Monday, October 15, 2012

Entry 8: I Hope I Don't Get In Trouble For This

Marcel O'Gorman's E-Crit was an interesting read. In many ways it reminded me of Slatin and Selfe's arguments for a study of the digital humanities as a new medium of discourse with new rules and outcomes rather than simply copy/pasting the same old print-oriented methodologies of written text. Where Selfe was focused on pedagogy and Slatin and Lanham were more interested in hypertext as changing the act of creating texts, O'Gorman seems more interested in academic theory and scholarship. His overall thesis is best summarized when he states: “As Guillory reveals in his introduction, Cultural Capital is not really about canon formation…Rather than joining the debate about what should and shouldn't be canonized, he turns to what he calls the ‘impense of the debate’, namely the category of literature itself…and the capital value of literary study in a techno-scientific culture. Guillory suggests that the canon is nothing more than a product of the scholarly imaginary, and that the debate points essentially to a crisis in the humanities wrought by a fetishistic clinging to traditional concepts of literature and scholarship” and “…this study is more concerned with the category of ‘academic writing’ which is the primary vehicle for mediating the ‘imaginary structures’ of higher education…This study, however, asks how writing becomes scholarship and it does so not only by examining the practices and structures of the academic apparatus, but also by imagining a new method of scholarly writing (hypericonomy) and a new curricular strategy (Electronic Critique).” (5) Essentially, he argues that academic writing needs to adapt to the new possibilities afforded by the digital humanities to expand its scholarship into newer, more postmodern styles of analysis (which involve the personal and the poetic) rather than endlessly repeating the factory-like reproduction of the same old texts. He also argues that visuals are the new primary communication in our culture, and that academia has been woefully slow to even admit this:

“If indeed we are in the thralls of a hypervisual, picture-oriented, digital age, then a scholarly discourse suitable to such an age must accept not only poststructuralism as prior knowledge, but also the fact that technologies of representation have induced a pictoral turn in our culture” (25).

So, in an effort to work in the frame that O'Gorman envisions, I'm going to spend the rest of this blog post posting some relevant quotations from the text, as well as visuals representing my reactions to them. So as to not seem academically lazy, however, I'll summarize my position here. I agree for the most part with his arguments that digital culture offers new ways to approach every aspect of the humanities, including critical theory, and that the "official" realm of academic discourse seems stodgy and redundant in comparison. His overall assertion that the writing style privileged by the "Republic of Scholars" doesn't really lend itself to new, original thought, and their (supposed) resistance to any flairs for the poetic or personal doesn't help anybody in an age when texts are becoming increasingly visual. We do need to help prepare people to engage critically with visual texts so they are not bamboozled by advertising or other forms of non-verbal manipulation. That said, I feel like this went too far in a postmodern direction, and that some basic structures from "traditional" academic discourse is needed to properly communicate to an audience, whether that audience is made up of a board of O'Gorman's much maligned publishing referees, or a wider audience of students. Even digital texts need coherent structure. Plus I feel like a lot of this argument was steeped in resentment, which made some of his conclusions hard to take seriously. For example, when he said “This speculative imaging, I’m sure you will agree, is far too complex for the written word, and provides a regrettable insistence on the failure of language” (26) I feel like that only proved a failure of HIS language rather than language as a whole. 

Incidentally, here was my reaction.
Overall I feel that O'Gorman has some keen observations on the state of academia and the promise of digital humanities towards critical scholarship, but the direction he takes these observations here is either too presumptuous, too postmodern, or too vague to make practical use of. I may find more to sink my teeth into in future chapters, but for now here are my gut reactions to his various arguments and examples. Now, on with the show.

“Even so…those who seek to liberate the remainder will face political resistance, ideological dismissal, and even personal denigration.” (5)

The Digital Humanist?
“Once this discrepancy is recognized on a large scale, then the digital-centric standards of evaluation will be applied to essays submitted to supposedly digital-centric journals. But until that recognition is realized, academia is faced with an inevitable anachronism” (9)

“To put it in the bluntly economic terms of Katherine Hayles, we are in a situation of ‘too many critics, too few texts,’ and the result has not been innovation, but repetition, recycling and reduction” (21)

“It should not come as a surprise that the overwhelming majority of scholarly Web sites are merely Web-based translations of printed journals, designed according to the print-centric logic of the hard-copy versions” (9).
“Remediating the canon requires a concerted focus on the materiality of writing, and not on the writers themselves” (11). 

