little regard to the consequences, she revealed a blatant disinterest in understanding the factual details that lie behind Teach First New Zealand and failed to make contact with them to clarify how they intend to operate their programme if approved.
She dismissed the PPTA’s attempt to help her understand and clarify that Teach for All is not coming to New Zealand.
She failed to mention that PPTA work alongside Teach First New Zealand and that we’ve commissioned a literature review to find out what is working well nationwide with similar schemes and what is failing countries.

The New Zealand Herald have conceded that they made a mistake and have agreed to publish a correction and give the PPTA space in the paper to state its position accurately.

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Key to my Selection Criteria

ABOUT ME
For the past four months, I’ve been looking for part-time work, ideally as a graphic designer. To keep myself occupied in this depressing downtime before I once again being a fully productive member of society, I have been responding to precisely one metric fuck-tonne of “Key Selection Criteria”.

For those of you that haven’t had the enjoyment of looking for a job in the past decade, KSCs are the “must-have skills” potential employers lay out like a poison-laced bear trap to keep the unworthy from cluttering their MS Outlook inboxes with pathetic pleas for acceptance and attention. They’re a lovely idea in principle: often listing specific role requirements, KSCs can help you get a handle on the true nature of the job and organisation. But the problem I’ve found is that some KSC writers get a little — ah, how to put this delicately — over-enthused with their questioning.

One of the most recent KSCs I put together a reply to had the following demands, pretty much sequentially:

I must have:
1. The ability to prioritise multiple tasks and keep to schedules
2. Excellent organisational and time management skills
3. Demonstrated ability to organise a demanding workload and set priorities in accordance with the objectives of the position

I’m not sure about you, but I’d almost consider that the same question, rephrased three times, possibly to meet some arbitrary demand from HR or management. So I’ve spent the recent days thumping my head on my desk, wondering if these questions themselves form the real test, which will be, “hey pal, how much senseless busy work can you pull off without saying ‘fuck this’ and going outside to play?” And the truth is, heaps.

As a small exercise (before I get back to responding to some more KSCs) I’ve decided to put together my own KSCs, and answer them as truthfully as I can (coz yes, I lie on the other, “real” ones). Maybe this will help me see the other side of the waterfall I’m chasing, or maybe it’s just a good excuse to procrastinate before I write about how good I am at te photoshops for the 87th time…

KEY SELECTION CRITERIA
Essential skills and experience

List your favourite sort of jam.
I’m not sure it’s technically a jam, but marmalade. And if I had to pick a jam specifically, I’d say…that three berry one. Next!

Who was the best Doctor Who?
And for extra points, the worst James Bond
I’ve always had a soft spot for Tom Baker, that dude with the big scarf, curly hair and jelly babies. Probably because I was at the right age for that kind of “funny” Dr. Who at the time: eleven or twelve I’m guessing. Oh and he had K-9 as well, which is pretty cool when you’re a tween*. A robot dog, man! Hey, and do you remember that episode when the Doctor gave K-9 away to one of his assistants (who was leaving the show/TARDIS)? And it was all sad for about four minutes, but then he had another K-9 in a crate he pulled out just before the end credits? Pierce Brosnan.

Do you prefer digital watches, or those ones with hands? Why?
Hmmm, tough question. I guess the ones with hands, if I’m totally honest with myself here. I don’t know why, it’s just a feeling I get, when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving. (boy, I wish I could quote Stairway to Heaven in my real responses to these things…)

 

Name your three best cures for nausea.
1. a spew.
2. a big glass of water and some painkillers, and then a spew if that doesn’t help. Try not to spew up the painkillers though; and if you do, eat some new ones, not the ones you just spewed. That may make you feel like spewing again.
3. laying on my back with my feet slightly elevated, rubbing my stomach with both hands and saying “urrrgh, arrrgh, I’m never drinking again, etc.” And then a spew, and some KFC, and then another spew.

NB: isn’t “spew” an odd word, when you type it out (and read it, I assume) eight or nine times?

