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the iPad Experience.

As we know the iPad has been a whole new experience for our classroom readings and discussions. The other day we talked about how “natural” the iPad was for reading the poems of Dickinson and Whitman. I do believe it seems rather unnatural to be sitting and reading the poems of these authors on this piece of technology. I think the reason I find it unnatural though is that it makes me think about the actual authors when they wrote the poems. They penned the poems on sheets of papers, letters, anything they could find. It was the art of writing and creating with your own hand. To read the poems on an iPad in a way takes away from what seems natural. Maybe its just my own somewhat utopian view of myself sitting outside on a beautiful day with the breeze blowing reading these great works on… an iPad? Like I’ve said before, I do not wish to bash the very existence of the iPad. I do think its invention is a great thing, but for English classes I’ve been so conditioned to read from a book. It has a provided a whole new experience that has taken awhile to get used to.

Happy Trails

Since this is the last time I’ll be blogging for the semester, I think it’s appropriate to finish out with another iPad post (I’m pretty most of mine have been about this, but hey–that’s the point of the section, right?).

I took my iPad home over the Easter weekend, and had different people ask me on different occasions if I was going to be sad to give it back. Both times I said I was looking forward to the day, and then wondered to myself, why is that?

I don’t regret having stayed in the section. At the beginning of the semester I felt, and still do feel at the end, that we’re providing a valuable service to the department and the University by reading on our iPads and giving thorough feedback. That said, it has been somewhat frustrating:

I remember several times envying my classmates in lecture who I saw flipping luxuriously through their coursepacks, annotating and underlining in real-time along with the lectures, when by the time I could’ve gotten there on my iPad, lecture would’ve already been over! I’ve felt disorganized, lost, and endured a pervasive fear that I’m missing something/everything.

More than that though, I haven’t become attached to my iPad at all. Quite the opposite. As the semester progressed, I cared for it less and less. It’s not mine, and that’s been clear from the get-go. Why should I put in the time and effort to get to know it/make it my own, when it’s just going to be leaving me as soon as I do? After three months, ‘Rochester’ is more of an unwelcome houseguest who takes up space in my room, and who I feel obligated to hang out with when, all joking aside, I’d much rather be sitting down with a good book.

A few things that would improve the experiment: 1.) Have students buy their own iPads, or give them to them. I know this isn’t as feasible, but regardless, I think the ownership issue is a major flaw in the experiment. 2.) Better formats. Buy EPUB texts and preload them onto the iPad, or reimburse us for buying them (also, better editions (i.e. not simply scanned) of Google books would have been nice). As for PDFs, I can more easily read and sort them on my laptop. 3.) If you must use PDFs, preload the $10 app, iAnnotate PDF onto each iPad.

I guess that’s all. Like I said, no regrets and no bad feelings, but I won’t be sad to see him go.

Cataloguing

In Monday’s lecture professor Greeson began to point out the use of cataloguing in Whitman’s poetry.  This was the first thing that I noticed when reading “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti.  This listing is then transformed into an anaphora in the repeating of the structure of cataloguing creating a new kind of list.  I found this form fitting for the poem due to the capitalist over-tones…a listing of products and of desirable things.  I found the image of golden-hair being used as gold very vivid and rumpelstiltskin-ian.  I felt this image was key in moving back and forth between the relationship of the sisters and the virtues associated with their love for each other as well as the desire-driven, masculine dominated, Goblin Market.  Overall I thought that this poem was interesting though long but I think it plays well into the topic of narration and the double (2 sisters “two blossoms on one stem” twin-ness).  This poem serves as a short narrative about two sisters who are tempted and where one fails the other succeeds.

“For
 there 
is
 no 
friend
 like 
a 
sister…To 
fetch 
one 
if
 one 
goes 
astray, To 
lift
 one
 if
 one 
totters
 down, To
strengthen
 whilst
 one
 stands.”

