DH 2017 Abstract: Digital Humanities as Critical University Studies

Digital Humanities as Critical University Studies

In her 2011 article, “All the Digital Humanists are White, All the Nerds are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave,” Moya Z. Bailey unearths a radical, unrealized potential in the Digital Humanities that few have made explicit since its articulation: a practice of the digital humanities that is also a practice of critical university studies. I cite Bailey here in full:

In blog posts, Miriam Posner and Bethany Nowviskie have both addressed the structures that impede women from connecting to digital humanities. The increase of women in higher level positions within universities have led to changes in the infrastructure, with child care and nursing nests cropping up on campuses across the country. Similarly, people of color have been engaging in critical university studies long before the 1990s when the field is said to have emerged. By demanding space as students and faculty, in addition to advocating for rights as the laborers that built and maintain these institutions, people of color have organized through concerted effort to bring about changes in institutional culture and structure.

The question of diversity and inclusion that informs this intervention is intimately linked to institutional austerity and the precaritization of intellectual labor. Post-2008, the economic pillaging of the university is undeniable. It is also undeniable that the digital humanities emerged as a contemporary force for disciplinary transformation during this precise economic shift. Matthew K. Gold states this matter of factly in his introduction to the 2012 Debates in the Digital Humanities anthology, “The Digital Humanities Moment”: “At a time when many academic institutions are facing austerity budgets, department closings, and staffing shortages, the digital humanities experienced a banner year that saw cluster hires at multiple universities, the establishment of new digital humanities centers and initiatives across the globe, and multimillion-dollar grants distributed by federal agencies and charitable foundations.”

The university’s loss coextensive with DH’s boon requires further interrogation. This article builds on Bailey and Gold’s work by directly linking concerns in DH for diversity and inclusion to economic disparities in the university via critical university studies. I do so not to condemn DH for its rise, but to continue to unearth its radical potential. While the literature in critical university studies is broad, I connect DH to two critical university approaches in particular: decolonial feminism and Autonomist interventions by the Edu-factory Collective. Both approaches augment current debates in DH as they forefront questions of inclusion, diversity, and economic variance, but also provide more pointedly political approaches to pedagogy and tool-use.

In her 2003 book, Feminism Without Borders, for example, Chandra Talapade Mohanty claims that “the moment we tie university-based research to economic development–and describe this research as fundamentally drive by market forces–it becomes possible to locate the university as an important player in capitalist rule” (173). This claim is couched in a decolonial method committed to developing “the urgent political necessity of forming strategic coalitions across class, race, and national boundaries,” but it is also motivated by a commitment to feminist struggle (9). The university is a site of decolonial feminist struggle in particular because it is a “contradictory place where knowledges are colonized but also contested […] It is one of the few remaining spaces in a rapidly privatized world that offers some semblance of a public arena for dialogue, engagement, and visioning of democracy and justice” (170). What follows is therefore a simple claim, but one that is difficult to reconcile in a contemporary context, especially as it might apply to DH: “Feminist literacy necessitates learning to see (and theorize) differently–to identify and challenge the politics of knowledge that naturalizes global capitalism and business-as-usual in North American higher education” (171).

It does not take a careful reader to detect a radical undercurrent to Mohanty’s interest in feminist literacy, nor should it be a surprise that those disproportionately affected by institutional inequity might rely on a radical political logic with which to situate their intellectual labor. Perhaps the strongest emergent DH interest in which Mohanty’s work carries the most methodological weight, however, is found in Roopika Risam’s essay, “Navigating the Global Digital Humanities: Insights from Black Feminism.” There, Risam argues that

As the field of digital humanities has grown in size and scope, the question of how to navigate a scholarly community that is diverse in geography, language, and participant demographics has become pressing. An increasing number of initiatives have sought to address these concerns, both in scholarship–as in work on postcoloinal digital humanities or #transformDH–and through new organizational structures like the ALliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) Multi-Lingualism and Multi-Culturalism Committee and Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH), a special interest group of ADHO.

We see similar issues at work in #transformDH and feministDH more broadly. However, Alan Liu’s recent claim to a critical infrastructure studies augments these concerns. Liu summarizes his interest in critical infrastructure studies as a “call for digital humanities research and development informed by, and able to influence, the way scholarship, teaching, administration, support services, labor practices, and even development and investment strategies in higher education intersect with society.” The rhetorical shift from “critical university” to “critical infrastructure” is interesting here. Where Liu goes so far to say that most, if not the whole of our lives, are organized through institutional mechanisms formative of a “social-cum-technological milieu,” “the word ‘infrastructure’ give[s] us the same kind of general purchase on social complexity that Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, and others sought when they reached for their all-purpose word, ‘culture.’” Paired with Risam’s work above, Liu draws us to closer to a critique that would mirror Mohanty’s.

At the same time, Mohanty’s decolonial approach dialogues with Autonomist Marxist approaches to the same problem. Writing of their work with CAFA (Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa), George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici comment on institutional formations like those that Mohanty invokes, but also those that are already operative in DH: global initiatives organized around a common goal. Where Caffentzis and Federici depart from the question of DH infrastructure is certainly a question of technological focus, but also it is also a political one. “As was the factory,” Caffentzis and Federici write, “so now is the university” (125). The import of this claim comments on our institutional alliances, as well as our collective understanding of what educational institutions are for. Thinkers of critical university studies define the university this way because it maximizes the forms of solidarity that are available to us in the face of sovereign institutional control.

For both DH and the Autonomist approach, solidarity is most prominently featured in tool-use and production. Following Caffentzis and Federici, Gigi Roggero mobilizes critical university studies toward a reinvention of the tool. In his article, “Notes on Framing and Reinventing Co-research,” he argues that “tools of inquiry have to be reinvented at the level of the general intellect’s networks, going beyond the division between the virtual and the real,” in order to maximize living labor’s break with capital, opening up a space for co-research to form a “material base for revolution” (520-521). DH’s reinvention of the library, the archive, and the application of technology to humanistic inquiry more generally have never been more apt. At the same time, a strong dialogue with Liu and Risam’s work, stemming from Bailey’s claim to DH as critical university studies, is brought to the fore in Roggero’s work.

This article will conclude by theorizing what forms of alliance/solidarity might be drawn between DH’s transformative work at the level of infrastructure with critical university studies’ political work at the level of the institution. I argue that the university is not a freestanding institution; it is embedded within processes of real subsumption that span the whole of contemporary life. Concerns for diversity and inclusion are contoured by this fact, and the transformative power of tool-use extant in DH praxis resist it.

Response After Reviewer Scores

My response addresses reviewer four’s concern for examples and concrete evidence as well as reviewer three’s criticisms of my reliance on Autonomist Marxism. The connection between Roggero’s combination of critical university studies and tool use within an Autonomist frame relies on the question of economic precarity, addressed by both Gold and Mohanty above. Where Roggero argues that tools of inquiry must impose a break with capital, he also connects concerns for economic precarity with critical infrastructure studies. Two examples clarify this point. First, this paper will recount Cassie Thornton’s multi-media installation, “Mystery Hands,” as a concrete example of how DH tool use might form the basis of thinking DH as critical university studies. In her installation, Thornton

used her signature technique of collecting hypnotic debt-visualizations from adults associated with or impacted by the crisis (teachers, activists, bankers, parents, principals), but sought to make these visions accessible to children, and asked children to help imagine ways to literally break out of the crisis that has so immobilized and sucked dry the adult imagination.

