SpecLab Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing
by Johanna Drucker
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-16507-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-16508-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-16509-7
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Nearly a decade ago, Johanna Drucker cofounded the University of Virginia’s SpecLab, a digital humanities laboratory dedicated to risky projects with serious aims. In SpecLab she explores the implications of these radical efforts to use critical practices and aesthetic principles against the authority of technology based on analytic models of knowledge.

            Inspired by the imaginative frontiers of graphic arts and experimental literature and the technical possibilities of computation and information management, the projects Drucker engages range from Subjective Meteorology to Artists’ Books Online to the as yet unrealized ’Patacritical Demon, an interactive tool for exposing the structures that underlie our interpretations of text. Illuminating the kind of future such experiments could enable, SpecLab functions as more than a set of case studies at the intersection of computers and humanistic inquiry. It also exemplifies Drucker’s contention that humanists must play a role in designing models of knowledge for the digital age—models that will determine how our culture will function in years to come.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Johanna Drucker is the Martin and Bernard Breslauer Professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of several books, including Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

REVIEWS

“As we all grope our way into a remediating world, this book talks about how to put first things first: most especially thinking before knowing and aesthetic practice before philosophical reflection. Am Anfang war die Tat has rarely been so well demonstrated.”

— Jerome McGann, University of Virginia

TABLE OF CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Background to SpecLab

Speculative Computing

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0001
[digital humanities, speculative computing, computational disciplines, computer science, computational methods, cultural authority]
This chapter discusses the differences between digital humanities and speculative computing. It explains that the early character of digital humanities was formed by concessions to the exigencies of computational disciplines and humanists played by the rules of computer science and its formal logic. Speculative computing, on the other hand, is a set of principles through which to push back on the cultural authority by which computational methods instrumentalize their effects across many disciplines. (pages 3 - 18)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0002
[speculative computing, digital humanities, intellectual traditions, theoretical polemic, SpecLab]
This chapter discusses the basic principles of speculative computing and its distinction from digital humanities. It suggests that speculative computing distinguishes itself from digital humanities on the basis of its sources of inspiration and intellectual traditions. It explains that speculative computing builds on certain competencies developed in digital humanities but its theoretical polemic overturns the latter's premises in many respects. This chapter also discusses some of the sources of ideas and principles used in the development SpecLab. (pages 19 - 30)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Projects at SpecLab

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0003
[Temporal Modeling, SpecLab, humanistic principles, digital projects, knowledge production, Bethany Nowviskie, Jim Allman, Petra Michel]
This chapter discusses Temporal Modeling, the first project at SpecLab. This project was designed to test whether humanistic principles could be used in the design and implementation of digital projects, and whether graphical means could serve as a primary mode of knowledge production. Temporal Modeling was built with a team of players that include Bethany Nowviskie, who guided the design process, freelance Flash designer Jim Allman, and designer Petra Michel. The project has demonstrated that a visual theater for knowledge production could create primary information and analysis, not merely serve as its display. (pages 37 - 64)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0004
[Ivanhoe, SpecLab, digital environment, Jerry McGann, interpretation, texts, textuality, reading, knowledge production]
This chapter discusses Ivanhoe, the second project at SpecLab. This project was inspired by the desire to design a project that could embody and demonstrate critical principles while providing a model digital environment for next-generation pedagogy and scholarship. The idea for the project came from an e-mail exchange between the author and Jerry McGann. Together they designed Ivanhoe as a game of interpretation and structured the design to reveal what they felt was at stake in exposing assumptions about texts and textuality and reading and knowledge production. (pages 65 - 98)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0005
[Subjective Meteorology, SpecLab, graphical forms, subjective experience, digital humanities, University of California, Santa Barbara]
This chapter discusses Subjective Meteorology, a digital project at SpecLab. It explains that Subjective Meteorology was designed to demonstrate the capacity of graphical forms to be a primary mode of capturing subjective experience for later analysis and understanding. It was created entirely as an act of aesthetic provocation and a work of imagination and it made no concession to the standards of the digital humanities. The project was sponsored by the Digital Cultures Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (pages 99 - 108)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0006
[ABsOnline, SpecLab, artists' books, metadata, modeling device, intellectual project, digital techniques, critical approach]
This chapter discusses the SpecLab project called Artists' Books Online (ABsOnline). It explains that ABsOnline is a digital collection of facsimiles and metadata meant to provide a resource for access to and study of artists' books. This chapter suggests that ABsOnline was an exercise in the use of metadata as a modeling device within an intellectual project where the design of the intellectual field draws on digital techniques to shape and structure a critical approach. (pages 109 - 118)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0007
[Paracritical Demon, SpecLab, interpretation-modeling device, interpretative activity, signification, subjectivity]
This chapter discusses the SpecLab project called the Paracritical Demon. It explains that this project has been envisioned as the essential interpretation-modeling device and the means of exposing the process of interpretive activity in its many dimensions. The Paracritical Demon was designed to demonstrate ideas about signification and subjectivity by expressing the transformed and deformed versions of texts produced anew in every reading. (pages 119 - 126)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

