Monthly Archives: November 2007

LazyWeb Alert!

Now that Pippa has attained the age of discretion — that is, now that she’s exercising musical taste that doesn’t depend primarily on what Margaret and I prefer, and she has her own birthday iPod — the different iTunes libraries scattered among us are increasingly difficult to keep track of. So my idea for the LazyWeb is an application that would compare two (or more) iTunes library files, ascertain the differences, and (if the computers are connected) offer to reconcile the differences. Since I’m fantasizing here, I’ll propose that it offers the alternatives of an all-in-one two-way reconciliation, one-way reconciliation, or song-by-song one- or two-way reconciliation.

Shouldn’t be too hard to code, so while I’m driving north to see Josiah and his a capella cohort the “Desperate Measures” sing in concert tonight (video to be posted when I can), y’all just whip it together. I’ll check in later.

Clueful in Toronto

The Globe and Mail urges the recording industries (music, movies) to adapt to the changing environment, rather than trying to make the environment conform to the specifications of their obsolescent business model.

Selling music on CDs is just a bad business model. Taking digital information, burning it onto a piece of plastic, wrapping that in several more layers of plastic, shipping it across the country to suburban malls, which customers are then expected to drive to so their musical taste can be sneered at by an 18-year-old sales clerk, is just not a system that makes sense any more.

A toast to columnist Ken Hunt!

(Now, about that annoying roll-down ad at the top of the page. . . .)

Bricks, Lines, and Meaning

Tom sent me an offline note that points to a blog that’s promulgating PDFs major works by postmodern theorists — in this case, Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind. Tom points to this paragraph from fark yaralari:

For Derrida drawing is itself blind; as an act rooted in memory and anticipation, drawing necessarily replaces one kind of seeing (direct) with another (mediated). Ultimately, he explains, the very lines which compose any drawing are themselves never fully visible to the viewer since they exist only in a tenuous state of multiple identities: as marks on a page, as indicators of a contour. Lacking a “pure” identity, the lines of a drawing summon the supplement of the word, of verbal discourse, and, in doing so, obscure the visual experience. Consequently, Derrida demonstrates, the very act of depicting a blind person undertakes multiple enactments and statements of blindness and sight.

My first reaction is to note that I comment on Derrida only very hesitantly; in the past couple of years, I’ve arrived at richer understandings of Derridean writings about which I’d spoken publicly, and almost confidently, a number of times. Since I’ve only just glanced at Memoirs of the Blind, I haven’t had the time to afford a reflective assessment of the premise. Pending further illumination, though, I am inclined to see what Tom points out to me, a connection between Derrida’s thematic emphasis on the incompleteness of expressive gestures (on one hand) and my “brickliss hermeneutics” (on the other).

Tom goes on to wonder

One angle had to do with rhetoric and the arts of persuasion, and how what this seems to be is a sort of canned set of tropes, figures, devices to which expresser and receiver have, over long tradition, exposure to poetry and oratory etc., come to mutual ascribe certain meaningful effects.

This as then a repertoire, a middle ground of language resources, tones, syntactic patterns, etc., which “contains” ascribed elements of meaning. So, instead of two, three parts of the process of ascription.

So the triangulation expresser -> rhetorical device -> audience, while it would not actually “contain subsistent meaning,” would look as if it has, because of a variety of fixed expressive gestures.

Which is one way a two-chord guitar banger can emit something that offers far more than he could intend – these tropes are “in” us so deep, so basically, that the middle term, the congeries of language and theatre and gesture, speaks in ways that he couldn’t intend.

I think the “repertoire” angle is exactly correct, and I’m thankful to Tom for proposing it. I’ve discussed it before in conversations, but I think I’ve never incorporated the idea into my tediously copious writing on this theme. As Tom says, the repertoire stocks conventional discourse with familiar points of reference that seem so stable and so general that we’re tempted to think of the meaning as subsistent in the expression. Contrariwise, though, the stability and generality of the repertoire shows that you don’t need subsistent meaning where you have broadly-shared practices and conventions (to revert to a favorite example, our behavior with automobiles functions so very smoothly that traffic usually accommodates even the defiant or negligent drivers — but there’s no subsistent meaning in colored lights, stripes on roads, or even sides-of-the-road).

Tom goes on to ask “What about thinking?” Thought seems not to obey laws of conscious control, but to follow its own course of pondering, weighing, connecting, resisting, affirming; “But to the extent we are thinking through what we are thinking, bringing out its connections and complications and provisional conclusions, are we not in a relation that is less one of ascription than something else, which may have just as little to do with subsistent meaning, but isn’t so easily like the telos of a signifying practice?” I don’t have a canned answer to this query, but I suspect that it involves our capacity to imagine otherness (a capacity that experience shows us that people share to wildly varying degrees). For a thinker who has only a limited capacity to indwell a position she doesn’t actually hold (“negative capability,” right? though without leaping wholly onto the Romantic train) (OK, the failed metaphor of “leaping onto a train partway” has derailed me) — as I was saying, a thinker with limited insight into divergent perspectives will construe the world in terms of “sensible, correct” versus “wrong-headed, stubborn, obstructionist.” Such thinkers will tend to sense a stronger degree of subsistent meaning, since they’ll identify “what it means” strongly with “what I think.” A thinker who dwells more patiently with others’ perspectives will see less ground for supposing that any particular meaning subsists in expressions.

Well, that was a big digression. To return to Tom’s point, I would investigate the role of association in thinking — a big, elusive topic with its own controversies about causation and freedom, about repertoires and individuality, about (indeed) subsistent links among ideas and between ideas and realia.

