Tuesday, 30 October 2012

An Announcement From Your Friendly Fumblr Creators

Fumblr is now open to anonymous submissions, for those who do not feel comfortable attaching their names to their fails on the Internet. (After all, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.) We do want to keep the conversation about scholarly failure going and we simultaneously understand that some people- particularly graduate students and junior faculty- do not feel comfortable submitting if they have to claim authorship. We respect your right to your anonymity. Should you choose to submit anonymously, PLEASE make sure that you tell us that in your email, and we promise to maintain your anonymity. Send your submissions to academicfailblog@gmail.com. Keep those fabulous fails coming!

-Shyama and Asa

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Failure is the New Black (Call For Papers)

A Call for Papers from Rachel Sullivan for the 2013 Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC)
There’s much more to learn from the rough edges of failure than the short-lived sheen of success. Basking in the glow of achievement and accomplishment, other possibilities and voices tend to fade. What can we gain through studying the cracks, imperfections, embarrassments, and dark moments of history, culture, pedagogy, institutional practice, and lived experience? That’s exactly what the 2013 Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC) aims to find out. MIGC will take place on February 15-16 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – it will be a lively two days of conversations and questions about the topic of failure. Who knows, some of the questions may even be answered!

As someone who’s been involved with the work of planning the conference for the last two years, I hope you’ll help me spread the word or—if you’re currently a grad student—consider submitting an abstract! MIGC is a wonderful experience that attracts participants from around the country (and the world!), and we’re excited to feature J. Jack Halberstam (author of The Queer Art of Failure) as this year’s keynote speaker. It’s a small, selective conference that allows for intimate discussions and a well-paced schedule of panels. There will also be a super-fun afterparty at a classic Milwaukee venue.

We’re looking for both creative works and traditional papers, and (as always) we welcome submissions from grad students at any level, in any discipline. You’ll find the full length CFP at http://themigc.com/cfp. Please note that the submission deadline is December 1!  Some possible topics might be:

- Failings of higher education
- Pedagogical success and failure
- Failure in film, TV, art, and literature
- Rhetoric of failure in theory and criticism
- Feminism and failure
- The “queer art” of failure
- Economic failure and debt crisis
- Failed states
- Digital technologies/humanities and failure
- Scientific advancements and failures
- Environmental disasters
- Legal failings, human rights, war, and genocide

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

We really do need to see these things in the flesh...

In my first book, Maps and Monsters in Medieval England, I say, regarding the images in the Vitellius A.xv (Beowulf MS), Tiberius B.v and Bodley 614 Wonders/Marvels of the East texts:
Returning to the blemmyes, we find that their skin, so human in tone, is not a painted color, but simply the real skin of which the page is made. 
I hadn't yet seen any of these three images in person, and was working with the black-and-white facsimiles in the EETS series (for Vitellius and Tiberius), and then with a few color reproductions I'd been able to track down.

I have since seen all three manuscripts, and it turns out that I was not only flatly wrong, but that the actual situation is much weirder:  The image of the blemmye in the Tiberius manuscript (online at the BL in, it seems, odd color, here, but the image in the current post is better) is indeed painted, but it is painted a shade of beige, of what Crayola, prior to the raising of consciousness of the civil rights movement, used to call "flesh color." I have asked Routledge to let me fix this, since they are still printing the book, but no dice.  The error is there, in perpetuity, when the bizarre truth is much more interesting.

There are losses to the image, and they are barely perceptible.  Why bother to paint the figure a shade that is almost totally indistinguishable from the color of the vellum?  Does this mean something?  Surely.  Another book,* another time.

*(Note of further fumble:  I intended to get this correction, at a minimum, into a footnote in a new book on the Wonders, but that is now done, and I seem to have lost that note, somewhere along the way...)

Monday, 8 October 2012

Prove Your Own Point by Doing. It. Wrong.

