May 082018

I’m participating in a seminar at ASAP 10 this October in New Orleans on Ordinary Media, organized by Danny Snelson (UCLA) and Jim Hodge (Northwestern). It should be a provocative discussion of digital formats, cultures, and practices. See the call for seminar participants below and get in touch with Danny, Jim, or myself to apply!

Ordinary Media: Emerging Genres in Everyday Formats

No longer new, digital media technologies in the 21st century have become remarkably ordinary. Following Raymond Williams, the word ‘ordinary’ relates to its medieval cousin, ordination, or the process by which the rules of living pass from explicit decree to culture as such. In the digital age, ordinariness undergoes a decisive mutation as it originates less and less from cultural superstructures and more and more from technological infrastructures: the often invisible and insensible domains of digital formats (.mp3, .flv, .gif, .mov, .pdf, .docx, etc.). The ubiquity of this condition coincides with three key events: the saturation of culture by smartphones and wireless networks, the emergence of social media, and the explosion of new networked genres of expression and behavior: emoji, animated .gifs, selfies, vaporwave, memes, hashtags, supercuts, gamification, sexting, ghosting, podcasting, commenting, sharing, speed running, searching, glitching, and liking—among many others.

By focusing on new networked genres, this seminar contributes to the critique of the historical present in its ordinary manifestation theorized by historian Harry Harootunian and theorist Lauren Berlant. For Harootunian, the historical present is defined by its “non-contemporaneous contemporaneity,” or the felt sense of living in multiple, overlapping, and asynchronous temporalities of culture and language facilitated by the forces of networked globalization. Berlant emphasizes how attention to affect can articulate the ways in which bodies attune and habituate themselves to new ways of living in the historical present. For Berlant, too, a “waning of genre” accompanies the contemporary historical present, or what amounts to the decline of melodrama as the master genre of American culture. As Linda Williams observes, the temporal logic of melodrama may be expressed by the phrase, “too late!” This logic, we venture, no longer obtains in the field of ordinary networked experience where event, broadcast, and experience all uneasily co-exist. This seminar aims to analyze how new networked genres and technologies help us to understand better the changing dynamics of the historical present. While the topic of media infrastructures has recently drawn attention from a range of fields, this literature largely focuses on the historical development or the technical nuts and bolts of technology, rather than the actual experience of these infrastructures in the present. By contrast, “Ordinary Media” explores the ways in which artistic and poetic works provide a potent and reflexive means to assess the experiential and technological logics of our media landscape. This seminar focuses on genres particular to or sustained by the web. We aim to analyze networked genres from within the ordinariness of networked digital connection, a condition sometimes called “post-digital,” or a world in which digital networks are no longer new but simply the state of things. By focusing on the ubiquitous and the ordinary, this seminar will appeal to ASAP members interested in a range of topics, including but not limited to sexuality, affect, infrastructure, seriality, surveillance, software, publics, geopolitics, and the Anthropocene. We invite papers and projects addressing new modes and genres of networked artmaking, experimental writing, cultural practice, and lived experience in the context of always-on computing.

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