Gripping Agrippa

In the midst of this week’s discussion of markup, including TEI, XML, HTML, and more, the thing which has struck my imagination most is Agrippa (A Book of the Dead).  Nominally a 1992 art project between artist Dennis Ashbaugh, author William Gibson, and publisher Kevin Begos, Jr., it’s basically a work of art designed to destroy itself so that people who wanted to experience it had to solve the puzzle.  The Agrippa Files is a scholarly website/archival projected dedicated to the work.  The entire project is a book in a heavy case made to look like an old relic, 42 pages of DNA sequences set in double columns of 42 lines each, copperplate aquatint etchings by Ashbaugh, and Gibson’s poem on a self-erasing diskette buried in the pages of the book.

The primary question I have to ask myself here is “what’s the point?”  The contents seem secondary to the packaging, if you will.  There are press releases, scholarly writings, and more on the Agrippa Files site, leading me to deduce that the work being a thing is more important than what the work is.  More to the point, it seems intentionally created for a shadow culture to develop around the work.  The piece makes its statement by what it does in the broader culture by simply existing.  Knowing Gibson, this may be what he intended in the first place.

I’m all for artistic exploration, even at its most incomprehensible.  We never know what we’re going to find when we open ourselves to possibilities.  Works may be intended to do one thing or another, but once they’re complete, the author/creator’s intention is inconsequential. Whatever Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) is, it stands testament to the ancient idea of throwing everything onto the wall and seeing what sticks.  What we want and what we get may be radically different things, which is the nature of exploration in the first place.

If I were to do an Agrippa cocktail, it would be either one that consumed itself or one that you couldn’t actually drink, but had to simply muse on the existence of.  Perhaps it would be one that you had to reconstruct at some point.  All those ideas are patently silly.

Instead, I’m going to make something based on the non-scholarly thing that’s taking up some of my free time, playing Out of the Park Developments Baseball.  The short version is that it’s a computer baseball sim in which you can play the team’s GM or field manager or both, building your team to compete either in real historical leagues or in fantasy leagues that you make up.  I started with my beloved Baltimore Orioles in 1969.  Through some clever trades and draft picks, we’ve managed to win the World Series every year from 69-79 save for one.  Two thirds of the way through 1980, we’re running away with things again.  That was getting boring, so I’m now trying something new.

I went back to 1961 (an expansion year, with more expansion to come in 1962), released all the players from all the teams, and held a draft.  But we’re drifting away from the point.  I want to make a drink in honor of my beloved Orioles.

The colors are obviously black and orange.  The Black-Eyed Susan is the state flower, so there’s an herbal flavor I think can work with.  Black becomes the problem, because it’s going to obscure any other colors, although I suspect that a black drink garnished with orange fits the bill.

This one actually took some experimentation.  I ran through some dark rum and orange variants, but here’s what I settled on.  One of the orange things I ended up using is Orangecello—yep, there’s an orange version of Limoncello, although I suspect it should be called arancello.

The Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

3 oz. Wild Turkey Bourbon 101.

3 oz. Ginger Beer

1 oz. arancello

.25 oz crème de violette

Shake the first three ingredients over ice, strain into cocktail glass. Using the back of a spoon, float the crème de violette around the edges.  Because it’s slightly heavier, it’ll float down to the bottom of the drink, giving you the two-tone orange and black.  I obviously neglected to garnish this one—if I were up in Maryland, I’d go find a Black Eyed Susan to float on the top.  Part of the reason to use the crème de violette is to evoke a floral quality, which would get multiplied with an actual flower floating there.

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Data Models and Print Records

This week’s reading is split up between data models and the future of the print record.  Studying data models is might be important for computer scientists, but for the rest of us, even if we’re invested in DH, it seems like casual knowledge is more than enough.  I might want to study a particular data model which could be relevant to my research, but theory-crafting seems unnecessary.

One of the fears discussion of the print record exposes is that digitization means the end of physical books, much the same as online news signaled the death knell of newspapers.  I can’t find strong evidence that this is the case.

One of the reasons that online news usurped traditional print is the lifespan of the news itself. By the time traditional news print reported a story, new stories were happening.  Online is the perfect medium for news—although, of course, the 24-hour news cycle leads to dubious choices when it comes to what might be considered “breaking news.”

Traditional book printing, however, may indeed see a resurgence due to digital tools.  Being able to print on demand means that publishers take less risk when producing a book.  If it’s popular, they can print as many as they need; if not, they haven’t sunk as much money into it.  The upside is that there might be fewer stacks of $1 books to sort through when you got into the local book shop.

