Graffiti as transgression against the "regimentation" of public space

 In "TXTual Practice" by Rita Raley, one of the examples used to demonstrate the regimentation of public space is the illegal act of graffiti, the creation of which transgressively claims a public space for its artist(s) (Halyes & Pressman 7). This example particularly jumped out to me because of the well-established digital community of graffiti artists, many of whom go only by their tag names to protect their identities, who film themselves roaming cities and abandoned urban spaces and creating stunning pieces of graffiti artwork. This artists must work rapidly to avoid being caught, or if they are in a secure place, to practice the skills of rapid work to hone their craft. One of the most interesting aspects of this community is their sense of obligation to their local cities and towns which leads to them often only wishing to create graffiti on truly abandoned, isolated, and unowned structures. This portion of the graffiti artist community often have programs and mentorships for young or growing graffiti artists and teach them how to seek out spaces that are safe or not illegal or at least not cared about in order to create their works of art. Other portions of the community graffiti more widely and in illegal places, such as on the sides of cargo trains, old warehouses, or under bridges, seeing the illicit nature of their art as an essential part of its substance. For all of these graffiti artists, it appears that the transgressive and rebellious nature of their art, whether they flaunt it or not, is a primary part of its value, and its ability to give a voice to artists whose voices are under-represented in art galleries and display the beauty and skill of their art throughout the urban landscape they call home, speaking out of turn and against all efforts to silence it, is an essential part of its power.

Aside from its inherent statement of power against authority, graffiti also has great textual significance as well, which Raley did not draw upon in her essay but that supports her topic powerfully. Graffiti artists each develop tags for themselves, which can be thought of as symbols and nicknames that identify who they are. There are universal communicatory symbols amongst graffiti artists that are well understood; the crown, for instance, is considered a high honor that only the best of graffiti artists who have not only mastered their craft and "paid their dues," but have also managed to cover their cities in their art so that every other graffiti artist knows their tag and style well, can claim. If anyone who is thought not deserving of the honor of the crown above their tag, their work may be defaced or they may even be hunted by other graffiti artists and punished for stealing the symbol without earning it. There are generally only ever a few kings or queens recognized within a single community at a time, and the honor is guarded by the entire community, and sought after by all. Similarly, one of the highest offenses amongst the graffiti community is to deface or cover up someone else's work, because this is not only a destruction of art that can never be reclaimed, but a silencing of the artist's voice in that location, and is viewed as an action of grave disrespect. There are grave warnings within the community to respect the work of others, as kids and young, inexperienced artists are the ones who most commonly commit this offense, and artists who are angered by this destruction of their work may resort to violence.

Yet another interesting textual aspect to graffiti and the community of graffiti artists is language that is unique to graffiti. Artists become skilled at reading the letters and understanding them, yet to an untrained eye they are often very difficult to decipher due to the extreme stylization of the letters. There are different styles that are constantly evolving, and the ability to read and communicate through these unique letters and symbols is a powerful method of textual control of an environment through art. Though a random bystander may well be able to appreciate the beautiful colors and stylistic lettering used in the graffiti works, other artists and those who know the community are able to recognize not only the tags and signatures of the artists, but also the unique message they are communicating. Many graffiti artists choose not only to communicate a message, but also to represent their group, and there are many examples of collaborative work amongst graffiti artists, where each individual contributes to the work as a whole in a rapid and expertly choreographed dance of spraypaint upon the wall.

A few examples of graffiti artist that share their work and process digitally:

Rake43 painting in an abandoned factory:


Can a Coin Have Three Sides?

Rita Raley's thesis of using the scenes of public writing to analyze "the dynamics of ephemerality and vernacularity that are at the heart of the way we read and write now" is intriguing to me. I may feel like a technological 'granny' now, but even when I wasn't, I never gave into the trend of "text speak" no matter how much faster it would be to type with my thumbs. (Okay not strictly true, as I have sparingly given in to 'LOL' a few times, but only ever uppercase; 'lol' as a reply to everything that is funny {and not} just grates on me to no end). Her descriptions of using public text installations to "construct a new public space...situated in between the actual...and the virtual" (p15) as "ephemeral graffiti" (p17) almost seems redundant. One of my favorite concepts is the idea that these public installations of a normally semi-private activity mean that "monologic advertisements instead become bulletin boards and chat spaces" (p18). We, as a public, repurpose spaces in new ways that are far more enjoyable than intended.

