Author Archives: Jojo Karlin

Wendy HK Chun @whkchun #digitalgc and Poetic Computation

Hey ITP-

I meant to post directly following the talk Wednesday, but I wanted to let those of you who weren’t there how interesting and exciting Wendy Chun’s talk was (MCK and Achim, don’t you agree?). I wanted draw everyone’s attention to Chun’s forthcoming book Updating to Remain the Same on (N)YOU Media, as she calls it, emphasizing that “you” again (Lisa Brundage and the archive). I found a talk she gave a couple years ago at Barnard which includes some of the ideas she presented Wednesday (the inherent leakiness of new media) for those of you interested. She referenced Lauren Klein among many others of the folks we’ve been reading. You can also check out the live tweets from Wednesday at #digitalgc.

Hope you’ve all had a nice week.

Also! I’m looking forward to Achim’s School for Poetic Computation showcase this afternoon! A small group of us are going down around 3:30 if anyone’s interested in joining, let me know.


Lev Manovich. The Language of New Media: The Forms

Minecraft Creeper novelty wallet

In this selection from The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich observes the shifts in visual culture and their underlying organization. To begin, he sketches a portrait of New York web development in 1999. He observes the iconographic migrations of browser buttons to wallets and filing cabinets to computer icons to illustrate the cross-pollination of “virtual” forms. He traces the movements of cultural metaphor — those grafted into computer practices and those conceptualizations based on computers. Manovich goes on to distinguish and blur the computer database and 3-D virtual space as arenas of work and fun in computers. He refers to two of Janet Murray’s four essential properties of digital environments, encyclopedic and spatial, to elaborate the aims of new media design. He draws attention to the “opposition characteristic of new media — between action and representation” (Manovich 216). His call for “info-aesthetics” corresponds with much of his art — he considers data the new media as film and photography once were. Take for example, his Timeline. Introducing the database as “the key form of cultural expression of the modern age,” Manovich traces a theoretical descendance from Panofsky’s art historical description of perspective to Lyotard’s cultural theoretical Postmodern Condition to Berners-Lee’s computer science proposal of the world wide web  (218-9). Threading together these disciplinary developments, he demonstrates the broadly strewn, networked fields of cultural productivity. The refresh, addend, amend nature of the Web, he contends, lends itself to organization by collection rather than completed narratives. Apparent narratives, ie computer games, depend on players reverse learning algorithms. Thus the “ontology of the world according to computers” is reduced to data structures and algorithms (223). Describing the complementary nature of database and algorithm, he shows how the map of our information is greater than the territory — our indices eclipse our information; positing database in contrast to narrative, he addresses how our meaning making shifts accordingly. He goes on to describe the structure of new media in semiotic structuralist terms (following Barthes). He contends that the language-like sequencing is a holdover from the cinema. Manovich’s frame-by-frame sequence of cinema as differentiated from all-images-at-once spatialized visual culture does not entirely hold up, especially with today’s ‘view-as-you-please’ stop-and-go on-demand video media. I wonder if the database articulation Manovich extols in Whitney’s Catalog really changed the course of how we perceive visual culture. The effects Whitney developed certain contributed to the visual amplifications made by computers, but do they really mark any sort of break in the database/narrative tension?

Manovich seems to suggest that chronological linearity is narrative, and that artists trying to undermine it are attempting to express the database — or all options at once. He considers Peter Greenaway a prominent “database filmmaker” (239). Excerpt from Peter Greenaway’s The Falls, 1982 and


I am not sure that these catalogs of effects achieve the non-narrative. There are certainly differences, but do these assemblages constitute paradigm over syntagm?



What would a radical break from narrative to database look like? Do those things which stubbornly persist through restructuration (Manovich citing Jameson) have something to them which is, dare I say, essentially human? Or are our formal expressions discrete, replaceable, and bound to evolve beyond recognition? Can the paradigm, the vast array of associations, truly be manifested in the database, if we as readers still depend on syntagms (what the screen or interface can render)?


Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.



Etsy Floppy Disk Notebook

Forum? Blog? Censorship conference

Hey ITP!

I wanted to link everyone to the censorship conference happening at Princeton today. I just listened to the Information Technologies panel and a lot of the questions about censorship and about technologists working with policy makers in a human way felt very DH.

