Bettina Soller, “How We Imagined Electronic Literature”

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Abstract for Bettina Soller’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):

How We Imagined Electronic Literature and Who Died: Looking at Fan Fiction to See What Became of the Future of Writing

Bettina Soller

Starting in the pre-Web era, the first emergence of electronic literature was accompanied by a wave of theoretical writings about literary hypertext. Theorists had visions of the escape from the book’s linearity and the far-reaching effects of hypertext on the future of reading and writing. Enthralled by the newness of the media, critics envisioned the death of the book, the author, the reader, and the editor in an effort to make sense of the changes awaiting literature, while at the same time establishing a canon of e-literature and the notion of a high culture of hypermedia practices.

Since then, the end of the golden age of hypertext literature has been announced. Literary studies degraded electronic and digital literature to one of its marginal subject matters. While the circus moved on, forms of writing that challenge established notions of text, work, author, and reader thrive online and extensively outnumber the canon of electronic literature established by first wave critics. This paper will examine fan fiction as one of the most proliferating digital and online writing phenomena. Fan fiction writing encompasses the practice of readers who become authors expanding, appropriating and transforming texts of popular culture. These fan texts are published in online archives and on personal sites in social journaling portals. Through an examination of this electronic literature phenomenon, some of the major theses of hypertext theory will be reexamined to see what became of the future of writing and who actually died.

Shane Denson, “On NOT Imagining Media Change”

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Abstract for Shane Denson’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):

On NOT Imagining Media Change

Shane Denson

There are many ways in which we imagine media change and technological transformation; foremost among them, in the modern era, are popular and commercial visions of the future – from science-fiction narratives to advertisements for the latest gadget guaranteed to change your life. However, if we suppose that human agencies are inextricably tied to, and in part enabled by, the material infrastructure of a media-technological environment, then our imaginations – as they are focused, reflected, or courted in representational media – must be seen to lag behind infrastructural shifts, which would sweep our imagining subjectivities along with them. If, that is, our capacity to imagine media change is itself mediated through a changing media-technological environment, then certain aspects of media change must be categorically immune to imagination.

In this presentation, I will focus on this phenomenon of NOT imagining media change. I will outline a theoretical model according to which media change pertains not only to empirically determinate transformations in media-technical apparatuses and systems, but more broadly to the environmental substrate of discursive and phenomenological subjectivities. I will argue that a pre-reflective “anthropotechnical interface,” based in proprioceptive and visceral sensibilities, constitutes the primary site of media change. Accordingly, the embodied parameters of our imaginative faculties are themselves subject to radical transformation, such that both spectacular and unobtrusive changes in the media environment can occasion deep changes in our experiential frameworks – changes that elude representation and imagination.

Wanda Strauven, “Children as Media Archaeologists”

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Abstract for Wanda Strauven’s keynote talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):

Pretend (&) Play: Children as Media Archaeologists

Wanda Strauven

In this talk, I will present a series of concrete situations where children make, very intuitively, connections between the past, the present and the future of media. In their play, children often “imagine” future media applications by actually applying them. Their imagination is therefore more than just a fantasy or mental fabrication; it is instead a practice or “form of activity” (Tätigkeit), to use Siegfried Zielinski’s definition of media archaeology. Especially in their act of “repurposing” media and other devices, children become true media archaeologists. In other words, I will offer some thoughts about the child’s play as a media-archaeological laboratory. For this purpose, I will also take into account some general theories about play, game, object lesson, optical toys and language.

Christina Meyer, “Technology – Economy – Mediality”

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Abstract for Christina Meyer’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):

Technology – Economy – Mediality: Nineteenth Century American Newspaper Comics

Christina Meyer

In my talk I will focus on one of the first serialized, colored comic figures of the late nineteenth century, which appeared in two competing New York newspapers (The World and the New York Journal): Mickey Dugan, better remembered as the Yellow Kid. This kid was one of the first successfully marketed, iconic comic figures to which the public was introduced, and whose adventures it encountered over a 5-year period (1893-1898). The Yellow Kid had not only a place, and served diverse functions, within the Sunday comic supplements – as a protagonist in the comic pages, as a want-ads promotional device, and as a front-page filler – but also ‘outside’ of them, in the form of all kinds of merchandise products, advertising, poster and billboard ‘sign,’ and as a name-giver for, or rather protagonist in, songs and theater plays (among other things). The Yellow Kid was a commodified ware to be purchased and collected in all kinds of forms. There were, among other things, Yellow Kid candy, chewing gum pets, Yellow Kid pin-back buttons (often giveaways distributed by tobacco companies that used the Yellow Kid to introduce and sell a new cigarette brand), wooden cigar boxes, numerous tins (in different sizes, and designed for all kinds of purposes), puzzles, dolls, and many more things. What interests me about the Yellow Kid, and what makes this comic figure a relevant research topic for this symposium, are precisely these ‘border-crossings’ or transitions, from one (carrier) medium to another and the effects these changes generate. One line of argumentation I wish to pursue in my talk is that the merchandising of the Yellow Kid is a narrative moment in itself, which is also, self-reflexively, commented upon in the Yellow Kid newspaper comic pages.

Ilka Brasch, “The Operational Aesthetic as a Receptive Mode”

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Abstract for Ilka Brasch’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):

Facilitating Media Change: The Operational Aesthetic as a Receptive Mode

Ilka Brasch

When the Scientific American published Eadweard Muybridge’s famous photographs of a horse in motion on October 19th, 1878, the magazine advised its readers to cut the images and mount them into the drum of a zoetrope. By means of this nineteenth-century optical toy, the readers could then prove whether Muybridge’s photographs really did depict the movement of a horse during gallop (Newhall 43). In addition to being one historical instance of media change, the example describes an engagement with media that exceeds a simple acknowledgment of mediated content. The tinkerer’s play with technology, I argue, relates back to what Neil Harris termed the operational aesthetic: a critical engagement with the nature and structure of an artifact, which then allows for the observer to judge about its truth value (Harris 79).

Tracing the history of a critical engagement with developing machines, or ‘new media’, since the 1840s, I will establish the operational aesthetic as a particular mode of engagement with media. That receptive mode then influenced the ways in which tinkerers, operators, or spectators experienced media change. Although media change itself impacts the operational aesthetic, that particular receptive mode also impacts the engagement with ‘new media’. As a final step, I will consider how the operational aesthetic influenced, and was changed itself, during the spectators’ engagement with silent film serials up to the 1920s. All in all, the presentation will serve to offer the operational aesthetic as one way of imagining media change.

Harris, Neil. Humbug: The art of P. T. Barnum. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Newhall, Beaumont. “Photography and the Development of Kinetic Visualization” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Insitutes, 7 (1944): 40-45.

Alexander Starre, “Evolving Technologies, Enduring Media”

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Abstract for Alexander Starre’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):

Evolving Technologies, Enduring Media: Material Irony in Octave Uzanne’s “The End of Books”

Alexander Starre

In the electric shockwaves sent through the United States by the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893, the French writer and publisher Octave Uzanne appeared to have lost his belief in the future of the book. As a reporter for Le Figaro, Uzanne spent three months touring the country, meeting President Grover Cleveland and inventor Thomas Edison, besides strolling the fairgrounds in Chicago. After his visit, he published the short story “The End of Books” in Scribner’s Magazine in 1894, which depicts a future in which books have been replaced by the phonograph. In the seminal volume Rethinking Media Change (ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins), Priscilla Coit Murphy reads “The End of Books” as an exuberant embrace of new media. This paper aims to complicate Murphy’s analysis through a materialist perspective on Uzanne’s text as a historical artifact. “The End of Books” does not unfold its full complexity in the English text printed in Scribner’s. The French version “La fin des livres”, which forms part of the collection Contes pour les bibliophiles (1895), exposes the material irony embedded in the text. Octave Uzanne’s relationship to technology was strikingly ambivalent and manifested larger shifts in networks of communication and cultural distinction. While he was fascinated by new electro-mechanical inventions, his ultimate goal was to improve the quality of printed artifacts. From this peculiar case, my paper will extract several theoretical implications for current debates in media studies and book history.

Felix Brinker, “On Popular Seriality, Operational Aesthetics, and Audience Productivity”

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On Friday, June 21, 2013, Felix Brinker will be speaking about “The Politics of Long-Form Storytelling in Contemporary American Serial Television” at the “Poetics of Politics” conference in Leipzig. Felix’s talk builds upon recent work he’s been doing in the context of his dissertation project and related talks (for example, at the recent “It’s Not Television” conference in Frankfurt). Here is a preview of the upcoming talk:

The Politics of Long-Form Storytelling in Contemporary American Serial Television: On Popular Seriality, Operational Aesthetics, and Audience Productivity

Felix Brinker

The turn of American prime-time television dramas towards increasingly serialized storytelling during the last two decades seems to have coincided with an explicit politicization of their content. Especially shows discussed under the label of ‘Quality TV’ have been repeatedly celebrated and/or dismissed for their openly political agenda – be it for their engagement with the anxieties connected to the ‘War on Terror’ and the nebulous practices of intelligence agencies (as on Rubicon, Homeland and 24), or for attempts to tackle the social ills of contemporary urban America (as on The Wire or Breaking Bad). At the same time, other popular programs that at first glance seem to background political concerns in favor of more ‘escapist’ content (e.g. mystery-centric science-fiction or fantasy shows like Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, or Heroes) increasingly engage with matters of power, politics, and political intrigue and develop these motifs in ongoing storylines. While recent cultural and media studies publications on these phenomena have easily connected this renewed interest in political subject matters to the emergence of what Jason Mittell has termed ‘narratively complex television’ – that is, a (by now pervasive) shift in emphasis away from episodically contained storylines towards an ongoing serial narration that allows contemporary programming to construct richly furnished, expansive storyworlds and thus (among other things) opens up new possibilities for representing the complexities and intricacies of political systems and processes – less attention has so far been paid to the political dimensions of the increasingly active audience practices invited by such programming, and to the social aspects of popular seriality itself.

Located firmly within the competitive media environment of the convergence era, complex television series seek to engage their audiences in practices that extend well beyond ‘passive’ reception, and encourage them to become culturally and textually productive by participating in the discussion, interpretation and analysis of their favorite programs in dedicated online forums. Therefore, my paper argues that the political significance of narratively complex serial television manifests itself less on the level of content than on the level of form: By inviting their viewers to parse the complicated unfoldings of  narratives across longer periods of time, as well as across different media formats and paratexts, contemporary prime-time dramas ask their audiences to dedicate a considerable amount of their time to the engagement with a serially expanding text. By doing so, narratively complex serials not only ask their viewers to engage in cognitively challenging and time-consuming reception practices, but also inspire them to engage in the laborious creation of unofficial paratexts (such as wikis, blogs, and fansites) which chart the developments of storylines and characters – paratexts that serve both to render the increasingly complicated narratives accessible and as ‘free’ promotional materials that ensure the cultural visibility of these programs. These shows therefore thrive on the ‘free’ (i.e. unpaid) work of their viewers and employ it to secure their own continued serial proliferation. Drawing on recent conceptualizations of popular seriality that understand the active participation of audiences as an activity that is integral to the economic viability serial storytelling in general, as well as on post-operaist takes on immaterial labor as the predominant form of work in post-industrial societies, my paper argues that the contemporary centrality of such ‘participatory’ practices marks a profound shift in the relationship between work and leisure (or between recreational activity and professional media use) that coincides with the digitalization of our media environment.

To make its argument, my paper will take a closer look at contemporary serial dramas like HomelandThe Wire, and House of Cards, and identify the textual strategies by which these shows encourage a particularly active audience behavior. Drawing on Neil Harris’s concept of the ‘operational aesthetic’, I argue that especially moments of formal/medial and thematic self-reflexivity – that is, moments in which these series thematize, demonstrate, and comment both on the operations of the serial text and on the logics of the diegetic events it narrates – constitute central fulcra for facilitating the audiences’ ongoing and sustained engagement with serial television narratives. By repeatedly producing such moments of non-alienating self-reflexivity – for example in scenes in which a show asks their viewers to ‘recall’ events from earlier episodes and visualizes this by having its characters use diegetic media technologies – complex television dramas manage to call attention to the logics of their own narrative operations and suggest a particular, preferred way of engaging with the text without detracting from the story that is being being told. At the same time, I argue, these moments become productive for the representations of political systems and processes, since they usually also serve to thematize diegetic logics, processes, and chains of cause and effect. Such instances of formal and thematic self-reflexivity thus constitute moments in which the serial logics of narratively complex televisions shows are on display, and from which one could trace out the relationships between their representational politics and the politics of popular serial formats themselves.