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Home > Bibliography > Bibliography: SpecLab : digital aesthetics and projects in speculative computing

"Aesthesis, as will become clear in the pages ahead, is the term by which I refer to a theory of partial, situated, and subjective knowledge-a theory whose aims are ideological as well as epistemological." p0


"The concept of aesthesis engages basic questions about knowledge and its representation, and interpretative acts and the values assigned to them within a cultural frame. Insofar as form allows sens to appear to sentience, to paraphrase Aristotle, the role of aesthetics is to illuminate the ways in which the forms of knowledge provoke interpretation. Insofar as the formal logic computational environments validates instrumental applications regarding the management and creation of digital artifacts, imaginative play is crucial to keeping that logic from asserting a totalizing authority on knowledge and its forms. Aesthesis, I suggest, allows us to insist on the value of subjectivity that is central to aesthetic artifacts - works of art in the traditional sense - and to place that subjectivity at the core of knowledge production." p0


"In a curious historical coincidence, the very era that witnessed the dismantling of truth claims by poststructuralist practice and deconstructive theory witnessed the rise of the cultural authority of computational media. Digital technology has insinuated itself into the infrastructure and rituals that form the basis of daily life to such an extent that, despite the availability of a philosophical base for undoing its authority, there is a pervasive tendency to bracket any critiques in the interest of getting on with business. Nowhere was this contradiction more evident than in the struggles to keep humanistic theory central to the digital humanities. Time after time, we saw theoretical understandings subordinated to the practical "requirements of computational protocols." As one of my digital humanities colleagues used to remark, we would go into the technical discussions as deconstructed relativists and come out as empirically oriented pragmatists." p0


"The event of interpretation in a digital environment includes many steps: creating a model of knowledge, encoding it for representation, embodying it in a material expression, and finally encountering it in a scene of interpetation. Each is a part of a performative system governed by basic principles of second-generation systems theory, in particular, codependence and emergence. These can be used to describe an aesthetic experience grounded in subjective judgement just as surely as they can be used to describe formal systems." p0-0


"Computational methods rooted in formal logic tend to be granted more authority in this dialogue than methods grounded in subjective judgement. But speculative computing inverts this power relation, stressing the need for humanities tools in digital environments." p0


"At first glance, the ability of formal processing to manage complex expressions either by modelling or manipulation appeared to be mere expediency. But computational methods are not simply a means to an end. They are a powerful change agent setting the terms of a cultural shift. "By contrast, speculative computing is not just a game played to create projects with uncertain outcomes, but a set of principles through which to push back on the cultural authority by which computational methods instrumentalize their effects across many disciplines. The villain, if such a simplistic character must be brought on stage, is not formal logic or computational protocols, but the way the terms of such operations are used to justify decisions about administration and management of cultural and imaginitive life based on the presumption of objectivity. The terms on which digital humanities had been established, while essential for the realization of projects and goals, needed to be scrutinized with an eye to the discipline's alignment with such managerial methods. As in any ideological formation, unexamined assumptions are able to pass as natural. We defined speculative computing to push subjective and probabilistic concepts of knowledge as experience (partial, situated, and subjective) against objective and mechanistic claims for knowledge as information (total, managed, and externalized)." p5


"Should the small, glyphic figures in William Blake's handwriting that appear within his lines of powety be considered part of the text, or simply disregarded because they cannot be rendered as ASCII symbols? At every stage of development, digital instruments require such decisions. And through these decisions, and the interpretive acts they entail, our digital cultural legacy is shaped. "Because of this intense engagement with interpretation and epistemological questions, the field of digital humanities extends the theoretical questions that came into focus in deconstruction, postmodern theory, critical and cultural studies, adn other theoretical inquiries of recent decades. Basic concerns about the ways prcesses of interpretation constitute their objects within cultural and historical fields of inquiry are raised again, and with another level of historical baggage and cultural charge attached. What does it mean to create ordering systems, models of knowledge and use, or environments for aggregation or consensus? Who will determine how knowledge is classified in digital representations? The next phase of cultural power struggles will be embodied in digital instruments that model what we think we know and what we can imagine. "Digital humanities is an applied field as well as a theoretical one, and the task of applying these metaconsiderations puts humanists' assumptions to a different set of tests. It also raises the stakes with regard to outcomes." p6


"The encounter of texts and digital media has reinforced theoreticalrealizations that printed materials are not static, self-identical artifacts and that the act of reading and interpretation is a performative intervention in a textual field that is charged with potentiality. One of the challenges we set ourselves was to envision ways to <i>show</i> this dramatically rather than simply to assert it as a critical insight." p9


"What is considered data - that is, what is available for analysis - is as substantive a consideration as what is revealed by its analysis." p10


""Because I came to digital humanities and speculative computing from the visual arts and contemporary art history, aesthetics was central to my approach to electronic media. This let to the conviction that the purpose of work in new media is to continue the longer porject of fine art: to provide embodied expressions of experience and knowledge." p127-128


"Aesthesis focuses on the generative perception and cognitive production of information and it's material expressions in any medium. Aesthesis is distinct from the analysis of representation, but is dependent on recognition of the cultural and historical characteristics of visual forms, their materiality, and the rhetorical assumptions built into formal expressions of knowledge." p128


"Therefore, the papers grouped here begin with an argument for graphesis in which I suggest that the visual creation of information provides a counterpoint to mathesis, the assumption that all human thought might be able to be properly represented in a formal language." p128


"By introducing the term <i>situation</i>, as opposed to <i>system</i>, I'm emphasizing the codependent relation of user and network in conditions of use." p130


