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Ingraham final post

Mitch Ingraham

29 November 2015

ENGL 5529

Dr. Emerson


Means and Ends: Digital Humanities and the Technopolitics of Critical Making in Media Studies


“Media in its various layers embodies memory: not only human memory, but also the memory of things, of objects, of chemicals and of circuits.”

­                                    – Hertz and Parikka (425)


I apologize in advance for any inadvertent overlap between our postings this week; admittedly, I haven’t had the chance to read all of yours prior to this. I do, however, echo Laurel’s point about our class readings and discussions coming full circle (or full circuit, as it were).


‘Thinking outside the [black] box’:

Hertz’s point about the remediation of technology amidst the capitalist, consumer-driven (and, to a large extent, marketing-driven) dependency on planned obsolescence is a sobering reminder of the ‘planned acquiescence’ of, to borrow from Deleuze, “societies of control.”[1] Particularly when read in tandem with Dr. Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst. Yet, I found Hertz’s efforts to distinguish between “media archaeology” and “art methodology” somewhat abstruse (425). To wit: how, specifically, do the two practices/methodologies differ in relation to, what Hertz terms, “the political economy of information technology”? (425) (i.e. collecting and archiving vs. making and tinkering?). Is the criterion (for Hertz) the reappropriation of technological artifacts for uses other than their original intention?[2] Furthermore, how significant is this distinction, given that whether a thing ‘stops’ working or is used for other purposes than originally designed, it is removed from its sociocultural context and thereby a potential site of political resistance to the trajectory toward “mainstream obsolescence”? (428: fig. 5).

Q: Despite all efforts to the contrary, yesterday’s avant-garde is today’s garde-arrière: do we still find ourselves somehow tethered to the ‘old’/ ‘new’ dichotomy?


“It’s aliiiive!!!”

Wolfgang Ernst’s concept of “media potentiality” is intriguing, however, I struggled to grasp his notion of the “retro-avant-garde” (perhaps I’m too hung up on Bürger’s definition of the term). Regardless, his notions of inertia and entropy are thought-provoking: namely, that media doesn’t die: instead, it simply becomes remediated such that, the materiality, or ‘shelf-life’ of media artifacts, naturally undergoes an ineluctable process of ‘ware’ and tear, so to speak. I am also curious as to how he would describe the organizational layout of the MAF (i.e. if not chronological, as in a museum, diachronic or synchronic?)




I admire Matt Ratto’s approach to “critical making” insofar as it attempts to make the shift from means and ends to means as ends: e.g. “the process of making is as important as the results” (254). Drawing on such heavy-hitting pedagogical theorists as Dewey, Vygotsky, and Piaget, Ratto privileges “constructionalism” over “constructivism,” and, I think, offers a convincing trial-and-error case study to distinguish between the two interrelated concepts (254). The ‘failure’ of his “bristlebot” experiment and the ‘success’ of his Flwr Pwr exercise suggest that we– as users, makers, and co-creators– become emotionally (i.e. affectively) invested in technological processes of design, manipulation, and creation. Ratto’s incisive correlation between “caring for” and “caring about” our evolving relationship with technology and Latour’s dichotomous “matters-of-fact”/ “matters-of-concern” resonates with my own (albeit nascent) perspectives on issues of technological preservation, reinvention, and sustainability (259). Yet, I wonder if Ratto offers a viable solution to the seemingly irreconcilable aporia between Snow’s “two cultures.” Far be it from me to admit, but perhaps it’s time to begin thinking beyond dialectics and, instead, work toward redefining the limitations that continually plague the humanities (digital and otherwise). In other words, I would like to know more about the role of critique in Ratto’s version of “critical making.”

In closing, for me, it seems that the goal of the digital humanities is (at least in part) to amend Pound’s Modernist mantra from “make it new” simply to: “make it.” Throughout the semester I’ve been noticing the convergences between “thing theory”/ O.O.O. and our class’s discussions of media, objects, and agency, and see substantial potential for future research and criticism devoted specifically to treating media/technological artifacts as ‘things’ (as opposed to ‘objects’). While Yeats may have been right when he claimed: “things fall apart,”[3] however, according to Hertz, Ernst, and Ratto, this doesn’t necessarily entail their final demise. Instead, technology and media are ripe to be resurrected, reanimated, and/or resuscitated into new objects of (and for) reinvention, innovation, research, and critical inquiry.




