Monday, January 30, 2006

Lawrence Grossberg live

Early last November, I wrote about Lawrence Grossberg's book Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America's Future, and made a plea for people to read it. I hope people have been reading it, since it's a significant piece of scholarship. As a follow up to that post, I thought D&R readers might be interested in the latest issue of Bad Subjects, in which Jonathan Sterne interviews Grossberg about the book. It's an excellent interview (kudos, Jonathan), because it revisits Caught in the Crossfire's key themes and insights, extends them, and provides useful context on the book's genesis. Check it out.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Am I the only one who's getting tired of waiting for the third installment of Lefebvre's Critique of Everyday Life to be released? By chance I happened to check my account on, and found that I had pre-ordered COELvIII almost two-and-a-half years ago! Last I heard, the publisher, Verso, was aiming for a January 2006 release date--which obviously has been pushed back several times already. Given that it's the 27th today, I'm not very optimistic about their chances of getting it out before the month ends. Does anyone have any information on what's delayed the book for so long, or on when it might actually come out? Sigh....

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Say my name

Nobody--understandably--knows how to pronounce my surname, "Striphas." The name's of Greek origin, but it's been Anglicized like nobody's business. The worst pronunciation I ever heard occurred when I was a small boy, at my pediatrician's office. I remember the nurse calling out, "Ted 'Strip-ass?'" It was, needless to say, embarrassing.

So, drawing some inspiration from Siva Vaidhyanathan's blog, I decided to add a link (at right) to an mp3 file of me saying my name. I'm sure people still will get it wrong, and that's okay, since maybe a few more people will get it right.

All together now....

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pieces of Shatner

Here I am, writing about the problem with "presence" and "traces," only to hear the latest story about actor William Shatner (of Star Trek, and more recently of Boston Legal, fame). Apparently he auctioned off a kidney stone (yes, thankfully, it had been passed) for US$10,000. He donated the proceeds of the sale to Habitat for Humanity, a charitable organization that builds homes for the needy.

Let's just hope he never needs to have a whole kidney removed.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The first rule of cultural studies

I realize it's been awhile since I last posted. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm in the process of writing my book about changes in the US and global book industries. I "reward" myself for a good writing week with blogging. I know, I know--it sounds incredibly masochistic to reward intensive writing with more writing, but I guess that's what having a passion for writing means. Anyway, I'm here because I've made progress.

The January 6, 2006 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education contained a cartoon on p. B6 of the review section. I wish I could reproduce it here, but because of copyright considerations I'm sure I'd get my butt whupped (though it arguably could fall under the "criticism" proviso of the US fair use exception, but that's another story...). Anyway, it depicts two Sex & the City-ish women in what appears to be an upscale bistro, sipping martinis. Both look rather wealthy and aloof. The caption? "What happens in Cultural Studies stays in Cultural Studies."

I'm not sure what to do with this. On the one hand, I couldn't help but laugh, mainly because I cannot understand why people make such a big deal about why cultural studies (I don't use capital letters) has a specialized language. Doesn't anthropology? Mathematics? Physics? Literary studies? So why single out cultural studies--yet again--to suggest it's some kind of insular and exclusive (fight?) club? Given its pervasiveness in the humanities, why are these kinds of criticisms still circulating?

Maybe I'm just being too sensitive. At least the cartoon foregrounds two women, and as we all know women too often are under-represented at all levels of academe, in cultural studies or otherwise. On the other hand, there's a clear sense in which the cartoon seems to be suggesting that cultural studies is, at the end of the day, a martini-sipping, petit bourgeois discipline.

What do you think about this?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

How to do things with words

I have two confessions to make. First, I'm addicted to Scrabble(TM). Second, I'm not particularly good at it. I think I've scored over 400 points only a couple of times, and cracking 300 still constitutes a good game for me.

Nevertheless, because I'm fascinated with the game and with words more generally, I was given a copy of Stefan Fatsis's book Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players (Penguin, 2002). The book offers a thoughtful, observant look into the history of the popular board game and into the lives of key figures who make up the world of competitive Scrabble play. It also contains some interesting bits about how players and Hasbro (Scrabble's current owner) have struggled for control of the game. Players, if nothing else, have been instrumental in developing dictionaries, strategy sheets, and more, in effect adding value to a game whose trademark is coveted by, and produces significant profit for, its corporate parent.

Though the book only mentions this in passing, I'm intrigued by the fact that some of the best English-language Scrabble players in the world are individuals who barely know English. I read more about this phenomenon in an article published recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which profiled a Thai Scrabble player scheduled to compete in--and favored to win--the 2005 World Championship. Though he did not ultimately win the tournament, his success at the game raises interesting questions about the semiotic dimensions of language. In the world of Scrabble, meaning apparently is a hindrance, as Fatsis's book shows even of native English-language speakers. Those who know what words mean, or who try to play interesting, cheeky words to demonstrate their intelligence or command of language, often are among the worst competitive Scrabble players. (Yes--that's me.)

Those who succeed at Scrabble know how to do things with words, to recall J. L. Austin's memorable phrase, rather than getting bogged down in the depths of meaning and symbolicity. Scrabble is a game about words, power, space, and, yes, chance, this despite its being passed off by the uninitiated (and Hasbro) simply as a "word game." As competitive Scrabble players will tell you, theirs is a game they think ought to be on par with chess, Parcheesi, go, and other games valorized for their intellectual and philosophical dimensions. I'm beginning to agree.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sly & the family Stallone

From the annals of strange intellectual property disputes...

I just read a short blurb in Newsweek magazine about action star Sylvester Stallone's most recent venture, a health and fitness magazine for 50-something men called Sly (always a creative force to be reckoned with, that Mr. Stallone). The funny thing is, Sly--both the actor and the mag--were sued by an internet publication for shoe fetishists bearing the same name. The judge ruled in the actor's favor, saying that the potential for confusion between the two mags was minimal.

Sly indeed.

Fishing expedition

Yikes--it's been a few weeks since my last post. (Now doesn't that sound confessional?) Sorry for not keeping things fresher. The holidays got the better of me, and I'm only now getting caught up. Ironic, isn't it, how much work goes into--and comes out of--trying to take a little break? Sigh.

Anyway, I have a teaching leave this semester. With it I'm gearing up to complete my book manuscript about how the book industry changed (and remained the same) in the 20th and 21st centuries, Equipment for Living: Everyday Book Culture in the Late Age of Print. You can read more about the book by clicking on this link to my website:

I'm writing today because I'm bogged down in historical minutiae--important historical minutiae. More specifically, I'm in the process of researching two figures who, I imagine, most of you have never heard of but who nonetheless were key shapers of the book industry we now know: Charles Montgomery (C.M.) Barnes, one of the progenitors of the Barnes & Noble bookselling chain; and Orion Howard (O.H.) Cheney, who conducted the first systematic economic survey of the book industry's structure and functioning.

I know it's a long, long, longshot, but if any of you reading this have any information on these fellows, or know of good sources that might turn up some leads, I'd appreciate hearing from you. You will, of course, get an acknowledgment in my book!

Happy New Year to all of you reading D & R. More to come. . . .