Blog Post

"changing everything carefully": On Day of DH as a Monad (and other Matters)

BT tower from the UCL campus, 27 March 2012, London
The BT tower from the UCL campus, yesterday 27 March 2012, London
 
 

[Cross-posted from my Day of DH 2012 blog]

Yesterday I was a bit overwhelmed with the pressure to make sense of my "Day of Digital Humanities" synchronically, which is to say, on the very same day. I find this to be at odds with the way I perceive blogging. What is Day of DH? Without previous warning, when we registered we were asked to provide our definition (which still means to impose clear limits) of the term "digital humanities", but perhaps the question that is more pressing is how "Day of DH" conceives itself, and this means how it conceives blogging.

Meta

What is Day of DH? We all participated using the Wordpress platform. But is Day of DH a multi-authored blog or a collection of blogs? More importantly, can a blog be a blog when most authors only post one single entry, or when the focus is the posting of content referring to one single day?

I see blogging as a continuous activity; though its minimal technical unit is the single individual permalinked post, a blog makes time in its ongoingness. Of course that blogging platforms like Wordpress are so relatively easy to work with that they have many other uses than entries posted periodically and published in inverse chronological order. Nevertheless, I find the question pertinent: what is Day of DH, what does it expect to do, and what does it expect its participants to provide? In my view, as a collective project, it unavoidably should inspire people to blog. But, is this the best way of doing it, by providing each participant an account and giving them a preset time limit to post content about a single day of their lives?

If the focus is still to be one day of blogging as opposed to a more extended period of reflection and sharing of content, it seems to me it perhaps should be better to do something like Blog Action Day, where registered participants add a banner to their already-existing blogs, and these blogs are aggregrated on the main project's web site blog. This way the event would theoretically encourage networked blogging under a single theme (in our case, what people do as digital humanists) and not only as a once-a-year activity.

A "Digital Humanities Blog Action Day" would enhance the visibility of already-existing blogs and hopefully would encourage those who only blog when everything has been set up for them to finally create their own blog and keep on blogging more or less periodically (their very busy schedules permitting) as part of their scholarly activities. This may mean more work in terms of data aggregation and analysis, but that's a small price to pay in comparison to to the current unified centrality and spatiotemporal singularity. A move to Day of DH as a badge on already-existing participating blogs would entail the embracing of networked heterogeneity and continuity, both well-known features of blogging.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that as it stands Day of DH remains a very valuable event in the DH community (in my case an event I was looking forward to with great anticipation). It's current configuration has had the effect on me of making me think about its essence (including its possible assumptions and horizons of expectations) and goals as an online academic initiative, particularly in the context of a still-generalised disregard or lack of factual official recognition of the value, relevance and impact of scholarly blogging, including within the digital humanities, and of an also generalised funding crisis in the humanities around the world.

Yacking as Hacking

If, as Dan Cohen suggested in what he called his "uncharitable view", Day of DH "is 24 hours of navel-gazing and obsessive self-recording by members of a relatively young, slightly insecure field that already spends too much time defining itself or arguing over the definition of digital humanities, even though they basically agree," then the project is definitely failing to embrace blogging as a means to transmit the relevance of both the discipline and the method for transmitting it, in this case collective blogging.

Is discussing what would be the best way to encourage the documentation of what a day in the life of many digital humanists around the world is like "navel-gazing"? I am sure some would say so. If I thought this is the case, though, I would not be doing it, even if I concede that much of humanistic activity implies a great degree of thought about thought. As in the case of the history of philosophy, the history of blogging is also the history of the ways in which said activity has thought itself. At least in blogging about digital publishing, praxis and theoria are blended.  In blogging, "yacking" is "hacking". More importantly, "yacking" is "hacking" because it is meant to happen in a network: a blog, in my view, should not aspire to be the centre of anything, but to be a node in a larger constellation of nodes.