Matt Kirschenbaum writing about the discovery of Walt Whitman records at the National Archives highlights basically the opposite of Raley's thesis. Created more than a century ago and packed away in an archive just waiting to be found contrasts nicely with temporary installations of public participation. But because they both deal with the mundane, they're not strictly antithetical, even if it seems like they should be.

Kirschenbaum also wrote that "to archive in the realm of computation originally meant to take something offline" (p58) which is kind of funny because I once thought of archiving as creating digital copies of my physical photos and papers was the best way to achieve LOCKSS. This idea also counters McGann's need to move beyond the codex format when analyzing other codices. Yes, we can keep using them, but we're far more limited by the format and far more likely to miss the connections that digital analysis provides. As he points out, "The elecotronic OEX is a metabook, that is, it has consumed everything that the codex OED provides and reorganized it at a higher level." (p55) 


These ideas are all circling around the same broad concept. We need to create ephemeral graffitti together, we need to archive materials offline AND online, and we need the flexibility of digital analysis of bookish materials. Even though it feels like these concepts should be contradictory, they're more of a 3-D coin than diametrically opposed ends of a continuum. 

Gephi Put Me in My Place

My experience with Gephi, while not one full of cursing and outward frustration, was not entirely pleasant. I say it was not entirely pleasant because all-in-all, Gephi is a unique tool that--like Voyant Tools--opens new doors for me as we trudge through the semester and make our way to the deadline for our semester-long research project. I am happy to have been introduced to this tool, but being unfamiliar with the data loaded into it was most definitely a source of frustration for me. Had I compiled the data myself to load into this, that may have made the blind exploration process easier as I know how the data is supposed to look in certain situations.

The genre tags made little sense to me without context of how they were developed, but I'm sure made sense to whomever compiled them. I enjoyed playing around with the different types of graphs and applying different styles to the font, which makes me excited to try Gephi again with my own data. Something that was also interesting was reconfiguring the data to highlight different trends in the graph.

I loved exploring the statistical tools on Gephi, regardless of having no idea what the results implied with little knowledge of the original data. Gephi was definitely foreign to me, which is strange because I typically find myself as the pseudo-IT person in most situations as my professional work includes a focus in web devleopment. It made me uncomfortable having little control over what I was doing, but I enjoyed that discomfort and figuring out how to manipulate the graphs. I look forward to employing this tool again in the future with data that interests me.


"I think I'm getting the hang of this Gephi thing!"—My famous last words. 

Anyways, the potential of Gephi and data mapping in regards to literature is, honestly a little thrilling? It's a whole different way of reading works that we've read for ages. Like I mentioned in class, the example work Gephi uses to demo their software is characters in Les Miserables. It might be too much to say that the potential of software of Gephi it makes these works feel new, but the idea that there are overlying structures that we don't usually see and now can... That's amazing! It's like we have X-ray vision. 

Now, applying the software to my data proved more challenging. I think my nodes might have been broken somehow, since I only had twelve, and it was easy to make mistakes that I didn't know how to undo, but following the step by steps from Gephi and Dr. Drouin, I think I was able to at least sort of arrange the data how I wanted. It had shapes and colors, and when you export as a PDF, it does this beautiful curve thing. Quite nice to look at. 

The thing I guess I am still so intrigued/frustrated by, is how it feels difficult to know which questions are the right to ask. I guess in the humanities I'm so used to the more philosophical and theoretical side of things it feels weird to look at something this mathematic. Once you have a graph organized and layed out is when the questions really start to arise. In this case, it really layed out the thematic soup all the authors were living in. Relatable! 

