Author Archives: lizmcgehee

McGehee Post 10: Navigating Wasteland

zombiemediaNaturally, I find myself gravitating towards Hertz and Parikka’s article, “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Having presented on Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism” several weeks ago, it’s interesting to see the shape Parikka’s opinions take a year later. Generally speaking, the content of “Zombie Media” is something I grapple with fairly often, particularly this idea of purchasing technological products with the knowledge that they will become obsolete. When I try to take account of how many phones, laptops, etc. that I’ve personally owned and where they might be now, the shameful truth is that I have no clue what became of my consumption.

 

I was already aware of “the concept of planned obsolescence first put forward by Bernard London in 1923, as a proposed solution to the Great Depression” (425). I learned of this concept in a women gender studies class after we began to map the formation of cultural norms for women, such as shaving legs and underarms, all of which related back to this consumption plan meant to pull the U.S. out of the financial hole, so to speak. Planned obsolescence is specifically a consumer capitalist issue, one that is destroying our planet, but Hertz and Parikka tell us that, “The political economy of consumer capitalism is a media archaeological problem as well” (427).

 

When Hertz and Parikka state, “In other words, technological objects are designed as a “black box”—not engineered to be fixable and with no user-serviceable parts inside” (426), Macintosh products (closed systems) come to mind specifically. When I encounter service errors with my MacBook or iPhone, I must go to the source (i.e. the company) to fix them. Additionally, it is becoming more and more commonplace for those of my generation to lack any sort of programming ability; so even at micro levels, users struggle with customizing, building, or understanding the hardware they interact with every single day:

 

“The inner workings of consumer electronics and information technologies are increasingly concealed as a result of the development of newer generations of technologies, a feature that is characteristic of recent decades of technological culture” (427).

 

Hertz and Parikka take a closer look at contemporary electro-movement techniques, such as “circuit bending,” which essentially recycles and repurposes old technologies, “…it can be connected to tinkering as a methodology of media archaeological art…circuit bending is a way of operating that reminds us that users consistently reappropriate, customize and manipulate consumer products in unexpected ways, even when the inner workings of devices are intentionally engineered as an expert territory” (426).

 

Despite my focus on the environmental impact of technological consumption, it is important to note Hertz and Parikka emphasize that media archaeology is “not always connecting such ideas to poetical economy or ecology” rather, the primary focus is on “…the nature of temporality in contemporary electronic digital culture…The circuit, not the past, is where media archaeology starts if we want to develop a more concrete design-oriented version of how we can think about recycling and remediation as art methods” (427).

 

This is where I begin to see ties between “Zombie Media” and Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism,” both articles pointedly depoliticizing media and materialism, choosing to “go inside a device” rather than “back in time to media history” (427). Again, we go into the function of a device and remove the emphasis of the assumed user. I can follow Hertz and Parikka through this, albeit with a bad taste in my mouth. As Parikka defends in “Media Theory,” “In the wake of the Kittler-effect, media archeology becomes a way to investigate not only histories of technological processes but also the current “archeology” of what happens inside the machine” (86).

 

Addressing data, I feel, is useful, and Parikka certainly makes a great argument for this, but his theoretical approach and method problematically erase the user of such devices. Is it not also worth viewing user data? As we saw in Erin A.’s presentation, we know that class effects ones ability to use and access basic technology. Race and gender likewise influence this. To me, this proposed approach works from an assumed “we,” othering individuals that cannot participate in this conversation. More than anything, I am curious as to why Parikka seeks to separate analysis of the user from analysis of the device, as if the device transcends its human creator or ecological consequences. Because of this, I’m not sure what to make of Hertz and Parikka’s statements on information technology “traversing political economy and natural ecology” or how technical media “taps into the temporalities of nature—thousands of years of non-linear and non-human history” (429).

 

My personal view is that this article makes many contradictory statements regarding media archaeology, and I’m not sure what to take away here. Just as science detrimentally seeks to exclude cultural theory, I feel that there is a danger to pretending that we may separate the device from the creator/user of the device for analysis or that we may eliminate responsibility from art methods.

 

MattinglyWhile reading “Zombie Media,” performance and installation artist Mary Mattingly, who meticulously catalogues her consumption in an online archive and has created giant sculptures composed entirely of waste, came to mind. Art21 follows her process in this 10-minute video, under which a journalist posses the question: “Do objects come with responsibility?” Mattingly’s art, creative process, and way of life center around the concept of planned obsolescence and one’s role in it as consumer. Similarly to circuit benders, she repurposes technological waste, “…what gets bent is not only the false image of linear history but also the circuits and archive that form the contemporary media landscape” (427). Where she differs from Hertz and Parikka, however, is by highlighting waste politically in our culture. Waste and consumption are not only the art but the method of the art itself. One can hardly separate the consumer from the technological products in Mattingly’s work.

 

A few questions that arise from my reading of “Zombie Media” and viewing of Mattingly’s art processes:

  1. How do users shape the technology we currently produce? Who is the user?
  2. Can we predict who will or will not have access to technology in the future?
  3. Can we predict what type devices will be created down the line?
  4. Do these things already influence the history of technology?
  5. Is history actually contingent to the study of media archaeology?

 

Some of these questions work in tandem with Hertz and Parikka’s assertions, while others, I feel, interrogate the relationship between the user and the device, as well as deconstruct who specifically benefits from this separation. While I have some reservations about jumping aboard “Zombie Media,” I feel that many of the points are valid and crucial to understanding Media Archeology as a field and some of the rhetoric and methodology behind it. Whether or not I fully agree with the article, I find it useful for probing my own understanding of the field and for locating some of the existing holes in terms of cultural theory.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.

Miller, Weseley and Nick Ravich. “Mary Mattingly Owns Up.” New York Close Up. Art21.org. 2013. Film.

Parikaa, Jussi. “Media Theory and New Materialism.” What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 63-89. Print.

McGehee Post 9: Practical Posthumanism

“Power is not a steady location operated by a single masterful owner” (188).

The Posthuman is one of my favorite readings in the course to date. I already knew much of the historical background Braidotti presents via feminist theories, and I felt very drawn to her honest statements and attention to Eurocentric policing in the humanities that continues today.

In a previous feminist theories course I took about a year ago, we discussed secularism adamantly and the lack of questioning by Western academics as to its position in relation to the rest of the world, industrialized or not. Braidotti reminds us that the roots of Western feminism question, yet participate in Eurocentric notions and binaries of humanity. Black feminism and post-colonial theory fall outside of Western feminism or thwart secularity. But what is left by the wayside in wake of a dominant Western feminism that works from an assumed unity? Women, still, but mainly people of color, the disabled, LGBTIQ, animals and anything resting outside of the majority. So then white women perhaps enact the same structure used to subjugate them.

“This is the paradoxical and violent global context where the posture of Western ‘exceptionalism’ has taken the form of self-aggrandizing praise of the Enlightenment Humanist legacy” (36).

