Jane Austen Archive

I looked through the Jane Austen Archive, it was fascinating to look at the process taken to preserve what  McGann calls paperspace (184). The archive presents photos of facsimiles of Austen's written text, along with a typed out transcript for clarity. The original text is in the format of a JPG, and is not clearly readable, (not to be harsh, but I think it sort of defeats the purpose of the archive in this case.) This is solved, then, when one is able to pull the work up in a separate window. Unfortunately, this window requires flash! I cannot access it now, given that my Safari web browser no longer runs flash. The integrity of the text, which has been taken careful attention to be retained, is lost in this particular edition of the archive.

"From A to Screen"

As a graphic designer, I was thrilled to read Johanna Drucker's essay "From A to Screen," which supplemented McGann's "Visible and Invisible Books in N-Dimensional Space" quite well. It felt like required reading, in some ways, for thinking about the design field as it is now. Print design while still important falls more and more out of vogue each year, and the digital continues to reign king. Typography as a field continues to change as it did for the printing press. As Drucker points out the history of typography from early Apple products to the present day, the growing capabilities of what can be done with type in the digital present the problems that McGann discusses in the N-dimensional space of the page and the screen.

As Drucker notes how the letterforms that moved to the Gutenberg presses' evolution were remnants of a different era and changed to adapt to the press, so too is our understanding of the limits and potentials of the screen still evolving. In my experience, it is the work of designer near my age group  who are pushing these revolutions in typography. Like Dr. Olds would say, "form follows function." As we expand in the digital, entirely new fields begin to appear that could not have been achieved before. Most of them are in advertising. One of the most in-demand skills a designer can have right now, for example, is that of motion graphics. The realm of the digital allows for movement and nuance (or the inverse of) of the type itself. The experience of the page is different. There is sound and pictures and the words can follow you everywhere in your pocket. We are being guided to a different media experience altogether

Milton Glaser, type hero, designed nearly everything by hand, while designers in the art department here can be loath to even pick up a sketchbook. It's not so much that one way or the other is better, rather than that, a way of thinking about design is changing with each generation. Our approaches differ, and thus, our values differ. The in-between stage of design, where the idea exists on the N-dimensional space of paper, drawn-out rather than in vectors or pixels, is leaving the consciousness of the design world. It's exciting. It's worrisome. More than anything, I suppose, it's fact. 

Archiving the Absurd

As a Joycean and a modernist, one of my morbid fascinations is the life of Delmore Schwartz: a precocious and eccentric genius who was undone by the genius that created him, as that genius morphed to extreme paranoia, anger, and seclusion by the end of his relatively short life.

One of my favorite moments of rock and roll trivia is that Schwartz was Lou Reed's mentor and personal hero. Among forbidding Lou Reed to pursue rock music—advice which Reed thankfully ignored—Schwartz told Reed that "there are a few things better than to devote one's life to Joyce.” 

The picture above is Schwartz's personal copy of Finnegans Wake. Having read Wake a number of times for shits and giggs, and doing some light annotating myself, I can't look at the picture and feel bad either for Schwartz or myself. Are Schwartz' annotations requiste for understanding the book? As the annotater, or the archon, can some things that we want to preserve be left to that realm of imagination that is neither, in McGann's words "expository or informational" (McGann 175). In other words, can annotation—archiving—do violence to the primary text?

McGann writes that poems "are built as complex nets of repetition and variation, they are rich in what imformational models of textuality label 'noise.'" (175). In regards to Wake, there happen to be entire large sections of the text that are "noisy." Or, in other words, sections of Wake escape any kind of structualist reading/analysis that archiving appears to require. The "noise" escapes any kind of conventional system of organization or structure. 

McGann goes on to write that "the logic of the peom is only frameable in some kind of paradioxical articulation such as: 'a equals a if and only if a does not equal a'" (175).

