Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

Ineffective affective labour

In an email from a colleague at another university is a telling sentence about mergers, politics, resignations, appointments. I saw Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules in a very nice Queen St West (Toronto) bookstore yesterday. Speaking to people in other large organisations it is obvious that the maelstrom of mediocre rearranging of parts is not the preserve of universities, and is now what the managerial milieu is. I’ve never read a thing on this stuff, though might have a look at the Graeber, but the continual rearranging of parts into new arrangements, combined with ways to quantify and proceduralise practice, is that what happens to managerial labour when staff are autonomous enough (with all our new resources and tools) to not need, well, managing? In other words just as media, information, and the rest have moved from economies of scarcity to one of plenty (and so our practices move from patronage – of being a student to the institution and so on – to discovery and curation) the same has applied to management — I don’t need to see anyone to change where my pay goes, apply for leave, put in sick leave, request and pay for travel, set up a class, set readings, find the rules and regulations for …. Management then moves to its version of meta–management: tracking and arranging. (Remembering that it is now claimed that 1 in 10 people employed in Australia are now employed to measure and ensure the maintenance of these compliance regimes.)

There’s something biological about it, a sort of system level response where labour (at all levels no doubt) is atomised and co-joined in ways where the materiality of connection is through flows and signals (email, virtual meetings, shared URLs, google docs, blackboard, etc) and so the organisation, in some need to render visible (and not just to manage it, that’s a consequence of this other thing) invents protocols (rules and policies) and elaborate (because we can do it all differently the machines must become elaborate to introduce Latourian mediaries that aren’t supposed to interrupt flow, merely police it). The problem is that for all of us who experience this (and it is at every level, I’m sure the head of the university does too as the federal government develops yet another regulatory framework) it not only does interrupt, it becomes the work.

Storys and Parasites

The beginning of my Visible Evidence talk. Perhaps too much back story, but a bit of colour might go a long way to hiding the cracks. (And now that Mark is working on Storyspace, I’m rather keen to return to it.)

At a conference in Melbourne in 1991 I had an epiphany. I was in the then new medical lecture theatre having trooped across a busy highway from the usual conference venue because it was the doctors who had a data projector, and, a computer. The speaker, from a liberal arts college in upstate New York, showed Storyspace, a hypertext authoring and reading program. This was two years before Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, and coincided with the first version of HTML, the mark up language that the web relies on. Storyspace allowed writing in an associative, multilinear way. You could link from word, phrase, sentence, node, to word, phrase, sentence, or node. A word or phrase, anything really, unlike what happened with HTML, could have multiple links, so if something was related to three ideas you simply made three links from the same phrase.

The epiphany? This mirrors how I think, the way ideas and things are always densely intertwingled, entangled, implicated promiscuously by each other. I have always struggled, with invisible horrible difficulty, with writing, and its tidy introductions, polite serial this then that capped by a well crafted conclusion that teleologically appears inevitable, collecting the previous pieces into a white picket fenced whole (snipping off the bits, discretely, that might hang over).

Links in hypertext are not navigational. They express affinity, agreement, elaboration, disagreement, confusion, relation, relevance, contrariness, and connection. Writing here is a live laboratory of thinking in practice because the links made in the act of writing establish the relations that create structure and this structure emerges in the very act of writing. Links create an epistemological structure that does not precede their writing, and the shape of what is formed, the network of relations that emerges, is never known in advance. This by the way is a Latourian actor–network.

From this I learned that links create multiple relations between parts, that writing done this way could still make knowledge claims, and that links emerged iteratively and generatively in the act of writing. I also learned that for this to happen I had to surrender some of my agency and to trust in this surrendering. I learned that ideas are things that are obstinate, and this is their pleasure and right for they have their own agency, quite apart from me, and that as things they have different ways, different facets, through which they can be interconnected.

This is why I am sympathetic to and an advocate for programs like Korsakow. Storyspace relies on links, and Korsakow keywords, and both require you to work inside of their procedural milieu’s where control over form and relation and pattern, the sort of control that writers and filmmakers have traditionally exercised with fascist finesse, must be surrendered. In other words, you learn how to listen to things, whether they be words, ideas, videos, or bits of the world.

For me this describes, fundamentally, a nonfiction practice if for no other reason than the elements being worked with retain autonomy and agency, a discreteness, that gives them a recalcitrant thinghood. It is this agency of things in the world world, quite apart from my intent, that I want to argue for in relation to interactive documentary. The generative, procedural possibilities that interactive documentary offers have affinities to the world that make it distinct from those that story and narrative and representation offers. It is not that we should not use stories in interactive documentary, but that we are colonisers of interactive documentary via story. I am not sure I know how to say this simply or clearly, however, if the world is made of things with agency in their own right, and, if particular ways of making procedural, generative multilinear works also allow things to retain their agency, then we have a possible nonfiction practice and form that adopts, at least to some extent, the points of view of the world. [Note the divergence from orthodoxy here, agency is not the work or the user but things.]

