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Audio: “Signature Research” (& belated Post #1)

“Signature Research” by Dylan Gauche, 2017, [Trigger Warning]: https://www.theheartradio.org/solos/signatureresearch

The piece I chose is technically not an audiobook, but an about 7 minutes long audio piece written and produced by Dylan Gauche. It has been published in an episode of the podcast “The Heart” and deals with the narrator’s childhood, youth, and family—and the various forms of pain he experienced as well as with his resilience. I chose this piece, because applies an incredible variety of the possibilities that audio as a medium provides but is based on the reading out loud of a written text. (Still, as this text has most probably been written for the piece and therefore for audio, it cannot be considered to be an audiobook in the traditional sense of the word.)

First of all, there is Gauche’s voice. He tells, he whispers, he imitates others, his voice gets loud and intense—at some point it feels as if he was shouting at the people who hurt him, the ones he’s talking about—and then quieter again. And he thereby never seems to be acting or “merely” reading. What I found especially interesting is that Gauche even used different levels of recording quality depending on the content of the narration. At some points the recording is deliberately rough and noisy to enforce the rather dark atmosphere of the text at this point. Gauche’s narration is also perfectly paced, he’s sometimes talking faster and sometimes slower depending on the mood and the content of the story. And, his narration also contains a very strong onomatopoetic moment when he quickly speaks out the word “drink” three times in a row and thereby imitates the sound of drinking.

Second, there’s the music. The piece contains two different kinds of music. On the one hand there is a rough recording of someone singing and playing the guitar—most probably the narrator’s father who is introduced as someone who would record himself playing self-written songs. At this point, the music works like an illustration of the content of the piece: while the “I” talks about his father, we hear him singing in the background. Then, a different application of music follows: two piano pieces are used to underline the emotional content of the story.

Third, there are sounds. In some moments, the piece consists of three different layers: A voice, music and other ambiance sounds. Some of them, such as the sound of probably a beeping medical machine, function as illustrating the story’s narrated content. Others, such as whirring noises, are undefined or at least not “readable” for me. I have interpreted the use of those noises as the creation of general unrest, which reflects the content of the presented story.

Fourth, there are other people’s voices. As already mentioned we (most probably) hear his father singing in the beginning of the piece, and we would also hear recordings of him on the phone. Another time, it’s the narrator himself imitating the voice of his brother. At a later point, we hear one sentence, a question, from his mother to which the narrator then responds.

Finally, there’s the silence. The piece talks about how during his childhood and youth, the narrator would constantly hear his father talking, leading to the “I’s” claim: “I can’t stand silence now.” This is reflected within the above mentioned creation of an overload of sound within certain moments of the piece. Moments in which we can hear the narrator’s voice without any underlying “background” of music or noises, are well placed and rare. The use of silence as a tool of storytelling is most strongly applied at the end of the piece. Its last sentence is: “And my house is quiet now.”—followed by a few seconds of this silence.

Overall, I think that—additionally to its challenging content—this piece wonderfully illustrates how rich the possibilities of translating a text into audio can be: one can work with voices, sounds, music, pacing, sound-illustration and “sound-counter-narration” of the actual content of the text etc. I therefore hope that it can be an inspiration for our projects!

 

(& very belated—sorry!) Blog Post 1:

After having read (and discussed in class) the texts by Kirschenbaum, Liu and Spicher Kasdorf et al, all of which focus on different aspects of reading and literature in the digital realm, I started thinking about the relationship between form and content, and I was astonished that if at all, this topic only appeared quite indirectly in the presented texts.

The thought came to my mind first when Liu introduced Blair and Sherman’s work about annotation practices and mentioned scribbled notes in the margins of books. As someone who cannot read without a pencil to underline and write, and as someone who loves handwriting and paper, I am one of those who still find it hard to read longer texts on a screen even though I used computers from the age of 13. When I do, I use the underlining and commentary functions extensively, but I am pretty sure that what I write in the “digital margins” is different from what I would write down in the margins of a book displaying the same text. I would not call one of those ways to write into the margins “better” than the other, and I certainly don’t want to join the ranks of those who lament about the disappearance of analog writing and reading as a matter of principle, or who decry digital technologies. But I do think that it is important to reflect critically about the media, the technologies and the digital infrastructure we use, and to acknowledge that there is a relationship between the content we express and the form in which we express it. This accounts for the book as a medium as well as for digital platforms and means to display content. The texts do this, but in a way that seemed to me as if the authors implicitly would accept the digital realm as a sort of “second nature”, as something neutral, something that mainly adds new possibilities to engaging with literature instead of understanding it as an infrastructure created by humans and commercial companies, and as an infrastructure that promotes certain forms of expression as well as it is defined by certain limitations.

