1. Lemonade, Beyonce
2. Blond, Frank Ocean
3. Fool, Jameszoo
4. My Woman, Angel Olsen
5. Hopeless, Anohni
6. Coloring Book, Chance
7. Blood Bitch, Jenny Hval
8. untitled unmastered, Kendrick Lamar
9. A Minor Thought, Moomin
10. Sirens, Nicolas Jaar
11. s/t, Weval
12. Maligne Range, LNS
13. Narcissus in Retrograde, Avalon Emerson
14. Puberty 2, Mitsky
15.The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
16. Kern Vol. 3, Objekt
17. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
18. For Those of You Who Have Never, Huerco S
19. Telefone, NoName
20. Throat, ADR
21. EARS, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
22. The Colour in Anything, James Blake
23. What You Get for Being Young, Suzanne Kraft
24. Well Worn, Kllo
25. Fallen, Steven Julien
26. 22, A Million, Bon Iver
27. Follower, The Field
28. In Drum Play`, Pangaea
29. A Seat at the Table, Solange
30. The Bells, Kornel Kovacs
31. Kuiper, Floating Points
32. Shapes in Formation, Sad City
33. Prima Donna, Vince Staples
34. FLOTUS, Lambchop
35. Rojus (Designated to Dance), Leon Vynehall
36. Big Black Coat , Junior Boys
37. Adieux au Dancefloor, Marie Davidson
38. Victorious, Floorplan
39. IDLE033, Matt Karmil
40. Who is Richie Brains?, Richie Brains
41. Red Friday, YG
42. Farewell, Starlite!, Francis and the Lights
43. The Gamble, Nonkeen
44. We Have To Go, Computer Graphics
45. Ultimate Care II, Matmos
46. Sleep Cycle, Deakin
47. This is Acting, Sia
48. Jeffrey, Young Thug
49. Young Death/Nightmarket, Burial
50. s/t, A Made Up Sound
51. Boy King, Wild Beasts
52. Still Brazy, YG
53. At the Turn of Equilibrium, Petar Dundov
54. Cyclicality Between Procyon and Gomesia, Vakula
55. You Want it Darker, Leonard Cohen
56. Human Energy, Machinedrum
57. Love Stream, Tim Hecker
58. Shred, Skee Mask
59. Dorrisburg, Irrbloss
60. Hollowed, Ital Tek

HM:
Whities 006, Avalon Emerson
Awaken, My Love, Childish Gambino

Song of the Year: Soup, Jameszoo

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The “Hybrid” Dissertation

Last week I submitted my completed dissertation, Database Modernism: Literary Information Media, am happy to have received a Ph.D. in English Literature.  Conceiving of and sustaining an argument of that scale was a challenge, and after some rest and a return to teaching, one I think I could tackle again.  In addition to the written arguments on Joyce’s Ulysses, H.D.’s Palimpsest, and Pound’s XXX Cantos, that were printed and bound, I chose to do a digital project in place of a fourth written chapter.  In my mind, the addition of this digital component raises some interesting questions that I’ve discussed before in some conference presentations, but want to revisit now that the dissertation is complete.  This post could sound a little whiny, but my goal is only to express the unexpected challenges my dissertation presented and how they led to some important conclusions, both in terms of the project itself and how I view my academic labor and ideas of completeness.

My dissertation argues that the information overload of the early twentieth century prompted Joyce, H.D., Pound, and other modernist authors and artists to devise new methods of information organization and access that forecast media strategies that developed into the digital database.  The argument uses a comparative media approach to isolate relationships between elements of information in these print texts in order to determine where they resemble the operations of databases.  The common denominator between these print and digital platforms, my dissertation argues, is the associational logic by which individual elements of information are organized by a designer/author and then presented to a user/reader.

I have some technical experience with transitioning print texts to digital platforms from my time working on the Modernist Journals Project here at the University of Tulsa.  Because of the text encoding and OCR skills I picked up at the MJP, and because the argument of my dissertation rests on this fulcrum between print and digital media, I decided a digital project might be an interesting way to both expand the project’s scope and engage with some new questions and methodologies digital humanities has introduced into the study of literature.  I supplemented my skills with two trips and three classes at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, experiences which were terrific in every possible way.  As it played out over the nearly two years I worked on the dissertation, I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I’m actually more confident in the findings now that it’s completed.  Still, I did learn some unexpected things about a dissertation that consists of traditional written arguments along with digital components.

The digital project is basically an expression of my written argument on Pound’s XXX Cantos.  In Chapter 3, I argue that the poem operates according to a dual structure of elements and relationships and that this structure resembles the node and edge structure of graph databases.  The elements, usually quotations, references, ventriloquisms, or other intertextual fragments,[1] Pound selected from the literary and historical archive and arranged on the pages of his poem according to an associational logic.  The project consists of a digital version of the 150 page XXX Cantos (which is kept secure for copyright reasons that I’ll discuss below) marked up with a custom set of tags drawn from the Text Encoding Initiative’s encoding language.   Using secondary sources (mostly Carroll F. Terrell’s A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound) and a lot of my own subjective interpretation of the poem, I used TEI tags and separate bibliography, prosopography, and gazetteer files to define as many of the intertextual elements as possible.  Then I collected/created a much lighter and more agile second tagging structure to express relationships between the different elements in the poem.  I won’t recap the project in too much detail here because I did here.