Here is the blurb from the Air-L internet researchers listserv:

“Today, Friday October 9 2015 the Princeton Center for
Information Technology Policy aka CITP will present a Conference on
Internet Censorship, Interference, and Control which will examine questions
like: What is the current state of internet accessibility”

*Friday October 9 2015* the *Princeton Center for Information Technology
Policy <https://citp.princeton.edu/> *aka CITP will present a *Conference
on Internet Censorship, Interference, and Control
*which will examine questions like: What is the current state of internet
accessibility, and what technologies and policies can help protect
international security and human rights in this area? This conference will
explore research by both computer scientists and political scientists into
internet censorship, interference, and control. We will consider
interdisciplinary perspectives on relevant contemporary questions: What is
the state of the art in network measurement, and how can information about
social and political conditions better inform future measurements? How
should computer scientists measure and study offensive technologies, such
as China’s denial of service attacks on Github, and what role should policy
play in responding to these security threats? How extensive are national
firewalls, internet surveillance, and filter bubbles, and how should
citizens and governments respond? Speakers include *Wendy Seltzer* and *Roger
Dingledine*. The conference will be streamed live via *Princeton Media
Central <http://mediacentrallive.princeton.edu/>*

The Eversion and the Emergence of the Digital Humanities

I don’t mean to give Steve Jones short shrift — across the board, I am a huge fan of his careful scholarship which compellingly combines media archaeology, literary study, history, and theory. Forgive this brief and belated response to his Introduction.

Using metaphors from preeminent science fiction author William Gibson, Steven Jones aligns a transition from the cyberspace conception of the internet popularized in Gibson’s 1984 Neuromancer to Gibson’s new conception, eversion, with the shift from isolated computing to social networking. He also describes the disciplinary shifts within and from humanities computing and within the new movements of “the digital humanities.” Jones locates the primary transition in the years 2004-2008, when platforms such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and the rise of GPS and GIS, made the internet more social and more mobile.

I guess my provocations for the class are of disciplinarity and materiality.

  1. How do those in the social sciences respond to Jones’s literary version of DH? Does the impact of the metaphor shift pertain to questions outside of cultural imagination and in scientific inquiry?
  2. What is your mixed reality? Where do you personally find the materiality of the internet most palpable (in stashes of leftover cables from bygone electronics? in the feel of your phone? in the visible branding of restaurants or local businesses with facebook “like”s? in the new object sensitive scanners that don’t break bindings as they digitize?)j
  3. Are you convinced that the digital humanities is the humanities everted (turned inside out)?

Don’t Trust Anyone Over 25

Richard Wilkinson limited edition cover CC BY-SA 2.0

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008) bears relevance on our discussions in many ways. The protagonist, 17-year-old hackitivist Marcus Yallow, takes on nothing less than the Department of Homeland Security in a not-so-distant, post-terrorist-attack San Francisco.

Doctorow is a fascinating example of the intersections of literature and the internet. A major proponent of Open Access to all information, he initially published the novel with a Creative Commons Sharealike license and it remains available for free. Just as he makes no mystery of his belief in transparency and privacy, so he openly includes educational passages concerning his causes. The novel includes a number of descriptions that feel akin to documentation of a computer program (of a literary sort). He writes about the excluded parties in order to include his readers in his subversive movement.

Even the introduction to Doctorow’s published version on craphound.com includes a pedagogical instruction in the impetus of his movement. (Forgive the block quote, I’ve cut a bit, but I wanted to show the Internet history that Doctorow traces and how it aligns with the history of his activism):

“When my dad was a young university student in the 1960s, he was one of the few “counterculture” people who thought computers were a good thing. For most young people, computers represented the de­humanization of society. University students were reduced to numbers on a punchcard… Computers were seen as a means to increase the ability of the authorities to regiment people and bend them to their will.

When I was 17, the world seemed like it was just going to get more free. The Berlin Wall was about to come down. Computers ­­ which had been geeky and weird a few years before ­­ were everywhere, and the modem I’d used to connect to local bulletin board systems was now connecting me to the entire world through the Internet and commercial online services like GEnie. My lifelong fascination with activist causes went into overdrive as I saw how the main difficulty in activism ­­ organizing ­­ was getting easier by leaps and bounds …

But 17 years later, things are very different. The computers I love are being co­opted, used to spy on us, control us, snitch on us. The National Security Agency has illegally wiretapped the entire USA and gotten away with it. Car rental companies and mass transit and traffic authorities are watching where we go, sending us automated tickets, finking us out to busybodies, cops and bad guys who gain illicit access to their databases. The Transport Security Administration maintains a “no­fly” list of people who’d never been convicted of any crime, but who are nevertheless considered too dangerous to fly. The list’s contents are secret. The rule that makes it enforceable is secret. The criteria for being added to the list are secret. It has four­year­olds on it. And US senators. And decorated veterans ­­ actual war heroes.

The 17 year olds I know understand to a nicety just how dangerous a computer can be.

(Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is distributed under a CC A-NC-SA 3.0 license)

It is not surprising that Doctorow wrote the novel in the early part of 2007 and that the novel (which came out in 2008) ends with a political campaign. Yet he does write to an audience not yet eligible to vote, those who seek work-arounds and networks to feel less disenfranchised. Doctorow illustrates the transmissions of information and power that happen in internet interactions in a way that is engaging and persuasive.

