Media Theory for the 21st Century

March 21, 2008

Beginning to Now: e-‘L’it

Filed under: Discussion — Jacob Burch @ 7:49 am

To close my thoughts on this class, I thought it would be interesting to (not only post something not about wikifallacy) but talk about the Miller quote that PJ and Kevin and what it reminded me of a few hours later–which, in fact, happens to be the very first epigram I ever read on electronic literature.

For posterity’s sake, here is the Miller quote in question:

“The end of literature is at hand. Literature’s time is almost up. It is about time. It is about, that is, the different epochs of different media. Literature, in spite of its approaching end, is nevertheless perennial and universal. It will survive all historical and technological changes. Literature is a feature of any human culture at any time and place. These two contradictory premises much govern all serious reflection ‘on literature’ these days.” (1) J. Hillis Miller, On Literature (2002)

The first thing that jumped out from this quote isn’t so much its content, but the contradictory nature that embodies it and that seems to embody e-literature as a whole: it is the new trying to be old, the constantly advance but always out of date, the internet is the future, the internet won’t be the internet in two years flat. When I began to understand Miller as demonstrating that no matter how much the materials of literature (and literary studies) change, an art-making species cannot escape the art of language, the art of literature. Whether it be the object going from paper to magnetic encoding– narrative blowing up to complete a-linearization; blog owners becoming authors, authors becoming blog owners–readers and writers still cannot separate themselves from the long held practices that is instinctual to their creative core. In shorter form, as long as there is language and the urge to create (and moan and argue about the inferiority and canonical nature of other’s creations), there will always be literature.

The more I tried to work this tone into what Miller is actually saying, the more I was reminded of the first piece of new media theory I ever read–the introduction essay to Kate’s new book, “E-Literature: What is it?” To begin, Kate lays a scenario of the evolution from scroll to book:

“The Scriptorium was in turmoil. Brother Paul, the precentor in charge, had detected a murmur from the back row and, furious that the rule of silence was being compromised, strode down the aisle just in time to see Brother Jacob tuck something under his robe. When he demanded to see it, Brother Jacob shamefacedly produced a codex, but not one that the antiquarii of this monastery had copied — or of any monastery, for this Psalter was printed. Shocked as much by the sight of the mechanical type as Brother Jacob’s transgression, Brother Paul so far forgot himself that he too broke the silence, thundering that if books could be produced by fast, cheap and mechanical means, their value as precious artifacts would be compromised. Moreover, if any Thomas, Richard or Harold could find his way into print, would not writing itself be compromised and become commonplace scribbling? And how would the spread of cheap printed materials affect the culture of the Word, bringing scribbling into every hut and hovel whose occupants had hitherto relied on priests to interpret writing for them? The questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring.”

In a scenario not to different from this Student Jacob being caught playing Tetris mid-study-session, Kate lays out a more formative, less contradictory version of Miller’s scenario. The death of literature is a death of literature as “we” know it–and a failure to recognize what is new because, as Delilo suggests, we do not have the words.

In a time and medium where buzzwords–hypertext, interactive fiction, blogs, DHTML–come only to lose their power and clear definition. New media is a a medium who has yet to truly root its lexical roots, something so necessary for the lovers of words, the students of literature, to truly get a grip on what they now must accept as Literature–capitol L and all.

follow the oil money

Filed under: Discussion — jeremy @ 5:46 am

there’s a pretty sophisticated/nifty interface and visualization scheme at this site for tracking campaign contributions from oil-related donors. one way “new media” relates to “capitalism” is that it can digest and re-present public data in ways that allow the average human user to make more informed, resistant decisions.

a bit more info here

March 20, 2008

garfield minus garfield

Filed under: Discussion — Jacob Burch @ 4:58 pm

as promised, here’s the link to my very academic reference tuesday. i’ll complete my power posting day in a few hours on thoughts i had driving home from kate’s house (read: getting lost) on the miller quote that PJ and kevin brought up and how it relates to what i feel literature (and new media) is going through. 

Wiki-Fallacy 2.3232423423423: Presentation on ELC as a case study.

Filed under: Discussion — Jacob Burch @ 2:17 pm

I realized last night that I hadn’t ever actually put up a link the my presentation and a brief goings-over of what I said. So, without further adeu…

Link to presentation: (includes links to the ELC sites discussed)

The basic point of my presentation that in a time where business are encouraging people to get online and give their say–both by “dumbing down” their software and marketing–and technology is getting further and further complex (see my other posts–and following comments– on Wikifallacy for arguments here) a big gapping flaw arises: its really common, easy and even expected to make a “flawed” website.