What I Learned

The clearest lesson I drew from the digital project revolves around notions of completeness: writing arguments about literary texts have different timelines than completing digital projects.  My goal when I began the digital project was simply to express the written argument of Chapter 3 using digital tools.  The encoded text I ended up with, however, is not shareable, usable, or publishable in the way that a written argument is.  Most practically, I can’t disseminate the digital project in its current form because it’s a digital version of the XXX Cantos, a text that is under copyright with New Directions.  Thanks to a lucky connection, I got in touch with ND and they were more than pleasant, but politely and understandably were not comfortable with me putting my digital version of the text on the web.  In a search for alternatives, I cycled through several options,[2] but never arrived at anything that would work in the short or long term without requiring some additional training and a sizable amount of work for a non-expert like me.

As it concerns the dissertation as a discrete project signaling the end of my Ph.D., the presentation of the project is actually a moot point, however, because the larger lesson I learned from the project is that the timeline for written arguments and complete digital projects differ in ways that may have impacted how I conceived of the project at the outset.   I wrote the bulk of the dissertation while on a fellowship that was generously awarded to me by my institution.  This fellowship is designed to allow dissertators to focus as completely as possible on writing and research so she or he can finish in a reasonable amount of time.  As it was, I was right up against the original deadline having drafted and revised three chapters and more or less finished the encoding of the XXX Cantos.  Building an interface for presenting the text (which, because of copyright was conceptually and technically difficult anyway) would have required more time, expertise, and most concretely from my perspective, more funding.  The funding schedule that covered the work that I did complete provided me with relatively lavish resources, but I was not able to reach a point where the digital component was presentable because it would have required more training.  Applying for additional grants, fellowships, and other funding sources is not impossible, but the acceptance and dispersion would have operated on a timeline that exceeds my dissertation fellowship funding.

Writing my dissertation was not at all easy.  As this post is probably itself evidence of, I am not naturally good at expressing ideas in writing.  But I do basically know how to use the English language and have written arguments about literature.  Conceiving of and executing a project using the TEI was somewhat different because it took a lot of basic learning to just to develop a familiarity, an admission which is itself a little embarrassing because of the complexity and ease with which I see scholars using it for other projects.  Gaining familiarity with the TEI required a lot of time on my own and the DHSI classes, through which I acquired a functional understanding of how to encode a text and assemble a custom schema and tagging structure.  The rest of the project required the actual creation of the text and the encoding, all of which are complete,[3] but, again, not shareable in its current form.  In addition, as I became increasingly aware as the project developed, the encoded text isn’t all that interesting by itself.  It embodies the written argument in ways that satisfy me and my dissertation committee, but it is not a useful tool or reading aid for anyone else.  In other words, I “completed” a written argument about Pound’s XXX Cantos and I “completed” a corresponding encoding of the poem, but only the written argument is something I can share with others, and this presents some unforeseen challenges, particularly as I go on the job market.

As is, I can’t publish the project because of copyright restrictions, but also because without an interface the encoded text isn’t at all useful or illuminating anyway.  The structural and linking tags are geared toward machine reading and so don’t reveal much to a human reader of the text.  In order to make the encoding useful, it’s necessary to build an additional interfacing structure which somehow presents the metadata to a user or reader.[4]  What I’m left with is a dissertation chapter’s worth of work that isn’t useful to a public or shareable with a hiring committee.  The question of completeness also affects how I talk about the project.  I submitted a written methodology and rationale as an article for publication and the peer review feedback was largely positive, but the piece was ultimately rejected because there was no completed project to unveil.  I wrote this article while on the deadline for my dissertation, a lot of extra work that resulted in a better grasp of the digital project, but no publication on my CV and more deadline stress for the other chapters because of the lost time.

I’m also in an odd position because my written dissertation consists of an introduction and three chapters.  Because it’s customary to have a fourth chapter for a book proposal, it will be necessary for me to at least conceive of another written chapter before I approach a press.  This is not impossible, and like everyone who writes a dissertation, as I was writing, many texts presented themselves as having potential for inclusion.   This doesn’t diminish the research and writing that I could have completed during the time I was working on the digital project.

What I Really Learned

Complaining aside, I remain glad I did the project and as professional and technical training and intellectual exercise, it was all very valuable.  In addition, the questions the project raised and, in some cases, answered, will be interesting to my work going forward and for what I can bring to a literature classroom or English department.

