Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Academic Time

If you have never attended the MLA or any other conference in the humanities, then you may not be aware that the traditional mode of presentations at these affairs is “slow reading.” That is, people sit at a skirted table and slowly read their papers to the audience.

Towards the end of my own academic career, I became frustrated with this mannered and boring format and vowed never again to read a paper at a conference (a vow I have kept, opting to “present,” rather than read).

With the MLA Convention in town, a friend on Facebook was lamenting the persistence of this practice and wrote, “I only wonder sometimes if the slow-motion paper reading isn’t analogous to the glacial change we’re enacting for the students.”

What connects this stilted method of recitation and the glacial pace of institutional change, particularly in the humanities, is a shared temporal horizon. Academic time is cyclical, seasonal and mythic. It’s a pastoral time, following the rhythm of the harvest, on the one hand, but also a timeless, monastic time in which scholars toil insulated from the hectic pace of the secular world.

Scholarly work relying on immersion in texts, contemplative reflection and artful writing seems to require solitude and a remove from the world. The academic institution, however, needs to engage with the world in order to maintain itself and thus enable and support such remove.

The challenge faced by the humanities lies in reconciling this circular time, this time beyond time, with the restless, linear time of the outside world—for that time, is the time of change.

Trouble With Length

A friend pointed out that the most effective posts on this blog are the shortest.

Tree of Smoke

I’ve just finished reading a book.

One line—”Now James felt as if his head had been chopped off and thrown in boiling water.”—made me burst out laughing.

Another two—”Courage is action. Thought is cowardice.”—made me burst into tears.

There is much more in this book than these few lines.

And a hopeful broken-heartedness about the whole thing.

Taking Refuge in Gravity’s Rainbow

“Um über die nachträgliche Abspannung der Nerven hinwegzukommen habe ich leider wieder zum Chloroform meine Zuflucht genommen. Die Wirkung war furchtbar.” – Georg Trakl, 1905

I’ve begun to re-immerse myself in the intricate and densely overwrought sprawl of Pynchon’s masterwork. I first read it some 28 years ago and must declare that it remains, then as now, worthy of my idolatrous devotion.

20th Century literature begins with Ulysses and ends with Gravity’s Rainbow. The rest is either commentary or reaction.

A List of Science Fiction Books for Phil Johnson

95 Mostly sci-fi books by th3ph17Phil Johnson has an ad agency (PJA) and also likes to read books. One day I asked him if he ever read science fiction and he said he didn’t. He asked me then to assemble a list of science fiction books I would recommend. I agreed to do so but thought, “Why should this list just sit in Phil’s inbox? Why don’t I, in fact, share it with the world via this worldwide, web-like platform I normally use for blogging about atheism, communism, and heavy metal?”

I’m no science fiction fanatic, and there’s probably a ton of great stuff out there that I’ve never even heard of (if you think so, PLEASE leave suggestions in the comments!), but this is the list I put together for Phil with the understanding that he has not even read some of the “classics”.

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – The book upon which Blade Runner was based, of course, though much more engaging, involved, and philosophical than the film. It also contains at least one passage that, I believe, induces a palpable experience of existential vertigo. Watch out!
  2. Spaceman Blues: A Love Story – Brian Francis Slattery’s relatively recent vignette hits you with a heady melange of beat prose, hard-boiled pacing, and an undying love of New York City. It also depicts the banal horror of alien conquest.
  3. Dune – Speaking of melange, I was surprised to learn that Phil had never read this. The epic weirdness of David Lynch’s movie version aside, this novel is a virtuosic display of world-crafting that functions as political allegory, alternative history, and mystic tome.
  4. Neuromancer – William Gibson is a reserved—at times almost austere—stylist with a keen eye for future probabilities and a good record collection. Oh, and he coined the term “cyberspace”. One of his most recent books, Pattern Recognition, was about marketing.
  5. Schismatrix – I read this right after I read Neuromancer and thought that it actually contained more interesting ideas about social evolution, humanoid psychology, and the polymorphy of culture. If you like hallucinogenic drugs and societies built around the practice of sewing, you’ll love this.
  6. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Speaking of hallucinogens, Philip K. Dick’s novel about the extreme ennui experienced by space colonists, their flight into a world of Barbie dolls and pharmaceuticals, and the appearance of drug-peddling cyber-god works both as a parable of the 60s and a prophecy for the future.
  7. Radio Free Albemuth – This is the last Philip K. Dick novel I’m going to recommend but, in many ways, it is the best written (possibly because it was published posthumously and bears the trace of careful editing?). Dick had a religious experience in 1974 that obsessed him until his death. He wrote a lengthy exegesis of this experience and incorporated many of its details into his later novels (Valis, The Divine Invasion, Flow My Tears). It plays a central role in this novel as well but is handled in a more human, and less cartoony, way.
  8. The Deathworms of Kratos – This was Book 1 in a series called “The Expendables” (I also read The Rings of Tantalus). It is totally adolescent science fiction that made a big impression on me when I read it in seventh or eighth grade. The lesson here isn’t that this is a great book; the lesson is that, with science fiction, sometimes you just have to pick up a book because it has a cool cover or weird title and start reading (that is in fact what I did with Spaceman Blues above).
  9. The Alegebraist – This guy Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks) is prolific and a very solid writer except that he sometimes gets too many plot threads cooking for his own good. This book definitely suffers from that but the weaknesses in plotting are more than made-up-for by the phantasmagoria of worlds, beings, and circumstances Banks conjures.
  10. A Deepness in the Sky – Vernor Vinge is the guy who invented “The Singularity” and he’s written a bunch of cool science fiction novels. Some may argue that this book’s predecessor, A Fire Upon the Deep, is better, but this creepy, slow-burning study of intergalactic colonialism, mind control, and revolt has stuck with me much longer.