Braidotti’s discussion of science as a product of the secular, I thought to be particularly relevant to the course and previous class discussions. “Systems of meaning” place science as the voice of reason and a resistance to what we think of as religious indoctrination, but she says that this is also a type of religious practice that reinforces the negative effects of secularism. My overall cultural perception of secularism is that, widely, it is not seen as something negative, when in reality it is used as an emotive, colonial, policing device. It positions itself in a place of inarguable reason and logic (universalism) while forcing academics to view the world through a particular lens and ostracising others.

“According to the tenants of classical Humanism, the humanities were defined by their capacity to humanize our social behavior, values and civic interaction. This implies an implicit moral mission and concern for the well-being of academics, students and citizens alike” (147).

Classical humanism has been used as justification for a “violent and belligerent relationship to the sexualized, racialized and naturalized ‘others’ that occupied the slot of devalued difference” (144). Whereas, Braidotti prescribes, “Posthuman subjectivity reshapes the identity of humanistic practices, by stressing heteronomy and multi-faceted relationality, instead of autonomy and self-referential disciplinary purity” (145). She encourages us to look beyond the self as a paradigm or binary of the human and to look at the relationships between human communities and the relationship between humanity and the earth or the technological as the most constructive method for dismantling systems of oppression.

“Life, simply by being life, expresses itself by actualizing flows of energies, through codes of vial information across complex somatic, cultural and technologically networked systems…the expressive intensity of a Life we share with multiple others, here and now” (190).

The Posthuman, in Braidotti’s view, becomes an opportunity—a canvas where we are free to decide the constructs of our own humanity. While I’m unsure of the realistic possibilities of her realization, I feel that The Posthuman leaves us with a positive plan and future potential of the human through the release of a Eurocentric humanist foundation. The construct of humanity has appeared as a solid object since its conception, grounded and rooted in hundreds of years of history.

Tanya Clement’s “An Information Science Question in DH Feminism” working within situated locations as Braidotti does, posits, “…both standpoint theory and postmodern theory hold that all knowledge is historically and geographically created by embodied participants. As such, they offer this insistent embodiment as “a rich tradition of critiquing hegemony without disempowering positivisms and relativisms and a way to get nuanced theories of mediation”  [Haraway 1988, 578]. Ultimately, standpoint theory suggests that understanding the influence of multiple, embodied perspectives rather than attempting a “metadisciplinary” roving eye is necessary to enhancing knowledge.”

Clement likewise uses feminist theory and scholarship to deconstruct inherent subject positioning in scientific research for a “located accountability.” She lists five attributes in which DH appears to excel, or five areas that are being addressed in the wake of cultural theories exclusion from the field:

  1. Recognizing the various forms of visible and invisible work that make up the production/use of technical systems, locating ourselves within that extended web of connections, and taking responsibility for our participation.
  2. Understanding technology use as the recontextualization of technologies designed at greater or lesser distances in some local site of practice.
  3. Acknowledging and accepting the limited power of any actors or artifacts to control technology production/use.
  4. Establishing new bases for technology integration, not in universal languages, but in partial translations.
  5. Valuing heterogeneity in technical systems, achieved through practices of artful integration, over homogeneity and domination.

Clement, especially in point five, engages and encourages the fostering of Braidotti’s Posthuman call to action and offers a material checklist to follow in DH, perhaps offering a positive Posthuman route when engaging the sciences in humanist research. I think this type of work and strategy is at the heart of The Posthuman and gives a practical, ethical set of rules to follow when conducting research.


Bibliography:

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. Print.

Clement, Tanya. “An Information Science Question in DH Feminism.” School of Information, University of Texas at Austin. 2015. Web.

McGehee Post 8: Colonialism* There, I Fixed It For You

eyerollAs I read through Jussi Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism,” and his explanation and advocation of Fredrich A. Kittler’s theories on media, I found myself writing phrases such as “how convenient” and “ignores the being, cool” in the margins. When we discussed Pickering last week, I mentioned in class that one must have a certain position in the world to carry out these views of subjectivity in scholarship, views that advocate for the detachment of narrative and the self from technological materiality. For instance, there are many references in Parikka’s text, which fail to address ableist notions of the mentally ill and disabled. Even the likes of renowned feminist philosophers, such as Foucault and Judith Butler, use the disabled as a conduit of expression for their theoretical texts.

Parikka mentions on page 72 that the keyboard was “originally designed for the blind to assist in their writing” but the subjectivity of the blind is rendered unimportant. Before and after this on the same page, Parikka informs his reader in Kittler’s simultaneous experimentation on hallucination and “the way we go mad” “he does this to mental illness too” as if these varying levels of “disability” belong to the same family. Ironically, on page 76 when Parikka discuses the Xerox Labblind at MIT, he says the lab “opened up computing as a medium for lay human beings: not only for number-crunching, but for symbol and graphic object manipulation, and hence meant for eyes…and hands,” conveniently excluding the blind and other disabled who are no longer useful as objects of study. This point of view is steeped in Western perspective and renders the individual and the disability invisible. As Parikka says on page 74, “…experimental laboratory practices and other measures…made the human body a new object of investigation” (74).

In my humble opinion, Parikka fails to interrogate the male, Euro-centric canon Kittler draws upon; rather he uses it as a point of validation and connection to the humanities or the arts to reinforce their placement within the Lacanian link between science, technology, and the arts.

Aside from this, particular phrasings throughout Parikka’s text seem to be a direct criticism and silencing of Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges” and “A Cyborg Manifesto”:

“The Posthuman does not always have to be thought through the digital-media discourse of cyborgs and cyberspace, and we can go much further back in time than to computers in our analysis of digital culture” (Parikka, 79).

“In other words, not meaning, not representation, not any imaginary of media that is conditioned by the social, but the act of communication it its physical distributing and effective channeling of signals stands at the core of media, claims Kittler” (Parikka, 68-9).

(Also, military connection.)

Although he may merely be building off of Haraway’s texts in a somewhat constructive, albeit combative, way, his comments in this regard ultimately appear reductive, insensitive to marginalized groups of people, and remain thinly veiled with no tangible references to Haraway. While Parikka maintains that, “Ernst’s way of articulating a specifically media-archaeological version of ‘media materialism’ is then not a direct assault on narrative theories, but a strong insistence on rethinking what we mean by narrative” (82), I just can’t get behind him. Parikka conveniently places himself behind quotes and previous rhetoric almost exclusively by white, male scholars to articulate his stance and to avoid direct criticism, while Haraway fully puts herself on the line, perhaps highlighting exactly what is at stake for each theorist when it comes to advocating for or against the inclusion of narrative in new materialism and media theory. It feels impossible to separate Haraway from her words in these texts, perhaps an act of embodiment and refusal to be objectified, voiceless, or otherwise quantified for material consumption.

noKittler conveniently wants to remove subjectivity from this work to reinforce credibility in such scholarship, but, as we’ve established over several weeks now, the tool (computer) is not a neutral object. It is a tool controlled, built, and operated by human beings: “It takes one to build one” (80). As Parikka states, “Shannon’s model does not ask about the being for whom the message connotes or denotes meaning, but rather it ignores connotation and denotation altogether in order to clarify the internal mechanism of communication instead” (69). This is the linchpin to Parikka’s justification of Kittler’s materialism.