The immediate question that presents itself to me as I compare notions of completeness between written and digital instantiations of the dissertation center on labor.  I can’t present the digital project because I don’t have the technical expertise or the time and funding to build an interface.  What I had been eliding from the production of my dissertation from the outset, and may never have considered without the challenges the digital project presented, is that I don’t have the technical expertise to print and present my dissertation either.   This is labor and expertise, that, like so much that takes place in a university and the humanities, is passed off to librarians and other information media experts.  The labor and skill required to create the object that mediates my work remain completely separate from what constitutes my sense of completion for the project.  To take a rhetorical shortcut: THAT’S PROBLEMATIC!   It’s that much more problematic considering my dissertation explicitly engages with the conceptual and material differences that arise when transitioning information between print and digital media.  The entire argument of my dissertation rests on the notion that when Joyce, H.D., and Pound began viewing print as media rather than a conduit for the transmission of their romantic interiority, it significantly changed their work.  This is a lesson I had almost failed to learn about my own work.  My understanding of the practice of writing arguments about literature had to this point completely ignored the importance of these independently fascinating and integral components of scholarly production.

I don’t want to zoom out too far from this fairly insignificant event, but for me the realization that resulted from the tension between my interaction with print and digital media stands as an identifiable instance of the value of digital humanities.  The use of digital tools and media for humanities scholarship forces us to evaluate those normalized zones of our profession.  As an early career scholar going on the  job market next year, my hope is that these situated understandings of how media objects get produced and consumed is something I could bring to a classroom of students who are themselves constantly transitioning between all manner of media.

[1] I say “usually” only because Pound’s original poetry is also mixed in with the intertextual elements and relates to the other materials in the same way.

[2] For example, providing partial access for online users that aligned with accepted fair use practices.  Or, determining which of the individual cantos appeared in periodicals before copyright took hold and publishing the encoded versions to the web.  This is tricky territory, however, because it’s not totally 100% obvious that those are out of copyright either.  I don’t have the resources to litigate and this project isn’t nearly important enough to do it anyway.  On top of all that, I have an extreme appreciation for the work that ND does and fetishize the physical copies of their modernist poets (such beautiful paperback books!).

[3] Even this notion of completness is tricky because there are certainly sections of the poem I could encode more precisely, transparently, and usefully.

[4] I’m not convinced a digital edition of the poem is all that useful (mostly because I dislike reading complex texts on computer screens).

[Below is the first draft of the introduction to my dissertation Introduction]

During the early twentieth century an entire network of forces—wars, technology, communication media, globalizing commerce, social movements—contributed to the irreversible and world-wide expansion in the volume of information confronting each individual.  Information overload has become a regular part of our lexicon in the digital age, but began to make itself felt through the intersection of these social and cultural shifts.  In Modernist Fiction and the News, David Rando describes the effects the increase of information had on individuals in the modernist period:

The early twentieth century was the first period to face the impossibility of adequately storing, remembering, and prioritizing the avalanche of information that new recording technologies and mass communication networks pressed upon consciousness, thereby altering not only human experience but also reality itself.  In modernism’s attempt to articulate human experience in a time of rapidly changing media, we begin to understand the transfigurations and dislocations of experience that have only intensified in our era. (1)

Rando traces a connection between the expansion of information and the media technology that deliver it and the individual’s experience of modernity.  The unprecedented volumes of information and the new media that accompanied them forced modernist authors to devise methods to represent and grapple with this condition of overload.  Paul Stephens, in The Poetics of Information Overload, argues that authors worked with and against existing information organization trends in reaction to the pressure these new conditions put on the human sensorium which tested:

the limits of cognition, perception, and memory (both personal and collective).  Rather than passively observing an end of history, or drowning in information, avant-garde writers have swum within and against the currents of information flows—demonstrating  not only agitation but also absorption. (Introduction)[1]

Modernist authors innovated on every conceptual and formal level, developing experimental poetic and narrative forms, dissolving divisions between high and low art, and experimenting with new ways of using print media, all as part of their work against the traditional information landscape.  However, these efforts to undermine established artistic and cultural values were accompanied by a renewed engagement with canonical works that comprise the Western literary tradition.

Indeed, many modernist authors, Joyce, H.D., and Pound among them, rather than charging forward, turned back and began integrating elements from throughout the literary and historical archive, with special emphasis on the Greek origins of the Western tradition.  In his 1923 article, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” T. S. Eliot famously labeled this practice of drawing connections between modernity and ancient texts the “mythic method,” which he attributed to Joyce’s use of Homer’s Odyssey as the basis for Ulysses: “In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. … It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” (177).  Eliot suggests that the mythic method represents a new approach to history and the overwhelmingly large body of information it represents.  He focuses on the principles of order and control ancient texts provide for what he felt was a derelict and directionless modern era.  However, the practice of drawing connections between the conditions of modernity and elements from different times reflects a much more profound shift in how these authors orient their work to the archive.[2]  In Homer and Modernism, Leah Culligan Flack argues that this impulse to turn back to foundational texts from the past opened into an alternative type of information organization:

