What is media-specific analysis? (Cameron)
Katherine Hayles defines media-specific analysis as “a mode of critical attention which recognises that all texts are instantiated and that the nature of the medium in which they are instantiated matters” (67). Until the digital age, print has been seen merely as a vehicle for delivering content. The various methods of textual representation offered by digitisation has illuminated the need scrutinise “the medium in which [the content is] instantiated” as part of the ‘text.’
Writers are experimenting with the highly “mutable and transformable” (79) forms that digital media cultivate. Some digital texts try to eliminate the medium on which the text is displayed (eg. iPad app that imitates a page turn, attempting to replicate the aesthetics of reading a physical book). Yet some are aware, and embrace, themselves as a digital medium (hypertexts utilizing the possibilities of digitisation). The rise of self-aware media has shed light on the importance of materiality, opening the door for media-specific analysis. The interplay between physicality and content has become an important part of textual understanding.
Analogue Age, Digital Texts (James)
On p.16 of ‘Print is Flat, Code is Deep’, Hayles notes that we have a tendency to miscategorise texts as analogue or digital. There seems to be an assumption that anything before c.1950 has to be analogue and anything after might (or, depending on your theoretical view, must) be digital. In fact, as she argues, there are whole artistic movements and mediums which are inherently (more) digital rather than analogue. If we take, as she does, the view that the essential distinction between the two is discrete rather than continuous use of data, then we might start to see some major canonical artists and work quite differently…
Remember a time before the computer where everything was lovely and pre-digital? Well, this is The Eiffel Tower (1889) by the fin-de-siècle French post-impressionist Georges Seurat. Seurat is famous for co-founding pointilism, the technique whereby an image is created not through the blending of colour (making an effort to hide the artifice of the picture and attempt reality, the aim of most Western painting since the late-medieval era) but through the assembly of individual marks of paint. Whilst the obviousness of this varies (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, for example, is so large that you have to get up close to really notice) the key component is the same – discrete categorisation.
Remember that phase in GCSE art where everyone wanted to do Lichtenstein? Apart from reminding people of comic books (and for students our age this was coinciding with the beginning of the superhero blockbuster boom) he was easy to emulate because everything was in block colours – no need to shade or anything like that. In fact, the more tech-savy people did their projects on Photoshop – and that’s partly because pop art such as this, Drowning Girl (1963), also works on a discrete distinction between what is and isn’t a certain colour. Josef Alber’s Homage to the Square: With Rays (1959)… okay, you get the idea.
Of course, this does raise the question of whether there is such a thing as an entirely discrete entity at all. Can’t we, following post-structuralism, always deconstruct further the distinctions we make? Whilst something might appear discrete to the human eye, might a powerful microscope reveal a subtle gradient? Are the concepts of ‘continuous’ and ‘discrete’ placed in a false binary opposition, and things we label discrete are actually just less continuous than others?
Holograms (erin m)
I want to expand a bit upon this idea of the artist’s self-awareness in relation to his use of medium. I’m not actually going to look at texts but at art, specifically the hologram. Holograms basically work by splitting the direct light wave of a laser beam in two over an object and onto a glass plate covered in emulsion. Currently, there are groups aiming to legitimize holography as a medium for artistic production.
Banks Violette’s Tristar Horse
The show is a running horse similar to the beginning of the TriStar movies. It gallops endlessly, suspended in vapour. The familiarity of the image is then made uncanny, as the projection glitches.
Harry Sanderson’s ἅπτω(haptics)
Interested in haptic feedback, which is technology that augments video games and appliances with a sense of touch, Sanderson uses holographic projections combined with an impulse and invitation to reach into the image, initiating sonic responses when the image is touched. His aim is to defamiliarise the audience with the world of digital images in which now we feel so at home.
These artists in particular use familiar content but warp it. Holograms offer the audience an opportunity to cheat death (like the Tupac hologram) and explore temporal and spatial shifts. So media specific analysis is important in this way because these artists are actually using the medium to create something quite uncanny. It is necessary for the holographers to consider the content as embodied in order to unsettle the audience. Cecile B Evans, American artist based in Berlin, says that “holograms are a logical manifestation of the desire to see the digital imprinted in the physical world. Our eyes are more trained towards accepting digital images and so our minds are more able to support the illusions.” By embracing the digital medium of the hologram, then subverting expectations, holographers are acutely aware of the possibilities their art medium holds. Media-specific analysis, therefore, is essential.
Engaging With Electronic Literature (Chris)
As a regular user of the Amazon Kindle, I have much experience using and engaging with electronic texts and in particular ebooks. There are perhaps two distinct differences between ebooks and regular literature, the first being the physicality of the object. Whereas, for example, to carry around Tolstoy’s 1000 page plus classic War and Peace would be awkward, and perhaps difficult for the hand to hold, the kindle’s light, slim design makes the task comparatively easier.
Moreover, The Complete Works of Tolstoy (http://tinyurl.com/9bnr8nw) to continue the example, can be stored as a 12mb ebook file, roughly twice the size of a single high quality mp3 track. This in itself takes up roughly 0.5% of the last generation 2gb Kindle, or 0.1% of the new 8gb Kindle Fire. Effectively, whole libraries can be carried around in something that resembles the physical size of a small novella.
The second distinction to make is the ease of access ebooks provide. Dismissing the simple distribution service Amazon offers itself, most ebooks come fully loaded with embedded hyperlinks to make navigating the book an easy process. A single button click can lead the user immediately to a desired chapter, reference or section without any hassle, a tool that makes navigating texts, particularly with those with large bibliographies or lists much easier. Similarly, the user can make use of a simple search function, as well as dictionaries, highlighters and notes engage with the text.
However whilst I clearly praise the kindle, I have found that I would not (currently) abandon print altogether. Like most mediums in its infancy it has its fair share of problems and criticism, and a large majority of ‘purists’ will continue to value real paper and ink over any digital counterpart (http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2009/06/the_newspaper_isnt_dead_yet.html). A major issue I have found with electronic literature is what to do with it after you have consumed it. Like many people after reading a book that you feel you won’t read again, I will pass it onto a friend, donate it to charity (check out Exeter’s book cycle if you haven’t already http://www.book-cycle.org/) or sell it. This simply cannot be achieved with electronic literature for a whole host of reasons mostly to do with licensing.
Similarly, whilst the kindle can accommodate some pictures (black and white and normally quite badly formatted) it simply doesn’t compare to glossy, colour picture in a well crafted, high quality book.
To summarise, my experience has been one of ease and practicality, but one that highlights how electronic literature cannot fully encompass all aspects of printed texts.