Category: Essay

Wired Magazine just published an article on social media, assembly, and dissidence. Way late to the game but a nice read none the less. We should be thinking about what comes next.

When poetry averts conformity it enters into the contemporary: speaking to the pressures and conflicts of the moment with the means just then at hand.

“The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.” (Montaigne)


Protocol. Perhaps one dimension of the aesthetic appeal of the mechanical is in the ‘purity’ of the interleaving of dynamisms — the quality of being a kind of ‘moving’ and even ‘living’ diagram that excites certain sensitivities. Each machine is already a manifold network of various configuration-spaces (involving significant mechanical, environmental, logical factors, etc.) — its singular and intricate behavior produced ‘simply’ by becoming activated and operated. I ask: how was it possible to lay out a common plane where signs and objects, code and data and things and people could all participate ‘democratically”?


Everything unfolds as though some master plan were pre-existent, as though the very organization of society, language and thought itself implicitly support a certain orientation, a certain set of virtual borderlines and existential territories establishing a kind of plane of consistency. The capitalist mode of production engenders the conditions for a radical destruction of the consistency of classical plans in place of a generalized decoding of flows; that is to say, flows of words, devices, actions, passions, people, all swept up into a decoded ‘polyvocity’, a collective elocution of a machinic assemblage complete with black holes and lines of flight, bursting with fractal islands of knowledge and complexity. The network illuminates.

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For all the diversity of the contemporary media ecology – network, broadcast, games, mobile – one technical form is entirely dominant. Screens are everywhere, at every scale, in every context. As well as the archetypal “big” and “small” screens of cinema and television we are now familiar with pocket- and book-sized screens, public screens as advertising or signage, urban screens at architectural scales. As satirical news site The Onion observes, we “spend the vast majority of each day staring at, interacting with, and deriving satisfaction from glowing rectangles.”

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This second Video Vortex Reader marks the transition of online video into the mainstream. Staggering statistics of hypergrowth no longer impress us. Discussing a possible online video project for the first time in late 2006 in Melbourne with Seth Keen, the topic was still a matter of ‘becoming’. One collaborative research project, six conferences and two anthologies later, the Video Vortex project seems at a crossroads. Massive usage is not an indication of relevance. Heavy use does not automatically translate into well-funded research or critical art practices. Is the study of online video, like most new media topics, doomed to remain a niche activity – or will we see a conceptual quantum leap, in line with the billions of clips watched daily? So far, there is no evidence of a dialectical turn from quantity into quality. It is remarkable how quickly both pundits and cultural elites became used to online video libraries containing millions of mini-films. In our ‘whatever’ culture nothing seems to surprise us. Who cares about the internet? Continuous technological revolution, from social networking to smartphones, seems to have numbed us down. B-S-B: Boredom-Surprise-Boredom. Instead of an explosion of the collective imaginary we witness digital disillusion – a possible reason why online theory has had a somewhat unspectacular start. The low quality of YouTube’s most popular videos certainly indicates that this platform is not a hotbed of innovative aesthetics.

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Seth Price’s Dispersion

Dispersion by Seth Prince

“Distributed media can be defined as social information circulatingin theoretically unlimited quantities in the common market,stored or accessed via portable devices such as booksand magazines, records and compact discs, videotapes andDVDs, personal computers and data diskettes. Duchamp’squestion has new life in this space, which has greatlyexpanded during the last few decades of global corporatesprawl. It’s space into which the work of art must projectitself lest it be outdistanced entirely by these corporate interests.New strategies are needed to keep up with commercialdistribution, decentralization, and dispersion. You must fightsomething in order to understand it.”


sourced for the New Museum’s exhibit Free


Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization

by Alexander Galloway

“Is the Internet a vast arena of unrestricted communication and freely exchanged information or a regulated, highly structured virtual bureaucracy? In Protocol, Alexander Galloway argues that the founding principle of the Net is control, not freedom, and that the controlling power lies in the technical protocols that make network connections (and disconnections) possible. He does this by treating the computer as a textual medium that is based on a technological language, code. Code, he argues, can be subject to the same kind of cultural and literary analysis as any natural language; computer languages have their own syntax, grammar, communities, and cultures. Instead of relying on established theoretical approaches, Galloway finds a new way to write about digital media, drawing on his backgrounds in computer programming and critical theory. “Discipline-hopping is a necessity when it comes to complicated socio-technical topics like protocol,” he writes in the preface.

Galloway begins by examining the types of protocols that exist, including TCP/IP, DNS, and HTML. He then looks at examples of resistance and subversion—hackers, viruses, cyberfeminism, Internet art—which he views as emblematic of the larger transformations now taking place within digital culture. Written for a nontechnical audience, Protocol serves as a necessary counterpoint to the wildly utopian visions of the Net that were so widespread in earlier days.”

So far there is no Marxist theory of the media.

—Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Is Poetry Enough? Poetry in a Time of Crisis

Reading Time: For a Poetics of Hypermedia Writing

Discussing the question of closure in hypertext fiction, George Landow wrote in Hypertext 2.0 (1997) that “[u]nlike texts in manuscript or print, those in hypertext apparently can continue indefinitely, perhaps infinitely” (191). Since the publication of Hypertext 2.0, experimental hypermedia has brought to the fore a new variety of open-ended literary works that both challenge and extend the typically link/node and word-based hypertexts to which Landow refers, such as Michael Joyce’s seminal hypertext story, Afternoon. (For online examples of word-based hypertext, see Joyce’s Twelve Blue and Judy Malloy’s LOve One.) A general survey of activities over the last four years reveals prominent changes not only in the way literary materials are composed but also in the tools of their distribution. Networked personal computers, coupled with advanced Web design software, provide a relatively cheap and easy mode of production and distribution not widely available before. As distribution machines, networked computers clearly change the relationship between author and reading public, most obviously in terms of the speed and range of distribution. Furthermore, new programming interfaces offer a whole host of gadgets–including animation, streaming video, vector motion, cascading styles, layering, and interactive behaviors–that together comprise some of the latest compositional tools of today’s screen-based writing. When put to use on the digital page, these devices alter the time of literary performance in ways significantly different from print-based, or even first-generation hypertextual, writings. Duration (scene progression, sequencing, real-time motion) is now built into the metalanguage of literary composition as a device, along with more conventional devices like line, paragraph, prosody, character, and plot. Moreover, the primary locale for this new performance, the World Wide Web, provides a zone of perpetual currency, or fleeting stability, or both (depending upon one’s perspective), which challenges conventional notions of the “past” and “present” of literary activity, in terms of the creative process as well as the distribution of a finished literary product. Three questions thus arise that will be treated throughout this essay: First, what are some of the ways in which computer technologies are currently used to create and distribute a time-based, hypermedia writing (with time-based defined for this study as hypermedia works whose “play” on the screen, either in whole or in part, is encoded into the work and computer-driven)? Second, how can time-based literary works of this kind be read in relation to traditional reading practices? Third, given the ephemeral nature of Web-based hypermedia, how might literary criticism in general accommodate this evolving art form?