Despite insisting on its own novelty, modernist art depended on a vital relation to the past, by influence, contrast, or a combination of both.  Engaging the Homeric tradition helped these writers to reject the Futurist agenda to discard the past and to articulate a productive model of historical thinking that opened new channels of connection between the present and the past. (3)

Establishing these “channels of connection” between the conditions of modernity and ancient texts became essential tactics for these authors who saturated their works with elements from the literary and historical tradition.  These different avenues of connection bypass the intervening periods of history, instead drawing connections between elements according to shared characteristics, regardless of their provenance.  Modernist authors began to gather elements from diverse periods of history and different global traditions and represent them in their works with a volume and frequency unprecedented in Western literature.  In their works, Ulysses, Palimpsest, and A Draft of XXX Cantos, Joyce, H. D., and Pound integrated material from the literary tradition as part of a larger trend symptomatic of a shift in how authors and individuals of the modernist period oriented themselves not only toward their literary pasts, but toward information in general.  This reorientation to information prompted authors to expand the possibilities of print media and methods of using intertextual references in ways that predict later information technologies, in particular the database.

Joyce, H.D., and Pound use ancient materials in far more complex ways than simply paralleling narratives from different time periods.  In their otherwise very different works, each connection between an aspect of modernity and elements from other time periods represents an informational link based on associational relationships between the two elements.  This dynamic expands from relationships between elements from antiquity and modernity into an entire logic of associational connections between elements of information from throughout all periods of history.  For these authors, in particular, such strategies serve as partial solutions to the overwhelming size of the archive.[3]  In place of the chronologically organized archive in which each element is sorted and filed according to its historical provenance, Joyce, H.D., and Pound reformulated history as a network of interrelated fragments.  This fragmentation does not represent a shattering of time itself, but a reorganization of the rigidly chronological logic of the Western archive.  The historical model for information organization works according to a causal logic that connects elements to one another through a model that mimics our sense of the diachronic progression of linear time.  The mythic method, as these modernist authors actually used it, represents an informational logic which privileges relationships between elements over the representation of linear time.

The modernist tendency to refer back to the foundational texts in the tradition in this new way is part of a much larger set of cultural and technical changes in how individuals conceive of and interact with information.  Joyce, H.D. and Pound recognized that twentieth-century culture has inherited the inertial stability of an archive so massive and rigid that it threatened to suffocate their ability to realize new forms.  Such a crisis does not need more stories, poetry, and theory—more information—added to the archive in traditional modes, but instead a confrontation with the forms the archive itself takes.  Ulysses, Palimpsest, and the XXX Cantos, because of the complex literary, textual, and media effects they exhibit, represent a radical intervention in the logic by which information is organized and accessed. Modernist studies has isolated these literary and media effects as the gathering and arrangement of diverse intertextual materials for a long time.  This study adds to this body of work by arguing that these textual elements were assembled according to a definable associational logic, a practice which developed in reaction to the information overload.  Joyce, H.D., and Pound, experimented with integrated literary techniques, material media effects, and associational logic that together create texts that forecast the development of databases as a media platform and information organization method.

[1] Stephens traces the origin of the term “information overload” using Google Ngrams:

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives an idea of the increasing frequency with which the term appears in the Google Books database.  “Information overload” first began to appear in journals of psychology and organizational management around 1960.  The term is sometimes traced to Bertram Gross’s 1964 The Management of Organizations, but clearly circulated in a number of contexts prior to this. … Gross in turn cited Vannevar Bush’s 1945 “As We May Think” as the earliest theorization of the problem.  The rise of information theory in the 1940s, accompanied by figures such as Bush, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Claude Shannon, and Warren Weaver, brought with it far-reaching implications.  Like the computer itself, the postwar notion of information overload could be said to emerge at the complex intersection of military, corporate, and educational interests. (Introduction).

Stephens explicitly ties the overload of information to the expansion of technical sectors of information production and management, which he argues affected individuals making art in the period.

[2]  Despite his prescient recognition of the importance of these new methods for approaching literary history, Eliot’s model for integrating elements from the past into present literature fundamentally misunderstands the dilemma that information overload presents.  The archive’s very size makes what he prescribes as the author’s responsibility to the tradition impossible.  In “Tradition and the Individual Talent” T.S. Eliot writes that interaction with the tradition begins with

the historical sense … [which] involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and with it the whole literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. (956)

Eliot carefully conserves the “pastness” of the past, but also suggests that from the present, an author needs to internalize the “whole of literature” in order to discern her place in it.  It is important too, that Eliot sees the tradition beginning with Homer.  The information overload that confronted authors in the modernist period significantly complicated this model for interacting with the tradition.  This is not to suggest that Eliot’s essay speaks for modernism, or that he was necessarily correct in his assessment of the dynamics of borrowing from the past and the literary tradition’s function during the modernist period.  If anything, his approach to these questions is in line with his general cultural conservatism.  “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” and to a lesser extent, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth” have accumulated a certain purchase in the subsequent periods of literary criticism.  The printing of “Tradition” quoted above appears in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, a volume that selects representative examples of commentary and theory from each period stretching from Aristotle to contemporary radical feminism such as bell hooks.

