Tag Archives: Re-mediation

Doktor Sleepless, cover #4

Originally uploaded by warrenellis

I love Warren Ellis. He captures contemporary attitudes in such a beautifully snarky way.

The odd thing though, is that if someone made a movie as vile and violent, even if as funny, as one of Warren’s typical stories, I’d probably hate it. (well, if it was really so funny, maybe it would be ok; I liked Tank Girl after all, both comic and film.) But my point is that I seem to have no trouble with violence, perversion, or general grossness when it’s in a comic book, but in films, I don’t like most violence. I guess added abstraction really does make a difference.

Ontological question from a 3-year-old

“How do we know if someone is reading a story about us? And if we went outside there wouldn’t be anything, but if he read about us [being] outside, then there would be something.”

Sometimes my children are a little creepy…my daughter, after asking this, decided it was just hilarious to imagine. Which is certainly better than deciding it was scary and keeping us up all night with nightmares.

But this is an example of how interesting it is to watch my children develop an understanding of language and narrative and their connection to reality, or our perceptions of reality. Even more interesting, they don’t develop understanding in the same way. One of my daughters seems to really grasp the larger structure that stories typically have (based on the sample she’s encountered so far) and she has an idea of what kinds of elements are needed when you make up a story, what you need to tell people. My other daughter doesn’t seem to notice this as much, but she is much more aware on a micro level of what kinds of things people typically say or do in every day situations that might occur in a story–eating, cooking, arguing, going out, going to bed, etc.

At least they aren’t playing funeral any more; that was rather disturbing!

On top of all the other challenges and joys, having kids is just so interesting, it raises so many questions and ideas for me, about things I research. I never expected that.

Their questions often reveal my assumptions about all kinds of things. It’s cool. And since I can’t resist dragging my work into everything, it’s a kind of remediation, looking through my children’s eyes.

Tick Tick Tick

Every now and then I enter some kind of mental phase when my brain feels overclocked. My thoughts speed up and run in parallel processes. Right now I am thinking about three different grant proposals; my undergrad and grad classes which start in two weeks; the orientation for new TAs next week; the 10 emails to which I’m awaiting replies; those I have to send out tomorrow; the Empire conference I’m co-chairing; a bi-lateral agreement with Piet Zwart; four calls for papers I might answer; my review of the ELO electronic text; my latest article for Sequential Tart; the skype calls I’m trying to arrange…

Does this count as a dynamic heterarchy? Intermediation?

Sometimes this might make me feel overstressed but sometimes it feels like my brain is whirring along, sustained by it’s own speed, in perpetual motion. It’s not perpetual of course, and the one problem is that it’s hard to sleep in this state. I have trouble dropping off until late and as soon as the sun is barely up my eyes fly open again. Just can’t stop thinking. And I don’t really want to except I’m getting rather tired…

Anyway, now, as if all this weren’t enough, I’m thinking about scholarly subjectivity, engagement, and Kenneth Burke.

A Different Kind of Remediation

I’ve been thinking about a statement I heard while at conferences this summer; I think I probably blogged the talk, but I’m too lazy to check right now. Anyway, the claim was that appropriate response to a good work in new media was “how clever.” I’m not sure now that I think about it whether that was supposed to be what the audience expects, or what the creator aims for, but in any case it was set in contrast to traditional art that aims for “how beautiful.” And certainly I can think of art that aims for beauty. But does this mean new media art should forget about all of those categories? I’m thinking about the sublime right now; I think it would be amazing if someone created something in new/digital media that struck me as sublime. But so often it does seem to only be about cleverness. Even when it claims to be political, it’s usually addressing politics in a clever parodic way. I can’t think if I’ve ever seen software art, or media art that was just using computers instead of brushes, that really moved me emotionally.

While visiting Rotterdam I went to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and saw a lot of art, from Medieval to contemporary. It was cool to see the Tower of Babel, for example. But one painting really struck me; a Madonna and Child–the type where Mary is cradling her dead son. This is the first time I’ve been confronted with one of these since having my own children, and it stopped me dead. I stood there tearing up not because of any Christian meaning, but because I was thinking of how agonizing it would be for a mother (or I suppose any parent) to experience such a thing–or worse, to lose you child without having the chance to be with her or him at the end. In fact, even now, it’s upsetting me to even type this in. Can software art or net.art or any other new media art ever create this kind of response? –not grief per se, but something this powerful?

