Art, writing and big issues

On Sunday some blocks of Greenlandic ice were dumped on Rådhuspladsen by go-to artist Olafur Eliasson (see comments, Classic Copenhagen), Klimakunst sees five artists installed in Østerbro’s Klimakvarter during October, while the Free Word Centre’s Weather Stations project is developing a literary response to climate change. I tend to the sceptic, like group working it’s one of those things where the intention seems more effective than the execution, although there’s money in it, folkens…

Two recent events explored the theme. 23 October saw Pynt eller politik: kan kunst og arkitektur fremme den grønne omstilling? (Storify | YouTube):

28-29 October saw Environmental entanglements: art, technology and natures (spot the Rennie Mackintosh font), organised by ITU’s Energy Futures squad (new on on Twitter; my bolding below):

This symposium brings together an interdisciplinary group of internationally acclaimed artists and academics in order to investigate how the arts, humanities and social sciences are responding to an increasing awareness of the complex environmental entanglements we are living in. In four themed sessions, the speakers explore alternative imaginaries and creative materializations of environmental issues. The symposium aims to foster lively cross-disciplinary conversations about the role of arts and humanities in articulating the political, scientific, social and aesthetic implications of environmental change.

It is becoming clear that a major part of the environmental problems are caused by the way our (mostly western) infrastructures are designed and that the resistance to changing existing infrastructures are often related to aesthetic issues (eg NIMBYism) and to a lack of creativity when it comes to re-imagining the very nature of these infrastructures. Therefore a growing number of artists have taken up engineering and architectural challenges as they propose ideas for spectacular and functional infrastructural constructions. In this session we will discuss what it is artists and designers can do differential than engineers and architects when it comes to re-imagining environmental infrastructures.

From the programme the following were of interest:

Incidentally, once again this wasn’t as well done as one might expect – time to revitalise event amplification – and curation?

Writing with WordPress

Recent forays into #writing, inc #FLfiction14 and #FLHouseLit, haven’t led to many changes in my habits, so in the absence of any other exciting MOOCs let’s have a look at WordPress’ offerings.

I’ve bunged The Daily Post into my feedreader, and it’s already come up with tips on the freelance life.

Over the rest of week 1:

  • Monday saw the start of Blogging 101 and Writing 101. As well as tagging to show up in the Reader the former comes up with the usual “write first, edit later” advice, while the latter seems to be mainly concerned with fiction, kicking off with free writing – both of which is fine, but what if you write/edit forever, and never publish?
  • Tuesday: Blogging 101 is back to basics with editing your title and tagline, while Writing has a rather nice assignment on describing a setting, one to come back to
  • Wednesday: Blogging: “if you didn’t want anyone to read your posts, you’d keep a private diary”…hmm for me it’s something inbetween; the assignment is to follow five new topics in the Reader and five new blogs; well I follow loads of blogs but via RSS – will investigate the Reader more, inc the fair few who follow my A/drift blog, but it feels a bit like Twitter, ie I’ve got more than enough inputs already TYVM, and “engaging with the community” = jargon; Writing: more free writing, see Monday
  • Thursday: publish a post for your dream reader, including one new type of element, and write about a loss, the first in a three part series: nowt very new there
  • Friday: try out three other themes and write a story in as few words as possible
  • Saturday: Blogging on spending even more time in the Reader, following topics or reading recommended blogs

Week 2:

  • Monday: Blogging with a couple of tips on About pages (make it into a story, distill it into two sentences and use it as a widget), Writing on writing a character study
  • Tuesday: headers and widgets; write a compare and contrast dialogue, that could work…
  • Wednesday: leave a comment; write an adverb free post (use strong verbs) in a report on what you see at a local cafe, park or public place
  • Thursday: write a post building on the comment you left yesterday, linking to the other blog and creating a pingback; write a scene at the park etc from three different points of view; tells different stories and livens up your writing
  • Friday: widgets; write about your favourite childhood meal, in your own voice

Week 3 (how long does this go on for?):

  • Monday: blogrolls; use short, medium, and long sentences to compose a response about the home you lived in when you were twelve – the self geography meme…
  • Tuesday: publish a post based on your personalised take on today’s Daily Prompt; write a post inspired by a real world conversation, with an element of foreshadowing at the beginning
  • Wednesday: read six posts written in response to yesterday’s prompt and leave comments on at least two of them; write about finding something, the next post in the series started on Thursday in week 1

And with that, I’m off on holiday. Some interesting stuff here, though!