Doctorow uses the narration to involve the reader in the workings of the internet. As Marcus describes setting up a new internet, his Xnet, he illuminates some of the darker workings of the system. It almost feels like a how-to manual. He gives you the sense that you, too, could do this. At the end of chapter 7, he offers a call to code. “If you’ve never programmed a computer, you should. There’s nothing like it in the whole world. When you program a computer, it does exactly what you tell it to do…It’s awesome in the truest sense: it can fill you with awe.” He gives inspiration and incentive. “Even if you only write code for one day, one afternoon, you have to do it. Computers can control you or they can lighten your work ­; if you want to be in charge of your machines, you have to learn to write code.”

Doctorow’s mission is manifold and the book’s critical and popular reception speaks to his agility: he sheds light on the spirit of his movement and invites readers to get involved.

My primary provocation is one about age:

How do we take the novel’s activist mantra “Trust No One Over 25”? One concern with the revolution made possible by internet technologies is that they upset the balance of structures of  education. Doctorow seems to use his novel to instruct his readers on the historical imperatives they might otherwise ignore. But what does it do to the progress of ideas and education (that tried-and-true top-down hegemony) that younger and younger generations gain computer literacy that outpaces their forebears? How do power structures shift? And how does this impact structures of government?

I recommend finishing the book if you haven’t!

Interesting notes beyond the assigned chapters —

The two afterwords continue the mission to open and educate young people in the areas of Doctorow’s activism. The essay regarding security by Bruce Schneier almost seems like a sales pitch for a fun and exciting career in security, and Andrew “bunnie” Huang‘s essay about hacking the xbox while pursuing his PhD at MIT is an endorsement of creative destruction and reassembly. In the context of a Y.A. novel, a genre perhaps more steeped in the tradition of overt instruction, these articles bolster Doctorow’s mission to increase transparency and accessibility. He does not keep his tech philosophies secret, but makes them accessible in the most appealing ways possible. He appeals to the desire to abolish oppression that is often felt most keenly in teen years.

citation: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is distributed under a CC A-NC-SA 3.0 license

Haraway (reposted)

Hi ITP crew-

I posted this in the Forum, but thought perhaps I ought to put it here. (The internet is for redundancy? Or at least forgives it to an alarming degree?)

Art attribution… somewhat difficult to track. The image is linked to its url, but I pulled this off a google search and found it floating around a number of sites.

“This chapter is an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism” Donna J. Haraway (149).

Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (first published in Socialist Review in 1985, then included as a chapter in 1991) is a great place to start deepening our conversation from last week. Not only do her concerns express fundamental conditions of current trends in theorizing the digital, her writing style manifests the blurred boundaries of the organic and the mechanical she describes.

The way Haraway so fluidly metastasizes metaphor and science corresponds with her mission of myth making. She writes in images and with wry allusion (“other than a shroud for the day after the apocalypse that so prophetically ends salvation history” (158)). The politics Haraway argues for reorganizes “world-wide social relations tied to science and technology” (161), identifying dichotomies that mark the transition from “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” to “scary new networks” she calls “informatics of domination” (161). Choosing to list and categorize concepts and classifications, she highlights the role of language in paradoxically establishing and transgressing boundaries.

I pose, as a reaction to this reading, a few questions about the cyborg made manifest. Have we reached a point at which the materialism of digital tools has superseded our theoretical concerns? Do these metaphors still work? What function does the cyborg serve as we become more and more connected to our smartphones?

Haraway discusses the shift in world ideological frameworks and I am curious whether we have dissolved even further since her claim that “boundary-maintaining images of base and superstructure, public and private, or material and ideal never seemed more feeble” (165). Has the omnipresence of technological redundancy further diluted our attempts at unifying ideas or movements?

“‘Networking’ is both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy — weaving is for oppositional cyborgs.” (170) Haraway looks for new coalitions within the loosened picture of women in society that no longer relates solely to the private/public dichotomy. As Haraway describes the shifting realm and power of women, “the task,” she states, “is to survive the diaspora”(170). As the internet continues to expand these consortia, how do movements coalesce? Is Amy Schumer really the face of new feminism? “Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control” (175). Do new representations of women succeed to any extent of Haraway’s mission? What will we include in our “powerful infidel heteroglossia” (181)?

I look forward to hearing how each of the disciplines represented in class approach the vast political, economic, gendered reaches of this text. Irony seems to be an excellent adhesive for cohering these extremes. Lean on the opposite to assert your position. What ironies are most notable in Haraway’s text? Does irony ultimately hold? Or do we all become mustaches on coffee mugs?

ironic mustache mugs. as labelled by the internet.




Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto:  Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, 1991, 149-81.