Which takes me to the difference between blogging and microblogging. Unlike the latter, blogging allows for long form, and this long form takes shape as well over time. This is why this year I found it so hard to make sense of "my day" on the very day, because the immediacy of the experience, better suited in 21st century terms to the short form of the tweet, required some distance to be ellaborated into a proper blog post. Moreover, it would require a series of posts.

So yesterday was a day that involved working on many projects, that can be summarised under the following points:

  • Collaborative editorial work on the Digital First Edition of the Comics Grid Year One, an ebook compilation of The Comics Grid's first year online
  • Editing my post on HASTAC, where I interviewed SOAS learning technologist Javiera Atenas
  • Compiling online resources and drafting copy for my post for Global Voices, on a human rights activist killed in Mexico this month
  • Assigning a submission to the Comics Grid for peer review and discussing comments with peer reviewers via email
  • Research at the UCL libraries, looking for images for an educational graphic novel I have been editing for the last year or so, which will be launched on 28 May this year
  • Editing audio files of the English audio recording for the sound-enabled edition of the aforementioned book
  • Started answering an interview a Belgian journalism student sent me for a project on digital graphic journalism
  • Talked to a colleague in Denmark about terminology issues in her PhD thesis
  • Reworked a research proposal I am working on, incorporating a colleague's comments
  • Followed the "Digital Dialectic" talk at the Berkman Center in Harvard
  • Followed and participated in the #openjournalism debate on Twitter.
  • Drafted final additions to my upcoming University of Venus post
  • Emailed and emailed and emailed, followed #DayofDH on Twitter
  • Kept on reading and taking notes from Terry Eagleton's Walter Benjamin, or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (1981)

This simplistic list of things is the result of the wish to participate in Day of DH as requested, but fails to offer, I am aware, a truly informative, reflective or even useful notion of what I did yesterday, or of what "a Day of DH" would be like for me. The immediacy and extra-close correlation between activity and testimony of it precludes my ability to present a more complex picture.

I suspect a more complex view of Day of DH's contribution to the research/scholarly/academic community will only come with time, but this one should be contrasted with the singularity of the event as it took place, perhaps something our current data analysis techniques cannot fully do, at least not in an automated fashion.  Eagleton reminds us of a passage in Benjamin's One Way Street, where he contrasts the aerial view of a terrain "with the same prospect seen on foot" (Eagleton 49). The view on foot gives us a glimpse of the irregularities that the aerial view makes deceptively homogeneous. I often like to think that blogging, as a still-emergent scholarly practice, can offer this view from the ground, that could potentially "shock" the  "bland continuum" of traditional academia.

Monadic DH

Walter Benjamin wrote that "where thinking suddenly stops in a constellation pregnant with tensions, it gives that constellation a shock, by which it crystallizes into a monad" (cited by Eagleton 96). A "monad", meant by Benjamin as a point that works as a conjecture, interrogated the comfortable historicist view of causality and seriality. To go back and edit my post from yesterday (Day of DH proper) would be for me a kind of historical fraud where I pretend it was possible for me to make sense of the present or immediately-past moment in the present of writing. I write this post with today's dateline, because it is only The Morning After the Day of DH in which I can add something to this "constellation pregnant with tensions" which is the blog network hosted by Day of DH.

A "monad" has various related meanings. These meanings coincide in the notions of the unit, the category, the function, and the potential for interconnection or articulation. I see blogs and blog posts, in different but related levels, as units in larger constellations of time and space. Events become historical only posthumously. The present day, as in what we called, yesterday, "Day of DH", was the time of the now. A different way of understanding the current "digital dialectic", at least when it comes to our ability to reflect , publicly and online, on our daily experience, has something to do with the tensions between our human, spatiotemporal lives and digital technologies, pregnant as they are with presentness and nowness.

Perhaps it is also the role of the digital humanities to map this territory, hopefully form the humble awareness of our own human limitations, from the air as well, if you will, but as long as we keep contrasting the view with the one we have on foot, from below.  Like Spring, perhaps our collective Day of DH blogging may  "change everything carefully", arranging a window, into which people look.

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