White Whaling circa 2011… (Assignment for Prof. Shelley Jackson)

Whaling Implements made by Blacksmiths - from Capelinks.com

[You are encouraged to listen to the NUMBER STATION soundtrack below while you read this, for atmospherics]

Call me McGirk.

Call me McGirk. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and read the wordy part of the world…

My sincere apologies to Melville.

After a semester traversing a series of literary seas within seas, prying at the “unsayable, the unspeakable, the unknowable, the unattainable” silences within a series of difficult texts, the greatest white whale of all [writing] has yet to feel our [critical] harpoons. That most unknown known remains – the reader. The mysterious diaphane, the field thrown up between the author, text, and reader. What on earth goes through a reader’s mind while he or she takes in a string of words? It is our good fortune that a suite of cutting edge automated ‘readers’ are coming closer and closer to providing an answer.

'Cultural Analytics' from Berkeley

As you navigate the Internet, the Internet – which is to say certain entities using the Internet – navigate you. This isn’t a benign process. They want to learn as much about you as possible so that they can snag your attention; diverting your time into loops of advertisements and possibly even push you through a point-of-sale and taking your money directly. They do this by gleaning information about you. Where you go, what you search for, what type of computer you are using…. Websites leave small tracking codes on your computer called cookies, and each of these transmits data back to homebase. By visiting this site I have already captured your IP address, and can tell which keywords you used to find this site, what type of computer you used, where you are located and a couple of other data-points.

The data I’ve collected is a crude simulacrum of you; an inscription of your desires for an instant (or obligations, as is the case for my only guaranteed reader ). These simulacra have a purpose. Electronic texts can be altered according to the whims of their readers. All writers crave attention. Electronic texts, through their intelligent operators, are aware of their readers, and can quickly respond to being read. By understanding the wants of their readers, operators can better shape content to serve readers’ needs. There are even advanced analytics packages that will automatically generate ‘content’ for users in response to what they ‘perceive’ readers as wanting (in fact this is a multi-billion dollar a year business, or it was until Google tweaked its search results to waterdown these serar)
However, as is the case with traditional pen and ink reader-response, our analytics are incomplete – and at times totally flawed.

ROI on Keywords

Keywords (also known as index terms) are among the most interesting and valuable traces left by users. Most users most often first come across a site by searching for a specific term on a search engine. With this site, jamesmcgirk.com, about 53% of users are directed by a search engine (33% are referred by another site, and the rest come directly). My users mostly come looking for “James McGirk,” “mfa personal statement example,” “maine coon,” and a plethora of business and espionage related-terms I listed to attract interesting visitors. (More on this below) An entire industry has sprung up to interpret these keywords, and another to optimize content online so it can be better read by search engines (this is called Search Engine Optimization). Using search terms as a crude model for a visitor’s mind, weird simulacra have been created. Content is generated automatically at the discretion of computer programs. There are even companies assigning stories to human beings based on the suggestions of algorithims. When you hear the term content farms, that’s what’s going on.

Solaris

As in the simulacra in Stanislaw Lem‘s Solaris, these replications of desire are incomplete. It would take an infinite amount of data (and a correspondingly infinite amount of time to collect this data) to accurately model a human being’s wants and desires. But machines are getting closer and closer.

Content can be thought of as a diversion, as a product designed to leach time from the consumer. A moment of communication between man and machine. A relationship. Ideally this will be a symbiotic relationship – a user will discover an article that is pertinent to his or her interests or finds a link to a product or service that somehow fits into his or her personal narrative. But this is rare. Mostly these diversions are a nuisance, at times completely parasitical. To the point where some even launch malware to seize control of your terminal and force your attention on it. But most are more subtle than that. Perhaps the most sophisticated technique is gamification; in effect snarling a user in addictive gameplay, the way casinos try to dazzle their consumers until they’re too numb to do anything other than play.

