Ever since Frankenstein unleashed his monster onto the world in Mary Shelley’s novel from 1818, the notion of “technology-out-of-control” has been a constant worry of modern societies, plaguing more optimistic visions of progress and innovation with fears that modern machines harbor potentials that, once set in motion, can no longer be tamed by their human makers. In this characteristically modern myth, the act of making — and especially technological making — gives rise to monsters. As a cautionary tale, we are therefore entreated to look before we leap, to go slow and think critically about the possible consequences of invention before we attempt to make something radically new. However, this means of approaching the issue of human-technological relations implies a fundamental opposition between thinking and making, suggesting a split between cognition as the specifically human capacity for reflection versus a causal determinism-without-reflection that characterizes the machinic or the technical. Nevertheless, recent media theory questions this dichotomy by asserting that technologies are inseparable from humans’ abilities to think and to act in the world, while artistic practices undo the thinking/making split more directly and materially, by taking materials — including technologies — as the very medium of their critical engagement with the world. Drawing on impulses from both media theory and art practice, “critical making” names a counterpart to “critical thinking” — one that utilizes technologies to think about humans’ constitutive entanglements with technology, while recognizing that insight often comes from errors, glitches, malfunctions, or even monsters. Co-taught by a practicing artist and a media theorist, this course will engage students in hands-on critical practices involving both theories and technologies. Let’s make a monster!
ARTSTUDI 233, FILMSTUD 233/433 — Spring 2018 — Profs. Paul DeMarinis & Shane Denson — Thursdays 3:00-5:50pm
This presentation examines recent theories and approaches to post-cinema, understood broadly as the informatically informed audio-visual media regime that follows in the wake of electronic and digital media’s absorption and re-tooling of cinematic technologies and modes of representation. Taking cues from Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect (2010) and the diverse contributions to the collection Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film (2016, co-edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda), among others, I aim in particular to foreground the ways in which what has often been conceived in terms of loss (e.g. the loss of indexicality, the demise of celluloid, or the death of cinema as an institution or context for collective reception) inevitably also involves an additive or generative moment—a moment of technical and cultural creation informed by the microtemporal and computational processes that displace and transform the photographic ontology of cinema. Such generativity has been glimpsed in a variety of critical and theoretical statements, such as Lev Manovich’s argument that digital processes render all images “animation,” Steven Shaviro’s focus on “affect” as the pre-perceptual site of these images’ registration, or Vivian Sobchack’s recent meditations on the emergence of a new spatiotemporal dimension within the “screen-sphere” that now encompasses all of human life. As of yet, however, these approaches have not been synthesized into a more general, comprehensive framework of post-cinematic generativity. This talk aims to make a step in this direction by identifying the technical, phenomenological, and pre-personal foundations of the post-cinematic media regime and its particular mechanisms of creative agency.
I am happy to announce, at long last, the publication of Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda, which is out today as a completely free and open-access volume with REFRAME Books.
If cinema and television, as the dominant media of the 20th century, shaped and reflected our cultural sensibilities, how do new digital media in the 21st century help to shape and reflect new forms of sensibility? In this collection, editors Shane Denson and Julia Leyda have gathered a range of essays that approach this question by way of a critical engagement with the notion of “post-cinema.” Contributors explore key experiential, technological, political, historical, and ecological aspects of the transition from a cinematic to a post-cinematic media regime and articulate both continuities and disjunctures between film’s first and second centuries.
The book will appear in several digital formats: the web-based version is online today, and several ebook formats will be appearing soon.
The book brings together foundational texts by some of the key voices in the discussion of post-cinema and places them next to a range of brand-new chapters, as well as a series of roundtable discussions.
The long list of contributors includes:
Caitlin Benson-Allott, Paul Bowman, Felix Brinker, Kristopher L. Cannon, Francesco Casetti, Steen Christiansen, Elena del Río, Shane Denson, Rosalind Galt, Therese Grisham, Richard Grusin, Leon Gurevitch, Mark B. N. Hansen, Bruce Isaacs, Adrian Ivakhiv, Kylie Jarrett, Selmin Kara, Julia Leyda, Patricia MacCormack, Lev Manovich, Ruth Mayer, Michael O’Rourke, Patricia Pisters, Alessandra Raengo, David Rambo, Nicholas Rombes, Sergi Sánchez, Karin Sellberg, Steven Shaviro, Michael Loren Siegel, Vivian Sobchack, Billy Stevenson, Andreas Sudmann
Here is the table of contents:
A brief “press release” with a description of the book and the complete table of contents is available here (opens as a PDF): POST-CINEMA-Press-Release
Ever since our old AR platform was bought out and shut down by Apple, the “data gnomes” that Karin and I developed in conjunction with the Duke S-1: Speculative Sensation Lab’s “Manifest Data” project have been bumbling about in digital limbo, banished to 404 hell. So today I finally made the first steps in migrating our beloved creatures over to a new AR platform (Wikitude), where they’re starting to feel at home. While I was at it, I went ahead and reprogrammed my business card:
The QR code on the front now redirects the browser to shanedenson.com, while the AR content on the back side is made visible with the Wikitude app (free on iOS or Android) — just search for “Shane Denson” and point your phone/tablet’s camera at the image below:
(In case you’re wondering what this is: it’s a “data portrait” generated from my Internet browsing behavior. You can make your own with the code included in the S-1 Lab’s Manifest Data kit.)