[3] In her article, “Information Overload and Database Aesthetics” Kristin Veel clearly states the difference between the chronological and informational methods of organizing information in the archive:

The ‘principle of provenance’, according to which records of the same provenance should not be intermingled with records of other provenances, was established as the dominant organizational principle in the early nineteenth century.  It replaced the earlier ‘principle of pertinence’, according to which archives were arranged by their subject content, regardless of their provenance or original order.  In the second half of the twentieth century, the organization of information faced new challenges, as well as increased possibilities, with the advent of digital databases; stripped of its physical tangibility and digitized, the same record could be made accessible in more than one context, and both provenance and subject content were no longer necessarily mutually exclusive as organizational principles.  Databases thus increased the number of possible combinations of data.  Today, reflections on the organization of information in an archive are invariably linked closely to issues of information overload—a condition that databases are designed to counter at the same time as they contribute to it. (308)

Veel also points out that databases do not necessarily provide any actual solutions to information overload.  This is an important point, and one that is clearly obvious in the twenty-first century where the presence of databases seems to have had little effect on the intensity of information overload.

Eliot, T. S.  “Ulysses, Order and Myth.”  Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot.  Edited by Frank Kermode. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1975, pp. 175-178.

Flack, Leah Culligan.  Modernism and Homer: The Odysseys of H. D., James Joyce, Osip Mandelstam, and Ezra Pound.  Cambridge UP, 2015.

Rando, David.  Modernist Fiction and the News.  Palgrave, 2011.

Stephens, Paul.  The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing.  U of Minnesota P, 2015.  Kindle E-book.  

Music List:
1. Nymphs II/Nymphs III/Fight (Nymphs IV) – Nicolas Jaar
2. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
3. Have You in my Wilderness – Julia Holter
4. Art Angels – Grimes
5. Dark Energy – JLin
6. Body Complex – Heathered Pearls
7. Gode – Andre Bratten
8. Talk from Home – Suzanne Kraft
9. At Long Last A$AP – A$AP Rocky
10. Elaenia – Floating Points
11. Apocalypse, girl – Jenny Hval
12. Hunch Music – Hunee
13. Summer ’96 – Vince Staples
14, Pomegranates – Nicolas Jaar
15. M3LL155X – FKA twigs
16. The Planet – Young Ejecta
17. Floods – Aris Kindt
18. s/t – Levon Vincent
19. The Hydrangeas Whisper – BOOF
20. Blues: The ‘Dark Paintings’ of Mark Rothko – Loren Connors
21. SOL – Eskmo
22. Viewlexx – Gestloten Cirkel
23. Utakata No Hibi – Mariah
24. Cole Dub – Time Wharp
25. Sacred Ground – Howling
26. Every Open Eye – Chvrches
27. Platform – Holly Herndon
28. Glass Piano: Phillip Glass – Bruce Brubaker
29. For Acquantice – Rrose
30. La visite – Etienne Jaumet
31. In Colour – Jamie xx
32. Sometimes I Sit and Think… – Courtney Barnett
33. Obsidian – Benjamin Damage
34. E mo tion – Carly Rae Jepson
35. Val Maira – Dave DK
36. Expressions – Linkwood
37. Stay Home – Submerse
38. s/t – Natalie Prass
39. Deep Into the Iris – Braids
40. Discreet Desires – Helena Hauff
41. Vulnicura – Bjork
42. Ten Love Songs – Susanne Sunforde
43. Grim Reaper – Panda Bear
44. Claustrophobia – Scuba
45. s/t – Nocturnal Sunshine
46. Sprained Ankle – Julien Baker
47. Prom King – Skylar Spence
48. Home. House. Hardcore – Head High
49. I Love You Honeybear – Father John Misty
50. Inevitable – Natasha Kmeto
51. 5 – FP Oner
52. Computer Controlled – Aphex Twin
53. The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam – Thundercat
54. Fading Love – George Fitzgerald
55. The Epic – Kamasi Washington
56. Foam Island – Darkstar
57. Modern Warfare (Eps 1-3) – Special Request
58. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
59. Corn – Arthur Russell
60. Radom – Pole
61. Impossible Romance – Visionia
62. Captain of None – Colleen
63. O. K. – Eskimeaux
64. Ilmaq – John Luther Adams
65. Houti Kush – RAMZi
66. Hallucinagen II – Kelala
67. Versammlung 1 – Wolfgang Voight
68. s/t – Hauntologists
69. A Year With 13 Moons – Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
70. Late Night Tales – Jon Hopkins/Various
71. King of Anxiety – Petite Noir
72. Honeymoon – Lana Del Rey
73. Simple Sounds – Jim O’Rourke
74. The Waterfall (Deluxe) – My Morning Jacket
75. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake
76. Homesick – Matrixxman
77. Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
78. Solo – Nihls Frahm
79. Dumb Flesh – Blanck Mass