 

Do you know what this keyboard shortcut does?
(cmmd+option+L+Z; cntrl+caps lock+6+: on a PC)
Shit! I just tried that in Bean (a simple text edit application for OSX) and it actually fucking did something: a dialogue box came up, asking for a web address to connect to. Ah right, it’s insert a link, and the z doesn’t really do anything. And the other one didn’t do anything when I just tried it just now neither. Try cntrl+option+cmmd+8 though, it’s hilarious.

 

If you were on the run from “John Law” and needed a new name, what would you pick?
I’ve always been partial to “Teddy Ruxpin”. Yeah, so: Teddy Ruxpin. Or Big Ted, or Old Man Ruxpin, depending on how close we are.

Have you ever ridden over something you shouldn’t have on a ride-on mower?
No, but I do enjoy pushing those push-mowers over dried up dog shit, and seeing the explosion of white poo powder. And once I ran over (well, pushed over) a stick that hit my aunty in the leg.

Greatest high score in Frogger:
I haven’t kept track of my “real” high score, but I can say with some self-doubt I’ve made it up to Level 3 at least.

Rank your four favourite fictitious animals, from most-preferred to least-preferred:
1. Basilisk
2. Pegasus
3. Oscar the Grouch
4. Frodo

 

If one of your friends was going to describe you as a power tool, which one would they pick?
I’d like to say jackhammer, but more realistically: hot glue gun.

 

Please recall your earliest recollection of using a ViewMaster™
I have quite a vivid memory of looking at a Muppets slide reel and being shocked at seeing Fozzy’s legs and feet. He looked really, really strange. I wonder how they did that? Probably just models, huh?

 

You have three minutes. List as many metal band names converted into pet food types as you can.
Shit, this is hard. Why did I write this one for myself? OK here goes:

Metalliver (um, this one is meant to be “Metallica”. Not a great start.)
Rage Against the Pedigree Meaty Bites
Limp Brisket
Lamb Morsels with Korn and other Misc. Vegetables
Insane Clown Pussy Treats

 

That was three minutes: not a great effort. Please send through any job offers you may have, I’m off to donate blood.

*not that tweens existed back then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reserve the Basin

Dear residents of Wellington.

I know these things are a pest, but I really don’t want a flyover to walk/bike under on my way to town. I think it would be depressing. Better options are around, and NZTA will consider them if enough of the public say that’s what they want. So please send a letter to info@witi.co.nz. (Before Friday, 26 August 2011) Here’s a proforma;

Re: Cobham Drive to Buckle Street Transport Improvements – Community Engagement – July to August 2011

Dear NZTA,

I support neither of the proposals currently put forward for public consultation by the NZTA for improvements to the Basin Reserve area. I would like the options for consultation to be broadened to include the NZTA report’s Option F and Architecture Centre’s Option X.

Regards,

……

For more information about Option F;
http://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/basin-reserve/docs/basin-reserve-options-report.pdf

For more information about Option X;
http://architecture.org.nz/2011/07/21/the-public-needs-a-real-choice-option-x/

http://architecture.org.nz/2011/07/22/option-x-plus

The Architecture Centre is leading the campaign for option x.  This is the important stuff that cities are made of, have your say.

“The NZTA have proposed options for redeveloping the roading of the Basin Reserve.  But these are not really options. They are two schemes for flyovers which have very little difference.  We believe that the scheme/s proposed by NZTA exclude the public from making a real choice.

Currently the Basin is a mess.  From a multi-modal perspective (pedestrian, cyclist, car) the Basin is not a safe place.  Aesthetically it is a dog.  The inward facing cricket ground alienates its surroundings.  Recent building has reneged on its public responsibilities, creating some of the worst public street faces of architecture in Wellington.

We have no doubt that something needs to be done, but the choices to be made are at least on two levels.

1) Should the remediation work to improve the urban design of the Basin assume traffic levels will increase or not? and how should it respond to consequent changes in local conditions?  Data from the NZTA website suggest traffic levels have been plateauing for quite some time.

2) Should the remediation work use a tunnel or a flyover?

We think grade separation is critical to ensure better safety to all road users, and to help achieve speed consistency of motor vehicles, which will reduce emissions and noise pollution.  Both tunnels and flyovers have their problems for designers.  The scale of such infrastructure must respect the scale of the urban or suburban fabric it sits within.  Both can cause issues of severance or undesirable residual spaces.  We recognise that the NZTA images of the flyovers presented to the public do not reflect the potential design quality of the flyover structures, as these are yet to be properly designed.

