Seriality (Encyclopedia Entry)

bloomsbury-handbook

I have an encyclopedia entry on “Seriality” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Literary and Cultural Theory, which is scheduled to come out this week. I’m not allowed to post the final version, so here is an early version that includes references, bibliography, and a few other details that were cut from the text as it will appear in print.

Seriality

Shane Denson, Stanford University

 

Seriality is a formal property and/or organizational principle that is commonly associated with ongoing narratives, recurring patterns, and periodic publication schedules. As a narrative form, seriality is perhaps most readily associated today with TV – especially the recent explosion of “narratively complex” (Mittell) television series, which inherit and adapt strategies from 20th-century film and radio serials and popular serialized literature of the 19thcentury. Outside of popular culture, seriality also characterizes a variety of tendencies or “attitudes” (Bochner) in modern art, exemplified by conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt, Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, or the twelve-tone music of Arnold Schönberg; in each of these cases, seriality refers less to narrative continuity than to aesthetic modularity and material repetition of visual, acoustic, or other elements. Critical discussions of seriality tend to focus either on popular/narrative or on artistic/non-narrative expressions, thus suggesting a split between “high” and “low” forms; however, there are blurrings and borrowings on both sides: e.g. Pop Art appropriates serialized comics and popular culture generally, while the discontinuous, episodic forms of sitcoms and procedural crime shows embody the modular and quasi-industrial repetition that characterizes so much post-War gallery art. At the root of seriality in all of these forms is an interplay, highlighted by Umberto Eco, between repetition and variation (or innovation).

Seen in terms of this formal interplay, seriality is pervasive across literary and cultural traditions, from the Homeric epics to J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and beyond. However, serial forms have proliferated at an unprecedented rate since the 19thcentury, when technological advances like the steam-powered printing press enabled serialized publication to dominate the literary marketplace. As Roger Hagedorn has argued, 19th-century feuilletons, penny dreadfuls, and dime novels attest to close relations between seriality and media-technical innovation: serialized stories “serve to promote the medium in which they appear” and thus “to develop the commercial exploitation of a specific medium” (5). Moreover, this explosion of serialized culture corresponds to advances in serialized production more generally; the steam engine enabled not only the daily newspaper but also promoted deskilled factory work, leading eventually to the Taylor/Ford assembly line. Thus, both narrative and non-narrative forms of seriality find impetus in industrialization; Eugène Sue and Donald Judd alike owe debts to industrial technologies, which are inextricable from capitalism. According to Karl Marx, capital operates according to serialized processes of its own (not just factory production but the process of repetition and variation expressed abstractly as M-C-M´ chains of value-production). This grounding of modern seriality in industrial capitalism helps explain the suspicion and scorn heaped on the “culture industry” by the likes of Horkheimer and Adorno, but it also points to the necessity to regard seriality not just as a formal property of cultural objects but as a social phenomenon that is central to the contemporary lifeworld: both our collective identities (such as “the nation,” according to Benedict Anderson, or gender for Iris Marion Young) and modern subjectivity itself (in Jean-Paul Sartre’s pessimistic view) can be seen as products and expressions of seriality.

 

Bibliography:

Anderson, Benedict. “Nationalism, Identity, and the Logic of Seriality.” The Spectre of Comparisons. New York: Verso, 1998.29-45.

Bochner, Mel. “The Serial Attitude.” Artforum 6.4 (December 1967): 28-33.

Eco, Umberto. “Innovation and Repetition: Between Modern and Post-Modern Aesthetics.” Daedelus 114 (1985): 161-184. Rpt. as “Interpreting Serials” in The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 83-100.

Hagedorn, Roger. “Technology and Economic Exploitation: The Serial as a Form of Narrative Presentation.” Wide Angle: A Film Quarterly of Theory, Criticism, and Practice 10.4 (1988): 4-12.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.”Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002.

Marx, Karl. Capital, Volume 1. New York: Penguin Classics, 1990.

Mittell, Jason. Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York: New York UP, 2015.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Critique of Dialectical Reason, Volume One. Trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith. Foreword by Fredric Jameson. New York: Verso, 2004.

Young, Iris Marion. “Gender as Seriality: Thinking about Women as a Social Collective.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society19.3 (1994): 713-38.

 

Further Reading:

Allen, Rob and Thijs van den Berg, eds. Serialization in Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Denson, Shane and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, eds. Digital Seriality. Special issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture 8.1 (2014): <http://www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/issue/view/vol8no1&gt;.

Kelleter, Frank, ed. Media of Serial Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2017.

