The Canon or the Archive

This is my last blog post of course work. I read many of these articles for my some of my first blog posts during my first semester at TU. Now that I’m feeling misty-eyed and nostalgic in the JJQ, I’ve decided to reflect. Having just left my MFA at the time I read these articles the first time, I was disillusioned with the creative writing world, especially about what I had called at the time the current-ification of art. That I read and loved Joyce and other modernists was always seen as an eccentricity, some kind of mental block that had cleaved a difference between the other students and myself. One MFA candidate would periodically invite me over to her house, where she’d hand me a book or two published in the last three years. I’d promise to read it, but I knew I wouldn’t. I never gave any of them back until our MFA was over, and we were moving away. I handed back a couple dozen books I never opened. I had just finished War and Peace and I had begun Finnegans Wake for the third time.

When I read these the first time, I don’t think I understood them. When we talked about the archive, I conjured up discussions of the canon I had during my MFA. We’d always talk about the canon with a special intensity, as though it were some hulking monster just outside the conference room where we had class. Saying the words James Joyce would strengthen it. We would die right there in our chairs, dead-white-man’d to death. I don’t mean to dismiss the relevant and necessary conversations about inclusion and representation of historically marginalized literature. Still, I grew weary of those conversations that seemed so sentimental. What were we really talking about? Was I reading all the wrong books? Was I going to be left behind by all the books that will be published this year and the year after, etc.

I understand the archive differently now. If a discussion of the canon was always theoretical, ideological, and an exertion of the mind, the archive is about materiality, the actual physical processes of collecting, keeping, restoring, and excavating. It’s a marriage of past and present. It resists current-ification, by bringing to light the old work that is restored and reintegrated by our newest solutions to the old problems. It’s important to remember that digital does not mean non-physical or immaterial. The digital condition is only a displacement of the physical, not an abolition of it.  

Interpretations (or not)

This week's readings drove home the point that digital humanities is helpful in its numbers and graphs and pure, cold data. And while I agree with Franco Morretti's assertion that "data is ideally independent of interpretations," I think it is human nature to start trying to fill in the blanks data leaves us ("Graphs" from Graphs, Maps, Trees 9). Why else would it be interesting to see the graphs Moretti includes in his book? Why else is it compelling? Moretti certainly recognizes this as well, but I keep thinking about what these graphs might suggest than just economic downturns or war (though these are incredibly important factors not to be discounted). What about the spread of ideas or inventions? It would be an easy assumption to believe that colonial influence brought about these sharp rises in novel publications--that the printing press is being exchanged at points of contact around the world. Yet the fact that Japan follows so sharply on the heels of Britain's novel production, while Italy and Spain (closer in region) are much, much slower to increase production. In a colonial viewpoint, then, it is perhaps a point against British imperialism or colonialist interference. In that same point, it is interesting that Nigeria's novel production rate rises sharply as Nigeria becomes its own country and no longer a British colony. In this example, like Japan's, there is the interesting corralation of data that collaborates how these countries might have operated around British influence or despite of it. 

Still, data isn't necessarily meant to be interpreted. The hypothesis that come from data, however, are endless and generate testing grounds for how digital humanities can help the field of literature studies.

Finding Words, Creating Data

After reading Moretti and a bit of Manovich, I was inspired to create my own data set. As I’ve mentioned in class, I’m having trouble finding a foothold into the Crisis. I’m going to go forward with examining how the magazine uses the idea/image of lynching to argue for civil rights and against Jim Crow. But even this doesn’t help too much. At least, I don’t feel solid or focused going forward.

Process: So I thought about how I could use data and a “wide view” of the magazine to help me find a foothold. Here’s what I did: I started with volume 12 (the first in a series of arbitrary decisions, but one that essentially takes the Waco/Jesse Washington lynching as a starting point) and tallied up the number of times the word “lynch” appears. My thinking was that “lynch” accounts for the verb as well as the gerund, lynching. There are downsides to this, however. It also picks up on names: John A. Lynch was a regular contributor and Lynchburg, VA pops up quite a bit. To make my data more reliable I toggled through the front and back matter to eliminate the times when “lynch” hits as a name. I should admit that I didn’t account for where names would appear in editorial content. I also searched “mob”—with a space after it. One pattern I noticed before collecting data was that the magazine connected the act of lynching with the image of the mob. I wanted to see how often the magazine used both terms and where they appeared together. I did this through volume 16 (took about 45 minutes to download each issue, search my terms, and record the number of hits in each issue).

