Nonhuman Turn: Preliminary Schedule

The preliminary schedule for the Nonhuman Turn conference, where I’ll be presenting a paper on Lady Gaga, is now online, as I just learned from Adrian Ivakhiv (who has also just posted the abstract for his talk, “Process-Relational Theory and the Eco-Ontological Turn: Clearing the Ground between Whitehead, Deleuze, and Harman.”) For the sake of convenience, I have taken the liberty of embedding the schedule here.

A Breath of Fresh AIR: Le voyage dans la lune

Say what you like about the addition of contemporary music to silent films, or about the use of digital techniques that stretch “restoration” projects close to the domain of original creation…. But whatever you say, the combination of this “resurrected” copy (as Tom Burton of Technicolor Restoration Services puts it) of Méliès’s Le voyage dans la lune (1902) — which is not a Ted Turner-type colorization job but based on an original hand-colored print — overlaid with music from AIR’s new album (also called Le voyage dans la lune) is just plain awesome!

(Read more about the restoration project here, and check out AIR’s website for the album here)

Networks in American Culture / America as Network

The program for the conference “Networks in American Culture / America as Network,” where I’ll be talking about Serial Figures as Mediators of Change, is now online: here. And here is the description of the symposium, which looks like it will be a great event:

Networks in American Culture / America as Network

March 16-17, 2012, University of Mannheim

Keynote Speakers
Jay D. Bolter (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Brown University)
Patrick Jagoda (University of Chicago)

In recent decades “network” and “networking” have emerged not only as popular buzzwords but also as key concepts in a variety of academic disciplines. The model of the network is used to describe a broad range of social, economic, media technological, and biological phenomena including social interactions, the global flows of goods and capital, the structure of the internet and social media platforms, as well as the neural organization of our brains. The concept of the network typically serves to analyze processes of multilateral interconnection and the complex systems of order they give rise to. While the study of networks has proliferated in the information, social, and natural sciences, literary and cultural scholars to date have been hesitant to develop a critical network theory.

This conference brings together German and U.S. American scholars to explore the contributions that network analysis can make to the field of American Studies. Forging connections between new media, literary, cultural, and science studies, the papers probe the theoretical and political implications that networks and networking possess as metaphor, interdisciplinary paradigm, aesthetic strategy, and communicative practice.


Prof. Dr. Ulfried Reichardt
PD Dr. Heike Schäfer
Dr. Regina Schober

Networks of Mediation

This is the abstract for a talk I’ll be giving in Mannheim, at a conference entitled “Networks in American Culture/America as Network” (16-17 March 2012):

Networks of Mediation: Serial Figures as Mediators of Change

Shane Denson

Series, in a wide range of forms, constitute not only the “contents” of various media (television, film, literature, etc.), but might also might be conceived as media in their own right—though in a somewhat unorthodox, non-apparatic sense of the word. Here “medium” is related to “milieu”: environment for expression, articulation, action, or agency. Conceiving media this way means seeing them not simply as channels for communication between pre-existing agencies, but as co-constitutive of the agential potentials that can be realized in a given environment; in Bruno Latour’s terms, media and media-technologies are not mere “intermediaries” but active “mediators” that themselves enable distinctions between subjects and objects and thus play a radically non-neutral role in constructing networks of communication and interaction. Clearly, narrative television series, as one example, can be said to constitute the milieux in which their characters live and act; but to position series as media in a strong sense is to suggest a perspectival inversion of form/content relations, i.e. to see the framing medium of the televisual, filmic, or other apparatus as, in a sense, framed (or re-framed) by the series conventionally taken as that medium’s content. This reversal, I contend, is not arbitrary, but instead effected from within series themselves; the agents behind such inversions are those serially instantiated figures (e.g. Frankenstein, Tarzan, Batman, or Dracula) that populate series and move between a range of media, thus serving as loci for the proliferation of plurimedial networks. Such figures lead a double existence, at once anchored in the linear chains of ongoing monomedial series and also living in the interstices between (apparatic) media, forging decentralized or distributed nets or meshes among them. And particularly the interchange between linear and non-linear serial forms sheds light on transformations in the apparatic and discursive media that carry (and are carried by) series as mediators of media networks.

Digital Humanities Resources

In preparation for the independent studies course on “Digital Media and Humanities Research” that I’ll be supervising in the summer semester 2012, I’m asking prospective students to familiarize themselves with discussions and debates around the digital humanities. To get started, I thought I’d pull together a few relevant links.

First, the four videos embedded in this post offer a quick sampling of DH projects through lightning talks by recipients of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities. (By clicking on any of these videos, you will be directed to the Youtube pages where you can find links to the individual projects presented.)

Next, a really great place to get started is with a blog post entitled, appropriately enough, “Getting Started in the Digital Humanities” (over at Lisa Spiro’s blog Digital Scholarship in the Humanities). In fact, there are enough links collected there, all usefully contextualized, to get a really good feel for the type of work going on in the digital humanities, so if getting started and getting oriented were the only objectives, I could basically just leave it at that. Certainly, one could do worse than to just follow Spiro’s links (and then the further links to be found at the pages thus linked) — DH is a highly networked field of inquiry, discussion, and debate, so in this way (i.e. starting from that blog post) you’d likely run into just about all the critical sites and positions in the field in due time.