Books on the Ipad

Interestingly enough, I am taking another class this semester that deals with the Ipad on some level. It is a publishing class here at UVA, and we get the opportunity to create our own books on ADOBE indesign as well as get the opportunity to print them. Our teacher, who has been around for many years, and is one of the main publishers of our local annual book, Meridian, spent an entire class this past week showing us a PowerPoint about how the Ipad is going to become increasingly popular and take precedence over books in the years to come. He showed us an interesting video from Apple, of how to create your own EPUB format book, right from your own computer.  I thought this pertained directly to our class in that this particular video showed how popular computer tablets are going to become, especially if average students like us are able to create books that will be able to function in the ipad! If you are interested in looking at the video we saw in class,  here it is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS6mZaksmIs

As I’ve learned particularly in another English class I’m taking, introductions to books, no matter how seemingly mundane they are, serve as a treasure chest of meaning. In straightforward introductions, there is still meaning: why is this introduction so spelled-out? how does this initial tone change or effect notions of characters? Basically, introductions matter. Reading “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” I cannot help but get stuck on the first line: “I am a rather elderly man.” Compared to the ambiguous, flat narrators of Austen and Dickens, especially, this line stood and immediately evoked a pronounced sense of fiction. To me, this introduction seems to use the most modern conventions: setting up a first-person narrator, and then telling the story. Indeed, in the paragraphs that follow, the narrator acknowledges how important it is to get to know him before the reader meets Bartleby. I am also writing this post purposefully after only reading the introduction. I think it’s important to capture these sentiments now in order to see how the novel develops, and also to have a firm understanding of the narrator’s character. In Hard Times, Dickens’s central characters are totally flat. However, Melville describes the narrator, not even the namesake of the short story, emphatically. Indeed, he writes more about the aesthetic of his narrator’s windows, it seems, than Dickens writes about Gradgrind. Obviously I’m being hyperbolic, but I just wanted to emphasize the staunch discrepancy I see between this work and others of the semester — even only a few paragraphs in.

I’m not the best at analogies, but try to stay with me:

Would you wear a dress in gym class?

Would you drink coffee at a vineyard?

Would you watch television in a bookstore?

The answer to all of these questions would probably be “No” because these things don’t fit together.  One thing that I’ve had a personal struggle with while using the iPad, particularly while reading “Hard Times,” is deciding whether or not original typefaces “fit” with the modern technology of the iPad.  After a semester on the iPad, I’ve come to a conclusion.  There’s something unnatural about reading a text like “Hard Times” in its original form, on a device that is capable of portraying it in a more digestible way. It’s frustrating reading a digital text that is far from “digital.”  Isn’t the point of digital technology to make things easier? Quicker? Accessible?  Do we really gain anything from reading an entire text in its original form?  I’m not sure we do.

One thing this class has introduced us to is the evolution of a text.  All the works we’ve read have experienced a number of changes since their original dates of publication, often for good reason.  Rather than jumping back in time, maybe a class that uses the iPad should help contribute to the evolution of a text by presenting works in modern forms.  That said, I don’t think we should completely abandon works’ original appearances; maybe a modern, digital text can have a page or two demonstrating what the original text looked like.

The iPad permits innovation, so I think it’s important that we innovate.  I think the department is heading in the right direction with its creating of the UVA Anthology.

Did you guys get annoyed with how long it took for the page to come into focus when reading Hard Times in iBooks? It took about 5 seconds for every page which slowed my reading substantially, giving me a hard time! I’ve noticed that this happens with really long texts whether you read them online (where you just get checkers) or load them to a reading app (where you get blurry text). I don’t know anything about computers so I don’t know if it has to do with the GBs or what but I know that it is an area which needs improvement if we want to view voluminous texts/pictures.

I have recently been listening to audio texts/books on my iPod for some classes as a personal experiment to be more efficient and enable multi-tasking. I thought about the possibility of having the text on the iPad AS WELL AS the audio version read to you at the same time. Maybe that will be an exciting option in the future.

