I’m excited to be teaching a new course this coming fall, crosslisted in American Studies and English — Reading Culture: Digital America. This should be a great chance to explore some current cultural and technological issues in the classroom, and to play with some digital tools as part of our work! I’ll post more as the fall gets closer — in the meantime, here’s a flyer with the course description and information. Any interested students are welcome to sign up or contact me with questions at pbenzon at temple dot edu!
What are the symptomatic objects of global media? Where are they? What characterizes the networks they circulate through, and what do their circulations (or lack thereof) tell us about questions of power, embodiment, law, temporality? What histories do they exist within, and how might they help us reimagine those histories more critically and productively? How might we see the stakes of global media culture differently if we rethink them around an object such as the earbud, the undersea cable, the SIM card, or the server rack?
In order to raise these and other questions, this proposed special session builds on recent scholarly work in media archaeology and recent conversations at MLA about the materiality of media to offer a context for critical consideration of the technologies of global capital at a granular scale. Following a pecha kucha format (20 slides shown for 20 seconds each, for a total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds), proposed talks should focus on a single—and indeed perhaps also singular—key object within the global media landscape, whether small or large, and should offer a materially inflected critical reading of that object as a way of raising larger issues including globalization, media change, capital, and ecopolitics. Speakers might focus on infrastructure, ephemera, waste, circulation, labor and supply chains, or any number of other possible areas of inquiry. Please send 250-word abstracts and CVs to pbenzon at temple dot edu by March 15 (general inquiries are also welcome at this address).
I’m excited to share news of a new interdisciplinary project: I’m co-editing the Spring 2015 volume of Media-N, the journal of the New Media Caucus of the College Art Association, on the topic of The Aesthetics of Erasure. The topic for this issue dovetails closely with my current work on my book project Deletions, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can learn from artists, critics, and other scholars who might be interested in contributing to this conversation.
Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus, is pleased to announce a Call for Proposals for the spring 2015 edition: Vol. 11 – 01
TITLE OF THE EDITION
The Aesthetics of Erasure
Paul Benzon, Temple University
Sarah Sweeney, Skidmore College
In an era in which state surveillance is capable of capturing, storing, and analyzing all personal communications, and in which even the much-heralded ephemerality of photographic sharing applications such as Snapchat is revealed to be just another instance of deferred, secreted permanence, erasure seems all but impossible. Yet this is precisely what makes erasure a vitally necessary artistic, technological, and social practice. Erasure provides a point of departure from network culture, from the constraints of big data, the archive, and the cloud; through erasure, forgetting and disappearance become radical, profoundly productive acts.
This special issue of Media-N seeks to describe the aesthetics of erasure across various media, platforms, and contexts in the digital era. What does it mean to consider erasure as an artist’s mark, and how does it reshape the relations between making and unmaking? How do acts of erasure allow artists to harness and resist the possibilities and problems of the archive, of (self-) surveillance, of public and private, and of datafication? What are the aesthetic and political relations between erasure and analogous processes such as anonymization and redaction? What antecedents of digital erasure might we see in earlier moments of media history, and how might they help us to see digital erasure in new ways? What do practices of digital erasure, and the absences they produce, tell us about the materiality of digital activity? What relations do they reveal among artistry, audience, memory, temporality, and the market? How might erasure help us to see questions of reproduction, remix, appropriation, and intellectual property in new ways?
The editors invite submissions in all formats and media, and from all disciplines, including but not limited to artwork, artist’s statements, manifestos, interviews, and historical, critical, and theoretical essays.
Please send your proposal adhering to the following:
– Abstracts should be 300-500 words, submitted as Microsoft Word documents (.doc or .docx).
– Include a proposal title, your email address, and your title/affiliation (the institution/organization you work with if applicable, or independent scholar/practitioner).
– On a separate document, send a Resume or CV (no longer than 3 pages).
– Send 3-5 jpeg images (1200pixels maximum width). Each image should be labeled following the convention Name_Title.jpeg
– On a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx) include a project title, your email address, and your title/affiliation (the institution/organization you work with if applicable, or independent scholar/practitioner) and a project description.
– On a separate document, send a Resume or CV (no longer than 3 pages).
SEND THE SUBMISSION TO:
email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject line: ‘Media-N Submission” and your name(s).