Parikka pulls from a hodgepodge of scholars to reinforce his credibility and/or to appear neutral throughout the text. While “cognitive capitalization” is brought to the surface and parceled through, the word “colonialism” never once rears its head in the text. Through Ernst, he states: “the object is no longer people, discourses and narrativization as a method of bringing the past alive, but the archive” (82). How convenient. Parikka does question technopower in several parts of the text (through other scholars), but ultimately attempts to present his support of Kittler as a straightforward history and cataloguing of a particular branch of media theory.

We talk about bio power, language, standardization, institutionalization, etc., bthefuckut Parikka never elaborates on the social theory behind these terms, nor does he ever specifically mention people of color, women, lgbtq, or the actual humans effected by this theoretical indoctrination and their subsequent erasure enacted through this text itself. Parikka seems resigned to briefly address these issues and move on rather than engage them in a substantial way, as though they’re a distraction from what he wants to get across to the reader. Again, the Western perspective renders the individual invisible, assuming we can all work from the same subjectivity through the anonymity the machine allegedily offers. We become disembodied through an assumed objectivity.

While Parikka offers some criticism of this (through other scholars), admitting the machine is fallible, he seems to advocate for Kittler’s emphasis on and analysis of the machine over human subjectivity, which is also presented as fallible. Yes, memory is fallible. Experience is not. Interacting with a machine meant to serve, a machine which is presented as objectively and gender neutral when we know better, has it’s own set of flaws. I can see how turning our attention to the interior of the machine (the machine’s narrative) is a useful route for understanding new material, but to leave human narrative out of the equation is a mistake, a mistake that has been enacted over and over again in “Anglo-American” and western cultures, which prioritize certain subjectivities over others.

I’m inclined to agree with Haraway here when she says:

“The moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision. All Western culture narratives about objectivity are allegories of the ideologies governing the relations of what we call mind and body, distance and responsibility. Feminist objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object. It allows us to become answerable for what we learn how to see” (583).

*just a reminder that I am presenting this week*


Works Cited:

Parikaa, Jussi. “Media Theory and New Materialism.” What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 63-89. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledge: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn, 1988), pp. 575-599. Print.

McGehee Post 7: Everything inMangles

GastonThe Mangle of Practice by Andrew Pickering is not what I would describe as a light read. It speaks to a particular audience, one that I don’t find myself dwelling within or having full access to, but as a teacher once told me in an undergraduate lit course, and as I tell my own students, just because material is difficult to grapple with doesn’t mean it’s valueless.

A much larger picture exists here than my brain is willing to grasp at times. I don’t have trouble following Pickering’s line of thought, but I do have trouble conceptualizing ideas such as “agency,” “material agency,” “human agency,” “performativity,” “idiom,” and “performative idiom,” in the given context. Pickering leaves some of these terms up to interpretation and application, while others get more explanation, but often with conceptual bits and pieces the reader is assumed to have a grasp of. My lack of familiarity with the very building blocks Pickering deploys cause me to flip back every other sentence and make sure I really understand the concepts presented. Halfway through the first chapter, I still don’t precisely know what he means by “a fully performative understanding of science,” and this is merely the outline for what’s to come in the rest of the book. The issue for me lies in a lack of ability to apply these concepts, I suppose, or to see them in a real, physical way. While Pickering follows the work of Donald Glasser, I am not a physicist, and many of his examples and descriptions of the bubble chamber go over my head.

However, despite my resistance and overall lack of understanding on many conceptual elements, I found connections between the mangle and Latour and Woolgar’s Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979) that served as a somewhat steady path through the material. Again, science is presented as a constructed reality, both humanist and scientific fields remain flawed in their closed-off-ness from one another, and the study of SSK in Pickering’s Mangle, serves an important purpose in exposing these flaws.

“Thus if we agree that, as already stipulated, we are interested in achieving a real-time understanding of scientific practice, then it is clear that the scientist is in no better a position than the sociologist when it comes to material agency” (14).

Part of my resistance comes from an uncertain knowledge of SSK itself, and no expertise to agree or disagree with what is presented. Yet, I was further intrigued by the Actor-network theory presented in the book, as well as the symbiotic, posthumanist relationship between human and machine: “Human and non-human agents are associated with one another in networks, and evolve together within those networks…we need to think about both at once” (11). The application of mind-body connection to the computer (or the machine) goes against traditional scientific practices, and reminds me of our debate on the computer as a neutral or non-neutral tool.

“…as the actor-network insists, there is no difference between human and nonhuman agents…I am not alone in thinking that there are serious problems with these ideas when it comes to the analysis of science…the idea that, say, human beings can be substituted for machines (and vise versa) seems to me a mistake…Semiotically, these things can be made equivalent; in practice, they are not” (15).

powerInterestingly, the word “power” makes its way into Pickering’s discussion of the machine. He goes on to conclude that machine is a reflection of human practice, and therefore, our class discussion of the computer as fallible because it is created by humans, falls in line with Pickering’s assessment. “Gestures, skills, and so on—all of these aspects of disciplined human agency come together with the machines that they set in motion and exploit” (17). Pickering furthers the relationship of human and computer, showing that “it works both ways.” The human uses a machine posited as neutral, and a tool which knows more than humans, therefore backs up a users findings or doesn’t, for their intended purposes, and the information is then seen as an impartial fact. “…While the two are not continuously deformable into one another…they are intimately connected with one another, reciprocally and emergently defining and sustaining each other” (17).

It seems then that the word “mangle” is incredibly appropriate when discussing how all of these elements interact with one another. In my mind, “mangle” appears physically as a mess of string with knots around and connecting to other strings, perhaps the string is, in fact, a single string that appears many. Ultimately, they are fused together; you cannot pull on one without pulling on another; you cannot isolate any single part of the mangle. The mangle isn’t just relegated to science and SSK, but temporal emergence, posthumanism, material agency, and human agency as well. Much of what Pickering lays out for us appears paradoxical or as a circular reference.

cyborg1I came across Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” while digging around the internet for more information about post-humanism. The text describes itself as “an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism.” I looked to this for a more physical space to ground my understanding and application of Pickering’s concepts.

Pickering acknowledges social factors in science, telling us that human interest and need guides our development of new machines. But we don’t get into the neo-liberal aspects seeping into this guidance. “Human interest” in Western culture is also guided economically for production value. When this happens, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the interest becomes corrupt and leaves out vantages from women, people of color, lgbtq, and other minority groups. Haraway’s manifesto addresses the collection and synthesis of material on a much deeper level.

