Revisiting: Comments as a New Agora?

Every third Saturday of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted old blogs or tumblogs to help readers get to know me better. This month I am posting “Comments as a New Agora?” from Learning to Read the Internet, in which I think about the technical constraints on using comments for public dialogue. Of course there are other factors involved, including issues of human psychology and of public education, but I felt somewhat capable talking about technical affordances. Biographical information mentioned in this post may be out of date.

Comments as a New Agora?

Here’s an idea: on social media, librarians could provide opportunities for conversations rather than take part in them.

The Problem with YouTube Comments

Screenshot of a Khan Academy YouTube video comments section.

Screenshot of a Khan Academy YouTube video comments section.

As I mentioned in my CV, I am studying YouTube comments as a research assistant to Eric Meyers. One thing I’ve learned is that YouTube’s comments space does not have many affordances: it lacks easy navigation, it has fewer sorting options, and so on. For this reason, it can be difficult to have a conversation in the YouTube comments. This is something Eric found in his research before I came aboard: there isn’t much discussion in the comments, and what discussion there is tends to be an entrenched argument between two participants. There aren’t many rich conversations.

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Headcanons, Singer-Songwriters, and J. K. Rowling’s Tweets

The Problems

In what I called A Theory of Reading 1.0, a series at The Thinking Grounds, I tried to articulate and justify what seemed to me to be the underlying assumptions and approach of literary interpretation in the English discipline. In its supplementary materials, I tried to tie up some loose ends, especially shoring up my explanation against authorial intent and reader-centred interpretations. I’m glad I did that work, because it led to my writing about Twitterary Theory, which I’m pretty happy with.

However, there are some outstanding problems with that version. I say “version” because I understood it as an initial attempt. One day I am going to attempt a 2.0, maybe a 3.0, as needed. I expect that I will need to update my understanding of interpretation as I learn more. Even as I wrote it, I knew that I was weak in the area of what Foucault calls the “author function.” I still do not feel equipped to deal with that problem. Since writing the series, a few more problems have come up, too.

First, what about singer-songwriters? My friend Jon Wong insists that listeners understand songs in relation to the real biography of singer-songwriters. For the most part I would say that my explanation of the problems of reading are universally binding; whether or not listeners attempt to understand songs in relation to their singers is utterly irrelevant to the dynamics of interpretation in the same way it is irrelevant with readers, books, and writers or viewers, paintings, and artists. I do want to bookmark Jon’s concern, though, because it will come up later.


Source: InSapphoWeTrust at

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Monthly Marvel: Water Starwort

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I am reviewing the water starwort, a plant which I chose in the first place mostly to excerpt Erasmus Darwin’s unintentionally hilarious The Loves of the Plants.


This week’s plant is the water starwort.

Image source: Tony Rodd at

Image source: Tony Rodd at

The genus is called Callitriche, and is in the plantain family. It has a number of interesting species; the Antarctic water starwort, with tiny yellow flowers, lives on subantarctic islands, and theautumn water starwort, besides having a pretty name, can be pollinated by wind or water, depending on whether its flower is above the water or below it.

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Three More Daydreams

As with previous daydreams, feel free to contact me if you feel like helping make any a reality.


Photograph my own, 2015.




Image source: Stephen Topp at

I like collaborative projects, so long as the participants have a high degree of autonomy and have earned one another’s mutual respect. For instance, I have long had daydreams of participating in a group blog, especially an interfaith blog. I think that would be fun; it would be more fun, too, if we created for ourselves characters in the style of tabletop RPGs. I could be an Anglican druid, for instance, while other participants might be atheist paladins, Muslim bards, Roman Catholic warlocks, or Buddhist clerics, according on our temperaments. Every other week one person would pose a question—“What role does confession play for you, in your tradition?”—and the other participants would have two weeks to respond, or something like that. I also have a habit of starting collaborative projects before I have more than one or two collaborators, which goes about as you’d expect.

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