Works Cited


Emerson, Lori. “Archives, Materiality and the ‘Agency of the Machine”: An Interview With Wolfgang Ernst.” Library of Congress. Web. 29 Nov 2015.


Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Web. ProjectMuse. 29 Nov 2015.


Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.”

The Information Society: An International Journal, 27:4. London: Routledge, 2011. Web.

28 Nov 2015.

[1] “Postscript on Societies of Control.” October, 59 (Winter 1992). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. JSTOR. Web.

[2] Something akin to what Bill Brown refers to elsewhere as an object’s “misuse value”– (“The Secret Life of Things: Virginia Woolf and the Manner of Modernism.” Modernism/Modernity 6.2 (1999). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins UP. ProjectMuse. Web.)

[3] “The Second Coming” The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (1989)

DH and the Postmodern/Technocratic Turn (post facto)

Mitch Ingraham

11 October 2015

ENGL 5529

Dr. Emerson

Week 7: Blog post

“The Map and the Territory”[1]: The Question of Rationale in Digital Humanities

“[I]nvention is always born of dissention.”

– Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge (xxv)

Reading Brand’s account of the inception, history, and development of the Media Lab at M.I.T. was both intriguing and, yet at times, a bit disconcerting. Published in the same year as Selfe’s essay on the “Rhetoric of Technopower” (1988), Brand offers an inside look into the daily activities and practices at the Media Lab. While, reading this over thirty years later, admittedly some of the material seemed anachronistic and archaic, I was also struck by how prescient and novel the research and experimentation was given its time and especially considering their technological limitations (e.g. HDTV, “conversational desktop” [read: ‘Siri’?], etc.). The most impressive realization I had was that the people involved in this ambitious endeavor were contemporaneously designing and developing the tools they needed in the process of experimentation, which, when you stop and think about it, is remarkable. As Brand claims, “The most ethical of all tools are tools of adaptiveness, tools that make tools, tools that remake themselves” (264).

Speaking of ethics: throughout Brand’s narrative I found myself continually questioning the underlying motives of and impetus behind the Media Lab. To wit: For whose interests does the lab operate and function? For consumers or investors/corporate sponsors? (or, perhaps both?)

Another thought that occurred to me based on the title itself was: if, as Brand suggests, we could/can build (“invent”) our future? Why this one? What does the world reality that we’ve created say about us? (i.e. does it reflect humanistic, or corporate/capitalistic, values? This, in turn, made me think of Lyotard’s discussion of technology, power, and knowledge. It seems to me that Brand’s depiction of the Media Lab resembles Lyotard’s description of a postmodern metanarrative. In terms of The Media Lab, I suggest the importance of maintaining, as Lyotard put it: “an incredulity toward metanarratives” (xxiv). In other words, it is useful to resist the temptation to take Brand’s narrative prima facie. An undercurrent of a political economy runs throughout his book, which reveals an infrastructural power struggle between all involved parties: investors, scientists, and administration alike. Thus, once again, the question/problem of access (both to knowledge and resources) resurfaces. As Lyotard observes, “In the computer age, the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government” (9). Closing thought: are we moving toward a technocratic form of political governance?

Works Cited

Brand, Stewart. The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. New York: Penguin, 1988. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1984. Print.

[1] Shamelessly borrowed from the title of Michel Houellebecq’s novel (New York: Vintage International, 2012)


Here’s a panoramic view of the MAL that I took tonight- what a trove of technological history!  

belated and belabored

Caveat Emptor: Digital Humanities as a “Discursive Construction”[1]

“we do things differently in DH, we are vast”[2]

–Dr. Matthew Jockers

“My name is Legion; for we are many”

– Mark 5:9

After this week’s readings I found myself musing, along with a certain star-crossed heroine: “what’s in a name?”[3] Apparently, according to Kirschenbaum, Ramsay, and many others, a name carries connotative freight that can and, by and large, does determine “who’s in and who’s out.”[4] However, like any ‘new kid on the block,’ digital humanities is subject to ridicule and scrutiny; particularly from those that feel DH is encroaching on their hallowed territory. I’m reminded of Edmund Wilson’s caustic response to Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.[5] In other words, there have always been–and will always be–the naysayers, the sanctimonious skeptics, the self-righteous cynics: those who make it their sole purpose to ‘critique’ (i.e. criticize) others’ endeavors in a misguided effort to serve their own self-interests and promote their own agendas. This is what Kirschenbaum refers to as “the rhetoric of contempt” (7). Ultimately (and unfortunately), this often results in nothing more than an embarrassing intellectual pissing contest. Nevertheless, as Kirschenbaum notes, even as a “term of tactical convenience”– or, rather precisely because it’s treated as a “discursive construct”– there are real implications for digital humanists.

