Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bibliophile: The Proud, the Lofty U of T

Like the green sprout peeking out from the pavement crack,

This is Bibliophile.

With the promised library update still nowhere in sight, (and nowhere in site! ...Sorry.) the university library road trip continues.  This week, we're looking at the mighty University of Toronto.  Full disclosure: I've had a grudge against the ol' U of T ever since I learned they don't allow the general public in.  I mean, not letting people take out books is one thing, but not even letting them in?  We get it, you're a very expensive library.  But still.  Still.
...Let's get started.
...Okay, it has 22544 new items.  I guess U of T kind of IS a big deal, judging by the size of their library.  Granted, it doesn't specify how new the items are--we could be getting every new book this year, for all I know.  Sorting options include physical location, subject, call number range, format, language, subject time period, genre, and author.  That's very functional.  Well, I'm not doing a 22544 item search.  We'll peruse a few of the more humanities-relevant call number ranges, and call it a day.  As usual, a capital H at the end of the commentary means my university library has the book as well.

Collaborative research in the digital humanities / edited by Marilyn Deegan and Willard McCarty.
 Collaboration is a complicated creature in the humanities.  The classic humanities scholarly research is basically a single person, poring over books (especially for English).  But the modern reality is that if you want to participate in the larger discussions, and do the relevant research (not mention get the big grants) you have to be more willing to do interdisciplinary stuff.  And that's more true in digital humanities than for most such subjects, because you need to work on large-scale computational issues that require multiple types of expertise.  At the same time, you still need a specialty, and there's a risk of being perceived as too general; the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" comes to mind.  Deegan and McCarty seem aware of the fine balance; hence the use of "collaborative research" rather than interdisciplinary.  The book is a series of fourteen essays, with a general uniting theme of discussing Harold Short, who I understand is an authority on the subject, his own background being humanities, mathematics, and computers and systems. Topics include Collaboration in virtual space in digital humanities,crowd sourcing as a group markup approach to textual interpretation, and general applications of HCI to the book.  I don't really recognize any of the scholars (it seems be a UK/Australia based book) but the subject matter is relevant for anyone interested in digital humanities methodology.  H; and not only does our library have it, it also has the subtitle, which is that the volume was composed in honor of Short's 65th birthday and retirement, which explains the emphasis on him.  You dropped the ball there, U of T.  You dropped the ball.

Understanding digital humanities / edited by David M. Berry.
And no sooner does one digital humanities anthology end then another begins.  A note on this entry informs me that the anthology won't be actually be received by U of T till January 2013; if the listings include books the library doesn't even have yet, I'm starting to see why it's so long.  (A quick glance shows another book not due for publication till 2020, which crosses the line from being ridiculous to being a rather optimistic forecast about the future of the human race.)  Still, I appreciate the feature.  I can't say I recognize Berry, but he's assembled an impressive group of essays here.  The anthology starts (will start?)with an essay on thinking and transforming power through ditigal technology by N. K. Hayles, and follows with an essay on cultural analytics by Lev Manovich. Other topics include a feminist critique of controversy on Wikipedia, poetics of code, computer visualization and film data, and data mining and narrative.  It's a nice mix of big name scholars and interesting topics.

I'll also acknowledge here that U of T entries regularly (or at least so far) include the table of contents and general summary in their holding information, which makes it much, much more convenient for my sake.  My grudging respect increases a little bit more.