November 15, 2014: Deadline for submission of abstracts/proposals.
December 15, 2014: Notification of acceptance.
February 15, 2015: Deadline for submission of final papers/artworks.
If you have questions about Media-N, please feel free to contact:
Pat Badani, Editor-in-Chief Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus
Media-N was established in 2005 to provide a forum for New Media Caucus
members and non-members alike, featuring their scholarly research, artworks and projects. The New Media Caucus is a nonprofit, international membership organization that advances the conceptual and artistic use of digital media. Additionally, theNMC is a College Art Association Affiliate Society.
Our panel is scheduled for Sunday, January 11, from 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., in Room West 208, VCC West — join us!
I organized and participated in a special session at this past year’s MLA on “Deletion, Erasure, and Cancellation” — it was a fantastic experience with a great, interdisciplinary group of scholars and artists, and I’m excited to have the potential opportunity to revisit some of the questions we raised there through a proposed special session for MLA 2015. Michael Nicholson and Amy Wong, both of UCLA, have organized a proposed session on the Transhistorical Poetics of Erasure, and have done me the honor of asking me to serve as a respondent. The panel includes Janet Holmes, Toby Altman, and Carlos Abreu Mendoza, a fantastic collection of thinkers and writers who will have a lot to say on this provocative topic, and I’m eager to have the chance to hear their work and participate in their conversation.
Amy and Michael have kindly allowed me to post the session proposal here — read on for more details, and we hope to see you in Vancouver!
The Transhistorical Poetics of Erasure
This panel reflects specifically on the emergent field of the “poetics of erasure,” with a broader view towards exploring how erasure may point us in new aesthetic directions and provide alternative political futures for literary studies. While literary critics of poetry have produced abundant work on the structures of influence, nostalgia, and tradition that verse enables, they have less often attended to the value of systematic forgetting and erasure. Our panel—with full appreciation for the irony that underwrites its aims—seeks to make erasure visible as a robust and viable poetic tradition of its own.
Ever since Robert Rauschenberg famously erased a Willem de Kooning drawing in 1953, postmodern theorists and writers have been captivated by the practices and provocations of erasure. While the landmark works of visual artists such as Rauschenberg produced a renewed cultural interest in the creative power of “erasure” in their moment, their influence on present-day poets continues to be particularly strong: for several twenty-first century writers, including Jen Bervin and Janet Holmes (one of our panelists), “erasure poetics” has provided an exceptionally potent way of negotiating sites of literary historical memory. Travis Macdonald argues that contemporary erasure poetry, which concerns “itself with the deliberate removal (or covering over) of words on the page” rather than their arrangement on it, protests the seemingly infinite accumulation of digital data in the “Global Information Age.” Yet, according to Macdonald, erasure poetry also forms an inevitable part of our ephemeral modern media landscape of “paste-layered billboards and graffiti-laden walls.”
Exciting news — digital poet and artist Dan Waber will be visiting Temple as part of my fall Special Topics course on Electronic Literature. I’ve been working with Laura Zaylea in Temple’s Media Studies and Production Department to bring him to campus, and we’re both very excited to have him. Waber will be reading from and discussing a wide range of his work, and we hope it will be a rich conversation on authorship, artistry, language, image, new media, publishing, process, and Processing (and he’s promised to bring plenty of his many sestinas to share!). Details are below, and the event is open to all — please circulate widely and come join us!
I’m thrilled to be participating in an exciting project on In Media Res for the second time — last fall I was part of a week on “Media Nostalgia,” and this time around I’m kicking off a week on “The Politics of Media Archaeology.” This week is organized by Matthew Stoddard from the University of Minnesota, who was also involved in “Media Nostalgia.” My piece, “Burn, Baby, Burn,” looks at the 1979 Chicago Disco Demolition as a point of departure for thinking about the materiality of media history in terms of destruction and disappearance — another piece from my current project Deletions. Take a look and comment, and check back daily for more great posts all this week!
A second piece of good MLA news for the day: I’ll also be participating on a roundtable on the new Thomas Pynchon novel, Bleeding Edge, scheduled to be published this fall. Also on the panel are our organizer Cornelius Collins, Samuel Cohen, David Cowart, Amy Elias, Jeffrey Severs, and Alison Shonkwiler. We’ll be a large and diverse group, and I’m excited to get together with both old friends and new collaborators to see what we as a group can do with what is sure to be an exciting novel and publishing event — the roundtable model of brief comments and broad conversation should give us a lot of room for rich engagement.