If not, it may never get that far beyond a small academic or expert audience, because many people, in the face of their everyday tragedies and triumphs will simply find it irrelevant.

I’m now thinking of this whole experience–hearing the comment, weeks later seeing the painting, almost a month later having this thought–in terms of the emerging complexity Hayles defined. At the moment, the recursive paths my own thoughts took are very clear to me, as are the unpredictable interactions between different intellectual inputs.

But I also am struck again by how really central experiences aren’t addressed in a lot of the research. –For example, lots of people are writing about virtual communities and social networks, but most people seem to be studying rather groups/networks that are focused on rather shallow things (myself included, to some degree). What about online communities of people who have lost a child? Or who have aging parents for whom they must care? Or who escaped from a camp in whatever war-torn country (plenty to choose from right now)? Or have I just missed it somehow? Is it just not well-publicised? Not tagged as a Technorati fave? Not

In fact, this didn’t bother me a week ago, and maybe it won’t bother me next week either. Maybe this post is just the record of my overthinking. Or the news that my friend’s wife went to the hospital because she thought the baby had stopped moving.

Traditionally, art, music, poetry, etc have (among other things) helped people deal with the aspects of life that are difficult (sublime, maybe?). What is net.art or software art or whatever, for? I mean, really? (and I just know at least one friend who may be rolling his eyes at this question, and he is free to comment!) Oh well, it’s late and I’ll end this post before it gets even more rambly.

The transformation of Literary and Media Studies

Finally I have a chance to finish my report on Katherine Hayles; I’m sure you must all be relieved, waiting with baited breath as you were. Or weren’t you? tsk tsk. Well, I will finish it for my own satisfaction then.

After laying out her argument for human-computer interaction being an example of intermediation, or emergent complexity (or at least having the potential to so be) Hayles then claimed that “consciousness is not the expression of a coherent unified self, but is the narrative that sutures together a fragmented collection of multiple agents working simultaneously.” Based on my own fairly extensive research in neuroscience, I can say that this is indeed what is believed, and has been believed for since around 1997 at least. She cites Daniel Dennet.

Some E-lit takes a form that enacts this view: for example Slipping Glimpse by Stephanie Strickland, work by Cynthia Lawson, and by Jaramillo.

Hermeneutics alone can’t do the bridgework needed for E-lit (I know of one friend who might disagree…) and this has led to a profound transformation of traditional disciplines under the pressure of electronic media. Here we ran out of time, so unfortunately rather than elaborating on the above examples or explaining further about this transformation, Hayles said only that Literary and Media studies should be part of this conversation, rather than being shunted aside by new fields or by the sciences themselves.

And lastly a plug for the new E-Lit Anthology.

Of course there were a few questions, but the most interesting was from Samuel Weber who asked if meaning had to equal unity–what about the 7 types of ambiguity, for example, and isn’t hermeneutics all about interpreting? (refering to here early point that meaning depends on the device doing the interpretation). Hayles answered that there has been a shift in (or an expansion of) “interpretation” from high level cognition to machine interpretation. She then quoted Emo Phillips: “I used to think the brain was the most wonderful organ, but then I thought about who was telling me this.”

It was a funny response, but I don’t think Weber is so easily answered as all that, and while ultimately I could imagine possibly agreeing with Hayles, I really need to hear or read more about the latter stages of her argument.

Overall this was a good talk in the clarity of explanation and competence of its delivery, but I really wish we had gotten farther than just laying the groundwork because of course it’s her last claims about hermeneutics and the transformation of the disciplines that really need to be argued, rather than just explained. Better yet if she had a paper out somewhere that went into more detail. But so far she doesn’t, that I could find, and I checked. If anyone knows of one, please tell me!

More on Hayles

Ok, so having introduced the idea of emergent complexity and it’s requirements, Hayles next started talking about analogies as pattern recognition. She reminded us of Douglas Hofstader’s claim that all “cognition is recognition.” If recognizing patterns is what leads to understanding analogies, well so what? She gave some examples first of human ability to understand analogies.

then WXY=>?
of course WXZ.