One of the best, and indeed overworked, examples therefore is twitter with its limitation to 140 characters per tweet. As Kirschenbaum states in a side note, twitter’s “format encourages brief, conversational posts (…) that also tend to contain a fair measure of flair and wit” (my emphasis). Twitter is only one example for digital infrastructures providing various new possibilities to engage with (and produce) literature and to explore new “agencies of the readers” (McKenzie/Liu), but—as is any sort of analog printed text too—these new possibilities are not only provided but also restricted and to some extent determined be the means used in order to write, publish, read and respond to texts. Hayles’ differentiation between deep and hyper attention as two distinct forms of cognitive styles could for example be a starting point in order to analyze which digital medium could be best suited for certain projects associated with the Humanities.

Therefore, when Liu presents the use of Facebook to help students engaging with Shakespeare’s works, I think that it would be as interesting to explore what the students learned about the possibilities and limitations of Facebook as about Romeo and Juliet. While Liu asks: “how does engagement with literature or literary communities inflect, extend, or criticize the culturally dominant tools and practices of vernacular social computing?”, he concludes that these questions “can wait until we have more experience with literary social computing.” I would disagree and suggest that an analysis of those culturally dominant tools should be a part of any undertaking in the Digital Humanities from its very beginning.

Slow Listening

Until this assignment, I had never listened to an audiobook. The closest I get is a yearly listen to Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” which I have on the original  Caedmon LP (1958). In searching for audiobooks, I came across a claim that this particular recording was one of the first iterations of what we’d now call an audiobook. However, that is clearly untrue, as it only makes sense that recordings for the blind would have been produced since the early 20th century, and Rubery confirms this in his brief history of recorded spoken word (62-63). Perhaps it marks an early example of a recorded fiction that was meant to appeal to the masses.

Because I had never listened to an audiobook I decided to pick something I’d never read. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 seemed like a good choice, since it’s about books, and although I’d seen the Truffaut film adaptation I’d never read the book. It’s a short novel as well, and because my time is extremely limited I wanted something that wouldn’t take too many hours, and which I wouldn’t have to listen to while doing other things or skip sections to get through it.  In other words, I made a conscious choice to listen to it in the same way I would have read it in an ideal scenario: solitary and with focus, and only on the subway or at the gym if necessary. But I also discovered that this approach to listening (i.e., as if it were reading) is extremely ingrained and very unconscious. While I was looking for something not too long, my main concern was that I tend to be a slow reader, and I was worried that even a recording of 5-6 hours might take longer for me to get through.  I was not anticipating a situation like the public reading of Dickens described by Rubery: a performance in which “the recitation of a scene that takes a mere ten minutes to read silently to one’s self can take upwards of forty minutes when read aloud before an audience” (58). I was anticipating somehow being a “slow listener,” because I was equating listening to the physical act of reading text and the cognitive act of interpreting it.

This led me to think more about my own bias towards the traditional reading experience and the weird neuroses that (I now recognize) go along with it. My ideal reading experience is tactile, focused, solitary–albeit too slow and occasionally distracted–and in some way amounts to an accomplishment once a book is finished. Not getting around to reading  books l’ve begun or reading “enough” books feels, to me, like not doing other things I like and really should do-–like going to the gym, seeing my friends more often, organizing my life more effectively.

But why should listening not count as a type of reading? Just as Edison advocated, blind people and those who cannot easily manipulate a book or e-reader undoubtedly consider it reading (62).  Although reading and listening engage different senses and “sense data” as well as different kinds of language processing, they both involve a reading voice and a narrative interacting with one’s imagination.  There are drawbacks to audiobooks (not everyone has a voice like Dylan Thomas) but for me the benefit is that I can concentrate entirely on the narrative without the act of reading mediating it. The physical process of reading and the inner voice that silently repeats the words can sometimes distract me from the world of the text. I am sure  this experience must vary according to the way one’s brain is wired. However, I think the verdict for me in terms of which is a more “effective” method will depend on how much I retain of Fahrenheit 451 and for how long.

