What to Read and Teach Next (June, 2018)

What to Teach Next: #openaccess literature, culture, and #technologies readings published by http://www.datasociety.net:

Re: Imagining the near future of race and biology: “Ferguson is the Future” by Ruha Benjamin

Re: Global politics, indigenous cultures, and mining: “The Irradiated International” by Lou Cormun

Re: Envision (and participate narratively in) the future of aging and elder care : “Welcome to Vanguard Estates” by Rose Eveleth



Describing Bed-Stuy: A Community-Based Archival Project

Describing Bed-Stuy: A Community-Based Archival Project

When: Saturday, June 2, 2018 (2-3:30? pm)

Where: Macon Street Branch, Brooklyn Public Library, Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

About the “Describing Bed-Stuy” Project:

Written descriptions provide a highly personalized and in-depth record of the built and human environments that make Bed-Stuy unique.  We are interested in your stories and your perspectives on your particular experience of living in Bed-Stuy. These descriptions will be collected and archived as part of an ongoing project to document the history and present of our vibrant neighborhood.

About the Workshop Facilitator:

Johannah Rodgers is a resident of (Eastern) Bed-Stuy (845 Hancock Street @ Ralph and Howard Avenues) and a writer, artist, and educator whose work is concerned with technologies, environmental sustainability, and the preservation and definition of humans and human-built structures, rituals, and artifacts.  She has been teaching writing for over twenty years and is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books and projects, including Technology: A Reader for Writers,  DNA: A Digital Fiction Project (dnanovel.com), digitalcomposition.org: an open access, i.e., freely accessible, web site about writing, writing education, and things people do with writing.

About “Description 1: 11233”:

In late 2015, the poet and critic Albert Mobilio invited me and Donald Breckenridge to participate in Double Take, a reading series that he has curated over the last nine years at the Apex Art gallery in Manhattan. The reading series is organized around a constraint: two writers trade takes on a shared experience. Donald and I talked about several possibilities for the project that we would collaborate on, deciding finally that a description of our neighborhood park, Saratoga Park, where we walk together at least once a week would be a fitting subject for our shared project. No description of anything is ever exhaustive. As a result, some of the questions that we considered in this project and that I’d like you to consider today are: What does it mean to describe a place? What does it mean to see something? What do you see? How do you see? How does what you see differ from what I see? “Describing Bed-Stuy” is, in part, a continuation of this project that will document other shared spaces in the 11233 zip code.

Writing as a Medium for
Documenting Spaces and Places

Writing is highly personalized

Writing is uniquely impressionistic

Writing combines perceptions from all of your senses

Writing is informed by your experiences across time and encompasses a unique history of you and your family and your heritage

Writing is highly transportable

Writing is, or can be, comparatively inexpensive as a medium of documentation

Writing is also, unfortunately, somewhat stigmatized because it is not, like talking, used on a daily basis

Some Guidelines for Today’s Workshop
Re: Writing

We will not be concerned with writing as a “code” that is supposed to be used in specific ways and according to strict rules of usage as defined by the guidelines of Standard Written English.

Instead, we will use writing as a means of transcription to document our unique and personalized accounts of what we have seen in our neighborhoods or what stories we have to tell about our neighborhoods. We will write in whatever way and in whatever dialect (formal, informal) we are most comfortable with. We will not be concerned with conventions of punctuation or word choice. We will pretend we are talkng to another person using writing to convey what it is we have to say. We may draw pictures to describe things we are talking about. We may make up words to describe things that we have seen or want documented. We will think about not only what words we might use to describe our neighborhood but what words come to mind when we think of our neighborhood and are often in our minds when we are in our neighborhood.

Some Prompts or Possible Beginnings

  • What does your block look like?
  • What makes your block unique?
  • How has your block changed over the last week, month, year, decade?
  • Who lives on your block?
  • If you had to choose one word to describe your block, what would it be? Why did you choose that word?
  • If you were to tell one story about your block, which story would you tell? Why?
  • Describe a typical or single day on your block.
  • Write a letter to future residents of your block about what you would like them to know about your block.




On Reading

November, 2012

On Reading

Johannah Rodgers

I have been thinking a lot lately about reading:  about how much I love reading and how pleasurable it is, not just as a pasttime or for entertainment–though these are important parts of it as well–but as something more significant and ultimately more important than entertainment.  You must read with desire, I’ve written, as has Roland Barthes long before me.  I keep turning to Barthes in my quest to understand more about reading, why it is so important to me, and how I might share this desire, this pleasure with my students.  I have not yet located any one piece of writing by Barthes that succinctly communicates this, which is part of the reason that I am writing this now.  


In an age of widespread access to information, we are all reading a lot.  But we are reading differently.  We are also experiencing time differently.  I think about myself and all of the time I once had to read.  Do people have that kind of time anymore?  They could, in theory, but perhaps they simply don’t.  I still have the time, but I use it differently.  I can now look at twenty books at a time in the space of an afternoon on Google Books.  Reading technologies are not new, of course, and it is worth thinking about the bookwheel and the reading easel as some examples of reading technologies from another time.  (Perhaps just as much as time and space are essential to understanding novels, the time and space of reading itself is important.  Many literary theorists have written about the time of reading and its relationships with narrative time, but we are still figuring out how the time and space of reading change with changes in actual time.)    


