19.207 writing history of what's happening

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2005 06:32:24 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 207.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2005 06:29:46 +0100
         From: Matt Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.198 writing history of what's happening


I'd also recommend Lev Manovich's pages on "history of the present" at
the start of The Language of New Media.

In my own work, I've found that writing about the near-past
(specifically personal computing in the 1980s) is important to
illuminating the present, since renewed attention to certain archaic
practices--booting programs off of floppy disks rather than a hard
drive, for example--defamiliarize everyday interactions (with storage,
in this case) that now seem merely natural. Matt

On 8/11/05, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) <willard_at_lists.village.virginia.edu>
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 198.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Thu, 11 Aug 2005 07:01:10 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> Evidence of the ability to write genuine histories of computing
> rather than simply annotated chronologies is a very good sign for
> humanities computing. Historians, like philosophers, can make
> anything that happens their own, but when they do, and do this well,
> those concerned with such happenings are given something worth
> celebrating -- the wherewithal to become, I'd say, more self-aware.
> Hence my delight in finding, in Critical Inquiry 31.4 (2005), Thomas
> Streeter's "The Moment of Wired" (pp. 755-79), which gives us a
> genuine history of the 1990s internet enthusiasms.
> The atmosphere of the time, Streeter writes at the end of this
> article, "was precisely a fusion of the desire for wealth with
> romantic dreams of freedom, self-expression, and the dramatic
> overthrow of the powers-that-be. Without the romantic visions of
> freedom and revolution, there would have been nothing to get excited
> about; there was no gold in this gold rush, no valuable raw material,
> just castles in the air made of projections onto immaterial digital
> bits; something had to make those projections seem valuable. Yet
> without the hope of getting rich, the enthusiasm would never have had
> the energy it needed to spread. Change the world, overthrow
> hierarchy, express yourself, and get rich; it was precisely the heady
> mix of all of these hopes that had such a galvanizing effect."
> What makes this article particularly valuable is Streeter's
> consideration of the relationship between this romanticism and the
> technology giving it substance. Citing Friedrich Kittler's book
> Discourse Networks, he comments that "Kittler is on the right track
> when... he suggests that one should understand romanticism, not as a
> collection of texts or a historical period, but as a way of
> organizing discourse through practices of writing, reading, and
> relating.... Kittler's Foucaultian use of the term 'technology' to
> describe pedagogical manuals, child-rearing practices, and the like
> has a useful othering effect, displacing the romantic expressive
> tautologies of originary nature and genius onto a materialist
> analysis of their conditions of possibility."
> This shift, with which computing has had much to do, we've seen
> expressed in several works on the history of the book, for example --
> more generally, in the re-surfacing of awareness that common
> technologies *are* technologies. Indeed, it is responsible for a much
> increased interest in the material culture of computing. "But the
> shift from expression to technology", Streeter comments, "has its own
> risks. The problem with McCluhanism is not that it's wrong to
> attribute causal power to technologies; it is that technology is
> imagined singularly, as the secret key that unlocks complexity, as
> the cause of cultural change. The move in Kittler from Discourse
> Networks to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter -- one title suggesting an
> inquiry into concrete practices, the other a list of gadgets -- risks
> too neatly reducing behaviors and differences into generalizable
> epistemes that can be tidily separated into distinct, technologically
> caused epochs. This can be particularly troubling when, by a
> millennial logic of succession (from 1800/1900 to 2000), the
> suggestion becomes that, as computers replace previous technologies
> of communication, consciousness is once again being transformed in
> one fell swoop."
> He concludes: "In the case of the 1990s internet enthusiasms, it
> could be said that computers did not so much shape culture as the
> other way around. Computer networks did not create the rhetorical
> constructions of originary genius, of spontaneous
> creation-from-nowhere that functioned to promote both individuals...
> and the internet itself as Promethean sources of wealth and
> knowledge, outside of history and social determination. The images
> made available by Mosaic and Netscape clearly were inspirational to
> many, not so much because they departed from conventional forms of
> representation, but to a large degree because they created a sense of
> anticipatory projection. The role of the web browser at first was
> more like that of a Rorschach-like object with which to explore
> fantasy. And for that fantasy to take wing, conventional, written
> romantic tropes were required, like the studied use of informal
> everyday language to construct authenticity, the dissemination of
> narratives that constructed the internet as a place for thrilling
> exploration, and the crafting of rebel-artist person.... These tropes
> were often as not disseminated in conventional print, like Wired and
> Neuromancer. And that which was disseminated online was still largely
> made of traditional letters and words; what was important about the
> technology at first may not have been that it was digital but that it
> was narrowly accessible to the particular communities of those who
> did a lot of their own word processing. It was this historical
> accident of a shared sense of secret access, of being in the know by
> virtue of being fluent with a computer modem, that allowed the early
> online users to experience in the internet a sense of something
> radically new, of a break with the past. And that experience, in
> turn, helped distract from the sober economic and global realities
> that American culture spent the 1990s so energetically avoiding."
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> [NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend]
> Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
> Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street |
> London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||
> willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/

Received on Mon Aug 15 2005 - 01:42:22 EDT

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