Tag Archives: nonfiction-practice

Rezine 01

This is a small iBook project that came out of the nonfictionLab symposium held in December. Been working on it over Christmas, amongst cleaning the pool, presents, family and visitors.

Rezine 01: Research Notes Toward Critical Nonfiction Practice (iBook, 157MB).

From the introduction:

The first nonfictionLab symposium kicked off at RMIT University in December 2013 bringing together a sampler of the scholarly work being undertaken by the lab. Or, as we pimped ourselves:

From the essay, film-making, poetry, documentary, vernacular media, digital archives, memoir and design, nonfiction is increasingly a site of creative, theoretical and analytical interest. With keynote speakers, Ross Gibson and Jeff Sparrow, this inaugural nonfictionLab Symposium 2013 seeks to place some markers, critical and adventuresome, across the interdisciplinary domain of nonfiction studies.

Panels sessions include: Guessing games: Interpreting surfaces, subverting perceptions, Experiments with experience: Negotiating memory, observation and imagination, (Dis)placements: Locating perspectives: spectral sites and designs, Patternings: Generating rhythms, rituals and the accidental.

This rezine is the first transitory, possibly ephemeral, quick and dirty research sketch, or field notes, of our work. The intent is to show things in progress, a snap shot collage list of small bibs and bobs that are all on their way to becoming something else. A chap book come digital pamphlet that is an opportunity to begin to describe and argue for the sorts of theoretical and critically engaged creative nonfiction we do. Let’s open the black box of research and scholarship and rethink scale, practice, documentation, the rational and poetic.

lo-res

lo-fi

DIY

This is the Bunnings of research, welcome to rezine 01.

Rezine 01: Research Notes Toward Critical Nonfiction Practice (iBook, 157MB).

Interactive Documentary and Digital Poetics version 0.4

In Australia the peak research funding body is the Australian Research Council (the ARC). Getting ARC money is a big deal. Highly competitive and as they always tell you, the money runs out well before the good projects. For most academics this is the royal road in Australia to fame and fortune.

A simple indication of how competitive they are is that for the dedicated early career researcher funds (DECRA) my university wants preliminary drafts of key parts of the application this week, though they do not get submitted until April of 2014. This is so we can spend four months workshopping them, with numerous internal and external experts being used to examine, critique, pick at, prod, and so on all the applications.

So, I’m having a go. Below is the preliminary draft of the project proposal. I foolishly thought that if were interested in funding beginning in 2015 then I could spend my summer thinking about what I’d like to work on, then write it up. It was quite a shock to find I had about 10 days to get this draft, a relevant CV, and my Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) document together.

My immediate anxieties about this are that rather than describe what I will do it often begins to try to do what it should describe. I’ve found it a challenge to write a proposal, rather than ‘begin’ the research. The second is that it sounds like two projects, one using what I’m characterising as materialist media studies, the other Deleuze’s cinema philosophy. I want to bring them together, I think this is useful, but, well, part of me isn’t really convinced that it matters.

The bits in italic are thinking out loud bits. They’re not in what has gone through. As ever, let me know what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been told to be clear, but parts of this are, as is my style, too fucking dense. (I’ve probably breached some employee contractual IP agreement sharing this, no idea, but it’s ARC, public money, public gets to see it.)

The Problem

This proposal describes research that desires to bring together materialist media studies with Deleuze’s cinema theory to provide a new framework to consider interactivity, narrative, and the computational within interactive documentary. This will allow for a consideration of interactive documentary that looks less to documentary and narrative traditions than toward recent scholarship that recognises the material agency of digital technologies in communicative systems. (At the moment interactive documentary, from the point of view of an ontology and epistemology of digital media, risks being a coloniser of the digital as it coerces the unruly severity of procedural digital logic into the cultural protocols and history of documentary film.)

There has been a recent dramatic rise in the production and subsequent theorisation of online, interactive documentary. These productions have been aided by new internet services and protocols in combination with developments in digital hardware and software. The combination of new internet services, hardware, and software has seen the diminution of production and distribution costs for documentary, with an increase in the capabilities and affordances of video online through new developments in protocols and infrastructure such as bandwidth.

