Readings

There are few readings that I set that specifically deal with online or interactive video and digital media. My theoretical background is/was cinema studies and what we can call continental theory. I then found hypertext which became my entree to digital media (this predated the Internet), and from there I was an early adopter of email, gopher, academic email lists and discussion boards before the rise of graphical clients. I segued easily into HTML and then this century have been rethinking the relation of the cinematic to the digital via my understanding of hypertext.

In a nutshell I think a hypertextual link is performative (in Austin’s sense) and so a promise and an expression of force. I also think it is exactly the same thing as an edit in a film, so I regard hypertext as a post cinematic writing (I think it is premised on the model of cinema) where links and edits are the same thing. From here I moved to the idea of ‘softvideo’ which wonders what video as a material thing could and should be in a properly digital environment (that is made on a computer, edited on a computer, viewed on a computer), which is basically taking the concepts of hypertext and applying them to video. More recently I am interested in affect and what I am calling “affect engines” as a way to think about interactivity and networked curatorial systems, specifically using Deleuze’s cinematic version of Bergson’s sensory motor schema.

My readings tend to come from critical, literary and hypertext theory because these are the fields that have thought a lot about narrative in terms of actual and possible structures, readers, and what sorts of things narratives and their containers might be. On the other hand much work on online video and new media has come from a cinema and media studies background where the theoretical history has been much more about genre, varieties of identification and looking, and has been deeply influenced by the fact that cinema is a ‘lean back’ phenomenally intensive experience premised on a dedicated darkened public room to watch what even today in our screen saturated world we would have to describe as a bloody big screen. Because of this history much writing on new media misses the point, beginning from premises that don’t have very much to say about ‘lean forward’ works on small screens in personal, public and domestic spaces where the audience is individual and the works are either subject to some form of personal curation or are ergodic in operation.

I generally only use three or four key readings for a semester. I can find all sorts of pedagogical justifications for why this is legitimate, but it boils down to the sort of scholar I am. I am much more interested and excited by understanding a key text deeply than offering the illusion of covering a field, and also believe that understanding one or two basic concepts very well provides concepts, skills and understandings that have potential to be applied in other contexts. The survey approach, however, risks the thinness that comes from knowing a little about a lot. Even where students still might not get it, deep critical reading and thinking matters and is one of the places in this course where even though from the outside it all looks flat and merely surface (sketch films, lots of talking about learning, only three readings), some serious depth is pursued as we approach the readings with hermeneutic zeal.

In 2012 the core readings (which I discuss below) consisted of:
Weinberger’s “Knowledge Overload.” from Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, de Certeau’s “‘Making Do’: Uses and Tactics” from The Practice of Everyday Life, Barthes “From Work to Text.” from Image–Music–Text, and David Shields “L: Collage” from Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.

I expect to add these from 2013:
Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary, Second Edition. Second ed. Indiana University Press, 2010. Print.
Corrigan, Timothy. The Essay Film:From Montaigne, After Marker. Oxford University Press, USA, 2011. Print.

A Brief Annotated List of My Most Common Readings

Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text.” Image–Music–Text. London: Flamingo, 1977. 155–64. Print.

A classic. I like this because, well, I think university students in a media degree should learn how to read theory, and theory that performs itself in the sort of late modernist reflexive playfulness that Barthes offers. They find it hard going, and I often spend several lectures working through it. The things I usually cover are its form, that it wants to be written in a way where you can see thinking happening, rather than a logical and clear reporting of what has already been thought. That it makes no excuses for itself, and it expects the reader to have to do some work, and so performs the distinction between work and text that it is addressing. And of course the key terms of ‘work’ and ‘text’. After going through each of the definitional terms, and using as many examples as come to mind from all and everywhere (I often use examples that are grounded in the life world of the students, rather than only high art examples), we get to the interesting bits. Which is how we can use ‘work’ and ‘text’ to think about their conceptions of film and video and what a Korsakow film is. Very simply their conception and ideal practice (industrial, high production values, kick arse equipment) is to make films that conform to quite conservative assumptions about narrative and performance, and so are ‘works’ in Barthes’ terms. Korsakow, at least when embraced for what it is (a relational affect engine), is much closer to ‘text’. This distinction offers a deep intellectual structure to think about a Korsakow film and industrial media which opens up possibilities for thought rather than providing closed explanations and answers. The idea of ‘work’ and ‘text’ enables thinking with difference and change, rather than describing and thereby domesticating it. The qualities of ‘text’ are useful in thinking about how to make and view a Korsakow film and what the audience now needs to become. Finally, it is worth recognising that the majority of students do not understand ‘theory’ in the way that humanities academics do (after all I became an academic because of the pleasure I take and my ability to ‘do’ theory, the majority of my students are not doing their degree to become academics), so spending a lot of time on this, and literally doing the reading in the lecture begins to teach what theory is, and its possible roles. (This is also why lectures like this are already ‘flipped’, I don’t explain Barthes, I read it in situ thinking out loud.)

Weinberger, David. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room. Basic Books, 2012. Print.