Here, I am interested in exploring how visualizing student and education-related debt acts as both an opportunity for children to “break out of the claustrophobic paradigm of debt” and an end to the economic imagination of adults. This inquiry stems directly from Caffentzis and Federici’s slogan, “as was the factory, so now is the university.”

My second example stems from my own work introducing DH methods and tools to underserved high school students in Baldwin, NY. While I will briefly discuss curriculum development and assessment for DH at the high school level, I will focus primarily on questions of infrastructure. Although my work in Baldwin received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding, university and high school administrators sought to monetize the project and limit access to its teaching materials. This resulted in a dispute over the project’s viability, critical scope, and institutional reach. As it stands, the project offers an example of cooptability in DH praxis. It is also an opportunity to showcase the potential for decolonial feminism and Autonomist Marxist theory to intervene and redirect the institutional focus of DH work at the level of infrastructure.

Works Cited

Bailey, Moya Z. “All the Digital Humanists are White, All the Nerds are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave” Journal of Digital Humanities. 1.1 (2011). Available at: http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-1/all-the-digital-humanists-are-white-all-the-nerds-are-men-but-some-of-us-are-brave-by-moya-z-bailey/

Caffentzis, George and Silvia Federici. “Notes on the Edu-factory and Cognitive Capitalism.” Toward a Global Autonomous University. Ed. The Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia. 2009. 125-131.

Gold, Matthew K. “The Digital Humanities Moment.” Debates in the Digital Humanities: 2012. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. 2012. ix-xvi. Print.

Thornton, Cassie. “Mystery Hands.” http://feministeconomicsdepartment.com/mysteryhands/

Liu, Alan. “Drafts for Against the Singularity (Book in Progress).” Alan Liu. 2 May 2016. Web 3 May 2016. Available at: https://liu.english.ucsb.edu/drafts-for-against-the-cultural-singularity/

Mohanty, Chandra Talapade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.

Risam, Roopika. “Navigating the Global Digital Humanities: Insights from Black Feminism.” Debates in the Digital Humanities: 2016. Eds. Matthew K. Gold and Laura F. Klein. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2016. 359-367. Print.

Roggero, Gigi. The Production of Living Knowledge: The Crisis of the University and the Transformation of Labor in Europe and North America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2011. Print.

First Thoughts, Perhaps an Academic Article, on the National Politics of (online) Dual Identity

The National Politics (online) Dual Identity

For all that has been said about President Donald Trump’s Twitter account(s)–his inflammatory and offensive statements, his rapid-fire early AM tweets, and his UNIQUE GRAMMAR! SAD!–a neglected duality came to the fore at 2:11 pm, January 20, 2017 that is now necessary to consider. Can a President retain a “private” identity on social media (@realDonaldTrump), an identity that maintains an outsider persona in the face his status as “leader of the free world,” at the same time that his “public” identity (@POTUS) coheres with presidential norms?

In President Trump’s first 14 days in office, the managers of his @POTUS account have attempted to maintain the “presidential” tone and aesthetic established by the Obama administration. His feed is filled with statements of thanks to the American people, images of the president hard at work with his staff, jovial with automobile industry leaders and the like, even as some of @realDonaldTrump’s personal interests have crept into the feed (@POTUS‘s January 23rd tweet of inauguration crowd size, for example, and January 26th retweets of @realDonaldTrump calling Chelsea Manning an “Ungrateful TRAITOR”).

By contrast President Trump’s @realDonalTrump account eschews any claim to a “presidential” tone established by his predecessor, even as it comments on geopolitical issues. For instance, just this morning President Trump issued a threatening statement to Iran via his @realDonaldTrump account, “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!” as a part of his early morning rapid-fire ritual. The tone of his tweet is particularly striking. If the president issued such a statement (@Potus), could it interpreted as a pretense for war? Indeed, many have already interpreted it as such. However, given its publication via @realDonaldTrump, is the White House suggesting that such a statement is a “private” matter, the comment of a political outsider with exceptional knowledge of geopolitical issues given his public status as President of the United States?

The questions surrounding Trump’s dual accounts abound. However, they are particularly striking in light of his recent Muslim Ban. On the one hand, individuals with green card status and dual citizenship have been and continue to be disallowed from entering the US. This is to say, individuals with dual national identities with real geopolitical stakes have been reduced to one on the presumption that trust cannot be extended to these individuals for their potential threat to national security. On the other, Trump’s “extreme vetting” procedures seem to include or would include individuals from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria make their social media available for review by various “border control” agencies. This is to say, privacy in an online setting is not extended to these individuals given their national identity. What Trump is allowed to maintain, at least the pretense to a “public” and “private” identity, is disallowed to the individuals of the countries his ban has targeted.

Participatory Conflict

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The creators of The Digital Manifesto Archive bring you Participatory Conflict, a controverted articulation of multimodal composition in/with adversarial design. Participatory Conflict is our first iteration of the concept. It is both a manifesto and an example of what politicizing the tension that animates multimodal composition might do. We hope to refine our work here and publish it in similar venues. You can print your own copy below! If you would like the .indd file for easier printing, email me!

participatory-conflict-1 (PDF, Duplex, Saddle Stitch)

participatory-conflict-print (PDF, Spreads, *some design elements might be missing)

MLA Panel 739, 2017: Digital Humanities in Secondary ED

Panel Abstract: Featured on DigitalHumanitiesNow.org

Since its inception, digital humanities have upset methodological difference, academic siloism, and institutional hierarchies by offering collaborative approaches to humanistic inquiry via digital tools. From Mark Sample’s declaration: “the digital humanities is really an insurgent humanities,” to the #transformDH movement’s push to alter DH praxis by “highlighting projects that push at its boundaries and work for social justice, accessibility, and inclusion,” DH forefronts both interdisciplinarity and collectivized approaches to academic work. At the same time, DH has had to reckon with its proximity to corporate influence on education and accusations of its affinity with neoliberal imperatives for educational value. This panel seeks to showcase how these concerns are no longer limited to higher education. They are concerns for DH’s place in secondary education as well.

DH scholars have already begun to focus on DH’s scope and method beyond the four-year higher educational model. Jesse Stommel has written on DH’s place in community college settings, and members of University of Victoria’s Maker Lab in the Humanities have showcased their kits for cultural history at École Arbutus Global Middle School. Recalling her visit, Katherine Goertz (UVic) notes that they “discussed how prototyping objects could be helpful for research in the humanities,” and how UVic tried to meld its work “with [École Arbutus’] own learning objectives.” Here, DH’s collaborative approach is manifest, and it offers us an approach to secondary educational outreach that also asks us to interrogate DH praxis at all levels of its articulation. Miriam Posner has recently written on precisely this confluence of issues. Arguing that higher ed has absorbed of the rhetoric about the immateriality of digital labor, she notes how our reliance on corporate platforms undermines our ability to be effective educators long-term. Indeed, it upsets our ability to work collaboratively and challenge institutional hierarchy in our research and pedagogy. Posner also notes that this state of affairs is already well documented at the K-12 level via movements like EDTECH. Where headlines from EdTech magazine proclaim that “Microsoft, Facebook Join Coalition Pushing for Coding in Classrooms,” Posner calls DH scholars to invest in their own infrastructure, compelling us to explore how DH methods extend into a secondary educational setting.