Song of the year: Nicolas Jaar “The Three Sides of Audrey and Why She’s All Alone Now”

After a listen this morning, Colleen Captain of None would be upper 30’s lower 40’s. I slept on it in the second half of 2015, but I don’t want to move it up and change all the numbers below it. I would also like to include more rap, but I don’t have as many opportunities to listen to it because the lyrics interfere with my concentration while I work.

I never have time to write anything but my dissertation these days, but in reading the media theory necessary to make my argument an interesting pattern emerged I want to briefly outline.  My first exposure to “theory” was a graduate class on Marx and Freud which ended up being mostly an exploration of Lacan through Zizek.  I didn’t find this confusingly telescoped approach to political economy and psychoanalysis to be all that instructive, but the kinds of questions the class raised did kindle my interest in the enterprise of “theory” largely conceived.  Later, I read Derrida’s work, particularly his earliest essays in the Grammatology and Writing and Difference.  From Derrida, I went back and read several of Heidegger’s works, including Being and Time and Poetry, Language, and Thought.  I don’t find myself thinking of this reading much in my current work other than that, more recently, the topic of presence, perhaps the central concern for Derrida and Heidegger, has become important to my dissertation’s argument on print media and modernist information management.

In “Signature Event Context,” Derrida says,”[A] written sign carries with it a force that breaks with its context, that is, with the collectivity of presences organizing the moment of its inscription.  This breaking force [force de rupture] is not an accidental predicate but the very structure of the written text” (9).  Derrida insists that writing, as a practice, does not operate despite the possibility of the producer’s absence, but because of it.  I am not interested in getting into an extended discussion of deconstruction, but in my dissertation research these notions of presence, media, and literature keep surfacing together.  Derrida’s entire philosophical project can in some sense be understood as a defamiliarization of our normalized understanding of language.  Both inside and outside the scope of my dissertation’s argument, I feel modernist literature is a particularly rich site on which authors see print media and language in alternative ways and that the notion of presence is at the center of this shift.

Friedrich Kittler was the first actual media theorist I was exposed to.[1]  However, it wasn’t until I read Wolfgang Ernst’s essay collection Digital Media and the Archive, that the notion of presence in media began to catch my eye.  Ernst focuses on digital media and the microtemporalities they rely upon that are and should be understood as alien to human experience.  In “Toward a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations,” he says,

“The media archaeologist, without passion, does not hallucinate life when he listens to recorded voices, as does the notorious dog Nipper when listening to ‘His Master’s Voice’ on a phonograph.  The media-archaeological exercise is to be aware of the fact that at each technologically given moment we are dealing with media not humans, that we are not speaking with the dead but dealing with dead media that operate.” (183)

I am not practicing the strict media archaeology Ernst is defining here, but as a literary scholar, it seems to me even more important to resist the urge to speak with the dead because it is easy to fall into the romantic notion of authorial presence in a text.  We frequently refer to authors and poets speaking in their texts, and even if we qualify it as a text, it’s easy to “hallucinate life” in the literature that arrives before us through print’s media effects.

Ernst’s thinking on this matter caught my attention immediately, but I needed to renovate it in order apply it to print.  This move was anticipated by Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman in their Introduction to Comparative Textual Media.  They theorize that the interposition of the type of technology Ernst describes, these conspicuously non-human electric and digital media, recontextualizes how we interact with print:

“[W]hen writing was accomplished by a quill pen, ink pot, and paper, it was possible to fantasize that writing was simple and straightforward, a means by which the writer’s thoughts could be transferred more or less directly into the reader’s mind.  With the proliferation of technical media in the latter half of the nineteenth century, that illusion became much more difficult to sustain, for intervening between writer and reader was a proliferating array of technical devices, including telegraphs, phonographs, typewriters, Dictaphones, Teletypes, and wire recorders, on up to digital computing devices that themselves are splitting into an astonishing array of different protocols, functionalities, interfaces, and codes.  The deepening complexities of the media landscape have made mediality, in all its forms, a central concerns of the twenty-first century.  With that that changed cultural emphasis  comes a reawakening of interesting in the complexities of earlier media forms as well.” (loc157)

From our 21st-century vantage we can see print through the prism of these undeniably non-human digital media.  This revision prompts a defamiliarization with the normalized characteristics of print.  We had become accustomed to seeing the author in the literary text and now we can see it as a material medium. [2]

The chapter of my dissertation I am currently working on depends on a similar reappraisal of print media.  Pound, in developing the poetics for his earliest cantos, underwent a radical shift in his approach to print media.  Rather than seeing his poetry as a conduit for the transmission of his interiority or a simulated interiority, he began to use print as an information management tool to revitalize, what was in his mind, a derelict archive and literary tradition.  Implicit here is also a banishment of the simulated human presence in print media.  Like the electronic media of his time and the digital media that would follow, Pound began to see his work not as a magical container for his presence, but as material objects through which he could transmit information.  In order for Pound to capitalize on print’s media effects, he sacrificed the simulated human presence in the text, the fantasy that he was speaking directly to his reader.