This reminds me to make a connection to the vivid discussions among typographers concerning the status of fraktur (blackletter) typefaces in particular, though their reflections apply to typefaces in general. Through the fallout of a series of historical catastrophes, fraktur type has come to connote “Nazism” — even though the Nazis specifically discontinued the prevalent use of fraktur on which the German publishing and lettering conventions had relied for centuries before the rise of National Socialism. So, Nazi Germany declares fraktur type obsolete and adopts Roman typefaces — but the popular imagination links Nazi Germany with the typefaces that they rejected. Fraktur type signifies something, but that signification can’t be controlled by typographers (many of whom appreciate structural and historic characteristics of fraktur letterforms) or historians (who can explain that Nazi rejection of fraktur). So, is there “meaning” in an eszett?

But I have to get back to writing a short paper on the future of theological education.


After two major journeys, I have much catching up to do — I haven’t really unpacked from San Diego, so I need to straighten up my clothes and luggage from both trips, and do much laundry; I have to catch up on email and memoranda; listening to the Barclay-vs.-Wright contretemps over “Paul and Empire,” thanks to Andy Rowell; oh, and a heap of other tasks.

But I’m still riding high on the afterglow of successfully finding and replacing two fuses (thanks for the advice, Charlie and Dan!). It’s not much, but it underlines capability and effectiveness, and I’ll gladly accept any evidence in favor at that point.

Home Again, Home Again

We pulled into Princeton pretty much on schedule, having squeezed artfully between rush hour in Greater Boston/Providence and in Greater NYC. The driving went smoothly, apart from a wee complexity engendered by our efforts to repair the blown fuse. Our first crack at fuse replacement seems to have involved removing one fuse from where it was at home and reinserting it in a hitherto empty slot — that fuse turning out to have been the one that controls the windshield wipers. We didn’t notice, of course, until. . . the mist that had been hovering over the highway descended and started covering the windshield. (Margaret located a diagram for the fusebox in a part of the owner’s manual that I hadn’t seen before, which made diagnosis and recovery infinitely easier.)

We made it fine to the first exit with a truckstop, where we bought some replacement fuses and a needlenose plier (to substitute for the fuse puller, which had headed for a different horizon long ago, along with the cover for the fuse box); we replaced the wiper fuse (success!) and the mirrors/lighter fuse (success again!), grabbed some refreshments, and hunkered down for the rest of the drive.

Now we’re pretty worn out from travel, but comfy cozy in our Princeton digs. We’ll pick up Beatrice later in the day — assuming she’ll still deign to live with us — take out dinner from some congenial establishment, and fall fast asleep.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

We had a lovely time visiting family this weekend. Mom arranged for us to stay in a guest house, which meant we could relax with a degree of insulation from holiday hurly-burly; as it turned out, the isolation was helpful since Pippa seems to have developed a cold.

Tomorrow morning we’ll leave Nantucket on the 7:45 boat, and will be home before rush hour (we hope). I’ll take a look at the fuse box, to see if any of the 20 amp fuses is blown, and if so, whether we have a spare right in the box.

I read Stephen Downes’s blog whenever I turn on my newsreader (sometimes I read by bookmarks from my browser, sometimes by RSS feeds in my newsreader); if I only had time to examine the posts to which he links, and to think over all that they say, I’d be much more au courant with educational technology. As things stand, I’ll point to these two posts that especially caught my attention. Great call-out line: “[W]hile the short term money is being bet on roadblocks, the long term money is still best bet on roads.”


On the drive north, the fuse that controls the mirrors and cigarette lighter (apparently) on our 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback failed, and our fusebox doesn’t have the lid that displays what each fuse does. Does anyone know which fuse to replace, or where I’d find out? Google is not extremely helpful for this problem, sad to say.

Si’s House

Josiah, Coffin House

No, not really. We wish.

Thanksgiving this year gathered the five Adams in our local nuclear unit, sister Holly and my mom, all three aunts (Isabelle, Grace, Harriet) plus Harriet’s husband Bob; Harriet’s Rebecca and Alison and their husbands and daughters; Isabelle’s daughters Martitia (with her husband) and Adele. “Had a Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn’t be beat. . . .”

Tomorrow we’ll go to Mom’s church, where Nate can practice piano while Margaret and I talk with the minister, and we’ll commemorate my cousin Daniel (Isabelle’s son), who died in the past year. Plus strolling around the town. Etc.

Reporting In

We arrived safely on Nantucket, but connectivity here is sparse — dominated by a pay-per-day wireless provider which I refuse to pay $12 per day for (specially when I won’t be at my computer that much). Happy Thanksgiving to U.S.ians (Canadians have already celebrated, of course) and I’ll check back when I can.

Back and Gone

We got back from San Diego last night at about 10, Pippa already comfily in her pjs, doing her laundry, and bemused at us. We woke up this morning in our own bed, with no breakfast meeting at a fancy hotel, and immediately started repacking our luggage in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday with family. Long drive today, intermittent connectivity in the foreseeable future.

Busy Day, Blogging Unlikely

Yesterday at the SBL Meeting was wake-to-sleep occupied — I was utterly wrung out by the time I fell into bed last night, and tonight looks like more of the same.

To Anyone who tried to read the Magritte and Krazy Kat paper, I’m sorry about what WordPress does with paragraphing; I’ve tried several work-arounds to make the engine respect breaks, but to no avail thus far.

Now, off to shower before the steering committee breakfast, et cetera.