In the digital age, self-publishing becomes viable.  It doesn’t have behind it the force of a media conglomerate, but the possibility exists for the high quality work to reach a broad audience independent of the publisher.  With printing relatively inexpensive, even the casually-involved self-publisher can work into the business.  This frees authors to write better art; instead of writing what a publisher tells them will sell, they write what makes them happy or fulfills their artistic vision.


This week’s cocktail had nothing to do with any of that.  It’s President’s Day, so we need to honor our most mythologized President.  I give you. . . .

Manhattan Cherry Tree

The Manhattan Cherry Tree

3 oz. Old Portero Single Malt Rye Whiskey

1 oz. Carpanno Antica vermouth

1.5 oz. Black Cherry Juice

1 oz. Luxardo

2 dash cherry bitters

Shake over ice, strain.  Garnish with Amarena cherry.

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When Courses Collide

The class I’m taking in addition to Digital Humanities is Global Shakespeares.  The details of the Shakespeare class (which is great so far) are less important than the fact that one of the things we’re studying this week is Shakespeare fanfic.  Fanfic is absolutely part of the digital humanities.

Valerie Fazel and Louise Geddes have written a fine piece called “Give me your hands if we be friends: collaborative authority in Shakespeare fan fiction.”  In it they discuss the changing nature of the relationship between readers and text engendered by digital technology, repositioning that relationship into one of a communal experience of consumption and reproduction.  Fazel and Geddes seize on the idea that fanfic develops that literature can become both creational and re-creational, due to the immediacy of feedback available to the author.  They use the term urtext to identify Shakespeare’s original—which, of course, isn’t the original, but a commonly-agreed upon version by the people whose job it is to make these decisions.  Whoever they are.

What’s interesting to us as digital humanities students is their assertion that by moving Shakespeare online, we’ve changed both the modes of how the work is produced and received as well as opening new methods of how scholars can analyze the work (275).

Fanfic can be the most rabbity of holes, so always be warned.  You’ll find out some things—like what slash fiction is.  People have instructed me to avoid something called omegaverse, which of course makes me want to look more deeply into it.

I’ll point you to one work in particular that we’re looking into, The Jessica Goldberg Variations, which explores the minor character Jessica in The Merchant of Venice.  I don’t want to prejudice your reading, so I’ll just say enjoy.

What’s liberating, according to Fazel and Geddes is that fanfic authors don’t face any limitations other than their own imaginations, approaching Shakespeare’s work “unconstrained” (277).  I could go off on a sidebar analysis of how director Michael Radford visually constrains Al Pacino as Shylock in his 2004 production of The Merchant of Venice, but that would be getting off the point.  What is to the point is that any new work always has the specter of previous works hanging over it.  Once something has been accepted as cultural iconography, then fanfic producers can tap into our collective understandings as well as the urtext—and any adaptations in between.

So what does the fanfic cocktail look like?  It will need to start with a classic, almost canonical element, then adapt it to meet the face of modern technology, whatever that means.  Maybe that’s too broad of a characterization; perhaps we need a slash cocktail or an omegaverse cocktail.  This needs a little more development, so I’m going to do what any good 21st century person does—crowdsource.  You’ll wait for your drink this week, because people who haven’t even thought about it yet are going to help make it up.

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Democratization and Digital Manifestos

I want to look at a few issues which arose while reading the Digital Manifesto 2.0.

First of all, call something a manifesto and non-already-engaged readers will see even the perfectly printed page tilting precariously into a scrawl around the margins.  But be that as it may.  But let’s move on.

Digital Humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences.”

Fine and fine.  I’m on board with both.  So DH is methodology and practice which makes reasonable assumptions.  There’s lots to explore here.  It’s foolish to ignore emerging (or already-emerged) technologies.  Print media is not dead, but it’s no longer ruling the kingdom.  It’s more like Vito retiring in The Godfather so that Michael can take over.  Making DH into a field, however, seems impossibly broad.  We can pretty much call anything which combines the humanities and technology Digital Humanities.  But in the 21st century world, digital technology has pervaded so deeply into our daily lives, we could just go back to calling it “humanities.”  Labels constrain things anyway.

The value of unpacking the above definition is to free ourselves from a kind of linear thought which has in the past limited how we might, um, do whatever we’re doing.  It’s new, it’s shiny, so there’s no harm in seeing where it’s all going.  Studying how the aforementioned digital tools, techniques, and media have altered things may lead us to better understanding those things and to better teach people how to understand them.  Which leads to the next point:

There’s no reason for the habitat of the expert to fall solely within the walls of academe or think tanks.

