Notes for Marcel O'Gorman E-Crit: Digital Media, Critical Theory and the Humanities
New Media Calls for New Majors
(xiii) E-Crit is an interdisciplinary program that combines English, Communications, Computer Information Systems, and Fine Art.
(endnote 1) the term 'new media' is historically determined.
(xiii-xiv) E-Crit was born out of the Frankfurt School / poststructuralism sensibility of two of my colleagues and their students, who positioned resistance and vigilant critique as the cornerstones in a new media studies curriculum that opposes the compartmentalization of knowledge. .. The goal, then, is to position discourse in such a way that it can play a formative role in reshaping the academic apparatus.
(xiv) The question of the marketability of the humanities is central to this book, and I draw heavily on the work of John Guillory, whose Cultural Capital provides a realistic analysis of the state of the humanities in techno-bureaucratic culture - a culture whose 'fetishization of “rigor”' has led to a veritable crisis in the humanities' (ix). .. I think it's time to take a harder look at how disciplines rooted in the study and preservation of printed texts can remain relevant and viable in a digital, picture-oriented culture.
(xv) One way of explaining this sense of disappointment in the 'failure of theory' is to investigate how attempts to apply deconstruction toward the materialization of revolutionary scholarly practices have been largely ineffectual. .. somewhere in the early 1990s, the major tenets of deconstruction (death of the Author, intertextuality, etc.) were displaced into technology, that is, hypertext. Or to put it another way, philosophy was transformed, liquidated even, into the materiality of new media. This alchemical transformation did not result in the creation of new, experimental scholarly methods that mobilize deconstruction via technology, but in an academic fever for digital archiving and accelerated hermeneutics, both of which replicate, and render more efficient, traditional scholarly practices that belong to the print apparatus.
Recall the readings for A Companion to Digital Humanities.
(xv-xvi) Shaping a new apparatus also involves more than a scholarly remediation of printed texts. .. A large-scale institutional change of the type I am envisioning can only come about with a careful and deliberate implementation that targets not only discourse of scholars, but that of students and classrooms (including ergonomics), administrators and buildings (including architecture), campuses and cities (including urban planning).
(xvi) A large portion of this study involves an attempt to create a new method of scholarly research - which I have dubbed hypericonomy - that is more suitable to a picture-oriented, digital-centric culture. .. E-Crit is a glimpse at what 'knowledge production' might look like, after deconstruction, in an age of computer-mediated communication.
1. The Canon, the Archive, and the Remainder: Reimagining Scholarly Discourse
The Remainder: Structural, Material, Representational
(4) All of the linguistic tools that account for the poetics of this study - a poetics I have called hypericonomy - might be classified under what Jean-Jacques Lecercle has termed 'the remainder' of language. Puns, anagrams, false etymologies, macaronics, and metaphor of all breeds fall into this repressed category, this 'other of language' (99). More importantly here, the remainder is the 'other' of academic or scholarly language. It is deemed as nonsense or rubbish, classified as 'cute' or juvenile, the stuff of children's literature, fantasy, and folklore, and lately, as unstylish poststructural writing.
(4) E-Crit attempts to take this teratological science [study of monsers] a step further by viewing the 'remainder' not only as a means of illuminating conventional language, but as a language with a revolutionary potential of its own. If the remainder is the hidden or repressed, monstrous 'other' of the conventional academic discourse, then those who seek to change that conventional discourse might engage in a science of anagnorisis; that is, a science of invention and knowledge-production that depends on a face-to-face encounter with the monster.
(4) Like the relationship between common sense and nonsense, the relationship between scholarly academic language and the remainder is that of master and slave.
(5) By speaking of the remainder in these political terms, as a case of exclusion, repression, and otherness, I am hoping to supplement John Guillory's important study of canon formation in Cultural Capital. .. Guillory suggests that the canon is nothing more than a product of scholarly imaginary, and that the debate points essentially to a crisis in the humanities wrought by a fetishistic clinging to traditional conceptions of literature and scholarship. This is the fate of literary studies in universities dominated by a techno-bureaucratic culture that values 'rigor' above all else.
(5) While Guillory focuses primarily on the permutations of the category of 'literature,' this study is more concerned with the category of 'academic writing,' which is the primary vehicle for mediating the 'imaginary structures' of higher education. As Guillory suggests, the ideology of literary tradition that is at the root of the canon debate is always 'a history of writers and not of writing' (63). Guillory is interested, therefore, in how writing becomes literature. This study, however, asks how writing becomes scholarship, and it does so not only by examining the practices and structures of the academic apparatus, but also by imagining a new method of scholarly writing (hypericonomy) and a new curricular strategy (Electronic Critique).
(5-6) Four years ago, I submitted a hypertext essay, 'A Provisional Treatment for Archive Fever,' to a Web-based humanities journal. .. The journal referees, however, were not so enthusiastic upon first reviewing the hypertext, and the work was not accepted for publication.
