Tag Archives: eversion

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Steve Jones and the Humanities, Everted

Steve Jones was a Distinguished Visiting Professor for the Advanced Research Collaborative at The Graduate Center last year (2014-2015), and as a result, I had the chance to hear him speak a few times. One of the features I admire about his work is the way it traces beginnings to moments of critical mass–certainly a goal of the introduction and first chapter of his 2013 book, The Emergence of the Digital Humanities. As I understand, Jones is now working on a history of Father Busa, the so-called founding father of digital humanities-type research who produced a concordance of Saint Thomas Aquinas using IBM’s computers around the 1950s. This project, like his others, suggests a common methodology: return to historical roots for new ways of thinking, uncover institutional forces that shaped movements, and interrogate these systems to highlight their current digital and networked instantiations.

Something that has struck me throughout this course is the intense relevance of science fiction, and thinking to Cory Doctorow, young adult versions of this genre, to imagining digital futures. Jones uses the work of William Gibson–who also coined the term “cyberspace”–to refine the term “eversion” (also Gibson’s word) for conceiving of our relationship to technology anew. For Jones, “eversion” is the idea that we no longer tune in to digital worlds, or engage with networks by booting up or down a computer, but that the omnipresence of the network creeps outward into our daily lives and physical space. The WiFi waves that surround our bodies when we’re in networked buildings, the GPS in our phones (GPS is a huge turning point for Jones’ argument about eversion, perhaps worthy of classroom discussion) that tracks our location on grids, gaming devices like the Wii, all indicate that we are surrounded by the stuff of digitality and can no longer contain it in a tiny screen or device. This idea dovetails with Hayles’ argument from How We Became Posthuman that information is material, suggesting, in part, that what’s at stake in Jones’ argument–although he doesn’t necessarily pick this up–is what it means to be human in an everted age. Perhaps Haraway might have something to add!

Jones covers much ground in the first two sections of The Emergence of the Digital Humanities, but by far the most resonant and applicable idea that I’ve extracted is that of “eversion.” Since this term is also the organizing principle for his book, in lieu of a blow-by-blow of the readings, I’ll trot right to the provocations:

***The introduction ends with Jones’ statement that “the digital humanities is the humanities everted” (16). As evidence, he suggests that “DH has the potential to facilitate…productive breaches, to afford the kinds of cultural exchange that have shaped the new DH since its emergence” both inside and outside of the academy (16). Do you agree with his assessment of DH constituted an everted humanities? I’ve been chewing on this one a while.

***Related to eversion, Jones suggests that “the new DH starts from the assumption of a new, mixed-reality humanities” (32) that functions “less like an academic movement and more like a transitional set of practices at a crucial juncture, on the one hand moving between old ideas of the digital and of the humanities, and on the other hand, moving toward new ideas about both.” Looping about around to Haraway and Hayles (very poetic at the end of the semester), how might we build further nuance into this argument? Are “mixed-reality humanities” depending on either student or institutional economic stability/wealth, ideological systems, or perhaps combinations of other factors?

***Jones makes an important distinction in his definition of eversion by noting that the network doesn’t turn “itself inside out,” but rather “human agency” accomplishes this task–just how “games require players” and “digital humanities research requires scholar-practitioners” (36). Many of our course themes have attempted to account for human elements in digital research and pedagogy–it always comes back to the embodied self. How do we continue to negotiate the balance between concepts and theories like eversion and the human elements that are inherent in their animation?

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)?