Posts Tagged ‘softvideo’

Shit, December

My PhD student Hannah Brasier has uploaded “Negotiating Mess: Towards a Multilinear Engagement with Complexity in Interactive Documentary” to

From a current research proposal of mine:

This project aims to create a new framework to theorise and understand interactive documentary by using theories from critical digital humanities. This framework will expand our conception of interactive documentary into a new field of ‘computational nonfiction’. This study aims to be the first that combines critical digital humanities and documentary, and will inaugurate computational nonfiction as a new context for the consideration of digital nonfiction. The outcomes and benefits of this project include scholarly publications and presentations, international research collaborations, project website, scholarly monograph, research training, and the development of ongoing research partnerships.

It’s an odd genre which is the academy’s version of a startup’s pitch. As best I can tell, like many such pitches, the game is to get the capital, and then, well, things often change.

While writing this funding application I refound my 2003 very good list of things to do to make a successful conference. I am proud of melbourneDAC, it was a kick ass conference.

Slide Four

An extract from the talk on Ambience, Affect, Autodocumentary I’m contributing to Monday’s interactive documentary symposium.


In relation to interactive media I think Deleuze’s cinema philosophy is the most elegant account of interactivity available. In its simplest model we can understand that in an interactive documentary there is an interface that requires a user to make a decision. This decision must be realised via a motor action. I notice, decide, and do — perception, affect, and action.
Affect is far and away the most interesting part of this for interactive documentary for two reasons.

The first is that the sensory motor schema offers a productive way to think about contemporary media platforms as sites and practices of affect that document, record, list, and notice, and in this documenting, recording, listing and noticing enlarge, slow down, otherwise interrupt, what could be misjudged as the mere instantaneous action and reaction of Twitter, Instagram or Vine. A sort of digital avatar of Tom Gunning’s “cinema of attraction”.

Secondly, by defining interactivity in interactive documentary as based upon affect and as a zone of indetermination we have a framework that situates interactive documentary differently in relation to narrative. For affect is the suspension of closure and even narrative coherence so beloved of Aristotlean conceptions of what a story is. Indeed, I’d go so far as to argue that the reliance upon narrative in interactive documentary is one of the principal ways in which the uncertainty of affect, this interval and indeterminancy, is colonised and accounted for by older paradigms of documentary theory. (I think once critical work writing about specific works catches up to practice we will find quite quickly that the theoretical anxiety about the need for narrative will be seen as vacuous.) In other words once we conceptualise interactivity in general as a sensory motor schema then the user is the locus of affect as where this indeterminacy is realised. There is nothing in this idea that requires narrative as its answer, to the extent that what we might recognise as classical narrative evacuates affect into simple cause and effect rhythms.

Documentary Ontography: aka Nonfiction and Lists

This semester in our media undergraduate program I’m running a 12 week studio entitled Documentary Ontography: aka Nonfiction and Lists. (I’m riffing off Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology a lot at the moment.) I’m intending the studio to be problem based, come action learning, which will freak me and the students out till we get the learning culture embedded. I’m looking forward to it, and really don’t have a strong idea of where they’ll end up taking it.

It is situated somewhere amongst materialist media studies, lists, interactive documentary, posthumanism, and generative or procedural methods of making. I do know that I want to begin from (quite literally) this quote:

Let’s adopt ontography as a name for a general inscriptive strategy, one that uncovers the repleteness of units and their interobjectivity…. Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.)

I might use this quote as the basis of a textual exploded diagram (in much the way that Bogost discusses the exploded diagram as a type of ontograph) that the class builds over a couple of weeks, and let that model what we do, as well as find what directions the thinking and making might go. I want to teach them, beginning with this quote, how to read and think as if they were scientists. What sort of thing is this quote? What does it do? What can it do? What tests, experiments, questions, tasks, do we ask or use it for to try to find out what it is. And to understand that what it is, is what it does (like Bryant talks about his blue coffee but cup doing colourness, rather than being blue). It isn’t about right, or intent, a correct reading or even just meaning. It is making machines (including of them) to revel in and show the density of a world where they need to learn the humility of not being a radiant ego.

This, incidentally, is also why it is situated in documentary. Not that documentary doesn’t suffer from didacticism or auteurism, but nonfiction does provide an avenue that explicitly addresses the world, for fiction as best I can tell has absolutely no use outside of the explicitly and only human. (Which I guess means fiction can be thought of as either Bataillean excess, a glorious general luxury who’s point is precisely it’s uselessness, or as the epitome of our species’ vanity.)

Softvideo: A Mereological Memoir

I’m trying to write a book. My working title is Softvideo: A Mereological Memoir. So far I seem to have spent a lot of words writing vaguely about methodology, and asides that mix anecdote, personal history and a muddled showing off. I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say, and at the moment rather than resolve this it seems I am busy performing reflexive pyrotechnics as a way to hide the vacuousness.

I haven’t written a book before. I have written a 25,000 word Master’s thesis (on Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest) and a 20,000 word wandering exegetical sort of thing that accompanied my PhD by Publication. But not a book. I am intimidated by its scale. I know how to get enough words, I already have 25,000 of them, but a lot them really are rubbish. Some of them are just irrelevant, and I still feel like I’m casting around for what it is about.

I realise that must seem arse about. I don’t actually know, but I imagine most people know what their books are about, and how, before they begin writing. Well, more or less. However, one of the things I’ve always sought in my academic writing (which is one of the things that originally drew me so powerfully to hypertext theory and practice in the 1990s) is to write in a way that recognises that as a humanities theorist writing is my laboratory. Writing is not the device I use to report on my findings from an experimental practice that I undertake elsewhere, in other media (whether that be the lab or field work of the scientist or the project based artefacts of the creative arts researcher), but is my lab, field work, and my project based artefact. So I want to write, and write in a way, that lets some of the frisson and élan of thought be present, there so that the process and practice of thinking is there in its material messy clamouring sometimes confusion.

This might make for a book that will never find a publisher, because it could well be just too, well, I think bastard child is the term that fits best. Not quite theory, neither essay nor memoir. There are lots of ways to dress up such writing theoretically, and many models that inspire this, stretching from the late Barthes, through Wark’s books from A Hacker Manifesto, Shields’ Reality Hunger, Romb’s recent efforts, Mark Amerika’s riffs and even the pragmatic yet incisive informality of Bogost’s pamphlet like Alien Phenomenology. Though a list like that makes me worry that I’m finding an excuse for me to write indulgently, and without the theoretical depth and alacrity that that list contains.

Endings (part one)

Softcopy is a material change to writing, perhaps the most significant material change to writing since the rise of popular literacy and the printing press in western Europe. The specificity of this change matters, for what I’m particularly interested in is the implications of this for writing largely because for humanities academic research it is surely the possible changes for how we write that has the most significant implications for us as scholars.

Writing, to repeat a refrain that appears to run my work much like the hook in a pop song, is the site of my research as a practice. It is where the complexity, density, and messiness of ideas and thought and the world happen and are negotiated. As a non-fiction writer (for this is what academic writing is) and a critical theorist I recognise that the traditional academic essay, the sorts of things we normally write and publish (and for that matter read) are as formulaic as those science papers we sometimes mock, and apart from the odd pun and sometimes playful alliteration, a lot of effort is expended (well perhaps not) to tame our writing and thinking so that thought becomes singular and well composed, which in many instances simply means it deports itself in ways that lets it, as writing, stay polite, and calm, and, well, utterly domesticated. We tame or let thought become subdued in our writing as the clamour of ideas–in–themselves get politely sent to, on a good day, a footnote, even in writing that argues for and advocates some sort of multiplicity or other acentred view of some content area.

Humanities academic writing in our traditional but oh so very usual way is then, as in the sciences, a reporting upon what has been found, of what we already know, and in this domestication, which is a mix of the self policing of an academic milieu and the hegemonic reification of the a particular notion of the rational that print (Ong, Stafford) instantiates, we reduce the complex to the simple (even where we use long words and innumerable clauses).