For many skeptics, the concept/practice of digital humanities simply ‘does . . . not . . . compute.’ The only point of consensus as to what digital humanities is or should be, for that matter, is that it remains to be decided; which, in turn, makes me wonder: is this uncertainty unique and/or inherent to digital humanities? And, if so, is that such a bad thing? (i.e. or does this mutability allow for a level of innovation, experimentation, and collaboration that isn’t present/possible in traditional approaches to the humanities?)

Regardless, the fact remains: there are real people out there doing real things that constitute authentic scholarship and, furthermore, deserve recognition and consideration. One such example is the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili project at MIT This is an online codex to, what is considered to be, one of the earliest known extant incunabula of print culture (ca. 1499). The entire document is electronically reproduced in the original Italian, but there is a link to Liane Lefaivre’s exegesis; which, in addition to a plot synopsis, includes supplementary explanatory information about the typography, woodcut engravings, architecture, metaphors, and hidden messages in the text.

Furthermore, as a result of her undertaking, Lefaivre’s research also led her to attribute authorship to Leon Battista Alberti.

The point I’m trying to make is that whether or not we treat DH as a construct, it has a real-world, practical and logistical impact on the work and livelihood of those doing it. Institutional infrastructure aside, DH is here–like it or not–and, the amount of interest in defining and describing it only further testifies to its vitality and validity. The moment the debate is finally settled signals the impending demise of digital humanities.

Works Cited

Jockers, Matthew L. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2013. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What is ‘Digital Humanties,’ and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?” differences 25.1 (2014). Durham, NC: Duke UP. Web.

24 Sep 2015.

[1] Rita Raley’s term (qtd. in Kirschenbaum 3)

[2] (fn. Jockers 12)

[3] Romeo and Juliet. (II.ii:43).

[4] the title of Ramsay’s controversial talk at the 2011 MLA Convention

[5] (“Who Care’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?”) “Why Do People Read Detective Stories?” The New Yorker. October 14, 1944.

Ingraham Week 5

Mitch Ingraham

20 September 2015

ENGL 5529

Dr. Emerson

Week 5 Blog Post

Interrogating the Digital Humanities: Institutional Politics and the Polemics of Practice

Given the heated controversy and highly contested uses of the term perhaps we should instead refer to DH as digital inhumanities . . . sheesh. Moving forward: I’d like to highlight some of the overarching themes, issues, and recurring questions that emerged across this week’s collection of essays that I noticed in an effort to trace, what I perceive to be, some threads of continuity (and discontinuity) within ongoing debates surrounding the Digital Humanities (w/r/t their definition, purpose, and role in relation to other fields within the humanities). Although, admittedly, I didn’t make it through the entire book, I did manage to read several essays from each section and here’s what I gleaned:

  1. The importance of drawing a distinction between digital humanities as an academic field (or subfield) and its subsequent methodologies versus treating it as an abstraction: a concept, idea, or even ideology.
  2. The question of inclusion and exclusion: how inclusive? (i.e. Stephen Ramsay’s controversial “Who’s in and Who’s Out”) which prompts us to ask: what counts as ‘doing’ DH? In other words, in their attempt to address the question of authenticity several of these essays pose the question of inclusion and, at least to me, this essentially becomes a question of scale and scope.
  3. The problematics of applying a Procrustean, homogenizing term to, what is inherently, a heterogeneous array of practices that occur along a spectrum (or, as Hall would phrase it: a “continuum”).

As you might surmise, these topics are obviously interrelated and there is a substantial degree of overlap between and among them; which, I think, is indicative of the variegated perspectives represented in this volume and only further testifies to the ambiguous (if not vertiginous) lack of consensus as to what, exactly, digital humanities is, does, and should be.