There is so much I could write about Fahrenheit 451 in audio format and the way it accentuates elements of the novel that speak directly to contemporary culture and electronic media consumption. But that would entail a very long essay. “Meta” is an understatement, to say the least. Written in 1953, the novel explores reading vs. listening, memory vs. text, scripted reality, voyeuristic mass media, and the effects of ubiquitous audio devices in everybody’s ears, for example. It even includes a form of solitary, immersive narrative entertainment that has superseded the interior-yet-immersive experience that reading–whether visual or aural–can be. Broadcasts on the wall-sized television screens that define the “parlors” of people’s homes in the novel enact the “secondary orality” discussed by Ong and Donoghue. In fact, they are precisely the “programmes imitating participatory communities such as book groups without actually bringing readers into contact with other human beings” (69). At the conclusion of Fahrenheit 451, the protagonist discovers real human connection–and himself–through interacting with others who value books, reading, and the roles creative thought and narrative play in humanizing the world.

Listening to W.E.B. Du Bois

For this assignment, I chose a LibriVox recording of W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk. Having already heard some commercial audiobooks, I wanted to try an amateur production. I chose Souls not only because I know it well, but because it presents two big challenges to narration: the chapters are a mix of genres, from critical essay to fiction, and each begins with an epigraph followed by musical notation of part of a Sorrow Song, the music of enslavement.

The quality of the production is excellent. The narrator, known simply as toriasuncle, has what Rubery calls “verbal muscularity” (67)—a resonant, warm voice that could easily belong to an African-American man like Du Bois. (I listened to a recording of Du Bois himself, and toriasuncle’s voice is nearly identical in register and in his slightly slushy s sounds.) The recordings from chapter to chapter were impressively consistent aside from an occasional variation in volume and one chapter where the reader was so close to the microphone that it picked up the breath of aspirated consonants.

Toriasuncle is the sole narrator, and with impressively well-chosen pauses, he takes to heart the LibriVox manual’s hope of “controlling the pace in order to engage the listener.” He makes effective choices to modulate his voice for different characters, whether historical or fictional, and his treatment of female voices is particularly noteworthy, as he softens his voice rather than changing his pitch—a technique Rubery notes, explaining, “male narrators often have more success speaking female parts in a whisper rather than a falsetto” (67). This softening reinforced the diminutive role of women in Du Bois’s collection of thoughts on black life at the dawning of the 20th century. Because I knew the printed text well, I did a lot of what Rubery called “prooflistening” (68) and found that only one character—white John in chapter 13—didn’t speak as I had imagined.

Impressively, just as toriasuncle shifts his voice to reflect the speaker, so too he changes instruments (in what seems to be a digital program like GarageBand) as he plays the bars of the sorrow songs, seeking to reflect their “characters” and to match the tone of the chapter. For example, a lone, plaintive guitar picks out the notes opening chapter two, which speaks to failed Reconstruction. Chapter three is a scathing critique of Du Bois’s philosophical arch-enemy, Booker T. Washington; Toriasuncle plays its opening bars with clipped, plucked strings despite the legato marks—an abrupt departure from the more fluid bars of the first two chapters. This license he takes with the musical notation is the only evidence of him “editing in the guise of auditing” (67). Otherwise, toriasuncle stays true to every line of printed text.

Overall, listening to this edition Souls was ear-opening.* The most striking contrast from the print edition was hearing the music that opens each chapter. It highlighted what had become for me a forgotten last chapter—“Of the Sorrow Songs”—where Du Bois traces the contribution and evolution of music from Africa to popular minstrelsy. Similarly, in reading the text on paper, I had skipped the German Du Bois peppers throughout. Hearing the language underscored Du Bois’s scholarship and worldliness powerfully juxtaposed with the white perception of black academic potential at the time—a perception Du Bois addresses directly in the text. It also helped me make connections to his reference in chapter 13 to Wagner’s Lohengrin and to an alliterative line in chapter 14, “to Queen and Kaiser,” as well as to hear how white audiences might have received Du Bois himself as an intellect in 1903. By contrast, I was jarred by white characters’ use of the n-word—a markedly uneducated and base term and one that seems more contained on the page than when spoken in the ear. Toriasuncle rightfully imbues it with all the superiority and hate with which it was spoken then and now.

