I made an informal presentation to the NonFiction Research Group here at RMIT. To get some of the ideas that have been floating around into a bit of shape I did a few brief writing sessions in Tinderbox, being reminded as I did how much I enjoy writing in a small footprint hypertext environment. The presentation was rambling and associative, but a couple of people wanted the ‘slides’ so I’ve dumped the nodes into this post, with some additional notes at the end about the questions that were raised that really helped clarify some of the ideas.
This presentation offer several speculative prompts about nonfiction as a placeholder for particular ways of engaging with the world. This includes the ways in which ‘nonfiction’ can be used to challenge and disrupt academic writing, the role and place of nonfiction in narrative and research questions that nonfiction raises. The intent is ludic.
I am increasingly interested in what others characterise as ‘object orientated ontology’ and ‘post humanities’ practice and theory.
I have got here from a very applied theoretical practice located within (what is now being called) the digital humanities where thought, ideas, and media are all material things with their own demands, voices, requirements and forces.
I always struggle intellectually with the way in which I experience and perceive ideas as being always deeply and densely interconnected (what Ted Nelson described as ‘intertwingled’) and the constraints of our major media forms, methods, and practices – the canonical academic essay and the linear form.
My desire in this presentation is to speculate, in situ, around non fiction and the idea of ‘disruption’ just to see where it might get me.
Disruptive technologies are those that cause qualitative change within a practice. For example the internet, broadly, is a highly disruptive technology in relation to industrial media industries. (And technology here includes the constellation of hard and soft protocols that all technologies require, produce and enact.)
I am interested in the ways in which new technologies of writing disrupt writing as a practice and as form. This includes the local and small scale of an individual ‘doing’ writing and extends to the possibilities that digital networked systems provide for rethinking writing and publishing.
This is not for the sake of technological fetish or the digital cool but is because different ways of writing writing, and of presenting the work, allow for other forms of knowledge to be expressed, created, shared, and enacted. It provides a method and various theories by which to disrupt and critique the scribal monoculturalism of the academy, which, at the end of the day, remains a blindspot apparently immune to the solar flare of critique and criticality.
In the broad terms of ‘nonfiction’ I think all academic writing is, by definition, nonfiction and so experiencing disruption as a consequence of new technologies.
Object Orientated Ontology
An excellent and very readable introduction to this is Ian Bogost’s “Alien Phenomenology“. The key terms are ‘tiny ontology’, ‘unit relations’, ‘ontography’, and ‘Latour litanisers’.
Tiny ontology refers to Bogost’s argument that being is simple and “ought not demand a treatise or a tome.” (loc. 495.)
Unit relations simply means that things enter into relations with other things and these become, in their own turn, new things. Bogost simply calls objects units because they are always, no matter what scale (an amoeba, a city) a unit.
Ontography is a bit like cataloguing. Bogost compares it to an exploded view diagram where the innards of something is revealed where the things that make up the thing are itemised and their relations (usually) shown. He is interested in ontography as a system to allow for the inscription of the fullness of things in themselves (without us) and their inter objectivity. Objects always relate to other objects, and certainly do so without needing us.
Latour litaniser is a method of practicing ontography. Bogost, as in much of this book, takes this quite literally as a method of accounting for units and their relations. It is like a listing of things if only to recognise the density of the world as objects and their relations. It is a generative machine that Bogost made that builds lists using extant material online. While Bogost uses this as a way to think about and play with objects, this is very similar to what I think of as an affect engine or assemblage. (Indeed I think this might provide a useful theoretical frame for thinking about these affect engines.)
as Bryant puts it, a post humanist ontology is one in which “humans are no longer monarchs of being, but are instead among beings, entangled in beings, and implicated in other beings.” . (loc 387.)
In relation to what the humanities and sciences have in common in regards to their human centredness:
In short, all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally. (loc 275).
To wit: both perspectives embody the correlationist conceit. The scientist believes in reality apart from human life, but it is a reality excavated for human exploitation. The scientific process cares less for reality itself than it does for the discoverability of reality through human ingenuity. Likewise, the humanist doesn’t believe in the world except as a structure erected in the interest of human culture. (loc 314.)
