On (Collaboration and) Building III: We Must Build to Know

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 parchment surfaces 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 built in order to ask the question I wanted to ask of parchment surfaces.

Continue reading On (Collaboration and) Building III: We Must Build to Know

On Collaboration and Building II: Digital Architecture and BL 35157

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.

Continue reading On Collaboration and Building II: Digital Architecture and BL 35157

Wave. Particle. Duality. : The Entanglement of Matter and Meaning

For those who are interested, or those who missed it, or the overlap between those two groups, here is the Wave. Particle. Duality. Theory Performance from BABEL On The Beach.

Session 19. Wave. Particle. Duality. [THEORY-PERFORMANCE]

Organizer: Angela Bennett-Segler, New York University

Flâneur: Stacy Alaimo

3:30 – 4:30 pm

Humanities & Social Science Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor, Room 6020)

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

Continue reading Wave. Particle. Duality. : The Entanglement of Matter and Meaning

On Creation and Building I: BABEL and the Tower

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 Manga next 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 Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.49.36 AMpoints 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

A Manuscript Stemma: A Reprise

I sort of hate manuscript stemma. Don’t get me wrong, they have their uses, and they take some incredibly diligent and intelligent work (work that I’m really glad someone else is doing so that I don’t have to).  But stemma are also one of those devices that are occasionally put to great evil, in my book. They are sometimes used for recensional editing (the worst of evils), used to abject and even reject certain manuscripts deemed worthless based on its distance from an authoritative text, and they’re just plain mind-numbing to try to consume intellectually.

In addition to being put to evil use, stemma are also sometimes misleading, laden with jargon tending to make them indecipherable to non-experts, and just plain confusing.

Take this A MSS stemma, reproduced (absolutely without permission) from A.V.C. Schmidt’s Parallel Text Edition.


Continue reading A Manuscript Stemma: A Reprise

Defining Data Parameters: Pierscentricity

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Material Piers is back after a slight summer holiday. I know you weren’t pining because you were enjoying your own last opportunities to …. xxx…  whatever it is you do in the summertime.

We last left off with a discussion of data aesthetics, in which I pointed out that the way you present your data is itself imposing interpretations, or at least interpretive structures, onto the “raw” data itself (whatever that means, amirite Lisa Gitelman??).

Equally important to presenting transparent information is defining the parameters of your data.  In a science setting, data is only useful insofar as it is replicable by other scientists.  They need to know not just the results (i.e. conclusions you draw from your data) of your experiment, but how you interpreted it, what it looked like pre-interpretation (“raw”), but also how you built the data-finding apparatus, and the question the apparatus was designed to answer.  If, for example, you use a laser for something, you are only asking your experiment a question answerable through optical data collection.

The very way that data is “collected” (i.e. created, but more on that later) creates limitations to the kinds of answers you can get from your data.

THERE IS NOTHING INHERENTLY OBJECTIVE ABOUT DATA.  Continue reading Defining Data Parameters: Pierscentricity

Aesthetics of Data Presentation: Piers A-B-C Graphs

In a recent talk she gave for the Medieval Forum and the Anglo Saxon Studies Colloquium, Dorothy Kim discussed the importance of aesthetics in designing and implementing digital architectures that are not only “user-friendly,” but also that are inviting to the potential consumers of the information that the Archive of Early Middle English was trying to make available.

Kim’s talk got me to thinking about something inherent in the visual presentation of data that doesn’t get a lot of discussion.  We (i.e. the people doing data visualizations and writing about them) are all so consumed with presenting information, that often discussion of the way information is presented and the choices involved gets left out of conversations about big data. Continue reading Aesthetics of Data Presentation: Piers A-B-C Graphs

Visual studies in the Piers Plowman manuscript corpus.