Both flyovers and tunnel entrances can be poetic, elegant, and inspiring design.  Both will cost money to get the design right, and to guarantee that Wellingtonians end up with a Basin Reserve that we are proud of.”

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Top Ten Stories of the Year

The good, the bad, and the beautiful.

1. New Bolivian legislation that gives rights to Nature.

Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.”

2. The real effects of the cuts in Britain:

“While foodbanks may be an alien concept to many living in Britain today, the number of these centres helping the needy has grown rapidly in the past few years. The Trussell Trust, which runs most of the UK’s foodbanks, says the number of its centres has risen from 20 in 2008 to 65 today.

Disability experts believe that being forced to rely on charitable food handouts will seriously damage the health of people already battling chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and ME. They warn that some may even turn to crime, such as shoplifting, to make ends meet.”

3. So this experiment with capitalism obviously isn’t going so well at the moment, but luckily there are some alternatives out there, such as participatory economics.

“Participatory economics is an economic system developed to foster six broad values: equity, or fair and just outcomes; solidarity, or caring and mutual respect among all people; diversity of outcomes which would benefit everyone; participatory self-management, or having a say in decisions to the extent that one is affected by their outcomes; efficiency, or not wasting resources; and environmental sustainability, which requires leaving behind stocks of each kind of natural capital as large as those we enjoy today.”

“As defense giants like Boeing, Raytheon (RTNFortune 500), and Lockheed Martin (LMTFortune 500) increasingly seek to peddle their wares to well-financed (sometimes by the U.S.) international customers, they have a surprising ally: the President. “Obama is much more favorably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations,” says Loren Thompson, a veteran defense consultant. Or, as Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, puts it: “There’s an Obama arms bazaar going on.”

“In 2011 the end of NATO as a collective security alliance is seen in four events: the intervention in Libya, the downsizing of proposed US ballistic missile defence systems in Eastern Europe, ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan and the creation of the Visegrad Group.”

7. Whales make and share their own pop music!

“Music mania is sweeping the ocean, and all the young male humpback whales are in on the latest trend. A new study reveals that, just like humans, humpback whales in the South Pacific follow musical trendsthat change by the season. Moreover, these songs always move from west to east across thousands of miles of ocean—from the east coast of Australia to French Polynesia—over the course of a year or two. The authors say it’s one of the most complex and rapid patterns of cultural evolution across a region ever observed in a nonhuman species.”

8.  The biggest company you’ve never heard of: Serco

“As well as thanking God for his success, CEO Chris Hyman is a Pentecostal Christian who has released a gospel album in America and fasts every Tuesday. Coincidentally he was in the World Trade Centre on 9/11 on the 47th floor addressing shareholders.  Serco run navy patrol boats for the ADF, as well as search and salvage operations through their partnership with P&O which form Maritime Defence Services. Serco run two Australian Jails already, Acacia in WA and Borallon in Queensland. Theyre one of the biggest companies In the UK for running electronic tagging of offenders under house arrest or parole.Serco are in one of the two favoured bid consortiums for the new Sydney metro rail line. Here are some amazing corporate videos from Serco, we fully recommend both if youre a fan of Verhoeven-esque corporate propaganda. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo4_dF_Z1q0

9.  How we were convinced Climate Change is a hoax, by Chomsky.

10. The Authoritarians.  Why do people follow leaders when they know its is causing harm?

“Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want–which often is  something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.”

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Authors Changing Authority -Part II

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.”
Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” 2008.

I began the last article at the first ‘transition’ of communication systems: from oral to written, which happened about 5000 years ago; and I ended up somewhere around the second recognised transition, toward the printing press and the expansion of literacy from its monastic custodians, to scholars, and then the professions.

This post will be about the third transition -which we find ourselves amidst- from print to “computer-mediated” communication, and like the last post, I’ll specifically address how this might be played out in professional and organisation structures.  To cap it off, I’ll explain the empowering usefulness of “critical discourse analysis”, which essentially deals with the analysis and scrutiny of ‘discourses’ (conversations, texts, documents) in order to understand that ‘discursive context’ (ie, when you ‘talk shop’), making it possible to enact change using language, and texts –written by authors.

