obfuscation

In the academic part of my professional life I spend a lot of time practising to write more clearly and directly. That is, to avoid unnecessary ambiguity or obfuscation. I do this because I am interested in not only who might be reading the things I write (thanks Mum) but also who isn’t reading the writing. That is, when I choose to use particular syntax, structures, or words who might I be inadvertently excluding from the writing?

In this blog I’ve previously (2008) quoted Don Watson discussing the language of groups, and recently I read Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style:

Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say. Academics in the softer fields dress up the trivial and obvious with the trappings of scientific sophistication, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.[1]

But then recently I heard the word obfuscation used in a very different context. I like this about language: that one word can have different uses – even different values – depending on context.

In internet privacy, obfuscation has to do with reducing how recognisable one’s digital thumbprint is based on generating more data, and thereby making your thumbprint more common (and more difficult to isolate or pinpoint):

the production of noise modeled on an existing signal in order to make a collection of data more ambiguous, confusing, harder to exploit, more difficult to act on, and therefore less valuable.[2]

Obfuscation in this sense is a kind of digital camouflage, and one example is the Firefoex browser extension called TrackMeNot which works through “noise and obfuscation”.

In both senses of the word obfuscation we are hiding something, but the conditions, values and politics of that hiding are beautifully distinct.

practice of value

The value of practice gets discussed a lot in dance. I remember US choreographer Deborah Hay saying something like, “99% of my choreography is the practice of my choreography”, and practice in the context of practice-as-research is clearly fundamental.

But I wonder about this word value. And I wondered what it might be to practise it. To have a practice of value(s).

The value of practice.
The practice of value.

resistance to blogging to save the new precariat

Last week I posted about the absurdity of blogging to save the new (academic) precariat. The next day Agnes Bosanquet (the slow academic) quoted some writing/thinking by sociologist Barbara Grant:

Collective political resistance to [research audit regimes] has not been a feature of the academic landscape … In [our] interviews, there was largely an absence of the emotions of anger, fear and frustration usually associated with collective resistance … Unlike fear, anxiety seems a weak basis for political action …

Yet other forms of resistance were present … individually and collectively. Individuals were deliberately maintaining their research interests in defiance of perceived [audit]-rewarded tends; departments were actively pursuing collegial rather than competitive practices …

https://theslowacademic.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/stars-small-targeted-acts-of-resistance/

I find Bosanquet’s thinking (and in this case her admiration and citation of Barbara Grant) inspiring and far more positive than just admitting defeat to the accelerated academy.

blogging to save the new precariat

Contemporary academic life is precarious; it’s fast, mean and lean. Our public aim is to build community around the practices and concerns associated with doctoral writing, but, in addition, we have come to recognise that, privately, we each depend on this space as a haven from the relentless demands of the rest of our academic lives. Since we began blogging, we have witnessed organisational restructures resulting in the need for many academics to reconstruct themselves. As more academics join the ‘new precariat’, it’s likely our primary places of identity construction and maintenance will become untied from a single institution. Blogging in this context lets us inhabit an independent, global space for personal and professional development and for building community.[1]

I find the idea of blogging as some kind of saviour for stressed academics (and academia) to be absurd. The authors seem to imply that: a) there’s no point in resisting the increasingly precarious nature of contemporary academic life; and b) academia must be ‘fast, mean and lean’.

It is a strange message: “resistance is futile, blogging will save us”.

Their suggestion seems to trivialise the effects of neoliberalism on academic life and lives.

I prefer the thinking and counsel of Maggie Berg and Barbara Karolina in the The Slow Professor:

Slowing down is about asserting the importance of contemplation, connectedness, fruition, and complexity. It gives meaning to letting research take the time it needs to ripen and makes it easier to resist the pressure to be faster. It gives meaning to thinking about scholarship as a community, not a competition. It gives meaning to periods of rest, an understanding that re- search does not run like a mechanism; there are rhythms, which include pauses and periods that may seem unproductive.[2]


  1. Claire Aitchison, Susan Carter, and Cally Guerin, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/06/25/academic-blogging-personal-professional-public/  ↩
  2. Berg, Maggie, and Barbara Karolina Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p.57.  ↩

showing not telling

I’m deep into Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. I like Springsteen’s music (yes, since that video with Courtney Cox in 1984), and have been particularly drawn to his quieter solo albums like Nebraska, and The Ghost of Tom Joad. I’ve never been quite enough of a fan to go and see him perform, although his concerts are legendary (check out the 12 minute half-time performance at The Super Bowl in 2009 for a sample).