#corpusmooc (and text analysis) linkage

Bumped from March as so much interesting stuff…

Updates: just came across culturomics via a 2011 TEDx talk – no, stay…two researchers who helped create the Google Ngram Viewer analyse the Google Books digital library for cultural patterns in language use over time. See the Culturomics site, Science paper etc. Critique: When physicists do linguistics and Bright lights, big dataEMOTIVE, sentiment analysis project at Lboro…Laurence Anthony reviews the future of corpus toolsSentiment and  semantic analysisanalysing Twitter sentiment in the urban context

Aha, a links post…I’ve got links on text analysis and related all over the shop – see the category and tags for text mining and sentiment analysis on this blog for starters, in particular #ivmooc 4: what? and #ivmooc 2: burst detection, plus Word clouds for text mining. Here’s a broadly corpus related haul.




There’s no shortage of cases. Here’s a selection with particular appeal, either due to subject matter or methodology:

Blogs, Twitter…The dragonfly’s gaze looks at computational approaches to literary text analysis, with a nice post listing repositories and exploring file formats.

Different ways of reading

For a several years I’ve found reading on a screen (and even at all) hard in that I’m programmed to scan, but what with ebooks and tablets really gaining traction and more quality ‘lean back’ content on offer it’s time to review my habits. I’m also interested in different ways of reading – and how they might relate to different ways of writing.

Reading on a screen:

What works for reading on the Web? It doesn’t have to be short, see #longform, but does the nation still shudder at large blocks of uninterrupted text? For more see Ebooks and digital literature.

Ways of reading:

I practise curated reading (I’ve just made this up). If you read book reviews, vaguely literary blogs etc, you already know a fair amount about a book before you pick it up – one of those sources may have made you pick it up in the first place. I might also have done a bit more searching around the book, looking for interviews with the author, their website, free/open bits of their writing elsewhere, online book reviews…so after I’ve read around 50 pages I might feel I’ve had enough. OTOH I might go through the curation process while I’m reading the book, or afterwards, and then put the whole thing together as a book review.

In what happens when I read non-fiction Barbara Fillip talks about connecting: “Once I’m deep into the book, my mind starts wandering and I start making connections with totally different aspects of my life…I get interrupted, read something else, and the connections between the two items I’ve been reading appear.” Think of it as an introvert appropriate approach to social reading.

The other side of this particular coin is that you can sound as if you have read the book without having ever opened it, channelling Pierre Bayard. I’ve heard Iain Sinclair bemoaning a couple of times that people can talk reasonably intelligently about his books without having made the effort to read all 400 pages.

And if you do make the effort, maybe you can write a book about it? Surely there have been loads of these (eg Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the landing: a year of reading from home), but The year of reading dangerously: how fifty great books saved my life by Andy Miller seems to be the latest in the canon. After listening to the Little Atoms podcast and scanning the sample chapter I feel like I can tick it off my to read list, especially as Andy admits his choices are “literary lad classics”. But his advice is to sticking with a book, particularly in these days of instant opinions, as the value of say, Middlemarch, may be in the whole experience.

Ebooks and digital literature

Digital literature offers new forms of interaction between author, work and reader:

Why ebooks:


How tos and tools:

Mainly in HE:

Free stuff:

Publishing platforms:

A post on ebook platform accessibility addresses the what is an ebook? issue.



Singles/longreads are a thing:

I have no luddite prejudice against new technology; it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information.

Julian Barnes, quoted by @currybet.

