Archive for October, 2009

After Ethington

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

When reading Philip J. Ethington’s “Placing the Past: ‘Groundwork’ for a Spatial Theory of History” alongside his Ghost Metropolis project, the two pieces occur to me both as connected and disconnected in compelling ways.    The connection, I believe, is as apparent as the abstracts that preface both pieces: compare the line “all action takes and makes place” from Ghost Metropolis to the line “the past is the set of all places made by human action.”  I point out the obvious relationship between the essay and the digital work, so that I might direct my attention to the (at least) two ways I see the pieces belying this relationship.

For all the theories of time that are brought to bear, supported and refuted in Ethington’s essay, little, if any, of his prose is dedicated to issues of digital media.  Surely, in response to such a statement one might reply with the stock, although especially germane, expression, “world enough in time.”  Every essay has its limits, and Ethington’s is no exception.  But is it so hard to imagine that Ethington’s notion of both world and time were drastically informed by his concurrent project, Ghost Metropolis.  This elision is in many respects refreshing.  In a field where every digital artist has his or her own theory of digital conditions of possibility that “emplaces,” to use Ethington’s term, their work inside of a nascent new media community (which seems to redefine and advance itself at the same gallop pace as technology) such a move to abstain from theorizing could be considered as radical.  On the one hand, Ethington’s essay, and its resistance to discuss new media, takes for granted certain stock concerns of digital art/lit.  It does not employ the grammar of interactivity and hypertextuality in so far as to further obfuscate his spatial theory of history.

Without question, the internet is radically reshaping various social practices and conceptions that exist in and of time, practices and conceptions that are essential to Ricoeur’s definition of natural time: “human or lived time” (470).  Ethington’s Ghost Metropolis is an example of this redefinition in its form as well as that form’s discovery of content, regardless if he mentions it or not.  By way of form, Ethington forces various modes of reading into propinquity.  In the many definitions I have played with for poetry, the only one I stick with relates to this line of thinking, while erring on the side of imprecision: Poetry is time.  Pages in a book become poetry only when we apply our own time to them.  I say this to point out how notions of time, for me, invariably relate to modes of reading.  In the form of Ethington’s piece, we are invited to interact with at least two different modes of reading, and therein at least two different modes of time.  There is the reading of the text on the right hand side of the screen and the reading of the map on the left.

It is important that one can call what I do to a map “reading,” even though it’s a pictorial representation.  For instance, in grade school curriculum, a teacher is responsible for teaching a unit on “Reading Maps.”  How does “reading” then relate differently to maps than to paintings or other pictorial works of art?  I would argue that the standard term for what I do to art is “appreciate;” “reading” a work of art implies something of a different level of commitment, i.e. an attempt to understand what the piece depends upon.  In the normative use of maps, the act of looking is rarely on par with “appreciation” and more akin to the type of interpretation we do when confronted with varying combinations produced by means of a particular set of twenty six symbols.  Yet, to read a map carries a different time signature than to read handwritten directions

For example, time, and its different modalities, comes into play when we are unsure if we should stay on the 40 or take the Capital Blvd exit.  When split with a second’s notice, do we turn to the map or the handwritten directions? Which will make us whole quickest?  Which will light our path before it becomes passed/past?  Regardless of the answer, we can see that time works differently in each case, as it does in Ethington’s map project.  Though it seems that the content of his project, deeply dependant upon this distinction between modes of reading, is aimed at bridging the gap between the reading text and map, and bridging the gap between the archive and the alive.  I am reminded here of a poem from Laura Jackson, “Map of Places,” where she reconsiders the material representation of maps, writing “the reality of paper tears.”  Here is a potentially relevant passage:

Now on naked names feet stand,

No geographies in the hand,

And paper reads anciently,

And ships at sea

Turn round and round.

All is known, all is found.

Death meets itself everywhere.

Holes in maps look through to nowhere.

By way of mentioning Jackson, I want to stress the assumed role of reconsideration as integral to the production of art and literature.  Without doubt, Ghost Metropolis is meant to provoke its interactor, especially the Californian, to reconsider the impact history has on their familiar haunts, as we say.  But is Ghost Metropolis a work of art/ literature?  The visitor to the site looks at a map that is organized in regards to historical narratives.  They are presumably comfortable with the function of maps and historical narratives, and the site doesn’t, in my opinion, challenge those comforts.  To do so might limit the project’s reach.  (The title Ghost Metropolis, however, seethes with poetic froth.)