Since we're looking at a pretty vast collection, I'm going to skip around a lot; from the A call numbers, then, I'm going straight to G, to check out the videogame scholarship.  We may go back to skipped parts at the end.  Or not.
Further note: within the subcategory of a call number (say, all the G or A) there's the option to go into further categories, but no option to actually sort the results of a subcategory by call number.  That's kind of annoying.
Ultimate fighting and embodiment : violence, gender, and mixed martial arts / Dale C. Spencer. 
I've got a lot of friends who follow UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), to varying degrees.  Me, I don't see it.  It's all about very fit men in costumes grappling with each other in an arcane ritual embracing a strange combination of masculine posturing and homoeroticism.  But I've already got comic books for that.  Spencer approaches the sport through the lenses of ethnography, interviewing fighters, documenting their fitness regimes, and generally investigating the way it evokes "cultural transcripts of masculinity."  Theoretically, Spencer's approach is phenomenology, from Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Nancy.  I would have gone a more performance-based route, but I appreciate what Spencer's doing here.  This is pop culture studies at its best--critical examinations of mass media products that are influencing large numbers of people.
Playing along : digital games, YouTube, and virtual performance /  Kiri Miller. 
U of T has a lot of videogame scholarship stuff, actually.  I am appropriately envious.  First up is Miller's work, on virtuality and performance.  When Rock Band was at its peak, the question kept coming up: what's the connection between virtually playing an instrument and actually playing it?  It's that sort of issue that Miller's looking at.  As our games and online experiences get closer to virtual reality proximations, then we start entering into new mediating experiences, filtered by digital avatars.  I don't just listen to music on the radio, the PC I play listens.  Miller takes an ethnographic/performative approach.  We've done a few ethnographic books on the blog before; it's becoming an increasingly popular approach to game studies research, in terms of mapping participation and player behavior.  Performance-based approaches that look at the player's bodies are increasing too; offhand, there's Calleja's "kinesthetic involvement," and Graeme Kirkpatrick's Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game.  Part 1 looks at Grant Theft Auto, Part II is music-based games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and Part III looks at the wealth of online music teaching offered for free by sites such as Youtube.  If that sounds like a bit of a deviation, that's because it's a deliberate one on Miller's part.  She's trying to extend a notion of playing, ("playing along") to look at how play and digital collaborative media work in a way that goes beyond the usual media divisions.  As a game scholar, I will fight for the divisions to the death. As a digital humanities scholar, I approve.  H.

Silent hill : the terror engine /Bernard Perron. 
I've met Perron, and heard him give presentations; he's definitely the foremost scholar when it comes to seriously considering the intersection of videogames and the horror genre.  So he's certainly the best qualified person I could think of for a book-long study of Silent Hill.  This is the second book in the Landmark videogame series, a series where each book considers a single videogame in great detail.  I wasn't too crazy about the first book in the series, to be honest, which was Myst and Riven: The World of the D'ni by Mark J.P. WolfI have a lot of respect for Wolf as a game scholar, but Myst and Riven spent a little too much time on description and not enough on analysis, for my taste.  The series has a good pedigree, though; Wolf and Perron are the main editors, but the advisory board includes Mia Consalvo, Ian Bogost, and David Myers.  I should also note that the book is available for free online, here. The book itself consists of four chapters. The introduction situates the Silent Hill series within the wider genre of horror and outlines the history of horror-based games, presenting the general scholarship on the subject as well. Chapter 2 is on the the narrative of the games, and how fans have theorized and expounded on that narrative.  Chapter 3 considers the cinematic aspects from a designer's perspective.  And Chapter 4 looks at the games' affective influence on the players.  A brief perusal suggests that my problems with Wolf's Myst study will not be repeated here; I'm seeing a lot of reference to other scholars and wider discourse.  Our library doesn't have it, but, again, it is available online.

Rise of the videogame zinesters : how freaks, normals, amateurs, artists, dreamers, dropouts, queers, housewives, and people like you are taking back an art form /  Anna Anthropy
Anna Anthropy studies the history of indie games.  It's also a manifesto and argument for indie games, and a call to turn away from the industry-oriented multi-billion dollar games towards something more individual and personal.  Indie might actually be the wrong term here; one of the reviews on Amazon uses "folk" and that may be a better description, as Anthropy is less calling for people to play indie games  than to design their own games--the game equivalent of folk art, really. I'd be the first to applaud doing new things with games, so I'm more or less behind her goal here.  The book has really been making a lot of buzz, in game journalism and game scholarship alike.  I'd really like to get my hands on a copy and see it for myself.

