Comparative Media Studies

I’d like to address the topic of Comparative Media Studies, a field N. Katherine Hayles introduces early in her 2012 book How We Think and that she revisits periodically throughout the progression of her arguments in the book.

Hayles draws on a variety of examples where Comparative Media Studies (CMS from here on) is integrated into a collegiate seminar, with varying outcomes and implications (8).  Hayles advocates CMS as a means understand and critique complex problems, as alternate strategies that, depending on circumstances, can provide new avenues for creativity, resourcefulness and ingenuity that we did not have access to with methods limited to print technologies.  If we are to accept this argument, we encounter a gap between scholars who readily engage new medias and those who hesitate to do so, or who do so in an ineffective manner.  Hayles asserts CMS as a bridge between traditional print-based scholarship fields (she references periodizations such as eighteenth century prose,   race and gender studies, post-colonial inquiries, etc) and new medias that may open up new realms of scholarship.  For example, I would argue the Assassin’s Creed franchise might occupy a similar cultural position as Robinson Crusoe in a certain lens, as fictions reflecting the values, assumptions and relations of a specific group of people. A project looking at post-colonial politics of a video game might benefit from screen recordings, sound clips, screenshots, interface examples, etc. similar to how presentations on 1920’s American culture might reference/include jazz recordings. Video scholarship is obviously a strong and growing type of criticism, but I don’t know if always carries the same institutional prestige as the published, peer-reviewed print essay.   We’re being irresponsible as scholars if we limit ourselves to the affordances of one medium, are we not?

An interdisciplinary approach affords the most flexibility, the fewest limitations and the most room for invention.  The merging of medias into a cohesive project follows the logic of Hayles’ call for a move from “content orientation of problem orientation,” more commonly found in the Digital Humanities.  She provides many benefits of this scholarship mode, such as increased collaboration, blending of skills and backgrounds, theory/practice convergences and, perhaps most convincingly, a simple plea for the “productive work of making.”  She carries these ideas forward with references to similar fields like platform studies, critical code studies, procedural rhetoric examinations and “cultural analysis” that draws insight from large datasets and databases (8).

I found ch.4 of Hayles’ to be the most stimulating, though I grew frustrated with the direction of the chapter, which introduced incredibly productive ideas (technical elements/individuals/ensembles, extended cognition, technological unconscious, neuroscience as it interacts with free-will, rewriting of neural pathways by media interfaces, the impact media saturation might have on a child’s mind…) but then generally oriented them toward an argument of temporalities, which was interesting but not exceedingly so.  She states:

“Nigel Thrift (2005) argues that contemporary technical infrastructures, especially networked and programmable machines, are catalyzing a shift in the technological unconscious, that is, the actions, expectations, and anticipations that have become so habitual they are “automatized,” sinking below conscious awareness while still being integrated into bodily routines carried on without conscious awareness” (96).

How has this changed the writing process? Hayles spends some time examining how the telegraph changed communication practices and even the concept of the human in the 19th century. Nietzsche famously commented on the impact the typewriter had on his writing, which had previously been limited to hand-writing. I’m wondering- how has the “backspace” option altered the print essay? What about flipping between web pages, the instant accessibility of data (Google searches). How do they impact an individual’s conception of language, an individual’s attention span, their working memory?  Hayles points to faster image processing and more complicated narrative structures as two possible outcomes, along with the hyper reading discussed in ch. 3, but there are surely more.  Let’s speculate- an increased desire to share (such as on social media platforms); a reconfiguration of relationship and companionship dynamics (instead of talking about a problem, posting about it on Facebook); an increased ability to juggle multiple information streams; an increased likelihood to instantly dismiss something without thinking about it (such as a pop-up ad); new objects of sentimentality (becoming attached to a Neopet or Pokemon); an increased exposure to foreign ideas.  How has memory, which Proust tells us is a deeply unconscious act, been changed by social media? What about memory as a rhetorical canon of persuasion, argumentation, communication? What about Google Earth, the interface Hayles mentions in ch. 6, altering our sense of place, space, even our sense of direction, size and our relationship to foreignness?

Aristotle, Political Platforms and the “Good”

Today was a tremendously difficult day for me.  I’m still in a state of utter disbelief.  I in no way want to be dismissive of anyone’s opinions in this post, but I’d like to comment on our new president-elect’s reliance on “uneducated” voters this election season.  I don’t wish to equate intelligence directly with a college education, though exposure to ideas for a sustained period through university-level reading, viewing and discussion certainly lends itself well to this direction.  I want instead to refer back 2,000 years to Aristotle, the immortal Greek philosopher, and a very brief definition he provides that I think we can learn a lot from in 2016.

Aristotle argues in his Rhetoric how things that are “good,” which he spends quite a bit of time explaining and detailing, are in part defined by “what knowledge and understanding will declare them to be” (26).  Our nation has plenty of uneducated people with substantial intelligences and just as many educated people without it.  There’s a clear statement made, however, when divisions like this one occur.  According to the Pew Research Center:

“In the 2016 election, a wide gap in presidential preferences emerged between those with and without a college degree. College graduates backed Clinton by a 9-point margin (52%-43%), while those without a college degree backed Trump 52%-44%. This is by far the widest gap in support among college graduates and non-college graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980.”

How are we to take it when something like education, a clear and fairly objective indication of “knowledge and understanding” points so clearly toward the losing candidate?  Unless you’re arguing education itself is a misleading signifier, I don’t know what else to say about this implication other than that when things like “knowledge and understanding” point toward one political platform over another, perhaps that is the one an intelligent and well-informed society should be following.

I don’t care about a candidate’s personality nearly as much as I care about their position on public policy.  How is it that we continue denying things like SCIENCE and RATIONALITY in 2016 in regards to climate change?

Do you feel our society well-informed? I could write a book on this, and perhaps I will.

I don’t think a Trump victory is a total loss for progressives in the US, but it reveals quite a bit about our makeup as a society.  Maybe we’ve forgotten the value of things that “knowledge and understanding” seem to place the most value on.



For reference and citation:

NaNoWriMo 2016

This year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) is in full swing, and I’m working hard toward the 50,000-word goal for the 30 days of writing.  I’ve got a major advantage, as I’ve been working on a project for a few months now, off-and-on, and had about 20,000 words prior to the month’s beginning.

In Syracuse, we unfortunately don’t have many coffee shops open after 9:00p.m. or so, my preferred time to write.  I teach during the morning, and afternoons have never been a productive time for me.  If I’m not in Recess, a coffee shop in Syracuse’s Westcott neighborhood, you can bet I’m in Bird Library on the Syracuse University campus typing away. I wish I were more of a morning person, and I’ve forced myself into this habit in the past, but it just hasn’t been in the works for me, lately.

I’m about 26,000 words into my novel If We Deny History, which covers a family still reeling from their oldest son and brother’s suicide and egregious act of violence.  Julian, the main character, grapples with the similarities he sees in himself with his older brother as he graduates college and explores the world with his friend Talal, a young man who is addicted to prescription drugs and has to confront his own family’s heritage and past.  All the while, father Gavin works as a government lobbyist in Boston and Washington D.C., sister Galia travels to Columbia on a WWOOFing mission, and mother Susan confronts her own life, spirituality and place in the world after finding out she has breast cancer.

All these stories converge as each person’s life and drama spins madly on- randomly, accidental, aimless.

Don’t wish me luck– these things are all about dedication.  You have to just sit down and write, each and every day.  Get something down.  That’s what’s tough about writing… it’s not anywhere near as much fun as it seems.