Reflection: As I went through, I uncovered magazine issues where there were spikes and dips with the use of each term. I now have a big question mark with Crisis 13.4 as “lynch” appears 65 times, way above the average. Also, volume 13 includes that word the most by far of the 5 volumes I searched through. Why is this happening months after the Waco/Jesse Washington lynching? How is it being used? This is a great breakthrough. I can also, in line with Moretti, start thinking about dips in the data. For instance, what is it about volume 14 wherein “lynch” appears considerably less often than other volumes? What is the magazine focusing on instead? Another lead.

Idea I’m left with: first, the feeling that I’m charting a path through this data that is limited. I’m not sure exactly what to look for, so I’m roughly following the path of someone else (others have written over lynching and the Crisis). The path that I’m following isn’t especially refined, either. Chasing the connection between “mob” and “lynch” is interesting, but it doesn’t capture the idea that I have: the Crisis using lynching as a justification for a militant response from the black community. But what terms can I search to better pinpoint this thought/reading of the Crisis? I’m not sure. Searching the terms I did was an arbitrary decision. And, as I went through each issue, I looked at the black spaces on my excel spreadsheet. I could search anything if I wanted. Any word, any concept. Just add it into the search process. But I couldn’t think of what else to look for. In this open field of data collection, I can’t help but consider how limited my thinking is and thus how much I’m missing.

Digits and Anomaly Reading

“Digital” by Benjamin Peters revolutionized my understanding of the digital, as was his intent. Peters also instilled the value of the index and put the verb back into the word computer. I mean, he indicated the fact that computers compute—count, index, manipulate. Very obvious stuff on the surface, but many of those obvious facts about computers were disguised by the user interface of the computers I had as a kid (~1999-2009). I never thought I needed to learn the fundamentals, or moreover, I thought I already knew the fundamentals. And in a way, I did. Hover the mouse over what you want, click. Refer to that thing. Point at that thing, etc. But Peters brings in the historical context of those fundamentals, which really (for me) emphasizes the initial function of computers. He states, “digital media do what fingers do” (2). Peters’s style is playful, provocative, and sharp—if a bit compact at times—and he balances the history of computation well with the contemporary user experience of a digital device.

In conjunction with Peters’s piece, Moretti’s essay drives home the indexical ("pointing-to") quality of computer-generated graphs. A dip in an otherwise upward-moving data set points to a time of political strife, in the case of the rise of the novel in Japan (9-10). That said, the readings give me a new way to read and compose questions from visualized data. I can now look at a changing trend on a graph and identify it as a point of interest, according, oftentimes, to low-level data.

And it’s this concept of low-level data that stands out to me in Manovich’s piece. In one of the videos linked to the article, a Mark Rothko painting stands out, for low-level data reasons. But Manovich’s colleague, Jeremy Douglass, suggests that, while this painting does not seem to stand out for any highly-important data reasons, these DH strategies can seed a researcher’s attention to something they would otherwise overlook. Just like dips in chronological line graphs, the anomalies, due to their very existence, index (and have the potential to unravel) important historical and political contexts that other interpretive methodologies run the risk of glossing. 

An Ideas Guy

I had a friend from New York visit me last month. He works on Wall Street doing corporate finance. We were talking about our fields over a beer. He was describing the millions of dollars he’s in charge of, and I was talking about my papers. We laughed about that. “Cooper, he said, “If you worked in finance, you would introduce yourself as an ideas guy.

The implication is that no one likes the ideas guy. It’s surprisingly accurate. I’m usually really good at writing little make-believe projects in my head—ideas that will never make it to a word document.  

I cannot for the life of me think of an idea for this paper. It’s strange. Modernism is my primary field. I’ve read the canonical novels and poems. I’ve read the scholarship. I have an RR out with The Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies. I’m presenting a paper at the Joyce conference this summer. I’m not an expert. I’m not even close, but I know my way around to a point.

Still, I’ve had the hardest time. First, I was thinking about Camera Work, the photo secessionist movement, and a Marxian read of photography. Then I was thinking of a paper on Stirner and Stephen Dedalus. I even had a name: “The Portrait of the Critic as a Young Man.”