This panel showcases two current projects focused on bringing DH’s collaborative approach to humanistic inquiry to underserved high school students on Long Island and to English Language Arts classrooms on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Further, this panel showcases a third paper that addresses questions of ethics and labor endemic to DH’s migration to secondary educational settings. All three papers are situated within the debates cited above as they also showcase practical issues and obstacles to organizing this work as a collaborative, interdisciplinary endeavor at the secondary level.

Roopika Risam’s paper centers on her work with English language arts teachers in Massachusetts and their struggle to use technology to enhance their students’ reading and writing skills. Forefronting the requirements and limitations of Common Core standards, Risam discusses her qualitative research regarding teachers’ attitudes towards and awareness of digital humanities and their responses to digital humanities pedagogy workshops offered to them for professional development. Further, Risam shares the results of her work with local teachers on both small scale and larger scale digital humanities assignments developed to engage students. She concludes by examining the curricular changes implemented in Salem State University’s secondary to support the development of digital humanities skills for English language arts teachers, offering insight into how these acts of collaboration might travel.

Matt Applegate and Jamie Cohen’s paper focuses on their co-organized project to bring DH methods and New Media principles to underserved high school students in Baldwin, Long Island. Applegate and Cohen outline the formation of the project, and the curricular standards for the project they created with Baldwin High School faculty and administrators (modules, college credit-bearing courses, and opportunities for faculty development), and the construction of its collaborative workspace. By consulting with WeWorkNYC and the Centre for Social Innovation in NYC, Applegate and Cohen detail how they are building collaborative educational models and spaces focused on social justice even as the demand for marketable skills undergirds Baldwin’s turn to DH and New Media. At its conclusion, Applegate and Cohen’s paper offers insight into how this process might be replicated both institutionally and curricularly beyond the Baldwin school district.

Spencer Keralis’s paper offers a look at the ethical implications of bring DH praxis to secondary education. He argues that our work too often and too easily coheres with neoliberal imperatives that mask labor alienation in the classroom. Underscoring concerns for social justice and labor, Keralis endeavors to develop a programmatic response to the ethical problems at the foundations of these emerging programs, before bad choices on the part of teaching faculty become bad habits. He focuses on questions concerning copyright and intellectual property in parallel with teaching students the technical, creative, and humanistic skills necessary for doing digital humanities work to create durable products for which they retain ownership. Finally, Keralis argues that this approach offers students the tools to challenge labor alienation prior to their college or university experience.

Paper Abstracts

Digital Humanities and the Common Core in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Roopika Risam

As the Common Core Standards have been implemented in public schools, the challenges facing teachers have been great. The standards emphasize the need for technology skills embedded in disciplinary knowledge. For example, teachers in English language arts are required to teach students how to use technology and digital media to enhance reading and writing, integrate and evaluate media in multiple forms, produce digital texts, create visual data displays, and more. These requirements are in addition to the many standards that address reading, speaking, listening, and writing, as well as the pressures to teach informational texts alongside literary ones. How, then, might using digital humanities in the secondary English language arts classroom help teachers navigate the challenges posed by the Common Core Standards while providing high-impact pedagogical experiences for their students? This talk discusses my research and work with secondary education English teachers on the North Shore of Massachusetts. I begin by discussing my qualitative research study assessing teachers’ attitudes towards and awareness of digital humanities and their responses to digital humanities pedagogy workshops offered to them for professional development. I also share the results of my work with local teachers on both small scale (1-3 lessons) and larger scale (units and semesters) digital humanities assignments developed to engage students and meet their needs while addressing the requirements of the Common Core Standards. Finally, I examine the curricular changes implemented in Salem State University’s secondary English undergraduate and graduate English education programs that are intended to support the development of digital humanities skills for English language arts teachers.

Bio:

Roopika Risam is an assistant professor of English and English education at Salem State University, where she coordinates the secondary education English undergraduate BA/M.Ed. program and the graduate certificate program in digital studies. Her research examines intersections between postcolonial and African diaspora literatures and cultures, and the role of digital humanities in mediating between them. Risam also works with pre-service English teachers and teachers of record to develop digital humanities assignments and projects to meet curricular needs at the secondary level. This work takes the form of several initiatives including an undergraduate digital scholars program, graduate certificate program in digital studies, and outreach programs with public schools on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Her monograph, Postcolonial Digital Humanities, under contract with Northwestern UP, examines the possibilities for recovering lost stories and unheard voices within and through digital humanities. Her work has recently appeared in Left History, South Asian Review, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Digital Scholarship in the Humanities and is forthcoming in Debates in Digital Humanities 2016.

 

Bringing DH Methods and New Media Principles to Underserved High School Students

Matt Applegate & Jamie Cohen

The Baldwin High School New Media Academy is a co-organized effort to bring the study of New Media and Digital Humanities to underserved high school populations on Long Island, New York. Working with high school faculty, administrators, and students for the past two years, Matt Applegate and Jamie Cohen have established a curriculum and internship path at Baldwin High to expose students to the methods of DH praxis and principles of New Media in both educational and work-related environments.

Our curriculum is based on five modules and two college-credit bearing courses. Our modules include Critical Making, Digital Storytelling, Multimodal Composition, Online Expression, and Social Media. Our college-credit bearing courses are Introduction to New Media and College Composition (the course is taught entirely on the methods of multimodal composition). Each module is integrated into existing high school courses, i.e., Social Studies, English, Wood Shop, etc., where students take college-credit bearing courses in their junior and senior years. Over the course of the next academic year, we will work with the Baldwin School District to rehabilitate an abandoned school site to house our academy, funded by a New York State Development grant that we acquired in the 2015 academic year.

The focus of this paper is to report on our work with underserved high school populations and relay the challenges of bringing this kind of material to a secondary education setting. We focus on the practicalities of bringing DH methods and New Media principles to high school (i.e., funding, time, expertise, bureaucracy), as well as the conceptual labor of bringing this work to a new setting. We conclude by considering how the digital humanities travel beyond the college classroom in particular, framing our project as an expression of the Public Humanities.

Bio:

Matt Applegate is an Assistant Professor of English and Digital Humanities at Molloy College. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Binghamton University. He has published articles in Amodern, Theory & Event, Cultural Critique, Telos, and more. Matt is also the creator and administrator of the Digital Manifesto Archive and @DHManifesto_Bot.

