Rules for Discussion: David Foster Wallace

Anybody gets to ask any questions about any fiction-related issues she wants. No question about literature is stupid. You are FORBIDDEN to keep yourself from asking a question or making a comment because you fear it will sound obvious or unsophisticated or lame or stupid. Because critical reading and prose fiction are such hard, weird things to try to study, a stupid-seeming comment or question can end up being valuable or even profound. I am deadly-serious about creating a classroom environment where everyone feels free to ask or speak about anything she wishes. So any student who groans, smirks, mimes machine-gunning or onanism, chortles, eye-rolls, or in any way ridicules some other student’s in-class question/comment will be warned once in private and on the second offense will be kicked out of class and flunked, no matter what week it is. If the offender is male, I am also apt to find him off-campus and beat him up.

David Foster Wallace

I have mixed feelings about these rules. I really like this idea of encouraging otherwise reticent/fearful students to speak up and ask questions. And I appreciate his willingness to punish assholes who mock fellow students. But I don’t completely agree with the idea that there are no stupid (lit) questions. Well, maybe there aren’t stupid questions, but there are thoughtless, uncaring questions that aren’t aimed at furthering the discussion or digging deeper into the text, but at pontificating or avoiding the difficult work of finding your own answers. How did DFW handle these types of questions?

Maggie Nelson and Citation

I recently started reading Maggie Nelson’s The ArgonautsIt’s good. I wish that I could devote more attention to it, but I find it difficult to read deeply when I’m in the midst of a big writing/story project.

Perhaps the biggest thing that has struck me so far is Nelson’s way of citing her sources. When she’s using someone else’s theory or idea, she puts that theorist’s name in the margin, beside her own text. Sometimes she directly quotes the theorist, sometimes she merely invokes them.

I like this approach. I also like how Moira Donegan describes it in her book review of The Argonauts in n+1:

But the citations fulfill a second purpose, of suggesting a kind of heritage. Weed, Winnicott, Bellamy, Butler, Myles, and the countless others Nelson cites — including Leo Bersani, Anne Carson, Pema Chödrön, Michel Foucault, and above all Sedgwick — are her “many-gendered mothers,” she says, borrowing a phrase from the poet Dana Ward, and with Nelson’s mind on maternity this concept has a vague but meaningful resonance. “I think of citation as a form of family-making,” she has said, and The Argonauts is a project about queer family-making twice over: literally, as it tells the story of Nelson, Harry, and their children, and literarily, in its composition.

Moira Donegan

I want to think and write more about how Nelson uses citations and whether or not I can play with this technique in my own story project.

Personal Digital Archiving

A few months ago, while researching how to archive digital photos, I learned about PDA (Personal Digital Archiving). It’s a growing area of study, for academics, independent scholars and personal archivists, with its own annual conference. I’ve decided to submit a proposal this year. The deadline is Monday, December 7th.


As the centrality of personal digital archives and the ubiquity of digital content grows, librarians, archivists, scholars, students, activists, and those who fill the role of the “family IT person,” have to deal with how to best select, preserve, and manage digital material. PDA 2016 seeks to host a discussion across domains focusing on how to best manage personal digital material, be it at a large institution or in a home office.


My Focus: “Personal digital archives and why they matter to individuals, communities, and organizations”

Here’s my first draft of the abstract which can be up to 300 words. It’s 299.

From Scraps of Memory to Fragments of Unofficial Student Life: Personal Digital Archives as Storytelling

Faced with the loss of two grounding forces, my family’s farm and my passion for being an academic, I felt compelled to recover, collect, organize, explore and experiment with materials from my past. Photos, video footage, papers, exams, syllabi, memoirs, letters, scrapbooks, teachers’ comments, course blogs, tweets, newspaper clippings, digitized oral history recordings and more. The result of this memory work are two ongoing online story projects: a story experiment about my family’s farm, The Farm and a virtual collection of accounts of my Undisciplined life as a student, scholar and teacher.

Central to both of these projects is the creation and maintenance of public/online digital archives that not only offer a way to organize and access the personal materials that I use in my story projects, but serve as crucial parts of the storytelling process. For my farm project, which is inspired by a Finnish rag rug loom, the materials in my archive are digital “scraps of memory” that can be accessed and re-purposed by anyone who wants to use them to “weave” their own stories about the Farm. For my Undisciplined life project, the materials in my archive become an unofficial student transcript that provides a record of my undisciplined life as a student and allows me to trace an alternative trajectory for my scholarly self to a space beside and besides the academy.

In this talk, I will describe how these digital archives function within my two storytelling projects, why they are so important in my own processes of remembering and re-imaging my past, and why I’m chosing to house them online on a public blog. I will also discuss my efforts and struggles with collecting materials and determining how to make them accessible to a wide range of people.

UPDATE: Here’s my official submission.