“Declining Russian Media Theory” — Ben Peters at Digital Aesthetic Workshop

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Next week, on Thursday, November 21, the Digital Aesthetics Workshop will host Ben Peters for our third workshop of the 2019-2020 season, for a talk entitled “Declining Russian Media Theory.” We’ll meet in the Humanities Center Board Room at 5 PM.

More info:

A first step toward a larger project, Peters test runs ways to decline, in both senses, the problem of Russian media theory. It is a curious fact that nowhere does there exist today, despite the ample intellectual materials, anything that might be called “Russian media theory.” Other scholars have identified various schools of media thought as distinctively German, Canadian, American, French, and British and yet, while the lumber and ruins are ample, no single school of media thought stands today that is recognizably Russian or otherwise discernibly Slavic. Why not? Peters argues not that some kind of Russian media theory should exist (in fact, he offers several reasons why it should not). Rather it is simply to speculate beyond the curious observation that, given the sustained interest in the subject, no distinctively Russian theoretical approach to media has emerged to date. This brief, in turn modest and immodest, and necessarily speculative essay aims not to articulate such a theory, nor to lament its nonexistence, nor even to call for further commentary in that direction. Instead this talk aims to take a step backwards to reflect on the causes of that curious fact, to navigate some obstacles standing in the way of its articulation, to sound out and explore the declensions of such a media theoretic grammar, and to excavate the pre-dispositional grounds of possibility for a Russian—or perhaps Slavic—media theoretic tradition.

Benjamin Peters is a media scholar interested in plumbing uncharted media histories and theories, particularly in the Soviet century. He is also author of How Not to Network a Nation (MIT Press 2016), editor of Digital Keywords (Princeton UP 2016), the Hazel Rogers Associate Professor and Chair of Media Studies at the University of Tulsa, and an affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

“We Are Ant-Man” — Scott Bukatman at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

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The next meeting of the Digital Aesthetics Workshop is right around the corner! On Tuesday, November 5, 2019 (5-7pm in McMurtry 370), Scott Bukatman will be talking about digital bodies, superheroes, and more, in a talk titled “We Are Ant-Man.”

We Are Ant-Man

Scott Bukatman

The body of the 21st-century cinematic superhero is often a digital body, in whole or in part. It offers itself as a particularly visible digital effect (or effect of the digital). It somatizes the mutability afforded by digital technology. It speaks to the sense that bodies (and therefore selves) in the digital age are no more inviolate than any other form of coded information. But having said that they “speak to” such conditions, what do they say beyond the fact of our own hybridity? Do these bodies tell us anything useful about our digital lives? Comedies have long served to mediate new technologies for audiences, so to pursue this, I’m going to concentrate on Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, 2018), perhaps thesunniest and most classically comedic film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What do the film’s particular emphases — the nature of its gags, its depiction of technology, and the state of knowledge of both protagonists and audience — tell us about our digital condition?

Though not required, workshops participants are encouraged to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp prior to the event. Snacks and drinks will be served, and all are welcome!

Killing Time — Jenny Odell at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

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I am excited to announce our first meeting of the Linda Randall Meier Research Workshop on “Digital Aesthetics: Critical Approaches to Computational Culture” (more colloquially known as the Digital Aesthetics Workshop) for the 2019-2020 year — our third year. On October 23rd, 5-7 PM, in the Stanford Humanities Center Board Room, we’ll host artist and critic Jenny Odell, who will share some research from her new book project.

One of the threads of Odell’s last book, the critically acclaimed How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, concerned the ways in which the “time is money” equation has become more and more pervasive, extending into realms of leisure and even sleep. This talk will examine the history of how time became money in the modern sense; contrast homogeneous, commodified time with heterogeneous ecological time (migrations, flowering events, stages of succession, etc.); and delineate the increasing clash between these two views of time within the context of climate change.

