University of Minnesota Press

Electronic Mediations

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Electronic Mediations

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Avatar Bodies

A Tantra For Posthumanism

Ann Weinstone

Otherness, alterity, the alien—over the course of the past fifty years many of us have based our hopes for more ethical relationships on concepts of difference. Combining philosophy, literary criticism, fiction, autobiography, and real and imagined correspondence, Ann Weinstone proposes that only when we stop ordering the other to be other—whether technological, animal, or simply inanimate—will we truly become posthuman.

Posthumanism has thus far focused nearly exclusively on human–technology relations. Avatar Bodies develops a posthumanist vocabulary for human-to-human relationships that turns our capacities for devotion, personality, and pleasure. Drawing on both the philosophies and practices of Indian Tantra, Weinstone argues for the impossibility of absolute otherness; we are all avatar bodies, consisting of undecidably shared gestures, skills, memories, sensations, beliefs, and affects.

Weinstone calls her book a “tantra”—by which she means a set of instructions for practices aimed at sensitizing the reader to the inherent permeability of self to other, self to world. This tantra for posthumanism elaborates devotional gestures that will expose us to more unfettered contacts and the transformative touch.

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Avatars Of Story

Marie-Laure Ryan

Since its inception, narratology has developed primarily as an investigation of literary narrative fiction. Linguists, folklorists, psychologists, and sociologists have expanded the inquiry toward oral storytelling, but narratology remains primarily concerned with language-supported stories. In Avatars of Story, Marie-Laure Ryan moves beyond literary works to examine other media, especially electronic narrative forms.  By grappling with semiotic media other than language and technology other than print, she reveals how story, a form of meaning that transcends cultures and media,  achieves  diversity by presenting itself under multiple avatars.

Ryan begins by considering, among other texts, a 1989 Cubs-Giants baseball broadcast, the reality television show Survivor, and the film The Truman Show. In all these texts, she sees a narrative that organizes meaning without benefit of hindsight, anticipating the real-time dimension of computer games. She then expands her inquiry to new media. In a discussion covering text-based interactive fiction such as Spider and Web and Galatea, hypertexts such as Califia and Patchwork Girl, multimedia works such as Juvenate, Web-based short narratives, and Façade, a multimedia, AI-supported project in interactive drama, she focuses on how narrative meaning is affected by the authoring software, such as the Infocom parser, the Storyspace hypertext-producing system, and the programs Flash and Director. She also examines arguments that have been brought up against considering computer games such as The Sims and EverQuest as a form of narrative, and responds by outlining an approach to computer games that reconciles their imaginative  and strategic dimension. In doing so, Ryan distinguishes a wide spectrum of narrative modes, such as utilitarian, illustrative, indeterminate, metaphorical, participatory, emergent, and simulative.

Ultimately, Ryan stresses the difficulty of reconciling narrativity with interactivity and anticipates the time when media will provide new ways to experience stories. 

Marie-Laure Ryan is an independent scholar and the author of, most recently, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media.

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Comparative Textual Media

Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era

N. Katherine Hayles

For the past few hundred years, Western cultures have relied on print. When writing was accomplished by a quill pen, inkpot, and paper, it was easy to imagine that writing was nothing more than a means by which writers could transfer their thoughts to readers. The proliferation of technical media in the latter half of the twentieth century has revealed that the relationship between writer and reader is not so simple. From telegraphs and typewriters to wire recorders and a sweeping array of digital computing devices, the complexities of communications technology have made mediality a central concern of the twenty-first century.

Despite the attention given to the development of the media landscape, relatively little is being done in our academic institutions to adjust. In Comparative Textual Media, editors N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman bring together an impressive range of essays from leading scholars to address the issue, among them Matthew Kirschenbaum on archiving in the digital era, Patricia Crain on the connection between a child’s formation of self and the possession of a book, and Mark Marino exploring how to read a digital text not for content but for traces of its underlying code.

Primarily arguing for seeing print as a medium along with the scroll, electronic literature, and computer games, this volume examines the potential transformations if academic departments embraced a media framework. Ultimately, Comparative Textual Media offers new insights that allow us to understand more deeply the implications of the choices we, and our institutions, are making.

