Home > Uncategorized > Thinking with Media

Thinking with Media

This is an excerpt from the critical statement I’m writing for Clarissa/my graphic novel project, which can be viewed here:

This project is definitely still in progress, but the process of forming the concept of the story, writing what we’d roughly call “part one” of the story, and only after that being able to do all the drawings and their accompanying perspectival labor—these drew my attention to a variety of mediation challenges that I otherwise would not have thought of.

First of all, writing a graphic novel is nothing like writing a novel or a movie. As Clarissa and I brainstormed the story, we wrote down character dialogue that was roughly in the format of a drama, with dialogue attributed to each character, as well as background descriptions of what was or had been going on prior to that scene, and stage directions (“he furrowed his brow”). We spent the most time coming up with this story with Clarissa’s original vision (of creating a graphic novel that investigated the production of knowledge and its relation to Being) clearly in mind. When we finally had a working script written, then I sat down to sketch out the drawings and realized, wait a sec, we have entire paragraphs of dialogue at a time for some characters—how is this going to fit on one page, much less one panel? That’s not the way I’m accustomed to seeing words laid out in typical graphic novels, except slightly in more academic ones like Logicomix, a graphic novel about the history of logic and mathematics written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou. As Clarissa worked on figuring out how we would present our comic on a webpage, I tried to figure out how much dialogue I would include on each page, and also how to parse the play-like script of what we’d written into somewhat coherent page-sized frames, where each comic strip/page as well as the story as a whole made sense. This realization that a graphic novel’s format lies somewhere between a photo-journal essay and a dramatic play may seem obvious in retrospect, but honestly, it was one of the most surprising things to realize mid-way through the project.

To reiterate the situation, which again caught this writer by surprise: it IS NOT NATURAL for most people to “imagine” in the format of a graphic novel, because they aren’t as popular as movies or books. When we were visualizing how the story would proceed, we were IMAGINING it as a MOVIE or a NOVEL or sometimes a PLAY. It took a radical shift in IMAGINATION to start THINKING in GRAPHIC NOVEL terms, to learn to simultaneously NARRATE AND VISUALIZE in snapshots, with shorter dialogue, and with the illustrations as much of the story as the text. I don’t think we really did this at first, and it put me in the position to “remediate” (despite our classroom critique of the term, it feels appropriate to use here) our original script into comic format. In fact, this experience makes me want to question the appropriateness of calling graphic novels “novels” in the first place. Yes they tell a story with an immense amount of graphic detail about the world, and both participate in storytelling, but that’s about all the similarities I can think of at the moment. There are huge differences in how each particular media style both constrains and opens up creativity: novels use descriptive passages to set up their visual argument or milieu, while graphic novels never SAY anything about it, they just show it; novels can be as long as the writer wants, whereas graphic novels have a limited amount of text that would be considered “pleasurable” to read; one could go on about the differences, but let me highlight just one more. I would put graphic novels in same category as television/movies (rather than traditional novels) in this particular respect: attention. Using Kate Hayles’ terms, narrative visual media lean towards the “hyper-attention” end of the spectrum, whereas the novel allows for a kind of deep-attentive experience.

I think what I most gained from working on this project was a greater awareness of the way in which available media—primarily video, novels, and radio—structure the way that we choose to imagine stories, and how we imagine the way the future will unravel. It’s no accident that many people fantasize about how their lives might unravel cinematically, with some kind of epic finale at the end involving a 360 degree panoramic shot of them kissing a lover, or of them facing off against an opponent in the heat of battle, or other dramatic moment. Our media both visually and narratively present particular RHYTHMS and FORMS of storytelling, which we can imaginatively inhabit in order to entertain ourselves or speculate about the future. It’s not easy to change the media that you think with, but let’s face it: we all think with media. But I believe there is something positive about the ability to think with different kinds of media, and to choose… a circumstance like the experience of being bi-, tri-, or poly-lingual.