Writing at the Speed of Thinking — Miyako Inoue at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

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For our final event of this year’s Digital Aesthetics Workshop (which, we can now confirm, will return next year!), Stanford’s own Miyako Inoue will be presenting her current research on the Japanese typewriter. Her session promises to consider the effects of media on thought, to push technology studies towards the history of empire, and to argue with Friedrich Kittler. Needless to say, we are thrilled to have her!

The event takes place on Tuesday, May 29, from 5-7 in the Board Room of the Stanford Humanities Center.

There is no pre-circulated reading. However, attendees are encouraged to familiarize themselves with Kittler’s “Typewriter” chapter in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.

RSVP to deacho@stanford.edu

Snacks and wine will be served

Dr. Miyako Inoue

Writing at the Speed of Thinking: The Japanese Kana Typewriter and the Rehabilitation of the Male Hand

Tuesday, May 29, 5:00-7:00

The invention of the Japanese syllabic (kana) typewriter in the beginning of the 20th century was a modular articulation between the Japanese syllabary and the engineered metal body of the English typewriter. With keys and type bars for Japanese syllabaries neatly conjoined with it, the kana typewriter promised Japan’s industrial efficiency and productivity of repetitive inscription labor. While the kana-typewriter was originally used in business and government offices to streamline the production of invoices, order forms, utility bills, and so on, the postwar portable models attracted allies for personal use among male intellectuals, industrialists, scientists, and colonial officers, for whom the kana typewriter meant “the liberation from Chinese characters,” or Japan’s break from “Asia” (and its return as a colonizer), and a renewed connection with Western industrial modernity. Friedrich Kittler argues that the western typewriter led to the de-sexualization of writing, liberating (hand)writing from its organic and exclusive ties with the male hand and allowing women to enter the white-collar workplace as typists. In this presentation, I would like to discuss how the kana-typewriter led, in fact, to the re-sexualization of writing as a masculine enterprise, and to the reunion of the man’s hand with language, as its portability allowed elite Japanese (type)writers in international scientific communities, in colonial administrations and associated overseas business communities to synchronize writing and thinking and to re-enact the western subject-position of auto-affect in writing.

Miyako Inoue is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University, where she also has a courtesy appointment with the Department of Linguistics. She teaches linguistic anthropology and the anthropology of Japan. Her first book, Vicarious Language: the Political Economy of Gender and Speech in Japan (U. of California Press), examines a phenomenon commonly called “women’s language” in Japanese modern society, and offers a genealogy showing its critical linkage with Japan’s national and capitalist modernity. Professor Inoue is currently working on a book-length project on a social history of “verbatim” in Japanese. She traces the historical development of the Japanese shorthand technique used in the Diet for its proceedings since the late 19th century, and of the stenographic typewriter introduced to the Japanese court for the trial record after WWII. She is interested in learning what it means to be faithful to others by copying their speech, and how the politico-semiotic rationality of such stenographic modes of fidelity can be understood as a technology of a particular form of governance, namely, liberal governance.

A Maussian Bargain: The Give and Take of the Personal Data Economy — Marion Fourcade at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

Fourcade Poster

We are pleased to announce the first Digital Aesthetics Workshop event for the Spring quarter – on Tuesday, April 23rd with Marion Fourcade, Professor of Sociology at UC-Berkeley. She will be discussing Marcel Mauss, data circulation, and how to describe the strange new market our information is sold on.

“A Maussian Bargain: the Give and Take of the Personal Data Economy”

Primitive accumulation in the digital economy – in other words, the appropriation of new kinds of data about people, organizations, and things and their transformation into a form of capital – has often been described, following David Harvey, as a process of “accumulation of dispossession.” Yet how can we reconcile this argument with the fact that enrollment into digital systems often takes place in a much more benign fashion, for instance by signing up for a “free” service, or by responding to a “friend’s” invitation? Daniel Kluttz (UC Berkeley) and I draw on interviews with the designers and builders of digital systems to document the technical, political, economic and cultural conditions of the circulation of personal data. We rely on anthropological theory, specifically Marcel Mauss’s classic essay on The Gift, to conceptualize the role of non-market exchange and reciprocity in the origins of what Zuboff (2019) calls “surveillance capitalism.”