Again, seems pretty reasonable.  Why should smart people get to do all the thinking?  We have to recognize that there are smart people who aren’t in academia or think tanks; we still would like places for smart people to gather, though.  I get the point that existing structures don’t always serve best the broadest part of the population.  I’d like to help open more things to more people, democratization being a central message of the manifesto—but I’m going to make a contrary point.

In practice, democratization is bad.

We have glaring evidence, both artistically and socially.  We’ve turned into a global economy of techo-narcissists, abjectly positive that our thoughts on whatever we choose to comment on are well-formed.  Because we have a megaphone, we assume that makes us worth listening to.  Most of us aren’t.  There is no end of both pablum and hatred to sift through in our digital worlds, as we raise megaliths to our own vanities.

Here’s the good news.  While existing structures of thought and how we organize and disseminate it may not be serving us, having the democratic freedom to take command of those structures may lead to those which do.  Amidst all the flotsam of arrested teenaged angst bobbing around the sea of self-expression, there are nuggets of brilliance—and they’re worth preserving, even if we have to cast a wide net and sift through lots of dead fish.

The dead fish cocktail would be quite something, wouldn’t it?  But we’ll head a better direction.  I lifted the basic idea from El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, CA, and a drink they call the Dirty Harry.  I tinkered with the proportions and it’s become my most recent cocktail of choice, which I call the Don Vito, after one of our cats and the screen titan he was named for.

Dirty Harry

3 oz Angel’s Envy bourbon

1 oz Carpano Antica vermouth

1 oz Luxardo

.5 oz St. Germain

Dash of Cherry Bitters

Homemade maraschino for garnish.

Put it all into a cocktail shaker over ice and strain into a martini glass.  Homemade maraschinos are easy; just get some fresh cherries, pit them, and soak them in Luxardo for about three weeks.  You’ll be happy you did.

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The Cuba-Russia Connection

William Gibson’s Spook Country, this week’s reading (if you can call a full novel “a reading”) involves the anxieties of post-9/11 America, locative art, and a Cuban-Russian connection regarding the undermining of the US.  Gibson uses one of his characters to express his idea that what we used to call cyberspace is everting—turning itself inside out, and merging with the physical world.  These reading responses, however, aren’t about doing book reviews or plot summaries, but about thinking about the topics raised by what we’ve covered.

At this point, you’re wondering where the cocktail is.  Last week, it was an enticement.  This week, it is a reward.  Nothing keeps you from scrolling to the end, but what’s in between is worth it.

Of particular interest to me in Spook Country is the idea of locative art.  One of my classmates did a fine presentation on it, and the possibilities intrigue me.  If we live in an augmented reality in which we can use the technology we carry to not only enhance our business and social lives, the extension into art is obvious.  I’m not just talking about Instagram filters, catching all the Pokéman, or simple QR codes on the sides of buildings here, but using technology for variable experiences with art.  The main thing about locative art, sometimes called location-based media, is the user’s device unlocks the augmentation for the user—so following that line, can be user-unique.  Perhaps I could put different costuming on the characters of a play—outfitting the cast of Our Town in 70’s Battlestar Galatica clothing might change a context or two.

The digital applications for business are endless—eventually even in the clothing store, they don’t actually have clothes, but a booth you step into or platform you climb on to “try on” whatever clothes you want.  You pick what you like, they’re manufactured or modified, and shipped to you.  Such a device down the road becomes portable, and now you have an actually fitting room in your closet.

The practical aside, the artistic becomes compelling.  What if the film artist, the director in this case, shoots different versions of the film, not with different plots or resolutions, but with different actors in the role.  The viewer can choose whether they’d rather have an offbeat Maggie Gyllenhal play the lead in Arrival as opposed to the more conventional Amy Adams, infusing the story with different overtones.

The thoughts here are only on augmenting existing art.  Artists and dreamers may certainly use technology to create locative art in ways we haven’t even dreamed of yet—especially once we’ve mastered the quantum bit.

All this is making you want a drink.  I want to return to the Cuban-Russian connection.  Based on Spook Country’s themes, I really wanted to make a drink that would undermine your sense of national security, but booze can only do so much. I bounced some ideas off a celebrity bartender friend, and he suggested a Cuban sandwhich—a vodka martini with a pork and cheese stuffed pickle, in which the vodka becomes the “bread.”  Clever idea, but not quite what I was looking for.  There’s actually a Cuban Missile Crisis cocktail already, but it’s just an amped up rum and coke.  I focused on the coffee angle.  Russians are more likely to drink tea than coffee, but they have a fondness for vodka.  Clearly we’re meant to mix the two.  Capturing the essence of Cuban coffee, which is dark and sweet, is the direction I headed, but this isn’t a coffee drink, it’s a cocktail.  Using Kahlua would be a little common and a little cheaty, so I decided to head straight for coffee itself.

