Saturday, January 29, 2011

this medium wasn't made for my message

[continued from yesterday]

I ain't studing you also brings up the difficulties that arise in trying to communicate--difficulties that, in this moment, arise because of the irreconcilable differences among speech, writing, and html code. When she was dismissing her sanctimonious neighbor, my grandmother certainly did not say: I'm not studying Miss Jenkins. But if I entitled my blog "Ain't Studing You" -- it would look like a typo, and you wouldn't trust that I'm particularly bright. That is, you'd be dismissive or disoriented at the gate. After deciding to spell studying with its stutter-inducing y, I found that even the apostrophe in "Ain't" was causing problems, resulting in some renderings of my title as something like "Ain't Studying You."  That is worse than a perceived typo; it's inhuman.

So, the title is a kind of compromise with blog technology, which isn't quite speech but isn't quite print publication, either. In fact, it proves that favorite insight of the poststructuralist branch of philosophers: we don't speak language; language speaks us. In other words, the codes or conventions that determine what I can represent on this blog came before I came here to write and, therefore, in order to be understood, I have to fit myself within them. What I write is not my will alone, nor my individual expression. Or to paraphrase one of Marx's insights, people make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing.

For example, in my first post, I wanted to take two of my points and relegate them to footnotes. As an academic, that's what I do with ideas that I can't let go but that interrupt your reading experience. It's just a great visual way to subordinate information without destroying it. Now, I might just be too inept to do it, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to make footnotes in html.

First, I tried to append my extra thoughts as makeshift endnotes, but those seemed too far from the original interjection. So I decided, instead, to stick them at the end of the paragraph. This is one of the disadvantages of the screen, as opposed to the page. It makes me wonder if ancient scrolls posed a similar problem. It seems I'll have to read Grafton's history of the footnote to find out. And before you pity me for what can only seem a most unenjoyable task (even though Grafton is quite the storyteller, the topic of the footnote cannot thrill you) -- rest assured, I will only read it until I find out what I need to know. There is too much to read and write for me to get hung up on it forever.

Just so you know, my academic work focuses on precisely these types of questions. I discovered, in researching the history of character that this term that we use for the letters and numbers in our alphanumeric system actually began as charagma, the tattoos applied to denote slave status in Ancient Athens. The notion that there are a fixed set of symbols with a fixed set of meanings seems to me very useful in arguing that there are a similarly limited number of social types, easily deciphered, as one would read a text. The problem of achieving some freedom, I suspect, is not just speaking up for oneself, it also has to do with being encased in a body that already speaks for you. The interesting ways in which constrained people have used forgery, fashion, and impersonation to get some freedom for themselves is fascinating to me, from the cross-dressing and face-painted actors of Elizabethan England to Joni Mitchell, who actually re-characterized herself as her own pimp (check the two Jonis on this album cover).
Joni Mitchell, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, 1976

I have not decided how much of my academic manuscript will make it here because I am not yet sure whether this blog is going to help me think through that work or constitute a break from it. But I thought I'd let you know a taste of what the forthcoming my work on the long history of the production of black character is about and how it relates to the work here.


  1. Wow, dude. Obviously can't comment on everything. I will say, that one of my favorite quotes from a college friend is "don't study me". It's great, and I still use it today.

    If you want to do footnotes, I use windows alt keys. You can also use numbers, as I'm sure you know. I read a little bit of Grafton and then dismissed, because I don't really care. My blog is my blog. I'ma write it how I choose to write it, which pretty much throws grammar and political correctness out the window, as you've already witnessed.

  2. BG: I am an inveterate Mac user, so while I did note the characters you use for footnote purposes, I don't know how to get the via Mac. But I do plan on stealing that particular method.

    Was this college friend from the American South, by the way?

  3. "Nah, I'm from Brooklyn, B" - college friend.

    An initial google search revealed that it is possible to get some cool characters on a Mac by using the Option with certain key combinations, but I can't find a list of what those combinations are. Perhaps you can copy and paste:

    * - you should already be able to use the asterisk, tho.
    † - dagger
    ‡ - double dagger
    ¶ - I forget what this is called because I don't use it. I rarely need three footnotes, and I'm not even sure what the fifth would be.