As the semester is coming to an end, I would like to reflect on what we have discussed. Some of my main takeaways are that “things” are just things until we notice them as something more than that, technology is changing and we should think about how we are reading texts and who is actually doing the writing– us or technology, and that literature can be more than simply literature, it can be art.
At the very beginning of the semester, we discussed the idea that “things” are only things until we notice them as something more. We talked about “Thing Theory,” and we even discussed this idea after a couple of the other readings. This is the idea that we do not notice objects as what they are until they break or need our attention in some way. One example we talked about was if there was a green chair and something that you needed was set on top of that chair, you would likely ask someone to get you that object “on that green thing.” You would likely not recognize the green chair as more than a green “thing” until it was broken or needed to be moved. This was an interesting idea to me, I had not heard it before. It made me think about how I view the objects in my house.
Technology is always changing. We first talked about how we read books. Personally, I said I would rather read a physical text rather than online. Some people said they like being able to flip through the pages, they remember where certain parts of the book are better in physical texts, and that ebooks or online texts make their eyes hurt, or make it harder to focus. We then talked about who is actually doing the writing these days. There were comments made about how computers are only as smart as humans and some other comments about how we, as humans, are only pushing buttons, while computers are processing and forming the letters, therefore the computers could be the ones doing the writing. This idea stood out to me because I had not previously thought about who was doing the writing. I just assumed that people were the ones doing the writing, but after hearing both sides of the argument, I am not sure where I stand. It makes sense that computers are technically writing, but they are writing for us. We still have to tell the computer what to write, and how to write it.
Literature can be art, not just the story within a book, but how it is shown. We looked at electronic literature and even the text Between Page and Screen. It was interesting to see how people could come up with these ideas. I did not find these convenient to read, in fact, it took far more effort to get through most of these texts. I usually found myself focused on the structure and how the words were presented to me rather than what the text was really about. It will be interesting to see how this type of literature evolves over time, but I cannot see a world where people prefer to hold a physical book up to a screen in order to read it. The world is all about making things easier, and that form of reading is far from easy.
The two online readings were interesting to say the least. I was confused on if I had clicked on the right link or if my computer was having problems at the very beginning of 17776 because of the glitch into the calendar. It was intriguing, and I am glad I spent the time reading through it. There is just a calendar, green text (Ten), and red text (Nine). The beginning reminded me of the confusion I had when reading Between Pages and Screen, so I assumed that Ten and Nine had to do with technology and were not actually people. Humanity is now gone, and the satellites (Nine and Ten and everyone else) watch football be played with tornados on Earth, which sounds absolutely insane…but not at the same time. It brings up more questions about what technology will do when humans are no longer around. Will we create this artificial intelligence to carry on thinking after we are gone? Interesting how football is what is kept alive in these “minds” of technology and they find entertainment in it like we do. Are we preserving our culture within technology like this without even realizing?
This week’s readings were interesting in different ways. Reading Machines was particularly intriguing to me as it introduced and described how computers can be used as “reading machines” to explore and discover literacy paths. In addition to being a very thought provoking book, I feel like this is no light reading material. The language used to communicate this literacy algorithm had me confused most of the time, I’m still not sure that I know exactly what to do with this text.
As far as the other two readings, I found them both to be fascinating all around. I really appreciated the format that the content was presented in both Jon Bois’ 17776 and What is code. Though at first I was confused with the format… feeling dumbfounded, I had to double check that I clicked on the right link and that I was reading the right material. It was definitely a new experience. nonetheless it tied in well with the topic we discussed in class two weeks ago when discussing Between Page and Screen. I think that because this was such an odd and new reading experience, I feel like I was mostly focused on the format of the content being present and less on the actual content being presented.
After a long semester of reading theoretical and fictional texts about the concept of the interface, I think I finally had a break through reading What is Code? this week. Section 2.1 made real for me many of the things we have been circling around in our readings thus far. It’s an obvious point, and something I have known conceptually in my head all along, but seeing the code that appears when typing a letter on a keyboard finally slapped me in the face this week.
Similar to zihan’s question about “Who is really doing the writing when we type on a laptop, us or the code?” I would venture to ask: “What language am I even writing in? Am I even saying something sensical, that I myself can understand?” The code that appears when I type my name transforms information that is entirely familiar to me into something foreign, which essentially reduces me—my personhood, my concept of “self”— into a series of letters and numbers that I interpret as gibberish, but that are really a kind of mechanized and standardized language between the computer and the keyboard. I am almost left out of the conversation entirely.
