The Curatorialist


This week we looked at  “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” and Todd Presner’s comments-“Digital Humanities Manifesto Launched”. Plus,  Amaranth Borsuk’s, “The Upright Script: Words in Space and on the Page,” and  Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature.

From these works, I could spend the rest of the semester (or thousands of words) commenting on Amaranth Bursuk’s “The Upright Script: Words in Space and on the Page,”. I would like to look at her analysis of the impacts of data culture on poetry by the nouveau curatorialist-like manner of authorship and the capacity for the digital medium to embody spatiality.

As a curator, as stated in the “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”, one is making an argument through objects, words, images, and sounds… a spatialization of critical and narrative tasks (9). Environmental factors and needs determine the choices of a communication channel, that is, according to time and place or the spatial qualities. In digital poetics and literature, environmental factors are restricted. The transmitter (author) and receiver  (reader or audience) are confined to the digital’s inherent representative or substitutional qualities. This form constrains any possible messages since the informability, detectability and localizability are no longer flexible but standardized by the medium.

The reader has a less contextual foundation to form “trustful” intentions about the transmitter and their given message. The consequences of curation (over authorship) jumbles the problem of communication into something that is even more complicated and/or misleading since the “original” message was fragmented, forgotten or translated long before the new curator has established the new message for its audience. This can be related to the optimistic position of Kenneth Goldsmith that Bursuk included at the beginning of Part III — “language is material […] something to be shoveled into a machine spread across a page, only to be discarded and recycled once again.” I see Goldsmith’s optimism of text-reappropriation as a somewhat-futurist position of technology’s emersion into academia and scholarship. His quote could fit well as an epigraph to a The Digital Humanities Manifesto 3.0.

Bursuk’s comments on the digital’s access to geography-specific information as mildly disturbing, and that its ability to embody physical topography may reinforce our notions of space, but I do believe that these are still instruments that, as users, we chose to adhere to and trust. As Google Maps may suggest a certain route to school or work, the program does not take into a count the roadways that have buildings with rain coverage when I have to walk 10 blocks or the number of potholes that cover a presumably bike-friendly road near my house rather than the smoothly paved alleyway. There are dimensions of physical space that are better understood by experience, like Ara Shirinyan’s Your Country is Great tries to emphasize with “implicit commentary” or lack of information about certain places online.

A curator or digital author uses Synchronous remote communication, which is dependent on artificial augmentation of used natural channels to transfer a message to their anonymous audience. Natural language is characterized by an openness, permitting all kinds of new messages and environmental features as significant response determinates. This type of language is more advanced than any other digital form of communication. Natural language follows and reproduces pattern and structure (the same way we interpret digital technologies) but can be compared to computation as a territory of land differs vastly from that space on a map.

It is important, as the Digital Manifesto states, for us to consider the interface in which we receive knowledge from as a significant determinant of the information we receive.  It is exciting to see that the Information Age is finally welcoming flexibility in academic channels, design, and interface that will stimulate an enhanced sphere of knowledge. I believe the “new topography” that is the digital world can be a new arena for multi-form, multi/trans-sensory, and transversal understanding.

I would like to add my worry for the Manifestos calls to the practice “digital anarchy” by the”digitally humanist” community. The overly contested grounds of copyright law and ownership is difficult to overcome in the digital sphere when the physical world still relies on physical/monetary capital. The Manifesto claims to defend artists, so they may “exert control over their creations and to avoid unauthorized exploitation”, but by whom? and how? If not by copyright, then how may “multi-purposing” be differentiated by “unauthorized exploitation”? Who gets to make this call? On this note, I don’t think that Shepard Fairey needs “freeing” by any Digital Humanitarians. He should be just fine in his Obey© “Ivory Tower”, built by capitalist systems of dissemination.

As mentioned previously, call me old-fashioned, but I am not a fan of Manifestos. The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 uses playfully emotive and persuasive language (and images) to lay out some serious remodeling in departments and research field. Characterizing the work as a ‘call-to-action’ type of memo, I have difficulty absorbing what it would like me to hear, or take seriously what they are trying to defend. I’m ending this long post with a friendly quote from a great Aeon article on Algorithmic Wilderness by Henry Mance.

‘The paradox, in a nutshell, is this,’ writes the journalist Oliver Morton in The Planet Remade (2015), ‘humans are grown so powerful that they have become a force of nature – and forces of nature are those things which, by definition, are beyond the power of humans to control.’

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