In this environment a range of experimental online documentary practices and forms are emerging, each of which casts a different light upon makers, audiences, and the sorts of artefacts that constitute ‘documentary’. In the wake of this ‘new documentary’ a range of scholarly approaches are emerging. The most significant recent theoretical work is situated within documentary studies and builds upon existing documentary traditions to contextualise these new forms and practices.

Documentary has always had a close affinity to new technologies of production and distribution. However, the dramatic change in documentary making and form that networked media affords is a paradigm shift and new theoretical approaches are needed. These new approaches will help us understand these changes and can inform further research and the development of new documentary forms and systems.

One alternative theoretical approach to digital documentary proposed in this project is available through interactive literature and hypertext, and into more recent materialist media studies. This research has addressed key concerns that networked practices and technologies introduce to makers, audiences, narrative, and artefacts in themselves. This provides a ready vocabulary from which to investigate interactive documentary, building upon the definitional work already begun by Nash and others (Nash 2012, O’Flynn 2012, Aston and Gaudenzi 2012, Hight 2008), to engage with the questions that arise specifically from the point of view of a digital and network poetics, rather than documentary cinema. (Indeed, as my own earlier research argues, hypertext is easily considered a post–cinematic, rather than a literary, form with an isomorphic relation between the cinematic edit and the hypertextual link (Miles 1999).)

Digital documentary is well aware of changes to practice and form. It is less sure of the ways in which the materiality of the digital and the network disrupts what documentary is, and its possible future form and terms.

Why hypertext?

Hypertext research is deeply immersed in the materiality of the digital, and the procedural and programmatic qualities of the computer. It emerged within an interdisciplinary mix of computer scientists and literary humanists at a time when there were enormous constraints on computational processing and storage and when digital media and the internet were not ubiquitous. This research recognised that the computer was not a device to do what was already done more efficiently (faster, cheaper, with cut and paste nonlinear editing, universal distribution, and so on), but was the means to imagine a practice and form of media (in the case of hypertext literary and scribal media) differently.

Thinking about media forms differently allowed hypertext to be a liberatory and disruptive technology in relation to print. The strongest evidence of the liberation of print by hypertext is in the rise of the World Wide Web (which is indebted to early hypertext research and development) and the inversion of print’s authority predicated on an economy of scarcity. Similarly it has been disruptive in how it has changed the roles and authority of writer and reader, textual form and structure, and the erosion of the privilege of ‘fixed’ and ‘finished’ works.

Interactive documentary is at the cusp of its own moment of liberation and disruption as the rise of software, systems, and the internet offers unprecedented access to the tools of documentary making and distribution, while a new ecology of ‘apps’ and platforms offers a rethinking of documentary’s auteurist history of authored, ‘closed’ and finished artefacts.

(Much recent work and commentary can be seen as primarily a reactive engagement with the imperiousness of the network, and aside from a small number of significant experimental systems and projects, has done largely nothing in relation to rethinking digital documentary in terms of the particular materiality of the digital, networks, and the computer’s procedural and programmatic operations remains untheorised and poorly understood – this is not the same thing as ‘database narrative’ or ‘database aesthetics’.)

Deleuze

A second theoretical approach in this project is to theorise digital documentary through Deleuze’s cinema philosophy. This is an innovative appropriation of Deleuze as the basic terms of Deleuze’s movement and time images will be shown to be synonymous with interactive documentary. The movement image’s large form of the perception, affect, and action image becomes interactive documentary’s model of notice, decide, do (Miles, 2013). An interactive documentary presents some smaller part of itself via an interface, this needs to be noticed by a user who then enacts a decision, usually through the motor action of clicking a mouse or swiping a screen. Notice, decide, do; perception, affect, action. This is the sensory motor schema described by Deleuze that is now distributed between a procedural system, a screen, and people.