Jamie Cohen is the Program Director of the New Media Program at Molloy College in Digital Humanities and New Media Department. He is currently a Ph.D. student at Stony Brook University studying Cultural Studies and Media Archaeology. Jamie is the co-author of Producing New and Digital Media: Your Guide to Savvy Use of the Web (Routledge 2015).

Owning Your Labor Is a Skill: What We Should Teach in the Secondary Ed DH Classroom

Spencer D.C. Keralis

The neoliberal rubric of “skills-buidling” is too frequently used to mask labor alienation in the classroom, with students paying for the privilege of working on faculty projects. This practice has unfortunately been prevalent in STEM for generations and, with the rise of digital humanities, is now entering the humanities classroom as well. Criticisms of this practice are frequently silenced and dismissed in discourse around digital humanities pedagogy with a litany of straw man arguments and sleights of hand: “Don’t you want students to have skills that get them jobs?” “It’s important to expose students to active research.” “It’s an important part of science pedagogy that we should adapt for ourselves.” And, worst of all: “There aren’t any rules against doing it.” As digital humanities extends its reach into the K-12 classroom, it offers an opportunity to develop a programmatic response to this ethical problem at the foundations of these emerging programs, before bad choices on the part of teaching faculty become bad habits. This paper proposes that, by engaging high-school students in conversations about social justice in labor, and by educating them on copyright and intellectual property in parallel with teaching them the technical, creative, and humanistic skills necessary for doing digital humanities work to create durable products for which they retain ownership, secondary educators can empower students to challenge labor alienation when they meet it in the collegiate classroom.

Bio:

Spencer D. C. Keralis is Research Associate Professor and Digital Humanities Coordinator with the Public Services Division of the University of North Texas Libraries, and is the Founding Director of Digital Frontiers, a conference that brings together the makers and users of digital resources for humanities research, teaching, and learning. His research has appeared in Disrupting the Digital Humanities, Book History, American Periodicals, and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) reports The Problem of Data (2012) and Research Data Management: Principles, Practices, and Prospects (2013). He has held a Mellon Fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia, a Legacy Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society, and served as a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Academic Libraries with the University of North Texas Libraries.

Glitch-Writing, or, How to Break Twitter

Breaking Twitter is fun. It’s weird. It’s an art practice. It demonstrates how writing and design overlap.

Perhaps you’ve spent an afternoon scrolling through your Twitter feed and happened upon a Tweet that looks like this:

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Or this:

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If you have, you didn’t happen upon a random glitch; you happened upon a carefully crafted act of composition. These tweets are produced with skill and precision, and they are meant to disrupt the flow and function of the feed. Tweets like this ask their reader to reflect on the form and method of our most common modes of Internet-based communication. So what’s going on here?

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Can we call this language? How is code “glitched” to produce these weird messages? How do they reveal the limitations of the text box as they are visualized?

From an academic standpoint, these glitches invoke an interdisciplinary response. Glitches trick us when files change format (see Lori Emerson’s “Glitch” entry in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media).

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Glitches remind us that translation is never perfect (see Matt Applegate’s “Glitched in Translation” and Amodern article, “Glîtchéd in †ranslation: Rèading †ext & Codè as a Plaÿ of $pacés“).

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Glitches are art objects (see the host of articles and resources compiled by Phillip Sterns).

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The process of making  glitch art or producing glitch-writing might seem hard, but there are numerous tutorials one can turn to in order to create image-based glitch art and sound-based glitch art–everything from Data Moshing to Sonification. (Again, Phillip Sterns has compiled a great list of tutorials here: https://phillipstearns.wordpress.com/glitch-art-resources/.) Over the past five years, articles featuring Glitchr’s work in particular have appeared in Rhizome, Buzzfeed, and The Creator’s Project. However, this work recalls glitch-writing produced by a broader set of artists and writers like the art collective JodiRosa Menkman, Jon Cates, and Jimpunk.

This post focuses solely on the production of text-based glitches, just like the tweets embedded above. A tutorial, critical analysis, and guide for critical reflection follow below. Whether you are interested in glitch-writing as an aesthetic practice or interested in teaching the practice to others, the tutorial, analysis, and guide will help you contextualize your work and situate it within the discourse that surrounds the practice.

Tutorial:

There are several resources that you will need ready-to-hand before you start to break things. Here’s a list of the basics:

  1. Login or sign up for a Twitter account: http://twitter.com.
  2. Have access to a comprehensive Unicode chart: http://unicode-table.com/en/#control-character
  3. Have a word processor, Microsoft Word, open.
  4. Have your Unicode Hex Input activated on your computer.
    • Directions for Mac Users:
      •  Tutorial: http://symbolcodes.tlt.psu.edu/keyboards/mackey.html
      • Video Tutorial (2013): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZLq_QW4J28
    • Directions for PC Users:
      • Tutorial: http://www.fileformat.info/tip/microsoft/enter_unicode.htm
      • Video Tutorial (2008): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHwfI6XPH18

Let’s get started!

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First things first. I recommend that you write your glitch in a word processor like Microsoft Word. This will help you better craft your glitch. It helps for a few reasons. 1) Much of this form of glitch-writing relies on stackable marks–what we call diacritical marks. Diacritical marks are typically used as “accent marks” over vowels. They indicate an alternative form of enunciation to those typically found in the English language. (For an explanation of some of the most common diacritical marks employed in the English language with their Unicode encoding, see Pinyin.info.)  Using Word, rather than Twitter’s text box, will help you better organize your glitch, allow you to save your writing at any point, and act as a playground for the writing process. Using Word used to have an even greater function. Prior to the June 21, 2016 9.0 Unicode update, it was possible to stack diacritical marks in Word and copy them to Twitter as a single character. Here is a screenshot of what this feature of the writing process looked like:

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In the wake of the update, any interface you use to create stacked glitches will count each mark as a new character, limiting your glitch in the Twitter interface. 2) Twitter doesn’t recognize every Unicode encoding for every possible letter, number, and punctuation mark for every language. I’ve found that Microsoft Word can visualize more Unicode encodings than Twitter. This is important if you desire to break text boxes on other social media platforms. 3) Microsoft Word allows you to change the orientation and distance of your text, allowing for a more “sculptural” quality inherent to this type of writing.

Ok! Open a new Microsoft Word document and activate the Unicode Hex Input on your keyboard. Once you have the Unicode Hex Input activated, open your Unicode chart and scroll to the section labeled 0300, “Combining Diacritical Marks.” The 0300 – 0360 range of encodings gives you the largest set of stackable characters within the Unicode chart. Feel free to explore other language subsets and options, but be sure to remember that the characters that range from 0300 – 0360 allow you to stack. This feature is important for two reasons. 1) Stackable characters are necessary for exceeding the spatial limits of the text box (both vertically and horizontally). Where we typically think of the text box on a given interface to be a self-contained compositional environment, diacritical marks reveal this to be a farce. 2) Stackable characters allow you to move seamlessly between linguistic systems as you also combine them. Think about diacritical marks like digital-linguistic glue; they allow us to combine characters from a multiplicity of natural languages in order to communicate beyond their individual confines. These marks are what often give the practice of glitch-writing its sculptural quality.