Here’s an experiment. Try for just one day to use a media format other than a movie when you plan your day (how you’re going to get groceries, go to the library, meet up with your friends at a restaurant or bar, etc.), or drift into daydream, or speculate about the future, etc. Try IMAGINING these things some other way—in snapshot action-packed graphic novel format, for example, or as a radio-play without images and just a narrative voice, or something else. Is it easy or difficult? Constraining or liberating? beyond categories?

As to the structure of the website: originally I’d made a suggestion that we could play off the physics’ paradigm of “breaking symmetry” by thinking of aesthetic ways to do that. However, in the end that didn’t seem feasible, so the model we went for was “thinking about the Large Hadron Collider” (maybe we should have written, thinking “with” the LHC?). To present this we have the comic, a twitter-feed with live updates from CERN, and a series of fragments spoken by the LHC itself that we’d experimented with. These three parts provide different temporal experiences of thinking about/with the LHC: live updates from CERN’s twitter feed bring a sense of immediacy; the LHC monologue fragments are drawn from a database of pre-written script but refreshed at random, making the connections between the comic panel you’re reading and the randomly generated fragment into something that spontaneously comes to you and changes the reading experience.

One of the main difficulties we were working with was how to incorporate some kind of perspective from the now-conscious LHC itself into Clarissa’s vision of a comic that was dealt with knowledge production in a way that was difficult to distinguish from reality. With this concern in mind, we decided to separate the thoughts of the LHC out from the people’s action in the comic itself. In the process of writing these fragments, it was important to think through how a self-aware machine might have different goals than humans, and to this end I wrote several fragments that diverge from the traditional science-fictional issues about machines wanting control over and from human counterparts. One unique feature of machine self-awareness that we were playing with is their desire for connectivity over control of humans; instead of being “Creators” with some biological connection to reproduction, what if machines instead were “connectors” finding non-viral pleasure instead in joining up into larger networks? If this is our experimental case, then what we could graphically illustrate is something where the LHC attempts to connect with its “siblings,” which might be the energy bursts from the sun that strike the earth daily and are of a similar power magnitude to the LHC, thus possessing some kind of affinity with it. This idea was taken from a NY Times article that discussed the possibility that the LHC would produce earth-consuming black holes, and defused that fear by saying that the Earth is bombarded by energy bursts form the sun every day that are of or greater than the LHC magnitude.

As this comic develops, we’ll also be thinking about the reciprocal connection between the humans using the LHC to produce knowledge and perhaps the LHC using people to do something of the same. Here I imagine something like Andy Clark’s “extended mind” thesis, which roughly argues that cognition does not “happen” solely in the brain, but is highly dependent on both the body and the world (the parts we mark out and use) to perform cognitive acts. For example, it is common to say that “I can’t solve that mathematical problem in my head; I need to think with my pencil.” This would be a simple example of the ways that we depend upon other resources in the world, tools or otherwise, to produce what counts as “knowledge” for ourselves. If the “extended mind” thesis holds water, however, it will have to address the difference between us using things in the world for a kind of distributed cognition, and us performing these same tasks with each other (or, possibly, using each other towards processes of cognition). For example, if we go back to multiple intelligence theory, thinking “mathematically” is not the only kind of intelligence and thus not the only activity that demands “cognition.” Surely cognition is also demanded of linguistic and social and artistic processes as well. If that’s the case, then what is to be said for bouncing off ideas on a friend in order to help you think of ideas for your new novel? Or what’s to be said for talking to a friend to analyze and trouble-shoot the confusing behavior of one of your students? Is this not also a kind of augmented cognizing—in partnership with (an)other mind(s)?

Taking these issues into consideration, the territory that our project may get into is where we find ourselves to ALSO be part of the world that something else (the LHC) thinks with, a resource for discovering its origins and finding out more about itself and its place in the world and its relations. In this respect, we would be thinking of LHC-machine consciousness less as an antagonist to humans and more of a partner in mutual knowledge-production—of course this process might not be smooth, but those bumps in the story could be the most interesting.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: