When I sat down to write this post I had no ideas. That’s probably inevitable, given the year of blogging challenge that we’re undertaking in the Scholars’ Lab. The whole point is to write often and frequently, that there is value in a steady stream of thoughts rather than waiting for the perfect blog post, and that regular writing makes the whole thing easier. Still, all those good intentions didn’t help me as I struggled to put text to blank page. As I often do in those situations I got out a deck of cards and started playing.
I’ve been obsessed with Oblique Strategies for years now. If you’re not familiar, Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards published by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt that aims to offer short, pithy suggestions for getting around creative dilemmas. The idea behind them is that the serendipity of drawing a mysterious phrase from the deck will help disrupt any blocks you might have moving forward. I’ve got a stack of them that I keep on my desk, and it’s a comfort to know that I’ve always got a wrench to throw in the gears at any given time. This morning as I flipped through the deck for inspiration these were the cards that came up first:
When is it for?
Use an old idea
Turn it upside down
Once the search is in progress, something will be found
Humanize something free of error
A lot there! Surely, somewhere in there, I could find material for a successful blog post on digital pedagogy, the subject I’ve been trying to focus on with these regular posts. I did, and I could. But the activity interested me more: how could these cards – the idea of them more so than any one phrase on them – inform teaching within the field of DH more generally?
Of course, I’m not the first one to think about how Oblique Strategies might apply to DH. Mark Sample’s keynote for the first annual Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship took up this topic. In “Your Mistake was a Vital Connection: Oblique Strategies for the Digital Humanities,” Sample does a fantastic job articulating the potential for the deck to inspire digital humanities research and pedagogy. Sample advocates not just using the deck as a means to an end – he suggests making serendipity the process and outcome itself. The deck can be quirky way to step over difficulty and get back to the serious business of doing work, but it can also offer a reconsideration of what the work could look like in the first place.