One true revelation of the listen was the continuity it gave the text, broken up only by the boilerplate librivox language at the start of each chapter. Since Souls binds together chapters of many genres, the narrative voice for each sounds different to me in print. Toriasuncle kept the autobiographical tone of the forethought and first chapter throughout, even in the chapter that is fiction, “Of the Coming of John.” That consistency knit together the variety of threads through which Du Bois looks at the African-American experience and made it feel, as it of course was, intensely personal to him.

The audio experience had far more perks than I imagined, and I’m already planning to listen to more, starting with the only other toriasuncle recording, a collection of poetry. Yes, I had to take notes on paper or my phone, and yes, arriving and departing subways made me miss what may have been important sentences, but the ability to read while moving through the city on my commute or, as I did twice, taking a long walk in McCarren Park, did make the text feel immediate and alive.

 

*If Rubery can make bad puns, so can I.

DH & English Departments & Twitter

Patrick Grady O’Malley

Blog 1

What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?

MATTHEW KIRSCHENBAUM

When we look throughout humanities departments, it isn’t difficult to find a place for the Digital Humanities within most of the darkest corners of the many factions of study. Take art history for example, and how with imagery recognition, the entire field could be revolutionized. While the author takes a more meta approach than the title should suggest (largely talking about humanities departments in all as opposed to strictly English), I believe the article is stronger for this. As readers we gain insight into what has formed the Digital Humanities over the years and what they are to become. The author reserves only one of the final paragraphs for purposes of comparing Digital Humanities strictly to English departments.

While the author doesn’t necessarily stay strict to the English department as the sole home to Digital Humanities work, he does invoke ideas of textual representation that could be computationally monitored and explored in some way such as through social media, namely Twitter, but he also mentions “electronic discussion lists, blogs, Facebook walls” to give us the impression that the Digital Humanities, while new and still forming, are everywhere and have been for some time. Even his overarching/working definition comes from Wikipedia (and Google), the hubs of internet textual data. It is also interesting that Kirschenbaum briefly mentions some of the more notable Digital Humanities projects happening in labs across the nation, all that largely have to do with text.

To me, an interesting project would be taking the many academic journals that focus on the digital humanities, and text mine for words that can be said to define the field from different periods within said field’s history. What would the Chronicle of Higher Educationsay differently about the Digital Humanities now versus five, ten years from today? How different/necessary/helpful would Digital Humanities be to institutions at these various time frames and what could articles root in its study have to tell us about such an inquisition?

As mentioned, the author is largely devoted to social media outlets such as Twitter to pursue Digital Humanities research. But what of Instagram and the many hashtags used as well as captions and comments? What could we learn of image recognition through the use of such text? There are surely many interesting projects on social media that extend beyond Twitter. Obviously, his choice for focusing on Twitter is obvious, as this seems to be the industry standard of DH/SM choices, probably because it has a largely cosmopolitan/coastal following (at least more so than Facebook, which has likely become more generalized), it is rooted in text, and tweets are very, very short bits of data. But just as with Instagram, let’s suppose we were allowed access to Snapchat’s secretive, but surely available, data storage and able to mine through images and videos along with the many hilarious textual narratives compiled amongst the Snaps themselves? That would surely be a new way of harboring data from social media that must be possible in some way (unless Snapchat actually deletes what we create after it is seen, but who believes that!)

While the author is more dedicated throughout the text to explain the convoluted history of Digital Humanities, as least more so than to explore the nuances within social media, both past and future. However, this is just as much an element within as the Digital Humanities belonging largely to English departments, in that he explores many of the realms Digital Humanities fit and have been tried to be part of. I’d have been more interested if instead of English, we were talking Comparative Literature, and the usage of multiple languages had been discussed than Twitter mining, but maybe that’ll be in the sequel.