I tried to embed my photo, but I don't know that it succeded so I am also linking a photo to my work. 

Every Issue Is a Themed Issue

As an editor of a literary journal, you can't go much lower than a themed issue. It's the absolute zero of the creative writing world. An editor's sad nadir. A literary journal's last death cough from a consciousness that's blinking out. The other day, an email arrived in my inbox from some literary journal straddling uneasily the periphery of relevance. They were advertising a new call of submissions for a scab themed issue. The advertisement read:

Not quite broken, not quite mended. A reminder of what was, and what will be. Scabs protect our wounds, and yet the temptation to pick at them and peel them off is always there. They call attention to what is already disappearing, and we don’t yet know if they will leave a scar. Scabs are a reminder that healing can be a long, ugly process.

It's the kind of thing that should make any creative with dignity left blush. Yet, it's also kind of instructive, right? It announces what we already know: a lot of people are in pain right now, so a lot of people are writing about pain. Scabs are wounds. Scabs are painful. Scabs are a kind of healing. Scabs are ugly. Pain-->scabs-->wounds-->healing-->ugly.

What I’m trying to say is that Gephi allows us to access these kinds of associative networks that we are always consuming as we read. And we know exactly what we are consuming, but we don’t talk about it, because it’s obvious and kind of embarrassing to talk about. Ugly correlates with scab, because scabs are ugly.

The fact I spent my time trying to operate Gephi with all of the subtlety of a baby trying to fit the triangle shape into the square hall isn’t the point. The point is clear. Identifying associative networks is requisite element of performing close reading is. Gephi just allows us to access what we already know but can’t express yet. Turns out: every issue is a themed issue.

Gephi analysis

I think there was some kind of error in my data importing process. While I agree with the topic tag connections, there are duplicate tags that will list different permutations of the same words. I would have to do more investigation to figure out how to eliminate the duplicates. They make the graph more cluttered than I would like.

The Yifan Hu layout algorithm seems to bifurcate the data based on the amount of connections between tags; in the chart that I’ve created that filters the ID network by relationship to James Joyce, the network produced by the Yifan Hu layout is two wings connected by a central node of the novel, which is a convenient visual to conceptualize the two main written works related to Joyce. When the full data set is arranged in the Yifan Hu layout, the duplicate data creates a lot of visual clutter as the data separates into grouped islands; I’ve included a screenshot of one island, where I can note the centrality of the term “poetry,” although the rest of the data is a bit jumbled.

Given the limits of visuality in the Yifan Hu arrangement, I was pleased with the image generated by the Fruchterman Rheingold layout, which created a modular arrangement that flexes upon rearrangement to maintain the relationship between nodes. I felt that this model was more visually intuitive (although that may be partially because of the visual limitations of the duplicate nodes) because it kept the data contained and connected rather than dispersing it into discrete islands, which I think models the conceptual relationships between topics.

I think this network visualization is a useful method for periodical studies (given the future ability to import data without error…) because it reveals relationships that are not evident upon close reading, but, once revealed, may help guide/inform close reading. I think I could benefit from this procedure as a way of giving a fresh set of eyes to the same brain.

Never Have I Ever...

...felt so technologically inept as I do now while trying to navigate all these fun new tools (*cough, Gephi) I never knew existed, so I might as well blast all my shame here for everyone to see. Once upon a time I might have rated myself as technologically proficient (although even that seems like a stretch now), but I have permanently disabused myself of any notions of ever being 'tech-savvy.' I used to laugh when my Dad struggled with basic computer usage because I didn't get how hard it was for him to navigate unfamiliar territory, but I'm sure not laughing now (sorry Dad!). 



To add insult to injury, that blank space ↑ is where the picture of my Gephi Little Review is supposed to appear; apparently I don't even know how to share an image of how much I don't know how to use Gephi. (I uploaded it to Shutterfly & copied the link because I don't know how else to get an image url.)  

