Inspired by Dr. Snelson’s presentation of NewHive and methods and examples in exploring language and words by digital remediations of books, poems, and other texts that combine with multimodal dimensions that are artistically-inclined, Katherine Hayles’ “How We Became Posthuman”, and Saussure (along with other philosphers’) conceptions of the unit, I aim to create a digital rendition of The Fables of Aesop and examine the implications of the aesthetic elements of a digitalized text and the nature of digital information dissemination techniques. Following the prompt of capturing something in the “romance of the archive”, I have created a representation of the book of fables that focuses on the idiosyncratic aura of the classic print book using platforms like iMovie, Aurora3DMaker, Blender, and several online services and sources like archive.org, Flippingbook.com, and several free online OCR services. Although Walter Benjamin does state that “even the perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element” (what I interpreted to be that aura of a traditional text), new, digitalized reiterations of texts can be aware of this modification, and aim to improve some aspects of the original text that would not other be able to be distributed. For example, adding multimodal elements, such as moving pictures, audio, and abilities to zoom/emphasize different elements of the text can be beneficial in helping a modern audience digest and experience the content. While it may be impossible to recreate the physical presence of a traditional text, it is also valuable to examine the new aura that digitalized texts emanate. The digitalization of these traditional texts do inevitably take away a dimension of the corporeal copy, but that is not necessarily detrimental. I aim to explore the ways in which this “aura” can be transformed, reproduced, and be nonexistent completely. I also aim to examine the subjectivity of the unit, the posthuman and its relation to the devaluation of authorship, mimesis, and how the computer has enable for our contemporary perceptions of language.
ẗḧệ ẅöŕḳ öḟ äŕẗ ïń ẗḧệ äġệ öḟ ďïġïẗäŀ ŕệṗŕöďüċẗïöń
I recently came across an article detailing rise of information visualizations, more popularly known as infographics, or “infovis”. These visualizations are quickly becoming more pervasive as the material world enmeshes itself into the digital world (and vice-versa). There is a unique aspect these infovis– as detailed by Heather Houser in her essay “The Aesthetics of Environmental Visualizations: More than Information Ecstasy?”, creative-types like artists and designers are transforming “an instrumental tool long used in the quantitative sciences into a cultural tool that manages data overload, educates publics, and vaunts principles of sophisticated design”. The modern information visualization is a simplified interface for large, raw data sets that are too cumbersome, tedious, and inaccessible to deconstruct. These infovis can take the shape of news stories adjuncts, campaign promotions, gallery exhibitions and hangings, and digital formats. I am intrigued by this topic because I constantly find myself marveling over the individual idiosyncratic values of what social media and digital data offer and detract from our daily lives. Although infovis is protean in nature (taking the form of maps, line graphs, flowcharts, time series displays, and trees), what Houser describes as the “succinct allure of imagery” particularly resonated with me because of its extraordinary power to please through shock value, garner attention, and help accumulate knowledge. One could help but wonder: are digital reproductions/representations of literary texts adequate substitutes for what would otherwise be presented in the traditional, physical codex form?
“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”
Based on this quote, one would deduce that according to Walter Benjamin, the answer to this question is “no”. Benjamin reasons that a critical component in reproducing artworks is retaining its “aura”. This concept is rooted from his claim of art as serving the position as a provider of magical and/or religious service. To him, the unique value of that aura is based on its original function in rituals, and to reproduce this in the mechanical age of reproduction, meaning mass production, which would be impossible to do concomitantly as preserving its sacred distinctiveness.
Benjamin has a point in that the unique materiality and aura of the original codex formatted Aesop’s Fables can not be digitally remediated. However, he does acknowledge the ease of circulation that mechanical reproduction allows, specifically referring to film and photography. In the age of digital reproduction, this effect is furthered to even more of an extreme as modern technology has simplified the activity of reproducing and circulating artworks at a massive scale. Now, reproducing, refixing, and redistributing a work could be as simple as a copy-and-paste away.
In the digital age, artists can also easily integrate new multimodal forms of art and media to supplement and complement each other. In these three Newhives that I have created, linked above, I have aimed to compensate for the aura of what Benjamin describes the original work of art as having. In the first Newhive, I have embedded a flipbook, which aims to mimic the flipping and chronology of a traditional codex-formatted book. It even has sound effects as you click each page. As if they were bandaids, I have placed moving, shiny gifs of “Archives” ironically around the frame of the flipbook widget to originally conceal the clashing colors of the default background of the flipbook, but now look back on them as a self-aware parody of how this webpage is a far cry from the original work of art. I have used several programs to make the animated text news headings of new developments in technology that claim that soon technology will be able to integrate the sensory of smell. Below that, I have included a a visual+auditory experience aimed at triggering an autonomous sensory meridian response, blended in with another video explaining “digital scent technology”. I also included some animations that claim to offer free smells, but as one tries to scratch and sniff the screen, one will soon learn that this endeavor is futile. With the implementation of these many multimodal elements, a very broad array of signifiers is deployed, and the notion of authorship loses value because of the diversity and complexity of the multimodal signifiers.
