My suggestion for week three grows out of some work I have done for The Transliteracies Project. For discussion, I would like us to take a look at Brian Kim Stefans’ “The Dreamlife of Letters.” Created in 2000, the piece is situated within a rich textual genealogy – the flash animation is a critical response to a poem by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, which is itself a response to the Dodi Bellamy essay “Sex/Body/Writing.” Keeping in mind one of my favorite Heidegger quotes, “questioning is the piety of thought (35),” I offer below a series of questions that I hope will spark class discussion.
My interest in the piece is centered on the idea of “intervention.” I’d like us to use Stefans’ piece as a way to complicate Kittler’s assertion, “So there’s one guru or prophet who writes the programs, and everyone else is a consumer who doesn’t intervene in the process in any serious way, especially not at the level of hardware, but just lets it run until it has built up a largely literary science fiction phantasm on top of itself” (qtd. in Johnston 3).
I’d like to contrast this with one of Heidegger’s assertions: “Because the essence of technology is nothing technological, essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology, and, on the other, fundamentally different from it. Such a realm is art” (35).
While Stefans and other new media artists may not intervene in the writing of the software, what other types of critical interventions are made by works like “Dreamlife”? Do the benefits of using of software as critical praxis outweigh our alienation from hardware? Is a work like “Dreamlife,” which we situate in the realm of art, better equipped for “a decisive confrontation with technology” than practices like writing assembler code?
Additionally, how do non-participatory works like “Dreamlife” compare to certain Web 2.0 technologies that appear to grant the user a more substantial level of participation? For instance, the website LibraryThing allows users to catalog their personal libraries and connect to other users. However, any input from the user is still situated within the pre-existing framework of the tool. Is “intervention” in this context illusory?
Do either of these paradigms offer the user a chance for substantial intervention? Or do these works further “[damn] humanity to remain human”? (Kittler 157).
And just for fun, here is a piece I worked on that would have been much more appropriate in the context of last week’s discussion: In the Beginning Was the Word: A Visualization of the Page as Interface. I don’t intend to discuss this at all, but it may be of interest to those thinking about old media in light of new media frameworks.
Bellamy, Dodie. “Sex/Body/Writing.”
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Poem responding to Sex/Body/Writing.
Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology.” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays.
Johnston, John. “Friedrich Kittler: Media Theory after Poststructuralism.” Literature, Media, Information Systems.
Kittler, Friedrich. “Protected Mode.” Literature, Media, Information Systems.
Stefans, Brian Kim. Original response to DuPlessis.
—–. “The Dreamlife of Letters.”