I have muddled my way through Gephi as much as possible, but I honestly have no earthly idea what I'm doing and nothing really means much. I can't tell if there's anything missing, or how the nodes really relate to each other through the edges; because of this, I can't offer an educated opinion on the genre and topic connections. I thought the Fruchterman Reingold layout was more aesthetically pleasing than the Yifan Hu layout, but I didn't really glean anything different from one or the other. Despite this, though, I think Gephi is a veritable treasure trove of potential for literary analysis of all kinds; the samples show how well it works with Les Mis and it would be really fun to see Moretti run his Hamlet analysis through Gephi. I get the idea even if I don't actually get it. 

(And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to hide in a corner and try to figure out how I got technologically left behind in only my thirties...)

Gephi part II

(Note: I will e-mail pics to professor as they will not download here.)

3) The Fruchterman Rheingold program changes the scheme into an almost hexagon like shape. In this simulation, the inner words are prose and irony, and they are surrounded by all the other words that intersect in this formation in the photograph. It leads to another kind of meaning, because of the nuance when these words are mentioned, also bring eventually these other words into the limelight. This is another layer to explore and quite helpful.  

4) I can see the advantages of working small and medium sized visualizations. Smaller ones would be useful in the case of zeroing in on certain aspects of research, narrowing the focus of a single subject or word, for instance. Medium sized visualizations would work better for larger groups of words or showing how graphs can change over measurements of time. Measuring the data of literature is not a business set in stone, though. I suggest incorporating these tools, but to not wholly rely on them to get all the answers. Updating models will be paramount as technology keeps changing and better tools are developed. Even more importantly, close readings still need to be maintained for what machines miss that only humans can see.  




Gephi answers and pics p

1) Yes, I did notice a difference when playing with the system. Based on the magnification of focus, words would disappear from the word structure. I disagree with the structure based on level of importance of words. ‘World War I’ is the most important and should be in the center because it effects all the words around it more than any other. Even when the word may not be said, or said as much, it is implicated in other terms and phrases because it affects everything. When other words are used like death, memorial, greatness, etc. In the picture. However, all these topics point back to WW I as the instigator. This cannot be gleaned from the graphs, but only close readings of the material. 


2) Based on the running program for Yifan Hu, the shape of the diagram changed drastically. The shape changed into a kind of rhombus that kind of tilted from slightly northeast to southwest, with Memory of Gregory at the top. Mediocracy, world, and Death meet each other more often in the center of the shape, showing how often they intersect with one another. I find this image more in depth and able to read the author’s true intent by re-aligning words in a different structure, making them more ‘visible’, or in other words, more obvious. 


White and Children

Whenever I teach English Composition, I tell students that good writing is really only a matter of building bridges only you can build; making connections no one else can make is what separates an essay that is a rote mechanical exercise of getting words on paper from a creative expression. One day I will write a paper about Joycean neologism in Finnegans Wake and neologism in the music of Young Thug. But that’s for another response. Point is: when I went into Voyant for the first time, I was excited all of the new avenues of bridge building that the digital humanities provide. I was drawn immediately to the contexts and correlations sections at the bottom of the window. The correlation that interested me the most was between the words “children” and white.”

It’s a curious correlation for a number of reasons. In a journal made by and for black Americans, why are white children appearing so often and so close to one another? I can’t help remembering my disgusting priest’s classroom in my wasted Catholic high school. A pro-life poster that read “black children are an endangered species,” was the only permanent fixture on his only bulletin board. We passed it every time we were dismissed. Dear God, a species. Of course, no analogous poster exists for white children. A bias, even an unconscious one, is obvious: white children are, well, children. Black children are not. Consider Tamir Rice, the twelve-year-old boy who was shot for carrying a toy gun. For black children in this country, childhood and play ends prematurely. As soon as black bodies appear within the institutional gaze, childhood gives way to a long adulthood. Now, obviously I’m reaching, but I think that’s the while point. The process of the reading and building the digital humanities not only allows for, but encourages reaching and grasping for ideas that are just beyond the periphery of traditional paper scholarship.