This problem is expounded when it comes to web-as-art. On a normal blog or business model site we can over look errors of design or content-presentation as they’re usually not serious (ok, yes, this dark black text probably shouldn’t be in this dark, blue box whilst I read this website in IE6, but its readable all the same), this isn’t as easily resolved on any piece of art and literature in particular. When the stress of one syllable or the whitespace placement of one word can, at times, change the entire meaning of a poem, the technology that affixes these properties becomes all the more crucial:

“Clearly this author feels disconnected from the world as he must move every third sentence to nearly unreadable space” — critique of e-Lit piece made by a neophyte of HTML, unaware of IE6’s double-float-margin bug.

This type of analyses isn’t that far-fetched: earlier in discussion, Rita noted several works who have parts where the author intends for a computer to crash, to make a point. To drive this point, I decided to demonstrate the first Electronic Literature Collection. The collection is a tremendous step to combat the problems I feel plague web-art. Using Acid-Free Bits (AFB) and Born-Again Bits (BAB) as guiding points, the ELC updated and refined five dozen works covering numerous technologies–various versions of HTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash and other proprietary software and provided them in broad-format as best conceivably possible. The points raised in AFB and BAB are pinpoint and wonderful steps to provide universal access, and while the ELC is an excellent and overly successful attempt, it is a flawed one.

This post is not meant to be a technological breakdown of the flaws, but in brief, the two critical errors I found within a few days tinkering with the collection (these errors reflect the current online version, and should [hopefully] be corrected in the version included with Kate’s book]):

  • OBJECT tag mis-source: This usually happens on mass-exports (usually to tinker with small mistakes) of flash movies. In some versions of flash, the default exported HTML file contains two ways to embed the movie–an embed tag and object/param tags. The problem arises when someone manually edited one method’s source video file and ignores the other–most browsers will render the correctly formated tag, but many (including still-market-share leader, Internet Explorer 6) will load whichever is listed first on the html page. This error occurs both in Set of U and Digital Landscapes.
  • AUX: While this doesn’t effect the web version, if a user with one of the older CD ROMs attempted to save a local copy to a windows machine, the auxiliary files (mostly CSS and Image files) would not copy over. This is due to them being stored in a folder called AUX, which windows reserves as keyword.

As is often the case with people who like to nit small mistakes, I have only vague ideas of solutions. Outside of the wonderful advice in AFB and BAB, I gleaned two categories of advice when considering e-literature’s archaic, print-form cousin. What allows Print Media to conform to readable formats (outside of its simplicity) are the standards required to be archived and the desire to market the book. Creating a centralized, “universal” format (or series of formats) for works to adhere to–and more importantly, a professional, academic or government group to enforce such standards–allows web archivists to more easily and definitely preserve web based art. The monetary motivation is less concrete for online works than in print media due to the difficulty in marketing what only exists as an idea–but still a viable consideration. The reasoning for this is simply that you cannot sell what does not work.* The online music market is a fair example of how a market can adapt to the difficulties of the online playing field and still enforce standards in format to all shades of genre.

All of these ideas are based on the rough, unhashed, blubbering observations I’ve made over the last year, but the more thought I put into them the stronger I believe in them. I encourage and welcome criticism — either through this blog of through email (or just bothering me as you see me half-asleep in the humanities building), as they are ideas and arguments I do not plan to stop forcing anytime soon. Another note, the “Art” video seems to have been taken down–I shall do my best to track down another.

* – Unless, of course, you happen to be trying to sell an operating system named Vista

March 16, 2008


Filed under: Discussion — sergiomf @ 6:35 pm

Hi everyone,

Like Michael suggested, I thought we could try to make arrangements for carpooling for Tuesday, when we all go to Kate’s house. So, by replying or creating new posts on the blog we could figure out who has a car, who needs a ride, time and place to meet, and so on… Since I don’t have a car, I was hoping to get a ride with someone leaving from campus (since I will be the whole day on campus for the final reviews of a Design Studio I am TA-ing). I look froward to hear your thoughts and suggestions, but anyway, I will see you all on Tuesday


March 14, 2008

Spime and Shop Dropping

Filed under: Discussion — zachblas @ 12:27 am

i just realized i completely forgot to post this.

Sterling’s notion of a Spime Wrangler began to make me think about a politicized aesthetics of Spime. Sterling points out that Spime is a set of relations and those relations are constituted through the action of naming. Naming here is the generation of pattern. I can’t help but recall Kittler’s statement that aesthetics is pattern recognition. Thus, recognizing the naming pattern of Spime gives one access to the re-configuration, re-naming, re-manufacturing of its relations.