Breton eyeball slice

Literary forms are beginning to emerge in response to automated reading systems, searches, and other more prosaic but no less important technological developments such as archives and instant data retrieval. Online, an age somewhat akin to the pamphlet-strewn amateurism of the 18th Century America is in bloom. The most exotic forms can be found on the Internet’s wild fringe, in its anonymous and pseudo-anonymous chat sites. Here there is a frantic economy of monikers, memes and spoofed identities. In online forums such as the all-text Autoadmit.com and the semi-anonymous Somethingawful users compete to create the catchiest, most innovative forms – most often an evolution of an earlier idea, name or other fragment of an idea. The best innovators become famous within their tiny little spheres. Other fora (or is it forums?) are completely anonymous – the most famous of these being the notorious 4chan/b ‘Random’ board, [NOTE: extremely non-safe for work] – where the only recognition earned is the sheer longevity of a creation. The best of memes were once charted on the Encyclopedia Dramatica. (This is a mirror site, the original was recently closed down after pressure from the Australian government, among other more mundane reasons.) But now there is no reason at all to create but sheer artisitc thrill. Although ‘board lore’ has developed a concept somewhat akin to ‘duende‘ – a dark, nihlistic form of amusement known as ‘lulz.’

Trading

The next evolution of the online literary form – which one hopes will eventually lead to the hypertext equivalent of MOBY DICK, which became a sort of bellweather of American long-format literary fiction – could well come from manipulating these mysterious semantic mechanicals. They offer the opportunity to make writing dangerous again. With the proper keywords, information is taken up into automatic readers belonging to some very interesting entities, to the point where there can be real world consequences. As a way of experimenting with this form I have created a series of posts with keywords that I imagine might appeal to some of the more peculiar gleaners out trolling for information. Among these posts are lists of oil rigs, information about espionage, a fake consulting company specializing in complex shipping orders in the Arabian Ocean (mostly deleted), electronic warfare, and other ‘edible’ keywords. The visitors I’ve received include: hedge funds, multinational banking concerns, the department of defense, oil companies, environmental organizations, the Pakistani government, the Kuwaiti government, the Iranian government, the Russian government, an unacknowledged US military facility, a few mysterious hits from ‘Cabin John, Maryland’ (a park across the river from CIA), Mi5, Mi6, but sadly I have yet to influence any. To my knowledge, all that I’ve managed to do is intensify the feeling that I’m being watched when I type online.

1 Comment

  1. Commentator says:

    This was strange. You should delete it.

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C.V.

N.B. for privacy reasons this is usually out of date. Contact me for the latest version.

EDUCATION

Columbia University School of the Arts, New York, NY
MFA, Writing, Fiction, Oct. 2011.
Thesis: Fly the Black Flag of Himself.

Columbia University School of General Studies, New York, NY
BA, Cum Laude, May 2007.
Major: Literature/Writing
Thesis: Indian Made Foreign Liquor

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

2018 Guest Lecturer, University of California Santa Cruz
Lectured on journalism for a Kresge Core Class.

2017-2018 Public Fellow, Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
Homelands Seminar.

Instructor in English, Northeastern State University
Fall 2015-2017 (as instructor)
Fall 2014-Spring 2015 (as adjunct)
Courses include: Teaching Travel and Adventure Writing (ENG3013) – an upper-division writing class focused on nonfiction; Intro to Creative Writing (ENG3043); Composition II (ENG 1213) and Composition I (ENG1113).

Workshop Instructor, Oklahoma City University
January 2015
Taught a one-day graduate workshop called “On knowing when to steal and make things up.”

Adjunct Professor, University of Tulsa
Fall 2014
Taught two sections of ENG1033, Exposition and Argumentation. 

Adjunct Professor, Bacone College
Spring 2014
Teaching two courses of English 1113, Composition I.
One section of SPCH1713 Speech and Critical Thinking.

Teaching Assistant, Columbia University
Fall 2010
Worked with Prof. Heidi Julavits to develop curriculum for Fiction: A Primer, the introductory graduate survey course for Columbia’s graduate fiction students. 

Fiction Editor, Columbia University
Fall 2009—May 2011
Edited the fiction pages of Columbia University’s premiere literary journal, Columbia Journal of Art and Literature. Solicited authors and edited manuscripts. Four direct reports.