(6) Since the essay I submitted to the journal was non-traditional from an academic prespective, the referee's comments, as reproduced here, should act as a sort of warning for the inventors of new modes of academic discourse, namely, this is what to expect when you submit 'remainder-work' to a traditional journal. .. The first type of remainder is taken directly from Lecercle and Deleuze/Guattari, and it relates to the rhizomatic principle of structure disdained by traditional, rigorous humanities scholars: the structural remainder. The second type is more grammatological in nature; it concerns the repressed technological element of humanities scholarship, and the resistance of scholars to certain communications technologies: the material remainder. The third type of remainder, which is closely allied to the second, accounts for a great deal of the theoretical writing in this book: the representational remainder of scholarly discourse, which might also be termed the pictorial remainder.
Tree vs. Roots - Structural Remainder
(7) In punceptual writing, data is organized according to the logic of the pun, the most base and primitive species of remainder; punning is what makes the work of Marshall McLuhan, for example, both brilliant and annoying.
(7) the puncept can also be pictorial.
(8) Hypericonomy emulates the structural characteristic of the rhizome by foregrounding the remainder in scholarly research and writing. The pun, then, even though it may be deemed as 'cute' or 'confusing' to those who are unaccustomed to its rhizomatic ways, can be used as a structuring tool in a scholarly research program.
Print vs. Electronic - Material Remainder
(8) My submission was, to borrow Lev Manovich's term, an attempt to write (in) the language of new media. The suggestion that it should be 'put into conventional essay form ... before it goes deconstructive' is indicative of the referee's oppressive print-centricity.
(9) As I will argue throughout this book, it is a definitive characteristic of traditional scholars to reject any mode of discourse that diverges from the path of the conventional, hierarchical essay format.
(11) However, although digital technologies provide us with the most effective archiving tools to date, archiving should not be the defining task of digital humanities scholars. In these archival projects, scholars are using only a portion of the potential of new media; it is the portion which most appeases: (a) their nostalgia for a print-oriented culture; and (b) the demands of a digital-oriented, techno-bureaucratic culture that values predictable techno-scientific methods (e.g., archiving) over interpretation and, most of all, invention.
Text vs. Picture - Representational Remainder
(11) from the conventional point of view, pictures are entities to be 'added' to an essay or lesson, and not inherent or repressed elements of the processes of writing, reading, and learning. In this particular case, pictures are seen as elements which might change 'readings of canonical texts,' but not as elements which might altogether change the processes of reading and writing.
(12) On several occasions in this study, the term 'heuretics,' borrowed from Gregory Ulmer, will be used to describe a supplementary or alternative logic to hermeneutic discourse, a way out of the hermeneutic circle. In short, heuretics provides us with a logic of invention, 'a form of generative productivity of the sort practiced in the avant-garde' (Ulmer 1994a: xii). What I am attempting to outline in this book is a heuretic approach to discourse that draws on the suggestive power of pictures as a means of generating new modes of writing suitable to an image-oriented culture. .. The purpose of this foregrounding, however, is not to interpret the picture, or to offer an authoritative reading of it in the conventional sense, but to draw on the picture as a tool for invention, as a generator of concepts and linkages unavailable to conventional scholarly practices. This is how hypericonomy breaks out of the hermeneutic circle.
(12) To understand pictures as generators is to view them much in the same way as Lecercle describes the pun and other forms of metaphor, all of which fall into the category of the remainder, which Lecercle describes as instances of 'diachrony-within-synchrony.' .. The notion of 'diachrony-within-synchrony' points to the capacity of the remainder to interrupt our synchronic understanding of a word by invoking a diachronic association.
(13) it may be possible to capture or at least re-create this sense of schizo 'indirection' [where all possible meanings of a metaphorical phrase are present at once] before it is funnelled, before it is transformed into common sense.
(14) I would like to believe that one purpose of hypericonomy is to provoke or mimic the fluidity of creative thought and crystallize it, transforming delire or schizophrenia into a theory and a discursive practice.
The Good Sense of Nonsense
(14) sense, according to Deleuze, is present in every utterance, even in so-called nonsense, which should not be understood as lack of sense (or direction) at all, but as an overproduction of sense (indirection=too many directions at once, no single direction). .. It is in this sense that the language of new media, with its multi-discursive, diachronic structure, is nonsensical.
This seems like a special kind of intellectual, intentional nonsense rather than the ramblings of a drug-crazed, street corner schizophrenic. I think of a certain story by Paul Auster..