My own contributions to the panel are best prefigured by the paragraph on media and technology in the abstract below — inspired by the multi-leveled historical questions of the novel and the other speakers, and by Mark Sample’s imaginary DH history of Don DeLillo, I’m thinking about how the online runup to the novel might speak to whatever Pynchon has to say about the culture and economy of technology in the early 21st century — but who knows what the novel itself might actually hold…
If reports are to be believed, September 2013 will see the publication of a new novel by Thomas Pynchon, marking the third in seven years–a rate of productivity formerly unprecedented in this author’s closely watched, illustrious, and, by this point, quite long writing career. The book is sure to be advanced with a good deal of hype from his publishers, received with enthusiasm by his many fans in and outside the academy, and–if the recent pattern of reception holds–reviewed with a mixture of appreciation and skepticism by literary journalists. Pynchon’s canonical status is perhaps unique among contemporary authors in being so long established that each new publication not only presents fresh material for literary analysis, but also inevitably serves as a productive occasion for re-evaluating the writer’s career and public reputation.
Thus after the buzz wanes, January 2014 will be an opportune moment for scholars of contemporary literature to present and share early reactions, impressions, and suggestions for interpreting this new text. For indeed, aside from the intrinsic interest that surrounds any new work by an author of Pynchon’s standing, several aspects of the text as reported suggest that this novel will have special relevance to current issues not only in Pynchon studies, but in the study of contemporary American literature more generally. Our conversation will be an attempt both to situate this new work within the author’s larger career and to begin to imagine how a range of critical frameworks might variously illuminate its place within a larger literary conversation.
Bleeding Edge is evidently set in New York City in the period between the crash of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the attacks of September 11 in 2001. As such it will be the most immediate chronological setting yet undertaken by Pynchon, whose last four novels have been at the remove of at least several decades. And while 1990’s Vineland turned the clock back only to the early Reagan years, this new work might speak directly to the present in a way that Pynchon has avoided since the ‘60s, for it can be argued–but also contested–that the events of 2001 mark the inauguration of an era that the US has not yet left behind. Thus the new novel may propel a shift in the critical interpretation, emerging over the past decade, of Pynchon as primarily a historical novelist rather than a strictly postmodern one.
The narrative’s temporal proximity to September 11 raises further questions about how, or whether, Pynchon intends to engage with that theme at virtually the moment when “the 9/11 novel” is being established as a genre in contemporary American fiction. Pynchon’s evident politics–that is, what appears to be his religiously inflected radical anarchism and his consistent targeting of the corporate-financial elite as enemy forces in a perennial world-historical conflict–suggest a potentially explosive treatment, or at least one that forces assumptions about the 9/11-novel genre to be reconsidered. Additionally, in light of recent studies that show Pynchon’s narrative method since the 1970s to depend essentially on meticulously researched genre parody, one wonders how this approach will serve the author with such sensitive material, or if he will be led thereby to make major changes to his signature style.
The advertised subject matter–the tech-sector start-up scene of Manhattan’s still thriving “Silicon Alley”–also suggests that in Bleeding Edge, Pynchon will continue his deep examination of the historicity of media and technology. These issues have been recurring concerns in his work, from the underground postal network of The Crying of Lot 49 and the cinematic framing of Gravity’s Rainbow to Vineland’s satire of televisual culture and the cameo appearance by the ARPAnet in his most recent novel, Inherent Vice. Likewise, Pynchon has been a central figure for literary scholars working to interpret technology’s role as a shaping force in the contemporary world. Given this longstanding concern, how might he approach such a charged moment in the emergent history of global digital culture? What lines of relation might he trace between the hypercapitalism of Silicon Alley and the global webs of surveillance that–by many accounts–both anticipated and allowed the attacks of September 11? With the politics of information so urgently at stake in this context, Pynchon’s representation of early twenty-first-century technological forces has the potential to significantly develop this thread in his work and may best attest to his continuing relevance to contemporary literature.