 

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Visualizing Digital Seriality — Demo Videos

2017-08-15 01.23.20 pm

The short videos below (all under 1 minute in length) demonstrate the interactive components included in “Visualizing Digital Seriality, Or: All Your Mods Are Belong to Us!”—a digital humanities/critical code studies project utilizing visualization and other software tools to study exchanges of code and community-building in the Super Mario Bros. modding scene—published in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 22.1 (August 2017): http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/index.html

The videos, which use IBM Watson’s text-to-speech generator for voiceovers, were produced just in case any of the interactive functions ever stop working, but they also serve to show what you can do with my webtext (as Kairos refers to this type of multimodal scholarship).

1 – Mods & Interfaces

This page allows users to filter and sort the title screens of 240 Super Mario Bros. mods, all taken from ROMhacking.net’s database. Sorting and filtering can be done by year, by modder, and by mod name, as well as through a quick search via text input. Dropdown lists appear when the mouse hovers over “Year,” “Modder,” or “Title,” allowing the user to select parameters by checking the relevant boxes. Sorting can be done with the buttons below: “Sort by Date,” “Sort by Modder,” or “Sort by Mod Title.”

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/screens-page/index.html

2 – Basic Metadata

This page offers visualizations of basic metadata derived from ROMhacking.net’s collection of Super Mario Bros. mods. The interactive visualizations contain basic information on the number of mods released each year, the most active modders, and trends concerning the types of mods being produced. Additional information appears when the mouse hovers over the charts.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/basic-metadata.html

3 – Modder Networks (default view)

This interactive network graph visualizes the social networks among modders, as revealed in paratextual references in files distributed with mods (i.e. “shout-outs” in README.TXT and similar accompanying files). This is the default view. Each node represents an individual modder, while edges (lines) represent connections between modders. The user can change the visual style and layout via the dropdown menus on the left, as well as zoom in and out with the mouse wheel and rearrange nodes by holding and dragging them. Scrolling is achieved by holding and dragging the background.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/community.html

4 – Modder Networks (concentric view)

This interactive network graph visualizes the social networks among modders, as revealed in paratextual references in files distributed with mods (i.e. “shout-outs” in README.TXT and similar accompanying files). This is a concentrically arranged view. Each node represents an individual modder, while edges (lines) represent connections between modders. The user can change the visual style and layout via the dropdown menus on the left, as well as zoom in and out with the mouse wheel and rearrange nodes by holding and dragging them. Scrolling is achieved by holding and dragging the background.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/community.html

5 – Modder Networks (weighted)

This interactive network graph visualizes the social networks among modders, as revealed in paratextual references in files distributed with mods (i.e. “shout-outs” in README.TXT and similar accompanying files). Each node represents an individual modder, while edges (lines) represent connections between modders. In this view, node size corresponds to the number of references it has received (the more paratextual references, the larger the node). The user can change the visual style and layout via the dropdown menus on the left, as well as zoom in and out with the mouse wheel and rearrange nodes by holding and dragging them. Scrolling is achieved by holding and dragging the background.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/community.html

6 – Modding Communities

This interactive network graph visualizes connections between modders and various online modding communities, as revealed in paratextual references in files distributed with mods (i.e. references to various online communities and modding websites). In the default view, white nodes represent various mod files, while solid red nodes represent communities and websites referenced by them. The user can change the visual style and layout via the dropdown menus on the left, as well as zoom in and out with the mouse wheel and rearrange nodes by holding and dragging them. Scrolling is achieved by holding and dragging the background.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/community.html

7 – Extent of Modification

The visualization on this page offers information about the extent of modification that a given mod patch file instructs the computer to execute with respect to the original Super Mario Bros. ROM. The visualization provides basic numerical information about the amount of change contained in a mod or set of mods. It can be sorted and filtered by modder, mod, or by a range of particular byte addresses with the sliders and checkboxes on the right. The results, displayed on the left, can be sorted by title, year, or modder.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/extent.html

8 – Code “Diff”-Maps (Sorted by Date)

These visualizations offer the core means of conducting a “distant reading” of the code of all 240 Super Mario Bros. mods contained in the data set. Sorted here by date, these Gannt charts depict the location of byte-level modifications in the game ROM. The chart can be filtered by modder, mod title, and year via the checkboxes on the upper right, or by a range of particular byte addresses via the “Start” slider at the bottom right. The results, displayed on the left, can be sorted by date, modder, or title.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/diff-maps-by-date.html

9 – Code “Diff”-Maps (Sorted by Modder)