Marion Fourcade is Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2000 and is an alumni of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. A comparative sociologist by training and taste, she has analyzed in her work national variations in neoliberal transitions, political mores, valuation cultures, and economic knowledge. Ongoing collaborative research with Kieran Healy looks at the rise, consolidation and social consequences of new classificatory regimes powered by digital data and algorithms. Other current projects include the microsociology of courtroom exchanges (with Roi Livne); stratification processes in the social sciences (with Etienne Ollion); and the politics of wine classification and taste in France and the United States (with Rebecca Elliott and Olivier Jacquet). Professor Fourcade’s work has appeared in American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, Socio-Economic Review, American Behavioral Scientist, Annual Review of Sociology, Journal of Economic Perspectives and other outlets. She is a recipient of the Lewis Coser award for theoretical agenda setting, the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award and the Ludwik Fleck prize for outstanding book in the area of science and technology studies (Society for the Social Studies of Science). Website: www.marionfourcade.org.

COMING UP in the Digital Aesthetics Workshop:

May 14th + 15th: Colloquium

May 28th: Miyako Inoue

Dreams and Terrors of Desktop Documentary — Kevin B. Lee at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

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On Wednesday, February 27 (5-7pm in the Board Room of the Stanford Humanities Center), the Digital Aesthetics Workshop will be hosting Kevin B. Lee for an event titled “Dreams and Terrors of Desktop Documentary”:

Desktop documentary is a form that both presents and critically reflects on the world as experienced through computer screens and online interfaces. Treating the desktop as a medium for non-fiction storytelling proposes a unique set of epistemological dilemmas, affective dimensions and aesthetic discoveries. These factors inform Bottled Songs, a collaborative investigation by Kevin B. Lee and Chloé Galibert-Laîné of online terrorist media. Screening excerpts from the project, Lee will elaborate on the desktop documentary approach and its applications in exploring the underlying networks — both human and technological — informing online terrorism.

Kevin B. Lee is a US-born filmmaker and critic. He has produced over 360 video essays exploring film and media. His award-winning film Transformers: The Premake played in several festivals and was named one of the best documentaries of 2014 by Sight & Sound. He was Artist in Residence of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin. He is now Professor of Crossmedia Publishing at the Merz Akademie, Stuttgart. In 2018 he and Chloé Galibert-Laîné were grantees of the Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fund and artists-in-residence of the European Media Art Platform (EMAP).

Can Computers Create Meaning? — N. Katherine Hayles at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

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Coming up in a few weeks: N. Katherine Hayles will be joining the Digital Aesthetics Workshop to present some of her latest research. This session will take place in the Humanities Center Board Room, on Tues. Feb 12, from 5-7 PM. Her event is entitled Can Computers Create Meaning? A Cyber-Bio-Semiotic Perspective.

We anticipate a full event, so you must RSVP to this google form link. We will circulate Hayles’s paper, which she will briefly introduce and then invite conversation around it. Here is her abstract:

Can Computers Create Meaning? A Cyber-Bio-Semiotic Perspective

N. Katherine Hayles

One of the promising areas to understand how computers cognize is biosemiotics, a field that draws on C. S. Peirce’s semiotics to argue that all living organisms generate and understand meanings appropriate to their contexts, even plants and unicellular organisms.  Although these approaches by such theorists as Jesper Hoffmeyer, Wendy Wheeler, and Terrence Deacon have considerable explanatory power, they share a common blind spot in arguing that such signifying capabilities apply only to living organisms, not computers.  However, many of their objections to networked and programmed machines creating, disseminating and understanding meanings become moot if the relevant unit is considered to be human plus computer rather than either alone.  The human species, this paper will argue, is in the midst of entering into a deep symbiosis with computational media. Still incomplete, this symbiosis is akin to endosymbiosis, where previously independently living organisms unite into a single entity, as happened for example with the absorption of mitochondria by eukaryotic cells.  The paper will conclude by exploring the implications of this symbiosis-in-progress.