All posts by petrabclark

Turning Over a New Leaf

Link: Turning the Digital Page: An Exploration of Remediation and Online Archives

YB cover photo

Overview: In my digital essay, I aim to analyze the (method)ologies of online resources which compile and remediate archival texts, using The Yellow Nineties Online as a case study to examine the ways in which digitizing encodes form and content, and therefore changes the audience interaction. As per the site’s “Welcome” page, it logically centers itself not only around the study of decade of the 1890s, more specifically around the periodicals of that decade, and more specifically still about the particular periodical that gave the decade its “yellow” moniker–The (infamous) Yellow Book. My digital essay discusses these digitally re-born texts and deals with issues such as form, adaptation/homage, simulation/skeuomorph, and materiality.

Process: This project began its life as a traditional 20-page seminar paper I had done for a class in Fall 2012 so I’d already done a lot of research, writing, and thinking about digital archives in general and The Yellow Nineties Online in particular by the time I decided to revisit the topic this semester. The main challenge for me was taking that first incarnation and looking at it from a completely different angle–not that of “genres” of digital archive (my initial argument, tailored to said class), but rather looking at the ways in which the site frames content, form, and user engagement. These three themes are the one that I have tried to thread throughout each of my posts and which tie the digital essay together as a whole.

Affordances: This project works so much better as a digital essay than a paper that I’m profoundly glad I had the opportunity to transform it! Because I am working to analyze an online resource, it was helpful to work in the same medium–particularly as it is one that facilitates greater use of images (something I’m always looking to do since I work so heavily in visual culture) and enables the use of hyperlinks– these two affordances (or rather, the lack thereof) were the main constraints in writing this up as an seminar paper in the first place.

Looking back at my original paper, I also noticed that it formed less of a coherent argument than a series of observations about the site and its methodological moves. The project worked well enough as a traditional paper, but splitting it into sections in my digital essay not only helped me to re-think the different topics I was actually considering, but also allowed me to make those points much more succinctly without worrying over-much about whether I was presenting a unified whole–it was unified by virtue of admitting its nature as a looser collection of interrelated facets.

This project is something I hope to tinker further with and link to my as-of-now under-development professional WordPress site. I also plan to send the link to the creators of The Yellow Nineties Online (which I am simultaneously excited and terrified to do).

Constraints: The infelicities of my chosen Wordpress theme (including but not limited to problems with font size/color, spacing, linking, arrangement and display of pictures, etc.) did take some amount of time and troubleshooting to wrestle into submission (I won’t say all of that wrestling was particularly good-humored).

Besides technical difficulties, the second challenge (mentioned above) was how to “digitize” my original essay, particularly in terms of organization. I cannot even guess how many different subheadings I created and discarded, split, and combined as I tried to organize my themes as clearly as possible without feeling like I was spending too much time on one and giving short shrift to others. These many changes to page themes (and therefore titles) unfortunately also had the unintended effect that most of my body pages still bear now-defunct titles in their web address. This annoys me somewhat, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it now.

Overall, however, I’m really pleased with how the essay turned out, aesthetically and organizationally.

“Wired Love”: How to Stop Worrying and Embrace Digital Technology

Like other previous posters, I am also discussing several texts, but my primary focus is Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (2013).

la-ca-jc-smarter-than-you-think-20130910

Thompson is a technology journalist who writes for Wired, the New York Times, and other online periodicals, and I’ve enjoyed his exuberant and sharp commentary in those venues for a while. So, when his book came out last fall, I was interested, particularly since it seems a pretty clear response to Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (2011), another excellent meditation on writing, reading, and thinking in a digital age. I read Carr’s book and assigned the Atlantic essay from which it sprang to my very first ENGL 110 class all the way back in Spring 2011. Carr is quite distrustful of how digital technology might be changing the ways in which human brains function and of the potential that Google is making us “stupid.” Thompson, on the other hand, takes almost exactly the opposite approach and argues that our digital tools are actually working “in tandem” with our brains to help us function better, naturally (no HAL/Dave show-downs here):

“…these tools can make even the amateurs among us radically smarter than we’d be on our own, assuming (and this is a big assumption) we understand how they work. At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, communicate more. At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d argue, what is happening is deeply positive. This book is about the transformation.” (6)

Thompson aims to examine technology’s relationship to “what is observably happening in the world around us” (15) rather than arguing for the “rewiring” of the brain, as Carr does (Thompson 13). With this mission statement, he goes on to cover topics including memory and knowledge management, reading habits, how we search for and digest information, and the “ambient awareness” (211) that characterizes our online social networks, all of which hint at new intelligences and literacies cultivated exclusively by our interactions with digital tools.