Once you have decided which characters/linguistic systems you’d like to play with, type a character’s Unicode encoding in Microsoft Word. For Macs, you can do this by holding down the option key while typing the encoding. For PCs, hold down the Alt key, press the + key, then type the Unicode encoding.

After a few cycles, things will get weird. When you start adding letters and diacritical marks to your Word document, the diacritical marks stack toward the viewer, rather than vertically or horizontally. It will look jumbled, but don’t worry, you’re breaking things the right way. Your glitch should look something like this:

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While it is difficult to detect now, many of these marks and characters will reorient themselves within the text boxes of each social media platform you might place it in. Here is an example of what this glitch looks like on Twitter:

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This is what the same glitch looks like on Facebook:

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Here it is on Fold:

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This is what it looks like if I copy and paste it directly into my current text box:

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This is what is looks like when I write it:

O̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳̳Ҙ҉҉҉ʹʹ҉ʹ̨̨̨̨̨̨̨̨̃༃༃

Remember, different digital platforms will visualize your glitch differently. Not all digital platforms recognize the same Unicode sets, nor do they situate text in the same way. (If you have ever sent an emoji from your iPhone to a friend’s Android and had it change in the process, you know what I’m talking about.)

At this point, you’ve been supplied with the basics. Be as creative with the process as you like. You will inevitably fail, but that’s kind of the point.

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Critical Analysis:

In a comment on his writing practice, Don DeLillo writes, “This is what I mean when I call myself a writer. I construct sentences. There’s a rhythm I hear that drives me through a sentence. And the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality. They form odd correspondences.” Glitch-writing is all about odd correspondences. It, beyond DeLillo’s commentary, prioritizes the sculptural quality typed words embody on their interface. What can be made of writing that is meant to break the digital environments in which it is housed? How does glitch-writing forward an argument?

From an historical standpoint, glitch-writing perhaps best mirrors poetic expression that originated in analog contexts, two in particular: concrete poetry and asemic writing. Concrete poetry refers to poetic expression that conveys its meaning through graphic design (graphic in the diagrammatic sense), often by creating shapes and patterns with words. Here are two examples:

The first is by George Herbert, titled “Easter Wings.” It was first published in 1663; now it lives in the public domain.

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The second is by Benjamín Moreno, titled Concretoons, archived by the Electronic Literature Organization and protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License:

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Herbert’s poem is printed sideways. Its shape is meant to resemble angels’ wings, visually enforcing the final lines of the poem. Moreno’s poem reimagines Jorge Luis Borges’s poem “Laberinto borginano” in the style of a PacMan maze. As the ELO notes, Moreno’s aesthetic allows “readers to re-build or erase individual words or whole poems, as well as navigate through them in an exploratory way. Through the different game dynamics, Moreno explores the poetic expressiveness of the video game to convey meaning beyond the words.” With both poems, visual structure and literary meaning are inseparable. In fact, the typographical effect of arranging text into angel’s wings or a PacMan maze is perhaps more important than what the text communicates on its own. The interactive component that Moreno adds reinforces the inseparability of the image/text formation.

Asemic writing, by comparison, refers to writing without “specific semantic content.” Asemic writing is often meant to inspire the reader to attribute meaning to it. It can take on various shapes and modes of organization, but its shape does not correspond to written expression in a functional language, natural or digital. Indeed, design and writing are more intimately linked through the asemic gesture. As Michael Jacobson argues, asemic writing “uses the constraints of writerly gestures and the full developments of abstract art to divulge its main purpose: total freedom beyond literary expression.” Here is an example by Mirtha Dermisache, titled Illiazd, protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License:

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On its face, Dermisache’s piece appears to be a set of incoherent scribbles. Perhaps its zigzags and oblique lines express the author’s frustration with writing. Perhaps it is a visual metaphor, marking a series of schisms with writing as it occurs in a natural language. Paired with its title, Dermisache’s piece is revealed to be a tribute to the avant-garde typographer and designer Ilia Zdanevich. (I have also reproduced some of these vertical squiggles in my glitch above). On the one hand, Dermisache’s piece does not resemble any particular piece of Zdanevich’s work archived by MoMA. Linguistically, it perhaps better matches punctuation marks in Sinhalese and Sanskrit (see below). On the other, asemic writing is not meant to convey meaning as a natural language or a digital language would. Asemic writing signifies freedom from constraint, linguistic and literary, prior to any other meaning it might hold.

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What, then, do glitches do, especially when considered as an extension of this poetic lineage? I have traced the glitch’s relation to concrete poetry and asemic writing via typewriter art and ASCII art elsewhere, focusing on the technological and aesthetic bases of glitch-writing. The import and function of glitch-writing is inseparable from these features of its production. However, the political and rhetorical dimensions of its production and use are equally as forceful when these poetic practices are forefronted.

Consider Glitchr’s April 2014 tweet, which I will title “error”:

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More concrete poetry than asemic writing, Glitchr’s “error” makes use of the 0360 Unicode set to construct a visual/linguistic pyramid that announces what it also produces: an error in the feed. Playing off of a HTTP 404 Not Found Error, Glitchr visualizes the order of the interface and its text space differently, rather than rendering the entire page “not found.” Glitchr’s “error” pyramid breaks loose of the textbox, alerting the viewer to an alteration in the code that renders text legible on Twitter, but also forming an arrow, pointing to the errors that occur after it.

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Rhetorically speaking, Glitchr’s “error” is satirical in its interaction with other text and media on his feed. It reveals the limits of the text box by breaking them without destroying the entire interface. When read as a form of concrete poetry, Glitchr’s “error” creates a cascading image via text, reinforcing the stackability of diacritical marks while simultaneously gesturing toward the glitches that follow. It says, “look up,” “look what I can reveal about this platform,” “look at how I can communicate differently.”

On a political register, Glitchr’s work operates in much the same way that Hito Steyerl describes contemporary conditions of “post-representation.” Consider her explanation of how camera phones form images based on pictures already stored in one’s phone.

As the lenses [of your smart phone] are tiny and basically crap, about half of the data captured by the sensor are noise. The trick is to create the algorithm to clean the picture from the noise, or rather to define the picture from within noise. But how does the camera know this? Very simple. It scans all other pictures stored on the phone or on your social media networks and sifts through your contacts. It looks through the pictures you already made, or those that are networked to you and tries to match faces and shapes. In short: it creates the picture based on earlier pictures, on your/its memory. It does not only know what you saw but also what you might like to see based on your previous choices. In other words, it speculates on your preferences and offers an interpretation of data based on affinities to other data.

The social media feed is a correlate to the camera phone’s function described here. Twitter makes suggestions to you based on your preferences algorithmically; it inserts them into your feed based on past interactions on the site, i.e., affinities to other data, i.e., stuff you like. Further, the feed’s vertical construction and character eliminate “noise” two ways. Content that is not interacted with is pushed into oblivion, and the content one produces must cohere with the platforms’ constraints (140 character limit, alignment, color, etc.). These features form the basis of Twitter’s usability. Twitter just isn’t Twitter without them.