Such a writing, and its form, is intrinsically teleological. To this extent what I’m almost parodying as the canonical humanities academic essay shares this quality with classical realist fiction, in both literature and cinema, for here, too a ‘good’ story is one that simultaneously presents the illusion that it could really have been, and also that how it ends and its means of arrival are inevitable, ‘natural’, and rationally understandable. Stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, do not have to do this. That they do this is a consequence of the linear finitude of their material substrates, to wit because there is a last page, because there is a last frame, they have to end. Because they have to end the ending becomes a problem (much like beginnings).

Now Dr Seth Keen

Poetics of Networked Video

Abstract for an essay that is underway:

Much writing on online video uses a media and cinema studies tradition that relies upon a tripartite separation of critical theoretical frameworks that considers either audiences, institutions, or the texts themselves. In the specific case of critical writing on online video these three broad models have remained largely untroubled, epistemologically, as they have been used to examine online video. As a consequence much scholarly attention in regard to online video has looked to the ways in which it challenges, disrupts, or reconfirms what has already been said about cinema and TV more broadly.

This is unfortunate, as these traditional approaches risk missing the specificity of digital video including its engagment with the formal properties of the World Wide Web. Networked digital video has a material thickness and obdurate recalcitrance that is neutered when the digital is treated as immaterial and virtual, or merely as an avatar of earlier media.
This essay will develop a series of propositions for a poetics of networked video. It will begin with Deleuze’s concept of the ‘minor’ as something that makes a major language ‘stutter’. Networked video will then be seen as a stuttering media in itself that, in turn, also makes traditional institutional forms of cinema and TV stutter. This stuttering of network video will be literally and figuratively described, much as Latour’s actor–network theory advocates, to critically articulate the things that networked digital video can do.

This descriptive method evades the acculturation of online video to existing theoretical frameworks. It wil not account for what happens through the lens of audiences, institutions or the texts in themselves. Such description allows us to approach digital networked video in the manner advocated by recent scholarship in speculative realism (for instance Ian Bogost’s work) and materialist media studies (Jussi Parikka) and will eschew the correlationist impulse to elevate story and narrative as an explanatory deity.

The terms of a poetics of minor video are that networked video no longer has ownership of the screen, as has been the historical case with film and TV. The screen is now personal, owned and controlled by its user, and subject to local and minor affective action. Hardware, software, and an economy of codecs and protocols aligns to network characteristics of an algorithmic making, while glitch, compression artefacts, interruption and pause are features (and not bugs) of a network specific practice that, as in lo–fi music, offers its own aesthetic autonomy. In relation to TV and cinema’s traditional literal occupation of time, digital video offers new paradigms for cinematic duration and, finally, cinema’s immanent granularity — it’s ability to be cut and rejoined through editing — shifts from a historical subservience to narrative toward other, machinic, associative, poetic, and relational ends.


WordPress 4.0 now has improved media embedding. It relies on the oEmbed protocol that lets a site ask for media content from another site and for the correct HTML to be delivered. I don’t know if oEmbed works for video stored already in a WordPress install (it can talk to so presumably?) and if it can then it also means embedding video becomes elegantly trivial…

Once upon a time to embed video I would make a single frame poster movie, embed that using a lot of embed code, including the URL that the poster needed to link to, and so on. Ah, the good old days.

Stuttering Video

From an abstract I am currently working on:

This essay will develop a series of improvisational propositions for a preliminary poetics of online video. It begins from Deleuze’s concept of the ‘minor’. The minor will be understood as something that makes a major language ‘stutter’, and so is both a stuttering media in itself, and in turn makes traditional institutional forms of cinema and TV also stutter. Considered as minor, stuttering online video is not only digital but can be claimed as a network specific media form and practice. This stuttering will be literally and figuratively considered and is evident when we describe, much like Latour’s actor–network theory advocates, the existing things that networks and videos can do.

Such description evades the acculturation of online video to existing theoretical frameworks that seek to account for what happens through the lens of audiences, institutions or the texts in themselves. This description also allows us to approach digital networked video in the manner advocated by recent scholarship in speculative realism (for instance Ian Bogost’s work) and materialist media studies (Jussi Parikka is exemplary here) as it eschews the correlationist impulse that elevates story and narrative to an equivalence with light in a vacuum for physics.