“Modern medicine is also full of cyborgs, of couplings between organism and machine, each conceived as coded devices, in any intimacy and with a power that was not generated in the history of sexuality…we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism. In short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation. In the traditions of Western’ science and politics—the tradition of racist, male dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of reproduction of self from the reflections of the other—the relation between organism and machine has been a border war” (Haraway, 292).

It seems important to name these things (or risk erasure), which are perhaps implied as SSK, but which warrant no further discussion by Pickering when we talk about how we collect material. Glasser’s human identity in society, for instance, doesn’t seem to be a social factor worth mentioning in the mangle, when this position has likely led him his position and influenced his experiments.

cyborgAs we discussed in last weeks reading, the machine itself is feminized and presented as somehow neutral without any discussion of how this might affected “othered,” feminized bodies, by which I mean a category enveloping anyone with undesirable, weak, or feminized traits, such as women, PoC, lgbtq, disabled and so on.

Pickering’s text misses a certain element of humanity, if I’m being honest, but I don’t think he’s trying to come from that perspective in the first place. The text feels cold and clinical (another point of resistance for me), much in the way a scientist might report on something. Maybe I’m just searching for something more radical, like Haraway’s manifesto. To me, these philosophical text which seek to solidify concepts like the mangle, or affect, or anything that is hard to peg down, act as a window into a particular mind’s view of things. These texts reinforce themselves throughout, which calls into question, at least for me, their credibility. I’ve been thinking about the issue of credibility in academia a lot over the last couple of years.

Pickering mentions “imitation” and “original thought” halfway through the text as part of the social factors influencing scientific collection and representation of date in scholarship. In a neo-colonial institution like the academy, we are taught to work within a specific rhetoric, to use certain language, and to reference previous scholars. I wonder then how anyone can have an original thought or refrain from imitation when working within such parameters, and when working with material from the past to decipher and synthesize present material. If reality is corrupted from the beginning, and we build our reality and our scholarship from corrupted and impartial material, then how do we go about continuing our own scholarship? This is yet another paradox, another mangle. We cannot pinpoint and dismantle neo-colonialism without studying the past, and our conceptual reality of the past and recycled data of the past is inaccurate to begin with.

The mangle then encompasses everything.


Works Cited:

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. “A Cyborg’s Manifesto.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Chapter 18. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print

Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. ChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.

McGehee Post 6: Freedom in the Digital Age

thinkingI’ve been pondering through much of this class, issues of accessibility inside and outside of academia. Politically, I’m all for free information exchange. It seems in everyone’s benefit to offer access to scholarly materials, and to consult a wide range or people with different backgrounds in order to create the most accurate and thoughtful information possible. Yet, I have entered the academic machine, pouring personal resources into my education, which is a problem in and of itself. My point, though, is that I have dedicated my life up to this point in time to creative writing and scholarship, building up a credible background and gaining access to scholarly resources I otherwise wouldn’t even know the existence of, let alone build upon. If all of these resources and information were then free, how exactly would I, as someone who has poured everything into this venture, make a living wage from this dedication?

“Information Wants to Be Free” is perhaps one of the most significant articles from Stewart Brand’s The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. (1987) in this regard. While the article primarily addresses software copyright in the digital age, I think this issue extends to all forms scholarship, and as the article suggests, any open information such as music.

As I scour the internet for inspiration on my final project in this class, I wonder how original my ideas are? I’m relatively new to programming, jumping almost immediately into Java to accomplish particular, ambitious web goals. I find myself copying code from others and attempting to tweak these things into what I need. While this mode of operation is prolific, I feel at times like I’m doing something unethical, despite the fact that this seems to be the manner of coding. The nature of coding often appears collaborative, building off of established patterns and countless forums have been erected for the purposes of helping inexperienced coders figure out the glitches.

JavaScriptNameI find myself perpetually overwhelmed in an endless sea of programs: Processing, Ruby, Python, etc. How do I know which one is right for me? Even though code is described as language, it often exists outside of the confines and regulations we find in academic and journalist language. I recently gleaned that the programming language JavaScript was perhaps named such as a marketing ploy and intentionally intended to be confused with the already popular Java language:

“The final choice of name caused confusion, giving the impression that the language was a spin-off of the Java programming language, and the choice has been characterized by many as a marketing ploy by Netscape to give JavaScript the cachet of what was then the hot new web-programming language. It has also been claimed that the language’s name is the result of a co-marketing deal between Netscape and Sun, in exchange for Netscape bundling Sun’s Java runtime with their then-dominant browser” (Wikipedia in response to user Simeon on stackoverflow.com).

One might assume that this would ensue in copyright issues, but perhaps the web blurs these lines of plagiarism that appear more clear in traditional scholarship.

“Each new kind of information provider has to get used to the idea of leakage, just as book and magazine publishers had to go through denial, outrage, panic, lobbying, and eventual accommodation when Xeroxing came in…Information wants to be free. When that’s totally denied, customers go elsewhere, or they blandly break laws they consider unjust” (Brand, 204).

Language and program developers want people to use their products. The language is then a product for consumption rather than exclusively closed off. The issue regarding plagiarism isn’t so much with users as much as other companies who build off of or mimic existing software.

One of the more interesting aspects of Brand’s “Information Wants to Be Free” is the direct juxtaposition between literary publication and software publication. Brand suggests that like the advent of online books, software publishers “are finding that a program is not a commodity that they can sell and forget about, it’s an entering into a long relationship with the customer, extending through panic phone calls for help by the user and new updated versions of the program by the publisher, often based on customer complaints and suggestions” (206).

A primary issue concerning publication is the monopolization of the book market by corporations. The company Amazon, which has become one of the largest national book distributers in the nation, due to cheap prices and delivery as well as the advent of the online kindle book, has made literature more accessible than ever—at a price. The literary community continues to side eye Amazon for undercutting small presses and authors, aware that Amazon may one day, or perhaps already does, decide what then gets published. While it seems smart to base publication on demand, what then get’s left out of the repertoire? Could a book have come along that would have changed literature if the model weren’t set up on neo-liberal principles? Will my book of poems even reach a publisher’s desk before being dismissed?

kindleOn the other hand, I could at this very moment take a manuscript, upload it as a kindle book, set a fee, and immediately begin making money off of my work. A former colleague of mine, a creative writing teacher, had a student in her 1191 class who had done this very thing, gaining more readers and profits than her own teacher. This also exposed the teacher, course, university system, publisher, and editor, in many ways as obsolete.

Brand asks, “Are these developments natural extensions of what goes on in a market economy and a democracy, where individual choice ultimately governs? I hope so” (214).