TEACHING COMPETENCIES, INTERESTS

Contemporary fiction
Contemporary non-fiction
New media / Internet
Publishing / communications
Writing fiction / non-fiction
Journalism / editing
Globalization
Fine Art / Contemporary Art History

PUBLICATIONS

Novel/Book-length CNF

A Grand Theory of Everything, Amazon Publishing, Sept. 2015.
American Outlaws, Amazon Publishing, Oct. 2014.
The New Flesh in progress.
Indian Made Foreign Liquor. (2013) Sold to Chiasmus Media.

Anthologies

Forthcoming collection of 3quarksdaily essays.
“The Op in the Expanded Field” &Now Vol 3: Innovative Fiction Awards. Lake Forest College, NC: &Now Books, April 2015. Anthology.
Various pubs. A Voice Was Sounding 3 & 4. Tulsa, OK: This Land Press, November 2014. Anthology
“Claire Accelerates.” Todos Somos Migrantes. Eds. John Washington and Daniela Ugaz. Mexico City: Sur +, forthcoming 2013. Anthology.
“Dominion.” Thesis Anthology. New York City: Columbia School of the Arts/Writing, 2011. Anthology.

Magazines and Journals, Fiction.

“The Plastic Ship.” Under submission.
“Through a 3D Scanner Darkly.” 3quarksdaily.com
“3 Buboes.” 3quarksdaily, Aug. 2013. Online.
“The Godling of Greater Kailash.” Manhattan Magazine Jan/Feb 2013. Print.
“The Op in the Expanded Field.” NNATAN. Issue 0. Nnatan.org, Aug. 2012. Online.
“Memory Scraped onto Landscape with Smell.” 3am magazine.
3ammagazine.com, Jun 2012. Online.
“Kim Jong-un contemplates his failed launch.” 3quarksdaily.
3quarksdaily.com, Feb 2012. Online.
“Armour Brand Desiccated Thyroid bottle (C. 1900).” Gigantic. Issue 3. “Gigantic Indoors.” Thegiganticmag.com, Sept. 2011. Online.
“The Tramp Steamer.” The Drum. Thedrumlitmag.com, May 2011. Audio Magazine.
“The Garbling.” Fence Magazine, Winter 2011. Print. 

Magazines and Journals, Nonfiction.

