Tag Archives: Simulacra

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the surface of digital aesthetics, but I hope that by limiting my focus to a particular digital archive that deals in historical documents (rather than looking at website or digital book design more broadly), I will be able to draw some reasonable conclusions.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?
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Eating on the Wall

So I tend to go out to eat a lot, particularly when I end up back in Philadelphia (even if I’m there for only an hour and this is why). This is one of those central things my significant other and I agree upon, though I do sometimes frustrate her with my constant desire to eat a whole meal at literally any time of day.

As of the first paragraph, I’m actually doing that right now. For atmosphere, put this on in another tab, wait through the ad and the promo (because apparently noise can’t sell itself), and then come back. We can pretend to be in a coffeeshop together.

You done? Okay. Fiddle with the volume. I can wait. Ignore the sidebar–Youtube is trying to distract you with paid content.

All the time in the world here.
All the time in the world here.

Anyway, full disclosure: the S.O. uses Instagram (and no I don’t have the link to her profile). Her fascination with Instagram has made her a rather good photographer, doubtlessly in some small part due to a family tradition of taking artful pictures all the time. This practice extended to our frequent mealtimes, and created a ritual I have come to call Saying Hipster Grace. It this daily ritual, the adherents await the presentation of the meal, at which point the participants make a ritual ablution with their phones, where they aggressively rearrange the table to get all the food in frame and then use their cell phones to take a picture.

The food then begins to cool as they select filters and post to Instagram. A sigh of satisfaction signals the end of the ritual, as the picture uploads and the phone goes away.

My being rather agnostic about Saying Hipster Grace (I refuse to get baptized into Instagram, and just store pictures of good meals on my phone) is uncharacteristic and difficult to explain. In Standage’s terms, where we’re all Romans running down to the dock to get our mail (26), I’m the literate plebe that taught himself how to swim. I need data, all the time, and as many of you found out today, I’m constantly trying to keep my social media presence organized.

But I just won’t share my frankly spectacular meals on social media. Something about that just seems like oversharing, like Cicero tweeting from the restroom. And this makes me meditate on Standage’s assertions throughout Writing on the Wall that social media has, in some form, “been around for centuries” (250)–and I agree, it certainly has, even if sometimes his history chaffed the postcolonialist in me for being really traditional, Eurocentric and a bit self-fulfilling. But I can’t help but think that, as Standage himself notes, there’s something a little different this time around (239), something more pervasive, and more centralized (248).

My S.O.’s picture of cinnamon bun french toast from two days ago on Instagram was linked by 49 people in 4 hours, and by noon had been incorporated into the restaurant’s online marketing presence, all without her explicit permission. Like Cicero’s letters, she’s happy to have it reproduced and used (the dish was lovely, after all, and the attention is her gift to the restaurant), but unlike Cicero’s letters, her social media is being used for a pretty thoroughly centralized, wholly commercial end. This is Facebook Corporation via Instagram, not Cicero’s scribe, and breakfast ads don’t usually save the Roman Republic from ruin. Something is different here, but I’m not sure it’s just corporate centralization (one of Standage’s constant perils).

Super-Serious.
Super-Serious.

I take pictures of my best meals because I want to remember them, not to share them. I get the impression I’m carrying around a model of “what is important information” that Standage might attribute to the broadcast media age–that magically approved authorities like CNN (which constantly posts pictures of food) have a greater claim to talk about their lunch than I do. Sponsored results like the ones at the top right of the Youtube video I’m having you listen to, and the annoying voice-over at the beginning of the video, perpetuate this broadcast-privilege model of importance–the business that provides this service has more authority to sponsor or review than the average user, despite my profligate linking to things I like. Despite Standage’s closing note, I still feel like I have to “squeeze through the bottleneck of broadcast media” (250) despite not actually being dis-enabled from having that scale of web presence. This rebirth of social media is having some trouble shaking off its broadcast media phase, like a horrible Nazi-connected (202-203) puberty that has left its marks. That might be why a lot of people (and the language of twitter, with “followers”) imagine a me-as-central-broadcaster-to-audience model of social media, even though the constant desire for response and “likes” (and followers talking back) shows how this is different and interactional.

I guess, to declare my independence from broadcast-media thinking, I should take and post a picture of the cappuccino I was drinking in Elixr as I wrote that last paragraph, but I logged out the coffeeshop without logging in to take a picture.