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Glitchr’s tweets break the tacit “user agreement” enforced by Twitter’s interface. He inserts “noise” into each tweet via his Unicode switch, which then converts Twitter’s suggestion algorithm into an exploit. Any affinity glitch-writing might have with other iterations produced on the platform will transform one’s feed into something wholly unintended by the Twitter corporation.

Similar examples exist on an asemic register. For example, exq=.s.te =n.c&de/s’ glitch-writing on Twitter is quite similar to an example of asemic writing provided by the Calligraphy Writing website (see below).

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To be sure, the glitch-writing that exq=.s.te =n.c&de/s executes on Twitter is interesting for many of the same reasons as Glitchr’s. However, comparing glitch-writing to asemic writing reveals a monumental difference between the two practices. If asemic writing signifies freedom from literary and linguistic constraint on the page, glitch-writing signifies freedom from literary and linguistic constraint at the level of code. With all practices of glitch-writing, Unicode numbers that make language communicable as intended are replaced by Unicode numbers that alter the meaning of language, interface, and aesthetics.

In his article, “Critical Code Studies,” Mark Marino theorizes critical code studies (CCS) on a similar register to the function and effect of glitch-writing’s asemic gesture. Marino is concerned with the functionality and efficiency of code, an aesthetic problem on his view, but he is also concerned with how code manifests as an aesthetic object. Marino cites Rita Raley on this point, arguing that code’s aestheticization need not result in an executable process, especially as it brings what’s hiding in the background of our favorite websites, apps, digital lit, and so on, to the foreground. The question of what computer code is when it doesn’t produce an executable command, is therefore a linguistic problem as much as an aesthetic one. If code is not necessarily an operable set of symbols and characters, what is its status as a language?

Marino’s focus on what Nick Montfort calls “obfuscated code” and what Michael Mateas calls “weird languages” is perhaps the most pertinent analog for understanding glitch-writing’s asemic gesture here. For Montfort, obfuscated code is often dense and indecipherable. It, in Mateas’ words, “exploits the syntactic and semantic play of a language to create code that, often humorously, comments on the constructs provided by a specific language.” Weird languages are those in which “programmers explore and exploit the play that is possible in programming language design.” They, too, often comment on the features of existing coding languages. The allure of these practices for both theorists is primarily characterized by their ability to “double code,” or their ability to execute valid programs in two or more coding languages. Obfuscated code and weird languages blend coding languages as a means of making syntactic and semantic commentary about code in code. They also demonstrate the variability of code, its inherent multi-linguality, and in some cases, weird languages and obfuscated code further programming language design.

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At the backend, Unicode does not comment on the grammar or syntax of coding languages themselves, it is the numeric value that stands between coding languages and natural languages. It is the operator and proof that coding languages are multi-lingual. On the frontend, Unicode is used primarily for text processing, but it can also be used to inform a given website’s features and layout. When we consider glitch-writing like Glitchr’s and exq=.s.te =n.c&de/s’, we see that what Unicode executes via various coding languages is a variation on “code switching,” with and beyond what one would see in the interplay of natural languages. Glitch-writing is then certainly an extension of the interests and attributes of concrete poetry and asemic writing, but its execution is much different. To further explore these concerns, see what David (Jhave) Johnston offers as a framework for conceptualizing writing in digital environments as a mode of assimilation, but also where Rosa Menkman argues that glitch art is formative of a new visual-linguistic language system.

I’ve included two of my own examples here to conclude. The first recalls pages 54-57 of Marshall McLuhan’s text, The Medium is the Massage. On these pages, McLuhan prints his text backward and upside down in order to compel the reader to rotate the book and hold it up to a reflective screen. I utilized characters from the “phonetic extensions” Unicode set, 1D00 -1D50, in order to create this effect for social media. In order to read this tweet as Twitter would intend, the reader would have to flip her screen 180°. This would also invert the flow of her Twitter feed, pushing content up rather than down, momentarily prioritizing “old” content rather than “new.”

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My second example demonstrates variability in Unicode rendering within the Twitter feed itself. When initially published to Twitter, the diacritical marks I’ve applied to each letter are both flat and abbreviated. When clicked, the diacritical marks expand, many of which extend well beyond the text box.

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I chose to glitch the word “immemorial” for two reasons. The first speaks to glitch-writing’s rhetorical force, or how this mode of composition presents an argument. The second is a visual-linguistic gesture toward concrete poetry and asemic writing. I stacked letters via their diacritical function in order to simply show how text can stretch beyond the text box, reaching into the future and past of my Twitter feed. Glitch-writing is “immemorial” in the trace of its text appearing where it should not. At the same time, glitch-writing recalls writing practices that precede it–it brings its forbears into the present (concrete poetry and asemic writing) as it also extends their gestures into new milieus.

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Regardless of one’s approach, glitch-writing both complicates and clarifies the connection between writing and design. Albeit in a limited way, glitch-writing allows us to redefine the function of the text box and redesign the flow and function of the spaces in which we place our glitches. When we break Twitter, we design it differently; we make the platform communicate something other than what it was intended to communicate. The platform’s entire environment is altered by what we type. Glitch-writing doesn’t simply motivate questions concerning how text and image relate, it requires us to reflect on the function of our most dominant regimes of visualization.

Critical Making/Critical Reflection:

Although this tutorial might be your stepping stone to glitch composition and artistry, it is also a tool for critical reflection. I would suggest that we follow a “critical making” process like that outlined by Matt Ratto and Stephen Hockema in their coauthored essay “FLWR PWR: Tending the Walled Garden” in order to conceptualize the act of glitch-writing with its rhetorical and political functions. This process is comprised of three steps: 1) literature review, 2) collaboration on the production of a prototype, and 3) reflection. This tutorial provides a robust literature review and example of analysis, but now it’s time to glitch-write. I’ve included some helpful suggestions below to get you started.

  1. While I’ve listed a number of academic and journalistic texts above, let’s look at a recent interview with Jimpunk in order to reflect on the linguistic implications of text-based glitch art. When asked questions about why Jimpunk makes text-based glitch art, the artist/writer responds in glitches, rather than in a natural language. The artist writes out responses that play with shape, line, and color, but also responses that combine multiple languages into a single communicative product. What languages does Jimpunk use? Can you decipher what the artist communicates with each response?
  2. When we write, it often seems like we write in isolation. However, digital composition is often collaborative, especially as we combine multiple forms of media into a single piece. The authors of Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projectscall this multimodal composition. All texts are multimodal, but digital composition allows us to dialogue with readers and other authors. How is glitch-writing collaborative? How does it dialogue with those who have developed and furthered the practice? Do you use other author’s glitches to help you write yours?
  3. Reflecting on the effects and possibilities of glitch-writing is perhaps the most complex task associated with the practice. Glitch-writing can attune writers and readers alike to interface history and design, critical code studies, and earlier practices like ASCII art and art-typing. If we reflect on glitch-writing as an act of composition, we are presented with a series of difficult questions, some of which are already listed above: Can we call glitch-writing language? How is code being “glitched” to produce these weird messages? How does glitch-writing reveal the limitations of the text box? What does it mean for writing and composition when we combine multiple natural languages with multiple digital languages?