These visualizations offer the core means of conducting a “distant reading” of the code of all 240 Super Mario Bros. mods contained in the data set. Sorted here by modder, these Gannt charts depict the location of byte-level modifications in the game ROM. The chart can be filtered by modder, mod title, and year via the checkboxes on the upper right, or by a range of particular byte addresses via the “Start” slider at the bottom right. The results, displayed on the left, can be sorted by modder, date, or title.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/visualizations/diff-maps-by-modder.html

10 – Diff Compare Mods (Patched ROMs)

This page enables low-level analysis of mod files, accessed here through a browser-based hex editor. To use the tool, the user selects two files (from the complete collection of patched ROMs, as well as the original unpatched ROM) from the dropdown menus below and clicks the button “Choose Files.” Afterwards, the hex code and ASCII representation of the patched ROM files will appear in the two boxes, with the differences between them highlighted. Scrolling is synchronized between the files displayed in the left and right boxes.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/hexdump-diff/hexdump-diff.html

11 – Diff Compare Patch Files (Unpatched .ips Files)

This page enables low-level analysis of mod files, accessed here through a browser-based hex editor. To use the tool, the user selects two files (from the complete collection of unpatched .ips format patch files) from the dropdown menus below and clicks the button “Choose Files.” Afterwards, the hex code and ASCII representation of the patch files will appear in the two boxes, with the differences between them highlighted. Scrolling is synchronized between the files displayed in the left and right boxes.

http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/22.1/topoi/denson/hexdump-diff/ips-hexdump-diff.html

Out Now: “Visualizing Digital Seriality” in Kairos 22.1

2017-08-15 01.23.20 pm

I am excited to see my interactive piece, “Visualizing Digital Seriality, or: All Your Mods Are Belong to Us,” out now in the latest issue of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. This is by far the most technically demanding piece of scholarship I have ever produced, and it underwent what is possibly the most rigorous peer-review process to which any of my published articles has ever been subject. If you’re interested in data visualization, distant reading techniques, network graphing, critical code studies, game studies, modding scenes, or Super Mario Bros. (and who doesn’t like Super Mario Bros.?), check it out!

All About Seriality: Henry Jenkins’s 4-Part Interview with Frank Kelleter

kelleter-serial-media

Following the recent publication of Media of Serial Narrative, edited by Frank Kelleter, there is a 4-part interview with Kelleter conducted by Henry Jenkins over on the latter’s blog. The interview is far-ranging and offers a good introduction to the volume and to the broader work conducted by the Popular Seriality Research Unit from 2010 to 2016, continued in ongoing work today.

Part one of the interview is here.

Part two.

Part three.

Part four.

Cine-Serialities

Kathleen-Guest-Lecture copy

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Kathleen Loock (Freie Universität Berlin/University of Wisconsin-Madison) will be holding a guest lecture on “Cine-Serialities: The Industrial Logics, Aesthetic Pleasures, and Discursive Constructions of Cinema’s Serial Forms.” The lecture will take place at 1:30pm in the McMurtry Building, room 350.

Out Now: Media of Serial Narrative

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Media of Serial Narrative, edited by Frank Kelleter and published by The Ohio State University Press, is out now! The book includes 14 chapters, two of which I co-authored: “Spectral Seriality: The Sights and Sounds of Count Dracula” (co-authored with Ruth Mayer) and “Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games” (co-authored with Andreas Sudmann). Here’s the full table of contents:

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Video: Digital Seriality: Code & Community in the Super Mario Modding Scene

Above you’ll find the video of my talk, “Digital Seriality: Code & Community in the Super Mario Modding Scene,” which I delivered on September 27, 2016 as part of the Interactive Media & Games Seminar Series at Stanford University.

Here is the abstract for my talk:

Digital Seriality: Code & Community in the Super Mario Modding Scene

Shane Denson

Seriality is a common feature of game franchises, with their various sequels, spin-offs, and other forms of continuation; such serialization informs social processes of community-building among fans, while it also takes place at much lower levels in the repetition and variation that characterizes a series of game levels, for example, or in the modularized and recycled code of game engines. This presentation considers how tools and methods of digital humanities — including “distant reading” and visualization techniques — can shed light on serialization processes in digital games and gaming communities. The vibrant “modding” scene that has arisen around the classic Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. (1985) serves as a case study. Automated “reading” techniques allow us to survey a large collection of fan-based game modifications, while visualization software helps to bridge the gap between code and community, revealing otherwise invisible connections and patterns of seriality.