Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Digital Humanities: Decentered Expression and Hierarchical Collapse

Digital humanities is the relationship between humanities and digitality. Patrik Svensson struggles in "The Landscape of Digital Humanities" to pin down a current definition of the field that does not neglect or belittle one or another “type” of DH. What is clear in his article is a variety of complex movements among students, scholars, techies, archivers, writers, etc. to create something collaborative. Perhaps what is most common among them is not one attitude, technique, or approach, but is instead the quality of movement and negotiation between textual and digital expression. Aside from the obvious tension which gives birth to a meaningful artifact, the intertextual, hypertextual, and multivocal qualities inherent to DH effectively destroy the structuralist center, embodying instead the freeplay of poststructuralism. Ladan Modir, Ling C Guan, and Sohaimi Bin Abdul Aziz comment in “Text, Hypertext, and Hyperfiction” on just one of many manifestations of DH, hypertext: “the characteristic of hypertext is said to manifest this kind of decentering experience in the narrative. Without an organizing structure that guides reading direction, readers move from one text to another with each representing a center and a focus of their investigation. In Landow’s (2006) words, ‘One experiences hypertext as an infinitely decenterable and recenterable system.’”  The “reality” of any DH “text” is not fixed, but takes shape in a variety of forms unique to the subject participating in the “text” This non-linear and multi-dimensional quality resembles the philosophies of Post Colonialism and Cultural Studies, which refuse to understand history and culture as a collection of fixed linear and finite moments.

Considering the poststructuralist nature of digital humanities, it is quite laughable that anyone would attempt to define DH as something which is anything other than moving and centerless. As frustrated scholars continue to fight the freeplay of DH while mourning the death of a centered and consequentially conquerable text, DH will only dance further away from their proposed definitions that seek to bind an artistic movement which is anything but bound. Digital humanities will continue to give birth to a movement of subjective creators and consumers free of outdated ranks of authority (made impossible by a centerless system of creation and analysis), especially those which place stubborn scholars at the top.

Does the Human Disappear from Digital Humanities?

On the concept of the Digital Humanities, I'm torn between loving the progression towards a digitized field and hating it. This is the way I am with most things involving technology. I love things like social media and the internet and my phone, but at the same time, I also hate them. I have the same feelings towards Digital Humanities. I love that the digital world opens up new pathways for creativity to be shared with the world, but I also prefer the comfort of a physical book in my hand over an e-reader.

I also think that Sample makes some interesting points in his article "Deformed Humanities", but I think he takes the idea of the Digital Humanities a little too far. He points out that "computers let us practice deformance quite easily, [by] taking apart a text" and I agree that technology allows us to dig deeper into texts when we use it as a tool. However, when he talks about the beauty in purposely finding/making no meaning within a text, that is when he loses me. I don't think the Digital Humanities shouldn't be about destroying for the sake of destroying meaning completely, but instead destroying in order to better understand texts. Technology can provide new mediums through which text can be made, and that is the most exciting part about it.

Either way, I'm torn. I think that the field will continue to become more and more digitized, and it is unavoidable. We can either hate it and long for simpler times from the past or fully embrace the technological madness. Or we can just stand somewhere in the middle, hating it one day and loving it the next, but there is nothing we can do to prevent Digital Humanities from evolving. Which is kind of scary (exciting)?

And there is my last post. It has been a pleasure blogging with you all. Yay, Crit Theory!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Digital Humanities?

My opinion about digital humanities is torn between excitement and anxiety. I'm excited because it's offering a variety of new and potentially new digital tools that scholars, artists, students, and researchers are using to expand the way knowledge is gathered, organized, and synthesized. Digital humanities is changing the way students and educators approach experimentation and exploration, leading to wider possibilities for discovery. Digital humanities is only at the beginning of a long journey, but we're already noticing the ways in which it is going to change our lives—iPhones, anyone? It will continue opening doors to our pursuit of knowledge, leading to unforeseeable opportunities. We're living on the precipice of a strange new era!

On the other hand, I'm anxious about digital humanities and postmodernism. Reading the article, "Notes Towards a Deformed Humanities", was just another affirmation that postmodern "creativity" is withdrawing from critical thinking. I'm disenchanted by postmodern art because it is centered around reconstruction rather than construction. I don't understand what anyone, including the artist, gains by reducing a preexisting text into nonsensical language. Artists are scattering literary traditions across a virtual limbo, resulting in a dramatically reduced artistic experience, and using poststructuralism as a poor justification for it. In Sample's article, he says "reading backwards revitalizes a text, revealing its constructedness, its seams, edges, and working parts." I think it's interesting to momentarily process a text in reverse, but I don't understand what this enhances or challenges beyond that point. Art is a tool that inspires growth because it's new and, to a certain extent, accessible.

