If there’s one way in which I would characterize Friday’s materialism sessions, I’d say they were “transgressive,” in that each panel sought to overturn or undermine, or just plain do away with the boundaries between disciplines, between objects, and between epistemologies.
The day’s sessions were:
Quantum Medievalisms by postmedieval, organized by yours truly
Transgressive Materialities by the Material Collective, organized by Heather Coffey and Holly Silvers
Material Iberia II: Shaping Bodies in Literature and Art across the Abrahamic Traditions by the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, organized by Jessica Boon
Each of these sessions was sooo good that they could be summarized in a full blog post. See the storified tweets from them here:
Day one of #medmaterialism was an exciting one, to say the least!
I’ve storified my tweets of the whole day here:
To roundup all the panels I attended, only half of which were explicitly oriented toward materiality, here is a short list of where I went throughout the day:
The BABEL Retrospective on 25 years of Carolyn Dnishaw’s Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics
Romance Materiality II: Romancing the Material
Romance Materiality III: Materialize or Material Lies?
Revisiting Remediation–with my paper!
What I found really interesting throughout the papers in each of the panels was their intense focus on both bodies–usually human–and signification throughout. For instance, in thinking about Melusine, Angela Florschuetz was emphasizing the way in which the material bodies of Melusine and her offspring were somehow not being taken as materially significant. They had serpent feet, lion claws coming out of their faces, misplaced teeth, third eyes, etc., and yet throughout the narrative there is no indication that these bodily deformities impeded their basic functioning in the world. Instead, these material realities were reduced to signs of the cursed “seed” from which the children came, a genealogy the family seemed unable to overcome.
This is the full text and audio of my paper for the “Disrupting the Archive” panel at George Washington University’s Disrupting DH Symposium including slides in the appropriate places. Podcast recorded by Eileen Joy, and first posted on her blog at In The Middle.
I don’t want to be overly reflective, but I do want to take a moment to remark on what it was like to be on the “Disrupting the Archive” panel at #GWdh15, George Washington University’s annual Digital Humanities symposium that, this year, was on “disrupting DH.” As M Bychowski points out in her blog, the symposium itself was conceptualized as a way to think about both what is DH, and what is the power of DH?
What happens when academics, activists, and publishers join forces to rethink how we research, teach, and generate knowledge? How can digital humanists mobilize online media and social networks to radically transform the spaces of the ARCHIVE, the CLASSROOM, and the IVORY TOWER?
The first panel was specifically about DH in the archive, and the ways in which it disrupts the archive, with papers delivered by myself and Dorothy Kim (to be posted later). Continue reading Disrupting the Archive→
Ok, so not Piers at all, but a little digital quickie on the State of the Union address and responses by the president and a few others. I used the simple text-mining tool Voyant to check out some word frequencies and make a few basic comparisons: To begin, we’ll check out a word cloud of the full transcript of Obama’s speech: What you’ll notice is that most of the words with the highest frequency are, of course, basic words that make our language function: pronouns, conjunctions, articles, prepositions. In order to filter those out, we choose to “edit stop words” for English and we get a cloud that is more reflective of the substance of the speech: Continue reading A Little Digital Reading of SOTU→
This blog is dedicated to Karl Steel; I cannot think of a better person with whom I would want to build and collaborate and co-create.
Last blog I got carried away with the argument that
we must build to know.
And it’s true. Whether it’s building an experimental set-up that allows us to collect measurements of some kind, whether it’s a form of art that allows us to see some aspect of ourselves or our world that we couldn’t quite see before, or whether it’s simply a palate of post-structuralist theories that allow us to analyze a literary text,
we all use an apparatus to produce knowledge, to take a “measurement” of the universe, in whatever way seems interesting or useful to us.
The thing I love about working across a few disciplinary boundaries, and using computational tools is that it allows me to invent the apparatus I want to ask the questions I want to ask–which usually tend to be questions I feel vehemently that everyone should have been asking all along, and yet I find to my chagrin that they haven’t been. I mean really, how could we not have been talking about what Piers circulates with in the manuscripts? How is that not it’s most immediate textual context? Doesn’t it seem obvious? Well, I guess it isn’t.