Thompson’s weblog, Collision Detection, is also worth a visit. It includes more informal meditations than either his articles or his book, focusing particularly on comparing what we think of as “new” with things that have actually been around in other forms for a while. A recent(ish) post I especially loved was on a late-nineteenth century novel called Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes, which follows a telegraph operator and her on-wire dalliance with a mysterious fellow operator. Thompson calls it “A tale of catfishing, OK Cupid, and sexting … from 1880” (scandalous!—though not dissimilar to the telegraph/internet connection Tom Standage has also commented on in his 1998 book, The Victorian Internet). Thompson concludes, “This book is 130 years old, but it could have been written last week,” perhaps fulfilling Wired Love’s own subtitle, “‘The old, old story”—in a new, new way.”

Morse telegraph operator tap truth2

All that’s to say, check out Thompson—his work is a nice complement to many of the texts we have been reading and issues we have been discussing. For me in particular, Thompson’s book offered additional ways to think about how I might discuss users’ interactions with online archives in my digital essay for this class.

Draft 1: Turning the Digital Page

Dearest groundhogs (or whistle-pigs, if you please),

Apologies for lateness, but here is my first draft of the digital essay,Turning the Digital Page.

Summary: My project is primarily interested in digital archives such as The Yellow Nineties Online, and the ways in which we understand and approach archival texts in these digital contexts, as well as the processes and decisions that go into their remediation.

Note: For additional background information, I would advise reading my tabs at the top on the Yellow Book and “About this Digital Essay” before launching into the subsets of the topic I present as posts; my hope is that the posts themselves can be read in any order, but I may go in later and reorder them more effectively if you think it advisable.

Gaps and Problems: At this point, I am still trying to translate (and remediate) this project from a seminar paper to a more precise digital version of itself (plus some). This necessarily means I am in the process of adding links/images/text,  as well as changing my tone and incorporation of references somewhat. I also still want to bring some of our readings from this class (Baron and perhaps another–suggestions welcome!) to bear on this topic, but have not yet done so. I think that the meat of what I want to say is there (I am fairly certain I’m already far over the word limit), but I’m still working to streamline, clarify, and beautify.

Feedback: 

1.) I’ve been tinkering a lot with WordPress of late and I’d like to get your feedback on the appearance and ease of access of the site as it stands now. Does it work for you as a user? Is there any way I can/should guide readers more in terms of what to read first?

2.) I’m also concerned that my posts are too insular and do not clearly enough interrelate to each other and my stated goals in my introduction.

3.) What I’m most afraid of is that my project is coming off as too pedantic–that I have too much in the way of scholarship to the point of feeling clunky–and not as accessible as I’d like in terms of content–concerning level  of language and my sad dearth of images and other media. Any suggestions for making it more appealing (visually and otherwise)?

Thanks for reading!

 

Falling in Line and Getting “In Step”

(Apologies for the slight lateness; hopefully I’ve not kept anyone awake in anticipation for my post).

I approached Adam J. Banks’ Digital Griots with interest, but as many of the previous posts have mentioned, I was unsure of where I was headed once I started reading. This was perhaps not because of any major failing on Banks’s part, but because his book forced me to reevaluate what I expect of a book of the pedagogical cum autobiographical sort (without belaboring generic conventions too much).

After taking Melissa Ianetta’s experimental one-credit “Literature Pedagogy” seminar in Fall 2012, I was no stranger to the academic Bildungsroman, as it were: the most memorable of the texts of this type that we read in that class were Jane Tompkins’s A Life in School and Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature, which are as much about the life of the teacher as the methods and materials she discusses along the way. Even though Banks’ book does not really resemble Tompkins’s or Showalter’s in its content in this way, I did still find myself wanting to put it squarely in with theirs, to make it make sense in the ways that theirs had (even if I did not like some of what came out of both).

