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“Words, words, words”: But what else are you reading?

This week we looked at both alternate modes of presenting scholarship (with a few short films) and with Mark Sample’s blog post on the essay; and then considered some work using techniques of “media visualization” to apply digital tools to non-linguistic materials.

Many of this week’s posts end up looking towards many of the questions next week’s readings will address more explicitly.

Also, prepare from an inscursion moving in the opposite direction when, this coming week, the good folks to our East comment on our blogs.

  • Joe finds in Manovich’s visualizations of movemment something unique. These composite images, which capture (or visualize or perhaps simply smear) the motion of a shot in a film within a single image, “have the potential,” Joe writes, “to tell us something we did not know, and to beg further questions, rather than, as Manovich often freely admits, verify claims. The image apprehends something itself of the shot beyond the algorithm used to generate it.” Though, in a comment Peter K asks Joe what his own post seems to be asking more broadly: what exactly are these new questions?
  • Jesse reflects on Ramsay’s reflections on live-coding, that is, on something like live-commentary (the critic as announcer?)1, and on “Critical Code Studies.” Jesse suggests that CCS seems interested in “the pre-output process rather than the final product,” which, you’ll no doubt recall, echoes Kirschenbaum’s own attitude to “screen essentialism.” More black boxes; more peering inside.
  • Jordan begins by responding to Andrew Sorensen’s livecoding (that Stephen Ramsay discusses), before adapting the demands of the TOLAP manifesto to the current state of academia (by way of Alan Liu, of whom–and from whom–more anon). He ends with a wonderfully synthetic summing up: “Manovich’s work on visualization, Moretti’s graphs, maps, and trees, McGann’s acts of deformance, and Wilkens’ cartography all adopt some aspect of data-based investigation. These are, I’m becoming more and more convinced, valuable in their own right. However, perhaps they are each barking up, if not the wrong tree, then not quite the right one. The live coders show us what our lesson from STEM ought to be: down with obscurantism.”
  • In a bravura bit of hands on work, Peter D walks us through a Manovich style visualization of 2001: A Space Odyssey, using freely available tools to first reduce a film to a series of stills and then uses ImageJ to create a Manovich style montage.2
  • Peter K, meanwhile, suggests that there is something formalist, or even show-and-tell-y, about some of the work we read this week—that it lacks sufficient argument (about which claim I point you to this post from Tom Scheindfeldt) and is insufficiently attentive to questions of politics, ideology, and so on (about which claim, I point you to next week, in the syllabus). One might ask of Peter D’s montage of 2001, precisely, what is your argument?
  • Chris’s post wonders whether “the media visualization techniques that Manovich is interested in also help ‘globalize’ the humanities in new ways”? This question opens onto a larger discussion about scholarship and its public(s), as well as questions of the so-called “digital divide.” And, indeed, these very questions will be returning next week.
  1. Which raises the delightful counter-proposition of the announcer as a sort of hermeneut of athletics. One thinks of those writers, like Marianne Moore, who has been obsessed by sports. []
  2. Something I wish we had discussed at greater length is the odd status these montage images have as texts to be read; they adapt the almost invisible convention of left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading from print, in the way that they preserve the film’s order… There is something to say about this, I think. []

Week 4: Algorithmic Criticism

This week we discuss Stephen Ramsay’s Reading Machines as well as Johanna Drucker and Bethany Nowviskie’s essay, “Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities Computing.” Initial responses (including one of my own comments) have managed to get tangled up (maybe bogged down?) in arguing about Derrida. We’ll try to get back to the texts first tomorrow (and to the algorithms).

  • Jesse finds himself surprised by how much he enjoyed Ramsay’s Algorithmic Criticism; and it leads to him propose a formalization of a deconstruction-inspired style of reading.
  • Peter G’s post seems likewise enthusiastic about the possibilities of an “algorithmic criticism,” particularly to keep the project of criticism going a little (a lot?) longer: “There are only so many post-colonial readings of Heart of Darkness–at some point they will all have been written. Algorithmic theories, if properly engineered, can be infinite.” But this brings me back to a more basic question: why are we offering readings again? There is a moral force behind those postcolonial readings; what is the goal that is achieved by the possibility/spectre/burden of engineering infinite readings? (And I’m pretty sure I’ve recall someone else talk about “An infinite task” that must be “begun over and over again”… the name is on the tip of my langue).1
  • Chris B is not quite sold, remaining skeptical that the algorithmic approaches Ramsay describes will ever produce much more than was put into them.
  • Joseph pursues Ramsay’s distinction between “a text that describes a relationship and one that can perform the relationships it describes” (66) to (who else) Derrida and, in the process, asks whether the borders between “algorithmic” criticism and its others are entirely stable.
  • Peter K’s post mentions Derrida (!?)2, but its heart lies with Nicastro and Owren’s groundbreaking work on “Classification of domestic cat (Felis catus) vocalization by naive and experienced human listeners” (!?!?!). Like other folks writing this week, Peter is interested in the broader methodological questions Ramsay’s text asks, and so uses Ramsay’s argument as the occasion for reflection about his interests, concluding: “Marrying Darwin and the digital reshapes literature as a series of affective algorithms; the affects are infinitely heterogeneous, always in flux, but still predictable probabilities.”
  1. Yeah, that’s right: Derrida. []
  2. All this Derrida, and no one talks about the one place where Ramsay invokes Derrida! [Ramsay 77] []