I am convinced that literary modernism is a particularly important period for these overlapping issues.  In my dissertation, in addition to Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos (1930), I will argue H. D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision (1919) and Palimpsest (1926) and Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) exhibit a similar type of media shift.  Outside the scope of my dissertation, I find William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All (1923) and his poetry in general to be a parallel critique of human presence in language.  Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man” is a description of the natural world in the in which human presence is completely removed.  The “Time Passes” section of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is a representation of space and objects in the absence of human actors.  In other words, the origins of the media theory appearing here in the 21st-century had been conceptualized in the creative works appearing over a 100 years earlier.

[1]: My understanding of Kittler isn’t thorough enough to comment on his engagement with presence/absence.  However, as Geoffrey Winthrop-Young remarks in Kittler and the Media, Kittler was to some degree influenced by Heidegger, so making the connection between the thinkers is not inappropriate.

[2]: In addition to restricting my comparisons between print literary texts and digital media, I am also not able to discuss the multiple realms Hayles and Pressman see comparative textual media expanding into.  They, for instance, say “Media are necessarily associated with specific technologies and material structures as well as economic, legal, and social institutions” (loc252).  By necessity, I only discuss the material and literary contexts for the texts I analyze.

This morning I was notified I had received a second DHSI tuition scholarship in June 2015.  This means I will be taking Text Encoding Fundamentals from June 8-12 and then XSLT: A Collaborative Approach from June 15-19.  First of all, I wanted to thank DHSI for offering these classes, but also the various organizations that contribute funds to make these scholarships possible.  Without the funding, it would likely be too expensive for someone on my budget to attend one, let alone two, classes.

I applied for these two classes because they will provide practical skills I will need to complete the TEI of Ezra Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos project I am working on for my dissertation.  As I’ve outlined in other posts, this project is part of a hybrid digital and written chapter of my dissertation in which I attempt to enact some of the textual dynamics I argue Pound employs in the XXX Cantos.  The TEI version of the XXX Cantos I have created thus far is a specific interpretation of how the text works.  The coding structure I’ve developed encodes specific types of information that I’ve gathered under the conceptual umbrella of intertextual references.  The chief goal is to use TEI to encode associational relationships between informational elements and use these tags to represent how the text generates procedurally.  In other words, what is on the page of the XXX Cantos is a result of informational processing that “calls” another associationally related piece of information to the page.

In order to do this, I have settled on tags that indicate person names, place names, ventriloquisms and allusions to other texts, quotations, and then tried to block off the different sections of Pound’s text that are associated with these intertextual sources.  In addition to the structural tags for line numbers, page breaks, Canto breaks, and so forth, these are the tags I settled on for now:

<persName key=”OVI1” reg=”Ovid”>Ovidio</persName>
<placeName>Tuscany</place
<cit type=”quotation” text=”The Odyssey” author=”Homer” part=”12.200-205”>… </cit>

The other half of this argument is that Pound was very focused on textual dynamics as they materialize on the page as an interface.  This is drawing from my previous class at DHSI, Digital Humanities Databases in which I learned about the components of databases, the most essential of which is a relay between the user interface and the informational infrastructure.  This is to say that the relationship between my dissertation’s argument about information, interface, and modernist textual effects in the work of H. D., Joyce, and Pound is tightly raveled with the practical skills I have been and will be able to acquire at DHSI.

Developing the encoding structure and methodology for my TEI of the XXX Cantos has proven a bit more troublesome than I anticipated.  The tags I have listed above have been changed back and forth between other options multiple times as I’ve read the TEI P5 Guidelines and the Gentle Introduction.  These guides are essential tools and I would be nowhere without them, but I need to describe the goals of my project to someone and work with them to arrive at a way to achieve them.  I have had some difficulty determining which tags to use, which validation schema to insert into my header, and how to make the cleanest, most translatable version of the text that I can.  This is all toward the goal of using languages such as XSLT to process the TEI encoded text I’ve created.  In this sense then, I’ve chosen classes for 2015 that will help me solidify my technical foundation as well as teach me the skills and concepts I will need to complete the project.

 

A view of the ocean in Victoria

This year’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, British Columbia was my first.  From the time I applied for a scholarship to when I returned home on June 8, I couldn’t help but notice the well-established and inviting community surrounding the institute.  The information on the conference and the individual classes gave me a real sense of the organizers’ mission and their commitment to promoting the digital humanities defined broadly.  That said, and as the press dedicated to examining it attests, simply promoting big tent digital humanities is problematic, or at the very least, some people have some problems with it.