Spook Country

2 oz. espresso

3 oz. Stoli vanilla vodka

.5 oz Coconut palm sugar simple syrup

Coconut palm sugar

3 espresso beans

Make the simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water.  Reduce by half and let cool  Dampen and rim a martini glass with the sugar.  Coconut palm sugar is slightly more like brown sugar in aroma, so it lends a quite tropical and dark flavor.  Pour the vodka and cooled espresso into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.  Strain into martini glass, garnish with the espresso beans.


Spook Country

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Wrapping My Brain Around the Digital Humanities

First, you’re probably asking yourself “what the hell is Digital Humanities?”  The next round in the chamber is “and why is it on a food and wine blog?”  Those are fine questions, which I will endeavor to answer.

But first things first.  As you digest what I’ll say about DH, you need a reward.  An enticement, perhaps.  I offer you this:

Forbidden Vixen

This is a new cocktail I’ve created, called the Forbidden Vixen.  Here’s the recipe:

1.5 oz 1792 Bourbon

1.5 oz Fig Vodka

.5 oz St. Germain

3 oz “Vixen’s Blend” Tea

.5 oz freshly squeezed Orange Juice

Brew the tea.  Once it’s cool, pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker over cubed ice.  Shake liberally, pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a fresh slice of orange.

The tea blend is something Gretchyn made herself, courtesy of Adagio’s online site and named after our youngest cat. It’s Earl Gray, lavender, jasmine, and rose hips.  The flavors go nicely with the fig vodka (the Forbidden part, since it’s more likely that a fig was the source of trouble in Eden) and vanilla flavors from the bourbon (any high quality bourbon will do).  The initial version didn’t have bourbon at all, but two shots of the vodka; it needed more darkness and depth, hence the inclusion of the darker liquor.

Now that you’ve settled in, let’s get back to what DH is doing in the food blog.  This semester, I’m taking a graduate course called Introduction to Digital Humanities.  The professor, Dr. Steven E. Jones, has asked us to write about the course on a digital platform.  Since I have one, here we are.

But that’s not all.  “Eversion,” or the intrusion of the digital world onto the physical one, is a major theme of the course.  One of the over-arching points is that we are not two selves, one physical, one digital, but a single augmented one.  To that end, I blend another element of myself, the graduate student, onto another, the food writer; hence, we have a similar “intrusion.”

The heart of the Digital Humanities lies at the crossroads where the broad avenue of traditional humanities learning intersects the boulevard of digital technology.  And it’s one of those six-light intersections, with quite a bit of traffic flowing through.

Whether Digital Humanities is a field, a discipline, or a methodology is still up for debate; even experts in the field have a tough time defining it.  I suspect that that very discussion will inform a good deal of what I have to say during the course of the semester.  Despite having been involved in the digital revolution in the early days, I find myself today a bit of a Luddite when it comes to digital tools. I suspect that will change as well.

While it does, savor the cocktail and enjoy the ride.


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War Time Armagnac

Although the wine cellar is always the first reason to take a trip to Bern’s Steak house, the upstairs dessert room makes a strong argument for the second reason.  In addition to the private dessert cabins and tasty sweets, the cellar features a selection of spirits unlike any others.  When I’m not driving home, I choose to drink dessert because—just like with the wine cellar—there are simply choices here that we can’t find elsewhere.  And while I love Cognac, I love Armagnac even more.  I find it richer and less cloying, deeper and more complex.

Seamus and I decided to try two different vintages just a few years apart (1941 and 1944) from the same producer (La Grindiniere).  We were somewhat surprised with how different they were.

Armagnac War Years

The nose of the 1941 was darker and moodier, almost reminiscent of a kirsch.  The alcohol showed through it a touch more.  The 1944 had more honeyed and herbal notes, with the fruit being rounder in contrast with the sharper notes from the 1941.  We smelled them for about 10 minutes before taking first sips.  While our preference on the nose was the ’44, the ’41 was better on the palate.  In an unusual twist, the taste of the ’41 was what we would have expected from the ’44.  The fruit and alcohol were well-integrated, and the sweet notes shone through.  The ’41 was simply headier and required a bit more thought than the ’44.  Both were delicious and well worth the price.  I would certainly revisit either again, although I suspect my choice next time will involve another one I haven’t tried from Bern’s remarkable list.

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