Naturally, this resulted in frustration on my part because in many cases, that was not what Banks wanted to do—he wanted to tell me about DJ’s and griots and community, but he did not necessarily want to tell me why, for example, he did not formulate his community course with any other partners from his academic community (57-58), or very much detail about the types of students/experiences from each of the classes he brings up in his chapter on “Mix.” There came a point when I had to very sternly remind myself of “the grand law of criticism” suggested in an 1888 article by novelist R. E. Francillon in the Victorian girls’ magazine Atalanta: “Never blame anybody for not doing what he did not make it his business to do [….] Never find fault with good work of one kind because it is not good work of another” (352).

Nonetheless, I had expected Banks to proceed in a certain way at the outset, which explains the sense of displacement. I had expected him to begin by outlining what a griot was and how the concept would come to shape his theory of teaching and praxis; in reality, I do not think he actually defined the term at length until page 23. “Old/new contract!,” I wanted to shout, even though I had long before looked up the term out of curiosity. I found myself noting (with some amount of confusion) places where I felt he flitted around from one topic to the other, seemingly presenting a “shallow” (52) skimming of the deeper ideas he was alluding, or where he seemed to be bashing me over the head with certain points (I get it, “DJing is Writing/Writing is DJing” (1)).

Of course I realize that his entire book, not just the parts that draw attention to themselves as such, is “enact[ing] as well as [stating] an argument”. It took me a while to stop standing around awkwardly in the corner and to allow myself to go along with the “groove,” however tentatively.

This is a fairly true-to-life portrayal of my (therefore nonexistent) dancing skills.

What I initially saw as a random comment was actually a scratch, what I saw as mind-numbing repetition was a chorus. While I still have my reservations about Banks’s book (which will surely come up in class), I acknowledge that the remixing he does within it is not random written chaos; it is innovative in not just the ideas it is presenting but also perhaps in the way it (and the projects it describes within it) reform the expectations for “academic” writing. It is akin to a piece by Girl Talk—like “In Step” from the album Feed the Animals—complicated to the point of sometimes being frustrating, but richly layered enough to merit multiple listens.

Yet, I wonder why this book came in the form of, well…a book? If in this case, as in others, “the Internet would not do” (62), why not? Why not create the project as a multimedia, multimodal, multicultural text if this is what Banks is invested in?

Turning the Page on Re-mediated Texts: Archives and Digitizing Nostalgia

For my digital essay, I’d like to build off of some of the ideas raised in my X1 blog post for this class, which in turn derived partially from a project begun in Heidi Kaufman’s Fall 2012 “Archival In(ter)ventions” course.  In that course, my seminar paper was titled “(Re)born Digital: The Yellow Book and Adaptations of the ‘Archive’,” and it used the digital archive The Yellow Nineties Online as a case study by which to examine the online re-mediation/adaptation of a particular Victorian periodical, as well as the functions of the archives and online research environments in which such texts are stored. My argument for that paper was most interested in how the ways in which archival texts are made digital force us to reevaluate the role of an “archive” as well as the act of archiving itself. I have been itching to work further on this project with other affordances, so this digital essay project seemed like a golden opportunity to do so.

As I think I admitted in my very first entry on the course blog, much of my scholarly work deals with aesthetics and the ways in which the presentation/juxtaposition of various texts within a larger (con)text (like a periodical) shifts the ways in which the former text is read and interpreted. For this digital essay project, I plan to look more closely at the ways in which the re-mediation of such archival texts (which mimic the original layout but present the information in a new format and/or simulate a book-based reading experience by aesthetic and faux-tactile means) play into our sense of nostalgia for the print-based (an idea that was raised initially in our discussions of Dennis Baron).

For a paper of this length, I will naturally only be able to scrape the surface of digital aesthetics, but I hope that by limiting my focus to a particular digital archive that deals in historical documents (rather than looking at website or digital book design more broadly), I will be able to draw some reasonable conclusions. I’d like to once again use The Yellow Nineties Online as my primary text to focus on, but I will likely also refer to other archives that deal in Victorian materials (such as The Rossetti Archive) as well as broader repositories that function in similar ways, such as Internet Archive.

Of course, the irony is not lost on me that in working with a continually-updated online repository like The Yellow Nineties Online, many of my initial points are already defunct in the face of the intervening one-and-a-half years’ worth of changes. So, while I am admittedly returning to a project that I have already spent some amount of time on, I will in many senses be starting from scratch: I will not only need to (perhaps completely) reevaluate my former claims, but I will also be expanding on just one branch of the larger issues I had tried to tackle in my paper for Heidi’s class.