This is a bold theoretical connection that offers a radically different understanding of interactivity than that which generally informs new media theory. It produces a framework for defining interactivity that has affiliations to cinema studies, arising as it does from Deleuze’s materialist cinema philosophy, and more importantly it arises from the materiality of digital media rather than the anthropomorphic filiation to documentary cinema that we risk relying upon. If, as Deleuze suggests, cinema thinks itself, then in concert with materialist media studies we have a way to investigate the specificity of interactive documentary from ‘within’, rather than assuming that digital documentary is already something engaged with representation and argument and that the digital offers only the substrate to enable or support this.

What I’m going to do.

By introducing theoretical concepts from hypertext, materialist media studies and Deleuze I will develop a robust theoretical base to build insights and arguments about digital documentary. This theoretical approach will emphasise the primacy of the digital as a qualitatively different mode of material and creative engagement when creating work than the avatars of more traditional documentary that we often rely upon in digital environments. This theoretical engagement will argue for a poetics of digital documentary that situates itself in the specificity of small screens, networks, and malleable and relational media. It will do so via materialist media studies and Deleuze’s materialist cinema philosophy.

Such a poetics helps us to understand the necessary shift in the authority and autonomy of makers in digital regimes — the move from an auteur centred culture of I/we make, you watch/consume — towards ‘writerly’ making, co–creation, participatory forms, and novel emerging distributed nonfiction platforms. This poetics begins from recognising that the screen is personal, ‘owned’ by its user (not the content creator), attention is scarce and distributed, and that network media is made up of structural (thematic, encyclopaedic, poetic) coalitions of small parts loosely and variably joined. Networked media is highly granular, and porous to the network, other media, and people.

This porous granularity makes digital documentary a ‘relational media’ (Dovey and Rose), and this relationality provides a way to investigate and define new social platforms (for instance the nonfiction story aggregation service that is Cowbird) as documentary. This has theoretical implications for documentary study as it significantly broadens what documentary becomes, while also providing avenues for the development of new platforms and services that let digital documentary spread from its auterist and ‘mastery’ based traditions.

Documentary studies largely follows cinema theory’s tripartite interest in audiences, texts, and institutions. While the nomenclature may vary, these approaches, as Parrika argues, reply upon varieties of interpretation to understand what media is.

Material Media Studies

The material specificity of media, evident in Parikka’s media archeology (with it’s influences from Kittler and Ernst), Bogost and Montfort’s platform studies, Fuller’s media ecologies, and Manovich’s software studies, provide a media framework by which to refashion earlier hypertext theory, in the light of video’s technicity.

It is significant that this current research, like hypertext thirty years before, is undertaken by people who understand code. Those who code recognise and experience its materiality and the network as a fundamental constraint to the possible. Media is no longer understood as a ‘surface’ to be recorded upon or interpreted, or a technology directed towards narrative, but involves continuous mutation because the computer is a machine that allows for the continuous transformation of content and form, even after ‘publication’. Code is fundamental to this.

Code is a highly constrained creative practice where the ambiguity of what is sought must be rendered into the absolute clarity of machine logic, a logic where ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘like’, and even ’similar’ cannot occur. For these researchers the constrained, material and procedural nature of hardware, software, code, system, and platform is a given and produces an understanding of media practice and form that is unlike that of other media.

Conclusion

This project intends to bring a hypertextual materialist media studies perspective to digital documentary via Deleuze’s cinematic sensory motor schema. This is to address the specificity of digital documentary as hardware, software, electronics, infrastructure and code. It intends to create critical work that offers an alternative approach to conceptualising digital documentary that places it outside of the reductionism of database, interactivity and narrative and to develop a digital poetics that offers novel understandings of digital documentary and new ways in which to conceive of how we might make digital documentary in the future.

References

Aston, Judith, and sandra Gaudenzi. “Interactive Documentary: Setting the Field.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 125–139. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.125_1.

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2012.

Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. First Edition. The MIT Press, 2006.

Fuller, Matthew. Media Ecologies: Materialist Engeries in Art and Technoculture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005.

Gaver, William W., Andrew Boucher, Sarah Pennington, and Brendan Walker. “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty.” Interactions 11, no. 5 (September 2004): 53–56. doi:10.1145/1015530.1015555.

