writing and speaking…

academica, pedagogy

Work on good prose has three steps, a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.

-Walter Benjamin

I am always looking to be a better writer and speaker, and some would say I need to work on it more than I do. In keeping with White, here’s Vonnegut’s ‘How to Write With Style‘ and Sociologist Jim Jasper’s ‘Learning How to Write Better.’ ‘Style’ is such an interesting issue… When I worked with Jim we would sit around in a circle and play his ‘Word Elimination Game,’ a game I have been playing on my manuscript this summer. Same with the ‘Reverse Outline.’ More advice:

There is the obsessive use of logical connectors, like “however,” or “thus.” If the relationship between two successive sentences isn’t clear without these, from their internal substance, you’re already in trouble. (I could have said, “then you’re already in trouble,” or “thus you’re already in trouble.”) There are also phrases that mean nothing at all, like “In this regard”…

Guilty as charged.

Here is Jim’s ‘Giving Better Talks‘ too. He obliquely mentions the use of Memory Palaces, or ‘Method of Loci,’ which I’ve tried to teach a bit in class but rarely use…

dear mr. eliason,


Upon reading about you in the Times, I realize that this is, perhaps, the best way to get in touch with you: my low traffic, sociology-based blog. I appreciate your personalized, Internet-based, targeting of dissatisfied Comcast customers and would like to use this venue to complain about the 80% increase in charges your company imposes on customers in the Pioneer Valley. Comcast holds a monopoly here, but not for long. I teach about media and technology too. Be nice to me.

karl marx, podcasted

academica, tech

One of the highlights of my graduate career at CUNY was learning Capital with David Harvey. It was a page by page, reading, and I used a great deal of what I learned in my Foundations of Social Theory class last term. He has been teaching Volume One for forty years, and now anyone can have the privledge. Find all 13 two hour lectures here. (I would include something pithy and insightful here, but my notes are a few hundred miles away right now…)

e.b. (1899-1985)

cities, culture

Today’s E. B. (Elwin Brooks) White’s birthday. Like everyone else, I knew him from Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, but when I moved to New York, one of the first books that was given to me (by dear Mark Shulman) was his essay, Here Is New York. It absolutely floored me with its brisk beauty. It appeared first in Holiday magazine sixty years ago, and even though so many of the references (e.g., the Third Avenue elevated line, old speakeasies, the coal chutes into cellars) have faded away–along with the magazine that published it–his simple observations about urban life still hold true. He even has a premonition:

The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the prefect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence…this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and nations…housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.

Of course, he’s referring to the United Nations building that was rising from the skyline at the time. But it is quotes like these that get me tapping out about him first thing in the morning:

Many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village. Let him walk two blocks from his corner and he is in a strange land.

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something ….Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.

My newfound respect for him led me to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style which, along with Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists, is always on my desk. (E.B. was commissioned to update his old professor’s little book after he had passed away.)