The autobiography is captivating: epic, vulnerable, loud, and full of heart. It’s like reading a dream – a very big dream – and it’s astonishing to get some insight into his ambition, his fragility, and his love.

Here are two brief quotes that have stayed with me.

On respecting audiences:

When you came to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart. Heart sealed the deal. That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night. We are more than an idea, an aesthetic. We are a philosophy, a collective, with a professional code of honor. It is based on the principle that we bring our best, everything we have, on this night, to remind you of everything you have, your best. That it’s a privilege to exchange smiles, soul and heart directly with the people in front of you. That it’s an honor and great fun to join in concert with those whom you’ve invested so much of yourself in and they in you, your fans, the stars above, this moment, and apply your trade humbly (or not so!) as a piece of a long, spirited chain you’re thankful to be a small link in.

On playing and shutting up:

I know how it works. I’ve done it. Play and shut up. My business is SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING . . . not TELLING. You don’t TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide. That’s how I got here, by SHOWING people. You try to tell people what to think and you end up a little Madison Avenue mind fascist.

It’s SHOWtime. We go on. The audience seems reticent, the room feels uneasy. That’s my responsibility. You’ve got to let the audience feel that they’re coolly within your hands. That’s how you help them feel safe and free enough to let themselves go, to find whatever they’ve come looking for and be whoever they’ve come here to be.

On the Shore, mecca to the bar- and show-band elite, rabid disciples of the James Browns, the Sam Moores, the hard-core soul showmen who brought it every time they hit the stage, we come from where “professionalism” is not a dirty word. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . Motherfucker! That’s the time for action, for living, for manifesting life, for BRINGING IT! . . . NOT for dipping into the black recesses to pick the lint out of your belly button.

anamnesis italiano

In 2009 I made a short film called Anamnesis with Cormac Lally, Bagryana Popov, David Corbet, and Liz Jones. Around that time I asked Marika Rizzi to do an Italian translation of the text in the film. I remember the translation process to be quite challenging as the differences between English and Italian tested my understanding of the film as I knew it. In the time since Marika did the translation I’ve been learning Italian and it is fascinating to recognise the choices she has made in making the poetics of the film make sense in Italian. A simple but important example is her choice to use the ‘you singular’ form in Italian (tu) as opposed to the ‘you plural’ form (voi) – a distinction that does not exist in English.

www.skellis.info/work#/anamnesis

hazelnut-chocolate

I’ve had this blog since November 2008 and in that time I’ve never posted either a recipe or anything about conflicts of interest. Here’s a recipe that has nothing to do with conflicts of interest[1].

It’s from Toast: The Cookbook by Raquel Pelzel.

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread

  • 175 g hazelnuts
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 2 Tbs icing sugar
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil (sunflower, rapeseed)
  • 3/4 tsp flaky salt
  • 225 g dark chocolate (>60% cacao), broken up and melted
  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Put hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, shaking the pan halfway through roasting, until golden brown (12–15 minutes). Wrap hazelnuts in a tea-towel, set aside for a minute, then use the towel to rub off the skins. Once cool, put the nuts in a food processor and grind until the become a smooth paste (1–3 minutes).
  2. Add the sugar, honey, icing sugar, oil, and salt to the nut butter and blend until combined.
  3. Add melted chocolate and process until combined.
  4. Scrape mixture into an airtight container and leave out at room temperature to thicken for about 3 hours or overnight. The spread can be refrigerated after 1 day for up to 2 weeks; let it sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before using so it returns to a spreadable consistency. Note that after refrigerating, the texture will be less smooth.

IMG_2728.JPG


  1. I’m saving that for next time.  ↩