Sunday, 07 October 2007

Accelerating Evolution; also, More on the Talkiness of Talks, and the Terrible People Who Read Essays Aloud I've posted a copy of yesterday's talk—"Accelerating Evolution: Social Reform and the Baldwin Effect in Jack London's The Iron Heel and Before Adam"—for interested parties to read/discuss/mock. The usual caveats apply: when I write talks, I write talks; I don't simply read aloud something meant to read alone. So you'll find simplification—in particular as regards the physiological basis of the Baldwin effect, as pointed out by Vincent Fitzgerald in the Q & A—and the frequent repetition of characters introduced and concepts established earlier. It doesn't sit well on the page. I know that. You can't keep as much in your head listening as you can reading. You can't control the pace of a speaker. You can't re-read or linger over paragraphs. More and more, I'm convinced that people who read essays aloud are doing so to satisfy their own intellectual vanity: "My work is difficult and impressive. You're going to find it difficult to understand. That is because I am impressive." And difficult. Don't forget difficult. Because if you're one of these people, you're being difficult for the sake of being difficult. You think it makes you impressive. It doesn't. It makes you impolite. It betrays your indolence. If you want to communicate with your audience, you have to format the points you make in your written work to the media in which you're presenting them. If you don't want to communicate, you're rude (wasting the audience's time to feel the hum of your ego inflating) and likely lazy (as politeness takes effort). More on the conference itself shortly.
I Am Become Intimidating?* One of the odd (and unanticipated) effects of blogging on academia is the inversion of the traditional hierarchy. Example: at the conference this weekend, two tenured faculty members—both of whom do the kind of work I only dream I could do—introduced themselves to me, acknowledged that they've read Acephalous for quite a while, then told me they almost didn't introduce themselves to me because, in their words, they were "intimidated." Two things struck me as odd: Tenured faculty with illustrious publication histories felt intimidated by a grad student whose only publication to date is forthcoming in the minnesota review. They think I'm intimidating based on what I publish here. The first point is more interesting from an institutional perspective, but right now I'm more interested in the second one. From my perspective, Acephalous is a silly place tended by a silly person. I don't think my online persona—if you can call it that, given that I resemble myself mightily—would lead someone to think I'm intimidating. But I'm wrong. So I'm thinking I should soften my image, but I'm not sure how. A new avatar? More frequent cat pictures or posts in which I cry? To return the first, more interesting point: these professors obviously put some weight into what I've written here. Would they be nervous approaching a colleague whose work they've read? Of course not. So what makes them nervous about approaching a graduate student whose random online blather they've read? Is it the component of guilt implicit in the reading of blogs? Are they nervous not because of me per se, but because I represent the victory of the will-to-procrastinate over the will-to-produce? I don't know. Maybe some certain somebodies will enlighten me. *The LOL phenomenon has really sapped the horror from Oppenheimer's famously ungrammatical statement, hasn't it? Wait a minute—no one's done that yet? Pardon me while I consult Google. (Scott consults Google) Apparently not. Lucky for the Internet, I live to serve.

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