Tag: Creative Commons

New Header Image

My new home page header image is Leaf Relief by Mark Englebrecht. My previous header image was one of his photographs as well. His Flickr page is full of wonderful, CC-licensed nature photography, and I’d encourage you to give it a look. As ever, all CC images used on this site are attributed on the About page.

Map of the Rhetorical Relationships Between Genres

The first day’s discussion in my Writing and Reading Science Fiction course always began with the question, “What is science fiction?” I would solicit ideas from the class and write them on the board. The suggestions from the students would always break down into two broad categories: bottom-up, trope-based definitions, and top-down, descriptive definitions. We would talk about the implicit differences between those two approaches, then I would share and discuss historical definitions of science fiction from Damon Knight, Robert Heinlein, Darko Suvin, Ted Chiang, Ursula Le Guin, and Samuel Delany. These I would intentionally order to build towards Delany’s detailed breakdown of science fiction as a rhetorical mode. Finally, I would show the students this:


(click to enlarge)

This is based on a model initially proposed by Farah Mendlesohn in her book Rhetorics of Fantasy. The idea to order the genres as a cycle rather than linearly comes from Michael Swanwick. The inclusion of historical fiction and trope-based subgenres are my own contribution.

After drawing this diagram on the board I would explain that, as a writer, it is most useful to think of genres as different rhetorical modes, which is a different way of using the word than that employed by publishers or bookstores. Indeed, when you think of genre as being a rhetorical mode, many of the things that a publisher calls “genres” are actually subgenres, that is, trope-based definitions like many of those written on the board at the start of the conversation. For example, the YA “genre” often has its own section in a bookstore, but in fact the only distinguishing characteristic of YA fiction is the age of the protagonist. Any of these rhetorical modes can exhibit the trope of having a young protagonist, and so “young adult” appears on the diagram as a subgenre within every genre.

I also explained to the class that the boundaries between the genres aren’t firm. I would describe the variables of expectation  and explicability as like two knobs, with “real” at one end of their range and “unreal” at the other. Starting with mimetic fiction, both knobs are turned all the way to “real.” As you move around the diagram you are turning both knobs, until they are both pointing all the way to “unreal” at immersive fantasy. Then, in the step from immersive fantasy to science fiction, you turn the explicability knob back to “real.” (As Mendlesohn puts it, “The more immersive the fantasy, the closer to being science fiction.”) Finally, you start turning the expectation knob back towards “real” and move through historical fiction back to mimetic fiction.

A couple of caveats: though Mendlesohn begins with a linear relationship between the genres of fantasy in her book, she later abandons it for a model in which liminal fantasy is the origin point for all the other modes of fantasy. In that model, liminal fantasy is a central node from which the other fantasy genres branch out. So while I found value in the cyclic model as a pedagogical tool for convincing students to think about genres as rhetorical stances, it doesn’t represent the endpoint of Mendlesohn’s scholarship. Also, the diagram’s treatment of liminal fantasy, a category which Mendlesohn first defined, is rather brutally over-simplified. As I was usually teaching classes on writing science fiction, I allowed myself to hand-wave that aspect of the chart so as not to let an unfamiliar genre distract from my main point. But the one semester when I taught a class on fantasy writing I thought it appropriate to go into the concept of liminal fantasy in much greater detail.

I’m releasing this image under a creative commons license, so anyone who wishes can use it in their classroom.

Creative Commons License
Rhetorical Map of Genres by Eugene Fischer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.eugenefischer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/MapOfGenresSmall.png.

Understanding Plagiarism

Here’s something that I’ve meant to post for a while. When I first came to Iowa I knew that I would be teaching for the Rhetoric department, and was worried (rightfully, it turned out) that my students might have escaped high school with a weak grasp of what constitutes plagiarism. I wanted to make a simple guide I could give as a handout, and teamed up with my cartoonist/game designer friend Fred Wood to make this.

(Click to enlarge.)

The image is sized to fit on an 8.5×11″ piece of paper, and is offered as a creative commons resource.

Creative Commons License
Understanding Plagiarism by Eugene Fischer and Fred Wood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://www.eugenefischer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/UnderstandingPlagiarism.jpg.

Repost: My Path to Differential Equations Success

This is not my first blog. There have been others, some euthanized and some abandoned. The ruins of my former blogs are filled with rotten links and gutted by expired hosting. There is, though, an occasional post worth saving. This was originally posted on May 14, 2008.

Some time in 2005 I was studying for my Differential Equations final exam, thinking to myself, “I can have a computer solve all of these problems for me. I will never do this again.” I had thought this in frustration many times throughout my mathematical education, and to be honest it was getting less and less true as the math got more advanced. This time, though, I followed that thought up with another one that hadn’t previously occurred to me: if computers can be given explicit instructions that allow them to solve differential equations, I should be able to write down similarly explicit instructions for myself. Verbalizing the specific steps necessary to solve the problems I was working on seemed like a good study activity. Additionally, I was allowed a page of notes to use on the exam, so if I could organize the steps so that they all fit on a page I could actually use this work during the test. I ended up spending a couple of hours in a study room with my textbook and a pad of graph paper, creating a flowchart for solving second order linear differential equations with constant coefficients. I tied with one other student for the highest grade on the final.

Recently I’ve been playing with Ubuntu, and as a way of gaining some familiarity with the OpenOffice suite of productivity apps I decided to create a digital version of my SOLDE flowchart. It is sized to fit on a sheet of 8.5×11 paper, and I am releasing it under creative commons license. If you think it would be of use to you, or know others who might like to use it, feel free to email it, print it out, pass it around. I think it might make a good handout for differential equations students. (It’s under a share-alike license, so you can make derivative works as well, provided they are also creative commons licensed. One possible improvement might be to create a flowchart for variation of parameters, which gets glossed over on this one.)

(Click to enlarge.)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sita Sings The Blues

Sita Sings The Blues is a beautiful animated movie exploring various versions of the Ramayana, with about five distinctly different visual styles and a soundtrack of 1920s jazz.   It was written, edited, directed, conceived, and everything-else-importanted by Nina Paley.  Everything else except distributed, of course.  Because film distribution companies handle all that stuff.  Right?

Not so in this case.  Despite a growing mountain of well deserved accolades, Sita Sings The Blues cannot be distributed nationally due to rights issues related to the Annette Henshaw songs in the soundtrack.  So Nina is doing that herself too.  Check out the link above:  she has negotiated and purchased a limited set of rights, enough to let her release her amazing film into the creative commons.  Completely free, full, DVD-ready downloads are forthcoming.  Also, due to there apparently being special rules for public broadcast stations, though the film can’t have a traditional distribution, WNET in New York is allowed to broadcast it.  They will be doing so on March 7, and, more exciting, have already made the full movie available in streaming format from their website.  (If you want a little taste before you watch the whole, approx. 90 minute movie, check out the trailer.)

So, Sita Sings The Blues: not only an utterly delightful work of art, but now also a fascinating experiment in movie distribution.  I can’t wait for the downloads to go live.  I know I will be giving DVDs away as gifts and having at least one viewing party.  And I will definitely be dropping some money in the donation jar, because what Nina Paley is doing is new and exciting in about ten different ways at once, and deserves admiration and support.