(16) The who of good sense is obvious, then, and the why might be answered by pointing to the history and tradition of scholarly discourse, with its roots in early print technology and the structure of the first universities. But there are other, more political, more confrontational answers to this why of scholarly discourse, which have to do with the unlikely coupling of traditionalists who seek to maintain a certain complacent, bourgeois, academic status quo, and techno-bureaucratic university administrators seeking to run a viable business.
2. The Search for Exemplars: Discourse Networks and the Pictorial Turn
(19) Eye Socket, with its cyborgian electrical outlets, provides us with a fine mnenomic device. Consider the Gibb picture above, then, and the limen, the enchanted looking glass, between a network of discourses and the discourse of networks that I am developing here. In this context, Eye Socket has now become a 'hypericon': 'a piece of movable cultural apparatus, one which may serve a marginal role as illustrative device or a central role as a kind of summary image ... that encapsulates an entire episteme, a theory of knowledge' (Mitchell 1994: 49).
(20) This is the episteme of what Friedrich Kittler has called the Republic of Scholars, a republic entirely committed to 'endless circulation, a discourse network without producers or consumers, which simply heaves words around' (Kittler 1990: 4). It is this form of scholarly discourse, this discursive circuit, which renders itself visible through the production of banal treatises and dissertations.
(21) To put it in the bluntly economic terms of Katherine Hayles, we are in a situation of 'too many critics, too few texts,' and the result has not been innovation, but repetition, recycling, and reduction.
(endnote 5) a definition of heuretics.. 'Without relinquishing the presently established applications of theory in our disciplines (critique and hermeneutics), heuretics adds to these critical and interpretive practices a generative productivity of the sort practiced in the avant-garde' (Ulmer 1994a: xii).
(21-22) a traditional scholar might spurn Kittler's proposal altogether, and protest its lack of historical rigor. But an alternative reaction - the one I am supporting here - would be to recognize Kittler's methodology as a new way of conducting humanities research, a new method in which a specific scene or textual image (e.g., Faust's sigh, Gibb's Eye Socket, Las meninas) acts as a hypericon, a generative, multi-directional passageway, onto a research project.
(23) the new era demands thinking about the ways in which new media have impacted, and will continue to impact, literary theory. For this reason, Friedrich Kittler, an electrical engineer turned critical theorist, serves as an excellent exemplar of the type of 'fresh thinking' demanded by the new era. Although it's likely that most humanities scholars would shun the idea that in their spare time they should 'pick up the soldering iron and build circuits' (quoted in Griffin 1996: 731).
The old Marxist fantasy of the trans-specialist, jack-of-all-trades. Unfortunately, electronics seems to be a discipline born from print culture and abstract logic, requiring a great deal of learning to grasp. All the same, I like using the references to circuits and relays as electronic metaphors, or, better, hypericons, so that the trigger-image is from a circuit schematic.
(23-24) Kittler draws on a single scene as an inlet into a network of discourses that circulate through the text. .. The text is not something to critique or comment on, but a generator of theories.
Kittler, then, does not write about Faust or about Goethe; he writes with Goethe, just as he writes with Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida. This tendency of Kittler to write with several theorists at once is, according to David Wellberry, an innovation in scholarly method. .. It is by means of this writing with that Kittler departs from the discourse of the Republic of Scholars.
But there are plenty of examples of this style, such as Plato's Symposium, where Plato takes on the identity of each speaker whose name is significant of his psychic framework.
The Republic of Scholars
(24) I am writing under the aegis of electracy (elec-trace-y). .. This Republic of Scholars, with its faith in transparent language, scientific proof, and the text-based, linear, sequential essay, provides the methodology and discourse for all who wish to maintain affiliation within the academic apparatus.
(endnote 8) Gregory Ulmer, who coined the term 'electracy,' explains it in the following manner: 'In the history of human culture there are but three apparatuses: orality, literacy, and now electracy. We live in the moment of the emergence of electracy, comparable to the two principle moments of literacy (The Greece of Plato, and the Europe of Galileo)'.
(25) Citing Michael Taussig, Ray suggests that 'what is at stake with such questions is “the issue of graphicness,” a quality generally disdained by materialist critics who associate it with the enemies - commerce and mystification' (9).
(25) If indeed we are in the thralls of a hypervisual, picture-oriented, digital age, then a scholarly discourse suitable to such an age must accept not only poststructuralism as prior knowledge, but also the fact that technologies of representation have induced a pictorial turn in our culture, subsequently placing us on the threshold of a new subjectivation that we are still in the process of understanding.
(26) imagine the various intersections, linkages, and lines of flight incited by the following plotting of points on a graph: from Jonathan Crary's historical evalution of 'Scopic Regimes' to W.J.T. Mitchell's identification of a 'pictorial turn'; from E.H. Gombrich's theory of the 'mental set' to Rosalind Kraus's 'optical unconscious.'
You have to be familiar with them in order to visualize the graph.