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about the aesthetics of the modernist manifesto—manifesto writers are also ideas guys. But that sounded too broad.

I was reading Mikala’s post earlier, and I started thinking about Margaret Anderson’s infamous blank 1916 issue of The Little Review. What better manifesto than a blank page? It’s a negation the Dadaists and the surrealists could never reach. Anderson’s issue doesn’t write about nothing. It is nothing itself. So that’s where I’m at: “Bully!”: The Invisible Manifesto of the Little Magazines.

Thoughts (7/8)

Like Lily, I thought I would take this week to write out thoughts and ideas I have collected over the semester. Again and again, I am struck by the roles women played in developing modernist periodicals. Dora Marsden, Harriet Weaver Shaw, HD--all women at the forefront, all contributing to ideas of modernity and progression. Yet despite their time, money, and effort, modernism is still very much a discussion about men. Wyndham Lewis did something unexpected with Blast; Man Ray provoked conversation about what a movie can do to remind its audience that film is a part of art in The Starfish; and Ezra Pound is the man who cannot be forgotten. But what about the women?

The Freewoman, The New Freewoman, and The Egoist were not my most favorite reads--but was Dora Marsden not a pioneer in opening discussion about the new social taboos? If this is to be ignored, then what about Marsden's own contributions to a growing sense of nationalist thought in modernism? Certainly The Egoist--influenced by the all-present Ezra Pound--had a similar desire for or at least relation to British culture that made Blast (published one month after The Egoist) known for its harder stance on modernism.

Should the movies be discounted? By MacPherson and Man Ray's definitions, certainly not. Yet H.D.'s role--like the role of the woman in The Starfish--in Borderline is to be a pale reminder of sexual interest. H.D. plays a woman who is scorned because her husband or partner has lost interest in her; not even her knife choreography is seductively dangerous because she has lost that power. Instead, H.D.'s character is a woman who is emotional--and this characterization of emotional is easily read as having caused her death and having incited something in the townspeople that is then directed at Pete and Adah. Perhaps H.D. had only intended to enjoy the artistic aspect of this role--or perhaps there was something subversive in Adah I cannot see. In any case, the movie left me again wondering what else there was?

In case anyone else feels the same, there are women directors of films. Alice Guy-Blanche was actually the first female director that is known; her work dates to the late nineteenth and early twenthieth centuries. I cannot promise her work is good or worthy because I have not watched it, but it is at least something to watch or consider if, like me, anyone else has found an interest in seeing how women artists both presented themselves and their art in the twentieth century.

Workin' on some things... (7/8)

I thought I'd use this homework-free week to catch up on blog posts and air out some ideas/things that I've found in my search for sources. 

For the past couple of weeks, I've been desperately trying to understand the Western/Southwestern themes that we see periodically in our studies. From the dusty and sepia-toned collages of Dadaism to Dali's barren landscapes, the Wild West "wasteland" aesthetic seems not deeply but freshly embedded in the minds of poets and artists of the 1920s and 30s. There are regional magazines, like Sunset and Laughing Horse, that focus primarily on local art and talent, but what I am eager to discover is the idea of possible ethnographic tourism on the part of self-proclaimed surrealists or modernists, and hopefully, this can be found within transition magazine. 

Before I speak on transition magazine, I first wanted to lay out something intriguing I learned while researching this area of interest. First, Andre Breton himself was an ethnographic tourist. Second, he was the owner of a travel notebook coined "The Hopi Notebook." There really isn't much information on this, other than the scans which are hard to read, and that it was something he kept with him during a trip to the Southwest in 1945, during which he and his wife (I think) observed Hopi and Zuni pueblos. Perhaps the dates are too late, but it tells me that a key surrealist figure was extremely interested in the cultural goings-on in the Southwest United States (source). 

Further, the editors of transition had this to say in the first volume ever of the magazine: 

"Perhaps, because America is young, from the white man's standpoint, and has constantly been adapting itself to changing conditions, without a single tranquil decade, it has been less affected by literature, music, or painting than any other land. Surely, it is the only country, in recent centuries, which has accepted ready-made cultures from other peoples before having developed one characteristically its own. The earlier settlers, if their architecture is indicative, were not insensitive to beauty, but they destroyed or ignored the wealth of art which the Indians offered them and let the amazing monuments and relics of the Moundbuilders be broken with plowshares. 