Hight, Craig. “The Field of Digital Documentary: A Challenge to Documentary Theorists.” Studies in Documentary Film 2, no. 1 (January 2008): 3–7. doi:10.1386/sdf.2.1.3_2.

Kittler, Friedrich A, and Anthony Enns. Optical media: Berlin lectures 1999. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2010.

Kittler, Friedrich A, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Michael Wutz. Grammophon, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford university press, 1999.

Miles, Adrian. “Cinematic Paradigms for Hypertext.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 13, no. 2 July (1999): 217–226.

Miles, Adrian. “Click, Think, Link: Interval and Affective Narrative.” In Database | Narrative | Archive: Seven Interactive Essays on Digital Nonlinear Storytelling, edited by Matt Soar and Monika Gagnon, 2013. http://dnaanthology.com/anvc/dna/Click-Think-Link-Interval-and-Affective-Narrative.

Montfort, Nick, Bogost, Ian. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies Series) by Montfort, Nick, Bogost, Ian (2009). MIT Press, n.d.

Nash, K. “Modes of Interactivity: Analysing the Webdoc.” Media, Culture & Society 34, no. 2 (April 19, 2012): 195–210. doi:10.1177/0163443711430758.

O’Flynn, Siobhan. “Documentary’s Metamorphic Form: Webdoc, Interactive, Transmedia, Participatory and beyond.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 141–157. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.141_1.

Parikka, Jussi. “New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (2012): 95–100. doi:10.1080/14791420.2011.626252.

Parikka, Jussi. “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics.” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 5 (September 1, 2011): 52–74. doi:10.1177/0263276411411496.

The Gay Indifference of Technical Media

Proposed topic for the Placing Nonfiction Symposium, December here at RMIT:

Technical media are a media of ‘record’ and all are, primarily, sampling machines. Sound recording, photography, film, and video, each with gay indifference samples all that is present to its particular technological view, recording what is with machinic apathy towards meaning and significance. This grants such technical media a privileged relation to what we characterise as the real, while also providing an immanent digital poetics that is situated within constraint, repetition, and the patterns that might emerge.

About 7am’ is a speculative nonfiction video project that investigates technical media as a sampling machine by adopting a constrained personal practice of recording where the machinic logic of indifferent noticing is made concrete through an everyday observational practice. This constrained task is used to create a particular suite of patterns that the project makes literal, constituting the intent of the work, while also relying upon and making visible a particular digital and technical logic that becomes a poetics of minor variation and the accidental.

This allows ‘About 7am’ to become a way of thinking in digital, networked video about the ‘agency’ of the human and the posthuman in the context of technical recording media, and allows the work to argue that technical media’s indifference to that which is recorded allows not only for a poetics of minor patterns, but that the associated and inevitable indexical ‘accidental’ becomes a guarantor of the real.

Affective Assemblages: Documentary Practice

My slides from the 2012 Visible Evidence conference held in Canberra in December. Arguing that network specific ‘aggregators’ such as Cowbird are documentaries, that such systems revolve around or respond to indeterminacy in particular ways and are therefore affective assemblages (affect engines) in the sense of affect provided by Deleuze in Cinema One.

Storys, Bleah

From the teaching blog:

Korsakow is not great for ‘stories’. It is outstanding for portraits of things. Events, mood pieces, nonfiction. Imagine a narrative about the breakdown of a relationship. Imagine filming that in lots of intense, perhaps ambiguous fragments, imagine exploring this emotional landscape of a marriage in Korsakow. I don’t think this is a story. I do think it potentially is thicker, denser, richer, more evocative than a normal film story. If only because as I return to it I may find new relations, new parts, different ways of understanding the parts. Korsakow lets me build ‘stories’ that reward my attention, care, and return. We aren’t in the business of stories partly because we’re not interested in yet more ways to tell others what matters.

Open Humanities Alliance

The Open Humanities Alliance is, as the name suggests, a coalition pushing, advocating and supporting the open humanities. Stepping out of the $ based publishing models that have defined the humanities towards richer, greener pastures. They have a journal incubator where if you want to turn an existing journal (that you or your organisation owns), or create a new one, that is open then they help you set it up and so on. This sort of support is a great idea. Which segues nicely into Peter Suber’s new book out of MIT Press on Open Access. Commercial academic publisher, and it is for sale (Kindle edition is ten bucks) and a timely publication.