So the question is, are Schwartz's paranoid efforts above—or any similar electronic archival effort—productive? Well, I think that depends on repretoire. Which is to say that Schwartz's effort to make sense of Wake depends on his own, personal obsession, which has led him to consume Wake over and over again. But if that obsession ends with Schwartz, then Schwartz is just, well, crazy. Maybe archving is just a way to say "this is why what matters to me should matter to you," even if I can't systemetize everything that makes it special.

McGann's "Material Revolution"

McGann's evaluation of the relationship between print and digital fields is both precise and vague: "They do different things" (168). He elaborates that "hypermedia powers" (168) are not exclusive to digital instruments, and rejects the "fundamental misconception... that a digital field is prima facie more complex and more powerful than a bibliographical one... The fields simply manage knowledge and intellectual inquiry at different scalar levels" (168). He argues that human interpretation and collation of text and concepts cannot be replaced (or even effectively replicated) by computing power, stating that "in crucial ways, for instance, a desk strewn with a scholar's materials is far more efficient as a workspace-- far more hypertextual-- than the most powerful workstations, screen-bound, you can buy" (185), and suggesting that the computational ignorance of the context, "orbiting texts" and textual negotiaton that occupy the scholar's mind may be one of its strengths in the digital endeavor to "do different things."

I was reminded of "The Waste Land" and its attendant texts and contexts when McGann stated "in making this journey [of critical inquiry] we are driven far out into the deep space, as we say these days, occupied by our orbiting texts... The objects themselves shapeshift continually and the pivots move, drift, shiver, and even dissolve away. Those transformations occur because 'the text' is always a negotiated text, half perceived and half created by those who engage with it" (181). A scholar cannot read without engaging their knowledge and experiences to interpret and categorize the text at hand. What does it look like to evaluate something like "The Waste Land" without the distractions of the historical/cultural/literary baggage it carries? How do the practical demands of computational analysis via this "special race of idiot savant" (189) filter/form the ways we think about established texts? I like McGann's collaborative conception of digital studies; he insists that humanities computing must be guided by those who know books best, simultaneously affirming the analog legacy of scholarship while investing in an optimal formula for digital studies.

Digital Archives and Global Modernism

This week’s readings helped me have a better idea of how digital archive studies intersect with Global Modernism I strived to connect with in the class last week; I still need to work more how I can tightly connect these two, though. 

The raison d’être of archives is, in part, to preserve and protect materials within, but the making of it inevitably betrays a loss that entails the process of selection on what to preserve and what to discard. Digital archives, however, have opened a space for those whose voices have been ignored, whose places have been insecure, and whose identities have not been recognized. Voss & Werner state that “the architecture of the archive and the sentinels who control access to its interiors suggest that the conservation and transmission of knowledge has been, at least historically, the prerogative of a few chosen agents, of a coterie of privileged insiders” (), which emphasizes the exclusive aspect of the traditional archives. They say that the technology archive “encourages us to reimagine its dimensions” so that “heteroglossic citations” can be included in archives as parts of them and have due attention. With the term, “rogue archives,” De Kosnik argues that the digital space, filled with archives created by individuals who are marginalized and often underappreciated in the central hegemonic discourse, enables the minority groups to “construct repositories that are accessible by all internet users, and can choose to preserve either vast quantities of information…or highly specific materials…that have been consistently excluded or ignored by traditional memory institutions” (2). By having a space to voice their opinions and to build a community with people of the same interest, they have the opportunity to empower themselves by decentralizing the existing hierarchy and by “insert[ing] into history” (17).

Global Modernism is also about shifting the prevailing, European-centered, perspective on Modernism to reposition it as a part of the global phenomena. The scholars of GM argue that modernism developed in various locations across the globe in response to the modernity, but there is a time difference when different places experienced modernity, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that modernisms in other locals are derivative of Western modernism. Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology states that “Modernism has always been global, and this global disposition inextricable from the radically unequal power relations that characterize modernity itself.” Just like Voss, Werner, and De Kosnik emphasize the importance of the digital archives that can de/reconstruct the hierarchy, GM is also focusing on repositioning modernist studies in the larger, global context to include so far neglected and underestimated local modernisms. 