Introduction to digital curation weeks 6-8

For the record…

Week 6 was on “the digital curation worldview”, looking at two theoretical models that are starting to become “if not the ‘orthodox’ view at least the reference from which all deviations are measured”:

  • the OAIS Model (Open Archival Information Systems Reference Model ISO 14721:2003, recently revised as ISO 14721:2012 – developed by individuals interested in space data and information transfer systems
  • the DCC Lifecycle Model and glossary – developed more from within the archive community

The digital curation profession is made up of those whose primary role and job it is to ensure the ongoing accessibility of digital material in all its different forms, from data used in research, to records of businesses and individuals, to ebooks and ejournals, to software and computer games. It is still very much in a process of formation from and within many more established workgroups, including librarians, archivists, museum curators, researchers, computer scientists and IT professionals.

So not my worldview…

Week 7 looked at the digital curation community and its spaces, ” sites of community activity, shared resources and the active participation of individuals as they strive to keep up to date with developments and learn from each other”. This need not trouble us further.

Week 8 looked at the competencies and skills deemed necessary for those working in digital curation, referencing two frameworks:

There’s a Twitter chat on 30 June, with five questions:

  • What is digital curation? (definitions should be no more than one tweet long)
  • Has (and, if so, how has) your sense of what digital curation is changed as a result of this course?
  • How do you think ‘the general public’ view digital curation?
  • How can digital curation be made more mainstream?
  • What (if anything) will you be doing to interest and inform others in and about digital curation?

Literature of the English country house

The Literature of the English country house MOOC on FutureLearn is being run by Jim and Susan Fitzmaurice, director of distance learning and head of the School of English at Sheffield respectively. Runs for eight weeks from 2 June to 20 July, with a workload of three hours per week. Twitter: @FLHouseLitSheff (posting inter alia selfies and cat spam, trying too hard) and #FLHouseLit:

A journey through the literature of English country houses from the time of Thomas More to Oscar Wilde…you’ll learn to analyse literature using a technique called ‘close reading’. It will help you to make your own connections between country house literature and its historical backgrounds.

A large component of my first degree was studying German literature, but that was a fair while ago…at the moment I’m hoovering up everything available on literature to see what sticks in taking forward literary non-fiction as a writing project. This sticks out as offering an additional angle on the literature of place. In addition, two of the team are described as literary linguists – the use of language within literature of place?

My MOOCs seem to be progressively getting more leisure oriented – well, it is the (Danish) summer! Houses to be visited shown on a map got me thinking about houses I could research to write about, such as Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh, that castle Bothwell died in, Kierkegaard’s houses…see too the Historic Houses Association.

The warm-up activity has attracted 54 comments already. Nope, can’t face it:

Have you ever visited a country house, either in England or elsewhere in the world? What was it like? If you haven’t had chance to visit a country house is there anywhere you would like to visit, and why?

Other than that, there’s lots of close reading.

What is close reading? 

Close reading describes, in literary criticism, the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Such a reading places great emphasis on the single particular over the general, paying close attention to individual words, syntax, and the order in which sentences and ideas unfold as they are read. (Wikipedia)

Close reading differs from general reading in that we go back to the text to reread it, to focus specifically on particular details of language, to dig deep and uncover layers of meaning in the text. Close reading allows us to create an interpretation as well as an understanding of a text…Why read a text closely? Close reading gives us a deeper understanding of what a text could mean. And it allows us to fit texts into their wider cultural and historical context.

  1. First reading – to discover the general meaning of the text, an impression of the narrative, a tone of voice, a sense of a character, and perhaps of the period the text is set in.
  2. Second reading – concentrate attention on the language and structures of the text in order to confirm or test the impressions gained in the first reading, to reach a deeper level of meaning and different layers of meaning. Details like word choice, imagery, sentence structure, and the arrangement of sounds will all provide clues to these meanings.
  3. Third reading – delve into the cultural and historical context, then by using specific words and structures link the text to other texts and its wider context/s.

What do we examine? As we read closely, the word, a passage or scene will catch our attention. Look for what’s unexpected or surprising in a passage, the strikingly apt or especially appropriate. A repeated word may be a key word, or it may point to key words. Engage closely and intently with each word, line and sentence, watch carefully and think about each word and each phrase (the historical and contextual meanings of words); they combine to form chains of meanings; which words are important? why might they be important? Make notes, look up words in the dictionary and highlight phrases.