In the second, I have added moving images, scrolling text, and a text-to-speech dictation of the fable I have represented, all of which one would never be able to experience with a traditional print book. In the third Newhive, I have added a DJ’d music mix that I made to complement the mood of the fable, as well as moving images. Although I have provided new dimensions to the original archive, I have failed to recreate the old aura, and have come to the conclusion that to Walter Benjamin is accurate, at least with the most current technology, in depicting the current state of reproducing works of art.
ṠḕḶḟ-ṙḕḟḶḕẌḭṼḭṮẏ, Ṯḧḕ ṳṆḭṮ, ḀṆḊ ḀṳṮḧṏṙṠḧḭṖ
Literary critic Marjorie Perloff postulates that our current standards of “genius” are outdated; with the ubiquitous rise of the digital form, current standards need to be rectified to concentrate on the mastery of information and its dissemination. Kenneth Goldsmith, in his article “It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s ‘Repurposing“ details the nature of this shift in technology and how it has encouraged writers to approach language differently, experimenting with practices such as word processing, databasing, recycling, appropriation, intentional plagiarism, identity ciphering, and intensive programming. This reminds me of the emergence of avant-garde literature movements, such as Flarf poetry, which relies of the heavy usage of Google results, plagiarized works, and semi-revised texts, and reveals one of the many themes, self-reflexitivity, that Hayles explores. This poses the question of : to what extent does the digital domain act as a catalyst for the inception of conceptual writing in the contemporary context, and how has it impacted the nature of how language works today? Perplexed by this, I investigated and shall quote some of the prefaces of each category of one of my favorite web databases, Ubuweb. The preface to Ubuweb Contemporary outlines…
“Concrete poetry’s historical move from the poetic line to the visual linguistic constellation, predicted parallel moves in computing from command line interface to graphical user interfaces. With concrete poetry’s implied dynamism and hyperspace, the concrete poets seemed to be begging for multimedia to enter into their practice. Since the technology was not yet available, they stuck with the page. With the advent of the web, we’ve seen the fulfillment of this tendency.
UbuWeb’s Contemporary section focuses on the rich tradition bestowed by the 1950s pioneers in electronic form. As more artists flock to the web, many become unknowing practitioners of concrete poetry as streaming and morphing of language moves to the forefront of graphical web-based practices, be it fine or commercial art. As such, we hope to present a selection of artworks that historically fulfill or extend the practices of the original practitioners of concrete poetry in the cyber medium.
Works included in this section, on the whole, must not be able to be reproduced on the page in static form. They must be medium specific, employing text, image, or text + image in dynamic ways. Java, Flash, back-end programming or simple animated .gifs are the common parlance. As web technologies continue to develop, UbuWeb’s Contemporary section will showcase them as they relate to the historical development of concrete poetry.”
I am listing these two Newhives again to highlight another aspect of them which I have not yet discussed–my usage of the Markov Algorithm in generating the text for the reproduction of two fables. It challenges the notion of the importance of authorship and originality in a work– can a work truly be original if it is synthesized from a language system that precedes the author themselves?
The online DIY digital platform Newhive explores the subjectivity of the unit through its ambiguous format as a blank canvas. Like language, the “units” of Newhive are amorphous, and this allows for the presentation of many different snippings and recombinations of data. I have thus created a Newhive page in which I rework one of Aesop’s Fables, “The Old Woman and her Maids”, linked above. This Newhive explores the intertextuality of language, the subjectivity of the unit, and in turn, the concept of the devaluation of authorship. Newhive actually offers a innovative function that allows for the “remixing” of different webpages. My remediation of this text is certainly different than the original in its codex form. There is not a straightforward instruction of in which direction you should approach each element on the webpage. The page has a sort of disorder different from the disorder you may experience while flipping through a pile of loose papers. Touching this Newhive page lit by a flat computer screen feels different than touching a material-resistant object, and is like simultaneously absorbing a “model of signification in which no simple one-to-one correspondence exists between the signifier and signified”, as put by Hayles. The Newhive page serves as a digital representation of what intertextuality theorists would allude to as the counterexample to what vertical relationship Saussure proposed between the signifier and signified. The materiality of the medium is crucial because of the way in which it can impact the viewer’s cognizance of the text. This point that Hayles emphasizes can be contrasted to Benjamin’s description of the process by which modern technological techniques for reproduction will remove art of their physical aesthetic merit. Benjamin quotes Valéry:
Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our need in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or audi- tory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign
The corporeality of the physical text is important because of the way it was produced. The irreversibility of the binding of the physical copy of “Aesop’s Fables” and printing of the ink is different from the ephemeral coding that has been used to create the digital rendition of “The Old Woman and Her Maids”. With technology that mostly relies on patterns and randomness in the information age, our perceptions of language today have largely shifted towards these models. Even though this typeface I am using to type this blog post right now may have the identical serifs, proportions, and slant to a printed typeface on a traditionally-produced and bound physical book, the technology in which the signifiers are transmitted suggest different modes of signification, which in turn prompts shifts in consumption, new experiences of embodiment, and new kinds of textual worlds. Hayles cites cyberpunk as one of the many examples of contemporary literature that has been affected by this technological shift, in addition to my examples of avant-garde poetry provided in previous paragraphs.