Jones Post 2: Thinking through Kirschenbaum’s Formal and Forensic Materialities

If academia is exploring how to evaluate digital humanities, then Kirschenbaum’s theoretical work in Mechanisms provides another fascinating facet to what DH can do and how to understand digital work. Kirschenbaum lays the foundation for his theoretical reading in Mechanisms, which involve forensic and formal materialities that trace the impacts of computing. Kirschenbaum is proposing a reading through both mechanical and representational constructs and creations. This fascinating theory may assist in rethinking some of the earlier aspects of DH discussed, where “textual critics have tended to treat the computer mainly as a platform-independent venue for study the artifacts of other media.”[1] In regards to labs, this made me think of the Scholar’s Lab, which has a makerspace for “tinkering, experimentation with technologies like desktop fabrication, physical computing, and augmented reality.”[2] The emphasis in experimenting with physical computing can help scholars understand how to understand the digital and its potentials, (like forensic materialities) as well as understanding why DH is important and how signification is undergoing representational expansion (formal materialities). Not only this, but Kirschenbaum’s theory and the Scholar’s Lab makerspace reveals the ways that digital research is collapsing the space between signification and physical creation.

One example of this collapse is the way that lab encourages uses tinkering for digital creation, that can in turn be mapped or built into reality. The lab includes tools like conductive threads and fabrics, needles, frames, cameras, toolboxes, soldering irons, and parts for electronic construction. One project used coding, constructing a platform, and two Kinects to create 3D models of topology and Kinect sand. [3] The use of 3D printing is a newer technology that shows how the digital, scientific, and the creative are used in unison to research methods of creation. Using a forensic and formal materiality focused reading shows how “material circumstances…. leave material (read: forensic traces)” that can leader to greater research that can reify abstract models into physical conditions.[4] Computing can invade the physical by creating models, tools, art or entertainment. When thinking of gaming systems like the Occulus Rift, computing can invade systems of perceptions to create other realities as well. Technology can play with or participate in reality, and so it should then be read or experimented with on its own terms.

From this point of makerspaces and material readings, I believe that Kirschenbaum’s reading arrives at the heart of many of the points made in the papers calling to rethink how DH is evaluated. From these electronic texts, or even  physical models (artistic or commercial), how do we evaluate this work? Is there too much focus on projects that digitized literary texts?  It appears that there is more movement to evaluating the purely digital texts, so how is this work encouraged? Should online only be evaluated online? But what if they’re translated into a physical space? What then of the process that created it? Do we read it through the makerspace, by understanding how experimentation created the text? This seems to be an important point for Kirschenbaum and Rockwell, and many of the other readings this week. For Rockwell, electronic work “is meant to be experienced in electronic form.”[5] Then electronic work that psychically creates should be evaluated on both digital and physical processes. Again this opens up the possibility for greater research if tinkering or experimentation are encouraged and evaluated on the various processes or theoretical stretch of a project. If digital projects are able to amplify the creation of varying models, then this should be evaluated on the collaborative or technical depth of the project, giving credit to all persons or pieces that came together to build the work.

Notes:

[1] Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print, 16.

[2] n.d. Scholar’s Lab Makerspace. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://scholarslab.org/makerspace/.

[3] Graham, Wayne. 2015. Augmented Reality and Simulation. September 8. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://scholarslab.org/research-and-development/augmented-reality-and-simulation/.

[4] Kirschenbaum, 15.

[5] Rockwell, Geoffrey. “Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship.” Profession 2011.1 (2011). Web, 153.

 

Bibliography

Graham, Wayne. 2015. Augmented Reality and Simulation. September 8. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://scholarslab.org/research-and-development/augmented-reality-and-simulation/.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.

Rockwell, Geoffrey. “Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship.” Profession 2011.1 (2011). Web.

n.d. Scholar’s Lab Makerspace. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://scholarslab.org/makerspace/.

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