From Aesthetics to Aesthesis

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0008
[graphesis, SpecLab, digital media, ontological identity, digital image, mathesis, Edmund Husserl, Theodor Adorno, digital data]
This chapter discusses graphesis and code in relation to the development SpecLab. It questions the underlying the authority of digital media as construed in the popular imagination and shows that the premise on which this authority is sustained is a mythic one. This chapter discusses the ideological assumptions in the way the ontological identity of the digital image is posed and suggests that graphesis can challenge mathesis. It also analyzes the relevant works of Edmund Husserl and Theodor Adorno which served as the bases for analyzing the premises by which mathesis functions in current conceptions of digital data. (pages 133 - 144)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0009
[materiality, text, digital environment, print artifacts, digital formats, probabilistic approach, false binaries, visual studies]
This chapter discusses the notion of materiality in relation to the use of text as code in the digital environment. It argues that the debates about the nature of materiality with respect to writing in digital formats are often premised on false binaries that print artifacts are considered material and electronic formats immaterial. This chapter suggests that we should not limit ourselves to a literal reading of materiality but consider instead a probabilistic approach to materiality in textual and visual studies. (pages 145 - 164)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0010
[functionality, textual artifacts, material form, media environment, codex, books]
This chapter discusses the importance of modeling the functionality of textual artifacts. It cites the case of the e-book as an example of the ways in which a too-literal misapprehension of what constitute the distinctive features of a material form can give rise to a misconceived model of what it should be when redesigned in another media environment. This chapter also argues that the traditional codex may already be considered virtual and that the books of the future depend very much on how we meet the challenge to understand what a book is and has been. (pages 165 - 174)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0011
[new media, aesthetics, digital art, artistic practices, creative work, speculative aesthetics, computational method]
This chapter suggests that discussion of new media should be considered in its relation to aesthetics. This would bring digital art into dialogue with other artistic practices that are part of a contemporary landscape of imaginative and creative work and would put the fate of aesthetics in an era of new media under consideration. This chapter also criticizes the notion of the so-called hybrid aesthetics and generative aesthetics as problematic and proposes a speculative aesthetics that is grounded in the language of computational method. (pages 175 - 188)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0012
[digital aesthetics, digital identity, digital environment, mathetic condition, digital storage]
This chapter discusses criticisms of the notion of digital aesthetics. It explains that the notion that an image can be reduced to or rendered equivalent to a data file, algorithm, program, or any mathematical, quantifiable identity gives rise to a notion of digital identity as absolute and certain. This chapter also suggests that in certain instances the how of the digital environment is never quite precisely the same as the what and that the means and matter of expression only appear to be indissolubly unified in the mathetic condition of digital storage. (pages 189 - 196)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Johanna Drucker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226165097.003.0013
[SpecLab, digital humanities laboratory, design, humanities, theoretical questions, cultural resource, aesthetics]
This chapter discusses the lessons learned from the projects of the SpecLab digital humanities laboratory. The main lessons in the projects are the value of design as an instrument of humanities work and a better understanding of aesthetics. Another lesson is that the theoretical questions that will set the direction for that design are rooted in basic concerns with the interpretative power of models in the creation of any cultural resource. (pages 197 - 200)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Notes

Bibliography

Index