Yesterday, I was listening to NPR and they were discussing the future of emojis—interesting, right? Apparently, some linguists believe that emojis could eventually be understood universally, meaning "emoji" could be a language! Fred Benenson decided to take emojis to the next level by rewriting Moby Dick in emoji. His book is called Emoji Dick. I think Fred Benenson is very cool for deciding to write a story in emojis, but I'm frustrated that he couldn't create his own story. This, combined with Sample's article, demonstrates the obsession our culture has with recreation. Experimentation is important because it challenges perception, encouraging individuals and cultures to expand their horizons, but experimenting with old material baffles me, especially if it's in a way that diminishes its intellectual eminence.

Ending our class with Digital Humanities has been an eye-opening experience for me and I'm thankful for Critical Theory. I don't appreciate postmodern art, but I still think it's serving a useful purpose: to alleviate the transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Information technology is a relatively recent phenomenon that has been rapidly gaining momentum for the past few years. It's moving too fast for people to keep up with it, especially older people. It's easier for artists to use technology as a digital tool to reconstruct preexisting texts because it's a way to contextualize technology—as a way to understand it. When I think about the rapid movement of our modern world, I am amazed that we've adapted to technology at all. Technology will eventually become normal and it will be used in all disciplines of knowledge to produce new and revolutionary ideas that challenge the status quo beyond, "oh, nice, that's cool," but we need to adjust first. We need to place technology into its own sphere, separated from "the good old days." Those days are here and now, continuing to evolve and get better by each and every passing moment.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mark Samples article

Even though it's difficult to vouch for the vices and questionable faults entailed in the deformed humanities, I admire its creative prowess.It prompts readers to distinguish formerly unforeseen content that tends to slip through the cracks of ideas and contemplations acknowledged at face value. While deformed humanities is utilized to disrupt the sanctity of a text only to tie new revelations back to the origin material at hand, Sample disagrees. You take a fable character like humpty dumpty, and scholars like Lisa Samuels and Jerry McGann strive to reconstruct humpty dumpty through a jangled disruption of events. The beauty of Humpty Dumpty's plight as far as deformative humanities goes is the point at which he breaks. New color and meaning can be pulled apart from his cracked egg shell, oozing yolk, and slipshod decrepitude. The aim of the game is not to reinforce prior meaning, but to construct something entirely fresh out of something that wasn't originally present "The deformed work is the end, not the means to an end." Deformative humanities really places emphasis on analyzing systems that antagonize other systems. Deformative humanities, in the performing sense, is influenced by innovation to change how business is conducted. Like how Babe Ruth used the home run as a strategy for success, rather than as a celebratory phenomenon.

One interesting example of using the deformative humanities is how the author of the text I'm reading took something called "hacking the accident", which exploits the flaws in the deformative humanities and threw a wrench in the works.All the original nouns were replaced, and put in place were nouns that were placed seven steps away alphabetically. Consequently, a new perspective and set of ideas are birthed from the rubble of inconsistencies and chaos. A parody is erected to ridicule the flowery language employed by academic mavens. While I can safely question the effective qualities of deformative humanities, I can appreciate the oddities of the theory. How seemingly frivolous factors sprout, yet contain a level of legitimate meaning on its own standing. Personally, I feel the deformative humanities is a double edged sword. Practically ambiguous, and ambiguously practical.           

It is {Not} Finished

I'm rather sentimental as I sit here writing this last blog post, on my last day of classes EVER as an undergrad. I think I usually spend more time thinking of a punny title, than I do writing my actual blog post. Ah. Anyways, if you grew up with a Bible in your hand you will appreciate my title, if not...well, it doesn't appear so clever.

In order to understand the digital humanities, one must know what the humanities are. The humanities are the stories, concepts, artwork, and people that shape the way we make sense of the world around us. As defined by Lyn Maxwell White in  Handbook of the Undergraduate Curriculum: A Comprehensive Guide to Purposes, Structures, Practices, and Change, the humanities are:
Disciplines of the humanities such as philosophy, history, and literary studies offer models and methods for addressing dilemmas and acknowledging ambiguity and paradox. They can help us face the tension between the concerns of individuals and those of groups and promote civil and informed discussion of conflicts, placing current issues in historical perspective. They also give voice to feeling and artistic shape to experience, balancing passion and rationality and exploring issues of morality and value. The study of the humanities provides a venue in which the expression of diddering interpretations and experiences can be recognized and areas of common interest explored. (263)
 Similarly, the digital humanities is about sharing concepts, values, and ideas. It is as simple and complex as it sounds, for now you have a new medium to share all of the information...the digital world. Namely, the internet.