The Elegance of Context

Mark Sample's article "Platform Studies as Historical Inquiry, or, Video Games Bleed History" may not have the most elegant title ever, although it is surely and unmistakably accurate. Sample places the methodology of inquiry into reach of a broad audience by applying it to the social context of video game systems across the past three decades, more or less. 

Sample bases this exploration on the levels of Digital Media, as first coined by Lars Konzack then adapted by Nick Montfort; I appreciate the invitation to continue adapting these layers, but so far I haven't thought of anything even approaching the useful simplicity of the current model. I found it fascinating that few scholars have considered the platform, code, or form and function layers, focusing instead on the interface and reception layers; I suppose it makes sense because the interface especially influences any game's reception and operation and this defines the game's longevity; physical platforms and their accompanying code, on the contrary, enjoy almost anything but longevity...they are the momentary blips in the current of trendy technology rendered obsolete by moving continuously on into the obsolesence of the past where they stay loved for their historical value. Studying only the upper layers of platform studies is like studying on Mona Lisa's eyes (important as they are) and forgetting about that smile. 

Vectors Journal

I was, and continue to be, entranced by the Vectors Journal. Its inventiveness! Its recognition and representation of the labyrinthine structure of the creative process! It's a project within a project, where the editorial statement itself is an exercise in the convoluted capacity of a digital repository. The coexistence of code, text (termed "lexia," invoking an everpresent etymological intentionality), and visual concept mapping creates a robust amalgam of interconnectivity meant to expose the flexibility and complexity of a multimedia archive.

I thought the following exerpts from the editorial statement (generated as I explored the evolving word map) were particularly apt:

  •  "Taking collaboration as a fundamental component of each project, we challenged everyone involved to subvert entrenched ideas about process, and to reach beyond the horizons of their traditional realms to consider how form is content, process is product…"
  • "Complex problems rarely obey the neat confines of academic disciplines, yet much scholarship continues to reside within disciplinary boundaries.  Each discipline develops its own subculture, its own methodologies, its own vocabularies, modes of thought propagated by academic journals and professional societies.  Robustly interdisciplinary work demands new modes of thinking but also inventive modes of assessment.  In experimenting with form and content, Vectors pursues interdisciplinary work in its themes, its collaborative work processes, and in its multi-tiered peer review structure, aiming to push knowledge production beyond the limits of traditional disciplinary thinking."

This description of an idealized multimedia platform was a helpful framework for me to (begin to) interpret the Roaring Twenties project hosted on the Vectors site. The layered interfaces of maps, sound clips, and written documents form a totally unique recreation of 1920s New York City, and prompt questions not only about the historical era but also about the ephemerality of experience and the ability or inability of recording (in every sense of the word) to represent, preserve, or interpret a stage of history.

In a nutshell, I continue to be fascinated by (and attracted to) both the ideological impulses and the tangible outputs of the Vectors Journal.




Fandom's Reach and De Kosnik

I’m old enough to remember when computers were mostly just amusement for the masses and data storage for companies. By the turn of the millennium, as more people could afford the device, a different set of ideas took center stage. With the internet, you could get and share news instantaneously, make blog posts, and talk with people all over the world all at once in chat rooms. It was a huge change from the professionals that held the power over information the average Joe could acquire. The competition became greater with more choices on the ‘information highway’. 

One of these subjects that has become a major topic of interest is the popular culture of fan archives. De Kosnik writes, “...the focus of this book is on how people who are usually marginalized in narratives of technological development are innovating new media practices in ways that will likely alter how cultural memory takes form, becomes institutionalized, and operates going forward.” Fandom has become a welcome pastime for some, people watching episodes of their favorite shows, and talking with others on forums about the stories and complexities of characters. With that has come the dawn of fan creations related to their shows or books of choice in the forms of fanfiction, fan podcasts, and fan videos. Those that wanted to use their creativity would post works to share with others that enjoyed their takes on the fandom. The choices were endless, as long as they were within some set framework of their show or book. I believe fans were inspired by the shows to fill in story gaps, or in the case of De Kosnik, fill in the blanks for characters that were rarely portrayed because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation with this media. At first, I did not see much in the way of effectiveness, as the push/pull between fans and commercial producers made very little difference. However, changes have started to come through to fill these gaps in traditional media, who wants to court fans. Shows like “Glee” and “Orange is the New Black” were important steps in showing positive gay portrayals, and the racial casting for parts has become broader than ever before. Movie studios are more affected by the fans now that then they can admit, as the audience can now vote or veto with their wallets, and there are more choices online than they ever had before.  