From Martin Foys:

I spent  seven years working on the Bayeux Tapestry Digital Edition (BTDE), working through a lot of ideas about how  a New Media format helped free the presentation of this uber-long textile from the practical and physical confines of the medium of print. Along the way I developed an argument about the spatial and monumental nature of the work, and how it may have been displayed to end where it began, thus allowing King Edward and King William to be juxtaposed - a not so subtle hint about how to view the succession of William to the English throne. Books you see, never do this - they present the textile like they do a sentence - in a purely linear fashion, - so the Tapestry begins at one point and then many pages later, it ends at another.

So, you might imagine, I then programmed the BTDE so that when the display reached the end, it continued on at the beginning- it didn't just stop when you arrived at the end of the work, just like every book you've seen, right? Oh, ha,ah, heh, ho, oh, no . . . .no.

To compound this meta-critical myopia, at the time I was preparing the BTDE for publication, I was also reading Bolter and Grusin's Remediation, which argued that the logic of new media must first reproduce the logic of the older media before it can realize its own.  It was not until about a year later that I understood what I had(n't) done: I had precisely illuminated B&G's point by remediating the BTDE's digital functionality within the linear logic of the book, and this in spite of my very own critical arguments to the contrary.  I ruled. Or rued. Or something.

Killing is OK. Or not. Or both. Or neither.

From Karl Steel (with thanks for the First Fail Post!):

The second chapter of my How to Make a Human opens with this unfortunate sentence:

To the question of “Whether it is unlawful to kill any living thing” (Summa Theologica 2a2ae q. 64, a. 1), Aquinas unsurprisingly answers yes, explaining that in the natural worldly order “animals use plants, and men use animals, for food” (61). 

Try to get your head around that "yes." Yes it's unlawful to kill any living thing? That's definitely not the Aquinas we know. How about answering "no"? No it's not unlawful to kill any living thing? That's not much of an improvement. I feel into a weird syntactical trap and just couldn't get out. Thank goodness that it's in print forever. I blame scholasticism.

Welcome to Fumblr!

Sometimes ideas don’t work. Failure is an inevitable fact of life, and we have all experienced it—that teaching moment where the students look completely confused, that one paper with a logical hole in it the size of the (former) Soviet Union, that presentation that just did not fly. In the humanities, however, we do not often discuss our failures. So how can we understand the utility of being wrong?

In the sciences, when an experiment fails, the results are often published so that the scientific community can benefit from the errors, can learn from the errors, be they algebraic or conceptual. In the humanities, we are less often demonstrably "wrong," since much of what we offer is interpretive rather than factual. You might disagree with Asa’s reading of the Donestre in the Beowulf Manuscript's Wonders of the East, but you would be hard-pressed to conclusively invalidate it. Still, we falter and fail all the time. However, many of us in the humanities are still in our 19th-century paradigm of the lonely scholar, toiling in the solitude of a garret, perhaps with a glass of absinthe at the elbow. And so our failures are solitary, which renders them of less use than they might otherwise be. When I head down a wrong-headed path, I (hopefully) learn something. But you don't, unless I share my failure with you.

It is for this reason that we started “Fumblr,” a place for any of us to post our scholarly missteps for all and sundry to read and learn (and laugh) from. The name (thanks, Ben Tilghman!) grew out of discussions, in person, with the Material Collective, on Facebook (Join our group at The Material Collective.  No, not the knitting group.  The other one.), and on In The Middle, where several other great ideas were posted. We already wonder if we have chosen the right one, or began the project, perhaps appropriately, with a blunder.

Posts might be related to research, teaching, job searching or any other aspect of the academic world. Fumblr is about sharing those moments of tripping on the cracks with a community, and opening up the conversation about process rather than simply focusing on product. If we are serious about experimental approaches and risk taking, we have to be prepared to fail. At least on occasion.

We invite you to submit your own moments of “fail” to academicfailblog@gmail.com. So what say you—care to stumble with us?

-Asa and Shyama