In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Reader-Player-UserEngaging Bruno Latour's AIME Project
  • Stephanie Posthumus (bio)


When Cheryl Lousley and I began discussing the possibility of coediting a collection of short reflections about playing with the aime project, I decided to take seriously the idea of play.

I resisted my initial urge to buy the book and read it from cover to cover. Instead, I jumped fingers first (so to speak) into the web platform, paying careful attention to the ways in which playful experimentation was hindered or encouraged as a mode of engagement with the project.

Playfulness, Playful Texts

In his seminal text, Les jeux et les hommes (1958), sociologist Roger Caillois defines play as (i) free and voluntary, (ii) separate from ordinary life, (iii) without a predetermined outcome, (iv) unproductive (not producing any goods), and (v) either rule oriented or make-believe (not both).1 From this perspective, play is what we do on our own time, outside of the university. But what if we define play not as nonwork but as an integral part of the processes of creativity and discovery? What arguments could we make for playfulness and playing with our objects of study? The digital humanities have taken up these questions, asserting the importance of play in the areas of text analysis, curation, editing, and modeling. According to Rafael C. Alvarado, the digital humanities can be defined, not in terms of a single objective, method, or philosophy, but in terms of their "playful encounter with digital representation [End Page 137] itself."2 Following this example, I carved out a time and space for playing with the web platform of the aime project.

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Fig 1.

"Modes and crossings" interface—interactive triangular figure on the right for navigation

Avoiding the more familiar looking "book entry" interface, I began by exploring the "modes and crossings" interface. As I randomly clicked on the interactive nodes of the triangular figure (see fig. 1), I gained a sense of the fifteen modes of existence. Yet no totalizing view of the project emerged, because of the many pathways I was able to create while navigating the small tiled windows. I was aware of the provisionality of my exploration and appreciated the fact that I did not feel bound to read everything. Even though the "modes and crossings" interface was still very text based and the nodes were predetermined by the project creators, I felt less bound to be a reader and more inclined to be a user, happily clicking away without feeling like I had "lost my place." I was experiencing the "feeling of flow" that Kevin Kee associates with playing with digital texts, artifacts, and images.3

Play Occurrences in the Text

Aft er this first encounter with the digital platform, I wanted to look more closely at the word "play" as it was being used in the aime project. Was play integral to one of the modes of existence? Or did it traverse [End Page 138] all modes of existence? I went back to the "book entry" interface and searched for occurrences. Each of the panels offered me a quick view of the terms "play*" (play, playing, plays, etc.) in context and the option to explore that section of the text in further depth (see fig. 2). The search function is one of the obvious advantages of a digital text over a printed text. Instead of looking up the term in an index and then using fingers as page holders, I could simply click from window to window. At the same time, I felt like I had once again been relegated to the role of reader as opposed to user.

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Fig 2.

"Book entry" interface—results of search for "play" (includes root word and variants)

My search for the word "play" in the text column (farthest to the left) yielded no interesting results until I reached the tenth section of the book, where I discovered the subtitle "Each mode has its own way of playing with habits." Not having read the previous sections, I tried to decipher what this meant by using the "preview" and "explore" functions. The former...


Additional Information

pp. 137-143
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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