(26) There is no print-based artifact so accommodating that it could represent the complex network of possibilities posed by the intersection of the various texts that I wish to gather here under the aegis of picture theory.
(endnote 10) The graphic elements of Hayles's text do succeed in pointing to the materiality of her subjects of investigation, but my goal is to have the graphicness drive the production of the text itself. I am attempting to invent a mode of discourse in which the images themselves are theories, and not merely reminders of the materiality of discourse.
(27) Perhaps a more accessible way to visualize such a model is to imagine the non-linear, graphic-rich environment of the Web. Would it complicate things to suggest that, if this essay were a hypertext, its explanation of picture theory would span various nodes?
(29) Gombrich's crucial theoretical contribution to this study is the 'mental set,' a subjective 'horizon of expectation' (60) that guides an individual's optical impressions. Vision, in Gombrich's model, is a form of projection, and each individual possesses mental schemata against which s/he attempts to match the shapes in her/his field of vision. Thus, that which 'we call “reading” an image,' Gombrich suggests, 'may perhaps be better described as testing it for its potentialities' (227).
(30) There are, however, certain methods of classification within 'the filing systems of our mind' (Gombrich 1969: 105) that are not culturally determined, but that are entirely personal and subjective, the result of an individual's psychic experience. These mental images may not even be recognized by the individual herself, although they may have radical effects on the way she organizes visual stimuli.
(31) In order to withstand the image bombardment being deployed in the current mediascape, readers and viewers must possess a means of filtration that will allow them to consciously organize visual information and arrange it into manageable patterns. But in order to develop such an apparatus, it seems that a reader must dismiss the notion of transparent communication, and accept the impossibility of a universal perspective, or of 'a purely responsive act of reading - an act which will decode the transmission in precisely the way that the sender desires' (McGann 1991: 37).
Recall Hayles' attack on Shannon's model of communication where neither the sender nor the receiver play any role in massaging the medium or the message. Of course this model exists for the sake of emphasizing the external, material, technological components of the system that is the object of electrical engineering.
Imagetext and the Sister Arts
(33) The image, he [Barthes] insists, is always subordinated to the message imposed upon it by the written text, whether it is a caption, a headline, or some other written form.
(34) Despite the apparent ingenuousness of Magritte's painting [La trahison des images], Foucault identifies it as a dialectical enigma, a scene of seduction into which the viewer is irresistibly drawn.
(34) When, years after painting La trahison des images, Magritte moved his pipe and caption to a blackboard mounted on an easel, it is as if he was directly targeting the academic apparatus, taunting it with a form of discourse which it could not possibly accommodate.
(34) According to W.J.T. Mitchell, Foucault's short essay ['Ceci n'est pas une pipe'] demonstrates that La trahison des images is not only a metapicture, a picture about pictures that instructs us on the 'infinite relation' between image and text; it is also a hypericon that 'provides a picture of Foucault's way of writing and his whole theory of the stratification of knowledge and the relations of power in the dialectic of the visible and the sayable' (1994: 71).
(37) what I am seeking in the development of a new mode of academic discourse lies between Drucker's 'serious' theoretical work and her artists's books.
(39) At the beginning of each chapter of The Optical Unconscious, we find an icon - a detail from a painting, drawing, or photograph - that serves as the title. The title of each chapter, then, is represented by a pictorial mise en abyme, a conceptually - and ideologically - loaded image that captures the central argument of each chapter.
(41) I would argue that Krauss's iconic methodology would be easily adaptable to an electronic environment, where the 'icon' appears as frequently as the written word and imagetexts are the most frequent mode of representation.
Likewise imagine starting with an image of the ground symbol in a relay driver circuit that itself is only a small part of the schematic diagram of a large circuit board, which is finally itself just one part of a device such as a pinball machine.
(42) In Heuretics, Gregory Ulmer suggests that electronic media might be used to invent a 'hyperrhetoric,' a rhetoric 'that replaces the logic governing argumentative writing with associational networks' (18). .. My approach here is to put poststructuralism to work as the software required for inventing new theories, new modes of discourse, new poetics capable of short-circuiting the discourse of the Republic of Scholars.
(42-43) There are no Microsoft software bundles that tell us how to invent a new scholarly methodology. .. I wonder what Blake would have done if his desktop was equipped not with burins, acids, and copper plates, but with a Mac (or would Blake prefer a PC?), Photoshop, Netscape, and Flash?
O'Gorman continues to employ electronic metaphors, but somewhat carelessly: short-circuiting is a destructive operation; shunting is better. And his appeal to Microsoft/PC, Macs, and commodity software reflects a consumer attitude toward electronic technology. He needs to take up the soldering iron!
