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Open Access Publications from the University of California

What contributions may literary, poetic, and aesthetic idioms of humanist inquiry -- traditionally associated with problems of lyrical expression, narrativity, linguistic subjectivity, and authorial and readerly agencies -- continue to offer to the analysis of medial practices and systems in the era of mobile, distributed, and social media? The crux of this question, we propose, lies in the specifically historical purchase of humanist method: its ability to (re)situate new symbolic practices in complex and nuanced relation to prior traditions and atavisms of expressive language and action -- in contrast to the reductively progressivist, de-historicizing impulses of much of contemporary digitalism.

Theme Leaders:
Terry Harpold, Assoc. Professor of English, Film & Media Studies, University of Florida (USA)
Lisbeth Klastrup, Assoc. Professor, Innovative Communication Research Group, IT University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
Susana Tosca, Assoc. Professor, Digital Design & Communication, IT University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

Cover page of I Smash the Body Electric: An Ethic of Digital Impact

I Smash the Body Electric: An Ethic of Digital Impact


This paper examines questions of digital autonomy from a humanist perspective. Drawing from the humanist tenet that transcendental ethical systems serve to defer personal ethics, this paper examines the ways in which game mediation undermines player autonomy, and the extent to which “destructibility” affects game spaces. Presenting a brief history of “destructibility” in games, and comparing the ramifications of “destructible” and “non-destructible” spaces, this paper argues that digital humanism requires a reassessment of virtual behavior, and a conscious move towards unmediated and unmoderated spaces, in order to draw considerations of ethics back to the individual.

Cover page of Seriality, the Literary and Database in Homestar Runner: Some Old Issues in New Media

Seriality, the Literary and Database in Homestar Runner: Some Old Issues in New Media


At the intersection between concepts of the literary and emergent forms of database aesthetics lies a contemporary model for theorizing serial production. This paper investigates the underexamined concept of seriality and the way it has been reconfigured in digital media. Using Homestar Runner as the central case study, I provide a survey of these issues surrounding the literary, database and seriality and the way they figure in this Flash website. I will then trace the propensity of electronic literature for what has been described as a technologically conditioned melancholia and relate this to the serial constructs within Homestar Runner.

Cover page of Mobile Media Poetics

Mobile Media Poetics


This paper explores literary uses of mobile media, with a particular emphasis on poetics. Its primary examples include SMS poetry contests sponsored by entities such as The Guardian, RMIT, and Onesixty and SMS-enabled public performances such as City Speak, TXTual Healing, and SimpleTEXT. The paper articulates some of the paradigmatic qualities of mobile media poetics, with a particular emphasis on liveness and ephemerality and commentary on mobility and location as signifying elements. It also suggests that some of the literary and socio-political potential of mobile media poetics can be seen in the shift from the single desktop to the mobile screens of large-scale public interaction. This investigation of mobile media poetics is situated as a partial redress to the seemingly ubiquitous worries over the decline of reading.

Cover page of Reprogramming Systems Aesthetics: A Strategic Historiography

Reprogramming Systems Aesthetics: A Strategic Historiography


This paper offers close-readings of selected literature pertaining to Burnham’s “systems esthetics,” the subject of significant scholarly attention recently. It identifies, compares, and contrasts several attempts to engage Burnham’s theories in contemporary art historical discourses, noting strategic and interpretive shifts in approaches and goals between 1997-2009. This research hopes to offer insight into current art historical practices and the processes by which history informs, and is transformed by, the present.

Cover page of Game Past/Future: Narrative and Phenomenological Time in First-Person-Shooters

Game Past/Future: Narrative and Phenomenological Time in First-Person-Shooters


In this paper, I propose a synthesis of Merleau-Ponty’s and Ricoeur’s temporal models to describe how first-person-shooters suggest human time. Merleau-Ponty’s model of phenomenological time identifies the movement generated by perception itself. Ricour’s model of narrative time seeks to bridge individual and cosmological time. Their synthesis suggests how human time is experienced in some video games as the progressive narrowing down of the possibilities embodied in a new game space, or the movement of what Merleau-Ponty calls the pre-reflective to the reflective, and Ricour calls mimemis1 to mimesis3. It further accounts for how perceptions of time experienced in games extend beyond game play itself.

Cover page of Towards an Ecology of Excess

Towards an Ecology of Excess


In this paper, I discuss three experimental projects by Peruvian artist Rolando Sanchez Ponte: a videogame installation, a biorobot performance, and an electronic sculpture. These works are discussed in relation to their formal conceptualization as forms of electronic waste recycling underscored by a poetic engagement with excess that carries broader suggestions toward thinking the relationship between difference and sustainability.

Cover page of Because It's Not There: Verbal Visuality and the Threat of Graphics in Interactive Fiction

Because It's Not There: Verbal Visuality and the Threat of Graphics in Interactive Fiction


In this paper I analyze two contemporary works of interactive fiction (IF), Nick Montfort’s Ad Verbum and Emily Short’s City of Secrets, as examples of two contrasting ways in which IF reacts to the perceived threat of computer graphics. In the postcommercial era of IF, graphics represent a factor that, without being acknowledged, has profoundly shaped the development of the medium. Post-graphical works of IF may be distinguished according to how they respond to the threat or promise of graphics. Ad Verbum’s response to graphics is to emphasize the purely textual, and thus anti-graphical and anti-visual, aspects of the medium. The implication is that IF’s closest affinities are not with visual prose but with printed works of procedural textuality, and that IF is a visual medium. By contrast, City of Secrets activates a mode of visuality that depends less on immediate presence than on emotional affect and imaginative participation. Short suggests that IF is a visual medium, but that it differs from graphical video games in that its visuality depends on absence rather than presence.

Cover page of No User Required: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Digital Humanist Inquiry

No User Required: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Digital Humanist Inquiry


This paper utilizes selections from the digital Flash poems/texts of Seoul-based art duo Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI) to try and formulate a new mode of close “reading,” one that takes into consideration the way in which these, as well as other, new media texts reconfigure the process of reading. YHCHI produces texts that raise questions regarding user agency, conceptualizations of interactivity, and even the place of the humanities scholar in the age of the digital.

Cover page of E-Ject: On the Ephemeral Nature, Mechanisms, and Implications of Electronic Objects

E-Ject: On the Ephemeral Nature, Mechanisms, and Implications of Electronic Objects


In his post on Empyre, Michael Angelo Tata coined the term, “eject.” Alluding to Walter Benjamin’s notion of an artifact generated from “the technological innovation of mechanical reproducibility,” Tata suggested that the e-ject “creates a culture industry by making culture maximally mobile, available to even the lowest social strata.” Questions raised in this statement focused on whether or not such an object is “genuine” to how one goes about “collecting” “commodif[ying], and discussing it.” This presentation extends that discussion by focusing on the ephemeral nature, genres, and criticism of electronic objects in a roundtable discussion led by members of the Electronic Literature Organization. Thus, the theorization of e-jects looks specifically at those objects that have a literary quality but that are not reproducible in print-based contexts.