The reason I’m personally interested in this, as I alluded to in the first part, is that I am undertaking research in the methods of change in the institutions which are responsible for architectural education.

I’ll pick things up again around 1980, when commercial and professional environments undergo massive change because of the implementation of computer processing.  New workplace patterns emerge such as multi-authored documents, non-sequential writing, and multi-modal writing (hand-written and digital working documents), each with particular effects on authors.

Multi-authored documents (such as complicated proposals for funding) could be written non-sequentially (writing in independant segments, rather than start-to-finish) and collaboratively (often having very little contact with collaborators).  Importantly, these authors begin to perceive of their audience (readers) differently, and they begin losing their sense of possessive authorship (ownership).  They realise they are writing for their editor, rather than the targeted audience, which gives rise to an increase in ‘nominalisations’ (vague, generic, ‘normal’ terms) which flood commercial and institutional texts.  They became the mission statements, company bi-lines and corporate banners that make you feel like you’ve read something important.

“What We Stand For: Our Core Beliefs and Values
• Objectivity is the substance of intelligence, a deep commitment to the customer in its forms and timing.”

That’s from the CIA, a gem plucked out by Don Watson in his book ‘Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language’.  He lays out the best nominalisations: accountability, teamwork, commitment, continuous improvement, adapting to our customer needs… blah blah blah.

What is important though –and is an incredible achievement of the corporate world– is that this device became remarkably powerful.  A survey of ‘average’ writers in a corporate environment were found to actually increase the frequency and use of nominalisations when they were addressing or writing for a more senior member of management, or important clients.  When they wrote for an audience ‘below’ their level, they used less.  Ambiguity meant power.

This is reflected in professional rhetoric when a survey of 200 medical articles (across 10 years, by J.Z. Segal, 1993) reveals that authority is obtained through the high use of citation and nominalisations.  This is probably very familiar to anybody who attempts to read formal academic writing in any discipline. You’ll recognise it as ‘wank’, or in the corporate world, as ‘bullshit’.

“Over the coming twelve months we will be enhancing our product offering to bring you new features and access to innovative funds. You can be confident that our commitment is resolute, to make changes that investor’s (sic) value. -Insurance company newsletter.”
This is how Don Watson kicks off his book. Brilliant.

Authors Writing for Change

Authors are empowered by writing, making it possible to enact social change.  This is a position that ‘critical discourse analysis’ makes possible, arguing that by writing we not only reflect social systems, but continually reconstitute them.

“Legally, but also socially and culturally, modern organiszations and professions are the products of written communication.” Faber, 270.

If authors understand the type of writing they’re doing, and ‘where’ they are doing it, they can subversively effect change, by constructing a type of authority.  I think the type of authorship (and authority) I’m talking about now relates to the older term auctor (discussed in the previous article) because it is more about ‘allowing something to grow’, ‘enlarging’, which is also connected to augere (‘to augment’).  Authors plant subversive seeds of change within existing texts or organisations when they are destabilized, to augment change from within -even if they are originally external to them.

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.” -Faber, 271.

Conveniently, Brenton Faber explains this process using the recent commodification of higher education as a case study.  Through the 1990s, Universities were struggling with their image, they could not clearly say (or write) what it was that they did, and so the ‘system’ became destabilised from a discursive point of view, as well as a very practical one.  What happened was a ‘transitional change’ from a sophistic and rhetoric based structure, to a corporate and capitalistic one.  It is succinctly captured by the phrase “education market.”

So how does ‘discursive change’ actually work at a practical level?  Essentially the agent or new author subversively engages in the discourse by hybridising a new genre of language with the old one.  The new language (which is actually in conflict with the old one) is carefully choreographed to be palatable to the existing members of the organisation (otherwise it will be rejected outright), and is then steadily grown or augmented.  The process is so powerful because the instability of the structure is precisely the rationale for the implementation of a new structure, which is administered through discourse.

“…this concept of transitional change occurs in increments or linked steps as prior existent knowledge is disrupted and eventually displaced by small additions that ultimately build into new formations.” Faber, 270.