In my studies of reading and in my thinking about teaching writing, I’ve come to learn that writing well really is–at least in part–a question of reading well.  It is also about reading a lot.  It is about developing a fluency in reading.  It is internalizing a textual language.  To become comfortable with writing is, in some ways, to learn a new language.  


There are a lot of steps involved in this metaphor I’ve thrown out there, and I hope at some point to break them all down.  For now, what I want to focus on is this question of technology and reading.  Each generation grows up with its own technologies of reading. I am very much a product of my own generational reading technologies.  My mother’s generation was slightly different from mine.  But the technology we shared was the printed book.  Mine may have been paperbacks and hers hardcovers, mine may have had different covers and included more graphics and colors than hers, but she and I both sat with a bound codex in our laps or on our desks to learn things.  The printed codex will not be the technology of reading for the next generation.  It will be something else.  Although I am not the best person to explain how this next generation’s reading technologies will function, I can act as an intermediary and as a witness to the pleasures of my generation’s reading technologies.  


Back to Barthes, who has always been interested most in writing and–he claims–only secondarily in reading.  Are we writing and reading in new ways now?  Is this an age of a new kind of concision in communication, as well as one of collaboration in composition?  


My sense is that all that anyone needs to get started with reading is a door.  But what does that door look like for this generation?  My door looked like this:  some small books that my mother told me were must reads:  Kafka, ee cummings’ six non-lectures, some poems by Yeats.  This door opened a bit more in high school when I was introduced to various French existentialist writers.  This door was then blown off its hinges when I took a class on Proust in college, and it has been wide open ever since.  But if, for my generation, the clues were in footnotes and references and bibliographies, where are they for this generation?

Adapted from What Is Writing?: An Introduction to Writing as an Act and Medium of Communication (2015).

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Engineering Language: Writing Machines, Labor, and Public Education in the U.S. and Britain

Engineering Language is the title of a research project that I am currently working on that investigates the interconnections amongst the history and development of information and communications technologies, linguistic and literary critical definitions of language, writing instruction in public higher education, and commercial publishing in order to better understand the  definitions, roles and functions of verbal language in twenty-first century media economies.

Since the widespread adoption of the printing press, we have been writing with and for machines.  However, the ways in which and the extent to which machines could participate in acts of writing have changed over time.  We have now reached a point where machines play an active role not only in the reproduction and distribution of writing, but in its production and, even, at times, in its creation and composition.  As we find ourselves increasingly writing with and for machines, there is the possibility that functions once assigned uniquely to humans can be automated.  In this project, I am exploring the interconnections amongst the history and development of information and communications technologies, linguistic and literary critical definitions of language, writing instruction in public higher education, and commercial publishing in order to better understand the production and functions of verbal language, or what was once referred to as “writing,” in twentieth and twenty-first century media economies.

Here Is One More Question to Add to the Growing List of Things to Talk About Regarding the Court’s Decision to Revoke Martin Shkreli’s Bail: Was It Primarily Intended to Protect Clinton’s Safety or her DNA?

Regardless of what you think of Martin Shkreli, and it is frankly hard not to have strong opinions about the guy, a Brooklyn judge’s decision on September 13, 2017 to revoke his bail privileges based on a Facebook post (now deleted) in which he offered, according to the A. P.,  “to pay a $5,000 bounty for a Hillary Clinton hair with the follicle” raises a whole new host of issues to consider.  While most of the discussion will be focused on what counts as protected speech, and particularly if the original post was intended as satire, a less pressing though nonetheless interesting question regarding whether the judge’s decision was also intended to protect Clinton’s DNA needs to be discussed.

While Brooklyn-based artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has undoubtedly received less press than Shkreli and his antics, her DNA-based portraits  , have left many of us thinking about the very real issues related to identity theft in an age of mechanized biological reproduction.   So what exactly was the judge protecting with this ruling?  Clinton’s safety or her DNA, or both?

Although Shkreli’s original Facebook post has been removed, there have been several reports on its contents from different sources.  According to The Hill, which is the publication that broke the story, the contents of the post read: “The Clinton Foundation is willing to KILL to protect its secrets. So on [Hillary Clinton’s] book tour, try to grab a hair from her. I must confirm the sequences I have. Will pay $5,000 per hair obtained from Hillary Clinton. Payment after the sequence matches. Good luck, patrollers.”

Links to Legal Documents Filed in Shkreli Case

Shkreli 2015 Complaint

Shkreli 2015 Indictment

Shkreli 2017 Motion to Revoke Bail




Science and/as Fiction

Science and Fiction – A New Series from Springer Nature

This collection of entertaining and thought-provoking books will appeal equally to science buffs, scientists and science-fiction fans. It was born out of the recognition that scientific discovery and the creation of plausible fictional scenarios are often two sides of the same coin. Each relies on an understanding of the way the world works, coupled with the imaginative ability to invent new or alternative explanations – and even other worlds. Authored by practicing scientists as well as writers of hard science fiction, these books explore and exploit the borderlands between accepted science and its fictional counterpart. Uncovering mutual influences, promoting fruitful interaction, narrating and analyzing fictional scenarios, together they serve as a reaction vessel for inspired new ideas in science, technology, and beyond. Whether fiction, fact, or forever undecidable: the Springer Series “Science and Fiction” intends to go where no one has gone before!

For more information about the series: http://www.springer.com/series/11657

To read Paul Nahin’s recent contribution to the series, Time Travel Tales: