Tag Archives: responding

Academic/Online Writing/Responding: A Bricolage

In reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, I found myself most drawn to her chapter on authorship and the ways in which she is forwarding some of the ideas we discussed last week in relation to Lessig’s Remix.

As academics, we generally (and in turn tell our students) that there is a “right” way to critique scholars with opposing viewpoints in one’s own written work (with respect, fairness, tact, etc.). Likewise, most people would acknowledge that there is an etiquette to what sorts of comments are “appropriate” to online writing, images, video, etc. (trolls and flamers not withstanding). Yet, if we consider Fitzpatrick’s proposition that “we come to accept remix as a mode of scholarly authorship, a form of academic bricolage” (79 in Kindle), what then would the hybrid responses to such hybrid texts look like? Naturally, there are some blogs or other online publicity organs associated with scholarly journals that do allow for some amount of commenting, but I cannot think of any online journal in Victorian studies (my field) that does anything more than approximately reproduce the print journal format in pixelated form—they embrace a new technology without also embracing any of its other affordances in soliciting reader responses.

Fitzpatrick notes that it is “important to recognize that even if we never return to an article and revise it after it’s been published online, the article’s meaning will nonetheless shift and change depending on the ways that other writers interact with it” (71 in Kindle). She admits elsewhere that this is of course true of most texts, but with online texts there is the expectation that this sort of shifting, negotiating, and revising will not only happen, but will do so to a visible extent and under the eyes of a readership that will proceed to not only comment but sometimes even steer the conversation.

So then, a thought experiment: just for a moment imagine a combination of the scholarly/online modes of response, for instance, a scholarly article that allowed “comments” akin to the form of say, those on a YouTube video. Anyone would be able to see that so-and-so many people gave a piece a thumbs up or thumbs down, what people had to say about it specifically, as well as what conversations/conflicts it generated (whether thoughtful or not)—to a certain extent, perhaps this is what we have been doing all along in our class blog/Twitter feed. In any case, this approach would likely generate some productive comments, but might also…not (as is so often the case with even the most seemingly innocuous videos).

A Spirited Internet Debate
The future of academic discourse?

To give an example from YouTube (which happens to be oddly fitting in light of Fitzpatrick’s discussion of academic publishing as an “undead” form): in response to the “Bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one commenter going by the moniker TheFalafelRaptor responded “46 people aren’t dead yet but got thrown into the cart anyways,” which anyone who has spent any amount of time on YouTube recognizes as a fairly standard template response (taking the number of people who have given the video a thumbs down—46 in this case—and combining it with some statement that relates to the fact that these users did not align themselves with what most other people liked about the video). Yet, imagine the uproar if academic texts were treated in this way: “46 people aren’t ready to remix with Lessig.” I find myself halfway between horror and amusement at the thought.

Perhaps this type of mash-up is not quite what Fitzpatrick (or Lessig) had in mind in advocating for bricolage or remix, particularly as it pertains not only to the creation of texts. But what about responses to them? And why not?

Comments and tweets


Between most Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll ask you to read the responses posted to this website by the other members of this seminar and to comment on at least three of them that particularly draw your attention or interest.

Your comments do not need to be long—50 words or so will usually do fine. What I ask, though, is that you try to make your comments more than simply evaluative—to move beyond I agree . . . or I think you’re wrong . . . Instead, see if you can direct us to a different point in the text, or to make a connection to another post, or perhaps even to bring a new example into the mix. Your goal should be to move the conversation forward.

And you should of course also feel free to respond to the responses to your text. Indeed that’s often where things really start to get fun.


I’d also like us to experiment with Twitter as a way of extending our conversation. Please follow me at @joeharris_ud and use #685dw as the hashtag for this course. I’m open to pretty much any use of Twitter, in large part because I’m not sure I really have a feel for the medium. I would say, though, that I tend to be most drawn to tweets that point that readers outwards—that offer links to readings or images that somehow seem to relate to our work together.

In any case, what I’d like to ask you to do, at least for the first few weeks of this course, is to check in every other day or so on our Twitter feed, and to try to add one or two tweets of your own to it each week.  We’ll look briefly at the feed at each of our class meetings, to see what seems to be working and what we might change.

x1: Responding to Baron


Your basic task in posting to this blog is to respond to the book you’ve just read in ways that will help us think and talk more about it in seminar—that point to interesting or puzzling moments in the text, that open up new lines of inquiry, that suggest connections with other texts or issues. One measure of your response, then, will be the responses it prompts—both online and in class. Your aim should be to move our conversation forward.

My advice, then, is to try to extend more than criticize. I’m willing to bet that any time twelve students of culture and literature come together to discuss a text, that most of the gaps and problems with it will somehow get noted. I don’t think we have to worry about that. And so I encourage you, in your first approach to a text, to see how you can think along with its author—adding to or updating their thinking, applying their ideas to new examples or situations.  We’ll get to critique soon enough.

A Better Pencil

Turning specifically to our reading for next week: Dennis Baron is someone I’ve long admired.  He is a pithy and forceful writer, and a dennis_baronrecondite scholar of language. He knows more about the history of writing technologies than any of us ever will. But he published A Better Pencil in 2009,  a long time ago when measured in web years. Much has happened since then in the digital revolution he seeks to describe and explain. I encourage you to look for recent examples of digital composing that will test, extend, and perhaps revise some of his ideas.


Aim for a post of about 400–500 words. Feel free to make use of images, audio, video, or hyperlinks if they help you move your thinking forward. (In the coming weeks I will require you to experiment with such media in your responses.)

Be professional. Compose and edit your response offline before posting it to this site. Make sure your links work, and that you document sources and quotations.

Use x1 as your category and come up with at least three good tags to identify this specific post. (My rule of thumb is that categories identify the kind of post you are writing, while tags highlight keywords and concepts in it.)

The deadline for your post is 4:00 pm on Tues, 2/18. You may revise your writing at any point before then. Please see Comments and tweets for the next stage of our work.