I could recommend a bunch more, but that’s enough for now. Like I said, if you’re reading this and got something to add, go for it!

Image Source: th3ph17.

In Case You Missed These Tweets

I spend more time tending my Twitter garden than I do planting bulbs here in my own backyard.

To remedy this, I’m attempting a little cross-pollination and invite you, dear reader, to drink deep from my Twitter well. Just look at the precious coins I’ve tossed therein:

Pretty good, right?

Publish and Perish

There are many reasons why my academic career didn’t pan out, but among them is undoubtedly the fact that I didn’t publish very much. For example, I never turned my dissertation on the Baader-Meinhof Gang into a book (though part of my research did end up in an obscure, Canadian journal called, Border/Lines).

When I did publish, it was essays like this one on the politics of gangsta rap.

Now, of course, I “publish” pretty much every day!

Life is so strange.

Vot Are You Voorking On?

299311799_75ebae8abe_mI’m in the middle of a bunch of projects right now.

One project has me writing about security in the cloud.

Apparently, security concerns are one major obstacle to adoption of the cloud, in spite of the many advantages this computing model offers. My client is trying to change all that.

Another project has me mapping out a strategy for a blog focused on outsourced (sometimes called “offshore”) product development (OPD).

While the offshoring of IT services is hardly new, for the last several years we’ve seen outsourcing move up the value chain to include what were once considered core functions like R&D and new product development. As you might imagine, there are myriad challenges associated with this approach. My client is trying to solve (some of) them.

In addition to the above, I’m doing content strategy (“what kind of content do you need to generate leads, close sales, and improve search rank?”) and development (actually producing the stuff) for an array of B2B firms.

Bigger-picture-wise, I’m exploring various business models for content marketing services. If you’ve got ideas about that, let me hear ’em!

PS. The title question of this post was posed by Irini Galliulin to Ensign Chekhov in the classic Star Trek episode, “Way to Eden

Image Courtesy of Dollie_Mixtures.

Similes That Make Me Smile

Reading two NYT articles today reminded me of how much fun with similes writers over there can have.

First, in “The Great Unalignment,” writer Matt Bai says that, in the aftermath of Scott Brown’s Senate victory here in Masschusetts, Democratic talk of “a great liberal realignment seems as retro as Friendster.”

While I don’t exactly consider Friendster retro – it’s hardly Pong – I’ve always said, “Retro is the new cutting edge.”

Second, in a review of Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima, Dwight Garner writes, “Mr. Pellegrino follows his survivors as they trudge through wastelands that make ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy read like ‘Goodnight, Moon.'”

Of course, that just got me thinking about how well “The Road” would go over as a bedtime story: “Goodnight corpse. Goodnight air. Goodnight cannibals everywhere.”


4081616965_7f862f86cc_mI saw Avatar yesterday and, well, you know.

I thought it would have been so much better if they had discovered that the All-mother, Eywa, was actually an evil AI and the Na’vi people were really her slaves or her batteries, like in the Matrix, and that the “attack” by the “sky people” was actually created by her to punish them for something.

This would have also allowed for a Philip K. Dick-esque bending of reality/identity as Sully discovers that the woman he’s fallen in love with is actually an avatar, that all the soldiers and scientists and corporate flacks from Earth are avatars, and that, in fact, he is an avatar as well!

On another note: SEO

I did a Google Image search for “Avatar” and, of course, mainly got pictures of Aang and his cohorts from Avatar: The Last Airbender, which first aired in 2005.

Just goes to show that half a billion dollars in production and advertising can’t turn back the accreted long tale of web content.

Or can it?

Image Courtesy of rxau.