Close reading also came up in #corpusmooc as the qualitative angle, and in #FLfiction14 – see Read what you want to write. A useful technique IRT writing, editing and translation, but the passages put forward for close reading here aren’t for me so far (excerpts from Twelfth Night, Ben Jonson’s To Penshurst, Thomas More’s Utopia).

Week 2 focused on entertainment in the country house. Discussions allegedly explored the role and relationships between primary textual analysis and secondary information, eg historical or biographical context. Texts still a bit early for me, but I’ve bookmarked some texts of my own for attention instead.

Week 3’s historical and cultural context was attitudes to politeness in the 18th century. How important was it to be (and more importantly, to be seen to be) polite? Did everybody regard politeness in the same way? Did views of politeness change over time?

  • relationships between politeness, conversation and sociability (the ability to make people feel at ease in a variety of social situations)
  • the concept of the social house – a house where the owners prided themselves on being able to create an environment for people to be sociable and  at ease with one another; offered opportunities to socialise with people like them; this could extend to the bedchamber in an effort to be sociable, to entertain and not seem rude, leading to glamorous negligees put on to entertain as if you had just got out of bed
  • the language of politeness –  the 18th century notion of politeness was a model of behaviour which eased interaction and sociability among people, different from the modern day notion of minding one’s manners
  • by the end of the 18th century politeness associated less with sociability, more with form – being recognisably polite,
    having taste; more about one’s interest in self expression and impact on those around you than being sociable, paying attention to other people or being cooperative
  • became a target of satire – eg particular ways of speaking which function to exclude other people from that social circle

Fun! Of interest too IRT issues of negative and positive politeness and The Danes.

Week 4 wheeled out Jane Austen, looking at free indirect discourse in Pride and prejudice, a stylistic technique used to bring the reader into the perspectives of the narrator and the characters:

Free indirect discourse is a narrative style which is used for the representation of spoken words or thoughts. It typically appears in fictional prose when a character’s words or thoughts infiltrate the third person narrative, so that the perspective shifts from that of the narrator to that of the character.

Crucially, the style is not explicitly announced, and the speech or thought is not directly attributed to the character. Instead the reader has to rely on a number of stylistic cues to determine whether the character’s point of view is present. These cues include:

  • exclamations and questions
  • subjective or evaluative language which indicates the character’s opinion
  • markers of space and time from the character’s perspective

The heroine’s thoughts are so intermingled in the narrative that it’s often very hard to tell where they stop and
where the narrator comes in. We come to understand Elizabeth’s perspective well, but don’t really get
into the heads of anybody else. Least of all Darcy’s! Readers’ responses can range from empathy to ironic distance.

On to week 5, and the Gothic, examining Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novel The mysteries of Udolpho and dissecting the reclusive Miss Havisham from Great expectations - skipped. Week 6, feels like it’s dragging on a bit, with rather less about the houses than might be expected, but if you were into children’s lit, specifically Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and nonsense verse, this week was for you. Week 7 explored the end of the century, as seen through Oscar Wilde – the idea of country house transformation through non-English ownership in The Canterville Ghost and the subsurface of polite society in The importance of being earnest. “These texts suggest the end of the English country house tradition, or its possible Anglo-American reformation.”

So just as it was getting interesting we get to week 8, “reviewing 450 years of history, many different locations and a variety of authors and texts” with a marked assessment. Also, a rather handy discussion task on making connections between authors and vice versa:

Post a comment suggesting a country house which you would like to visit then reply to another learner’s comment, suggesting a piece of literature that they should read before visiting their chosen house, giving your reasons why it is relevant.

Taking me back to my list of houses to research from week 1.

From the final farewell:

We hope that among other things, what you have taken away from this course are two new ways of reading. The first is contextual reading to place the literature in its cultural and historical context. The second is close reading which is the intense, concentrated engagement with the text which we hope has provided a whole new way of looking at literature.

Yes to both, as a refresher course literary critique, although with a couple of exceptions the selection of texts wasn’t really for me.