The ways in which we consume and produce work have undeniably changed, but at what and whose expense? I might say it is at the expense of jobs and quality of produced work. The student I mentioned above, for instance, gained notoriety for her erotic fan fiction, and was not a truly skilled writer (yet), but the market provided a demand for this work, giving her little incentive to develop as a writer of quality. But I wonder if it is ethical to force writers through a system which offers hardly any financial benefits? It is the press and/or the privatized university that collects all financial gain, rather than the author. The university and the publisher receive sponsorship, and therefore don’t lie outside of the government control discussed by Brand.
SRPoemThroughout this article I thought of Steve Roggenbuck, a poet who dropped out of his MFA in 2011, who created complete open access to his work and published his own chapbooks online. Roggenbuck realized that he didn’t need the networking opportunities and technical help offered by academia to succeed in this time of free, open digital access:

“i’m known most for my videos, which have accumulated more than 1.3 million views together, and which have been presented in the new museum 2015 triennial in nyc and the oslo poesifilm festival in norway. my work has been covered by the new york timesgawkerthe new yorkerrolling stonethe faderNPRthe guardian, and the atlantic

i’ve also published six collections of writing so far, and i’ve done poetry performances in five countries and most of the united states. in 2012 i was the first living poet to be declared a meme by know your meme. i’m also an eight-year vegan, a runner, and a lover of the sky

i try to be responsive on social media, especially with quick stuff on twitter, so get in touch if u like. <3″

Roggenbuck and other multimedia poets use the internet to produce work outside of governmental control and sponsorship. Although they don’t typically make a profit from this work, their popularity facilitated by open access have procured secure job positions as well as opportunities to publish on high profile and highly trafficked outlets, making it possible to earn a living wage and simultaneously thwart the influence of sponsors on their work.

We should consider the influence of such work, and look at the paths being forged outside of the university when it comes to making work free. While plagiarism and other downfalls may occur, the benefits of accessibilty aid writers and scholars in tremendous ways that the closed access university model never will. Perhaps scholars must form their own path, whether or not this means biting the hand that feeds.

Brand leaves us with a paradigm to keep in mind when navigating consumption and production on the web:

“While computers probe and imitate the “society of mind,” they are also shaping the mind of society” (228).


Bibliography:

Brand, Stewart. “Information Wants To Be Free.” The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. (1987). Print.

Wikipedia. “Where does Javascript’s Name Come From?”  Stackoverflow.com. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/4334937/where-does-javascripts-name-come-from. Web.

Steve Roggenbuck. Bio. SteveRoggenbuck.com/bio/. Web.

McGehee Post 5: Fact or Fiction?

Last week, we visited the Media Archeology Lab, and many of us were left with questions about the nature of the lab. It became apparent that several of us (especially me) did not have clear apprehensions of what a scientific lab actually looks like on the inside or what these labs might do. I would describe my own limited, collegiate experience in scientific labs as stereotypical, something right out of a television show.

fuck you scienceI never latched onto science outside of anthropology, which seemed like a separate and dissonant beast from chemistry and biology. I couldn’t help but gain the impression that anthropology, along with psychology and sociology, were border fields with less merit than other sciences. I felt in my undergraduate that many academics around me treated these fields the same way most people treat astrology, essentially as pseudoscience.

This is why I became so enamored by the philosophical approaches and anthropological analyses presented in Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979).

Latour and Woolgar remind us that while we have reached outside of our own culture to study, what is implied as “primitive” cultures and tribes, we have yet to turn the lens on ourselves, or on our scientists, rather. “The most naive (and perhaps least common) reaction is that nonscientific outsiders simply have no business probing the activities of science” (19). This view within the scientific community smacks of the neo-liberalism we discussed last class. And indeed, Latour and Woolgar make a point of this when discussing the lack of cross-examination by scientists into their own work.

Similarly, “many of these [anthropological] approaches have too often accepted the products of science and taken them for granted in their subsequent analysis, rather than attempting to account for their initial production” (18). It is then understandable why scientists might resist outsider analysis, in addition to their institutional training encouraging them to ignore the self as a factor of analysis during research and data collection.

One of the most insightful and intriguing discussions by Latour and Woolgar surround the labels of these investigative fields attempting to study scientists and their practices:

“It is perhaps tempting for an outside observer to present his interests in terms of established categories of scholarly investigation, rather than in a way which might exacerbate participants’ curiosity or sense of suspicion. For example, the label of “historian” or “philosopher” might be more readily acceptable than either “sociologist” or “anthro- pologist.” The term “anthropologist” is readily associated with the study of “primitive” or “prescientific” belief systems. The term “sociologist” gives rise to a plethora of different interpretations, but essentially it can be seen by the working scientist to concern a range of phenomena, all of which impinge in some way on matters of social and political intrigue” (20).

It seems that the sciences are flawed in wanting to exclude social factors from scientific inquiry, as they are, without a doubt, affected on some level by social conduct. The very perception of these fields by scientists, as outlined above, speaks to a certain neo-liberal view. How can scientists create neutral, factual work without acknowledging anthropological factors such as a particular labs placement in the world and relation to others? The lab then positions itself in a position of autonomy and unquestionable authority. This reminds me specifically of the tendency by Western culture to speak from a position of neutrality, as if the West is the dominant or standard lens to view the world from. This has also been an issue in anthropological, sociological, psychological, literary, and historical scholarship, reflecting colonial structures and a lack of awareness of such structures.colonialism

One thing to consider is whom exactly we find in the lab. Its no surprise that we often find women steered towards the humanities and men towards science and mathematics. We frequently observe a dismal amount of people of color with access to both of these spaces as well.

“As Tanner Higgin contends, ‘issues of cultural politics are downplayed or, more commonly, considered a given within DH. There’s a disposition that the battles of race, gender, class and ecology have already been won, their lessons have been learned, and by espousing a rhetoric of equity everything will fall into place’ (Higgin)” (Spiro 28).

How then do these social factors affect the lab, research proposals, and collected data produced by the lab? These questions seem to rear more in Digital Humanities, but how often do they appear in science labs? Not at all, it seems. The pervading notion that adding cultural theory to scientific fields of research somehow invalidates the production, continues to hurt these fields.

“Yet, the binary [between hack and yack] persists, both in questionable arguments that cultural criticism targets a discursive construction of the field alone and invalid claims that an emphasis on building makes digital humanities untheoretical. The relationship between theory and praxis is integral to the digital humanities. Connections between the two appear in the archives built, corpora analyzed, oral histories recorded, and geographies mapped” (Risam).

It is my opinion, formed from my own research, that cultural theory and examination strengthen these fields, and help us to create more accurate information and practices. Of course, cultural theory is not without pitfalls. Westerhumansn feminism is not without pitfalls. Latour and Woolgar suggest that these fields don’t need to stand in opposition with one another, and that to rely on one without the other is folly. We are able to form cultural theory through collected data. Scientific research is formed around cultural interest.