3. The Hypericonic De-Vise: Peter Ramus Meets William Blake
Books for Little Boys: Thomas Murner and Peter Ramus
(46) Agricola's De inventione dialectica (1479) responds to information overload by providing a discourse on method that instructs readers in the ways of logical organization. Agricola's method, a form of pre-Renaissance new media, involves placing 'things' under their proper headings, and distributing then in an external writing space rather than containing them entirely in memory.
(47-48) The gender and youthfulness of MA students during the Renaissance may go a long way in explaining the methodologies and pedagogical materials used by their instructors. .. [Thomas] Wilson's sly attempt to engage students in a virtual foxhunt [in his 1553 The Rule of Reason] may well be one of the very first samples of an educational 'video game.'
Of course, there are more appropriate precedents to the tradition of teaching with visual aids, such as Thomas Murners Chartiludium logice or logical card game (1509). Murner provides young students with a woodcut set of iconic flashcards representing the elements of logical discourse. .. these texts document a shift from strictly mnemonic, internalized practices to methodologies that are reliant upon the external spatialization of thought.
(48-49) For Ramus, method referred specifically to the 'orderly pedagogical presentation of any subject by reputedly scientific descent from “general principles” to “species” by means of definition and bipartite division' (Ong 1958: 30). .. According to Ong, Ramus was simply responding to the need of universities to corporatize knowledge delivery.
(49) New media have done little to alter the practices of humanities scholars, except perhaps by accelerating - by means of more accessible databases - the rate at which hermeneutics can be performed. .. Just as Ramus's scholarly method had a great influence in shaping a print apparatus that has persisted for five centuries, might it not be possible to invent scholarly methods to shape the digital apparatus?
Rather than allow the default to prevail.
(49) Ulmer cites Andre Breton's co-option of Freud to invent surrealism. Since my goal is to invent a mode of discourse that challenges Ramist, print-based methods, I might very well co-opt a pre-Ramist methodology and ask the following question: Is it possible to do with Thomas Murner what Andre Breton did with Freud?
Books for Little Boys and Girls: William Blake
(55) Although such a 'booby-trap' beginning, as Geoffrey Summerfield calls it, would cause bells to go off in the head of the least satirically minded reader, this may not be the case if the reader is a child. An Island in the Moon, like many other satirical texts, from Gulliver's Travels to Animal Farm, works on a variety of levels, at least some of which can be appreciated by children. This concern for couching political and cultural critique in a form suitable for both children and adults is yet one more reason why Blake may have chosen to write children's books.
Digitization in the Age of Blake
(57) Unlike other Romantics, such as Rousseau, Blake was not an outright anti-technologist; his critique targets the mechanistic techniques tied into the apparatus, and not the apparatus itself. Rather than rejecting the apparatus of print production, then, he chose to invent his own, based on techniques that subverted the dehumanizing potential of mechanical reproduction.
Compare this to the free, open source software movement as a response to the dehumanizing potential of closed-source, 'cathedral' software epitomized by Microsoft.
(58) As [Morris] Eaves suggests [in The Counter-Arts Conspiracy: Art and Industry in the Age of Blake], 'digitization is not a notion confined to electronic devices but a technological norm that operates across a spectrum of materials and processes. As a rule of thumb, the more deeply digitization penetrates, the more efficient the process becomes' (186).
(58) At the heart of digitization is a praxis of 'division' that Blake strived to denounce through his 'chaosethetics.'
(61) As argued by Viscomi and other Blake scholars before him, Blake's references to 'corrosives ... melting apparent surfaces away' underscores the degree to which the materiality of his mode of production was etched into his visionary philosophy.
(62) Blake's work, informed by his notion of the 'contraries,' invovles a unification of form and content, material production and ideology.
(66) By creating execises such as 'Re-writing Blake,' instructors are not asking students to write about the poet/painter; they are asking students to write with him.
New Media for Everyone: Hypericonomy
(67) My strategy has been to 'show' this method in this chapter rather than explain it away with a series of easily replicable instructions. In this way, I am attempting to provoke a certain degree of misunderstanding, with the hope that readers might produce their own monstrous versions of hypericonomy. This is a strategy that, in Ulmer's terms, is designed to trigger a relay.
(endnote 11) Richard Coyne draws on the term 'technoromanticism' to identify narratives that promote an emancipatory vision of new technologies.
If humanities scholarship ever reaches into software design, then the notion of 'writing with' takes truly useful material possibilities, such as joining in the work of an FOS project or remediating obsolete technologies such as the electronic pinball machine by PMREK, so we do those projects. If the chapter begins with an icon, the ground symbol, for grounding the study of electronic media with a study of electronics itself, then zooming reveals a relay driver circuit. O'Gorman's rhetoric enticing you to repeat his experiment
(68) It is this notion of a 'visual puncept' that is at the foot of hypericonomy, and which is also akin to the aesthetic techniques of William Blake.