I began to question what types of activities could be considered Spime Wrangling. What actions, groups, events are altering pattern (naming) to produce a different aesthetics of identity? Based on my own work, the first thing that came to mind is shop dropping. Defined by the New York Times succinctly as “surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out,” shop dropping appears to be one way of crafting a politics out of Spime. The Shop Dropper is not only concerned with the re-crafting of an object, even though this is part of the process. The Shop Dropper is primarily focused on re-contextualizing (re-naming, disidentifying) the spheres of circulation that the identities connected to the object move throughout. Understood this way, shop dropping causes newly imagined patterns to generate. Flows and circulations of the Spime become re-directed.

For example, a classic shop dropping event was carried out by The Barbie Liberation Organization (Yes Men) in 1989, where voice mechanisms of GI Joe action figures and Barbie dolls were switched with each other and placed back on store shelves. Here, the relations, patterns, and identities of these toys shift out of their originally deployed context. Importantly though, the barcode stays the same. Sterling points to the barcode as a major Spime ingredient. Thus, while new content-based patterns and affective patterns emerge through engagements with these hacked products, informatic patterns remain the same. But it is the stasis of the informatic pattern that allows for new relations (Spime) to circulate. On the other hand, Troy’s presentation on the group that crafted tools to re-design barcodes (I can’t remember their name) does just the opposite. Here, barcodes—the ultimate identifying code of pattern generation in capitalism—get re-formatted to generate new narratives of circulation, privilege, and access. Perhaps the Spime Wrangler of the bar code causes more pattern hacks informatically, but both the Barbie Liberation Organization and bar code manipulators cause pattern disruption and mutation through different acts of naming, promising new aestheticized experiences for those that encounter and recognize these new patterns in highly regulated, traditional environments. Like Spime itself, Spime Wrangling begins before the object (product), re-routes and physically demarcates itself upon the object, and continues through networks of affect and information far beyond any remaining physical instantiation of the object.

March 12, 2008

Notes from Final Discussion

Filed under: Discussion — dfratini @ 12:46 am
Tags: , ,

Here are the notes from the final discussion at a word document.Notes from Final Discussion

March 11, 2008

Architectures of Reception

Filed under: Discussion — dfratini @ 9:52 pm

Having just returned from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference whose theme was: Architectures of the Moving Image, I can safely say that many of the ideas covered in this week’s readings are being addressed in our field as well, but from a different angle.

In the past 10 years or so, many film historians have revisited the era of early cinema — from the Victorian era’s pre-cinematic devices (magic lanterns, etc.) to the universalization of sound-on-film technology. In so doing, they’ve reconsidered cinema’s role in the formation and practice public sphere / private sector. There is a tradition of considering cinema as a solitary, isolating practice, in that one sits immobile in a dark theater, and although others are present, they are silent and immobile, so that the interaction is between each individual and the screen. This is very similar to the way Bull and others have described the paradox of being alone with a computer in order to be socially connected / networked. The psychoanalytic film theories really base themselves on this isolated spectator-to-film relationship. Miriam Hansen is one of the leaders in rethinking cinema as a part of the public sphere by situating it within the larger discourse of popular culture, as evidenced by the periphery texts of fan magazines, gossip columns, movie reviews, etc., as part of the modern experience. All of these things are instances of the public sphere appearing in private “reception,” that is to say, someone reading a fan magazine at home is still participating in the public sphere dialog.

Accordingly, isn’t media, in general, a permeable membrane between public and private? I wondered about Bull going back as far as cassette players in cars to show the portability of the private into the public space. Transistor radio predates that, and wouldn’t something similarly be happening when one reads a dime novel on a subway? Isn’t that very similar to adding one’s own soundtrack to the city via an iPod or carrying on a private phone conversation? I suppose I am being banal again in my backward glancing, for I realize a cell phone conversation has a “liveness” to its interaction with the absent other that the reading of fiction does not. I am not sure that this makes the activity any less private-bubble-forming.

As for “architectures of the moving image,” Anne Friedberg in The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft also looks back, to Renaissance perspective and the camera obscura, to trace forward a history of visual representation that conceive of the image a window to another space and time. In the context of a motion picture then, the physical architectures of movie theaters are built to enhance the metaphor of the screen as a window to an elsewhere. The “architecture of cinematic spectatorship” then is one in which the spectator is immobile in front of a window on the other side of which there is motion, and in the case of the filmic cut, the view itself “moves” to a different place / time. She points to the influence of this cinematic window on the architecture of actual windows and walls over the course of the 20th century.

