Media Theory for the 21st Century

January 23, 2008

Literary vs. Literature

Filed under: Discussion — hbench @ 4:48 pm

This question is kind of directed at Prof. Hayles, but could be answered by probably any of you literarily-inclined folks….Prof. Hayles distinguishes between literature and the literary, and I’m just wondering what constitutes their difference, or more precisely, what “the literary” borrows from literature. I have a sense of the difference (I think it’s similar to a distinction I make between dance and choreography), but I’m not sure what literary-ness entails. Especially since Prof. Hayles in last night’s class said that the Dream Life of Letters was an art object, but not literature (or literary?). So, what demarcates the realm of the literary as opposed to literature on the one hand and non-literary art objects on the other? harmony 

January 22, 2008

Ceci n’est pas un post

Filed under: Discussion — hbench @ 8:32 pm

This isn’t an official post, which would take more thought and time, but just some thoughts I had while reading.  

I am always astounded at how thoroughly I enjoy reading Kittler’s books, and how much I dislike his essays. Perhaps my scholarly indigestion could be traced back to any number of causes–my indifference to Turing, binary numbers, and the potential significance of √-1, for example, or the metallic taste that numbers, equations, and thought experiments leave in my mouth. But I think my problem with Kittler’s essays arises from his incessant use of obfuscating language. Kittler has become an oracle. I accept my own stupidity, in front of which both theorists and computers stutter, but wonder what I can glean from his god-like pronouncements.

On another note, I am perturbed by Kittler’s insistence upon the hardware. If, as Wellbery suggests, Kittler presupposes exteriority, mediality and corporeality in Discourse Networks (xiii-xv), then in “There is No Software” and “Protected Mode,” Kittler penetrates further–not into the soul, but the nervous tissue–the mechanical, electrical inner-workings. Mediation (cultural), gives way to medium (mechanical/physiological). It is as though Kittler wants to engage in a physical anthropology of computing. 

It may be true that everything remains hidden from the user, who is only given graphical representations of information to navigate. But I find hardware interesting only in relation to the surface effects it enables and/or produces, and what is produced by those effects in turn.


Unwritten Confession

Filed under: Discussion,Readings — moorekc @ 5:18 pm

I suspect this post will reveal more about my own critical inclinations than it will about those of Friedrich Kittler. But I feel it is necessary to confess that—probably because I am coming from a literary critical background—I allowed him to provoke me a bit. More than a bit, actually, and unexpectedly. This reached its peak in my experience reading the essay “There is No Software.” Kittler begins that essay by highlighting the importance of the dramatically increasing distance between the computer user who imagines him or herself to be writing and those who actually write the elementary functions of BIOS onto the physical silicon chip, a distance which, when we take into account of the size of the letters that appear on our word processing screen compared to the size of “a computer memory’s transistor cells,” may constitute “six orders of decimal magnitude” (147). He explains, “The bulk of written texts—including the paper I am actually reading to you—no longer exist in perceivable time and space, but in a computer memory’s transistor cells” (147). A fascinating scenario, and one that, if it posits in a new way the concealed practices of writing, does so at first without pushing terribly hard on the critical sense that might have crystallized in two or three introductory literary theory seminars. The issue seems, at the core, one of sort the postmodern literary critic is used to dealing with: coming down off structuralists such as Freud, Saussure, Lacan, Barthes and perhaps even the arguably poststructuralist Foucault, the idea that there is an dimension of the written text beyond the writer’s control is by no means alien. Kittler goes on, “This state of affairs does not only make a difference to history…It also seems to hide the very act of writing” (147). For the literature major still enamored with the romance of the codex, not to mention the autonomous creator-god, this is the limited heartbreak of “The Death of the Author” or “What is an Author?” all over again. If the fall seems a bit more bottomless, perhaps that is simply the vertiginous Of Grammatology spin Kittler adds to the matter (no doubt implied by the title, which seems an updated version of Derrida’s most famous one-liner). A momentary freefall, for sure, but ultimately a harmless one: Kittler will, for a moment, have his way with us, and at the end of day we will in return pick up an exceedingly useful term like “logical depth” and move on.


But as I continued to read, Kittler’s escalating rhetoric on the matter left me increasingly disconcerted. At the beginning of paragraph two, he writes—or does not write? It is hard to know how to put it—“As one knows without saying, we do not write anymore” (147). Here, the idea that “we do not write anymore” again pushes like the structuralists and poststructuralists upon the literary critical sensibility. But how do we account for that first part of the sentence: “As one knows without saying”? Kittler not only argues that the writer is dead. To use one of his favorite phrases, he suggests that we should always already know that. But if the point means something more than that here, might that be simply because it is deliberately provocative? Kittler seems to be cheating at the game of theory, to be throwing his assuredly destabilizing idea at us with more force than it naturally contains.