Digital Humanities then becomes a complex space and an interesting subject of investigation. As a field living on the border of scientific method and anthropological study, it holds the key to everything. If we can include political and social factors when collecting scientific data, we stand a greater chance of creating “fact.”


Works Cited:

  • Latour, Bruno and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986. Print.
  • Roopika Risam. Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities. Salem State University. Web.
  • Jamie “Skye” Bianco. Man and His Tool, Again? Queer and Feminist Notes on Practices in the Digital Humanities and Object Orientations Everywhere. New York University. Web.

McGehee Post 4: Innovation, Imagination, and Selective Borrowing in DH Labs

After focusing on Amy E. Earhart’s “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon,” last week, it’s interesting to see a second article from her now pivoting toward the laboratory in Digital Humanities. “The Digital Humanities As a Laboratory,” captures the ephemeral nature of my feelings, and so many other humanist scholars’, towards DH, as well as the “divergent approaches that nonetheless must coexist within the digital humanities framework” (393).

Earhart uses the laboratory as conduit for pivotal discussions surrounding DH, specifically whether or not DH should lean more towards a pragmatic, scientific approach or a humanist approach which would include the cultural theory she so heavily emphasizes in last weeks article. In many of the articles we’ve read for this course these field divisions are heavily emphasized, but Earhart tells us that:

“The digital humanities lab has been constructed from various traditions including the design lab, art studio, and science lab to meet the distinctive needs of humanities scholars, or as Patrik Svensson has noted, digital humanities labs are fusioning forms from other traditions to develop a lab that serves our unique purposes” (391).

In other words, the digital humanities lab model is unprecedented, constantly evolving as time goes on. Additionally, the nature of the field keeps it from fitting fully into neither science nor humanities, which means that it cannot merely borrow from science or risk cultural erasure and reliance on scientific approaches to create seemingly inarguable data. Neither can the lab remove the “seminar table” of the humanities for cut and dry relaying information.heart

In this article, Earhart is primarily concerned with collaborative practices in the field as well as pedagogical practices. She states that in the sciences, “Each field understands how to interpret the author order on papers. This is not so in the humanities, where a common understanding of author order is not shared” (395). This appears to be an area still under construction in DH, one reason being that DH is uniquely diverse and hard to nail down as a field in the first place. One aspect of DH will not operate in the same way as another and therefore crediting and collaboration doesn’t necessarily work the same in each subfield (for instance library sciences and programming will have wildly different methods for crediting contributers). However, there does seem to be merit in establishing a set methodology and practice based on the sciences for the sake of efficiency and fostering the collaboration absent from humanities.

I am most interested in Earharts discussion of mentorship in DH, calling attention to the traditional apprenticeship in humanities (“the lone scholar”) vs. a more positive, science-based, collaborative structure:

“While I would like to see my graduate students in English publish, my career is minimally impacted if they do not. If a science faculty member does not work with the student to publish, the faculty member’s publication rate is diminished, adversely impacting the faculty member’s career” (398).

LostI can definitely relate to this, feeling often that my professors are too busy with their own work/publications to guide me through publication processes, editing, pointing me toward crucial resources that I’m unaware of. And what incentive do they have to focus more of their precious time and attention on students’ work? As a creative writing teacher, I know that I’m completely drained and depleted by my own work. Giving individuals the time they deserve isn’t always possible. There seems to be something lacking in the mentoring process and application here, and I feel quite often like the “lone [humanities] scholar” Earhart presents.  I can then see the immense benefit to not only holding professors accountable in this way, but, as Earhart suggests, rewarding “faculty for good mentoring,” and “enforce[ing] a codependency that is not present within the humanities,” with the laboratory acting as a facilitator for these methods. Earhart suggests selective borrowing and balance from science and the humanities for the most efficient results in archival/collaborative/pedagogical work.

Earhart highlights The Praxis Program as a leading example of a lab, which both encourages collaboration and focuses primarily on the aid of graduate student research in DH. “The projects success is partially based on the decision to locate the program in a neutral laboratory space…designed to replace traditional research methodology courses with a more current set of skills for graduate students training to become contemporary digital scholars” (397). According to Earhart, the labs success points to a seperation of DH from traditional fields for faster production of knowledge and overall efficiency.

One product of The Praxis Program is the Scholars’ Lab. On their web page I came across a blog site where teachers and students exchange information at the click of a button. The majority of the posts center on pedagogy and collaboration as one would expect, but I didn’t expect these exchanges to be so accessible. These posts and instant responses capture this perfect borrowing from both the sciences and humanities of which Earhart speaks, and all of this is posScholarslab
sible through the lab, the posts acting as a lab in an online space. None of this is facilitated through the traditional scholarship pathways, rather I can sit at home in my underwear and have a meaningful collaborative, discussion on the best ways in which to implement DH practices in my classroom. This perhaps stands in opposition with Liu’s assertion that the humanities as “unimaginative,” or perhaps he is correct if we’re looking a the bigger picture here.

One thing is for certain though. The science lab “is a space into which we can imagine our hopes for new practices” (399).


Works Cited: 

Earhart, Amy E. “The Digital Humanities As A Laboratory.” Between the Humanities and the Digital. MIT Press. 2015. Print.

The Praxis Program. Scholars’ Lab. http://scholarslab.org/tag/praxis-program/. Web. 2015.

McGehee Post 3: Academic Colonization and Digital Humanities

As I read through piles of Digital Humanities scholarship week by week, the issue of accessibility and who controls the conversation in academic scholarship constantly plagues me. There is much to focus on in this week’s reading, but one article in particular resonated with me on this subject. Amy E. Earhart’s, “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon,” tackles these insidious issues of academic discourse.

In the introduction to Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold states:

“Indeed, fault lines have emerged within the DH community between those who use new digital tools to aid relatively traditional scholarly projects and those who believe that DH is most powerful as a disruptive political force that has the potential to reshape fundamental aspects of academic practice” (Gold).

I, of course, fall into the disruptive-political-force camp. As a writer, activist, graduate student, and teacher, my submersion into higher education has been chaotic, bumpy, and full of questions regarding the actual, you know, humanity in the humanities.

falling

The cannon of which Earhart speaks is something I have questioned throughout my academic career, even more so in the past 2-3 years as I’ve delved further into feminist theories.

Coming from the state of Louisiana, one of the bottom five in education, I found theory, at first, completely inaccessible, even with a bachelors in English, and there are still times where I find classroom discourse not only inaccessible, but indulgent and inapplicable to my relations with people outside of school. For instance, trying to explain theory to my mother, a sales clerk at Home Depot with a high-school education, feels beyond patronizing and more importantly, inane.

Watching my freshmen students of color internalize racism, feels hard to address in a way that actually reaches them and typically fails to abstain from the frequent whitesplaining that accompanies a predominately white, campus, especially when the required syllabus material tokenizes them frequently.

