Archive for digital humanities

Summer 14 course materials: Introduction to Literary Theory

Posted in Teaching, The Profession with tags , , , , , , , on 25 May 2014 by Ben

This summer, during the June  ‘A’ Term, I will be teaching (for the second time ever), ENGL 2112: Introduction to Literary Theory. You can find the description of my previous stab at it here along with some course documents. This time things will be a bit different, as I am eschewing the “know a few things well” approach that I tried to employ last time even if I am trying not to teach according either to the “canonical theory” or “theory cafeteria” models which seem to prevail in many such courses.

Download the schedule (ENGL_2112_Schedule_2), the syllabus(ENGL_2112_Syllabus), and the daily worksheet assignment (Daily_worksheet_assignment) if you like. Looking them over as you read will be helpful.

So, in what follows I want to explain and perhaps rationalize the schedule and shape of the course. Note that in the last version of the course we read books of theory, D+G’s Kafka book, for example. Here we are using the second edition of The Norton Anthology of Thoery and Criticism as our only text for two reasons. First, cost/efficiency. It’s a spendy book, yes, but it has resale value to students and could be less than five or six university press titles we won’t even be able to finish. Plus, everyone knows where the readings are and what to bring to class every day. The second reason is that by limiting myself to the Norton, just as with limiting myself to post-1980 theory, I am adding a helpful constraint. I don’t have to think about everything. I don’t think of this as being derelict in my duty as I would have to leave things out no matter what, whether I am drawing from ALL of theory or just from the selections in the anthology. I guess I could add another reason, namely that dealing with an anthology offers us a chance to think about the politics of anthologies, a major point of contention in the culture wars of the 1980s. In any case, I know there are drawbacks to the “antho-logical” approach (not the least of which is the appearance of “cafeteria”style theory), but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in this experiment in course design. (I think. I hope.)

More below the fold.

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Old syllabus: Posthuman Media

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 1 February 2014 by Ben

Following a discussion with Marc Weidenbaum via Twitter, here is the syllabus for an old course: Posthuman Media.

ENGL_3116_Daily_Schedule_-_Revised_3

Spring 2014 course materials: Music and Digital Media

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 5 January 2014 by Ben

Some people on Twitter asked me to post this stuff, so here it is.

Although I think the class will work well, I don’t pretend that it’s comprehensive. Rather, it is rather idiosyncratic. Since it’s a theory class according to the English Department (ENGL 3116: Topics in Advanced Theory), the Wark seems necessary to me. It makes sense anyway, but does provide a broad theoretical background to some of the issues we will discuss, one that is largely absent otherwise.

I realized while constructing this syllabus 1) how much things have changed since I last taught this course in 2011, not only with regard to music itself, but also with regard to the industry (do they still sue downloaders? is this still a thing?) and media studies generally; and 2) with regard to these changes mentioned in 1,  that I am rather behind on the scholarship in the field. More accurately, I would say that I am more aware than ever of what it means to be an expert on something, and find now what I once considered to be my expertise in this field, while still adequate in some respects, somewhat less than I would like. Oh well, when I finish Here at the end of all things I can rectify that issue as I prepare for The Age of the World Playlist.

So here is the syllabus (with course policies) and the schedule. Note that the schedule is mostly organized as follows: Mondays are for theory, Wednesdays are for texts on music and/or media, and Fridays are given to listening. Mostly. There are probably more exceptions than I would like to know about.

ENGL_3116_Syllabus

ENGL_3116_Daily_Schedule

Cover to the Johns Hopkins Gudie to Digital Media

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on 9 October 2013 by Ben

Here is the cover for The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, edited by Marie-Laure Ryan, Lori Emerson, and yours truly. It features great entries from Johanna Drucker, David Golumbia, Jussi Parrika, Matthew Fuller, Ian Bogost and Nick Monfort, Bethany Nowviskie, Jay David Bolter, Scott Rettberg, Darren Wershler, Matt Gold, Maria Engberg, John Cayley, Biella Coleman, Eduardo Kac, and Jessica Pressman–among numerous others (I am doing this off the top of my head–I don’t mean to slight anyone!).

Looking forward to the real thing, coming sometime next year.