Nevertheless, I also wanted to point more explicitly to some of the debates going on in and around DH, which is not only one of the fastest growing but also one of the most contested areas of humanities at the current moment. One of the best resources here is the brand new collection Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold. But there are (of course) also lots of relevant pieces online, and these are just a few:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s positive, inspiring message, “Do ‘the Risky Thing’ in Digital Humanities,” speaks to the excitement that a lot of scholars (and students) feel when they come into contact with DH. Stanley Fish’s New York Times opinion piece, “The Old Order Changeth,” puts forward a much more skeptical view of this excitement, while Fish’s follow-up piece, “The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality,” goes so far as to call it a positively “theological” fervor. Needless to say, Fish’s interventions have stirred up quite a controversy among DH people.

Though not a direct rejoinder to Fish’s criticisms, another piece by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Networking the Field,” might be profitably read with an eye to evaluating Fish’s take on DH; however, Fitzpatrick’s paper (originally a talk she gave at MLA 2012) is much more than that, as it offers an eloquent assessment of what she takes to be some of the central challenges (rather than theological dogmas) of digital humanities today. (Meanwhile, Fish has continued to pronounce the divide he sees between digital humanities and traditional humanities in another controversial piece, “Mind Your P’s and B’s: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation.”)

Finally, Ian Bogost has added a very different skeptical voice to the debates. Bogost is, among other things, a game designer and scholar, so his skepticism is hardly directed at the “digital” in “digital humanities.” Instead, in his posts “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt” and (the more recent) “This is a Blog Post About the Digital Humanities,” Bogost’s skepticism is directed at the self-referential, meta-level discourse about the digital humanities that he sees DH indulging in at the expense of making, building, or creating something. Whether or not one agrees with Bogost’s criticism, he certainly speaks to a central tension, and to the search for balance, between the levels of (meta-)theory and practice that in many ways shape the field of DH.

Again, these are just starting points, hardly a comprehensive guide to contemporary positions, debates, methodologies, or research perspectives. Again, for a significant step in that direction, I recommend Matthew K Gold’s new edited volume, Debates in the Digital Humanities. Finally, I welcome (and would very much appreciate) comments and links to other sites that might be of value to students just getting oriented in DH!

Object-Oriented Gaga and the Nonhuman Turn

A while back, I posted the CFP for a conference on “The Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies” to be held at the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, May 3-5, 2012 (the original announcement is here). The lineup of invited speakers, in case you haven’t seen it, is very impressive:

Jane Bennett (Political Science, Johns Hopkins)

Ian Bogost (Literature, Communication, Culture, Georgia Tech)

Wendy Chun (Media and Modern Culture, Brown)

Mark Hansen (Literature, Duke)

Erin Manning (Philosophy/Dance, Concordia University, Montreal)

Brian Massumi (Philosophy, University of Montreal)

Tim Morton (English, UC-Davis)

Steven Shaviro (English, Wayne State)

In addition to these speakers, there will also be several breakout sessions at the conference. And, as luck would have it, I will be presenting in one of them, as the paper I proposed on Lady Gaga and the role of nonhuman agency in twenty-first century celebrity has been accepted by the conference organizers! I am honored and excited to have the chance to speak in such distinguished company, and I very much look forward to the conference. In the meantime, here is the abstract for my talk:

Object-Oriented Gaga: Theorizing the Nonhuman Mediation of Twenty-First Century Celebrity

Shane Denson, Leibniz Universität Hannover

In this paper, I wish to explore (from a primarily media-theoretical perspective) how concepts of nonhuman agency and the distribution of human agency across networks of nonhuman objects contribute to, and help illuminate, an ongoing redefinition of celebrity personae in twenty-first century popular culture. As my central case study, I propose looking at Lady Gaga as a “serial figure”—as a persona that, not unlike figures such as Batman, Frankenstein, Dracula, or Tarzan, is serially instantiated across a variety of media, repeatedly restaged and remixed through an interplay of repetition and variation, thus embodying seriality as a plurimedial interface between trajectories of continuity and discontinuity. As with classic serial figures, whose liminal, double, or secret identities broker traffic between disparate—diegetic and extradiegetic, i.e. medial—times and spaces, so too does Lady Gaga articulate together various media (music, video, fashion, social media) and various sociocultural spheres, values, and identifications (mainstream, alternative, kitsch, pop/art, straight, queer). In this sense, Gaga may be seen to follow in the line of Elvis, David Bowie, and Madonna, among others. Setting these stars in relation to iconic fictional characters shaped by their many transitions between literature, film, radio, television, and digital media promises to shed light on the changing medial contours of contemporary popularity—especially when we consider the formal properties that enable serial figures’ longevity and flexibility: above all, their firm iconic grounding in networks of nonhuman objects (capes, masks, fangs, neckbolts, etc.) and their ontological vacillations between the human and the nonhuman (the animal, the technical, or the monstrous). Serial figures define a nexus of seriality and mediality, and by straddling the divide between medial “inside” and “outside” (e.g. between diegesis and framing medium, fiction and the “real world”), they are able to track media transformations over time and offer up images of the interconnected processes of medial and cultural change. This ability is grounded, then, in the inherent “queerness” of serial figures—the queer duplicity of their diegetic identities, of their extra- and intermedial proliferations, and of the networks of objects that define them. Lady Gaga transforms this queerness from a medial condition into an explicit ideology, one which sits uneasily between the mainstream and the exceptional, and she does so on the basis of a network of queer nonhuman objects—disco sticks, disco gloves, iPod LCD glasses, etc.—that alternate between (anthropocentrically defined) functionality and a sheer ornamentality of the object, in the process destabilizing the agency of the individual star and dispersing it amongst a network of nonhuman agencies. As an object-oriented serial figure, I propose, Lady Gaga may be an image of our contemporary convergence culture itself.