Blog Post

FIRST!

Or not.

Since most of the introductions are already posted, I've had a chance to read through the rich and varied research concerns, methodologies, and disciplines that we represent as a group. Obviously, this HASTAC community brings together tons of smart people working on amazing projects. I feel like a small fish in a big pond!

As for me, I'm a third year English Ph.D. student in Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies at UW-Milwaukee. Before I came to UWM, I got an MFA in poetry and an MA in lit studies. Let's just say that after all these years of grad school, I am a master of the crank-it-out-in-one-week seminar paper and excited to be done with coursework! This fall semester I am taking my preliminary (or comp) exams, and in the spring I’ll write my dissertation proposal.

My scholarly work sits at the intersection of digital media, online culture, and experimental writing. Recently, I’ve been captivated by the concept of the errant/erring text—writing that slips out of control, resists normative reading, and compels media awareness. Artists books are great examples of the errant text, since sometimes it’s not even clear how the book opens! But many net.art, e-lit, and codework projects also are instances of the type of experimental writing that I want to address. I’ve gradually been cataloging examples like this—texts and technologies that misbehave and disrupt patterns—and noticing how people respond to the experience of error with passion (often anger or frustration) and acute awareness of the material circumstances of their writing machines. (For instance, I always try to track the crises that erupt over Facebook interface changes and privacy flubs.) The situation of errancy is a vivid moment of urgency and acute sensitivity to how our technologies work (or fail to work) and how they have absorbed us as much as we have absorbed them. I believe this line of thinking is crucial in a culture that is often so blind to the mediating presence of software as it intervenes in our relationships, our compositions, and our selves. I’m moved by many of McLuhan’s less techno-determinist theses (yes, there are some!), but my theoretical commitment lies with Latour’s actor-network theory and Barad’s assemblage theory.

I see my HASTAC project as being slightly different from my (imagined!) dissertation idea, loosely articulated above. In terms of collaborating with other folks in this group, I am really hoping to work on the question of how academic argument can/should be revised for interactive and hypertextual media. What strategies work and don’t work in a digital environment, how can we rethink essayistic inquiry, and what structures or design possibilities are available to us? It seems to me that, too often, a “digital essay” or scholarly “web text” turns out to be a print essay reformatted and hyperlink-ified for the web. For writing tasks that we perceive as serious or important, many writers naturally begin in a word processor and transport text to the web or new medium if needed. Established scholars such as N. Katherine Hayles frequently work with designers who reconfigure/reformat content for the medium, whether it’s a web text, video, or unconventional book. However, this seems to allow the analog tradition of paper and paper-thinking to remain relatively untouched by the constraints and possibilities of a heterogeneous, distributed network of pages—i.e. the internet. While collaboration is an undisputed value of the digital humanities, what are the implications of production teams that separate content writers from programmers and designers? What would it mean for a group or individual to “think digital” when composing an academic argument—to literally think in and through new media? Is it even possible to make a sustained argument in a nonprint, nonlinear, interactive form? What examples can we reference? I’m interested in working with others to understand how academic argument can take advantage of the specific features of digital composing spaces, not by transporting text into the new mode, but by starting from within the digital space as a means of invention, and intervention into academic conventions.

Over the last few years, I’ve been on a quest to learn the language of computers so that I can take up the task of writing digital essays. I learned HTML and CSS, thinking that I would immediately be able to create elegant, nonlinear arguments in a web interface once I learned to write code. That has turned out to be FALSE, since I continue to struggle with making compelling compositions in digital media. I have trouble coming up with ideas and realizing how they could work in a format that literally should not and cannot be printed. I am currently learning to program in JavaScript so that I can better understand how dynamic web interfaces function. So, I’d love to meet and chat with others who know how to program or who are also learning code. What are your struggles? How does the language of code ask you to think differently about speech and writing? What benefits do you see in bringing together humanistic study and computer programming?

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