Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Attention Getting

On Monday I went to see DJ Danger Mouse at the Hammer Museum. Danger Mouse is the stage name of Brian Burton, who came to the attention of copyright scholars like Lawrence Lessig and Siva Vaidhyanathan after he created "The Grey Album," which combined the Beatle's classic with a cappela music by Jay-Z. Those who argue for digital rights see the cease-and-desist orders that Burton received as a sign of repression from oligarchical interests unwilling to allow the distribution of intellectual property in a free culture.

Burton talked a lot about the relationship between mixing digital samples and creating film and the role of the auteur in the studio. Burton might not be conceptualizing the relationship between new media and traditional cinema with the same language as Lev Manovich, but there were definitely intersections in how they imagined communities of practice.

Burton got the biggest applause not for defending fair use of copyrighted material, but when he described his "love-hate" relationship with the Internet. He criticized members of the digital generation for lacking the habits of attention needed to sustain meaningful listening experiences, particularly when it came to appreciating an entire record album as a coherent work of art.

The reaction to Burton's comments about "attention" from his audience made me wonder whether or not I should revisit Richard Lanham's new work, The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information (University of Chicago Press, 2006). When it arrived in my mailbox, I initially found it quite disappointing: full of cultural stereotypes that have been contested by many who study the engrossing characteristics of highly-situated digital experiences, such as James Paul Gee.

Except for a chapter on "What's Next for Text" that showed that Lanham was capable of "thinking with type" (as Ellen Lupton says) in interesting ways, I found the overall argument unpersuasive. Yet Lanham is the author of one of my top-ten favorite digital rhetoric books of all time, The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts (University of Chicago Press, 1996), so perhaps I'll give his latest offering another try.



Blogger Julia Lupton said...

Is this the same Richard Lanham who wrote the magnificent "Handbook of Rhetorical Terms" back in the 1980s? If so, it's great to see someone trained in classical and Renaissance rhetoric (no youngster, either) addressing the digital revolution. He is "thinking with type," but also, perhaps, "thinking with Shakespeare."

11:36 AM  

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