To sum up:

  • My primary texts/materials will be the online archive(s) I engage in, but I also anticipate drawing from Denis Baron’s A Better Pencil, Jerome McGann’s Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web, and Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation.
  • Some additional questions/problems are: How are texts whose original conception was already highly invested in the aesthetics of the page re-presented and re-mediated in digital environments? What is gained (or lost) by reproducing/simulating these original formats as closely as possible? How do these concerns play into larger ideas of nostalgia for old forms and formats, now incongruously simulated in the digital?
  • Ironically in a project invested in aesthetics, the aesthetics of my own work is what is giving me the most trouble. So, I am as yet uncertain as to what format would be best for this project: at the most basic level, I’d be happy to use a format like WordPress that easily allows for the incorporation the images, hyperlinks, etc., while on the more sophisticated, I’d be interested in trying my hand at creating my content in a simulated book form, like the Cooking School essay that we had initially looked at as a model (though I have, at this point, no idea how to do that).
  • My remaining questions for all of you: Any ideas or advice in regards to format for this project? How is the scope of this project looking so far (is it too broad, or by contrast, not broad enough)? Relatedly, would it be useful to widen my scope somewhat to talk more generally about the simulation of print-based reading experiences, outside of the archive as well as in? Are there any other online archives with interesting formatting or presentation of materials that you could point me towards?

Academic/Online Writing/Responding: A Bricolage

In reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, I found myself most drawn to her chapter on authorship and the ways in which she is forwarding some of the ideas we discussed last week in relation to Lessig’s Remix.

As academics, we generally (and in turn tell our students) that there is a “right” way to critique scholars with opposing viewpoints in one’s own written work (with respect, fairness, tact, etc.). Likewise, most people would acknowledge that there is an etiquette to what sorts of comments are “appropriate” to online writing, images, video, etc. (trolls and flamers not withstanding). Yet, if we consider Fitzpatrick’s proposition that “we come to accept remix as a mode of scholarly authorship, a form of academic bricolage” (79 in Kindle), what then would the hybrid responses to such hybrid texts look like? Naturally, there are some blogs or other online publicity organs associated with scholarly journals that do allow for some amount of commenting, but I cannot think of any online journal in Victorian studies (my field) that does anything more than approximately reproduce the print journal format in pixelated form—they embrace a new technology without also embracing any of its other affordances in soliciting reader responses.

Fitzpatrick notes that it is “important to recognize that even if we never return to an article and revise it after it’s been published online, the article’s meaning will nonetheless shift and change depending on the ways that other writers interact with it” (71 in Kindle). She admits elsewhere that this is of course true of most texts, but with online texts there is the expectation that this sort of shifting, negotiating, and revising will not only happen, but will do so to a visible extent and under the eyes of a readership that will proceed to not only comment but sometimes even steer the conversation.

So then, a thought experiment: just for a moment imagine a combination of the scholarly/online modes of response, for instance, a scholarly article that allowed “comments” akin to the form of say, those on a YouTube video. Anyone would be able to see that so-and-so many people gave a piece a thumbs up or thumbs down, what people had to say about it specifically, as well as what conversations/conflicts it generated (whether thoughtful or not)—to a certain extent, perhaps this is what we have been doing all along in our class blog/Twitter feed. In any case, this approach would likely generate some productive comments, but might also…not (as is so often the case with even the most seemingly innocuous videos).

A Spirited Internet Debate
The future of academic discourse?

To give an example from YouTube (which happens to be oddly fitting in light of Fitzpatrick’s discussion of academic publishing as an “undead” form): in response to the “Bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one commenter going by the moniker TheFalafelRaptor responded “46 people aren’t dead yet but got thrown into the cart anyways,” which anyone who has spent any amount of time on YouTube recognizes as a fairly standard template response (taking the number of people who have given the video a thumbs down—46 in this case—and combining it with some statement that relates to the fact that these users did not align themselves with what most other people liked about the video). Yet, imagine the uproar if academic texts were treated in this way: “46 people aren’t ready to remix with Lessig.” I find myself halfway between horror and amusement at the thought.

Perhaps this type of mash-up is not quite what Fitzpatrick (or Lessig) had in mind in advocating for bricolage or remix, particularly as it pertains not only to the creation of texts. But what about responses to them? And why not?