4. Nonsense and Play: The Figure/Ground Shift in New Media Discourse
Visualization and Intelligence
(73) Could our visual culture, then, the culture which is making us 'sillier by the minute,' actually be responsible for a certain intellectual (r)evolution? The pedagogical avant-garde, from the U.S. Army to the Baby Einstein Company, seem to think so.
These paragons of collective intelligence, thinking, unconscious collective bargaining, and so on are instantiating Nietzsche's silliness?
(74)(figure 4.1) Wendy and Michael Magnifier, 1998: McDonald's Peter Pan Happy Meal toy.
(76) My argument, then, is not that visual media have made us, or our children, more intelligent than our predecessors, but that development in the materiality of media lead to shifts in the hierarchy or matrix of cognitive processes.
Heim's historical drift and gains and losses.
(77) The camera obscura, as described by Krauss, might serve as a convenient hypericon for encapsulating the classical understanding of visuality which the avant-garde challenged.
Influence of Lacan?
(78) In The Optical Unconscious, Krauss relies heavily on the work of Max Ernst in order to demonstrate the surrealists' undoing of the figure/ground binary.
(80) the contemporary popularity of surrealist imagery which stunned and baffled its initial audience, demonstrates the advanced level of optical sophistication possessed by the average contemporary consumer.
Figure/Ground 2: Children's Literature
(80) In general, surrealism involved a sort of psychoanalytic revision of childhood experiences, not as a means of therapy, however, but in order to apply these experiences to the transformation of everyday life.
(81) one can reverse the conventional figure/ground relationship by putting greater emphasis on the frame, or even, on the act of enframing, rather than on the content of an image or text.
Does this permit garbage to slip through the text uncriticized? Isn't that what we mean by “the unconscious”? Can't we detect it with computer programs that analyze what we have written?
(81) Nonsense, then, can take us across cultural and cognitive fields, forcing us to confront the other, and his/her methods of organization. If the form and logic of print textuality began with books for 'little boys' (i.e., Ramus's textbooks), then the model for an electronic textuality might also come from books for children - nonsense books, that is. And not only from children's books, but from their video games and television shows as well.
(endnote 10) It might also be appropriate to consider, here, Heidegger's conception of enframing (gestell) as the essence of technology, and the way in which nonsense thwarts the technological drive toward efficiency.
Invites analysis of computer software, books written for 'the other'. But are they really examples of the intellectual sort of nonsense proposed here, and not just “very stupid phenomena”?
Figure/Ground 3: Digital Media
(81-82) Susan Stewart characterizes nonsense, as a strikingly intertextual mode of discourse, one which cannot occur without transgression, without contraband, without a little help of the bricoleur's hand. To view nonsense in this way is to view communication as a constant interplay of 'universes of discourse' which are incessantly 'involved in borrowing from one another and transforming one another at every step as they are employed in an ongoing social process' (ibid.). .. The Web can facilitate a rapid shift between various modes of discourse and cognition, all within the same perceptual field. .. hypertext offers us a form, a material space, in which we can build our own models.
(82) Admittedly, the computer is the most far-reaching new media tool in education, but it is not the only electronic tool that influences learning. Television, video games, even cell phones - marginal electronic media from a scholarly point of view - all play a part in education, even though they may not be an integral element of the classroom experience. Whereas Katherine Hayles rightly calls for an increased emphasis on material-specific critique, I am calling for an increase in material-specific pedagogy, starting with the materiality for the Web.
Experiment with adding web-enabled mobile devices to the classroom experience using the poller software as an integral part of a presentation.
(83) What [Richard, writer of The Electronic Word] Lanham neglects to consider is that hypertext may be used not only as a sort of light switch between the classical, academic binary of rhetoric vs. philosophy, but also as a multivalent switch, or rheostat, if you will, for toggling between cultural, epistemological, autobiographical, political, and historical categories. .. It may be useful here to leave behind the binary, light-switch model of electronic writing and consider another model, that of Gregory Ulmer's argumentative 'tuning knobs.'
(84-85) If, alongside the knobs for narration, exposition, and poetics, we include knobs for politics, popular culture, theory, autobiography, etc., then we have indeed built a machine (a graphic equalizer?) capable of generating a mode of academic discourse more suitable to a culture of computing.
Give the humanists a quize: Tuning knobs are indeed rheostats if  is what they control: your choices are (a) capacitance, (b) inductance, (c) resistance, (d) reactance, and (e), none of these.
Figure/Ground 4: 1\0
(86) The semiotic square, employed on its own, is a much too rigid and positivist apparatus. For this reason, 1\0 relies heavily on a more pliable apparatus known as the 'choral square.' The choral square, which first appears in Ulmer's Heuretics, is a descendant of Plato's notion of chora, which was picked up by Jacques Derrida. Like the mnemonic strategy of classical rhetoric or oratory, chorography relies upon the generative potential of a specific place. In Ulmer's chorography, the subject provides the place of invention, with the intention of generating a poetics. The term place here is somewhat inadequate, however, since it actually refers to the space of a quadripode graph which Ulmer calls the popcycle, and within which the chorographer (or mystorian) plots him/herself by filling in the following coordinates or slots: 'Family, Entertainment, School, Discipline.'
