16.396 report on COCH/COSH May 2002

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Jan 03 2003 - 03:52:53 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 396.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Fri, 03 Jan 2003 08:46:29 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Ramble on the Random Slide


    Months drift by. Years come to an end.

    The bounty of demonstrations, resources and ideas exchanged at the annual
    meeting of the COCH/COSH meeting at the end of May 2002 may perhaps excuse
    my providing a late sampling of the rich offerings examined at that spring


    It is a selective sampling from four days of presentations devoted to
    Humanities Computing and Emerging Mind Technologies. I'm never quite sure
    how to parse that last bit: whether it is the technologies that are
    emerging or the mind or both (in some proposed sequence). Parsing is one
    way of threading two related groups of sessions: the one clustered around
    the model of games and the other around the boundaries of perceivable
    structure (that's my translation of some of the concerns raised in the
    information aesthetics stream.

    Marshall Soules through Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation
    offered a very suggestive presentation on "the voluntary discipline
    required of improvised performance" Andrew Mactavish, the organiser of the
    theorizing computer games sessions, nicely paired Soules's concerns with
    performance as a procedural method with a paper presented by Patrick Finn,
    Half-Life, Full Theory: Formalizing Video Criticism, where the audience
    was quick to replay a familiar boundary question (user/coder) along the
    lines of player/maker. The discussion raised interesting epistemological
    questions: just how far do researchers need to position themselves as
    participant-observers in and around the discursive communities they
    investigate? what authority does the non-expert have to formulate
    hypotheses and interpretations about the behaviours of expert or
    specialist groupings?

    The ideological dimensions of games were an overt theme of the other
    session devoted to social and cultural frameworks of theorizing computer
    games. James Campbell problematized any easy answers in the examples he
    presented in examining Computer Games as Complicitous Critique of Global
    Capitalism. Gendered-perspectives offered by Carolyn Guertin and Aimee
    Morrison with respectively From Complicity to Interactivity: Theories of
    Feminist Game Play and Nerds Heroic and Social: Cinematic Video-gaming and
    the Domestication of Computing led a consideration by those in attendance
    of a distinction reminiscent of the literary criticism of Northrop Frye
    (inspired perhaps by coincidence/remembrance that this part of the
    COSH-COCH proceedings being held on the premises of Victoria College where
    Frye taught). I cannot help but thinking that the matrix vs maze
    distinction that emerged needs to be mapped onto the
    procedural/declarative types of
    languages. The maze was identified as the spatial pattern that suited the
    directed quest. The matrix holds out other possibilities of movement and
    brings the notion of game closer to Soules's considerations of

    Theorizing games can become rather giddying much like the engagement with
    actual play -- just as pleasurable and cognitive challenging as the
    aesthetics of codework which exposes the "generative material substrate"
    of cultural-textual productions in their digital incarnations. Something
    like a return of materialist-structuralist film making. The presentations
    of Talan Memmott and Alan Sondheim (especially Sondheim's) demonstrated
    the limits of de-cuing expectations. The currently accessible technology
    allows for greater ease of shuffling images than sounds. Simply closing
    one's eyes during an information overload session that is screen-centred
    helps pace the cognitive apparatus. So does mediation. By happy
    circumstance Maria Damon one of the organizers of the session read Rita
    Raley's paper, The Object as Code. It was an interesting exercise in what
    may be akin to sight-reading a score. A paper read in absentia of the
    author gives the audience a sense of what carries. Together, these
    i-provizations, indicate how difficult it is to turn off sense making ---
    there always seems to be a pattern to frame the noise.

    I missed the other Information Aesthetics session. And it is too bad that
    one of the presenters there missed the Sondheim, Memmott,
    Raley-read-by-Damon pieces.

    With a title offering an intertextual parody of Hayles's "posthuman" buzz
    word, How We Became Automatic Poetry Generators, Katherine Parrish,
    drew me in to discover some deliciously crafty MOOwerk
    http://www.meadow4.com/moolipo Unfortunately, I missed the panel &
    discussion. Any subscribers in attendance care to report, rift or

    Parrish entices exploration. I think she is wrong in invoking: <cite>
    In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles asserts that pattern and
    randomness are bound together in "a complex dialectic that makes them not
    so much opposites as complements or supplements to one another" (Hayles
                          The relationship between authorial control and its
    relinquishment as it is realized in textual production involving random
    procedures is characterized by a similar supplementarity. Operating in
    this splice, these procedures point to an emergent posthuman subjective
    agency. <cite>

    Post human? I wonder if any distinctions was made during the discussion
    period to indicated the possibility that the procedures are not random,
    the selection of the next procedure might be.

    Loop back to Aimee Morrison who inspired me to go off and read Charles
    Bernstein's essay, Play It Again, Pac-Man (collected in A Poetics), In the
    subsection entitle "The Computer Unconscious" Bernstein invites readers to
    contemplate the statement that "[t]he experiential basis of the
    computer-as-medium is _prediction and control_ of a limited set of
    variables. The fascination with all computer technology [...] is figuring
    out all the permutations of a limited set of variables."

    And so circling round the interplay between games and digital
    performances/deconstructions, one can generate the sequence:

    improvizaton --- i-provization --- hyperprovization

    In Bernstein's discursive context, the military-industrial complex origins
    of computer the aim is prediction and control. (This seems to hunt
    Hayles). However the two activities may need to be separated out. The
    aesthetic pleasure of figuring out the permutations may just complexify
    notions of control. From there it is just a friendly disciplinary boundary
    hop to cognitive psychology and the concerns of embodied knowing and
    digital representations (a topos of many a post to Humanist).

    Carolyn Guertin and Andrew Mactavish organizers of some very stimulating
    sessions are to be thanked for some fine planning -- providing for some
    hyper-improvisations worthy humanist scrutiny and ecoute.

    -- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large,
    knows no "no exit" in a hypertext
    every cul-de-sac is an invitation to turn

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