About Michael J. Faris
Assistant Professor of English with research areas in digital literacy, privacy and social media, and queering rhetorics.
This blog serves as a place to think through things, record thoughts, share interesting stuff, and hold conversations. Welcome!
Visit my electronic portfolio
- The Digital in the Humanities: An Interview with Alexander Galloway – Los Angeles Review of Books
- Rex Sorgatz returns to Napoleon, North Dakota, to explore how…
- “Vada (“look at”), dolly eek (a pretty face), and chicken (a…
- “And that’s the key thing: no matter how backward-looking citations may appear, in their fastidious…”
- “If we thought of human rhetorical agency as not being ontologically exceptional, then we would see…”
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Alexander Galloway in a Los Angeles Review of Books interview earlier this year, The Digital in the Humanities: An Interview with Alexander Galloway:
Do you think this qualifies as “digital humanities” work? And do you care?
I definitely don’t care. I felt very much involved in the digital world before digital humanities came on the scene. When it happened, digital humanities for me seemed like a reboot of some of the things that had been happening in information science and library schools years earlier. I feel as if I am doing digital work but not really digital humanities. But I have the luxury of not needing to care. In my reading of it, DH started in English, comparative literature, and language departments. My degree is technically in literature, but I work in a media studies program. I basically studied theory in graduate school, not literature, so I was never in the pressure-cooker environment that English and language departments have vis-à-vis jobs and what counts as research. I mean what more can you really say about Shakespeare today?
On the two cultures of DH:
As I said, I do think we are faced with a two-cultures problem, and part of why I get frustrated with main-line digital humanities is that this problem is seldom addressed directly. There is one approach, which investigates the nature of letters and numbers, and there is another approach, which focuses on the use of letters and numbers for other ends. I think most of DH has been the latter. And, while this may be slightly unfair to DH, I do think there is a fundamental difference in method and really maybe even in culture or epistemological framing (which of course doesn’t preclude interesting mixtures and hybrids). And, of course, there are a lot of interesting people working in the field who don’t fall into this trap. I fully acknowledge this. To flesh this out a little more, I think the first approach comes out of a fundamentally modern stance that seeks to reveal “the conditions of possibility” for digitality if not symbolic systems as a whole. And, incidentally, this first approach tends to be much more historical, which is also a characteristically modern impulse, whereas the second approach tends to be more pragmatic and, one might also say, scientific. The former aims to determine the specific nature of digitality, whereas the latter aims to use digitality as a vehicle. The second approach doesn’t really care about modernity’s fundamental question as to the condition of knowledge; what it cares about is the relative obscurity or transparency of letters and numbers.So if the first approach is essentially modern, then the second is, shall we say, medieval! The second approach asks if there is a hidden or obscure detail of a text that only an algorithm can uncover. It is a kind of hermeneutics, I guess, only in reverse. Ultimately it comes down to this: if you count words in Moby-Dick, are you going to learn more about the white whale? I think you probably can — and we have to acknowledge that. But you won’t learn anything new about counting. That’s the difference between the two approaches, and I think a lot of the misunderstanding between the two methods (or cultures) of working with digitality is due to this difference.
And this gem:
Honestly, the general public understands the digital better than the average university professor.
Rex Sorgatz returns to Napoleon, North Dakota, to explore how new communication technologies have affected his isolated hometown in The Internet Really Has Changed Everything. Here’s the Proof. A beautiful essay. (Photo of downtown Napoleon by Andrew Spear)
“Vada (“look at”), dolly eek (a pretty face), and chicken (a young guy) are all words from the lexicon of Polari, a secret language used by gay men in Britain at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Following a rapid decline in the 1970s, Polari has all but disappeared. But recently it’s been popping up again, even appearing in the lyrics of a song on David Bowie’s final album.”
“And that’s the key thing: no matter how backward-looking citations may appear, in their fastidious…”
“And that’s the key thing: no matter how backward-looking citations may appear, in their fastidious recounting of the publication history of past sources, they are in fact always future-oriented, communicating information that may be necessary for a reader in a situation that we cannot yet fully imagine. Citations are the highway markers of an ongoing conversation, one that does not end with the text presently being written, but that has the potential to stretch both forward in time and outward in unexpected directions. Any given scholarly exchange could result not just in the rebuttal of prior arguments but in those arguments’ potential recirculation and reinterpretation in the context of another scholar’s work.”
“If we thought of human rhetorical agency as not being ontologically exceptional, then we would see…”
“If we thought of human rhetorical agency as not being ontologically exceptional, then we would see it more the way we see Yellowstone Park or elephant evolution, as an emergent, ecological process in which humans participate. Using the park as an analogy, it doesn’t really matter if you think of the human author as the wolf, the deer, the tree, or even the river. The video may lionize the wolf (if you can excuse the animal mash-up), but the wolf isn’t really the author of this transformation either. The point is that compositional processes are networked, ecological, relational, etc. In some quarters, this ecocompositional, media-ecological, new materialist view of writing is accepted. I’ve certainly written about it many times here, and I think the view has gained popularity within rhetoric over the last decade or so. However, it is a minority view, and I think even among that minority it is hard to imagine how its insights might inform pedagogy.”