“Has Satoshi Vision of the Future been Corrupted?” 21Crytpos.
“Predicting the Next Bull Market” 21Cryptos.
“The Future of Blockchain – Predicting the Future” 21Cryptos.
“Bitcoin in Venezuela” 21Cryptos.
“Vaporwave” Angeles Review.
“Oklahoma’s Class System.” This Land Press.
“Growing up as an Expat.” Oklahoma Humanities Magazine. Forthcoming.
The Horror of the Ouachita Mountains” THIS LAND PRESS
“Restaurant Reviews: Muskogee, Tulsa, Tahlequah.” Oklahoma Today. Forthcoming.
“Art, Literature and All the Crude in America.” Lithub.com. May 2015. Forthcoming. Online.
“My Grandfather’s Imposter.” Roads and Kingdoms. Aug. 2015
“Oklahoma Beards.” Oklahoma Today. April/May 2015. Print.
“Profile: Jenks Football Coach.” Oklahoma Today. January/February 2015. Print.
“Beauty, Purpose, and Preservation.” This Land Press. Nov. 15, 2014. Print.
Satan Comes to Oklahoma City.” The Paris Review (daily). Theparisreview.org. Nov. 1, 2014. Online.
“Tulsa Modernism.” Oklahoma Today. November/December 2014. Print.
Heavy Heart, Empty Heart.” Columbia Magazine. Fall 2014. Print.
“Ancestry Days.” Oklahoma Today. August/September 2014. Print.
The New Nepal.” Roads and Kingdoms. Roadsandkingdoms.com. August 2014. Online.
Google’s John Hanke.” Wired. July 2014. Print.
The Surprisingly Strong Case for Colonizing Venus.” CITYLAB. The Atlantic. Online.
How-to Campfire Cooking.” Oklahoma Today. June/July. Print.
“Beauty, Purpose, Preservation” This Land Press. Print. Forthcoming Aug 15. 2014
“The New Nepal” Roads and Kingdoms. Online. Forthcoming Jul/Aug.
“Kickstarter Equation” Wired. Print. July.
“Inside the Studio: Troy Jackson” Art Focus Oklahoma. Print. May/Jun 2014.
“Indian Country’s Neuromancers” This Land Press. Print. Mar. 2014
“Datastream” Wired. Print. Mar. 2014
“Petrostate” This Land Press. Print. Dec. 1, 2013.
“An Ethnography of the Elite.” Forthcoming. Print.
“Manhattan and the Mephistophelean Mind.” 3quarksdaily. Nov. 2013. Online.
“When the Rodeo Clowns Came.” 3quarksdaily. Sept. 2013
“Moving Down Yonder to the Indian Nation.” This Land Press. Sept. 15, 2013. Print.
“Doomsday Preppers and Reddit Pizza.” Wired. July 2013. Print.
“The Metropolitan Trilogy.” 3quarksdaily. July 2013. Online.
“The Dazzling Debut is Dead.” Newsweek-DailyBeast. Forthcoming June 4, 2013. Online.
“The Cherokee Nation Constitutional Crisis.” This Land Press, May 2013. Print.
“Remote Viewing in the Sooner State.” The Paris Review. Theparisreview.org, May 2013. Online.
“The Great Spy’s Dream.” 3quarksdaily, 3quarksdaily.com. May 2013. Online.
“Inside the Abbatoir.” This Land Press. April 15, 2013. Print.
“Remembering Life in Arcosanti.” Wired. Wired.com, Apr. 2013. Online.
“The Game of (Not) Life.” 3am magazine3ammagazine.com, Mar. 2013. Online.
“The State of Cherokee Nation.” TIME. Time.com, Mar. 11, 2013. Online.
“Destination: Oklahoma.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Mar. 2013. Online.
“A Battered Bag of Memories.” Chronicle of Higher EducationChronicle Review, Feb. 25, 2013. Print.
“Silicon Valley: Literary Capital of the 21st Century.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Feb. 2013. Online.
“Writing and the World of Tomorrow.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jan. 2013. Online.
“A Universal History of Online Iniquity.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Dec. 2013. Online.
“Jesse Ventura Suspects a Conspiracy Against His Show About Conspiracies.” The Atlantic. Theatlantic.com, Dec 17, 2012. Online.
“M.F.A. Madness.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle Review. Nov. 12, 2012. Print.
“Art World Apostate.” Oxford American. Oxfordamerican.org, Nov. 2012. Online.
“A Libertarian Paradise in Honduras.” Los Angeles Review of Books. Lareviewofbooks.com, Nov 2012. Online.
“A Republican Literature of the Americas.” Newsweek-DailyBeast. Thedailybeast.com, Nov. 5, 2012. Online.
“Literary Magazines: Read All About It.” The Economist. Prospero blog. Theeconomist.com, Oct. 2012. Online.
“The Q&A: James Ellroy.” The Economist. Prospero blog. Theeconomist.com, Oct. 2012. Online.
“The Smug Technocrats who will Rule Tomorrow.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Oct. 2012. Online.
“Common People: Class and the ’80s.” The Awl. Theawl.com, Aug. 2012. Online.
“A Requiem for Roscoe.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Aug. 2012. Online.
“Google on the L Train: Sci-fi, Wifi and the MTA.” The Awl. Theawl.com, Jul. 2012. Online.
“The Romance of Mayhem and High Explosive.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jul. 2012. Online.
“Our First Expatriate President.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, May 2012. Online.
“Translit is Neither New nor Subversive.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jun. 2012. Online.