Here’s a thought experiment by way of hypothetical example– premise: the digital humanities have been and continue to be the subject of scrutiny within the academy. Yet, if we relegate DH to just another academic fad or trend,[1] are we at risk of committing a hypocritical dismissal of an entire and polyvalent approach to literary studies? To put it another way: it seems perfectly acceptable to critique a theoretical or philosophical apparatus (such as Marxism, Feminism, or Psychoanalysis, etc.) but who would ever dare direct their critical gaze at an entire field of specialization (such as Romanticism, Early Modernism, or Victorianism)? Is DH a movement, a field, a theoretical framework or, perhaps, something else entirely? Thus, Dave Parry is able to ask (taking his queue from Raymond Carver): “what do we talk about when we talk about digital humanities?”[2] Parry’s line of inquiry is guided by his meta-analytical approach of tracking word usage/frequency within contemporary digital humanities discourse. The most incisive and compelling rhetorical move Parry makes is to draw the distinction between DH as claiming to do something different or new and DH as something that is doing things differently. Parry goes on to invoke Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in order to demonstrate that the real, meaningful, underlying question is not “what is the digital humanities?” but, instead, “what [does the digital do] to our concept of humanities and, by extension, even our concept of the human?” This shifts the focus of inquiry from a semantic rabbit hole (ad nauseam/ad infinitum) toward a more productive, ontological line of investigation.

Another issue that resurfaced throughout the readings was how some view DH as a panacea that will miraculously revive/resuscitate/rescue (pick one) the humanities from its seemingly ineluctable demise (“rebooting” the humanities?), while others harbor the misconception that DH is somehow incompatible with or even inimical to traditional literary scholarship. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Matthew Jockers who, incidentally, along with Glen Worthey, helped organize and host the “Big Tent” themed Digital Humanities conference held at Stanford University in 2011. In our interview, Dr. Jockers expressed some reluctance to adhere to or self-apply a title that carries such connotative (often negative) freight.

Again, paraphrasing Jockers: DH has achieved a considerable amount of cultural cachet (or, should I say, cashe?) such that, for some, it renders the title meaningless and, therefore, to a certain extent, useless. In his book, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History, Jockers draws an analogical correlation between the macroeconomic approach to analysis and, what he terms, a “macroanalytic” approach to studying literary history (25). To wit: if we can all somehow agree that DH is collaborative and inclusive– to what extent? (no pun intended). Svensson discusses the backlash generated by Yale’s adoption of digital humanities into their curriculum; namely, Amanda Gailey’s response to Yale’s induction of the Digital Humanities as a “watershed moment” (referring to Willard McCarty’s declaration): a threat to those who, as she phrased it, “professionally defined ourselves as digital humanists before it became an MLA buzzword.” This evinces a certain apprehension and tension about the territoriality and “gatekeeping” that can/has (take your pick) infiltrated DH. Svensson asks, “whether the tent can naturally be taken to include critical work construing the digital as an object of inquiry rather than as a tool.” As an alternative, Svensson proposes “a ‘no tent’ approach” that is, instead, a “trading zone” and/or “meeting place.” Or, as Davidson puts it: “Perhaps we need to see technology and the humanities not as a binary but as two sides of a necessarily interdependent, conjoined, and mutually constitutive set of intellectual, educational, social, political, and economic practices” (“Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions”)

Takeaway point: at the end of the day (in DH) it seems like a futile attempt to corral the digital humanities and force it/them into an ossified definition: a metonymic oversimplification of an irreducible and dynamic set of practices, beliefs, and methods. Any attempt to subsume DH under one totalizing heading is an insurmountable and misguided effort. However, there is an upshot of uncertainty: if the digital humanities can’t be defined, then that allows for it to be continually redefined: perhaps the future of the digital humanities resides in the very liminality that ensures its livelihood.[i]

Works Cited

Jockers, Matthew L. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2013. Print.

­––––. Personal Interview. 17 Sep 2015.

Parry, Dave. “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2012. Web. 19 Sep 2015.

Svensson, Patrik. “Beyond the Big Tent.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2012. Web. 19 Sep 2015.

[1] As some have claimed (see: William Deresiewicz’s “Professing Literature in 2008: Why Is the Intellectual Agenda of English Departments Being Set by Teenagers?” The Nation. (March 11, 2008).

[2] “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories. New York: Vintage, 1989.

[i] Final thought: Bringing it back to our class’s specific emphasis on “doing”– making/creating vs. using: I’m reminded of Barthes’ “users” vs. “creators.”[i] This, for me, seems to be a central question that pervades DH discourse (alas, the jury’s still out on this one . . .)