            In the middle of the essay, just as Kittler begins to deploy Luhmannian language—“In principle, this kind of descent from software to hardware, from higher to lower levels of observation, could be continued over more and more orders of magnitude” (150)—my hair stood on end. Kittler writes or does not write, “All code operations, despite such metaphoric faculties as call or return, come down to absolutely local string manipulations, that is, I am afraid, to signifiers of voltage differences” (150, italics original). Once more, the idea is a pill the literary critic can swallow: very well, writing does not occur, and even the “code operations” that give the illusion that it does still occur are reducible to (and again, these are Kittler’s italics) “signifiers of voltage differences.” But where I get hung up is on Kittler’s condescending “I am afraid.” The rhetoric is chilling, and not because it forces us to pause on the point about computing and writing but because it reminds us that we are nevertheless experiencing the point as part of the rhetoric of a scholarly essay. It is as if, in this world of new media in which writing does not take place and “There is No Software,” scholarly argument, with all its imperial demands, can take on a radical new anonymity.


            As I mentioned before, I am certain all this reveals more about me than it does about Kittler. Nevertheless, recall Kittler’s second line in “There is No Software,” which I quoted above. He writes or does not write, “The bulk of written texts—including the paper I am actually reading to you—no longer exist in perceivable time and space, but in a computer memory’s transistor cells” (147, italics mine). However parenthetically, we are clearly told from the beginning that this paper is also implicated in the new media writing problematic it seems to describe. Kittler in this way indicates that whether or not “we do not write anymore,” this is nevertheless a “paper,” and one with a readable conception of itself as such. Perhaps my anxiety, then, is the same rhetorical anxiety that has plagued critics since the beginning, or at least since Plato concealed his thoughts about writing in the famous written dialogue between Phaedrus and Socrates. The new combination seems more than worth dwelling on: new media, but the same old, powerful rhetoric. So do the attendant questions of genre that seem to inevitably rise from the possibility that literary forms, which no longer exist as physical writing, can still generate the same old effects. What does a literary critic’s tongue-in-cheek confession become, for example, when we become aware it was written in a word processor, and for a blog post? What does it lose? What does it gain?

–Kevin Moore

The Lacan Test vs The Turing Test

Filed under: Discussion — jeremy @ 9:38 am
Tags: , , ,

Hi people. In my comment on Kim’s post I mentioned Amazon’s Search Inside feature and suggested we consider how such features, and the statistics they make available, affect the writing process. But they of course affect reading and research at least as much, and I just realized that the thought experiment devised by Lacan and worked through by Kittler in “The World of the Symbolic” is available through Search Inside in its original translated form (search “lightning and thunder” to get the right page).

It’s worth noting that Lacan speaks even more directly than Kittler of “a materialist definition of the phenomenon of consciousness” (40). With this in mind it might make sense to read the Lacan Test alongside the Turing Test, so I devised a minor elaboration for the latter: make agent C (the judge) a computer. Forcing a machine to evaluate between A (the person) and B (the initial computer) might add a useful dimension. At the very least, the human becomes the odd-subject-out and competition is fostered between the machines. In this context we might also consider the various “positions” at work in Lacan’s apologue, including the position of the humans arbitrarily returned to “circulation” (46). What fun, whimsically obliterating and recirculating subjectivities!

P.S. I will bake brownies for anyone who can convince me that the following sentence from Kittler’s essay does not mean the opposite of what it’s intended to say: “The answer is negative, however, if ‘still’ designates all time t2 at which the reflection of the lightning bolt endures only as long as the flash itself” (131).

This negation game is a version of Labov’s test, discussed here and here on the world’s greatest linguistics blog. (For the record, I don’t think Kittler’s missed anything–I think there’s a typo, a mistranslation, or (most likely) that I’m missing something and will be baking soon.)

–Jeremy Schmidt

Week 3 Intervention: The End of Protected Mode?

Filed under: Discussion — P.J. @ 12:16 am

For consideration at seminar tomorrow…

While reading Kittler’s above-mentioned essay, I immediately recalled a story from Gizmodo not too long ago, which directs to this recent news story from Poland.

Given Kittler’s assertion that computer makers develop a highly-structured and bureaucratically-toned “protective mode” specifically to keep the end user from directly communicating with the hardware that’s doing all the work, I’m interested in knowing whether this event – not to mention other Web 2.0 phenomena like the blogosphere and social networking – heralds a definitive complication of Kittler’s argument, or rather stands to become the exception that proves his “rule.”

January 21, 2008

Week Three Discussion: Moving Canvas and El Muro

Filed under: Discussion,New media art — katem333 @ 11:28 pm

Hi all– Like Kim, I will be presenting a couple of projects I’ve spent time with working for the UC Transliteracies working group on New Reading Interfaces. I’ll be talking tomorrow about two projects created by collaborations of artists affiliated with the Berlin University of the Arts: Moving Canvas and El Muro. (more…)

Week 3 Discussion, Part One: The Dreamlife of Letters

Filed under: Discussion,New media art — kknight08 @ 5:38 pm

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. (more…)

Items of Interest

Filed under: General,Tools — kknight08 @ 4:54 pm

I thought others in the class might be interested in these:

1. The Succession of Simulacra: The Legacy of Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007).  This graduate conference will be held at UCSB and features Douglas Kellner as the keynote speaker.  Submissions are due Monday, February 4th.  If anyone is interested in attending from UCLA, I can help arrange carpools.