Lately, Americans have shown unmistakable signs of artistic awakening. Poets and novelists have come forward with work of unquestionable genuineness and originality."

They go on to state that transition aims "to offer American writers an opportunity to express themselves freely, to experiment if they are so minded, and to avail themselves of a ready, alert and critical audience." (1st issue, pg 136-37). 

There's also a term in the 15th issue used by editor Eugene Jolas: "Super-Occident," he calls it, and it seems to represent something different than what was at first desired in the introduction? But also it doesn't? Jolas states, 

Continental man who may well become the universal man. I should like to imagine a super-America which might be the idealistic intensification and sublimation of the Occident. But a long struggle must face us, before a super-occident can be realized. We must continue to oppose the present plutocratic materialism, fight for a new orientation of life based on the need for a universal humanity on the idea of the American mythos. In relation to the dynamic century, defend at all costs, man's inalienable right to dream and rebel and create in himself the possibilities of the organic cosmos. We must strive for the duality of the infinite and the material, the primitive arid the mechanical, the hallucinatory and the concrete. The art of the future must be conceived as a universal art, with regional autonomy. We want the most completed decentralization in life and expression, while, at the same time, working for the new humanity, which will, as always, be biologically monistic, but evolutionary in manifestation, totalistic and autochthonous.

This idea of the "Super-Occident" is so fascinating and, to me, alienated. I don't know think that I've personally come across something so keen on universality and bringing together opposing forces like mechanics and nature, dreams and reality, and so on. Everything always seems so distinct, like this is European, this is American, and so on. But maybe that isn't even the point! This perspective is new, and it's something I'm still trying to wrap my head around.

Apologies for the block quotes, but I think they're quite crucial in my searching for the golden thread. I haven't found it yet, but I think I'm getting closer and pulling loose threads together. Also, I apologize if it is messy. I'm most definitely in the beginning phase. 

Close Up and the Surrealist mind wk. 12 (6 of 8)

Actually, post (7 of 8).

This week's post is a combination of last week's discussion on Surrealism and this week's discussion on Surrealism in film. I find it ironic that Close Up is the title of the magazine we are reading this week considering Surrealism's occupation with the unconscious mind. I consider the unconscious mind a closer look at the mind that focuses on its hidden inner workings. Close Up magazine seems to function in the same way by taking its readers on a journey of the inner workings of the literary world and its relation to the artistic medium of cinema. The articles in Close Up don't review films on a surface level, but they dive deep into the psychoanalytic elements of the film and what the film does to the mind: How do the mechanics of lighting, staging, movement, setting, etc. affect the mind of the viewer. As was discussed in our last class discussion of the 1930 silent film Borderline, by Eisenstein on the role of the film. "The film takes its viewers onto a psychoanalytic journey into the character almost creating a mental condition" (233). The phrase mental condition really struck me as I was reading because Eisenstein's connection of mental condition to film seems to be as a temporary condition that takes over the viewer while they are under the influence of a specific film. When I think of mental condition, I think of something static that is not contingent on one's current state, but that persists after the film has ended. I had also never heard the phrase mental condition used in the context of the film, but watching Borderline does create a kind of psychoanalytic mental condition on behalf of the viewer with its specific focus on the mental processes of the characters; a focus that is made even more noticeable by the lack of sound. Because the film is silent, viewers are forced to pay extreme attention to the movements of the characters; as Lily mentioned the extreme attention that is given to the hands, and what that means in terms of Surrealism. The movements of the character's bodies did seem to connect to their mental processes. Is this the psychoanalytic element of the silent film that Eisenstein was referring to? 

This is not my first time watching the film, I had watched it before with Drouin in one of his undergraduate classes. At the time I connected the actions of the characters in the film to the pervasive nervousness of a post WW1 society that was constantly on edge. Now, with what I have learned about Surrealism, I connect that nervousness to the mental condition that is described by Eisenstein. 