The interface of the keyboard/computer makes something that I interpret as being entirely subjective and personal, the act of writing, into just another series of coding that is strung together. This level of displacement challenges the notion of the interface that I had up until this point, particularly Hookway’s of theorizing interface as a kind of relation to machines. I fancied myself as “writer,” as “owner” of my laptop, as being “in control” of the way I relate to machines. In some ways I conceived of myself as having the upper hand in my relation to the interface, in that I am human, thereby superior in my interpretative and critical thinking. Playing around with Paul Ford’s interactive keyboard, however, flipped the script. I don’t know if humans are as in control as we think we are when it comes to our interactions with technology. Even when writing “personal” documents, we must entrust a computer with that information, and at the end of the day, the words and letters we worry ourselves over mean nothing to the computer’s coding of those words and letters.
Even if I knew how to code, I wonder if I would feel any sort of authority over technology. I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t help the situation much. As a “coder” or “developer,” I am still manipulating technology under a very strict set of conditions—I must bow to the computer’s language and limitations. I wonder where this leaves us. I might be becoming a disgruntled, Flusserian sort of luddite here, but I have to ask—when our language is essentially superseded by the language of code, does writing (as we understand it) really have a future? Or are we doomed to bend to the will of technology, to make our subjective thoughts and interpretations fit the mold of what the interface demands?
This week’s readings were really fascinating and I really enjoyed reading Jon Bois’ 17776 and What is code. Probably it’s because of all of the professional technical terms in the book Reading Machines, I found it’s hard to get into my reading zone when I first started reading it. But I had no doubt about that it has merit, just like what Ramsay stated – all criticism is deformational in some way. Reading 17776 was a whole different experience and I think it’s a perfect combination of digital art and speculative fiction. While reading it, I can’t help myself but think about how did Jon Bois figure out to arrange this book in this way. Did he write everything by himself then hand it off to a coder/programmer? I had a similar reading experience with reading Between Pages and Screen, where I found myself get distracted easily and had a hard time to really focus on the content. Reading the article What is code reminded me of one conversation we had during the class a few weeks ago. We had a conversation about the future of writing where we discussed the question: “If you are “writing” something on your laptop, who is actually doing the writing thing? Yourself or the code behind the laptop?” Even though I’ve read about how the code works now, I still don’t have a very specific answer to that question. Because I found myself always debating with my own thoughts. Part of me would agree that no matter how the form of writing changes, the writing itself is not changing and we are still in charge of doing the writing. However, part of me would also agree that there is no way we could do the writing on the laptop without the code behind it. I look forward to hearing others’ opinions/thoughts on this question.
One part of Reading Machines I found most fascinating was the section about Saussure and the discovery of anagrams within poems. Up until then, and I’m not sure how I feel now, I was not sold on Ramsay’s ideas about algorithmic criticism. It was interesting to hear about the linguistics founder treating signs, typically associated with meaning, treating them as data, like the way that Ramsay described. It’s interesting, but not really sure what it accomplishes and how it moves literature and criticism forward. By analyzes poems, in this algorithmic manner, Saussure found some anagrams, but does that change or create new meaning in the text? I feel like I’m missing something about his argument, or maybe its because I have never had the desire to crack open a text in this manner. It too closely resembles the scene in Penumbra where they focus so heavily on breaking into this text by hundreds of thousands of algorithms and then come up with: nothing. It shows that the material of a book can mean something, but perhaps it just means something different than cracking it through turning the text into data. Though Ramsay’s way of criticism the algorithm is just a tool to be used for literary analysis, so, in theory, Google must have come with something when cracking the Codex, obviously Sloane is not going to go into that though. This new way of criticism rubs me the wrong way, but maybe it’s supposed to.
I was fascinated by Reading Machines. I’d already submitted my essay draft when I read it, but I think it’s going to be super useful as I think about my final project. Here’s a passage that stood out to me:
[A]lgorithmic criticism might well eschew the question of success and instead ask how much more gloriously and fruitfully it might fail. The goal, after all, is not to arrive at the truth, as science strives to do. In literary criticism, as in the humanities more generally, the goal has always been to arrive at the question. (68)
This was especially interesting to and complicated for me because I’ve never heard it put that way before–that literary criticism is attempting “to arrive at the question.” In fact, I’ve always been told that you can’t end up with a good analysis unless you start with good questions. That’s the sense I get from reading academic articles, too: you start with your burning question and then try to answer it, to fill a hole in scholarship, to address the question that everyone else is supposedly overlooking, and, by implication, get answers. How does our approach to scholarship change if we start try to arrive at questions rather than answer them? Is this perhaps what some of the texts (especially the fiction ones) we’ve read this semester are doing? What are some ways algorithmic criticism can help us here, especially those of us who aren’t used to thinking this way?
