- IMAGING EmerAgency: A Conversation with Gregory Ulmer
The following conversation took place over email. Along with discussing aspects of our respective biographies, we focus in on “Imaging Florida,” a project that Gregory Ulmer is working on with colleagues in the Florida Research Ensemble at the University of Florida. Imaging Florida is a collaborative Internet project, including a Web site and email listserv, for the design of a new role for the arts and education in community policy formation and problem solving. The project aims to explore: the analysis of a cross-section of attractions in Florida, leading to a poetics for world wide web design; the analysis of one on-going state of affairs recognized as a public problem in Florida; the design of a Web site that creates a new understanding of a community problem reconfigured as a virtual tourist attraction; collaboration with colleagues at other institutions across the levels of schooling to test the Web site as a resource for relating education to public policy formation. “Imaging Florida’s” web address is http://www.elf.ufl.edu.
Gregory L. Ulmer: What I would like us to do is to depart a bit from the conventional interview, and get a little more into a consultancy relationship. I conceive of this relationship not as two interviewers, nor as two interviewees (you are still interviewing me, so I have more responsibility in that regard). Rather, we would be writing in a rhizomatic way, as I understand that term. Deleuze’s example that I like best is wasp and orchid. This is the saprophytic (vs. parasitic) relation that I discussed in “The Object of Post-Criticism.” Meaning that you have your track and trajectory, and I have mine, and for some reason we have met at a crossroads, our tracks have converged just now.
We start writing back and forth: my goal is to explain a current project of mine, “Imaging Florida,” and your immediate goal is to help me do that, with the understanding that I don’t know what it is exactly. The interview is a collaboration: we both write our way together for a certain sequence of posts.
If this plan sounds OK, let me know, and I will start, assuming that you have asked me: “Tell me about your project called Imaging Florida.”
Joel Weishaus: You bring up “The Object of Post-Criticism,” which was my introduction to your writing. In it you quote John Cage: “art changes because science changes—changes in science give artists different understandings about how nature works.” It seems to me that this relationship between art and science is truer today than when Cage expressed it, some 35 years ago. Thus, from this site (and the way the word can play), tell me about the project you call Imaging Florida.
GLU: Imaging Florida is a contribution to a virtual organization called the emerAgency, which is an experimental consulting group. In trying to show you something about this organization I hope to figure out what it is myself. Its purpose is to improve the world, or if not improve the world, then at least to exist as itself, to come into being or into conversation if not into being. Some day, in the context of problem solving, someone will say: We have tried everything and nothing works very well. It is time to consult with the emerAgency.
One way to understand this organization is to consider its genealogy in applied grammatology (as Europeans say: the AMERICAN version). Why do I insist upon applying to practical states of affairs discipline materials that are conventionally associated with the “pure” arts and sciences? The reason must have something to do with my father. This feeling I have of needing to “pay for my space” (his motto) was inherited: a piece of North Dakota winter carried in my spirit like an inoperable bit of shrapnel from the wars of growing up.
My father, Walt, was born in 1916. After his mother (a German immigrant) died in the great flu epidemic of 1918–1919, Walt and his sister, Bernice, lived with their aunt for six years, until “Boss” (a nickname my grandfather was known by since he...