When digital forensics goes bad?/The science of authorial attribution

Although this isn’t recent news, I thought it worth posting nonetheless. At the time, it caused quite a stir among Shakespeare scholars and those in computational literary analysis. (incidentally, it reminded me of that Johnny Cash song: “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer”– the age-old conflict between man and machine, etc.)

A day in the life of DH

I randomly came across this collaborative (albeit short-lived) DH endeavor and thought it was relevant to our class’s discussion as to how to define digital humanities:

There’s a tab that is specifically devoted to various perspectives on what DH is and/or means (“How do you define DH?”)

Ingraham: Post #1: “Pattern Recognition”

Mitch Ingraham

30 August 2015

ENGL 5529

Dr. Emerson

Blog Post #1

“Pattern Recognition”[1]: Digital Humanities and The Technogenetic Turn in Literary Studies

At the risk of sacrificing depth for breadth, I want to (albeit briefly) address all four of this week’s readings insofar as they each engage with issues concerning the interaction between science, technology, history, and literature.

Cynthia Selfe’s sibylline observations, questions, and caveats regarding technopower are particularly germane (despite the original publication date nearly thirty years ago) to the perpetual debate concerning the role of technology in the humanities. Selfe raises the ethical implications of computers’ role in English departments; namely, that the decisions concerning access to and the use/purpose of technological resources will largely shape the future of the humanities and, therefore, should reflect departmental values and goals. The increasing proliferation of technology in the humanities establishes technological literacy as a cultural commodity. As Selfe observes, “Power involves control of information as well as access to that information” (65). This, ultimately, led me to wonder: does technology introduce the threat of the corporatization of the humanities?

For me, the most compelling aspect of Moretti’s argument is that it introduces more questions about quantitative literary/historical analysis than it offers solutions. In other words Moretti, whether deliberately or unwittingly, draws attention to the highly-contingent (if not outright ambiguous) factors that quantitative data is predicated upon (i.e. parameters of data sets, terms, criteria for analysis, etc.). Moretti does note the significant distinction between raw data collection versus the act of interpretation: “Quantitative research provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations [. . .] and that is of course also its limit: it provides data, not interpretation” (72). This, in turn, invites us to consider how quantitative research methods impact the hermeneutic aspect of literary studies. Q: Is DH (or at least Moretti’s approach to DH), to some extent, a return to Russian Formalism (i.e. Propp, Shlovsky, Jakobson) and/or structuralist linguistics (i.e. Saussure) aided by technological advancements in computational analysis?

John Unsworth, in part, provides a counterpoint to Moretti’s quantitative approach to literary history insofar as he resituates the argument within an ontological and epistemological framework. According to Unsworth, “doing” digital humanities is “a practice of knowledge representation” predicated upon certain premises (or, “ontological commitments”). As Unsworth points out, we are confronted with the task of “distinguishing between computing in the service of a research agenda framed by the traditional parameters of the humanities, or [. . .] the humanities research agenda itself is framed and formed by what we can do with computers.” The former limits technology to a procrustean, prescriptive function; while, in the latter case, technology has the potential to play an integral role in shaping how we engage with literature and, moreover, allows for novel approaches to literary analysis.

Many of Snow’s claims are indicative of the academic and social climate of the time/place (i.e. Oxford circa 1959) however, they also prompted me to ask: How much has really changed? Although his rhetoric is rife with jingoistic/anglocentric assumptions (i.e. obligation to dominate/nationalistic imperative) reminds us of the audience (“us” and “we”) to which Snow was delivering the lecture.

Despite the persistence of stigmatization amongst the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences, perhaps collaborative fields such as DH offer an opportunity to reconsider how these two seemingly disparate worlds can work in tandem to produce/generate knowledge; obfuscating the clearly demarcated divide that separates–and thus inhibits– meaningful and constructive innovation and development: both in theory and practice (cf. Dimock’s “Theory of Resonance”). In terms of “doing digital humanities,” this entails considering both how and why we integrate technology with literary studies.

Works Cited

Moretti, Franco. “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History.” New Left Review

24: Nov/Dec 2003 (67-93). 28 Aug 2015. Web.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE

            Bulletin 90 (Fall 1988). MLA. 28 Aug 2015. Web.

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Cambridge UP, 1961.


Unsworth, John. “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not?” Charlottesville, VA: U of Virginia P, 2008. 28 Aug 2015. Web.

[1] William Gibson. Pattern Recognition. New York: Penguin, 2003.