Abstract for “BH + DH: Book History & Digital Humanities” Conference

So here’s a new thing I thought I’d try: Instead of simply sending off abstracts to conferences and waiting in equal parts silence and anticipation, I might as well share my idea on here first, and see what sort of feedback I get.

When Marshall McLuhan wrote his groundbreaking work of media theory The Gutenberg Galaxy over a half-century ago in 1962, humanity had only just begun to explore space the year prior, and was still a ways away from our first giant leap toward the steady footing of the moon. At the time, computers were still conceived as monolithic, massive, and maniacal, much like the artificial intelligence HAL (one small step typographically to the left from IBM) in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Viewed from the vantage of the iPhone epoch and the dawn of digital sociality, scholars interested in the intersection of Western cultural history and media theory should begin to look anew and askance on McLuhan’s foundational text, which is decidedly, in form and content, a book about books. In my brief presentation—tentatively entitled “Beyond The Galaxy & Through the Babbage Black Hole”—I will return to McLuhan’s elementary insight that “the medium is the message” to interrogate the emergence of novel subjectivities in a post-print, ebook era. Putting McLuhan in conversation with the work of cyberneticians and computer scientists, I will suggest that digital networks no longer support the linearity and self-consciousness that characterize a traditional humanist subject structured by book technologies; rather, insofar as new media are organized by acephalic feedback and entropic communication, so too are (post)human networks, in terms both of the social and the individual.

Update: This abstract was accepted.

 

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Abstract for “Strange Bedfellows” Conference

So here’s a new thing I thought I’d try: Instead of simply sending off abstracts to conferences and waiting in equal parts silence and anticipation, I might as well share my idea on here first, and see what sort of feedback I get even before I get an official reply.

For more than a half century, the Turing test has remained the dream of computer programmers and AI researchers; though if phenomenologists like Hubert Dreyfus are right, it is a wish perhaps never to be fulfilled, since technology lacks the affective concerns of a contextualized body (a position mirrored in the paranoia surrounding murderous AI in contemporary media like Ex Machina). Writing at the intersection of computer science and cybernetics on one side, with psycho- and schizoanalysis on the other, my brief intervention—tentatively titled “The Rhetorical Enigma: Turing, Tropes, Technê”—questions such humanistic presuppositions by arguing that, just as the word “digital” suggests, any definitive gap separating the binary from the bodily, the material from the abstract is overdrawn. Paraphrasing Jacques Lacan’s statement about the body’s inextricable relationship to speech, I contend that “hardware is software arising as such,” that neither is primordial nor uninfected by the Other. Furthermore, the point echoes the claim of actor-network theorists like Bruno Latour that technologies are always already prescribed by the hopes of their designers, fantasies built into what I call the “digital unconscious” of our modern media ecology. Accordingly, my paper challenges disciplinary norms that separate “hard” sciences like computer engineering from “soft” sciences like psychoanalysis, arguing for their linguistic and compositional underpinnings as forms of technê rather than epistêmê. As such, I contend that both computer engineering and psychoanalysis are better understood as forms of rhetoric than as sciences, as alternative practices of writing and tropic syntax. Ultimately, then, my paper rereads the Turing test beyond the imagined golden standard for AI programming, and instead as a rhetorical performance that measures persuasiveness—not in an attempt to convince users that some artificial being is intelligent like a human, but to demonstrate that even human intelligence is always already somewhat artificial.

Abstract for “Forms of Feeling” Conference

So here’s a new thing I thought I’d try: Instead of simply sending off abstracts to conferences and waiting in equal parts silence and anticipation, I might as well share my idea on here first, and see what sort of feedback I get even before I get an official reply.

In a recent series of essays, philosophers Steven Shaviro and Graham Harman have suggested that a question of aesthetics defines the affective relation between objects, including any special distinction given to the subject. That is to say, in the affective ontology of ordinary experience, the immediate prehension of others, individuals are caught in a whirligig (to use Gerard Genette’s term) between interactions felt as being either sublime or beautiful, withdrawn or multiplicious. In my short intervention—tentatively entitled “Objects of Intensity: The Desire for the Sublime, the Drive for the Beautiful”—I analyze the contemporary aetheticization of everyday life as a process involving unconscious remediation by digital technologies caught between that traditional dichotomy, from the ubiquity of earbuds streaming a sense of outward privacy but inward plurality to the filtering and archiving of experience via Instagram. My claim is that we relate to our physical media—the screens and wires that, when working, are practically invisible—as objects of affect, as “a cluster of promises” (to use Lauren Berlant’s phrase) that we typically analyze for content rather than for the means by which media always in-form the symbolic unconscious, influencing any interpretation. Such objects, of course, are neither apathetic nor psycho-socially neutral, but instead tend toward certain forms of intensity, certain modes of the aesthetic, over others; accordingly, I follow the work of communications scholar Jodi Dean to suggest that digital media objects favor the beautiful over the sublime, or, in psychoanalytic parlance, the drives over desire.