As I read through some of my classmates posts on Digital Humanities, the utter distance from which they write, the disengagement from the reader, reinforces in my mind how far we have to go in terms of accessibility. Even now, talking about my personal relations and views without evidential support feels like a political action deviating from academic standards and thus illegitimate.

How can we expect anything but the unquestionable praise and commemoration of what we political, academic writers refer to as “old, dead, white guy lit,” when the structure for academic scholarship, and academia in general, is modeled after capitalist, hierarchal structures?

This model is the very reason why humanities scholars pre-legitimize themselves, and why we must have specified literary courses such as African-American literature. The only reason to create a course such as African-American, Chicanx [gender neutral] literature, women’s literature, etc. is because they are excluded in the regular curriculum, reflecting the value of such writers in our current academic climate.

Further writers of color must legitimize their place among white humanities scholars, and women must prove that they are as competent as any man in the classroom. Student evaluations/FCQs, riddled with racism, sexism, sizeism, and other isms, are largely viewed by higher-ups as inarguable data to determine the outcome for many collegiate teachers. “Data” expedites this. Earhart encourages us to consider what happens when we take into account “scientific data” over cultural critique/theory:

“It was as if these matters of objective and hard science provided an oasis for folks who did not want to clutter sharp, disciplined, methodical philosophy with considerations of the gender-, race-, and class-determined facts of life …Humanities computing seemed to offer a space free from all this messiness and a return to objective questions of representation”

There’s this pervading, universal idea that as we move into the future, social equality can only evolve, when in reality, we see several holes in this notion, inside and outside of the classroom, taking place.

Earhart tells us that: “To understand the current position of race and digital humanities work, we must turn to the emergence of the World Wide Web. As the web began to gain popularity in the 1990s, it was portrayed as an idealized, democratic, and free space.” The natural expectation at that time was that POC would have a voice, but she finds, through empirical evidence, that the traditional canon produced by print scholarship has merely transferred onto digital scholarship. Rather, many academics seem to be missing the point and possibilities that Afro-futurists discovered quite sometime ago. Afro-futurism, in fact, is a boundless model most academics have yet to tap into, but I digress.

Afrofuturism.

When it comes to contemporary, academic scholars in the digital world, it appears that change is hard and the endless possibilities of the digital have escaped many. Earhart discusses hypertext theorist Jay David Bolter’s, “abandonment of the ideal of high culture (literature, music, the fine arts) as a unifying force. If there is no single culture, but only a network of interest groups, then there is no single favored literature or music” (233)” (Earhart). Of course, academia has yet to abandon the capitalist structures that would level discussion beyond elitist language and standards of literature and music.

Last week, we [the class] discussed the computer as a neutral tool. Earhart’s article crucially dismantles the idea of literature as a neutral field, and the canon as a neutral set of data deployed and reinforced by the university: “Without careful and systematic analysis of our digital canons, we not only reproduce antiquated understandings of the canon but also reify them through our technological imprimatur.”

In this way, “the computer” is used as a tool of colonization.

computer

Earhart lays out the original intention for this space:

“Advocates of the free web were interested in three ideas: “1) Access to computers should be unlimited and total; 2) All information should be free; 3) Mistrust authority and promote decentralization,” all designed to allow “bubbles” of information to rise from the bottom, sowing “seeds of revolutionary change” (“Battle for the Soul of the Internet”)” (Earhart).

According to Earhart, the digital aspect of humanities allowed pursuit of lost texts to be added to the cannon, but such projects receive little to no funding, additionally, “Catherine Decker argues that the canon crops up in these projects because of their funding and institutional affiliations” (Earhart). Implying that, through the university, such important projects cannot exist without white, male, contextualization, and that white scholars show no interest in this material without this contextualization.

“While there are grants to support work on indigenous populations, African and African American materials, and Asian American materials, in addition to others, the funding of named great men of history deserves scrutiny and even, perhaps, a specific funding program to encourage recovery efforts (NEH)…We need to examine the canon that we, as digital humanists, are constructing, a canon that skews toward traditional texts and excludes crucial work by women, people of color, and the GLBTQ community. We need to reinvigorate the spirit of previous scholars who believed that textual recovery was crucial to their work, who saw the digital as a way to enact changes in the canon” (Earheart).

Well said, Earhart.

It is apparent in Earhart’s article that this is the dominate side of humanities facilitated through the university, but in my own research, I found scholarship as well as many institutes working to change this problematic aspect of digital scholarship in the humanities. I-CHASS (Institute for Computing in Humanities, Art, and Social Sciences) is one of many DH institutes facilitating projects around these controversial topics. Projects such as,  “Language Prescriptivism,” “Climate Change and Native Cultures,” “The Cartography of American Colonization Database (CACD),” and so on.

Again, I reminded of Earharts call to analyze the content behind the collected data. Such groups have a right to their own narrative, and deserve the same canonization as the old, dead, white guy scholars. Bringing attention to work by POC, women, and GLBTQ is not enough–we must engage with the humanity in digital humanities. We must assign the same value to personal narrative that we give to scholarly articles, just as we must value the humanities as much as we value the sciences. We must let people speak their truths without contextualization. We must see people the way they want to be seen. We must end this translation for purposes of capitalist digestion, production, and financial gain. We must end the removal of the human from humanities.


Works Cited:

Earhart, Amy E. (2012). “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/16

I-CHASS. http://ichass.illinois.edu/index.php/ichass-projects/. Web.

McGehee Post 2: Considering “Literary” Scholarship in 2015

It is apparent to me, after this weeks reading, that I did not properly understand the existing divisions in Digital Humanities or the difference between the terms ‘humanities computing,’ ‘digital humanities,’ and ‘library sciences,’ although it is clear that all of these things are interrelated. As Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen suggest in the introduction to, “Evaluating Digital Scholarship”:

“Too frequently the development of a digital archive or a thematic research collection…is dismissed because it is thought, that is what librarians do; the conception and development of a tool, such as the Versioning Machine or TILE, is what programmers do; and the creation of a Web 2.0 resource such as Digital Humanities Now or Digital Humanities Questions and Answers is what pedagogues do.”

Perhaps, these were also my initial assumptions about the integral, disparate parts working together in this field, although I wouldn’t use any of these aspects to dismiss or halt the development of digital humanities, rather, these separate qualities display the importance of multiple skill sets and their application to humanities.

The “buzzwords” and jargon discussed by Patrik Svensson, as well as Schreibman, Mandell, and Olsen, have added something key to my initial confusion of these moving pieces. This unfamiliar terminology appears as a necessary evil.

It is evident that such work in the digital humanities takes scholars an incredible amount of time and well rounded, specialized skills that take years of development to both create scholarship and then communicate it through digital languages to other scholars (hence jargon as easy communication for such people already in the know).