Let’s go break things!

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Works Cited

“Announcing  The Unicode Standard®, Version 9.0.” Unicode. 21 June, 2016. http://blog.unicode.org/2016/06/announcing-unicode-standard-version-90.html

Applegate, Matt. “Glitched in Translation.” Precarious Aesthetics 2015 Conference Proceedings (2015): n. pag. Berkeley Center for New Media. Http://bcnm.berkeley.edu/. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

—. “GLî†CHÉD IN †RAN$LA†ION: Rèading †ex† and Codè as a Plaÿ of $pacés.” Amodern. Ed. Nick Thurston. http://amodern.net/article/glitched-in-translation/

Arola, Kristin L., Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl E. Ball. Writer/designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. Print.

Cascone, Kim. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music.” Computer Music Journal. 24:4 (2002): http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors3/casconetext.html

DeLillo, Don. “Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction No. 135.” Interviewed by Adam Begley. The Paris Review. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1887/the-art-of-fiction-no-135-don-delillo

Douglas, Louis. “The Diacritics of Glitchr.” Rhizome. Rhizome.org, 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Electronic Literature Directory. “Individual Work: Concretoons.” http://directory.eliterature.org/individual-work/4615

“Il’ia Zdanevich.” Moma.org. http://www.moma.org/artists/12660

“Introduction to Asemic Writing.” Calligraphy Writing. 21 Dec. 2013. http://www.calligraphywriting.org/introduction-to-asemic-writing/

Jacobson, Michael. “On Asemic Writing.” Asymptote. http://www.asymptotejournal.com/visual/michael-jacobson-on-asemic-writing/

Jimpunk, and Electronic Objects Inc. “Jimpunk – Artist Interview Series.”Electric Objects. https://www.electricobjects.com/, 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Johnson, Chris A. “Chris.com – ASCII ART.” Chris.com – ASCII ART. Http://chris.com, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

Johnston, David (Jhave). “The Assimilation of Text by Image | Electronic Book Review.” Electronic Book Review, 7 Oct. 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/assimilation

“Letters with Diacritical Marks, Grouped Alphabetically.” Diacritics. Http://pinyin.info/, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

Marino, Mark C. “Critical Code Studies.” Electronic Book Review, 4 Dec. 2006. Web Oct. 2016. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/codology

Raley, Rita. “Code.surface || Code.depth.” www.dichtung-digital.org/2006/1-Raley.htm

Menkman, Rosa. “|| | Bitsbits Bits____________________ ///////////////ЯOSΛ MEИKMΛN~~~@~~~DIRDIRDIR A:??blogspot?____________________________________| ||.” || | Bitsbits Bits____________________ ///////////////ЯOSΛ MEИKMΛN~~~@~~~DIRDIRDIR A:??blogspot?____________________________________| ||. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

Ratto, Matt, and Stephen Hockema. “FLWR PWR: Tending the Walled Garden.” FLWR PWR – Tending the Walled Garden (n.d.): n. pag. Critical Making. Http://criticalmaking.com. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Sayej, Nadja. “Glitchr Is The Most Interesting Artist-Hacker On Facebook | The Creators Project.” The Creators Project. Http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/, 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Smith, Patrick. “18 Tweets That Prove @Glitchr_ Is The Weirdest Thing On Twitter.” BuzzFeed. Http://Buzzfeed.com, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Sterns, Phillip. “Glitch Art Resources.” Phillip Sterns. Https://phillipstearns.wordpress.com/, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Steyerl, Hito. “Politics of Post-Representation.” With Marvin Jordan. DisMagazine http://dismagazine.com/disillusioned-2/62143/hito-steyerl-politics-of-post-representation/

“Unicode® Character Table.” Unicode® Character Table. Http://unicode-table.com, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Snippet 4: DH as Critical University Studies

This is the final post I will make on this work here. Enjoy!

In his 2011 The Production of Living Knowledge, Gigi Roggero opens with the following claim: “Above all, [Autonomist] inquires into the new production of subjectivity: the category of living knowledge is the attempt to reread the Marxian concept of living labor within the present context.” His project grows out of an effort by the Edu-factory Collective to identify how the university exists as a space of struggle, but also how it serves as apparatus that captures knowledge to prevent its becoming-common. For Roggero and the Edu-factory Collective more generally, the politics that follow are solely focused on “how to collectively re-appropriate the university;” their answer is to “face this problem from within.” Indeed, neoliberal imperatives over the university equate subjectivity and knowledge with entrepreneurialism, demonstrating capital’s hold over knowledge production, but also demanding a response from within the institution itself. Thus, in an antagonistic mode to these processes and regimes, the production of subjectivity comes to function as the practice and aspiration of alternative forms of life manifesting in and reorganizing the present. It mirrors the political turn in Balsamo’s work, parallels Bailey’s claim above, and extends concerns vocalized by Koh, Pritchard, and Moravec.

Although Roggero’s analysis is centered on union activity at Columbia and NYU, the militancy of ‘60’s and ‘70’s are not the alternative Roggero has in mind here—his project is concerned with neither political programs nor modes of ‘consciousness raising.’ Indeed, either avenue of action would function under a logic of capture that Roggero is intent on opposing. Rather, militancy operates as an orientation within and from the antagonistic forces through which living knowledge is produced. It acts from within the attack on the common. Militancy is therefore an assemblage of power that refuses hierarchy and command but preserves partisan opposition. Within the space of the university, militancy organizes intellectual labor in a way that not only explodes the categorical ossification of knowledge but also radically relocates its production.

Roggero extends this practice of militancy in his article, “Notes on Framing and Re-inventing Co-research.” There, Roggero proclaims processes like real subsumption to be an object of hate, especially in educational contexts, but forwards a concept of co-research in order to oppose capital’s incursion into the university. The categorical logic of his antagonism is manifest. Precisely how this form of militancy coheres with claims to critical university studies above, as well as its application in DH, however, rests on theorizing their shared interests.

One of the most interesting features of Roggero’s work, especially as it might apply to DH, is his claim that co-research requires a reinvention of the tool. It speaks directly to issues presented in chapter three concerning dead and living labor, but also to those focused on inclusion and difference above: “tools of inquiry have to be reinvented at the level of the general intellect’s networks, going beyond the division between the virtual and the real,” in order to maximize living labor’s break with capital, opening up a space for co-research to form a “material base for revolution” (520-521). DH’s reinvention of the library has never been more apt. Liu’s claim to critical infrastructure studies is a first step in this direction. What his work demands is a claim comparable to those articulated by Laboria Cuboniks above. The university is not a freestanding institution; it is embedded within processes of real subsumption that span the whole of contemporary life. What once was the factory is now the university.