Unfamiliarity with Derrida signifies what? Is this the first time O'Gorman really invokes Derrida directly? If so, I'd like to note my astonishment that he never, throughout this entire book, as far as I can tell, nor in his bibliography mentions Memoirs of the Blind, Derrida's picture-driven meditation.
(86-87) What really matters for the sake of mystory, however, is that the categories are filled in before the project actually begins, and they are pursued faithfully as if they formed a set of rules for the deployment of the project.
(87) The popcycle first appeared in Ulmer's Teletheory as a set of guidelines employed in the creation of a mystory, a new critical genre which adds autobiography and pop culture to the scholarly mix. .. What remains essential in any case is that: (a) the academic category is forced to collide with other influential aspects of an individual's life; and (b) the categories are staged around the resolution of a specific problem.
This language is intended to be silly in the sort of indirectional nonsense that is like Blake's children's works.
(87-88) This resolution to not analyse the recurrent pictorial theme deserves further commentary here, since it is an essential element of mystory and of hypericonomy. If, according to Paul Feyerabend, 'by incorporation into a language of the future ... one must learn to argue with unexplained terms and to use sentences for which no clear rules of usage are as yet available' (1975: 256-7), then the commitment to deferring any in-depth analysis of one's thoughts and images during the time of hypericonomising must be considered as a seminal element of the method. In Ulmer's terms, by filling in the slots of the popcycle, we are 'learning how to write an intuition, and this writing is what distinguishes electronic logic (conduction) from the abductive (Baker Street) reasoning of the detective' (1994a: 37).
Isn't this an attempt to snatch meaning from the semi-conscious, like interpreting slips of the tongue but closer to the point where consciousness steers production? I bet Zizek crosses this innovative approach.
(88) Through this process of simulated intuition, or 'artificial stupidity,' the writer, completely unaware, performs an outering of the ideological categories that structure his or her organization of knowledge (1994a: 38). Hypericonomy, then, involves the invention of a new relation to knowledge itself, a techno-ideo-logical relation which Ulmer calls a 'knowledge of enframing' (1989: 183).
(89) The deferred understanding, or 'artificial stupidity,' might be considered as a form of Nachtraglichkeit, a psychoanalytic concept championed by Freud and Lacan. .. The point of recognition, then, can only take the form of a deferred understanding, an understanding-too-late, arrived at by means of a detour through the realm of nonsense (puns, anagrams, macaronics, etc.). .. When a hypericonomy such as 1\0 is finished, we are left with a veritable impression of its creator's unconscious (whether it be political, optical, or psychic).
(90) Lacan frequently employed images to instill this 'sublime of stupidity' in his audience. On the cover of each volume of his seminars, for example, is a hypericonic image taken from classical painting - an 'organizing image of the discourse, not to be interpreted but to serve as a point of departure for working through a theoretical problem' (Ulmer 1989: 194). .. In Lacan's mnemonic technique, we have the precursor, the theoretical bud, of which hypericonomy is indeed in full bloom.
This is the connection between O'Gorman's avant-garde method and 'science' (Freud and Lacan).
(94) Could it be that to produce a hypericonomy of this sort is to place oneself in the presence of a sublime object? An object which, in the Kantian/Derridean sense, invokes a 'violence done to the senses' (Derrida 1987: 130)? An object beyond the grasp of comprehension, beyond calculation and without end?
(94) The method reflects the current situation in which computer users approach their extremely complex and powerful machines as dilettantes. The sense of nausea that I feel when confronting 1\0 today has to do with the fact that I am confronting my own assumptions in 1996, my own lack of skill with Web design. .. The point of underscoring this design issue is to demonstrate that, with the rapid and incessant changes in software and hardware manufacturing, the best way to approach digital media pedagogy may well be to train students in the art of 'well-informed dilettantism.' This is why William Blake, a poet, painter, philosopher, printmaker, and visionary, serves as an excellent exemplar for students in the humanities today.
The cyperpunk/cybersage position. Careful to position between ignorant users and too-entrenched (technostressed); go back to his position wanting Microsoft to offer him a solution, and, lacking that, to permit dilettantism at the state of the art.
5. From Ecriture to E-Crit: On Postmodern Curriculum
Language of the Future
The 4fold Vision
(102) the 4fold Vision asks students to engage in a form of pattern recognition; it asks them to devise a method for organizing and producing knowledge that is suitable to a culture facing an onslaught of information, much of which is pictorial.
