Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
Last December, I made a small pamphlet to one of my classes–it was part guide and commentary and part info-graphic responding to Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy (1982). What a cruel thing! To bring in two pamphlets for a seminar of ten. Luckily, this spring’s course “Introduction to Language, Literacy, and Culture” provided an ideal setting for another little book.
Craig Saper led the . . . seminar? Seminar isn’t really the right word for Saper’s courses. One can only search for analogies to try to describe the experience. Shop class (multi-modal workshops/evening reading groups/ DIY critical theory crafting sessions) meets panel talks meets cocktail party. Saper is the ideal host–a model for how the intimate bureaucracy works/plays. What would happen if the university adopted Fluxus philosophies?
Readings centered around Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Susan Sontag, Judith Butler, André Breton–the list goes on–and were supplemented by the work of guests who visited each week. The course succeeded in offering a broad scope of research in the Humanities. (And Randall Packer, one of our visitors, even included his virtual visit to our class as another example highlighting his notion of post-reality–the breakdown of the private/public and local/remote–and the “re-envisioning the 3rd space.”
At the end of the semester, I had a 200-page Composition book completely filled with notes. My original intention was to pull selected notes (sketches, first-thoughts, and reflections) with a few quotes from the works themselves. This became a daunting and impossible task to complete in the week before our final session–what was meant to be just a dozen or so pages, a memento really, became something else entirely. I scrapped this about forty pages into the compilation process and opted to pull something together thematically. I began reading Anna Ben-Yusuf‘s The Art of Millinery (1909), one of the first craft books on hat-making. If there was a theme in the class, it was certainly the need to wear a lot of hats. While The Art of Millinery is literally a how-to guide for designer’s in the trade, I was struck by how much at times the work resembled contemporary writing guides like Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream or Anne Lamott’s bird by bird and really captured some of the ideas we’ve been tackling in class, including the transition from print to digital.
Each season brings new modes, and with these, new methods of handling the materials; though indeed neither may be “new,” but merely a revival of some old, old fashion, both in style and workmanship, cleverly adapted to the modes of the day.
In the end, I began with this quote and anchored the work around this idea of not just wearing a lot of different hats, but making them as well. WWJD? Work Winking at Johanna Drucker? The booklet turned into a book of quotes, a play of typography and design, a conversation between all of the scholars we read and all of those who visited. Below, I’ve attached a copy of the booklet.