Given the far-ranging possibilities of responding to such a new and important literary text, the roundtable structure for “Pynchon at the Bleeding Edge” will emphasize discussion: prompted by a set of framing questions sent to the group by the session organizer in December, opening comments of no more than six minutes from each participant will begin the panel’s critical reflection on Bleeding Edge. The better part, then, of the session time (as kept by the session organizer) will be reserved for open-ended conversation, driven by the interests of both speakers and audience members. Bringing together a range of approaches toward a major event in contemporary fiction, this roundtable session will appeal to MLA members interested in modern and contemporary literature as well as those more broadly interested in the novel, or simply curious about one of American literature’s most eminent, enduring, and intriguing living authors.
Update: Our panel is scheduled for Saturday, January 11, from 12:00 noon-1:15 pm in the Purdue-Wisconsin room of the Chicago Marriott.
I’m thrilled that my proposed special session “Deletion, Erasure, Cancellation: Negative Textualities” has been accepted for MLA 2014 in Chicago! I’m excited to be presenting with Laura All, Chuk Moran, Marjorie Luesbrink, and Andrew Ferguson — a truly interdisciplinary group of thinkers who I think will bring great insight and creativity to a provocative topic with broad appeal. Our original proposal is below, and I’ll post more information closer to the convention — join us in Chicago!
This roundtable offers a new approach to textual and media studies through close consideration of practices such as deletion, erasure, and cancellation—acts that might collectively be termed “negative” textual operations. Recent critical trends in media studies have drawn crucially necessary attention to the materiality of media, expanding scholarly attention within the field beyond its early focus on narrative and representation. Our conversation seeks to build upon and extend this attention to materiality through a specific focus on texts, practices, and histories that hinge on various forms of textual removal. In attending to these negative operations, we intend to foster discussion of a framework in which qualities such as absence, removal, residuality, blankness, and illegibility become essential criteria for critical analysis as well as for authorial and artistic production.
While the question of deletion and erasure has roots that date back at least to early poststructuralist thought, it has new relevance within a moment in which textual materiality is newly at stake in a variety of critical conversations. How might we describe the aesthetics of deletion and erasure across various media forms? What do these practices, and the textual absences they produce, tell us about the materiality of inscription? About authorship, readership, and memory? About how textual artifacts circulate between public and private domains? How might they reshape the very ways in which we write the histories of media and literature?
Laura All begins our consideration of these questions with a textual history of asterisks, dashes, and ellipses as placeholder marks within eighteenthcentury novels. She groups these blanks under the category of expletives, marks that stand in for content that is outside the printable, whether obscene or sublime. All shows how expletives play a pivotal role in early print’s constantly shifting process of self calibration. As literally unspeakable characters, they draw attention to their printed status, constituting a unique visual grammar. All argues that expletives’ textual idiosyncrasy is a powerful hermeneutic axis for the history of the book, revealing a permeable epistemological border between author and reader and negotiating between public and private in print.
By tracing the early history of the computer undo command, Chuk Moran offers a theory of the temporality of digital deletion. While computer users today expect that any action on the computer can be undone, the undo command did not become common until the 1980s. In providing a new means of error correction, it also shifted the temporal and textual axes of a wide range of knowledge work. Before realtime computing, users entered an entire program at once and the computer processed it all at once, whereas interactive computing let users fix mistakes along the way through the undo command. Moran argues that by allowing users to reverse the commands they entered—in other words, to delete and reenter information—the undo command positioned deletion as itself a consistent action that was central to a wide range of textual labor.
Marjorie Luesebrink discusses erosion in “born digital” literature in order to consider deletion and erasure with regard to the archive and the literary canon. Tracing the technological history of electronic literature, she shows how changes in hardware and software have dramatically changed readerly experience and access, with some significant phases of electronic literature effectively deleted from any possible historical canon. Early works from the 1990s, for example, cannot be “read” in their original form on contemporary computers, and working computers that can read these texts are increasingly rare, resulting in a historical friction in which seminal developments in this form are effectively erased from literary history, caught between the conflicting vectors of obsolescence and innovation. Considering the historical erasure of several pioneering works, Luesebrink argues for a more sensitive approach to the curation of electronic textuality.