Contributors: Stephanie Boluk, Vassar College; Jessica Brantley, Yale U; Patricia Crain, NYU; Adriana de Souza e Silva, North Carolina State U; Johanna Drucker, UCLA; Thomas Fulton, Rutgers U; Lisa Gitelman, New York U; William A. Johnson, Duke U; Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, U of Maryland; Patrick LeMieux; Mark C. Marino, U of Southern California; Rita Raley, U of California, Santa Barbara; John David Zuern, U of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

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Connected

Or What It Means To Live In The Network Society

Steven Shaviro

In the twenty-first century, a network society is emerging. Fragmented, visually saturated, characterized by rapid technological change and constant social upheavals, it is dizzying, excessive, and sometimes surreal. In this breathtaking work, Steven Shaviro investigates popular culture, new technologies, political change, and community disruption and concludes that science fiction and social reality have become virtually indistinguishable. 
Connected is made up of a series of mini-essays-on cyberpunk, hip-hop, film noir, Web surfing, greed, electronic surveillance, pervasive multimedia, psychedelic drugs, artificial intelligence, evolutionary psychology, and the architecture of Frank Gehry, among other topics. Shaviro argues that our strange new world is increasingly being transformed in ways, and by devices, that seem to come out of the pages of science fiction, even while the world itself is becoming a futuristic landscape. The result is that science fiction provides the most useful social theory, the only form that manages to be as radical as reality itself. 
Connected looks at how our networked environment has manifested itself in the work of J. G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, and others. Shaviro focuses on science fiction not only as a form of cultural commentary but also as a prescient forum in which to explore the forces that are morphing our world into a sort of virtual reality game. Original and compelling, Connected shows how the continual experimentation of science fiction, like science and technology themselves, conjures the invisible social and economic forces that surround us.  

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Cybering Democracy

Public Space And The Internet

Diana Saco

The Internet has been billed by some proponents as an "electronic agora" ushering in a "new Athenian age of democracy." That assertion assumes that cyberspace’s virtual environment is compatible with democratic practice. But the anonymous sociality that is intrinsic to the Internet seems at odds with theories of democracy that presuppose the possibility, at least, of face-to-face meetings among citizens. The Internet, then, raises provocative questions about democratic participation: Must the public sphere exist as a physical space? Does citizenship require a bodily presence? In Cybering Democracy, Diana Saco boldly reconceptualizes the relationship between democratic participation and spatial realities both actual and virtual. She argues that cyberspace must be viewed as a produced social space, one that fruitfully confounds the ordering conventions of our physical spaces. Within this innovative framework, Saco investigates recent and ongoing debates over cryptography, hacking, privacy, national security, information control, and Internet culture, focusing on how different online practices have shaped this particular social space. In the process, she highlights fundamental issues about the significance of corporeality in the development of civic-mindedness, the exercise of citizenship, and the politics of collective action.

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Cyberspaces Of Everyday Life

Mark Nunes

Networks and computer-mediated communication now penetrate the spaces of everyday life at a fundamental level. We communicate, work, bank, date, check the weather, and fuel conspiracy theories online. In each instance, users interact with network technology as much more than a computational device.

Cyberspaces of Everyday Life provides a critical framework for understanding how the Internet takes part in the production of social space. Mark Nunes draws on the spatial analysis work of Henri Lefebvre to make sense of cyberspace as a social product. Looking at online education, he explores the ways in which the Internet restructures the university. Nunes also examines social uses of the World Wide Web and illustrates the ways online communication alters the relation between the global and the local. He also applies Deleuzian theory to emphasize computer-mediated communications’ performative elements of spatial production.

Addressing the social and cultural implications of spam and anti-spam legislation, as well as how the burst Internet stock bubble and the Patriot Act have affected the relationship between networked spaces and daily living, Cyberspaces of Everyday Life sheds new light on the question of virtual space and its role in the offline world.

Mark Nunes is associate professor and chair of the English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.

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Database Aesthetics

Art in the Age of Information Overflow

Victoria Vesna

Database Aesthetics examines the database as cultural and aesthetic form, explaining how artists have participated in network culture by creating data art. The essays in this collection look at how an aesthetic emerges when artists use the vast amounts of available information as their medium. Here, the ways information is ordered and organized become artistic choices, and artists have an essential role in influencing and critiquing the digitization of daily life.