“The Game is Afoot”: Copyright, Fanbases, and Remix Culture

Before reading Lawrence Lessig’s Remix, I already had an interest in—if not very comprehensive knowledge of—copyright law. Lessig’s book reminded me of a recent(ish) legal case involving late-Victorian literature that I followed and which prompted me to think about the ways in which ideas of copyright law and remix culture are actually framed in public discourse.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson Illustration by Sidney Paget for the story "The Greek Interpreter," which appeared in September 1893 issue of The Strand Magazine.
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Illustration by Sidney Paget for the story “The Greek Interpreter,” which appeared in September 1893 issue of The Strand Magazine.

About a year ago, Leslie S. Klinger, leading Sherlock Holmes expert and editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (a three-volume behemoth that took up quite a bit of my savings—and now quite a bit of my desk) filed a civil complaint against the Arthur Conan Doyle estate regarding the copyright status of the author’s most famous stories. Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times gave a fairly thorough summary of the proceedings in her 15 February 2013 blog post, but the main gist is that Klinger protested against what he saw as unfair licensing fees for the (“remixed”?) versions of Doyle’s characters featured in “In the Company of Sherlock Holmes,” a collection of Holmesian stories he edited. Klinger argued that “since the main characters and elements of their story derived from materials published before Jan. 1, 1923,” they were no longer under the jurisdiction of U. S. copyright law, and his “complaint asks that the court make a declaratory judgment establishing  that the basic ‘Sherlock Holmes story elements’ are in the public domain” (Schuessler). Free-Sherlock.com, not to mention innumerable fan-sites, blogs, and social media outlets followed the case eagerly, the former providing a blow-by-blow of the actions filed, cases reviewed, and results achieved.

And, lo and behold, less than a year later (27 January 2014), Klinger—at least temporarily—won his case and Sherlock Holmes officially became part of the public domain. But what does that even mean?

In a segment titled “Sherlock’s Expiring Copyright: It’s Public Domain, Dear Watson,” All Things Considered explains that “A federal judge in Chicago recently ruled that the characters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories — excluding any elements introduced in the last 10 stories released in the U.S. after 1922 — now reside in the public domain”—even though those ten stories will be available within a decade. Yet, the matter does not rest there: Doyle estate attorney William Zieske claims that a forthcoming appeal will argue “that a character, particularly a literary character, really does not become entirely formed until the author has put down his pen and finished with the last story that develops that character” (All Things Considered). If we are using Lessig’s terminology, it seems we have reached an impasse (at least in opinion) between RW and RO.

Yet, I can’t help thinking about the dedicated Holmes fan-base, which has existed since the first stories first appeared in the The Strand Magazine in the 1890s and has only grown in size and enthusiasm over the course of the twentieth century, and in the wake of popular twenty-first century adaptations  like the superb BBC modernization, Sherlock. In fact, according to Christopher Redmond’s 2009 A Sherlock Holmes Handbook, “Sherlock Holmes has appeared in more films, and been represented by more actors than any other character” (232)–that is saying something, particularly considering the broad range of interpretations, parodies, and spinoffs that have been created in almost every medium possible.

Besides these “official” adaptations, there have also been a broad range of fan-created interpretations that exist largely online (art community and forum deviantART seems to be a major breeding ground). Popular iterations include slash pairing Johnlock, gender-swapped version Femlock (with some crossover to the previous iteration), and the ever-popular turn-human-characters-into-some-sort-of-adorable-animal (Sherlock ponies are a thing).

(http://bbcsherlockftw.tumblr.com/SherlockGIFS)
Adapting/remixing: it’s what people do. (Besides die, in the original context–James Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott) from BBC “Sherlock” episode, “The Great Game”)

Often, these “remixes” are artistic/aesthetic, but there’s also plenty of fan fiction, video mash-ups, and cosplay that supplement and fuel these offshoots. Gregg Gillis’ characterization of what he does with music being “more like a game and less like a product” (15) applies here–it’s probably safe to assume that most people in this particular fandom are simply engaging in these various ways out of love rather than with the desire to “publish” or profit from their “products” outside of sharing it with other fans. The “game” is indeed afoot.

What then do we make of this sort of unofficial “remixing,” particularly in the context of the still-raging debates about what use of texts/characters is allowed in legal terms, as well by the unspoken rules of fan-created media?

(A disclaimer: my appreciation of the Sherlock Holmes canon has never prompted me to venture into the realm of creating fan art, fan fiction, or “product” of any kind–I just observe many of these iterations with some amuse-/bemusement.)