Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Measuring The Speed of Meme: An Experiment in which You Will Participate, Or Else... [Short Version: Link to this post in the name of science. Ask others to do the same. Results to be announced during the "Meet the Bloggers" panel at MLA 2006.] [Update #6: I want everyone to say hello to all the nice mefi folk stopping by this morning. They are more than welcome to slam me here too, but before doing so they may want to check out Scott McLemee's second post about this little experiment on Crooked Timber. I anticipated failure, not success, so the claim that I'm link-whoring misses the mark as much as the Wired article did.] What is the speed of meme? People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actually happen? Of those instances, how often is it organic? Most memes, I'd wager, are only superficially organic: beginning small, they acquire minor prominence among low-traffic blogs before being picked up by a high-traffic one, from which many more low-traffic blogs snatch them. Contra blog-triumphal models of memetic bootstrapping, I believe most memes are—to borrow a term from Daniel Dennett's rebuttal of punctuated equilibrium—"skyhooked" into prominence by high-traffic blogs. For my talk at the MLA, I'd prefer being able to quantify this triumphalism with hard numbers. Had I paid attention when "DISADVENTURE" and "My Morning" made the rounds, I could've completed this little experiment without revealing its existence. Since I lack foresight, I'm stuck announcing my intentions and begging participation. Here's what I need you to do: Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.) Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.) Ping Technorati. While you do that, a script I've written will track this meme (via Technorati) across the internet in 10 minute intervals. It will record the number of links to this post, register their authority and create a database the very size of which will cause my poor processor to fall tumbling, in flames, down a steep cliff. (So be it. We all must makes sacrifices in the name of science.) My fear is that I'll post this and no one will participate in my experiment. On the one hand, that'll be educational too, allowing me to talk about top-down vs. bottom-up dynamics, the ineffectiveness of compulsion and coercion on free-range bloggers, &c. On the other, I would rather not tell the august body of the Modern Language Association that bloggers only stop posting about what they had for lunch (fish sticks!) when their cat strikes another (fifth today!) outrageously adorable pose... [Update #1: This post? Not a chain letter. This one is—sort of.] [Update #2: An update.] [Update #3: N. Pepperell provides an excellent...
All in All, a Decent Close-Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" The meager fruits of my late labor: A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Part I A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Part II A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Part III A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Part IV A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Part V Upon review, my exercise in close-reading John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" revealed an intense—some would say obsessive—interest in the cultivation of tactical ignorance. In my reading, Keats stages Joshua Reynolds' argument in Seven Discourses on Art: [P]erfect form is produced by leaving out particularities, and retaining only general ideas ... the usual and most dangerous error is on the side of minuteness, and, therefore, I think caution most necessary where most have failed. The general idea constitutes real excellence. All smaller things, however perfect in their way, are to be sacrificed without mercy to the greater. The painter will not inquire what things may be admitted without much censure. He will not think it enough to show that they may be there; he will show that they must be there, that their absence would render his picture maimed and defective. The association of poetry with painting implicit here is, I assure you, a sound one. (Even John Ruskin agreed with Reynolds on this point.) So, too, is the association of Keats and Reynolds: the "Ode" first appeared in the Annals of the Fine Arts, edited by Benjamin Haydon, a close friend of Keats and Reynolds partisan. Not only would Keats have been familiar with Reynolds through the Annals, he would've expected its audience to be. So I've established that the poem's famous parting shot alerts the reader to Reynolds' influence. What of it? Someone like Keats—a keen student of Greek sculpture and pottery—would have known, or been able to guess, the answers to the questions he asks at the close of the first stanza. Had he been asked "What men or gods are these?" (8), he may have responded with any number of contemporaneous theories about the scene depicted on the Portland Vase (pictured right): Consider the treatment the young man advancing from the left, his right hand holding his cloak. Is he clutching it? Is it dangling? All evidence points to the former. The right hand lifting the cloak off the bare stone indicates that the figure had previously been seated beneath the Doric entablature. As anyone who spends countless hours studying Lucian amphorae knows, such positioning—beneath a column, his cloak a prophylactic against the cold, smooth stone—announces the presence of a god or immortal hero. If it be a hero, the cloak upon which he sits represents the mortality he doffed... Keats could have thought and written as much, but had he, the poem would not have achieved its general (philosophically speaking) effect. Keats' coy ignorance convinces readers that answering the questions in lines...

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