Faber points out the remarkable clarity of the current Higher Education “co-hyponyms”, which cleverly make new words interchangeable with old ones, even though their meanings and implications are completely different:

knowledge becomes skills, and competencies
students become retailers
facilities become resources
administration become management
education becomes training.

The rationale for this change is hard to argue against, as it coincided with massive governmental pressure on University funding.  The resulting corporate commodification of Higher Education becomes a stronger discourse to defend, ironically, by implementing a discourse based on strategic ambiguity and the absence of precision (Faber, 275 from Connell and Galasinksi, 1998)
The exemplar nominalisation becomes “excellence”.

This is not a pessimistic article.  Critical discourse analysis offers an empowering strategy of discursive wariness, because it recognises (and argues) that these contested structures (which is sometimes calls genre’s or orders of discourse) are formal, everyday, and most importantly improvisational.  As I began, and as discourse theory upholds, writing reflects and constitutes social systems.  It is a fluid structure, which is continually contested, and is subject to community regulation, making it a powerfully democratic system, so long as its members are not subversively suppressed.

Authors Changing

The current transition to, and maturing of ‘computer-mediated’ communication is obviously significant for the author, and for my subject of interest, architecture education.  Systems and practices which attempt to stabilise discourses (whether they are rules, policy, curricula, accreditation criteria) seem to be under a cultural pressure (maybe what Faber calls community regulation) to adapt to practices which undermine their perceived stability, such as versioning, hypertext, blogging, crowd-funding, print-on-demand, and unprecedented degrees of collaborative writing (Wikipedia).

Institutions are slow-moving beasts though, with a stubborn vocabulary, and even the pups are complicit. Architects for example, somehow remain solitary authors, despite ridiculous odds, even despite themselves.

In a Studio session held at a well known architects office yesterday, two students referred to one of the office’s projects as being by the office’s Director (after whom the office is named), the name was even used in the possessive sense of ‘his building’, luckily the namesake wasn’t in the room, unluckily two other –completely unacknowledged– senior architects in the office were. Cringe.  I also heard an architect (at University) describe buildings with no more information than the office who designed them, “His Building”.  Authorship (dubious in the case of a building anyway) in this case was more important than programme, scale, or any description. Cringe.  The audience was not only expected to know what office they were talking about (acronyms and abbreviations are commonplace), but to know exactly what buildings they had designed.  I suspect we were also supposed to be impressed by the speakers knowledge (and our relative stupidity), which is another great strategy for protecting a body of knowledge.
Ironically, my silence so far in both of these situations is complicit to the discourse I pretend to be resisting, because “it is important to acknowledge that disciplinarity per se does not rest on a commonly accepted body of rules, but rather is definied by shifting frontiers between negotiable terms, appropriations, misunderstandings and misalignments that nevertheless allow certain identities to emerge.
-Architecture and Authorship. 2007

It seems important then, for myself at least, to understand a discourse like ‘architecture education’ and ‘the architecture profession’ more thoroughly, and become both adept and acrobatic in its everyday negotiation and improvisation.  If only to be more wary, strategically wanky, and honest about my bullshit, because everybody’s shit stinks.

I have essentially summarised ideas from the following articles, most of which are in Bazerman’s fantastic reader.  My referencing above does not do them justice at all, in fact I am more of an ‘editor’ than an author here, but I suspect you would rarely picked up a book with so many vague and possibly boring words in the title, so I felt obliged to share what I think are quite relevant ideas, particularly as a Freeranger.
Reading Material:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

Anne Beaufort, “Writing in the Professions” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Dorothy E. Smith, Catherine F. Schryer, “On Documentary Society” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

Death Sentence: The decay of public language
Don Watson. Knopf, 2003.

 

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Authors Constructing Authority

Books have always been directly associated with authority and power.  The history of the ‘book’, their authors, and their authority is a small thread of a larger project about professional institutions and the ways they instrumentalise authorship and authority to obtain certain goals, in the case of my research: changing architecture education.  Over the next two blogs (the follow-up will come tomorrow), I’ll discuss some reading I’ve been doing on the history of the book, and then apply this to some contemporary contexts in the hope of understanding a little bit more about institutional authority, and the practice of writing for change.