 

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Narration

For my audio-book, I chose the BBC recordings of Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Besides being one of my favorite works of fiction (and thus being a text I was already familiar with and able to easily procure), I wanted to work with this novel due to the unique relationship between this rendition and the text. Unlike other audio-books, this recording predates its (re)incarnation as a material book; Adams had originally written The Hitchhiker’s Guide as a script for a radio play before writing the novel. A ‘reading’ of the original BBC play offered an uncommon opportunity: rather than seeing the audio in light of the text, which was my basis of criticism last week, I would be able to experience the reverse and see the effects of an ‘reading’ originating in audio. Or, to use the words of this week’s reading, the text itself would be seen as a “…a new edition, direct from the author…” (Rubery 68) in light of the original audio.

The aspect of the audio recording that featured prominently in my ‘reading’ was its treatment of narrative voice. While the BBC was able to procure multiple talented actors capable of modulating their voice to distinguish character, the sheer amount of parts required for the performance inevitably produced redundancies in timbre. To establish exactly when the actual narrator was speaking, a musical effect was played in tandem with narration. When contrastedagainst the text, an interesting consequence of audio mediums appears. When reading, we are conditioned to accept the narrator’s voice as the default while actual character voice must be set apart. One can see this in the use of quotation marks: we reserve their use for actual character dialogue and refrain from inserting them when the text is providing description and narration. Excluding works that involve stream of consciousness and experimental techniques, we typically need to distinguish moments of characters speaking against a default of narrative voice.

For the audio performance, this was reversed; the voice of character was assumed to be the default while the narrative voice required a musical motif to indicate its identity. When I failed to notice this audio cue, I found myself confused, having difficulty parsing the narrative voice among that of other actors. Though this may be a result of the exact genre of audio recording (i.e. radio play), it appears as though the use of auditory mediums create a centrifugal expectation of language. As we are accustomed to auditory inputs originating from a multiplicity of sources, we are less conditioned to accept an authoritative voice unless we are given a priming signal to prepare ourselves. It is reminiscent of Bakhtinian heteroglossia: the voice of the author becomes subsumed by the voices of individual characters, creating a Saturnalia effect in dialogue.

This facet of narrative voice becomes more significant when the radio play and the text are compared for fidelity. Even with a cursory comparison, it is obvious that there are multiple differences between the text and original. Several jokes have been replaced with new ones (likely born from a desire to distinguish the two mediums for marketing purpose) and there are multiple editorial revisions to streamline narrative. However, I find the most significant alteration to be the insertion of several paragraphs of narration. Simple descriptions of movement and scenery were created in the act of novelization that are noticeably different in purpose and tone than the original narrative descriptions from the play. One is given the sense of two narrators co-existing in the novel: the original narrator and the novelic narrator. It appears as though Adams doubted the reader’s imaginative ability to carry over from the play and needed to supplement his original writing. If so, one becomes curious as to whether this was a valid concern and ponders the exact quality that causes this variance across mediums.

This observation must be coupled with noting how the play treats the narrative voice as a character. In the actual credits for the recording, one notes that the actor serving in the narrative role is credited as “the book” aka the eponymous guide of the novel. Whenever a character seeks to ascertain knowledge from the guide, the narrative voice will speak as the guide itself, implying for the listener that all narration is actually “the book” speaking to them. In effect, it gives the sensation that the narrator is yet another character, an individual participant in a free exchange of voices that directs the audio’s narrative. In Adam’s alteration of this voice in his novelization to one of conventional narration, there appears to be a doubt towards the feasibility of such ‘democratic’ use of voice, an impulse suggesting the need for a less egalitarian narrative to facilitate the text.

Bartleby the Liberated Audiobook

Call me lazy, efficient, or a sneak: I doubled-dipped on this week’s homework and listened to Bartleby the Scrivener, read by Bob Tassinari. Part-time grad students who are full-time workers, amirite? Bartleby was my first Melville and my first audiobook. I’m not the best aural learner, and I rarely read books older than me or authored by men and even more rarely books by white men. We all gotta fight the patriarchy and systemic oppression in whatever ways work for us, right?

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Within and Without the Margins

The articles we read for today seem to come together under the shared basis that readings of literature are unified in the 21st century through collaboration, and through writing on top of/alongside them. It shifts our understanding of how the reading (as opposed to writing) side of the texts is examined when we transition for being witnesses of texts to acting, instead, as participants with them. I mentioned in class that I was interested in Liu’s evocation of “margins” when discussing DH close/distant reading practices, and how it evoked the image of writing on the text, of navigating websites, etc. He says:

“all the new decentralizing literary-critical approaches I mention above [are] skewed into a new social geometry by adding what can be generalized as a margin. In various ways, for example, deconstruction, cultural criticism, and the field of the history of the book defined marginal zones of literary activity that renegotiated the roles of literary sociality.”

In this sense, writing in the margin of a text becomes a genre in and of itself, where it is shaped both by the content and context of a text, but also by the presence of the margin itself. I am most interested though in how the thought of the “margin” or of “margins” affects our visualization of texts through DH as well.

On a basic level, interpreting texts on a screen, on a page, through audio, associate a clear understanding of how we look (or don’t) and interact with a text based on visual queues. The margin on a page is different than the margin created when using hypohes.is, but it is a margin nonetheless. We have a meta-experience of this while reading the Liu and Kirschenbaum pieces as the commentary is embedded alongside the text, implanting the discourse around the theory within the article itself. It does not ask permission to do this either; I found myself frustrated with the MLA annotation format—it would scroll back to the top of a paragraph and pull up comments alongside it if I attempted to highlight one sentence—whereas while the Debates in DH software wasn’t so aggressive in terms of implanting the commentary within the structure, it still forced visual queues into the reading to alert readers to the conversation, or to sentences which were given attention by previous readers. In one sense, this feels like a sort of cheat code by enabling efficient skimming, but it also gives the reader no choice but to concern herself with the conversations going on around the text.  It goes against the grain of digital ephemera—I’m thinking of the endless feeds on twitter and threads on reddit, or listings on amazon with thousands of reviews—which ultimately  get swept up and away as newer thoughts/posts send them further back and out of consciousness. But more than that, it disrupts the normal methodology of reading, where we have thoughts at the forefront of our minds, but also sub-thoughts that are unarticulated but shape our perception or internal feeling towards a text (this isn’t something I read, but is more so an observation for my own reading habits, which I assume other people experience too.) The presence of a margin complicates the nature of literary conversation, because our thoughts in this context cannot exist as ephemera but as an essential, or at the very least, un-ignorable component of the writing. While the intention of this effect is to broaden and promote discussion, it seems actually to do the opposite: by filling the margins for you, it prevents you from filling them for yourself.

In Hayles’ example of playing texts through facebook, or even in our own class, the example of finding audiobooks “in the wild” and doing a textual analysis of them, we are forced to rethink the visual queue of the margin (Hayles, 196-197). Audiobooks typically lack any visual structure, besides maybe a thumbnail image to accompany it if it is digital. While the facebook example has its own host of digital queues,  the margin is not on the sides but within the framework of the text: in memes it is on an image itself, in posts it is in the reaction buttons, it is in the search bar, and in the comment feeds—which within the last year have incorporated the ability to create visual sub-threads within a given comment in a comment section. By eliminating the visual image of a margin, there is an actual opportunity to host new discourse, because that discourse isn’t confined to a space with which it has a mutualistic dictation (the margin exists to be written in, but it is only written in chiefly because it is there.) This reshapes the methodology of reading a given text. This ties back to the idea of ephemera and the hyper-attention of Hayles’ writing, by eliminating the traditional space to interact with the text, but rather than pushing the margins out further and making them inaccessible, the margins are eliminated almost entirely, and we are forced to annotate directly within the text itself—it is the creation of new, technological margins and, thus, social margins that are more similar to those of salons and coffee houses of pre-21st century literary discourse (Bérubé, et. al. 423). In the long run, I wonder what this means for pedagogy and the future of close reading: would Hayles’ say that our margins are indicative of hyper- or deep-attention? Are margins both visually and analytically constrictive? If so, what do we do with them?