Critical Theory, Digital Media Studies, and the Curriculum of the Future
(103) In The Digital Revolution and the Coming of the Postmodern University [Carl A.] Raschke opposes interactivity (a common term in both pedagogy and new media development) to transactivity, which he sees as the pedagogical future of the 'postmodern university.' .. Web-based distance education has already changed the way we understand the university, but it has simply transposed print-centric habits (with varied success) into a new learning space. I believe that the transformation of the academic apparatus is most likely to occur by means of physical agents that engage directly with the traditional material structures of learning, from the essay, to the classroom, to the entire campus itself.
(104) Perhaps what needs to be developed most of all, however, in programs such as DMS, is the study of metastructure. But, to date, this has been the specialty of English departments, where critical theory found a home a few decades ago and is now ready to migrate from its literary, print-oriented focus to the realm of digital artifacts.
(105) As John Guillory has argued in Cultural Capital, the successful integration of critical theory into university education is a result of its being introduced - as a sort of contraband - at the graduate level.
(106) The 'off-the-radar' status of literary studies is capable of provoking severe self-pity in the traditional Romantics scholar. But to a Romatics scholar with an interest in critical theory and the materiality of visual communication, this state of neglect provides room for much-needed experimentation and revolution.
Electronic Critique: A Case Study in Curricular Remediation
(106-107) This leads Guillory to the conclusion that 'the moment of theory is determined, then, by a certain defunctioning of the literary curriculum, a crisis in the market value of its cultural capital occasioned by the emergence of a professional-managerial class which no longer requires the (primarily literary) cultural capital of the old bourgeoisie' (xii). .. The answer, I propose, lies in new media.
(107) The study of new media artifacts must coincide with the development of new media research methods.
(108) From the perspective of university administrators, however, E-Crit remains a nebulous sort of computer art studio that encourages students to take on Web and video projects on campus (this has earned them a reputation as the institution's leading media developers). These projects allow the administrators to tout E-Crit as a cutting-edge program when questioned by alumni and suspicious senior faculty, but the conversation usually ends there.
(109) In many ways, theory's failure has much in common with a culture that identifies with online dating, genetic engineering, and self-replication through increasingly sophisticated recordable media. When I propose that critical theory needs digital media and vice versa, I am proposing a curriculum that supports the thoughtful application of theory to the production of digital media artifacts, the creation of humane technologies and tech-related policies, and the investigation of the impact of technology on human being; or, to borrow Eagleton's shamelessly simple-minded words, I am proposing that educators can combine media and theory to 'find out how life can become more pleasant for more people' (2003: 5).
Notice the E-Crit program has a 15 credits “Programming Track” that includes data communications and networks and requirements and design with no focus on any particular programming language.
(111) For example, the Department of Electrical Engineering might offer a class in microcontroller programming that would involve students from both engineering and liberal arts in the creation of electronic devices suitable, for example, for a critical/digital art installation.
(112) The 'dot.com' bust only serves to increase resistance to changes in academia, but university administrators still recognize the powerful cultural capital of digital media, as evidenced in the persistence of distance education projects. But a legion of University of Pheonix's will certainly not spur a knowledge revolution.
E-Crit and ecriture
(113) As [Hugh] Culik indicates, E-Crit was formed out of a need for resistance, specifically, resistance to 'the ideologies that make up electronic culture.' .. E-Crit requires students and faculty to take an ironic stance toward technology; to be 'in technology, but not of technology,' as a deceased colleague of ours once said.
(114) As Lev Manovich has suggested, 'One general effect of the digital revolution is that avant-garde aesthetic strategies came to be embedded in the commands and interface metaphors of computer software. In short, the avant-garde became materialized in a computer' (2000: 306-7). Rather than turn the political and intellectual dynamics of poststructuralism or the avant-garde into a selection of menu items in a design program, E-Crit is an attempt to remotivate those dynamic strategies, and recouple them with their (now digitized) aesthetic strategies.
Not surprising at all that avant-garde techniques have been used in consumer-oriented human-machine interface design. O'Gorman's strategy is to reincorporate the philosophies behind avant-garde aesthetics into the new mode of material critique through imitation (writing-with). Be sure to consider this in the context of Drucker and McVarish.
(115) As a final statement on 'postmodern curriculum,' then, I will suggest that it must be as agile and ironic as the ecriture of Barthes and Derrida.
A Final Note on Techno-Romantic Idealism
(116) Between the repressive constraints of 'legacy' and the techno-fetishistic demand for 'progress' levied by the ruling managerial class, curricular innovation has very little chance of leaving the confines of an idealistic vision statement.
O'Gorman, Marcel. (2006). E-crit: Digital Media, Critical Theory and the Humanities. Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press.
O'Gorman, Marcel. E-crit: Digital Media, Critical Theory and the Humanities. Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 2006. Print.