Roggero, then, too, is concerned with questions of infrastructure, but from a radical political position. His concept of militancy as co-research refers directly to the alliances we make with our tools and the underlying frameworks that motivate their use. “In co-research,” Roggero argues, “the production of knowledge is simultaneously the production of subjectivity and the construction of organization” (517). This is to say, much like the post-human turn above, processes of self-making are both collectivized and focused on underlying frameworks of social organization. Thus, “co-research on the one hand translates and implements the discourse into practice, on the other hand it transforms and elaborates political discourse from the starting point of a struggle and the subjective recomposition. Co-research is at the centre of militancy” (519).

Snippet 3: DH as Critical University Studies

What DH calls critical infrastructure, thinkers of critical university studies call militancy as co-research. Indeed, it does not take a careful reader to detect a radical undercurrent to Mohanty’s interest in feminist literacy, nor should it be a surprise that those disproportionately affected by institutional inequity might rely on a radical political logic with which to situate their intellectual labor. This avenue of thought begins with a warning, one that is certainly applicable to DH’s interest in infrastructure, and proceeds with a complex political proposition.

Writing of their work with CAFA (Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa), George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici comment on institutional formations like those that Liu invokes, but also those that are already operative in DH: global initiatives organized around a common goal. Where Caffentzis and Federici depart from the question of DH infrastructure is certainly a question of technological focus, but also it is also a political one. “As was the factory,” Caffentzis and Federici write, “so now is the university” (125). The import of this claim comments on our institutional alliances, as well as our collective understanding of what educational institutions are. Is the university a site of institutional exception, managed by a gifted intellectuals who can steer social forces, or is the institution managed by corporate forces that require those committed to intellectual labor to contest its current socio-economic commitments? Thinkers of critical university studies clearly refer the latter, but they do so because it maximizes the forms of solidarity that are available to us in the face of sovereign institutional control.

Caffentzis and Federici’s warning, then, rests on the character of our labor and its role in advancing our collective vision of the university. If the university is the contemporary iteration of the factory, opposition to our exploitation requires a diversity of skills, one they attribute to a new form of internationalism that brings “computer programmers, artists, and other edu-workers in one movement, each making its distinctive contribution” (129). A globalized vision of the university also requires that we see

the continuity of our struggle through the difference of our places in the international division of labor, and to articulate our demands and strategies in accordance to these differences and the need to overcome them. Assuming that a recomposition of the workforce is already occurring because work is becoming homogenized — through a process that some have defined as the “becoming common of labor” — will not do. We cannot cast the “cognitive” net so widely that almost every kind of work becomes “cognitive” labor, short of making arbitrary social equations and obfuscating our understanding of what is new about “cognitive labor” in the present phase of capitalism. (129)

The militancy that follows from this proposition is located in a discussion of collective self-making, one that focuses heavily on the production of subjectivity.

In his 2011 The Production of Living Knowledge, Gigi Roggero opens with the following claim: “Above all, [The Production of Living Knowledge] inquires into the new production of subjectivity: the category of living knowledge is the attempt to reread the Marxian concept of living labor within the present context.”

Snippet 2: DH as Critical University Studies

In her 2003 book, Feminism Without Borders, Chandra Talapade Mohanty claims that “the moment we tie university-based research to economic development–and describe this research as fundamentally drive by market forces–it becomes possible  to locate the university as an important player in capitalist rule” (173). This claim is couched in a decolonial method committed to developing “the urgent political necessity of forming strategic coalitions across class, race, and national boundaries,” but it is also motivated by a commitment to feminist struggle (9). The university is a site of decolonial feminist struggle in particular because it is a “contradictory place where knowledges are colonized but also contested […] It is one of the few remaining spaces in a rapidly privatized world that offers some semblance of a public arena for dialogue, engagement, and visioning of democracy and justice” (170). What follows is therefore a simple claim, but one that is difficult to reconcile in a contemporary context, especially as it might apply to DH: “Feminist literacy necessitates learning to see (and theorize) differently–to identify and challenge the politics of knowledge that naturalizes global capitalism and business-as-usual in North American higher education” (171).

Mohanty extends this critique to the formation of citizenship as an effect of university study following figures like William Readings and Henry Giroux; she also extends this critique to a concept of the border and border crossing, citing the fact that corporate restructuring affects women and people of color most severely. How might this critique extend to the digital humanities?

Methodologically speaking, Mohanty’s approach tracks well with intersectional claims to DH, it also tracks well with Autonomist Marxist interventions that conceptualize race, gender, and class as co-constitutive markers of subjective and political formation, affirming the turn from the made to the maker in this text. Perhaps the strongest emergent DH interest in which Mohanty’s work carries the most methodological weight, however, is Alan Liu’s claim to a critical infrastructure studies. Liu summarizes his interest in critical infrastructure studies as a “call for digital humanities research and development informed by, and able to influence, the way scholarship, teaching, administration, support services, labor practices, and even development and investment strategies in higher education intersect with society.” The rhetorical shift from “critical university” to “critical infrastructure” is interesting here. Where Liu goes so far to say that most, if not the whole of our lives, are organized through institutional mechanisms formative of a “social-cum-technological milieu,” “the word ‘infrastructure’ give[s] us the same kind of general purchase on social complexity that Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, and others sought when they reached for their all-purpose word, ‘culture.’”

This claim is motivated by three logical moments on Liu’s view, paralleling Smithies’ claim to an “anti-foundationalist” approach to DH praxis. His logical moments proceed as follows: 1) “critique recognizes that the ‘real,’ ‘true,’ or ‘lawful’ groundwork (i.e., infrastructure) for anything, especially the things that matter most to people, such as the allocation of goods or the assignation of identity, is ungrounded.” 2) “critique then goes antifoundationalist to the second degree by criticizing its own standing in the political-economic system–a recursion effect attested in now familiar, post-May-1968 worries that critics themselves are complicit in elitism, ‘embourgeoisment,’ ‘recuperation,’ ‘containment,’ and majoritarian identity, not to mention tenure.” 3) “critique seeks to turn its complicity to advantage–for example, by positioning critics as what Foucault called embedded or ‘specific intellectuals’ acting on a particular institutional scene to steer social forces.”

Liu’s logic clearly presumes a radical political bent. It is not the simple recognition of technocratic regimes or acceptance of cybernetic culture, nor is it a naive attempt to capitalize on our current socio-economic condition. It offers a mode of critique that preserves the radical possibilities inherent to leftist critique while placing them within DH praxis. As Liu argues, his three logical moments culminate in a critical potential in DH because it signifies our “ability to treat infrastructure not as a foundation, a given, but instead as a tactical medium that opens the possibility of critical infrastructure studies as a mode of cultural studies.”

This work is perhaps most apparent in Roopika Risam’s essay, “Navigating the Global Digital Humanities: Insights from Black Feminism.” There, Risam argues that

As the field of digital humanities has grown in size and scope, the question of how to navigate a scholarly community that is diverse in geography, language, and participant demographics has become pressing. An increasing number of initiatives have sought to address these concerns, both in scholarship–as in work on postcoloinal digital humanities or #transformDH–and through new organizational structures like the ALliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) Multi-Lingualism and Multi-Culturalism Committee and Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH), a special interest group of ADHO.

Paired with Liu’s work above, Risam draws us to closer to a critique that would mirror Mohanty’s.