Here, I’ll briefly point to the second incongruity between the essay and the project, in a means not merely to answer the question is Ghost Metropolis a work of art or literature, but to ask how does it change our ideas about art and literature. The essay, thorough in its survey, is not needlessly dense.  It builds an argument that is revelatory in tone.  Ethington’s uniting of place and time cues the reader to feel that great re-visionary work is at hand.  The project, on the other hand, is one of the few we’ve seen this semester that is meaningful and interactive with minimal preliminary instructions.  Does this imply minimal reconsiderations of how we interact with media?  This question could be in accordance with the work’s resistance to participate in the discourses of art and literature, which attempt to “make it new” at every turn.  But isn’t there something new about this project?  Doesn’t that newness—be it media, information, interface, etc—influence us to see our world anew?  How do we answer these questions while keeping in mind that Ghost Metropolis is contextual and serviceable in a way that, let’s say, Cayley’s “River Island” is not.

I want to close with a sort of summary question that I found in Brian Kim Stefans’s Fashionable Noise, which I hope will help further the conversation between service-oriented works like this one and out-of-order-oriented ones like those of Cayley and even Andrews.  Here’s the question in the context of a ICQ chat session, Darren Wershler-Henry responding to Stefans:

“Charles Bernstein and I had an interesting conversation about all this when I read in Buffalo a few weeks ago, and he said that what intrigued him about the work of the younger generation [of poets] was the question of whether or not it was possible to jettison opacity (a Modernist hangover, in his opinion-the idea that something has to be difficult to be good) and still have a piece of radical writing” (34)

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Paul Zukofsky is Cranky about Copyright

October 26, 2009 1 comment

Since copyright issues came up in class today, I thought it’d be worth pointing to something cycling around the web right now: the “Copyright Notice” of Paul Zukofsky (son of famed American poet Louis Zukofsky). A few choice excerpts, republished here in the hope PZ doesn’t mind me citing his words, even if I cannot quote his father:

Far too many people, especially perhaps-innocent grad. students, have been misled into thinking that, in terms of quoting LZ or CZ, they may do what they want, and do not have to worry about me. These people are then suddenly faced with the reality of an irascible, recalcitrant MOI, and are confronted with the very real prospect of years of work potentially down the tubes. I therefore wish to post an obvious “do not trespass” sign where LZ aficionados may see it.

In general, as a matter of principle, and for your own well-being, I urge you to not work on Louis Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not. Working on LZ will be far more trouble than it is worth. You will be far more appreciated working on some author whose copyright holder(s) will actually cherish you, and/or your work. I do not, and no one should work under those conditions.

I forbid so-called electronic “publication”. People may not quote LZ in their “blogs”.

I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature, music, art, etc. I would be suspicious of your interest in Louis Zukofsky, but might eventually accept it. I can applaud your desire to obtain a job, any job, although why in your chosen so-called profession is quite beyond me; but one line you may not cross i.e. never never ever tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity. Your self-interest(s) I may understand, perhaps even agree with; but beyond that, in the words of e.e.cummings quoting Olaf: “there is some s I will not eat”.

He claims that his father wanted to support his family with his work, and believes the only way to do that is to protect his copyright privileges. I can’t say I blame him, although, for reasons we discussed in class today, his vitriol seems misdirected at academics. Plenty of people on the web have responded to this, but here’s at least one good one.

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Aviary: “creation on the fly”

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

I just read about Aviary on the NY Times homepage, which aims to make creating digital art more accessible to non-programmers or ordinary people.

From their website: Why did you start Aviary? “Through our interactions with the artists on, we realized that while many people wanted to use digital editing software, it was very inaccessible:
* The costs were prohibitive (and many people didn’t want to risk installing a virus by pirating).
* The interface was too bloated with rarely-used features to make learning it easy.
* You actually needed to install the programs on a machine with specifications that complied with the program and suffer through any unwanted DRM malware that might also come with the software.
We have our roots in the grassroots hobbyists community. We are artists ourselves and know that there are so many other potential creators out there like us… all they need are accessible tools.”

Maybe this looks like the future option after Processing?

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Discussion Questions for Networked Places

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

“Anyone with access to an Internet connection has a soapbox.”

Networked Places:

  1. The author begins by putting the work in context, specifically stating that this work is focused on the United States as opposed to anywhere in the rest of the world. I’d like to start by briefly talking about the rest of the world’s use of the internet before focusing on our own country. In what sense do other countries use the internet? Is it more or less effective than the US? Has our freedom of speech been at once exemplified and perverted by the internet? 
  2. The next topic is best stated by the quote form Henry Jenkins.  “Personal media and communications technologies such as telephony, e-mail, text messaging, and everyday photography and journaling are colliding with commercial and mass media such as television, film, and commercial music. This is what Henry Jenkins has described as ‘convergence culture, where old and new media intersect, where grassroots and corporate media collide, where the power of the media producer and the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways’.” Most of this class has been focused on the sharing of art, literature, and other creative endeavors. How has technology allowed us to creating a meeting ground for ideas and opinions as well. Everyone now has their place on the internet for their own content. What are the dangerous of these interacting in “unpredictable ways”? What are the limitations? Has this interaction been a positive contribution to society.
  3. Is technology driving culture? Is culture driving technology? What is the sybiotic relationship which resides between the two. The author states: “One of the primary theoretical innovations of contemporary technology studies has been the recognition that technology does not stand apart as an external force, impacting society and culture. Rather, technologies are embodiments of social and cultural structures that in turn get taken up in new ways by existing social groups and cultural categories.” How are groups adapting to new technologies? How are people making technology more personal and intimate? Is technology naturally evolving or is it updating?  
  4. I talked about this in one of my former posts, but accessibility is one of the cornerstones of today’s web based media. It is believed that things should be as easily accessible to ass many people as possible. This has resulted in not only a larger viewership but also has allowed easier production of web content. As highlighted in Networked Publics, new software have allowed people to easily produce complex, in depth, and “rich” pieces of media. In what sense has this been a positive aspect on the web, and in what sense has this created over saturation and in ability to trust most online web content. Although information may be accessible do we have any way of verifying its accuracy. 
  5. Let’s talk about society’s growing rift between each other. In what senses are we coming together around the internet and in what sense is this driving us apart. This is very different from the transition from radio to television. Television added little else than more material in conversation whereas the internet has added interaction. What is this new form of interaction doing to our society? Can it be controlled? 
  6. Technology’s effect on Poliotics is one of the biggest concerns world-wide. The author states: “Although the Internet has spurred a rise in online political discourse, it has been difficult to channel these conversations in ways that conform to the norms of productive political deliberation. The chapter on politics describes the struggle of political activists and theorists to foster political deliberation.” In what regard has the internet brought a whole new meaning to “muck-raking” and “yellow journalism.” Many example, even the recent balloon-boy, have shown that any topic or idea can gain world momentum with today’s technology. No where is this more important and also dangerous than in politics. How is this good, how is this bad, can there ever be control? 
  7. Is the technology fair? What about those with out access to the internet or computers? Are we further disenfranchising the disenfranchised? Who uses the internet most, meaning, who’s opinions are really permeating the internet? Has the internet really broken down any barriers, allowing anyone’s voice to be heard, or are we in still in the same situation with the most powerful having the most power on the internet and the rest left to mill around pretending their voice can be heard and one person can really make a difference?

Public Secrets:

  1. My first question is regarding the accurate portray of this Prison. When presenting a journalistic piece of this nature it is important to remain unbiased and yet this piece certainly controls the mood and attitude of its reader. From the music to the sober voice of the speaker there is an obvious mindset this author wants us to have in regard to this Prison. Is that fair? Or is this an example of technology further opening the door for yellow journalism?
  2. It has been said that journalism is the fourth branch of government, with its purpose to expose to the public important issues which concern them so that we intern can provide yet another check and balance. In what sense does this work operate as an appropriate statement on the prison system? In regards to the idea of being in two places at once present in “Networked Places” can we possibly say that we are both at our computers and through the internet, in some capacity at this prison?
  3. The website presents this problem with two sides of the prisoners life. “Inside and Out”, “Bare-Life and Human-Life” and finally “The Public Secret and Utopia.” Is this complete and accurate? How does it function well. Is the black and white motif too simplistic or playing off too much of prejudices ingrained in our minds.
  4. In what sense is this work devalued by the fact that the people who it is about are unable to read it. It appears the author is trying to give us some interaction with these prisoners allowing us to hear their voices and literally choosing who to listen to, yet the prisoners themselves will probably never really see this site nor interact with it. 
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New Orleans Sound Project

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

In recovering sources for the final project, I came across a reference I wanted to share with the class.  Next to Douglas Kahn’s early chiasmus in Noise, Water, Meat: “the dual task here is to listen through history to sound and through sound to history” (which I take to mean scouring an archives for sounds as well as scouring a particular sound for its historical valences), I jotted down Open Sound New Orleans.  In brief, Open Sound New Orleans is a web-based soundmap that encourages members of the New Orleans community to record sounds and upload them to the site with coordinates that reflect the geographical location where they encountered the sound.   It might be useful to think of the project as a nice bridge between Kahn’s discussion of significant noise and Mizuko Ito’s introduction to Networked Publics, which she describes as an “alternative to terms such as audience or consumer, [foregrounding] a more engaged stance” (3).

 Here’s the link:


How do the categorical divisions “Voice Sounds,” “Music Sounds” and “Ambient Sounds” mediate the contributor’s interaction with aurality?

What determines most of my thoughts about the project is that it chooses a specific cite, drawing boundary lines the exclude a larger international networking functionality.  As well, great significance lies in choosing New Orleans rather than Las Vegas or Durham, a decision intended to capitalize on the city’s long history of (what the creators of the site describe as) “noise richness.”  Such a term, especially in the context of NOLA, connotes postcolonial hybridity, creolité, and what Eduard Glissant refers to as a poetics of relation.  As well, the desire to archive a city’s soundscape seems in many ways a response to Katrina, as a means to both document the sound of post-traumatic stress and shore up a culture’s aural fragments against another catastrophe.


After listening to most of the recordings, I have to say that it is the way different modes of signification participate and compete that compels me to return. By which I mean the sound/noise’s resistance to standard categorization. Here sound is marked by a contributor’s collaboration with the primary categorical assumptions (Voice, Music, Ambient), but even in a structure dedicated in many ways to standardizing sound, disruptive noise survives.  One sound perhaps ambient (rain) gloms onto other voice sounds (a street performer describing the history of a particular canal), while music sounds (the Main Line of a jazz funeral) echo in the distance. This is not to mention the role the locative aspect contributes to the viewer’s experience with the piece.  Those unfamiliar with the layout of New Orleans might be curious to the programs sensitivity to geographic manifestations of class and racial difference, whereas those more familiar might be listening for contributions that challenge the notion of right and wrong side of the tracks.

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Llull, revisited

October 25, 2009 1 comment

Bill posted a bit about Ramon Llull, the thirteenth-century monk who developed a logical system based on combination. I wrote quite a bit about Llull and thought I’d share some images:


What’s fascinating about his system for me is not just that it’s combinatory — Optatianus Porphyrius was writing combinatory verse in the fourth century, and there’s a long history of (for instance) cento — but that he asks users to design a physical paper mechanism for combining his logical constants, thereby materializing a system that, for most other thinkers, remains conceptual. Llull, writing at the height of the Crusades, believed that by constructing a mechanism that embodies all possible syllogisms proving God’s existence, he could convert the infidels — as if these little spinning wheels of paper, spitting out argument after argument for God’s goodness or greatness or infinitude, would force them to fall to their knees in awe, and in conversion.

(The flaw of the system is obvious: Llull’s constants, which act as premises like “God is good,” are themselves statements not self-evident to all.)

Llull was wildly popular (and widely misunderstood) during the Renaissance. The image above is from Athanasius Kircher’s textbook on Llull (the Ars magna sciendi sive combinatorica, 1669), in which Kircher tells the book’s users to cut out the circles to create a computer. Kircher also revised Llull’s system by “tagging” his logical constants with symbols, constructing all these wonderful little tables of symbolic relationships:


To the 21st-century reader, it’s easy to read the formal materialism of manipulating desktop icons into Kircher’s imaginative form of Lullism.

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Pushing Back Against “Networked Publics”

I’d like to start by underscoring that Ito is, it seems, correct: the massive technological shifts we’ve all observed (and participated in) are (and will continue to be) accompanied by corresponding cultural and social shifts. This seems self-evident.

Here’s where she starts to go wrong:


On my way to read about the “pervasive networked connectivity” of the digital age, I bump heads against a barrier, a point of disconnect between the usual transparency of websurfing (to go back to Bolter and Grusin) and its sudden hypermediacy. I’m not authorized; and my lack of authority means, in this case, a lack of access. Or, put another way, the author’s authority (the author of the site, the author(s) of the book) remains in tact, while I, the enlightened produser of the digital age, am blocked, without even a link to redirect my path. I’m left to scramble off to Google on my own.

So much for “Accessibility.”

Without denying the obvious significance of the rise of “networked publics,” it seems important not to efface the physical realities of computer culture: the whir of mechanical fans, the heat generated by processing data, the fiber-optic cables collecting crustations at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Ito acknowledges, albeit briefly, the digital divide, but only in terms of infrastructural roadblocks; what of the material detritus — the mountains of e-waste leaching chemicals into the groundwater in India, for instance? Benkler’s sparkling rhetoric about “radically decentralized, collaborative, and nonproprietary” resources seems panglossian beside the plain fact that more and more server farms are being centralized in Iceland, to be cooled by cheap geothermal energy. How can we inject a little bit of hardware reality into the “speed and light” of Ito’s medial ideology?

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