Trace of Race: E-Lit, Computation, DH

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Today I made a 17-minute audio lecture to guide DH 306 students through this week’s readings & assignment. This week we’re talking about e-lit and identity formation, and the role software plays in eliciting our interactivity with — our performance of — such identities.
My short lecture mainly focuses on Tara McPherson’s’ “Why Is DH So White?, with the aim of glossing her argument and helping students think through its claim that it would be “naive” to believe that computing environments aren’t informed by a systemic racism. Born together in the mid-1960s, Civil Rights and Unix “co-constitute” each other in materials ways that are represented in the modularity of code languages and the UNIX philosophies that could be read as a retreat into formalism and away from the complex messiness of social injustice and upheaval. My lecture works within McPherson’s discussion of stereoscopic and lenticular “logics” — really, modes of seeing as determined by the capacities of the lens itself. It’s a wonderful metaphor that helps to explain why McPherson believes that the apparently value-neutral executions that UNIX makes possible are inescapably shaped by cultural orientations & biases.

Our theme for this week is e-lit, embodiment & identity. Building on our discussion last week about House of Leaves of Grass, poetry generators and remix, for us that also means a discussion of what code makes thinkable. We’re going to read two electronic lit works by Christine Wilks, and short critical perspectives on them by Ilya Szilak, Leonardo Flores & Brian Kim Stefans. The idea is to give you three critics’ vantages on the same work.

Christine Wilks, “Underbelly“: winner of the 2010 New Media Prize.
Christine Wilks, “Out of Touch“: commissioned by Brian Kim Stefans for SF MOMA’s Third Hand Plays series on electronic literature.

Illya Szilak, “Remembering the Human: E-Lit and the Art of Memory
Brian Kim Stefans, “Third Hand Plays: Out of Touch
Leo Flores, “Underbelly” [short post]

Finally, please read this “graduate student’s reflection” on McPherson’s argument. The author Benjamin Doyle doesn’t see causal evidence for McPherson’s claim but nevertheless finds it fascinating and asks a series of smart questions that identify the sorts of knowledge McPherson’s essay (or essays like it) would need to produce to be persuasive to “DH and non-DH audiences.” Rhetorical and logical appeals beyond the discourse of humanists are necessary because, in McPherson’s words, “we cannot read the logics of [computational] systems and networks solely at the level of our screens”; we must comprehend the code itself to make visible “information captial’s fault lines” (152). The graduate student studies with Ryan Cordell at Northeastern.

I’m guest teaching a two-week unit about electronic literature in Jesse Stommel‘s new Digital Humanities program at Marylhurst University.

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