Andrew Ferguson focuses on how digital deletion links video game culture to the archival dimensions of the recent National Security Agency surveillance scandal. In the course of justifying his agency’s massive data hoard, NSA director Keith Alexander recently spoke of his desire to “collect it all”—a phrasing that draws a curious parallel between the NSA and Pokémon. Ferguson carries this parallel to Pokémon Red & Blue to an analysis of the “Missing No.” glitch, which when captured can delete the entire game cartridge. The lesson of Pokémon, he suggests, is that the erasure will eventually escape the archive: the claimed rewards of totalizing collection are always balanced by much vaster risks (or, from another perspective, liberatory potential), up to and including systematic overwriting.
In order to explore how negative textual operations trouble the boundaries between public and private, Paul Benzon turns to redaction, the process of blacking out, overwriting, or otherwise concealing sensitive political information in order to make a private document suitable for public dissemination. Benzon argues that redacted documents occupy a paradoxical middle ground between the public and the private, and between writing and cancellation: at the same time that the marks of redaction effectively remove crucial information from the public record, they cannot help but add to that record through their own blank, mute testimony. Reading several technical briefs on redaction from the National Security Agency alongside Jenny Holzer’s 2006 series Redaction Paintings, he shows how redaction’s profoundly material concealments of text frame censorship as a form of writing that is uncomfortably hybrid and uneasily public.
Whether deletion, erasure, and cancellation take place as a result of authorial intervention, of material technological affordances, or of institutional or cultural tensions, they are ripe for a more fully articulated critical and historical context. In seeking to establish such a context, our roundtable brings together perspectives from book history, media studies, the digital humanities, and poetic practice, offering a conversation that will interest MLA members working in a wide range of periods, genres, and media. With each participant offering a timed opening provocation of no more than ten minutes, this session sets aside considerable time for discussion, in hopes of instigating a dynamic exchange on a novel topic with broad appeal.
I’ll be teaching Special Topics II: Electronic Literature this coming fall at Temple — I’m really excited about this course and about exploring this material with students. I’ll hopefully post more specifics as the fall semester gets closer — in the meantime, here’s a flyer with the course description and information. Any interested students are welcome to sign up or contact me with questions at pbenzon at temple dot edu!
Recent critical trends in media studies have drawn crucially necessary attention to the materiality of media, expanding scholarly attention within the field beyond its early focus on narrative and representation. Questions of storage, inscription, and circulation have become vital avenues of inquiry in relation to both alphabetic and nonalphabetic texts, allowing for a reconsideration of what it means to produce, consume, and possess textual material in a wide range of media, from print codices and digital files to hard drives, servers, and fiber-optic cables. This panel seeks to build upon and extend this focus on materiality through a close consideration of practices such as deletion, erasure, and cancellation, acts that might collectively be termed “negative” textual operations. These practices, while considered relatively infrequently within media and textual studies, have a great deal to tell us about textuality and how we understand it as scholars and as agents within a culture of information. Indeed, attending to these practices raises a range of questions that complement the recent scholarly focus on the materiality of media, posing a framework in which qualities such as absence, removal, residue, blankness, and invisibility become essential criteria for critical analysis as well as for authorial and artistic production.
While the question of deletion and erasure has roots that date back to the early waves of poststructuralist thought, it has new relevance and urgency within a contemporary moment in which textual objects from throughout history seem increasingly permanent and redundant. Whether deletion and erasure serve to distort the public record and bolster state power or to craft an alternate, fugitive history; whether they take place as a result of artistic or authorial intervention, of random error, or of politically resistant counterstrike; they are ripe for a more fully articulated critical and historical context. How might we describe the aesthetics and poetics of deletion and erasure within and across various media forms? What do these practices, and the textual absences they produce, tell us about the materiality of writing and other media? About authorship, visuality, and memory? About how textual artifacts circulate between public and private domains? About the limitations and paradoxes of the archive? About the very ways in which we write the history of media?
This roundtable invites presentations that address questions of deletion, erasure, cancellation, and similar and related practices across all periods, genres, and media: approaches from book history, textual scholarship, media studies and media archeology, sound studies, videogame studies, the digital humanities, and other critical frameworks are all welcome. In order to allow for both a wide diversity of approaches and contributions and a fruitful, in-depth discussion among participants and audience members, participants will be asked to limit their remarks to ten-minute provocations. Please send inquiries and abstracts with short biographies to pbenzon at temple dot edu by March 1.