In her book Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad defines an “apparatus” as any configuration “specific material reconfiguring of the world that do[es] not merely emerge in time but iteratively reconfigure spacetimematter as a part of an ongoing dynamism of becoming.” (142)
In Barad’s account, which spins of of Neils Bohr’s philosophy-physics, the “measuring apparatus” for an experiment is the specific set-up that is used to take a particular measurement. What Barad points out, by way of Bohr, is that the apparatus itself is a part of the material configuration that produces a measurement. She doesn’t simply mean what the social constructivists mean–that a phenomenon is “made” by the naming of it. Rather I understand her to be pointing to the fact that a “measurement” becomes a possible articulation of the universe only when a measuring apparatus is in place. And more particularly, that the type of apparatus one uses determines the type of measurement one can get.
In terms of the sciences, this is a very practical consideration. Take, for example, the work on parchmentsurfaces that I put up earlier in the summer. In order to take a “measurement” of the parchment’s surface, I had to build an apparatus. Ok. I had to have a physicist build an apparatus (my days of building apparatuses in labs seem to be largely over…sort of…at least of building apparatuses with lasers). Our apparatus only allowed us to take a certain kind of measurement, that was accurate on a certain scale, and that may or may not have answered the question we set out to address.
But the success of that apparatus is not really the point. The point here, is that an apparatus had to be builtin order to ask the question I wanted to ask of parchment surfaces.
In order for a digital project to really live up to its potential–the possibilities it has over print–it has to include an infrastructure. We have already been working on creating structured data, but now we have to think about building a repository for that data. As long as data is confined to a particular space–be it a book, laptop or even cloud service–it is accessible only through the entry points that medium makes available.
Many formats make it easy to access information, but difficult to put that information into relationship with other information. What is more, that information is largely from a single source (an author) and cannot be changed or updated as new information comes available, nor can it be altered by anyone other than the author.
That is the power of digital projects: by building an online architecture for your data, you make ongoing collaboration and community-sourced data possible.
A critical performance detailing the results of a collaborative digital and (meta)physical experiment on the nature of matter and meaning across quantum physics and the humanities. This non-traditional panel will take up the central paradox of the physical universe, that of matter’s inherent duality as always simultaneously both particle and wave, and formulate a vocabulary from the group’s collective engagement with the New Materialism of Karen Barad (agential realism) that allows us to discuss the fundamental entanglement of the material and discursive in knowledge production.
Ada Smailbegovic (New York University): Wave *by video link
Karl Steel (Brooklyn College, CUNY): Particle
Brandon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): Duality
Sandra Danilovic (University of Toronto): Apparatus of Subjectivity *by video link
Ashby Kinch (University of Montana): Scale of the Subject
As I leave this most excellent and convivial conference of Babel on the beach, I have six long hours of lonely driving down the coast, past the Huntington, and out into the desert flats that long were my home to reflect on our time together On the Beach. I am left with the familiar feeling I get after Babel or Babel-heavy conferences: one of a sense of purpose, belonging, and renewed “stoke” for what it is that I am doing. It wasn’t until this summer that I even thought to be troubled by that feeling. It wasn’t until I was in Reykjavík, at the New Chaucer Society when Sharon O’Dair asked the Ecomaterialisms panel “what’s the use” of all our getting together to talk about these things? What was the use of us flying however many hours, using however many gallons of fossil fuel to get to Iceland so that we could sit around and talk about how human beings are driving the ecomaterial world into ruin–while simultaneously ruining it? And I wondered…
what are we doing, I mean really doing about these things we’ve come all this way to be so concerned about?
Sharon made good points. Others rebutted with good points as well. But still I wondered. And so, after this conference, on the precaricity and risk at the edge of the world, I wondered what we’d done to deal with that risk. Of course, the answer was in the other half of the conference’s title: “Life, Affinity and Play at the Edge of the World.” And yes, what we are doing is radically life-affirming, recognizing the vitality in other forms of life and entering into a (queer?) relationship with it that subverts the narrative of human colonialism over the ocean, the minerals, and the very air we all breathe. We are learning to live together.
Before I left Santa Barbara, I sat on the beach reading Marina Zurkow’s The Petroleum Manganext to a hot pink piece of plastic bag that had washed up onto the shore. In Max Liboiron’s piece on “The Platisphere,” part of the section on Anhydrous Ammonia, Liboiron points out that “the vast majority of ocean plastics are less than five millimeters in size, called microplastics, and they are inextricable from the larger oceanic ecosystem.” Indeed, Liboiron goes on to explain that microplastics are so inextricable from the lifecycles of our plante that they are in us, a part of our transcorporeal ecosystem. Continue reading On Creation and Building I: BABEL and the Tower→
Visual studies in the Piers Plowman manuscript corpus.