Rainbo Records (R.I.P.) and Darnton’s “Communications Circuit”

Monday, January 27, 2020

Robert Darnton’s “communications circuit” has been the most influential concept I’ve encountered in the past two decades. I never have figured out why no one ever mentioned it to me while I was in graduate school (1997-2004). Darnton’s diagram had been around for some time by then; in fact, I just found an article by Adriaan van Der Well that was derived from a talk given in 2000, in Maine, entitled “The Communications Circuit Revisited.”


Given that UCSD’s Literature department emphasized its affiliations with Cultural Studies, it seems odd that Darnton was never mentioned. For that matter, the notion of “the history of the book” was never discussed either. Today’s news, though, that a legendary record-pressing plant in Los Angeles is shutting down operations is a last-minute addition to my lecture later today about print culture on West Coast after World War II.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Darnton’s diagram, I urge you to locate it with a quick search through your browser, and then go to the article on Rainbo Records:


My sorrow at this closure is ambivalent, for I was made aware of the environmental damage of vinyl record productions years ago. These records, however, still reverberate with my youthful recollections of having something beyond books with which to share imaginative, mind-expansive culture that also liberated one’s body.

Time to hum it again: “May the Circle Be Unbroken.” 45 rpm circles.

The rest of Los Angeles is “mourning” the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a helicopter crash yesterday, the news of which stunned me briefly, too. (Long Beach activist had an acutely insightful twitter post about “collective mourning,” for which he apparently received considerable vituperation. Hang in there, James. I’m on your side!) I admire athletic contests as a domain of physical democracy in which talent usually matters more than the class privileges of birth. On the other hand, of course, discourses of gender and albeism erode that “democracy” of merit as pervasively as in politics. Nevertheless, Bryant’s death precludes the possibilities of a “second act” that might have been empowered by the accomplishments of his “first act” in unexpected ways, especially if he would have found ways to lead in rectifying his alleged behavior on July 1, 2003. I suspect that impact would have been felt by several million people in Southern California, none of whom (and that includes myself) ever saw him play his sport in person. Sexual education in matters of masculine prerogatives should have been his most lasting legacy, not his sports career. Although that was probably always a dim possibility, it now is almost completely foreclosed, unless his survivors reconcile themselves to that necessity.

As a final side-note, I suppose there is one parallel that can be drawn between the performance of an outstanding athlete and an influential writer. One quick indicator of a writer’s stature is whether her or his writing has a concordance. Emily Dickinson, I like to remind my students, has merited not only a concordance of her poems, but a concordance of her letters. In a similar manner, Kobe Bryant had a “map” made of every shot he took as a professional athlete.


Emily Dickinson made an extraordinarily high percentage of her three-point shots. In fact, she made them from the other half of the court.



The above link is in regards to a double body-blow to the vinyl renaissance.

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