I’m still wrestling with “What is Code” and 17776, honestly. I’m not sure what to do with them. Even though “What is Code” was ostensibly written for someone who knows little or nothing about coding, I struggled to “process” all that information: the story peppered throughout kept me anchored, to an extent, in the whelming sea of terms and ideas and figures I didn’t know; I kept going to find out what happened. But, I just felt confused and overwhelmed by the more technical aspects. I felt similarly adrift in 17776. It was cool and kind of interesting, but I haven’t yet decided what to do with it… so I’m looking forward to hearing others’ experiences.
I had read through 17776 once before when it was first published and was instantly fascinated by it. Upon a second reading (and as the title suggests), a scene from Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore came into my mind. Namely, when Kat describes how, when thinking about the future, it is basically impossible to think further than 1000 years down the road. You have your flying cars, your clean energy, your world piece, what have you – but that is still, in the grand scheme of things, so close to where we live now.
Jon Bois’s 17776, however, seems to counteract this. The piece seems to actually think down the line, beyond 1000 years. Earth is wiped of humanity, the only communication is between satellites, and football is now played by tornadoes and the endzones are old state lines – now that’s thinking in the future.
Alongside this, I was also reminded of (as I am about basically everything other text in this class) Flusser’s new consciousness. Quite literally, of course, with the piece’s advent of technology becoming sentient – this is a literal new form of consciousness. But I also felt it in the way time is depicted in the piece. There is something quite ironic about two sentient A.I.’s only being able to communicate every few years due to humanity’s way of creating them. The same way our processes for thinking and communication have been limited by our own minds, the piece’s A.I.’s are limited by our ability to create them. This might not be fully fleshed out, but I think the point is there. I would love to know if this piece (or any of the other texts) made you think of past readings.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for an algorithm to produce knowledge. I’m also thinking about how an algorithm and a lens (in the literary criticism sense) seem to coincide with one another and operate on similar levels. When I use a lens to understand a text I’m inherently using a theoretically informed algorithm that produces certain types of readings that are afforded by the lens or theory that I have decided to focus on. Which then makes me wonder whether or not it is possible to feed an algorithm the information it needs to conduct lets say, a Marxist reading of a text. And whether or not it is possible for a program of some sort to produce a reading that would inspire or wow some of it’s readers. But then I wonder whether or not an algorithm or a lens is all you need for interpretation… I guess what I’m getting at here is that technology is making me feel like we’re missing something about us that is non computational nor programmable. I just can’t put my finger on it.
I found this text to be really fascinating especially the chapter on “Potential Readings” the entropic poem does some really fascinating work in terms of producing a text that compiles word frequency and whatnot. It’s fascinating in the sense that it really made me think about my own understanding of reading. I looked at the words at first and was kind of like, yeah cool whatever. But then I started to think of the word frequency as data—data that wasn’t trying to make an argument. I became much less skeptical when I started to think of algorithms and technologically mediated and re-produced or deformed texts not as arguments but as new objects of study that provide us ways of producing new lenses, because in the end I think the thing I have been trying to get at here is that perspectives are non programmable. We can all look at the entropic poem and deduce something different and something about that feels good? Ramsay had one line that really sold me on this text and method “Our fear of breaking faith with the text may also need to give way to a renewed faith in the capacity of subjective engagement for liberating the potentialities of meaning” (57). I like this whole algorithm thing, so long as it continues to function as a lens to produce new readings.
I found the book Reading Machines hard to get through. There were a lot of technical terms which made the book confusing for me, but also frustrating because I had to put in so much effort to try to understand things. I found it interesting to hear about what the different programs do, it is not something I think about until it is put right in front of me. It is amazing how fast computers are and all of the behind the scene things they are always doing, like keeping track of how frequent words are used and waiting for you to push a key on your keyboard.
I also found the extra readings cool to go through. I liked that I could interact with the “What is Code” article by Ford. The other article, “17776” by Bois was very unique. It reminded me about our conversation about Between Page and Screen and all of the online poems/stories/etc. that we looked at. I kept scrolling through the entire way just waiting to see what would come next. It was an interesting read.
I think that it is so amazing that there are people out there who can make all of this possible. I have no idea how people learn how to do this kind of thing, I could never. I was also shocked to find out that this was happening in the 1940s! I realize that computers were invented around this time, but again, I just had not thought about every single detail that goes into creating computers and their ability to function.