Cognitive Shifts from a Global Perspective

“The printed word is no longer the main medium for knowledge production and distribution” announced Matthew Kirschenbaum in DH Debates in 2012. Five years earlier, N. Katherine Hayles had observed that a generational shift in the way people produce, distribute and interpret knowledge was taking place and causing cognitive shift (“Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes”). The ubiquity of television, cell phones and computers in the United States and in Europe bear both Hayles and Kirschenbaum out, but digital technologies have replaced the printed word to a much lesser extent in more economically challenged hemispheres. In Colombia, for example, although television and cell phones are probably the main channels through which people consume current news, institutions of higher education and government agencies still rely heavily on the printed word. I understand therefore that Hayles and Kirschenbaum frame their posthuman subjects within geopolitical and socioeconomic boundaries particular to the technologically equipped world but do not specify these boundaries in the cognitive shifts they discuss.

In twenty-first century North America, technologically driven changes in modes of thought are most pronounced in the younger generations, wrote Hayles, predicting that the full effects of the “generational shift in cognitive styles,” would probably be felt when kids who were twelve in 2007 got to college (187). Eleven years later, these kids make up the most part of undergraduate classes in the United States today. To respond to the different approach to knowledge new generations of college students would take, Hayles warned that we needed to be aware of the shift that was taking place and devise new strategies appropriate to new cognitive styles (187). Have we done this? I think we can find some answers to this question in Cathy Davidson’s The New Education, which examines the forces that shaped North American higher education in response to the mechanized industrial revolutions of the 19th century, argues that these educational methods/models no longer serve our transformed needs and calls for a revolution in our approach to teaching and learning.

Again, my mind goes to Universidad del Atlántico in Barranquilla, Colombia, where I taught for two years. Universidad del Atlántico is one of the largest public universities in the Caribbean, and it is overcrowded, underfunded, and low-tech. Most of its students are from the lowest economic “stratas” (Colombia has an institutionalized caste system allegedly based on the value of one’s home) any many do not have cell phones. Neither faculty nor students multitask like we do here. In the university the printed word – usually in photocopied books – is the main medium for knowledge production and distribution. Outside the university private television and radio stations dominate the information pond. The Colombian Ministry of Education is directing funds for technological development in public universities (sadly, a lot of this funding is stolen before it gets near where it should go) and private universities are investing heavily in technology, so I think we can safely say in Colombia too technology has caused and is causing generational cognitive shifts. As we devise new strategies for responding to the shifts we see in North America, we should also think of how such strategies can be implemented globally, in universities with very little means, and how we could help people with less means recycle hardware we no longer use.

Works Cited

Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” DH Debates, 2012

Katherine Hayles, “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes,” PMLA, 2007

Cathy N. Davidson. The New Education. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

The DH Bridge: How is Digital Humanities a cultural phenomenon?

So I have had some experience with Matthew Kirschenbaum’s work in the past, but only recently have been able to apply his theories in a practical way. In reading his article What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? I have decided to use this blog post to not only address the hostility and retaliation towards the digital humanities (towards the beginning of its existence as we know it today) but also how English departments have grown to open their doors to it. As time has gone by, the digital humanities as a field have not stopped growing. The name for all of the subcategories within DH is “The Big Tent” because the boundaries are essentially non-existent. However, in the beginning, there was some serious pushback to accepting the digital humanities as a field of study within English departments and academia as a whole. People considered it to be an incredibly exclusive field, and I recently learned that  University of Nebraska scholar, Stephen Ramsay, had really scrambled the field when he made his “Who’s In and Who’s Out” speech at the Modern Language Association Convention in 2011 (Gold). If you would like more direct information on that, you can find it in the same book’s (Debates in the Digital Humanities by Matthew K. Gold) introduction. Anyway, Ramsay’s made that speech essentially saying that if you did not know how to code, then you were not ever going to be a digital humanist.

At the time, digital humanities were in the midst of a flurry due to that statement (amongst others). It really helped to promote this cliquish culture in DH, something that took a long time to overcome. Some may still be fighting it. The reason I brought up Ramsay and the start of digital humanities was because of how much of a boys club it once was and where we are now. Kirschenbaum lists half a dozen reason English departments were so compatible with DH. However, he doesn’t dive very deep into any of the points, which is why I want to interpret them and explain what they mean to me. Starting with his first point:

First, after numeric input, text has been by far the most tractable data type for computers to manipulate. Unlike images, audio, video, and so on, there is a long tradition of text-based data processing that was within the capabilities of even some of the earliest computer systems and that has for decades fed research in fields like stylistics, linguistics, and author attribution studies, all heavily associated with English departments.” (Kirschenbaum) 