Social exclusion, power and video game play : new research in digital media and technology /
edited by David G. Embrick, J. Talmadge Wright, and Andras Lukacs. 
Embrick, wright, and Lukacs delve into the cultural side of videogame play.  In particular, they want to fully bring out the way games function in larger systems of power and inequality.  The book is divided into three sections.  The first is a social-psychological approach, and features essays on Grand Theft Auto IV and World of Warcraft.  Section two is on social inequalities, and features essays on whiteness in online character creation, the Wii and gendered embodiment, and shaping gender experience in MMOs.  The third section looks at fan discourse, and features essays on Fallout fandom and ownership, World of Warcraft and ludic play, and an essay by Mia Consalvo on Japanese and American players (probably involving her research on Final Fantasy XI, if I had to guess).  I'm currently reading my way through the previous anthology by these editors, Utopic Dreams and Apocalyptic Fantasies.  The individual essays are very good (I especially liked the one on Metal Gear Solid), but the anthology is too loose in terms of content.  There's a section on defining play, a section on the video game industry as a business, and a section on game studies methodology, all under the overarching theme of the book, utopia and dystopia.  The book feels as if it's moving in too many directions at once.  This book in comparison feels more focused, but I have to admit, I'm a little less interested in the topics--gender and race studies are important, but not really my bag, and I'm not a big fan of psychological approaches.  I am a fan of fan studies, though, so that final section may be worth a perusal.  H.
Video game worlds : working at play in the culture of EverQuest /Timothy Rowlands. 
 Rowlands recounts his two year ethnographic study of EverQuest, where his focus was drawing out the game culture created by the MMO, and how designers and players shaped this culture.  He justifies the focus  on EverQuest (which is a fairly old game at this point) by virtue of it being the first widely successful MMO.   (Hang your head in shame, Ultima Online.)  He also sees his study diverging from other MMO studies in his pursuit of a top-down approach, building up to theory by studying the minute, day-to-day play of players.  (Saying that other scholars haven't done the minutiae analysis is questionable, but I'll allow it.)  Rowlands is interested in another perennial game issue, the border between work and play.  Given the labor-intensive nature of your basic MMO, it's a relevant question.  It looks like a useful study if your area of interest is the MMO; there may be something of use to broader game studies as well.
Video gamers / Garry Crawford.
Crawford's book is another piece of game studies scholarship that centers on the issue of player culture.  And that's the basic point of this book: to provide a general introduction to a sociological approach to game studies.  Chapter topics include a discussion of theories of play,  a consideration of game players in terms of larger consumer and audience studies, and summaries of predominant approaches to sociology and games.  There hasn't been a lot of discussion and critique of actual methodology on game studies; a meta-approach that evaluates common processes and procedures in place would actually be very useful.  This book is probably worth checking out.  H.

Goodness; nine books in, and we've only looked at two sections. I'll take three items from the graphic novel subsection of the literature section, make it an even dozen, and call it a day.

Are you my mother? : a comic drama /Alison Bechdel. 
Mentioned because I want to remind myself to read this.  Bechdel's previous book Fun Home (as well as her Dykes to Look Out For series, to a lesser degree) has been held up as a model of autobiographical comics, a burgeoning genre in the indie comics scenes.  Fun Home was largely about Bechdel's relationship with her father, but I remember as I read the book that it was her relationship with her mother that kept drawing my attention, in the way it seemed to accompany the father's story, but never really come out into the open.  I feel as if it's necessary, then, to read this book, if for no other reason than to get the missing part of the story. H.
Sexual ideology in the works of Alan Moore : critical essays on the graphic novels / edited by Todd A. Comer and Joseph Michael Sommers. 
I was following an online discussion on comics the other day, and someone posed an open challenge: name a comic series written by Alan Moore that wasn't for an existing Marvel or DC title that doesn't involve rape.  I couldn't think of one.  That alone, I think, justifies an anthology like this, especially given Moore's prominence in comic books, and, especially through extension into film, pop culture in general.  Essays include a general discussion of Moore's superhero work, Environmentalism and Eroticism in Swamp Thing; Love and Madness in the Killing Joke and Nowlan's version of the Joker; sexual domination in From Hell and Lost Girls; Body Politics in V for Vendetta; and love and transcendence in Promethea.  I don't see anything from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series except for a study of the "Fanny Hill" short story, but other than that, it seems like this'll be the go-to book for sex-related Alan Moore studies.
Crossing boundaries in graphic narrative : essays on forms, series and genres / edited by Jake Jakaitis and James F. Wurtz.
It appears I'm just a sucker for anthologies this week. This one does what it says on the tin; it`s comic book studies, but with a wider look at comic book culture than usual.  It's a fairly expansive remit, and that's reflected in the diversity of its contents.  Topics include Michael Chabon and Dark Horse Comics, modernism and George Herriman, Alterity and the Sandman, Time and space in Alan Moore's "How Things Work Out," Southern Print Culture in Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby, and Self-Reflexive Rebellion in Persepolis. It's my preferred method of study, to be honest; take a wide view, with a specific application.  Granted, I'm not interested in the same way as the Moore study, but it seems like a respectable approach. H.

The expanses of the megalibrary of the University of Toronto expands further in every direction.  While its supplies are endless, sadly, my time is not.  See you next week, folks. 

Later Days.

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