 

Contributors: Sharon Daniel, U of California, Santa Cruz; Steve Deitz, Carleton College; Lynn Hershman Leeson, U of California, Davis; George Legrady, U of California, Santa Barbara; Eduardo Kac, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Norman Klein, California Institute of the Arts; John Klima; Lev Manovich, U of California, San Diego; Robert F. Nideffer, U of California, Irvine; Nancy Paterson, Ontario College of Art and Design; Christiane Paul, School of Visual Arts in New York; Marko Peljhan, U of California, Santa Barbara; Warren Sack, U of California, Santa Cruz; Bill Seaman, Rhode Island School of Design; Grahame Weinbren, School of Visual Arts, New York.

 

Victoria Vesna is a media artist, and professor and chair of the Department of Design and Media Arts at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Deja Vu

Aberrations Of Cultural Memory

Peter Krapp

Referring to a past that never was, déjà vu shares a structure not only with fiction, but also with the ever more sophisticated effects of media technology. Tracing the term from the end of the nineteenth century, when it was first popularized in the pages of the Revue philosophique, Peter Krapp examines the genealogy and history of the singular and unrepeatable experience of déjà vu. This provocative book offers a refreshing counterpoint to the clichéd celebrations of cultural memory and forces us do a double take on the sanctimonious warnings against forgetting so common in our time. Disturbances of cultural memory—screen memories, false recognitions, premonitions—disrupt the comfort zone of memorial culture: strictly speaking, déjà vu is neither a failure of memory nor a form of forgetting. Krapp’s analysis of such disturbances in literature, art, and mass media introduces, historicizes, and theorizes what it means to speak of an economy of attention or distraction. Reaching from the early psychoanalytic texts of Sigmund Freud to the plays of Heiner Müller, this exploration of the effects of déjà vu pivots around the work of Walter Benjamin and includes readings of kitsch and aura in Andy Warhol’s work, of cinematic violence and certain exaggerated claims about shooting and cutting, of the memorial character of architecture, and of the high expectations raised by the Internet.

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Digital Art and Meaning

Reading Kinetic Poetry, Text Machines, Mapping Art, and Interactive Installations

Roberto Simanowski

In a world increasingly dominated by the digital, the critical response to digital art generally ranges from hype to counterhype. Popular writing about specific artworks seldom goes beyond promoting a given piece and explaining how it operates, while scholars and critics remain unsure about how to interpret and evaluate them. This is where Roberto Simanowski intervenes, demonstrating how such critical work can be done.

Digital Art and Meaning offers close readings of varied examples from genres of digital art such as kinetic concrete poetry, computer-generated text, interactive installation, mapping art, and information sculpture. For instance, Simanowski deciphers the complex meaning of words that not only form an image on a screen but also react to the viewer’s behavior; images that are progressively destroyed by the human gaze; text machines generating nonsense sentences out of a Kafka story; and a light show above Mexico City’s historic square, created by Internet users all over the world.

Simanowski combines these illuminating explanations with a theoretical discussion that employs art philosophy and history to achieve a deeper understanding of each particular example of digital art and, ultimately, of the genre as a whole.

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Digital Baroque

New Media Art and Cinematic Folds

Timothy Murray

In this intellectually groundbreaking work, Timothy Murray investigates a paradox embodied in the book’s title: What is the relationship between digital, in the form of new media art, and baroque, a highly developed early modern philosophy of art? Making an exquisite and unexpected connection between the old and the new, Digital Baroque analyzes the philosophical paradigms that inform contemporary screen arts. Examining a wide range of art forms, Murray reflects on the rhetorical, emotive, and social forces inherent in the screen arts’ dialogue with early modern concepts. Among the works discussed are digitally oriented films by Peter Greenaway, Jean-Luc Godard, and Chris Marker; video installations by Thierry Kuntzel, Keith Piper, and Renate Ferro; and interactive media works by Toni Dove, David Rokeby, and Jill Scott. Sophisticated readings reveal the electronic psychosocial webs and digital representations that link text, film, and computer. Murray puts forth an innovative Deleuzian psychophilosophical approach—one that argues that understanding new media art requires a fundamental conceptual shift from linear visual projection to nonlinear temporal folds intrinsic to the digital form.

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