JH Guide to Digital Media Cover

My Paper Proposal for Frontiers of New Media 2013

Posted in Conferences, Writing with tags , , , , , , on 2 April 2013 by Ben

Here is my proposal for the 2013 Frontiers of New Media Conference, on the theme: The Beginning and End(s) of the Internet: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Future of Cyber-Utopia.

Publicity, Privacy, Anonymity: Futures of New Media

Proposal for The Beginning and End(s) of the Internet: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Future of Cyber-Utopia

Benjamin J. Robertson, English, University of Colorado, Boulder

In 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, addressing in part concerns over photography, considered the question of a right to privacy in the United States. They begin, “That the individual shall have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law; but it has been found necessary from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection. Political, social, and economic changes entail the recognition of new rights, and the common law, in its eternal youth, grows to meet the new demands of society.”

A century later, in the 1990s, the increasingly public availability and use of the the Internet and the World Wide Web should perhaps have engendered a new consideration about the exact nature of and right to privacy. Of course, discussions of privacy in the digital age happen nearly everyday. Civil libertarians continue debate authoritarians, law enforcement, and commercial interests about the necessity and value of privacy in the wake of warrantless wiretapping, the expectation of privacy in the cloud, and now Google Glass. When, in 2010, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg claimed that privacy is no longer that big a deal, claiming “That social norm is just something that has evolved over time,” it seemed that the largest, newest, and most powerful capitalist interests in the world would, in the future, determine the extent to which private citizens would retain their privacy. When, in late 2012, a Gawker writer (though an analysis of public information), revealed private citizen Michael Brutsch as notorious Reddit editor Violentacrenz, whatever our feelings about Brutsch and his online persona, we were forced to wonder whether, on the Internet, we ever enjoyed any privacy and whether we could ever hope to in the future.

However, our concerns and the contemporary debate about privacy in the age of networks remain, strikingly, mired in the same assumptions behind Warren and Brandeis’ arguments in the late nineteenth century. More precisely, these concerns and this debate have failed to engage with the “political, social, and economic changes”—not to mention the technological changes—of the past several decades. We must wonder if drawing upon a discourse of privacy that began in the early years of traditional photography can have anything to say about a world of Instagram and the WiFi and 4G networks that facilitate it.

This paper investigates the question of privacy, and by extension the nature of publicity (in the sense of one’s being-public) in the context of new media and network technology. It considers whether privacy—as imagined by Warren and Brandeis, dependent on Enlightenment notions of the human and traditional notions of the commons—can survive, should survive, in the contemporary world. If we are to be posthuman or create the posthumanities as a field of study, and if this posthumanism is to be something other than the mere extrapolation of the present (what Bernard Stiegler would call the calculation of the future), perhaps we must rid ourselves of those concepts that depend on and underpin the human itself. However, the end of privacy and, along with it, publicity, need not involve simply turning our data over to capitalists. If the private/public binary involves the movement of an individual from one space to another, from the home to the commons for example, anonymity involves a permanent sort of publicity, one no longer attached, however, to the private identity of the liberal human subject.

Excerpt from my review of Stiegler’s Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 30 March 2013 by Ben

A paragraph from my forthcoming review of the second volume in Stiegler’s Disbelief and Discredit, recently translated for Polity by Daniel Ross.

For Stiegler, there are three forms or conditions of “being”: subsistence, existence, and consistence. That which subsists (and therefore does not exist), such as animal life, merely is and leads a life without reason. That which consists (and therefore does not exist), leads a “life” in which being and reason are one, even if the relation between the two remains incalculable (and therefore beyond the scope of political economy). That which exists seeks to avoid mere being by pursuing the incalculable consistency of its being and its reason, at which it will never arrive. Such human being becomes, or individuates in a term Stiegler borrows from Gilbert Simondon, towards a consistence that only manifests on another plane (and Stiegler here draws from Deleuze and Guattari who write of planes of consistency on which assemblages manifest by finding a proper level of abstraction). In order for the existent to pursue its consistence—and avoid the disindividuation, desublimation, and/or disaffection that lead to subsistence—it must have a reason, something in which to believe: a symbol, something that possesses consistence, something whose meaning is at one with its being. In this manner, as well as in a more conventional sense, Stiegler claims that such symbols do not exist.