“Nobody Wins.” The Economist. Prospero. Theeconomist.com, Apr. 2012. Online.
“Diabolical Women.” The Economist. Prospero. The economist.com. Mar. 2012. Online.
“Solving the Inequality Equation.” Columbia GSAS SuperScript. Spring 2012. Print.
“The Different Dialects of Serial Murder.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Feb. 2012. Online.
“Will the Maine Coon Become an American Icon?” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Jan. 2012. Online.
“Thing Writing.” 3QuarkDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Nov. 2011. Online.
“Gripes and Halloween Horrors.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Oct. 2011. Online.
“Marco Polo in Boulder, Colorado.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Oct. 2011. Online.
“The Last MFA Essay I Will Ever Write.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Sep. 2011. Online.
“A Dose of Bile.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Aug. 2011. Online.
“The Thirty-Third Internet Connection in New Delhi.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Jul. 2011. Online.
“Writing for Machines.” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily.com, Jun. 2011. Online.
“Imagining an Expat Aesthetic.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, May 2011. Online.
“After the Internet was Shut-off.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Apr. 2011 Online.
“The Starter Gallery.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarkdaily.com, Mar. 2011. Online.
“An Attempt at Unraveling Ridgewood, Queens.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Feb. 2011. Online.
“Could Student Loan Debt Spark Insurrection?” 3QuarksDaily, 3quarksdaily, Jan. 2011. Online.
“Spark Gaps and Circuits.” 3QuarksDaily. 3quarksdaily.com, Dec. 2010. Online.
“Baptism by Soda.” 3QuarksDaliy. 3quarksdaily.com, Nov. 2010. Online.
“A Brief Reflection on Czar Guiterrez’ Bombardier, HTML Giant. Htmlgiant.com, Oct. 2010. Online.
“The Q&A Tom McCarthy.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Sep. 2010. Online.
“The Q&A Lorin Stein.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Apr. 2010. Online.
“Whitney’s Tepid Biennial.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Mar. 2010. Online.
“Can You Really Rank Writing Programmes?” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Dec. 2009. Online.
“Strange Breeds.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Oct. 2009. Online.
“The Q&A: Kurt Kauper, Artist.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Sep. 2010. Online.
“Art And (Gauche Breaches Of) Etiquette.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“Another New York Peep Show.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“A Bandit On The High Line.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online
“Harlem’s Rising Artists.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“Charles Saatchi Has An Addiction.” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Aug. 2009. Online.
“CIA Assassinations,” The L Magazine. Aug. 2009. Print.
“The Life And Death Of A Hipster King,” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Jul. 2009. Online.
“What Is An Alien Artist To Do?” More Intelligent Life. Moreintelligentlife.com, Jun. 2009. Online.
“An Artfully Disjointed Venice Biennale.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, Jun. 2009. Online.
“Iggy Pop’s Ambient, Literary Jazz Album.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, May. 2009. Online.
“The Q&A: Sasha Grey, Performer.” More Intelligent Life, Moreintelligentlife.com, May 2009. Online.
“Why Attack Hotels?” Culture 11, Dec. 2008. Print.
“Ironclad Closet.” Long Island City Magazine, 2008. Print.
“The Madness of the Upperclass.” The L Magazine, Jul. 2008. Print.
“Cyberpunk Is Not Dead.” The L Magazine, Jul. 2007. Print.
“Ben Jonson’s Rebus.” Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, May 2007. Print.

Art

Art 365 Artist Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition 2016-2017
“Faculty Show” 2014, photography display at Bacone College in Fall 2014.
Photo Essay, Stevehuffphoto.com, July 2014.
“Untitled (Over the Void)” 2012, video stills from a 6 min 35 second video. James McGirk and Jaret Vadera.

Public Events

American Anthropological Association, Nov. 2018
Art 365 Events, various, May 2017-Jan. 2018
Readings, NSU Writing. Dec. 2017
This Land Press, July 2017
Chickasaw Literary Festival 2017
This Land Press, July 2016
Art on the Hill, Roger State University, Sept. 2015
Arts on the Avenue, Nonfiction Panel, Jun. 2015
Readings, NSU Writing. Dec. 2014
Bumpkinitis 12, OSU Creative Writing, Nov. 2014
Tahlequah Writers Club, Aug. 2014
“Literary Death Match,” Tulsa. Judge. Oct. 2013
“Columbia Faculty Selects.” KGB Bar. Jan. 2013. Reader.