“A pictures tends to speak with less authority than words; it is not subject to the same, rigid rule-set, and therefore it is more capable of generating divergent cognitive responses from the viewer…Still, pictures seem to possess a greater propensity for facilitating remainder-work, and for generating divergent responses. This fact is well understood in the work of advertising” (12)

“The existence of culturally determined mental sets provides advertisers with a means of creating ads that will target a specific audience and insure a predictable emotional response…But the most successful advertising strategies are able to insert their own images into the audience’s mental set. The Nike symbol, primordial archetype of everything athletic, is a case in point – an exercise in the corporate manipulation of human pattern recognition” (30).

“I would argue that it may be possible to teach creativity by providing individuals with an apparatus for knowledge-building that allows them to maintain access to a more diverse range of information” (14)

“The Republic of Scholars, with its faith in transparent language, scientific proof, and the text-based, linear, sequential essay provides the methodology and discourse for all who wish to maintain affiliation with the academic apparatus” (24). 

“The process of reading text or pictures involves various physical and mental operations, some of which the reader may not always be aware. In order to withstand the image bombardment being deployed in the current mediascape, readers and viewers must possess a means of filtration that will allow them to consciously organize visual information and arrange it into manageable patterns…But in order to develop such an apparatus, it seems that a reader must dismiss the notion of transparent communication and accept the impossibility of a universal perspective” (31)

Before the ellipses...and after.

“The electronic tools only account for a portion of the new apparatus. In truth we do not know exactly how to use these tools in a way that will adequately serve our need of inventing a new discourse…One alternative might be to design our own (non-electronic) software, or our own discursive approaches based on models provided by methodological inventors of discourse in our cultural history” (42)

“Of course, unwieldy graphical representation would never make its way through the cogs of the current academic apparatus except in very rare cases…But those who lack such academic notoriety (let alone the generous financial backing of a lucrative press) should not shrink from at least conjecturing about graphic strategies” (26)

“By focusing on pictures in a new mode of scholarly discourse, I am not necessarily recommending a radical revolution but, in some ways, a restoration of a holistic humanities-spurred formal experimentation in the ‘sister arts’” (36).

In sum: Overall I agreed.


  1. I agree with you completely when you said that “I feel like this went too far in a postmodern direction, and that some basic structures from "traditional" academic discourse is needed to properly communicate to an audience.”

    Texts are texts, right? If there is one thing that studying multimodality should afford the learner it’s that. Texts are everywhere, and for a scholar so bent on proving the equal (actually, superior) worth of digital texts it was a bit alarming to see him float so far down postmodernist road that he actually seemed to attack/devalue other texts.

    I posted this on Matt’s blog as well, and I’m glad that the both of you point this out too, but O’Gorman is just plain angry. He does little to soften his tone thus far, which I think does him a real disservice. As you point out, “it was hard to take him seriously”. Just as it’s hard to take the extreme “left” or the extreme “right” seriously in the political world, it’s hard to take O’Gorman seriously here. In other words, his message would have been a lot more powerful, at least to me, if it was one of inclusion rather than exclusion or one of claiming superiority while dragging colleagues through the dirt.

    For the most part, I hate animated gifs, but I have to admit you selected some pretty effective choices. Overall, I really enjoyed your post!


  2. Jacob -

    Thanks for the entertaining and engaging post!

    I agree with you and Adam in that I think O'Gorman's attitude is stinking up his text. I do hope he tones it down a bit in later chapters, because as it is, I'm having a hard time making myself care about what he has to say. Do you think his argument would be less convoluted had he been able to present in a non-linear way? (I have my doubts).

    PS - I'm fairly certain the "electronic tool" he is searching for looks like this:

    A m y

    1. Haha, thanks for adding to the reference! But really, it seems like he WAS calling for us to invent a sonic screwdriver: a magical pedagogical tool that can do anything we need it to do in any number of situations. Does anyone know what he actually wants?

      I think his argument is actually pretty simple: "Don't just write in print, dude!" I just think he complicates it with this semi-Derridian style of deliberate obfuscation. Like when he talks in chapter 3 about the "mystory" and "popcycle" and "puncepts" that helped him write about Blake, I found myself shouting "That's PRE-WRITING! You're talking about PRE-WRITING" at my book.

      I think I may have just betrayed some of my own bad attitudes.