Monday, January 11, 2010

It Will Find Us and It Will Videotape Our Kittens

Dear Reader,

What are you doing here today? Don't you know that there is a more interesting dust-up going on over at Ian Bogost's blog? Apparently there is quite a scrap about the true meaning of the digital humanities and the future of the humanities itself taking place over at his posting called "The Turtlenecked Hairshirt." I know that this is an argument that Bogost has been rehearsing for a while; he was even practicing it over a recent dinner, but it does have some of the most delightful invective about disengaged humanists who hide in obscure subfields that I have ever read.

Humanism does not deserve to carry the standard for humans, for frankly it despises them.

We don't make reform our mission because we secretly hate the idea of partaking of and in the greater world, even as we purport to give it voice, to speak of its ills through critical esoterics no public ear could ever grasp. Instead we colonize that world—all in the name of liberation, of course—in order to return its spoils to our fetid den of Lacanian self-denial. We masticate on culture for the pleasure of praising our own steaming shit.

We are not central because we have chosen to be marginal, for to be central would be to violate the necessity of marginality. We practice the monastic worship of a secular God we divined in order to kill again, mistaking ourselves for the madmen of our fantasies. We are masochists in hedonists' clothing. We are tweed demolitionists.

If there is one reason things "digital" might release humanism from its turtlenecked hairshirt, it is precisely because computing has revealed a world full of things: hairdressers, recipes, pornographers, typefaces, Bible studies, scandals, magnetic disks, rugby players, dereferenced pointers, cardboard void fill, pro-lifers, snowstorms. The digital world is replete. It resists any efforts to be colonized by the post-colonialists. We cannot escape it by holing up in Berkeley waiting for the taurus of time to roll around to 1968. It will find us and it will videotape our kittens.

Obviously, I am not above talking about French pop music, boy scout patches, signage to hospitals, cheek kissing, and Vanilla Ice. But the writing teacher in me knows that Bogost is right that all of us need to work harder to make our work readable, accessible, and something with which the public can actually be engaged.

Your Loyal Author



Blogger Ruby Sinreich said...

Actually, I am here because of your comment over on Ian post.

Loved your remark and sentiment: "I feel that if you can't get into an argument with a cab driver about your research, then you shouldn't be in the humanities."

I recently ran into an old professor of mine from my undergraduate minor in African American studies, some 15 years ago. I told him a bit about where I work now ( He expressed some real doubt about the value of some of the work at his university that falls under the "digital arts and humanities" category. I can't say I blame him, but I also made the case that with such new mediums, we have to invent new ways to study and understand them, which involves some experimentation. I think he bought it, at least in part. ;-)

8:45 AM  

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