2. Alan Liu’s Toy Chest.   Part of the UCSB English Department Knowledge Base, the toy chest lists several free or inexpensive tools for online creation.  The list contains everything from mapping, to text analysis, to machinima creation tools.

– Kim

January 20, 2008

Japanese Cellphone Novels

Filed under: General — jjpulizzi @ 7:02 pm

A friend recently sent me this link to an article in the New York Times about the increasing popularity of cellphone novels in Japan. According to the article they’re written mostly by young women in a text messaging style. Though publishers have recently began printing them.


January 17, 2008

Citations for “Hyper Deep”

Filed under: General — nkhayles @ 12:32 am

Works CitedAngold, A. A. Erkanli, H. L. Egger and E. J. Costell.  “Stimulant Treatment for Children: A Community Perspective,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 39 (2000): 975-984.Bear, Mark, Mark F. Bear, Barry W. Connors and Michael A. Paradiso, Neuroscience:  Exploring the Brain (Hagerstown MD:  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006).Bruer, John T.  “Education and the Brain: A Bridge Too Far,” Educational Researcher 26.8 (1997): 4-26. ———-.  “In Search of . . . Brain-Based Education,” Phi Delta Kappan 80.9 (1999): 9-19.Bukatman, Scott.  Terminal Identity:  The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 1993.Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition.  New York:  American Psychiatric Publishing, 2000.———-.  DSM-III-TR Third Edition.  New York:  American Psychiatric Publishing, 1980.  Fisher, Scott. “Archives.” <;.Federation of American Scientists, “Summit on Educational Games:  Harnessing the Power of Video Games for Learning.”  2006. <>Gee, James Paul.  What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.            New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.Hall, Justin A. and Scott S. Fisher, “Experiments in Backchannel:  Collaborative Presentations Using Social Software, Google Jockeys, and Immersive Environments,” http://nvac,;. Hallahan, Dan P. and James M. Kauffman.  Exceptional Learners:  Introduction to Special Education, 10th edition.  New York:  Allyn & Bacon 2005 Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good for You:  How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.  New York:  Riverhead Hardcover, 2005.  Kaiser Family Foundation. Generation M:  Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds.<;.LeFever, Gretchen B., Andrea P. Arcona, and David O. Antonuccio.  “ADHD Among American Schoolchildren: Evidence of Overdiagnosis and Overuse of Medication,” The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice 2.1 (Spring/Summer 2003). <;.  Linet, Les. “The Search for Stimulation:  Understanding Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” Science Daily (March 31, 2006).Marshall, Eliot.  “Epidemiology: Duke Study Faults Overuse of Stimulants for Children,” Science 289.5480 (August 4, 2000): 721. National Institute of Mental Health.  “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”  <;. Rafalovich, Adam.  “Exploring clinical uncertainty in the diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Sociology of Health and Illness 27.3 (2005):305-323.  Rubinstein, Joshua S., David E. Meyer, and Jeffrey E. Evans.  “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching,” Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Human Perception and Performance, 27. 4 (August 2001): 763-797.  <www.>. <;.   Rudeda, M. R., M. K. Rothbart, L. Saccamanno, and Michael I. Posner, “Training, Maturation, and Genetic Influences on the Development of Executive Attention,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (2005): 14931-14936.  Ryan, Richard, C. Rigby, and Andrew Przybyiski.  “The Motivational Pull of Video Games:  A Self-Determination Theory Approach,” Motivation and Emotion 30.4 (December 2006): 344-360.Shaffer, David. W., Kurt R. Squire, Richard Halverson, and James P. Gee, “Video Games and the Future of Learning,” <;. Sterling, Bruce. Distraction.  New York:  Gollancz, 2000.  Swanson, J. M., P. Flodman, J. Kenney et al.  “Dopamine Genes and ADHD,” Neuroscience Biobehavior Review 1 (Jan. 24 2000): 21-5.  <>.  Turkeltaub,  Peter. E., D. Lynn Flowers, Alysea Verbalis, Martha Miranda, Lynn Gareau, and Guinevere F. Eden, ”The Neural Basis of Hyperlexic Reading:  An fMRI Case Study,” Neuron 41 (Jan. 8, 2004): 11-25. <>.Turkeltaub, Peter E., Lynn Gareau, D. Lynn Flowers, Tomas A. Zeffiro and Guinevere F. Eden, “Development of Neural Mechanisms for Reading,” Nature Neuroscience 6 (July 2003): 767-773.  <;.  Vitiello, B. “Student Treatment for Children: A Community Perspective:  Commentary,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 39 (2000): 992-994. 

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