But then what would the next term be? everyone in the audience immediately suggested WXA, because we know that typically lettering starts over (or possibly doubles, but I guess we all assumed only three-letter combinations were allowed).

The machine comes up with:


So it eventually reached the same solution–Hayles didn’t say exactly how they “learned” or whether it was just random, and now I wish I’d asked… Then she gave an example of Morse code which combined digital (substituting dots and dashes for letters) with analog (using spaces to represent pauses) so that space=time. By contrast, binary code is all digital in which space (absence) must be represented by an actual term. She brought up Morse code to demonstrate that we all understood the spaces to represent spaces or pauses between words because of implicit assumptions based on homologies between Morse code and our everyday experience of speech.

The invisible assumptions we make about one medium are made visible when we change to a media that doesn’t support the homology behind the assumption.

Next she refers to Ed Fredkin’s notion that “the meaning of information is given by the process that interprets it.” By interpretation she means for example the way an MP3 player interprets digital information and interfaces with some other device to produce sound, but we can also say this about cognition. –Question, is this a metaphor, or a model? I think she means it to be a model.

We experience sensory input which activates neuronal groups that then activate maps, which activate larger cognitive structures, which eventually add up as cognition (recognize this pattern?).

If we go along with Fredkin, then we shift our emphasis from product to process (of course we did this in Comp. Theory years ago), from intentionality to consciousness, to “aboutness” as a spectrum….meaning is de-anthropomorphized. I hope I didn’t miss something important in that ellipses in my notes.

Having said all of this, humans and computers interacting meet the conditions for emergent complexity or intermediation. Certain works of E-literature foreground this as content as well as process. The evolution of E-literature also exemplifies a dynamic heterarchy (see the outline of conditions in my previous post)as we adopt new media. So the codex book was for storage and transmission of ideas; iit was a vehicle for cognitions. The computer though is an active cognitive agent–that is, it acts upon data and doesn’t just store or transmit it.

Ok, I only have one more page of notes, but it’s the most complex, so it must wait until tomorrow. At the earliest!

I leave tomorrow and while I’m mostly packed, I may need the morning to make sure everything is organized before I leave around 9:30 to get the tram, to get the train, to be at Schiphol by 11:30 for my 2pm flight. Tot ziens!

A brief interruption of the timeline…

Before I finish reporting on Worm, I have to pause and catch up on some earlier stuff, before I forget everything, so this entry will be on Katherine Hayles’ keynote speech at the Re-mediating Literature conference that I covered very generally a few posts back.

Ok, she had a really clearly laid out talk with started with an explanation of emergent complexity and what conditions produce it. Here is an overview of her points, closely paraphrased from her slides (finally, someone who did a simple PPT presentation with no bugs):

–The universe is fundamentally computational (Wolfram)
*examples of cellular automata, fractals
–Emergence, complex behaviors arising spontaneously and unpredictably from simple computational rules
*example cute program with 24 independent agents to which various rules can be applied (I wonder if she coded that herself?)

But, digital mechanisms can’t be the whole story; digital and analog cooperate, for example in DNA strand replication, which is digital, only creates a practical or concrete result when it is expressed through protein-folding, which is an analog process. Analog is good at transferring information while digital is good at error control and both are essential in the case of DNA.

But these two processes affect each other and we see evolving complexity across levels–“dynamic heterarchies.”

Feed forward and feedback loops in dynamically interconnecting media. In other words, First level primitives interact and the results of those interactions become second level primitives, and so on. For example, the interaction of sub-atomic particles make atoms, the atoms interact to form molecules, and the molecules interact to form proteins. But, activity on any level reaches not just those right about or below, but may reach through levels as well.

Another example is pregnancy; the mother is producing the fetus, but at the same time, the fetus is re-engineering the mother. –This example really struck me because it’s really quite interesting the way developments in the fetus trigger further changes in the mother, and at the same time the fetus is reacting to changes in the environment (the mother) who mediates changes in the external environment, such as what is present in the air or the water or the food she takes in.

So intermediation has these crucial components:

–Different levels of complexity
–Different media
–Heterarchical dynamics

all of which lead to emergent complexity. Damn, still 4 pages of notes left, but I will pause here. So remember, emergent complexity comes from dynamic intermediation.