It’s my feeling that the challenges DHSI poses to its detractors is what make it so effective and valuable.  DHSI has a lot in common with the average humanities conference (as far as my limited experience can serve as a guide), but it also differs in important ways because attendees are taking classes, acquiring skills, returning to their home institutions with concepts, complete or in-process projects, and experiential knowledge about the realities of doing work that claims space under the dh canopy.  So, like at other humanities conferences, everyone gets exposed to new ideas and engages in dialog in ways that having everyone in the same place at the same time has for so long facilitated (though twitter seems to have gone some distance in trivializing the importance of presence at a conference, and this is a dh question).  To this familiar conference setting, DHSI adds the classes that are comprised of different mixtures of theory and heavy-duty computing (mine, Digitial Humanities Databases, was a great mix of the two).  Breaking out into the classes reminded me the seminar model used by conferences like the Modernist Studies Association which groups attendees into topic-driven roundtable-style sessions which are more enjoyable and rewarding than 90 minute panel sessions.  My experience at the 2012 MSA in Las Vegas was amazing; I was in a seminar on modernism and spectacle and I contributed a paper that interpreted Samuel Beckett’s Film and compared it with Bioshock the first person shooter.  

Still, this seminar structure is unlike the DHSI class because where I left MSA with new ideas and new email addresses and twitter handles, I left DHSI with a database I built in MySQL using command line.  There were moments in the course when my ears perked up as it was revealed to me that MySQL language, developed in the ’70’s (let’s historicize MySQL discourse, I’m comfortable with that), and is based on mathematician grade symbolic logic set theory.  It just so happens I’m wildly interested in set theory (though I have no practical knowledge of it) because of some recreational reading I’ve done on Kurt Godel and his incompleteness theorem.  I wanted to ask questions about whether or not one could make a database that took the incompleteness theorem into account, or if the creators of MySQL language found Godel’s thinking to be a problem for the potential coherence and completeness of databases.   I wanted to see the database, to read it, close read it as a matter of fact, and suss out the places where it may contradict itself or expose the ideologies it unknowingly promotes.

The instructors made no attempt to exclude these kinds of questions, and following some of the other classes’ twitter feeds showed that they were asking theoretical questions about digital topics.  (The feminist dh class in particular was performing what seemed like close readings of computer programs question whether or not they contained gender biases, which I found fascinating, but never followed  up on.)   Our focus, and we were pressed for time because there is a lot to cover in five six hour sessions, was squarely on the building of databases.  We did talk a lot about the types of queries databases, as a logic of information organizations, allow for, and we had some hilarious conversations about how databases and digital culture differ from document culture.  This distinction revealed the intertial influence print exerts on digital technology and our tendency to think of the internet and databases as documents.  This is all to say that the class wasn’t not theoretical, but the theory parts of the course were geared toward understanding the affordances a database offers (what can a database do that a document can’t and how might this help me as a humanist?) and how to ask programmers better questions when we need help as our projects develop.  I found this shift in thinking exhilarating.  We weren’t usurping issues of interpretation with graphs, maps, or trees (and we’d still have to interpret those anyway).  We were learning how things work and shedding light on how our own disciplines were similar and different.

My own research on Pound, Joyce, and H. D. requires a lot of close reading interpretation.  For modernist literary studies, these authors are often the close reading gauntlets everyone has to test themselves against.  On the other hand, in addition to being interpreted as poetry and novels always are, The Cantos, Ulysses, and Palimpsest themselves use daunting amounts of inter and intratextual quotation.  This is a dynamic I had originally tried to approach with archive theory, intertextuality, and even museum studies, but for various reasons I found myself wanting to express situations these suites of ideas didn’t address.  Eventually, with the help of my dissertation advisor, I came around to the idea that these texts may be forecasting the textual effects of more contemporary information presentation methods (e. g. Vannevar Bush’s 1945 description of the memex has a lot in common with The Cantos and The Wake).  Without getting into the specifics, I shifted from questions about what does this or that passage mean (though I am still very much on the hook for that type of work) to why is this passage here on the page before me?  How does this text work?

Thus my experience in the database class resembled my dissertation in that I had to set aside the “what does it mean?” questions in order to try and understand the “how does it work?” ones.  The interpretive questions do not disappear.  If anything, they are more persistent and grounded because this approach forces me to integrate the physical realities of each works’ composition and the ways it generates meaning into my interpretation of it.  I’m not pretending I have a coherent revelatory takeaway from this shift, but if this is what dh is, then the fears over machine reading solutionism or whatever alleged takeover of humanities departments computers are staging, are unrecognizable to me.  Overall, the experience of looking at information differently thanks to my class on databases really reminded me of the shift in my thinking that eventually became my dissertation idea.

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