Open publishing is a big deal. While I’ve regularly raised the contradictions involved in humanities academics being quick to critique ideology left right and centre our relation to our own academic ideologies, like all good ideology, remains naturalised and invisible. Of course we do the writing, the editing, and then pay for the journal that is the product of our largely donated labour. And of course the publisher makes money from this. Because today, with the internet thingie, we really do need access to a printing press, paper, typographers, ink, delivery trucks and a subscription office.

The open also matters in terms of access to collections, archives and the collections of services that we now have online. These days it is no longer just a question of having a pile of stuff that people might look at, but having an API that lets other services use these things, and, increasingly, let people make new stuff with this stuff. Which, when you think about it, isn’t so very far from the scholarly really, is it?

Bergson, Affect, Korsakow

Extract from current work in progress that, I’m’, working on.

In Deleuze’s Bergsonian conceptual universe the world is constituted by images where “everything reacts on everything else” (Cinema One, p. 61). In this world there is no centre, no particular image that grounds all others. This is a Heraclitean vision of a world defined by the movement of action and reaction, where the stuff of the world always consists of multiple facets of action and reaction. For example, consider water and rock. The water erodes the rock while the rock interrupts the course and flow of the water. The compounds of the rock and their action and reaction with water become (the water and the rock) sediment, erosion, an alluvial plain, a stone to be skipped by a child over the surface of the river. These actions and reactions happen automatically. The rock doesn’t think its reaction with water, and in the language of Cinema One, these are ‘determined’ in the sense that they are subject to the laws of nature.

Within this medley of action and reaction a particular sort of image can arise, one where an interval or gap is introduced between action and reaction, where the relation between certain actions and reactions is no longer automatic or determined. These are what Bergson describes as “living images” (Cinema One, pp. 61-4 passim). A living image offers an orientation towards particular actions on the basis of perception, where of all the facets and images present only some are noticed, and so perception filters and pays attention to these things rather than others. Perception is then a reduction, not an addition of our relations to the world as all the facets of action and reaction happening become framed by the self interest of the perceiving body. For instance, a sunflower ‘notices’ sunlight and bows towards it during the day, I notice the itch on my elbow and scratch it. The sunflower does not notice the wind, and I don’t notice the exchange of gasses in my lungs and my blood stream, let alone those that occur at the cellular level within my muscles and organs. Perception as a ‘taking away’ or a ‘reducing’ of all the actions and reactions that are occurring is then an enframing of the world from the point of view of this living image which becomes a centre that orientates what becomes noticed and acted upon. This centre is constituted by a gap that is introduced between action and reaction as there is no longer an automatic relation between each. This gap makes the relation of action to reaction indeterminate, subject to decision, or as Deleuze rather delightfully argues indecision. Hence, Bergson’s living image becomes a centre of indetermination because the determined relation of action to reaction is now subject to a variety of possible reactions in relation to what has been perceived, and consequently introduces decision, indecision, change, and variability.

This system of perception and action is known as the ‘sensory motor schema’ and Deleuze applies it to the cinema to develop the three large forms of the movement image. These he labels as the perception, action and affect images. In classical cinema this is most simply realised as the canonical sequence of seeing something (for instance a gun), deciding what to do (trying to grab it) and witnessing the consequences (failing and finding it now pointed at me). Perception, decision, action. More significantly, while all films contain a mix of these three large forms Deleuze argues that: “a film, at least in its most simple characteristics, always has one type of image which is dominant: one can speak of an active, perceptive or affective montage, depending on the predominant type.” (Cinema One, p. 70.)

Deleuze’s use of the sensory motor schema and its devolution into the three varieties of the movement image provides an impressive heuristic for reconceiving Korsakow films and database cinema as the passage from Bergson’s sensory motor schema into the movement image offers a framework for interactive media that avoids framing its problem as one of narrative, audience or user.