While finishing the reading of Dicken’s novel, Hard Times, I am interested in three connected but distinct aspects of the narrative. First, as Professor Pasanek mentioned in lecture, the titles of different chapters (and the three Books) are noteworthy. They are not only useful in identifying (and recalling) extending metaphors (ie Sowing, Reaping, Garnering—planting facts in the Book 1, by Book 3, Louisa is lamenting the barren “garden” of her spirit) but are also ironically supportive of a more “factual” reading of the novel. Despite Dickens’ overall theme of ‘fancy’ ousting ‘fact’ and ‘heart’ prevailing over ‘head’, the form of this novel (as well as his preparatory manuscripts portrayed in lecture) indicates a proclivity for Dickens himself to mechanize the process of novel-writing.

The second aspect of the narrative worth examining in the context of Dickens’ other literary works is his use of “doubles”. The main characters (if not exact foils of one another) tend to work to exaggerate each other’s flaws or strengths. For example: Sissy and Bitzer exist in parallel, intersecting then re-intersecting contexts and represent two ends of the economic/social spectrum being satirized in this novel. By the end, Sissy is committed to helping Louisa experience the wealth of sentiment and imagination to be found in humanity (compassion, sympathy, altruism, etc) whereas Bitzer is committed to convicting Tom and stealing his position with Mr. Bounderby. Ironically, Bitzer’s teacher and Tom’s father, Mr. Gradagrind must grapple with the impact of his “Philosophy” (that was instilled in Bitzer and regurgitated to him so as it exaggerate it’s fallacy): “But I’m sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to is a person’s self-interest”(339). Here, Dickens blatantly asserts his own conceptions of the limits to Adam Smith’s theory of the division-of-labor. Ultimately, the “gap”or real “black abyss that Mrs. Sparsit imagines” and “Stephen falls into” is the emptiness of those pupils of Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy, the vacancy of his own daughter’s sense of self—the result of the mechanization of human-nature.

The last aspect, which deserves more attention than my knowledge or the size of the post can substantiate is the role of aesthetics in Dickens’ novel writing and perhaps its impact on his deliberate developmental choices of his characters and particular attention to realist detail. His representations of industrialization (in the particular, character interactions and evolution) work to (as Professor Pasenek said in lecture) “transfigure” Coketown. Moreover, this transfiguration entails an inspection of the new relationship between man and his material environment, the tangible context in which he lives and works.

The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass brought up an interesting idea concerning racial tensions in America. As you know, the book is an autobiography. It is a story of the man’s life and the events that occurred and helped shape who he was as an adult. While it would seem that this would provide for a very open, freeing book, circumstances still prevented Douglass from being completely vulnerable. For example, he chose not be share with his readers his escape methods for fear that other slaves may be caught. It just strikes me as ironic that a system that allowed a slave to move out of the horrible confines of slavery and into a life that allowed him to write his own book also placed constrains on him. While technically a free man, he was still subject to the fear, injustice, and inequality that surrounded the racial tensions of his day.

My post kind of goes off Caroline’s discussion of the iPad/fact and fancy in “Hard Times.”

Questions: What is our (students’) function in this iPad test section? Is it to learn, or to be guinea pigs? Both, I suppose.

Obviously, the whole “facts” thing is probably the biggest pedagogical question of all time. What does it mean to truly learn? In our section this semester, the question has come up regularly in regards to what will be expected of us on the final exam, since our other responsibilities have been quite different from those in other sections. As we’ve discussed, having to worry about that stuff just tarnishes what we’re actually aiming at in the class.

Part of what I’ve enjoyed observing is how our use of iPads in the class (and the surprises and inconveniences that have gone along with it) has kind of gradually, unexpectedly pushed us away from the factual side of the class. We didn’t take the midterm. Just this week we decided to put more emphasis on the final project, and less on the final exam. As a result, I feel like I have the freedom to have more fun with the Dickinson project, and I’m sure I’ll get a lot more out of it. If I can somehow thank the iPad for this, then it’s been worth it!

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