The Ephemeral Digital

This summer, while on a Zoom meeting with some friends we watched the 2014 horror movie "Unfriended". The entirety of the film takes place through the lens of a computer monitor, in it we see our protagonist, Blair, make Google searches and text her boyfriend while trying to make amends with a ghost who has infiltrated her friend group's Zoom call. It's a bad, schlocky movie that seems like it's trying to say something about the dangers of cyberbullying and social media, yet the main problem with the film, (of which there are many) is that it never makes a case for why Blair does not simply shut her computer and leave. 

I took issue with Blair's actions because, as Ben Peters points out in "Digital" digital computers function as indexical tools: they forever point to a world, be it real or a possibility, yet digital objects cannot manifest this world they point to. The idea of a digital screen manifesting real harm, even through the widely used trope of a ghost, seems unbelievable. No matter how scary the ghost may appear on Facebook, it is deeply ingrained in my head that this scariness cannot be real. As Peters puts it, "Digital media, such as these, point and refer to real world objects outside of themselves, and this transducing from the symbolic to the real limits both the computing and the indexing power of digital media." (p.8)

I think this is an interesting point to make when we look to the act of reading on a digital screen in terms of semiotics. Text, under the scale which Charles Sanders Peirce puts it falls under the symbol in terms of semiotics. When reading text on a digital device we then have the screen itself, which is indexical, simulating the analog task of reading on print. The digital here functions as an extension of our thought process, and the spread of ideas. It's a tool and yet, our constant movement towards digital over analog means that we spend hours of our day with works that can disappear at the click of a button and yet still have the appearance of reality, or as Peters puts it "Digital media indexes not only our world but all possible worlds" (p. 13).

Analog v. Digital Recording: Trying to get a 'Real' Sound

I was in the music fraternity in undergrad. Less a fraternity than a loose association of music dorks, the fraternity put me in touch with a great deal of music majors, myself being an English lit major. All of my friends in the music fraternity loved jazz. They played trumpets, trombones, and tubas. They were in the jazz club, they took jazz classes, and they formed jazz bands. I made music, too, but what it seemed that my art was never taken as seriously. Every time I made a new song, I shared it with my jazz friends, and they always recieved it with a nearly imperceptible touch of irony, as if everyone was let in on a secret abotu my own music that I didn't understand.

Now I understand it. I played keyboards and guitars treated with dozens of digital effects. I recorded my music into a Macbook Air. They played real instruments. They owned reel-to-reel tape machines. Their music was analogical, mine digital. Their music was physical, mine symbolic. 

Peters writes: "Digital media, such as these, point and refer to real world objects outside of themselves,
and this transducing from the symbolic to the real limits both the computing and the
indexing power of digital media" (8).

To the music majors, my music only "pointed and refered" to what they had in their hands: trumpts, tubas, and trombones. My music was merely "symbolic" or their real, analogical musical world. Which is to say my music was all 1's and 0's, there's was all tape and spit valve.

But as Peters goes on to write: "We can now see how the digital and the analog are non-oppositional modes of indexing the world. Take the classic analog medium, the phonograph (an early record
player named for how it transduces a real world event of sound, phono, into symbolic
writing, -graphy, and then reads the writing into reproducing the sound)" (12).

The music majors failed to realize that evey digital action is part analog, as even analog technoligy has "symbolic writing." Only the language changes. Just as spit flies out of their gold instruments, as John Lennon once said "I got blisters on my fingers," regardless of what signal recieves the musical information I give it.