So for me, when Mark Shepard recalling planning his Urban Computing course with Kevin Slavin, says “We knew, at the very least, this turn toward information processing in the environment was going to affect the ways in which we use and understand walls, windows, doors, sidewalks, streets….” I am hearing it in that context. That is to say, that for me, media as the interface between public and private has always affected the ways in which we understand walls, windows, doors, etc. Therefore the key term, for me, is “information” and accordingly its no surprise that he imagines “an extreme informatics regime… where all information loses its body…reducing rather than adding to the visual field of the street.”

His formulation has the information off-loaded to personal portable devices or ambient displays. This would be an extreme version of moving through the world in one’s private bubble, in which we’re each in our own private public. Would our facebook network of friends then provide some moveable feast of experience as our only means of “public” shared experience?

Like ants farming arphids

Filed under: Discussion — tjdanner @ 9:45 pm

 Among Sterling’s neologisms (e.g., “spime,” “fabbing”) and reoriented concepts (e.g., “Internet of Things,” “Wrangling”), I am interested in exploring “arphids”–not a neologism as much as a phoneticism. We have discussed RFIDs in terms of concept and practice over the last couple weeks; undoubtedly, there can be much more ink spilled, breath expelled, and binary digits coded discussing the ramifications of RFID tagging as it relates to surveillance/privacy, mass production/consumption, identity, etc. What strikes me first and most about the term “arphid,” though, is not its meaning per se, but its non-coincidental graphemic similarity to “aphid”–the latter is a bug, but the similarity is a feature. I propose that it may be useful to analyze this point of contact between the two terms, which Sterling explicitly states (the term “subtly implies some newfangled, infestating, autoreplicating plague” (88)); while such an exercise may hardly produce any fruit from a sociological or digital media perspective, it can prove compelling as literary analysis. Aphids and arphids aren’t incredibly dissimilar in appearance. Consider:Arphid:“”Aphid:””Roughly the same size, cylindrical/spheroid, in possession of antenna(e): it is unsurprising that a good deal of science fiction involving RFID-like technology conceptualizes transmitters as having the appearance and behavior of insects (Michael Crichton’s Prey, for example, describes autopoetic surveilling nanobots that initially generate from mutated E. Coli, which mobilize based on swarming patterns and eventually invade victims’ bodies). Aphids are not swarming insections, however, but infesting insects; usually wingless, they overtake plants through crowding dynamics–they are destructive pests, often transmitting viruses to their host plants phloem (tissue) vessels. Their reproductive habits are unusual: only females exist in the spring and summer–during the fall, temperature changes lead to male births. Famously, aphids and ants can share a symbiotic relationship, with the latter “farming”/protecting the former in exchange for carbo-loading on aphids’ “honeydew” secretions. (I cite Wikipedia as the source for this font of Aphidoidea knowledge.) Sterling suggests the destructive potential of arphids: “[If not for real-world saturation of radio signals], “it would be an elementary matter to build a super-arphid reader inside some fiberglass van, and drive through rich streets trolling for rich people with a lot of arphid-tagged, purloinable stuff” (90). This “nightmare scenario,” though impractical, is not unimaginable; in fact, it is a corollary of a more idealized (though tongue-in-cheekly) scenario in which arphids constitute the medial nodes of a vast (all-compassing, as it were) Internet of Things. Sterling’s descriptions afford room for the “infestating” function of the a(r)phid–an cloud of signals not only filling airspace but controlling physical space–but I am curious about if and where the ant-aphid analog arises. Humans “farming out” arphids for informational nourishment is apparent, as is the capacity for misuse or illicit use (as in the exemplary case of the van-trolling thieves); is there a reading of this symbiosis that gives arphids, if not agency (in the ecological scenario, aphids cede “agency” or control to their formic masters, anyway), then at least reciprocality? That is, though it sounds anthropomorphizing, what do arphids get out of the deal? Aphids receive protection from predators and looser boundaries on food supplies in exchange for their secretions; it’s possible to back-formulate a degree of reciprocal utility onto the arphids, in that subsequently to being made operative by humans, they come to control/dictate human action, and even epistemological systems (along the lines of “the model is the entity, and everyone knows it” (96)). And since were hanging out down here in the soil–in a realm in which aphids can infect a whole plant systemically by squirting disease into its tissue–I wonder (with no conclusion offered here) how this arphid vs. bar code model relates to the rhizome vs. tree dichotomy–is there a connection in this worth exploring? I guess I’ll conclude this somewhat discursive post with that point of discussion.

Items of Interest

Filed under: General — kknight08 @ 6:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Hello Everyone,

Scheduling conflicts prevent me from attending class today and talking about these in person, so please forgive the impersonal post. These are a couple of things (one web directory and one event) in which I thought the class participants might be interested. (more…)

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