I often use this sort of popular material (in previous year’s I’ve used other bits of Weinberger, including Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web). More recently I have used this extract to think about the impact the network and digitisation are having. I take this into areas of knowledge production, discovery and sharing, and from that extrapolate to media making and distribution. However, this one is good as it is a great way to discuss the university, our classroom and learning and my role as ‘source of answers’ versus mentor come provocateur. We work our way through it, and then, often in the following week, return to it where the information come knowledge/wisdom pyramid is critiqued. It insists on a hierarchy where there is none, and talk through how seeking information is often ends directed and also informed by knowledge at the beginning. In addition we can then see that when we make knowledge objects (write an essay for example) we move through the different levels of the pyramid all the time. Some things are down low, some are up high, so the skill is knowing how to move between these and when.

Miles, Adrian. “Softvideography.” CyberText Yearbook 2002-2003. Jyväskylän: Research Center for Contemporary Culture, 2003. 218–236. Print.
A vanity moment. One of my earlier essays on softvideo. Sometimes I teach to it, sometimes I don’t. If I use this I always show some of my small interactive video sketches and do a QuickTime Pro editing demonstration to make visible the track based, object orientated, structure of QuickTime. This is an important quality of softvideo as it is premised on the addressable granularity of media, where in video this granularity is the shot, while within softvideo it is not only shots but the tracks and parts of tracks that make up the architecture of a softvideo file.

Sherman, Tom. “Vernacular Video.” Noema: Tecnologie And Società n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. http://www.noemalab.org/sections/ideas/ideas_articles/sherman_vernacular_video.html (This is also available in Lovink, Geert, and Sabine Niederer. Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures XS4All, 2008. http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/inc-readers/videovortex/

I’ve always enjoyed this essay, partly because there is a strong affinity between the idea of a vernacular practice and the larger contexts of making that the particular style and use of Korsakow that we do falls within. However, students have often struggled with this reading as they come with no real video art or art theory experience. While they conceive of themselves as creative media makers they do so through a commercial or at least industrial lens and this is, in many respects, a very different variety of creativity to what you find in the art practice that Sherman is describing. However, with Sherman’s essay what I encourage the students to do is to substitute ‘gallery’ and ‘video art’ with ‘traditional’ or ‘industrial’ media, and then it translates well and in useful ways into the media studies context.

Miles, Adrian. “Cinematic Paradigms for Hypertext.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies. 13.2 July (1999): 217–226. Print. http://vogmae.net.au/vlog/research/cinematic-hypertext/cinematic-paradigms-for-hypertext/

Another vanity moment. An essay from last century where the argument about the isomorphic relation of hypertextual linking to cinematic editing is made. From this it is a small step to the importance of relations in these sorts of practices (hypertext, cinema, Korsakow films), to the extent where I also describe such media structures as ‘relational media’.

Douglas, J. Yellowlees. “‘How Do I Stop This Thing?’: Closure and Indeterminancy in Interactive Narratives.” Hyper/Text/Theory. Ed. George P. Landow. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1994. 159–88. Print.
Douglas, J. Yellowlees. The End of Books — Or Books Without End?: Reading Interactive Narratives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.
Douglas, Yellowlees, and Andrew Hargadon. “The Pleasure Principle: Immersion, Engagement, Flow.” Proceedings of the Eleventh ACM on Hypertext and Hypermedia. San Antonio (TX): ACM, 2000. 153–60. Print.

I usually use the essay in the Landow anthology and provide the others as optional readings. Douglas is one of the best on the role of the reader in hypertext literature and the implications of this for what the text, as an eventful object, now becomes. Unlike much of the cinema theory inspired work on readers and texts this is not trying to understand audience identification, visual pleasure, genre or realist narrative and continuity, most of which either don’t apply or are very different in small screen interactive work. Instead, it comes from a different theoretical view as the literary, perhaps oddly, is able to accommodate difference and collage much more easily than most cinema theory. This might be because cinema theory has to answer how something made up of clearly discontinuous parts can be experienced as continuous and whole. This is answered using theories of montage, realism, psychological identification, phenomenological intentionality, and so on. Literary theory however has never really had to answer that question, and so can more easily think, theoretically, about things that have always been experienced as whole are now fractured.

Shields, David. “L: Collage”. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Vintage, 2011. ebook.
This one I only discovered in 2012 and it bowled me over. It is written in a way that fits this subject in a very relevant way, all numbered short chunks, each of which (like a blog post) survives by itself as making sense but also bounces of all that surrounds it. Erudite, sophisticated, playful, didactic, ludic. The section I used on collage reads like a birds eye view of my curriculum, even down to some of the same examples! I guess I take this as further evidence that a lot of the more useful material for thinking through what it is to be a multilinear practitioner lies outside of film derived new media studies. It is easy to read and is like the Tardus, appearing small and minor but its aphoristic style unfurls as far as you like to take it.

Certeau, “‘Making Do’: Uses and Tactics.” Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. 29-42. Print.
In 2012 I used this as I like it, is seminal to cultural studies so was good for them to meet. I was also writing material that was returning to this book so threw it into the mix since teaching is far and away the best opportunity to gain a deep understanding of it. Relevance? Wasn’t sure at the start but I began with the Weinberger and then used de Certeau to critique Weinberger, and used the distinction between tactic and strategy to contextualise the subject in relation to industrial media and what I described as industrial learning (which is the students’ predominate recent experience of education.) It worked well.