My recent reading (I wont get into footnoting with any rigour, rather I have a few books listed at the end which I’ve been looking at) started out pretty predictably, looking historically at the rise of the book and any association it might have with authority and professions.

Things kicked off between 3000BC and 3500 in Egypt and Sumeria, when the first ‘shift’ occurs from an oral to a written system of communication.  This signals a shift to a specific type of mark-making (recording of certain information), which these researchers (Bazerman et al -see below) link primarily to economic trade, ownership, and eventually politics rather than a narrative or literary need.  So for example, if you were going to swap some goats with Osiris, you could record the trade, and claim new ownership.  This was useful as things were getting more complicated in ‘urban’ (more populous) areas with sophisticated agricultural development and trade.  Recorded ‘writing’ becomes an encoded way to make a power play, and uphold it.

So quite predictably, I also delve into some etymological research in an attempt to understand the seemingly obvious connection between the words author and authority.
It seems that the Latin-to-French auctor is the fork in the road of the two, happening around the 12C.  The older Latin root auctoritas connects to the idea of an ‘authority figure’, with terms like ‘invention’, ‘advice’ and ‘influence’ being significant.  It wouldn’t be until the 14C that the meaning ‘power to enforce obedience’ would be used, such as auctorite (prestige, dignity, gravity, right), and autorite (the ‘c’ dropped to imitate the French usage) referring to a book or quotation that would settle an argument – which fits in with the uptake of literacy and reading by acadmia/scholarship in the 12C, and the ‘professions’ in the 13C.

On the author side of auctor, the Latin root auctorem, and with it, auctus and augere refer to ‘one who causes to grow (eventually ‘augment’) or increase, an ‘enlarger’ or ‘founder’.  By the 14C it is used in the common sense as ‘one who sets forth a written document’ (coming after the two mentioned expansions of literacy in liberated (secular) scholarship and commercial professions).

Until the advent of the printing press in the 15C, the written word is sacred.  Protected by monasteries during the Dark Ages (a mighty innings from the 5C to the 11th) the practice of writing and publishing is carefully and skillfully upheld for centuries.  The practice becomes increasingly specialised, with spaces (scriptoria) and specialists dedicated to calligraphy, others to script, others to binding, and so on.  If there was ‘authorship’ (as we know it now), it would be described as collective, with little status accorded to any individual.

To reproduce – to replicate a text – was an exacting and esteemed task, reserved for the most significant words.  Clearly inherited from the status of oratory performance, the word itself held almost mystical power. The recording of the written word therefore is understandably volatile and daring, laying down such weight was an immensely powerful tool.

In 1448, the Gutenberg press rips it apart, to their disgust and imaginable disapproval.  Like Victor Hugo, they cried that this shall kill that.  Within 50 years the printing press has spread across Europe.  The Crown and Tudors got amongst it in the UK where they suppressed “seditious and heretical literature” by essentially controlling the publishing market for a couple of hundred years until the 1700s: an early (or the first?) attempt to monopolise the printed media for political gain.

From here print essentially internationalises.  News, events, (Bibles and newspapers for the colonies -New Zealand for example was printing by 1814, with an expanded programme of newspapers by the 1840s) spread the world much faster and in greater volume, and literary culture becomes increasingly central in the development of societies and nation-states around the world.

“Printing engaged writers in a manner that was different from previous scribal activity. It also undermined previous social beliefs in authorship as part of an established, collective authority – no longer were they merely cogs in an ecclesiastical wheel.”


This “preoccupation with the individualised authorial agency” signals a crucial shift in the practice of authors in the construction of authority.


“Printing shifted communication structures by being able to duplicate exact copies of texts very quickly, so allowing knowledge to be transferred more efficiently and more reliably across time and space. In the second place, this “fixing” of print would become a key factor in establishing authority and trust in the figures (authors) who produced these works.” -Finkelstein.

Tomorrow’s bit will drag this through the last hundred years of authorship and authority.

Some reading:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

The Book History Reader, 2nd Edition

Edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery.

New York: Routledge, 2006 (2002)

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

And for a bit of theory, you can’t go passed Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (1967), and Michel Foucault’s reply “What is an Author?” (1968 I think), who both contribute significantly to the theoretical and socio-cultural analysis of the idea.

 

 

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