Category Archives: new media

Map Marathon

I received an email about a wonderful new exhibit/collaboration “Map Marathon” organized by the Serpentine Gallery in London and those intrepid thinkers at Edge. The whole online gallery is fascinating, but what really caught my fancy was this image, apparently submitted by Bruce Sterling. It’s a map of writers who are associated with Sterling, and therefor it has a lot in common with my research.

After some investigation it looks like the map was generated with Gnod, or Gnooks to be exact: “a self-adapting community system based on the gnod engine.” I’m intrigued–it seems like the site’s connections are based on user input to its adaptive learning system. I’d love to compare these networks to my own data.

Things are Cooking at First Person

I’m happy to share news of some exciting developments on the First Person thread over at the electronic book review.

First, we published a great riposte by Daniel Worden to Sean O’Sullivan’s essay on Deadwood, one of my favorite shows. The original essay appeared in Third Person and discussed the inherent tension between the plot demands of the television episode and the television series. Worden responded by thinking about the different definitions of necessity at work in the show, including the crossover between the narratological manifest destiny of a canceled season and the kind that drove all those characters to settle the deadly Black Hills of South Dakota.

Second, and ongoing, we’re running a series of entries drawn from the Critical Code Studies Working Group. The group took on the challenge of interpreting software not just as the mechanism for all of our new digital texts and toys, but as text itself. The conversation is a virtual who’s who of software studies, and I’m very excited to be editing its ebr instantiation. I find the subject fascinating and this is a great experiment in new models for digital scholarship. In Mark Marino’s introduction and the Week 1 discussion participants tried to hammer out some basic definitions and discussed readings of the infamous Anna Kournikova worm.

A Very Finite Summer

Since I’m working on the changing nature of reading and on contemporary American literature, it seemed almost obligatory for me to check out Infinite Summer, a massive blog-based reading group organized around David Foster Wallace’s massive Infinite Jest. The reading group’s pace is quite reasonable by grad student standards–75 pages a week–but in the true spirit of studentdom I started weeks late and have been struggling to catch up.

That means I haven’t yet really delved into the culture of the online exchange, but I am curious to see how things are going over there. From my brief perusal of the site so far, it seems the basic structure is for a few authors to post on their reading experiences, and the rest of the community is left to hang out in the comments. This works well for your average blog, but it seems a little limiting for a book discussion group, which would really work better with a forum architecture. Maybe there is one and I haven’t found it yet?

The site’s structure does seem to emulate the deceptive orderliness of Infinite Jest, with its footnotes and acronyms.* There are guides and summaries and a schedule, but I find the site disorienting as a whole, as a place to talk about the book, much as Infinite Jest ends up being disorienting. Readers quickly realize that the acronyms are explained inconsistently, at random, in medias res; that they’re thrown in and out of numerous plot-lines like hapless tennis balls; that the end notes and gestures toward structure are deeply satirical and philosophically agnostic about the whole idea of knowledge. Hence, on the site: the conversation goes on through a Twitter tag, comments, Tumblr, Facebook…and I just found the forum. They do have one after all.

I guess this isn’t a bad way to honor Wallace’s passing, but is it a good way to talk about his book? Obviously I’m thinking of a different kind of conversation, one where people lean forward around a table and interrupt each other, whereas Infinite Summer is a beast that can only exist online: an imaginary space full of people zooming in and out, talking about the book or not, employing various means of intellectual transportation.

I love the idea of this online reading group, so my question isn’t meant to be hostile, merely inquisitive. I’ll report back when I’ve learned more (and, say, actually read more than a handful of posts from the various zones of Infinite Summer).

* Acronyms, while cryptic, always imply a bedrock of rational thought, convention and informational structure, however ludicrous that implication might be.

The New Open Culture

My good friend Dan Colman has recently moved his great site Open Culture to its new Internet home, the one it should have had all along: I wrote a few blog posts for Dan back in the day (far fewer than I’d actually said I would, alas), and I love the site.

If you’ve never seen it, be sure to check it out, especially his incredible, expanding archive of free high-quality podcasts, lectures and more–including a great list of free audio books.

Culture Map #1

I’m trying to work out different ways of mapping out the networks of books, ideas and writers that build up around different novels over time–a concept I’m calling ideational networks. The web is fostering a lot of these networks (think Web 2.0) and at the same time preserving them, allowing me to map some of the connections.

One of the things I’ve been looking at is the ecology of book recommendations and reviews on sites like Amazon and LibraryThing. Below is a map of the book recommendations branching out from LibraryThing, which we can assume is driven largely by the book choices that users of the site have made over time.

As you can see from the image below, the network is fairly diffuse, but with some interesting connection points. Nabokov’s work, particularly Pnin, seems like a major intersection between different cultural sub-networks. I’ll have more to say about this and other maps as I continue working, but for now I thought this might be a cool image to share. If anyone’s interested I’ll share some of the technical details in a future post.

Culture Map 1

Digital Fiction

I just came across a post on BoingBoing to some new digital fiction put together by Penguin. I’m excited about this for two reasons. First of all, each of the pieces (there are six in all) experiments with a different digital form. Second, a major publishing house is demonstrating interest in digital literature–great news for someone who’s hoping to write, and write about, some digital lit himself one day.

//Cross-posted from Open Culture//

For a graduate student in an English Ph.D. program, the Oral Exam is one of the big milestones on the road to the dissertation. In my case this involves five professors, a list of 60-80 books, and two hours in a (rhetorically) smoke-filled room. Since I’m working on contemporary literature and new media, one of the challenges I have to deal with is how to address novels, films, television shows, video games and more as part of the same “list.” How does one put these things together? How can a video game be read as a text alongside Gravity’s Rainbow or Brave New World?

One way to approach this question is to include the work of literary and cultural critics who are already looking at new and traditional media side by side. Following that line, I try to keep up with the academic blog Grand Text Auto, which covers “computer narrative, games, poetry and art.” One of its contributors, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, is working on a book about digital fictions and computer games that looks perfect for my Orals list—and he’s publishing it, chapter by chapter, on Grand Text Auto for blog-based peer review. It will come out next year with MIT Press, but for now, it’s a work in progress.

All fine so far—I could list it as “forthcoming” and direct my professors to the link. But what happens when I start commenting on this book as I read it? What are we to do with the knowledge that this “text” will most likely change between now and next year? Does this item on my Orals list signify a draft of the book, the blog and its comments, or the experience of reading and writing into the MS myself (including, perhaps, responses from the author)?

I find the dilemma particularly interesting because it touches on a central conflict in humanities scholarship. Are we passive observers of the literary scene or active participants in it? It’s a rare academic critic who thinks of calling up a poet to ask her what she meant in a particular line, but that’s exactly the kind of connection that our hyper-conscious, digitally mediated world offers up.

P.S. After all of this hand-wringing, it’s obvious I’m not going to have time to read Noah’s book before I take my exam, so it’s off the list. But I can’t wait to dig in next month!