[-empyre-] post-digital print

Søren Pold pold at cavi.au.dk
Wed Feb 26 19:48:29 EST 2014

I've been working on and off with relations between literature and digitization almost the last twenty years since I began my PhD on relations between media and literature affected by the digital. In my PhD dissertation, completed in 2000, it was my point that literature has consistently dealt with media as part of its content but also as a formal reflection taking up panoramic (Honoré de Balzac) and cinematographic (Raymond Chandler, Steve Erickson) ways of structuring the urban experience of respectively Paris and Los Angeles. This generally happened in two ways: 1) an experiential, visual media related or multimedia-related way relating to the spread of new forms of (mainly but not only) visual experience ; 2) a formal, structural, bureaucratic way, e.g. relating to the rise of statistics, surveillance, intelligence, etc. With the computer we also see both threads as e.g. related to multimedia (games, etc.), GUIs and on the other hand programming, networked structures, hypertext can be said to follow the formal, structural, bureaucratic line of development, e.g. through control and management. However, my point at the time (2000) was that because of the digital, alphabetic nature of the digital, the computer was a medium (or a meta-/post-medium or perhaps language system?), which can be directly written, edited and in general treated like a language system. At that time my examples were etoy's digital hijack, jodi.org and i/o/d's webstalker. So in my understanding the computer and digital publishing was not a break with - but a continuation of print - an understanding, which I built on e.g. Walter Benjamin, Walter J. Ong and Florian Cramer among others.  In this way, the computer can be seen as a literary machine where the writing doesn't only happen on the surface as content, but through coding and structuring becomes part of the functioning of the medium.

In 2000 and 2004 when I published my dissertation this felt on pretty dry ground, at least nationally (the diss. is in Danish), and I moved on to digital aesthetics. However I've recently experienced a renewed interest from literary circles in work related to mine - perhaps because of the relative success of e-books. I've written on how it affects (digital) culture that it now becomes embedded in cultural interfaces and platforms such as smart-phones, tablets, e-readers and game consoles - all platforms that control copying and access through a controlled consumption scheme with heavy monitoring of user behaviour. This has actually led to quite some discussion nationally - both before and after Snowden - that e.g. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google closely monitor their users reading behavior. Furthermore, I've collaborated with libraries in exploring the media changes, e.g. through installations of digital/electronic literature in library spaces such as the installation Ink created with colleagues and collaborators. (http://darc.imv.au.dk/?p=2931).
This installation can be seen as post-digital in that it aims to make people in libraries reflect on the media change by letting them compose poems (Queneau-style but written by a Danish author Peter-Clement Woetman) through using books as interaction device, producing texts on screen and on print. In this way it focuses on the media change, the ergodic reading process and social, performative collaboration. Another project has been conducting workshops with colleagues (Morten Riis, Andrew Prior, Sandra Boss, Lone Koefoed Hansen and more) around cassette tapes and bygone music media (which we've written on in the APRJA Transmediale newspaper and in the journal issue that comes out very soon). Furthermore we've been publishing, e.g. POD books in Danish and English by e.g. Christian Ulrik Andersen, Geoff Cox and Tatiana Bazzichelli and Geoff Cox and Christian Ulrik Andersen have done the newspaper series of which the post-digital newspaper was the fourth. (See http://darc.imv.au.dk/ and http://www.aprja.net/).

Concludingly, things are strangely coming together for me, and I see the post-digital (sharing the idea that it is a crappy concept that is useful) as potentially a critical way to discuss media change confronted with digitization after the digital revolution is over. A few points to this:
- The digital revolution is over. The utopian times are past. This is somewhat healthy, since we can now begin to look more concretely and in a sober way on the material changes that are happening and how they affect culture.
- However, we also miss the utopian days now, when digital technologies and media are only about rationalization, capitalization, control, monitoring. How do we develop alternatives, when we've stopped believing in the power of technology? And this 'we' is not only 'us', but increasingly the broad culture, who've stopped believing in the promises of technology. We need alternative uses, designs, understandings - and perhaps we can find them by combining history, technology and cultural uses?
- The post-digital is a broad realization that digitization is not a binary transformation from old to new media, but is a layered process affecting both production, archiving, distribution and reception in different combinations and ways.
- The post-digital is thus a realization, that the digital does not simply transform everything into some virtual dimension, but that it is  - and needs to be in ways we haven't quite yet imagined - coupled with the material, spatial, urban, cultural, human flesh. This is both good and bad news.
- The post-digital is an opportunity to develop the historical: both the histories of digital media, from Turing to Kurenniemi and the histories of media and media use from Raymond Williams to Matthew Fuller. Furthermore it is the opportunity to realize that this history is not linear nor straigh-forward but that e.g. the history of hypertext is forking and looping and the culture of the computer does not compute.

 Btw. I excuse I haven't been that active, but we're going through quite some turmoil at Aarhus University because of the biggest lay-off in Danish university history…
Søren Pold
Lektor (Ass. Prof.), Ph.d.
Informationsvidenskab & Digital Design
DAC Katrinebjerg
Aarhus Universitet
Helsingforsgade 14
DK-8200 Aarhus N

Chair of the Research Program Humans & IT
Participatory Information Technology

Office: Wiener 224
**** NEW EMAIL**** pold at cavi.au.dk
(+45) 871 61994
skype: soerenpold
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