Above, some video documentation of the pieces included in Making Mining Networking, the exhibition that Karin and I have going on until September at Duke University. As I posted recently, the augmented reality platform we used to make the interactive components (Metaio) has been sold to Apple and will be going offline at the end of the year. All the more reason to document everything now — but until December 15 you can still try out the pieces yourself, either in person at the exhibition or on your own computer screen with a smart device (see the images here)!
The (generative, network-driven) music is from the project “Listen to Wikipedia,” by Hatnote — which seemed a perfect match for the theme of Making Mining Networking!
I am excited to be a part of the panel “Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes,” which will be chaired by my colleague David Rambo at the upcoming conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) — hosted in Houston this year by Rice University, November 12-15, 2015. Below you will find the panel description and links to the individual abstracts.
Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes
Chair: David Rambo
Each of the three presentations in this panel perform their own media-theoretical approach to comprehend how video games extend and consolidate the sociotechnical logics surrounding their conception, production, and reception. We intend to kindle a discussion about the ways certain video games order significant ideologies and activities of human life: from multimedial culture industries to the blurred division between life and labor to the concealment of racism in the techniques of 20th-century entertainment. All three share a motivation to delineate various cultural and economic inheritances of video games and the transformative ways in which video games echo those inheritances.
Shane Denson’s contribution attends to the serial manifestations of Batman across genres and media. He hones in on the subsumption of life-time under work-time that is common to the computational networks of daily life and to the crossed borders of serial figures such as Batman. In Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux’s “White Hand, Black Box,” we learn to recognize in the maniculed pointer of various softwares’ interfaces and especially in the Master Hand of Super Smash Brothers the now concealed tradition of black minstrelsy as it was imbued by Disney in the gloved hands of Mickey Mouse and other characters. David Rambo deploys a Spinozist theoretical framework to categorize the video game, Diablo III in particular, as a neoliberal enterprise that extrinsically determines the player’s desire and even will to live. Spinoza’s Ethics thereby offers a way to conceptualize the video game both as an autonomous entity marked with finite, and thus fulfillable, completeness, and as a node in a much broader regime of affections that orders capital’s socioeconomic system.
These three presentations depict the video game as an artifactual conduit eminently bound up with the cultural forces that ineluctably structure our civilization, from its marginal groups to its most powerful systemic imperatives.
“Gaming and the ‘Parergodic’ Work of Seriality in Interactive Digital Environments”
Shane Denson, Duke University and Leibniz University of Hannover
Twentieth-century serial figures like Tarzan, Frankenstein’s monster, or Sherlock Holmes enacted a “parergonal” logic; as plurimedial figures, they continually crossed the boundaries between print, film, radio, and televisual media, slipped in and out of their frames, and showed them – in accordance with a Derridean logic of the parergon – to be reversible. In the twenty-first century, the medial logics of serial figures have been transformed in conjunction with the rise of interactive, networked, and convergent digital media environments. A figure like Batman exemplifies this shift as the transition from a broadly “parergonal” to a specifically “parergodic” logic. The latter term builds upon Espen Aarseth’s notion of “ergodic” gameplay – where ergodics combines the Greek ergon (work) and hodos (path), thus positing nontrivial labor as the aesthetic mode of players’ engagement with games. These new, ergodic serial forms and functions, as embodied by a figure like Batman, raise questions about the blurring of relations between work and play, between paid labor and the incidental work culled from our entertainment practices. Following Batman’s transitions from comics to graphic novels, to the films of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and on to the popular and critically acclaimed Arkham series of videogames, I will demonstrate that the dynamics of border-crossing which characterized earlier serial figures has now been re-functionalized in accordance with the ergodic work of navigating computational networks – in accordance, that is, with work and network forms that frame all aspects of contemporary life.
Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives is an essential volume for both comics scholars and scholars of literature in general, because it places the most popular emerging medium in conversation with cutting-edge contemporary scholarship, and makes a strong case for the ways in which comics are necessary in considerations of a transnational, cosmopolitan 21st century world.
Check out the full review, titled “Playing at the Margins,” here.
Flyer for the seminar on Post-Cinema I’ll be teaching this Fall at Duke. The course expands on my “Digital Film, Chaos Cinema, Post-Cinematic Affect” seminar from 2013, but it adds a new focus on videographic criticism and other kinds of hands-on experimentation with digital media. I’m hoping to get a mix of people interested in film and media theory, digital humanities, and media art. Really looking forward to this!