For today’s talk I will take this dense multilinearity, the way that parts are allowed to find and form multiple relations amongst themselves, as a key affordance of interactive documentary. [Note that interactivity is here a consequence of multilinearity, not the other way around.] Such multilinearity is not teleological, emerges through its doing, and allows its parts to have more agency and autonomy than stories generally allow.

[And the point of the anecdote? That hypertext is made up of self contained notes that are put into relation with each other. Just like cinema. So hypertext, is a post–cinematic writing and interactive documentary, as multilinear systems negotiating self contained parts are also varieties of post–cinematic writing.]

Errors 101

I’m currently on research leave. This isn’t a sabbatical. We don’t do sabbaticals. Research leave is competitive so I had to make an outcomes based case for why I was deserving. I have to produce quite a lot of outcomes — the process is akin to a silent auction. The error I have made is that I committed to the Visible Evidence conference, which I fly out for early tomorrow. I’m giving a paper and also organised a roundtable on interactive documentary. What has happened is pretty much the previous three weeks have been dominated by the trip. Bookings, sorting travel, accommodation, money. Writing papers, slides. It is one of those moments where the work expands to fill the time. You want to try to have a good paper, it is an important conference, you’re travelling for around 24 hours each way to be there, you sort of want to make it count. But with the three weeks worrying about it, the nearly 8 days away, returning on a Wednesday morning where you know not much will be done for the rest of the week as you wait for your body to rejoin you, it becomes a 4 week hole in my research leave. Yes, I’m doing research, but these aren’t the outcomes I said I would do. You can tell I’m stressed, can’t you?

Interactive Doco at VE in Toronto

This is my list of the panels that seem to have something about interactive documentary/new media at Visible Evidence in a couple of weeks, gleaned from the current schedule. Let me know if I’ve missed someone. It’s attached as a pdf, embedded here as a graphic, because I’m not going to write a pile of HTML table tags….

PDF of Interactive Doco Stuff

Matters of Concern and Interactive Documentary

Matters of Concern and Interactive Documenary is a working paper of mine that is the beginnings of a project to think about new materialism in the context of interactive documentary. It is coming from a desire to ‘think’ the materiality of interactive/multilinear practices/things, as well as what might become a poetics of engaging with the world (nonfiction/doco) that is not story or narrative based. (Stories seem to be an enormous correlationist conceit on our behalf…)

By the way, ‘matters of concern’ is from Latour.

Graduate Class in Toronto

I’ve been invited by the inestimable Seth Feldman (York) to work with his graduate students one morning before this year’s 2015 Visible Evidence conference in Toronto. The aim (I think) was to use my work as the basis for it. <vanity warning> So I’m asking everyone to read:</vanity warning>

Dovey, Jon, and Mandy Rose. “We’re Happy and We Know It: Documentary, Data, Montage.” Studies in Documentary Film 6.2 (2012): 159–173.

Miles, Adrian. “Materialism and Interactive Documentary: Sketch Notes.” Studies in Documentary Film 8.3 (2014): 205–220.

Miles, Adrian. “Matters of Concern and Interactive Documentary: A Methodological Aside”. Unpublished manuscript.

Miles, Adrian. “Interactive Documentary and Affective Ecologies.” New Documentary Ecologies Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses. Ed. Kate Nash, Craig Hight, and Catherine Summerhayes. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 67–82.

And to look at one of Jonathan Harris’ The Whale Hunt, We Feel Fine (with Sep Kamvar), and Cowbird.


The writing schedule and word count says it is time to stop drafting and to begin editing. The logic of the thinking, and the gaps and theoretical lapses that are there mean I need to keep writing. At the moment I don’t have a way out of what is an impasse.

This morning I wake in panic. It is all opinion, not research. There aren’t really references. I don’t build on others work. Sham, vacuous, pretentious (perhaps the most damning?).

Call for Works

Academic Labours

Recently I have learnt that I do not enjoy editing someone else’s bad writing. I find it hard work (but deep down enjoyable) to edit my own writing, regardless of its state. It is also a pleasure to edit someone else’s good writing. But bad writing, trying to turn it into good? Horrible labour. You know it will never be much good. You also harbour the realisation that they will not really notice the work (and it is a lot, hours upon hours) since the work is so poorly written to begin with it would appear they have no real ability to judge merit or otherwise of the written. My lesson? I will not do this again.

Good Read