This first reason converges with his second point regarding computers and composition as well as his final point discussing e-reading. These three points can be brought together using a single word, archiving. A hefty motivator for students and professors of English to embrace this technological aspect of academia is the drive to digitize information and make it more accessible for curious minds. Look at the tragic loss in Rio, Brazil. They lost countless years of history and culture in one accident. As a result, they are trying to replicate the museum by digitizing it, archiving the data and mapping it out online so that their citizens and tourists can still have some kind of experience. I myself had the pleasure of working on an archive in undergrad when my professor, Dr. Annie Swafford, introduced us to DH. Working with Dickinson University, we created a Victorian Queer Literature archive for people all over to access online. This is where I first realized that this was something that could really connect people rather than keep them apart. Fields associated with text have so much potential in terms of technology, Kirschenbaum was well aware of that.

One last point I’ll unwrap was his fifth point where he stated: “Fifth is the openness of English departments to cultural studies, where computers and other objects of digital material culture become the centerpiece of analysis” (Kirschenbaum). I really enjoyed this point because from what I learned, English is a subject rooted in the human experience. Understanding stories of life through others’ experiences is what reading is about. So there is a very deep cultural aspect to English, something that we could use through our current and future technology to interconnect cultures and even academic disciplines. Technology is very much so a bridge between worlds that we can mold to bring everyone together rather than separated into cliques. Kirschenbaum saw this as an opportunity to use digital resources for reasons other than collecting data and analyzing statistics. For example, we can learn Brazilian culture through their digitized museum once it is complete. Ramsay may have had a point back in 2011, but the digital humanities have spread so widely across multiple disciplines. I feel as though Kirschenbaum was correct, but didn’t anticipate that English would act as a gateway like this way back in 2012.

*I apologize for the lack of page numbers! The Debates in the Digital Humanities online edition doesn’t have them to utilize.

Civility

Contributing to a blog has been a core requirement of all the classes I’ve taken so far at the Graduate Center.  So has following and reading various blogs.  I picked up early on how important blogs were to the digital humanities and my academic studies, and I recognize that they are an important tool for sharing and discussing ideas and having an online conversation around those ideas.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t come super easy to me and it’s not my favorite form of communication, but I will do my part to dispense my thoughts and to comment on those of my classmates.  I still relish the face to face discussion and sharing of ideas (thankfully, this class is taught in a classroom and not online).  Perhaps that’s my bias of age showing and I am resisting the “generational shift in cognitive styles” that has been hypothesized due to the rapid development of today’s “mediascape” as Hayles explores in the essay “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Mode” (p. 187).

I know for sure that I get super frustrated when my young nieces and nephews would rather play on their devices than read a good book, but I also know that being connected is an imperative in today’s world and they’d be somewhat at a disadvantage without access to networks and devices (I want them to prefer the solitary enjoyment of escaping into a good book over the rewards of beating their friend in a game of Fortnite, but I might be asking too much?).  What I really hope is that they are able to strike a balance in their development as citizens to be both able to deeply focus and to critically engage (with a book) while also navigating the constant bombardment of information from many directions and screens.  I use the word citizen intentionally here because I was particularly struck by the “Community Reading and Social Imagination” essay’s discussion of civil society and the role that community reading has played in ensuring a civil society.  The authors write:

In coming together to listen to, write, or discuss literature, we ideally develop and hone the skills (of listening to, evaluating, and critically engaging others’ arguments and articulating rhetorically effective positions of our own) that make civil society pleasurable and productive. (p.422)

This leads me to thinking about how some feel that the internet is the “great democratizer” of our time.  Web 2.0, as Liu introduced, allows anyone to be an author or creator or commentator or contributor (if any and all contribute, isn’t that the democratic ideal?).  We can now all come together and write, discuss, and listen online (given that we have internet access and a tool to write with).  Despite my reticence to blog, I still recognize it as a useful platform for communally participating and sharing ideas (although I will still prefer the in person discussion).  I’m not quite sure that the internet really is the great democratizer, but it definitely allows us to have more conversations and to write socially once again.