The "Deformed Humanities," as proposed by Mark Sample, is:
A humanities born of broken, twisted things. And what is broken and twisted is also beautiful, and a bearer of knowledge. The Deformed Humanities is an origami crane—a piece of paper contorted into an object of startling insight and beauty (Notes Towards a Deformed Humanities)
Which I find to be just as startling as an analogy.  And, I believe summarizes just what the digital humanities are and how it is related to the post-structural movement. Oragami, like the digital humanities, is the contortion of a piece of paper, it can be folded and unfold, and recreated. The digital humanities are ever shifting, there is no center, it is not fixed.

As I began thinking about where theory was going, particularly in relation to the digital humanities, I reflected on all the theories we have studied. Every theory bore a new theory, one with the opposite message.  New Criticism which focuses on the death of an author, is the catalyst of a response and movement that emphasizes the authors. They say history repeats itself, so I believe, the response to the digital humanities--which emphasizes sharing and open access--will be one that focuses on author ownership. However, I think the digital humanities will triumph, as it continues to challenge the narcissistic world we live in. Though this class comes to an end, theory and the digital humanities are not finished. They will continue to resurrect, transform, and evolve.

The Next Step

I have to be honest, I’m not so sure about this movement into the digital humanities. Sure, I can appreciate the movement forward within the field. But at the same time, I’m nostalgic about it all. I like paper and pen and books with folds in the corners. Although I do think that the digital humanities will allow more people to discover the theory. In his blog, Notes towards a Deformed Humanities, Mark Sample makes interesting points regarding the future of this subject.

For Sample, instead of “deforming” texts in order to better understand them as a whole, he wants to leave them in the pulled apart mess that they are in. He compares it to Humpty Dumpty, and he wants to leave him cracked on the ground. Sample’s idea is that there really isn’t as much of a need to go back to the original works after you've picked it apart and from that, a new text can be formed, “In my vision of the Deformed Humanities, there is little need to go back to the original. We work—in the Stallybrass sense of the word—not to go back to the original text with a revitalized perspective, but to make an entirely new text or artifact.” I think that this is a very interesting idea, further studying what makes up a text. Although, I would rather put it back together to see that larger picture, it is creative in the sense that you’re making something completely new. In a way, Deformed Humanities is a way of evolution.

Digital Humanities is definitely the next step in the theory department, maybe because I’m looking at it in its beginning stages is why I’m not all that used to it. But I can absolutely see the potential and the interesting directions it can go in.

With that, I end my final blog post for Critical Theory. 

In the Beginning There was Only Text...

It starts with some letters. These letters have sounds. When you put these letters together you get words. Words, when stringed together, create sentences, and so on. Thus, language is born. Language, from the very beginning, is bricolage.
The new critics tried to create meaning from chaos by assuming a definite and discoverable meaning behind texts. As the evolution of theory progressed, we became convinced that texts do not have one and only one meaning. Then, with post-structuralism, we lost grasp on any meaning whatsoever.

Post-structuralism asserts that texts – or on a smaller scale, words – do no possess sole meaning. Because of this, they are not metaphoric –meaning that the utterance or writing of a word (signifier) does not refer to the thing (signified). Instead, words simply refer to other words – signifiers to signifiers – in a never-ending ping-pong volley.

With new and advancing technology, comes the birth of the digital humanities. The digital humanities is the personification of post-structuralism. It is a living and breathing example of language’s metonymy. When hypertext is used in a digital document, the reader can literally bounce from one text to a related text. When one keeps bouncing he/she will notice that they have the ability to wind up in a place and exploring a subject that is far from their original source material. The metonymic bounce becomes literal not just theoretical. In this way, the digital humanities creates texts and exposes existing texts as being wholly decentered.

Not only do the digital humanities knock “meaning” off its pedestal with metonymy, it also allows readers to interact with texts so that they might rearrange any text to create something new with a wholly different supposed meaning. Texts are now at the mercy of the public. They might be used or arranged in any manor in order to meet an infinite number of goals.

New critics like Wimsatt and Beardsley would squirm at the idea of an English/humanities field of study that is devoid of stability and meaning. A field of study in which anyone can create and participate.

The trajectory of English/literature studies has been one of evolution and discovery. I think that most non-English majors would suppose that there wouldn’t be much to discover in the way we think about literature and language, but boy, would they be wrong. We based our study on words and what they could mean. Then we got broader when we considered what words could mean to different people. Then we extended the boundaries even further when we thought about what certain words could mean to certain people in certain situations. Then the boundaries got so wide that they couldn’t contain anything in place anymore; all areas of study and life are in conversation and free-play with each other. Now we have technology as a tool to witness this free play. And it is wonderful.