The Post Humanities
See for example the forthcoming symposium organised by Latrobe’s new Centre for Creative Arts on post humanities writing (textobjectext). This is a relatively recent trope that I trace to something like Kate Hayle’s “How We Became Posthuman”, and is grounded in other recent theoretical ‘flavours’ such as object orientated ontology and the emerging interest in materialism.
The post humanities is conceived of as the humanities that faces at least partially towards the implications of the digital, technology, and the sciences. It might include the use of ‘big data’ within writing and the humanities, an application of algorithmic procedures, and interdisciplinary projects and exchanges.
Personally I conceive of the ‘post humanities’ as an evolution of humanism (as odd as that may sound) as it continues to privilege reason, though with what can be thought of as an ecological turn where we are not understood as stewards or the origin for or of the things in the world. (A very common sense view.)
The Essay Film
The essay film has a long history in documentary. This is the case in terms of practice and theory, with canonical work in both areas. As an outsider listening in to the ‘creative nonfiction’ conversation this appears to be much less the case in writing.
Corrigan usefully describes the essay and the essay film as:
the essayistic indicates a kind of encounter between the self and the public domain, an encounter that measures the limits and possibilities of each as a conceptual activity. Appearing within many different artistic and material forms besides the essay film, the essayistic acts out a performative presentation of self as a kind of self-negation in which narrative or experimental structures are subsumed within the process of thinking through a public experience. In this larger sense, the essay film becomes most important in pinpointing a practice that renegotiates assumptions about documentary objectivity, narrative epistemology, and authorial expressivity within the determining context of the unstable heterogeneity of time and place. (loc. 96.)
I am very interested in bringing the methods and episteme of the essay film to academic writing.
This difference, if it exists, could perhaps be attributed to the ontological differences between cinema and writing in relation to the fragment.
Academic Writing as an Essay Film
What does it mean to think about academic writing as participating in the milieu of the essay film?
It could mean that the role of the subjective and the personal, is legitimated. (This is not the same thing as opinion, as views are still informed by knowledge, reflection and analysis.) It could also mean that a greater diversity of media are used not merely as sources of research but in the course of making and publishing and reading academic work. It also foregrounds the risk of other forms for the expression of knowledge.
To develop these sorts of knowledge objects probably also means we need new and different ‘tools’ for writing these sorts of works.
One of the things that got mentioned recently was about non narrative non fiction. An archive is such a thing. In theory the less ‘story’ and the more vacant each thing in an archive is then the richer the possibilities of the object.
This is because an archive is always about the possible relations that can form with its objects and this is one of the key distinguishing differences between an archive and a museum.
Some forms of generative practice are also non narrative. Dictionary games, exercises in excising every n word or letter, they are recipes and protocols for generating works but they are not about producing stories, even if stories might sometimes be a result.
This is part of my interest in some Web 2 services as they can be thought of as affect engines. Systems that allow for the collection of things that others place into new relations, often for no explicit or instrumental point, but they let others find emotional points of intersection with them. For example a sad slide show on Flickr, or following system generated trails of stories about Melbourne in Cowbird. Or the new services that are in the pipeline like Qwiki for mobile, Far From Homepage, each of which have a lot of possibilities for academic ‘writing’ and nonfiction. And then we might think about something as speculative and poetic as “we feel fine“.
These affect engines could also be thought of as an affect assemblages.
The term is often used to emphasise emergence, multiplicity and indeterminacy , and connects to a wider redefinition of the socio-spatial in terms of the composition of diverse elements into some form of provisional socio-spatial formation. To be more precise, assemblages are composed of heterogeneous elements that may be human and non–human, organic and inorganic, technical and natural. (Anderson and McFarlane, p. 124.)
Anderson, Ben, and Colin McFarlane. “Assemblage and Geography.” Area 43.2 (2011): 124–127.
Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2012. Print.
Corrigan, Timothy. The Essay Film:From Montaigne, After Marker. Oxford University Press, USA, 2011. Print.
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.
Tags: Network Literacy
, network practices