Re: [-empyre-] Opening remarks on new media history


Thanks for the description of how performance art became a field, and the
problems that came about as a result. Although this history doesn't
persuade me to abandon the project of new media as a discipline, it
certainly illuminates some things to watch out for when a new type of
artistic practice is beset by theory.

I think the exclusion of certain types of practice and the encoding of
certain manifestoes has already occurred in fields related to new media.
Link-and-node literary hypertext became the paradigm for computer
literature by the early 1990s, so that anything else (computer characters
like Eliza, story generators, interactive fiction, online textual
performance) couldn't be studied in English departments, for the most
part. This is exactly the sort of thing to be wary of -- systematically
excluding work for reasons of distaste. I fight it just about every week,
and I hope people point out the times when I make the same type of

But looking at the issue today, I don't see that there is a special
concern here that applies to all of new media. Is there a danger that all
new media production might become "tethered to classes"? New media happens
in so many contexts -- official and unofficial academic ones, artistic
ones, commercial ones, the contexts of industrial and defense research,
etc. -- that I don't think there's any danger of an academic discipline
dominating the creative practice. (I feel this way about the specific new
media form called interactive fiction, too, and wrote about this near the
end of Twisty Little Passages.) Rather, I think a new media discipline is
likely to make a contribution in its own way and fruitfully inform the
whole ecology of creative, artistic computing.

> In spite of all that's been written, I'm not sure what 'critical work in
> new media' means - I can certainly understand it in terms of Lev's work or
> Aarseth etc., but the field seems to me broken, and should be.

I think we have a similar idea of what "critical work in new media" means.
While the field is somewhat "broken" from an institutional perspective,
the people who are in this emerging new media field certainly know about
each other's work and are developing ideas together, so I don't see it as
being too broken in that sense. Certainly, people have different foci and
perspectives -- for instance, Aarseth probably cares more today about game
studies becoming a field than about new media becoming a field. Then
again, he did found Digital Arts and Culture and was an advisor for the
New Media Reader.

> If new media, by the way, is kept tethered to the computer - then what
> about nanotech, embedded systems, electrical (rather than electronic)
> work, video work?

I don't see a focus on computing as a tether, any more than, in different
disciplines, focusing on literature or visual art is a tether. Video work
and nanotechnology don't inform my analysis of interactive fiction at all,
but an understanding of the computer does, because this form of new
media, like all the rest, is essentially computational. If someone can
explain how nanotechnology or video art relate to interactive fiction in a
way that enhances my understanding of the form, I'd be greatful. I just
doubt that these will be as essential to new media analysis and practice,
in general, as is computing.

-Nick Montfort
 My new book, Twisty Little Passages:

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.