The Illegible and the Interface

Posted in papers, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 24 February 2013 by Ben

Another conference paper (given two or three times) from the vaults that never went anywhere more productive. I don’t know what happens at the end. So many of these papers just sort of trail off. The session must have been starting and I had to “finish” writing.

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Derrida, in Dissemination: “a readability without a signified (which will be decreed to be an unreadability by the reflexes of fright)” (253)

Bremer - Untitled

Claus Bremer – Untitled

In an early critical evaluation of concrete poetry, RP Draper writes:

In European printed language it is an automatic assumption that letters forming words are separated by space from other letters forming words, that these letters march across the page from left to right, and that the lines so formed are strictly parallel and progress downwards at equal intervals. Concrete poetry plays upon these expectations, but itself takes nothing for granted.

Among his many examples of this “taking nothing for granted, Draper notes that the spacing between words may be erased, as in Ilse and Pierre Garnier’s “cinema”, shown here

Garniers - cinema

Ilse and Pierre Garnier – “cinema”

[Sorry for the quality of the scan]

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“There is no dark side of the digital really”: My proposal for The Dark Side of the Digital

Posted in Page a Day, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 6 January 2013 by Ben

Here is my (late as it were) proposal for the upcoming Dark Side of the Digital Conference. (edit: I’m calling this my page of writing for the day, even if it’ snot quite a page.)

There is no dark side of the digital really”

Benjamin J Robertson

In a recent blog post, Jussi Parrika suggests that we should read the “dark” in “dark side of the digital” in terms of “the dark side of the moon” rather than “dark side of the force.” Instead of the evil or malevolent “side” of digitality we should, with Pink Floyd, address the fact that “There is no dark side of the moon really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.”

These two approaches to this conference theme are not at all at odds with one another. This paper argues that among the darkest (as in the force) aspects of the digital is its darkness (as in the moon) by design if not by nature. That is, the digital is closed to us, an inhuman space much in the manner that Galloway and Thacker suggest that networks stand opposed to humanity. Drawing from Galloway and Thacker—as well as upon Stiegler’s notions of default, disbelief, and discredit—this paper describes the dark side of the digital through nine short discussions:

  • Speak to Me: when we communicate through digital tools, what else do we communicate with?
  • Breathe: the digital gives us so much room, but none in which to pause.
  • On the Run: as in “on the digital”: the pharmacology of speed.
  • Time: history and futurity in the age of hypersynchronization.
  • The Great Gig in the Sky: where is the cloud?
  • Money: not too much credit but too much discredit—no investment where no belief.
  • Us and Them: there is no us and no them—the digital has neither “side” nor “sides”.
  • Any Colour You Like: the perils of choice; hyper-demography—all content directed to the individual.
  • Brain Damage: how damaged? is the digital now the default?
  • Eclipse: the end of the Enlightenment, even the parts we “like”, such as privacy.

Paper for Marxism and New Media

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 21 January 2012 by Ben

Here is my paper for the Marxism and New Media conference at Duke this weekend. It largely overlaps with my recent MLA paper, but it is rather different in many respects as well so I will just put the whole thing up despite the repetition. In any case, I am trying to beat it into shape for a more formal publication venue.

The Political Economy of Digital Media and Education

Benjamin J Robertson

First, let me shill for ebr and ask anyone who is interested in submitting their paper to us for publication to speak to me at lunch or later today. You can also find me online, on Twitter, etc.

Second, let me say that this is perhaps the worst paper title I have ever come up with.

This paper is a continuation of one that I gave at MLA two weeks ago, with a much better, if less informative title: “Digital Anamnesis.” My aim for that paper, and for this, is to think through my hesitation with regard to the new, history, form, and meaning. Briefly put, and not saying anything new as yet I think, I value new forms and processes of discourse, ones that seek to overcome limitations inherited from the past in order to make meaning in new ways. These forms and processes would have to, perhaps, ignore history and the methods of meaning making it affords us. However, I also value history, however problematic, insofar as it allows us to contextualize, understand, and make judgments about the new. In my MLA paper, and with further elaboration here, I consider received forms and processes of scholarship, especially as such scholarship (which is being challenged by digital media) operates within a political economy of academic employment and instruction and intellectual discourse. My concern, specifically, has to do with the manner in which the discourse surrounding what we still call the job market has been inflected by the advent and valorization of the so-called digital humanities. Dh has, it seems to me, implicitly promised young scholars jobs if they are able to write code, create databases, or otherwise interact with networked computers in an expert manner, often by prioritizing alternative academic, or alt-ac, careers. My purpose is not to argue against the value of DH broadly, but to question how DH or new media interacts with and informs the political economy of academic instruction, production, and employment in the humanties.

