From the pages of Slate comes this interesting piece by Andrew Piper about the difference between reading a book and reading a Kindle (one being a “vertebrate” and thus human, and the other an “invertebrate” or non-human activity). Consider:

For Augustine, the book’s closedness—that it could be grasped as a totality—was integral to its success in generating transformative reading experiences. Its closedness was the condition of the reader’s conversion. Digital texts, by contrast, are radically open in their networked form. They are marked by a very weak sense of closure. Indeed, it is often hard to know what to call them (e-books, books, texts, or just documents) without any clear sense of the material differences between them.

But on another level we could say that digital texts don’t so much cancel the book’s closedness as reinscribe it within themselves. Where books are closed on the outside and open on the inside, digital texts put this relationship in reverse order. The openness of the digital text—that it is hard to know where its contours are—contrasts with a performed inaccessibility that also belongs to the networked text. There is always something “out of touch” about the digital. Consider Kenneth Goldsmith’s online Soliloquy (2001), which was initially published as a printed book consisting of transcripts of his digitally recorded speech over the course of a single week. In the online version, words on the screen only appear when touched by the cursor (the electronic finger) and then only one sentence at a time. Every time we move the cursor to illuminate another sentence, the one before it disappears, just as the one after remains invisible. Like a jellyfish, the textual whole slips through our fingers.

In a somewhat related piece,  the Chronicle of Higher Education interviews four professors of the year who all advise that the key to modern pedagogy is adaptation to regnant technologies and the changing mindset of the contemporary student. (Link may be behind a firewall.) I’m skeptical of these claims that it is our job as professors “not to disseminate content” but to “engage students,” to motivate them, and to make them “lifelong learners.” Honestly, I don’t know how that last claim can be avoided, but in any case I don’t know how I can be held responsible for the lack of intellectual curiosity in a person.

Finally, under the rubric of defending cultural regionalism, comes the news that the Big Ten is likely expanding to include the University of Maryland and Rutgers University in its sports programs. I can’t think of anyone in the fan base of either the Big Ten or those two schools who are eager for such a move. I’ve managed to pare my sports allegiances down to two things: Michigan football (although, as the Bar Jester will be quick to point out, I never attended the school) and a particular golfer – neither of which I can really defend: the former because of the way big-time athletics has corrupted these universities, and the latter because of personal corruption. But allegiances are not easily dispelled, and so especially this week my adrenaline is pumping at unusually high levels. Athletic conferences, if they are smartly organized, are about regional rivalries: shared cultures and borders inflaming passions. What Michigan fan wouldn’t rather see their team play Wisconsin or even Indiana (sorry Beer) than Rutgers (sorry Deneen)? Playing Rutgers or Maryland has no interest to us. There is no shared culture, shared border, conflicting identity, dismissive jokes, or easy game-day drives. We all know it’s simply about money, but there ought to be more important things in life than that. Every year I find it more and more difficult to defend my interest in Michigan football. As I said, allegiances are not easily attenuated, but money can corrupt those as well. The Big Ten ought to be aware (or beware) of that.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.