A Look Into Reality

While reading I found it interesting that Byher put it to the readers of "Close Up" that they decided then, in June 1933, what they would do in a war that had not yet started and might not. In talking about what he had and was seeing in Germany, he also talks about how society cannot expect a man who does not believe in a war to fight it, but that they should not ignore what was going on. Making sure to drive this home to his readers, he explicitly states what is happening - the book burnings, the censorship and banning of authors and scientists, men and women being sent to concentration camps, Jewish doctors being banned from practice, and deaths occuring just a street over from the main tourist area of the Kurfurstendamm are just a few that he mentions. What caught my attention the most though was:

For the last fifteen years people have used the words peace and war so much that the sound of them means nothing at all. They have read war books, said 'how terrible' and gone on to read accounts of life in the south seas or on a farm or stories of a feudal castle, as if all were equally real or perhaps better, unreal. They have signed resolutions and exchanged armistice memories and sighed (if they are old enough) for 'the good old days before the war'. But very few have ever made a constructive attempt to prevent the months of 1914 from being repeated on a larger and worse scale. (308)

He goes on to say that men and women read books about the war (WWI), mention how bad it was, and move on driving home the fact that what was happening in Germany was not being looked at as a similar start to World War I, just on a larger scale. It is especially interesting to me to see the wars being mentioned within a magazine so openly. Magazines from before the true start of WWI did not touch on the war that much, only mentioning that it was still occuring and that is why their publication was slow or something similar. However, with "Close Up" both World War I and the upcoming World War II is mentioned - even if he did not know at the time. The magazines are paying closer attention to the international politics around them now, and that shift from national to international is really interesting. As I have not read earlier issues of "Close Up" I cannot say for sure that this shift occured with this magazine specifically, or if other magazines that were more national began to take a international tone after World War I, however just seeing a couple magazines from both periods of time shows that there is a tonal shift in some capacity. 

Imagining Blackness

One point of overlap between the texts for this week is the image of the black body presented on screen. On pg. 32 in Close Up two screen stills are presented from Samba der Held des Utwalds: one picture of two African lovers and the other a fight scene between rivals (fighting over a woman?). Borderline (1930) features Paul Robeson as Pete, a regular guy who frequents a brothel and is in love with Adah. There is a similar focus in this film on black intimacy and competition between rivals (I would use the word double for Borderline.

The shots from Samba offer primitivist stereotypes for what blackness is—from the African attire (or lack of attire) to the aggressive, violent black male. The captions for the photos want us to understand this movie as “realism”: by using “native actors” the film illustrates “Pudowkin’s theory that realism is best achieved with persons who have never played before.” There is a claim to authenticity made for this film, whether through the race of the actors (“native”) or through their inexperience. The suggestion is that this film gets to the heart of something—the life of Africans and black people? In the context of primitivism, the unmitigated, pre-modern nature of humanity?

As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I should contrast or compare this page in Close Up to Borderline. Both imagine black intimacy, but the contest/conflict in Borderline is interracial. Both, as well, display imagines of the black body and violence in the struggle for power. Samba seems to lean into the violence. The film still shows Samba with his hands around the throat of his rival, both awkwardly positioned to be open and visible to the camera. Borderline, on the other hand, is more subtle with images of violence and the black body—Adah is first pictured on the floor, suggesting that she is the victim of domestic/sexual violence at the hands of Thorne. The audience doesn’t see the preceding violence, however, only its aftermath. There is also the scene where Pete physical protects/stakes claim over Adah’s body in a confrontation with Thorne. This suggests that Pete is capable and willing to resort to violence, but it doesn’t come to that. Pete, however, is shown in one violent scene as he punches the Joyce-looking guy after he insults Adah (?) (this is happening after the fallout from Thorne killing his wife and it’s not entirely clear how the narratives are connected). Two things fuel the conflict of the film: Paul’s physical and emotional intimacy with Adah and his violence toward the Joyce-looking guy.

Considering the whole of Borderline, Pete’s character is controlled and even-keel throughout. Boring almost, though he is given quite a bit of interiority and emotional depth (the love between him and Adah is convincing, I’d say). This contrasts with the excessive, chaotic violence between Thorne and his wife. And the emotional swings of the white characters, often fueled by racism or sexism. The movie is sympathetic toward Pete, and I think it accurately captures the racial injustice at the time: a white man could be acquitted for murder while a black banished from a town for punching another (the letter from the mayor, as well, speaks to the attitude of the town’s people, suggesting racial violence if he doesn’t comply).  I suppose that Paul Robeson’s image in Borderline counters more typically racist, stereotypical, and primitive images of blackness (such as those in Close Up). But there are lingering questions about a lack of emotional depth and interiority, and agency. Pete contrasts with other characters (Thorne and his wife, for instance) in this way.