My MLA paper was part of a panel organized by David Golumbia: “Digital Literary Studies: When Will it End?” which has the distinction of being name-checked by Stanley Fish in a New York Times op-ed. Given where we are, and the appositeness of Fish’s comments on the MLA convention generally in the context of this paper, I will start with him as a way into my argument. Fish tells us that he cannot attend MLA, but that he has read the program and can therefore weigh in on its shortcomings, which, it turns out, are legion. He writes, “I was pleased to see that the program confirmed an observation I made years ago: while disciplines like physics or psychology or statistics discard projects and methodologies no longer regarded as cutting edge, if you like the way literary studies were done in 1950 or even 1930, there will be a department or a journal that allows you to proceed as if nothing had happened in the last 50 or 75 years.” Ignoring that session titles are rarely useful for understanding what sessions are actually about or the directions they might take, we can see here Fish, apparently at any rate, critiquing his (former?) profession for failing to advance. In some respect, he is no doubt correct. I recall Michael Berube writing somewhere that most undergraduate courses are methodologically organized by practices of close reading and simple historicism. These practices, in fact, still dominate if silently, I think, even more advanced humanistic discourse. As I hope to make clear, I am rather perplexed by the question of what to do about this “failure” to move forward with new practices of reading, writing, and thinking.

In any case, Fish then goes on to reminisce about how everyone used to talk about postmodernism (which seems to be a proxy for “theory” broadly), but no one does anymore. So, it seems we do move on, but not in the manner that Fish wants or expects. He writes: “What happened then, and inevitably, was that after an exciting period of turmoil and instability, the alien invader was domesticated and absorbed into the mainstream, forming part of a new orthodoxy that would subsequently be made to tremble by a new insurgency.” It’s not at all clear what Fish’s point is here, whether he wants a continued instability or is happy to see it pass.

And, finally, we get to what is for my purposes the point, Fish’s criticism of digital humanities, or new media studies, or whatever you want to call it—the new insurgency before which the now staid and neutered postmodernism-informed profession trembles. DH is the “rough beast” that has replaced postmodernism as the destabilizing force that threatens “what we do.” As an aside: it seems to me the height of ignorance to equate postmodernism (which has been variously understood as a theoretical position, a style, and a historical period) with digital humanities (which seems to be becoming a methodological position, but has been understood more as a practical, pedagogical, and sometimes theoretical engagement with the hardware and software that increasingly dictate the manner and scope of our practices). Nevertheless, DH is Fish’s target, and he writes:

Once again, as in the early theory days, a new language is confidently and prophetically spoken by those in the know, while those who are not are made to feel ignorant, passed by, left behind, old. If you see a session on “Digital Humanities versus New Media” and you’re not quite sure what either term means you might think you have wandered into the wrong convention. When the notes explaining the purpose of a session on “Digital Material” include the question “Is there gravity in digital worlds?”, you might be excused for wondering whether you have become a character in a science fiction movie. And when a session’s title is “Digital Literary Studies: When Will it End?”, you might find yourself muttering, “Not soon enough.”

And here is the question: does this “not soon enough” reveal a longing to return to the proper practices of humanistic discourse or a longing for the incorporation of DH into those practices in such a way that it becomes part of the new orthodoxy? It seems uncontroversial to state that theory or postmodernism has transformed the profession, whether positively or negatively. Maybe no one “does” theory the way they use to, but we need look no further than the title of the recent collection Theory after “Theory” to recognize that its legacy remains. Is this “theory” a domesticated one, one that has lost its power to subvert as a result of our acceptance of it? I certainly cannot answer that question. Rather, in the remainder of this paper, I will address what I see as Fish’s hesitation in the face of digital media as a transformative force in the humanities in order to open up a discussion of the political economy of our profession.

To that end, I begin with Bernard Stiegler and his work on anamnesis.

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