Schreibman, Mandell, and Olsen directly speak to a growing division within academia. For those pursuing an academic career in the fine arts, like me, and now, I’m sure, most academics pursuing a career in the humanities, we live in a digital world and have for some time. There are endless web-based resources available to us anywhere we go, such as online library databases, but for unexplained reasons, we continue to walk the line between the contemporary literary scene (literature, reviews, scholarly articles) conducted almost exclusively online, and the production of print publications for what is considered to be a tangible product of academic merit (despite the fact that many will not see this scholarship).

The difficulty, for me at least, is that nearly all of our publications are located online. The higher-ups seem completely unaware of this, which makes you wonder what world they live in? It is certainly a world that neither I nor other academics in 2015 occupy.

We are taught very early in our academic careers that the internet is not a viable source for learning, but for many people, this is the first place we go to to look up unknown information. “Just because there is a deluge of data readily available on the Web does not mean that all or even most of it is bad—as if the information deluge were not print-based as well” (Schreibman). I have come across print articles and library books that now stand inaccurate, but continue to remain as academic resources. Whereas, a print publication allows an author to immediately amend and update such discrepancies for the most accurate information. Additionally, the web allows someone to communicate such things to an author right away, rather than the author taking five years to realize it on their own.

This notion of printing and putting out another volume to amend mistakes from the first version is the equivalent of writing a letter when you could pick up the phone. It is ineffective, confusing, time consuming, and makes absolutely no sense when there are more effective ways to publish.

The issue of accessibility and exclusivity persists in academia. The acceptance and further pursuit of digital humanities is more crucial than ever. If it were up to the higher-ups in the English department, my body of work would mean nothing at this point, because it is not in print nor do I have a large book, but I have been recognized in my community thanks to the digital aspect of my field.

More importantly in fields like poetry where experimental, digital forms are taking place, “…it is incumbent on the profession to review digital scholarship in the form in which it was meant to be read rather than in a print surrogate…Because multimedia scholarship is even more nascent and experimental than digital textual scholarship, they argue that there is an even greater onus to evaluate it within the infrastructure and systems in which it was created and within which it is presented” (Schreibman).

Many of my students create multimedia literary work, none of which would be possible without technology, and it is clear that they have a desire, as do many of us in the academic world, to marry the technology we use in everyday life with that of scholarship and creative work. The online article has the capability to draw in all types of people and traffic more successfully if only its creator attained the same the level of credit for doing so. The idea of internet publication as somehow lesser is a notion that must disappear in academia if we are to have the most success.

Perhaps the most important thing Schreibman, Mandell, and Olsen leave us with is this:

“…digital scholarship needs to be recognized not only as scholarship, but also as literary scholarship.”


Works Cited:

“Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen. “Evaluating Digital Scholarship.” Profession (2010): 277–306. Print.

Underground Technopower: Bridging “the Two Cultures” in Academia

Perhaps it is true that, “Literature changes more slowly than science,” (Snow, 8) [0] but I would argue that poetry is now in a state of evolution, wanting to engage with readers in a way it has typically been unknown for. Contemporary poets and poetry want to allow the universal access and human interaction digital humanities facilitate, “Knowledge representations are also the means by which we express things about the world, the medium of expression and communication in which we tell the machine (and perhaps one another) about the world. […] a medium of expression and communication for use by us,” (John Unsworth)[1].

Traditional notions of these two distinct disciplines imply that science moves towards a positive future, while literature seems to meditate on the past, and the anguish that dwells there. Marrying the two keeps us in the present, as well as the past, while helping us move into the future. Franco Moretti suggests in his article, “Graphs, Maps, and Trees,”[2] that we must step back and look at the big picture through collection and analysis of data to truly get an idea of what is happening in the field of literature. He makes a strong case for the field of Digital Humanities providing us with the ways in which the canon effectively erases literary history. Digital Humanities already appears a large part of the current climate in poetry, from online book reviews, to interactive poetry apps, to personal websites and public forums where important literary conversations are happening between key players and aspiring writers, to mass collections of literary documents and analysis, to the obsolescence of paper submissions to online literary journals , to online recordings of chapbooks whose existences are purely sonic[3]–a collective conversation is happening in the literary world through technological means.

It is clear that C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures was written in the late 1950s, for I cannot agree that, “There seems then to be no place where the two cultures meet” (16). Snow calls for a “third culture,” one in which these vastly polar disciplines meet. It is my opinion that a large spectrum already exists between the sciences and humanities, by means previously stated. Many books of poetry making art of biology and other sciences are being published as well, demonstrating another facet of this extensive spectrum. Spring Gun Press[4], for example, recently published “Eric Suzanne’s Riding SideSaddle,*[5] a work on 250 interchangeable index cards, that explores the construction of narrative and the authority of the novel form,” breaking down elemental data known of existing narrative and allowing the reader to interactively place cards in particular, selective orders to create new formulas and, consequently, new art–the relationship between analytical data and art is key here. Ian Hatcher[6], a developer who has worked on many literary projects with Spring Gun and other such presses, creates interactive websites[7] and apps, using complicated algorithms and code, allowing users with any educational or non-educational background to create poetry and interact with existing texts off of the page. Pedagogically, we teach young poets a sort of algorithm when writing poems. These teaching methods come from applied use, research, and collected data, highlighting the existing relationship between scientific method and literature of which Moretti emphasizes. When we pull back and see the larger milieu of literature and science, they are hardly distant, and yet, they remain separate in academic culture.

In his article, Hacking the Humanities[8], Elias Muhanna writes, “As I read through pages of perfect mimicry and snarky pastiche, I felt relief. The “two cultures” of the sciences and humanities were not so far apart, after all, or at least could be bridged by the lingua franca of pop culture.” Using a natural-language processing toolkit, one student created a “robot encyclopedist [that] spoke in magnetic poetry phrases, which occasionally yielded uncanny reproductions of Plinian syntax but often fell flat.” Muhanna goes on to say, “There were two things, though, of which I was certain. First, a machine guided by an undergraduate had taught me something new about the expository style of an ancient Roman natural historian. Second, I had to hire Henry.” Muhanna’s reaction is incredible considering what little rules exist when a student turns in a project like this. In my own graduate program, a student was punished by a colleague for creating an algorithm, which generated poems from existing sonnets. The teacher saw this as a form of cheating, or a way to avoid creating original poetry, which perhaps is true. Certainly as teachers and as writers, artists, etc. we are uniformly taught that methods such as these are not viable ways of creating art. But what would our academic landscape look like if students were encouraged to do such things or to follow their natural talents? What if students with more technological, mathematical, and scientific experience were taught to apply these gifts in the humanities?

Many poets have already breached this gap outside of academia, but I cannot help but wonder who got them there or if, as Cynthia Selfe puts it, they came to this medium by their own experimentation and research. Perhaps it is time that academia provide the tools and examples for developing writers and humanists to participate in contemporary conversations via technology between literature and science, or whatever place a student may fall on the existing spectrum.

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