"The various misperceptions of digital media as lacking materialiality [sic] gain some of their credibility through connection to a tradition that idealizes the immaterial, even placing it in a theological frame, above embodied knowledge. The argument that code is <i>material</i>, however, seems incontrovertible. Digital code may be relatively unstable with regard to the bond between inscription and configured form (by contrast to a letter carved in stone, for instance), but the pattern of stored values on a silicon chip is ineluctably physical." p134


"Husserl even suggests that the peculiar specificity of geometric forms is that, although they become conventionalized within representational system, the original condition of their existence is independent of human constructs. Because mathematical forms have a claim to objective, universal status, even if their authority varies in cultural circumstances, Husserl's decision to focus on geometry makes his discussion appropriate to current mythologies in which the cultural authority of mathesis is supported. "If, following Husserl, geometric forms exist independent of human perception and are not chagned by that perception from their ideal form, then does that ideality necessarily fall into the category of "self-identity" or "unity" of form? The idea of self-identity is anathema to Adorno, who argues that when empirical or positivist logic invades culture to such an extent that representation appears to present a unitary truth, there can be little or no room for the critical agency essential to any political action." p135


"These two positions provide the poles of reference on which I examine the premises by which mathesis functions in current conceptions of digital data. I suggest that there is an underlying, at times overt, ideological bias in the way the myth of digital code is conceived in the public imagination. Because mathematical forms of knowledge are presumed to lie outside of ideology, this conception validates digital representation in a way that forecloses interrogation." p135-136


"I suggest the possibility of critical cultural agency is linked to the assertion that the real materiality of code should replace the imagined ideality of code." p136


"The manifestation into substance, the instation of form into matter, is what allows some thing, any thing, to be available to sentience. Ideas are apprehended through expressions (the illusory transparency of language as a means of expression often renders this invisible in common perception)." p139


"But we see from these examples that form is constitutive of information, not its transparent presentation. And no constituted expression exists independent of the circumstances of its production and reception." p139


"What is at stake in asserting the authority of graphesis - the material expression of form as the condition of its existence - is not the viability of code that has no graphic manifestation, but the fact that it is stored materially. Code is not an immaterial ideal. This in itself calls the mythic status of the digital as the realization of mathesis into question." p141


"It [code] functions as a temporarily fixed and infinitely mutable sequence that always refers to a place within the structure of the machine. As a binary sequence, code is always constituted as substantive difference, not simply metaphysical <i>différance</i>, and is part of the topographic structure of the computer's configured spaces and mapped territory. As computer historian René Moreau said has said, "No item of information can have any existence in the machine unless there is some device in which physical representation can be held." Code is material, and its materiality has implications at every level of inscription and display, as well as for its role in accounting for configuration as information." p157


"Studying the white space in a page of William Morris's Kelmscott <i>Cantebury Tales</i> offers an exemplary opportunity for such a reconsideration. The unprinted area here is not a given, inert and neutral space, but an <i>espace</i>, or field, in which forces among mutually consititutive elements make themselves available to be read. The same observation applies to the garden-variety encounters of daily reading. Any page or screen is divided into text blocks and margins, with line space, letterspace, space between page number and margin, and so on. Areas of white space each have their own quality or character, as if they marked variations in atmospheric pressure in different parts of a graphic microclimate. "White" space is thus visually inflected, given a tonal value through relations rather than according to some intrinsic property." p162


"Testing those claims against the gadgets themselves, however, on encounters a field fraught with contradictions. Electronic presentations often mimic the kitchiest elements of book iconography, while potentially useful features of electronic functionality are excluded." p166


"Rather than thinking about simulating the way a book <i>looks</i>, then, designers might do well to consider extending the ways a book <i>works</i>." p166


"Rather than relying on a literal reading of book "metaphors" grounded in a formal iconography of the codex, we should instead look to scholarly and artistic practices for insight into ways the programmatic function of the traditional codex has been realized." p169


"Other substantive changes, famously noted by medievalist Malcolm Parkes, came as reading habits were transformed, and when monastic approaches were replaced by scholastic attitudes toward texts in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, bringing about dramatic changes in format. In earlier usage, books were the basis for linear, silent reading of sacred texts, punctuated by periods of contemplative prayer. These habits gave way to the study and creation of argument as the influence of Aristotle on medieval thought brought about increased attention to rhetoric and the structure of knowledge. Readers began to see the necessity to create metatextual structures for purposes of analysis." p170-171


"Argument, not reading, is the purpose to which such works are put, and their formal features are designed to provide a reader with both a schematic overview and the means to use the work in rhetorical activity. "Using a book for prayer is clearly an active engagement with the text. But the linear, sequential reading style did not require any extra apparatus as a guide. The development of graphical features that abstract the book's contents thus reflect a radical change in attitudes toward knowledge. Ordered, hierarchical, with an analytical synthesis of contents, the artifact that arose as the instrument of scholastic <i>lectio</i> was a new type of book. Readers came to rely on multiple points of access and the search capabilities offered by metatextual apparatus. "The important point here is not just that format features have their origin within specific reading practices but that they are functional, not merely formal. The significant principle is relevant to all reading practices: that the visual hierarchy and use of space and color don't simply reference or reflect an existing hierarchy in a text, they make it, producing the structure through the graphical performance. Such approaches seems self-evident because they are so familiar to us as conventions. But conceptualizing the book in terms of its paratextual apparatus required a leap from literal, linear reading to the spatialized abstraction of an analytic metastructure. Differentiating and identifying various parts of a codex went hand in hand with the recognition of separate functions for these elements. Function gives rise to form, and form sustains functional activity as a program that arises from its structure." p171


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