Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions

This week, as I took in the readings I was simultaneously in the Collaboratory messing with Crimson Hexagon, trying to get it to work for my purposes, trying desperately to get a dataset that was most interesting to my needs, trying to exclude the tweets I didn’t want, getting annoyed with my search for verses of the Qur’an online, because no matter how many times I thought I had figured out to get just quoted verses, or I had taken precautions to avoid the bigots spouting  racist diatribe against Islam, or those responding to them, I kept finding tweets that didn’t fit my needs.

And then of course, I keep stressing out and pulling out my hair as I’m trying to zero in on the overall point of this exercise— yes, I have a research question (more like several) that are fueling my overall efforts, but I keep worrying about how much I keep manipulating my own perception of the data in order to see what I wanted to see.

“In short, failure is a phenomenon to overcome, while a glitch is incorporated further into technological or interpretive processes.” (27)

I want to see glitches.  But the failures keep piling up.  A glitch, as Menkman says, “refers to a not yet defined break from a procedural flow.” (27)  And this is exactly what I want to find.  Where is the break in the flow from oral or aural text to written to digital to short-without-context tweets.  I want to see the shift in experience of the Qur’an on social media, on Twitter specifically, perhaps Facebook, or even youtube.  I want to see what happens when certain verses make it to the online platform while others don’t.  When certain translations make it and others don’t.  When certain voices dominate.  When the essence of the Qur’an and its esoteric meaning/flow is disrupted, but somehow reaches a much larger audience than ever before at greater speed and regularity.    But I can’t help but think, perhaps this idea of glitch doesn’t quite work with oral traditions.  Perhaps oral traditions don’t really care about glitch.

The stuff I’m reading right now, about the compilation of the Qur’an, hadith, and Arabic poetic traditions seems to think so.  The readings criticize the Western focus on accuracy, seeing this as being irrelevant.  For religious texts, this may sound ludicrous.  And it kind of is, I suppose.  But maybe not so much.  Menkman writes “The first encounter with a glitch comes hand in hand with a feeling of shock, with being lost and in awe. The glitch is a powerful interruption that shifts an object away from its flow and ordinary discourse, towards the ruins of destructed meaning.” (29)  When looking at the Arabic poetic tradition, there are constant glitches or even failures according to this terminology, in that little was written down, and therefore the poems themselves would be retold, “rewritten,” re-mediated even, sometimes even “improved” upon, sometimes made worse, catered towards different locales, and therefore became living things.  The glitch that would disrupt this normal flow of things then, is when the primarily oral tradition comes into a head on collision with the dominant written culture, or the need for written culture, so that the oral tradition won’t die out.  Could I say then, that the glitch in the data I’m looking at is that it has been re-contextualized and re-mediated so much that the oral tradition of Qur’anic recitation itself has been infringed upon, disrupted to a certain extent.  People are learning the proper recitation (tajwid) through youtube videos and websites rather than with a teacher.  People are reading the Qur’an, or at least taking in bits and pieces of daily inspiration through twitter accounts and chopped up verses that sound nice.  Is modernity itself the glitch in the oral traditions of Islam?  Perhaps I’m going way too off the deep end here… I feel like I’m rambling.

“A glitch is the most puzzling, difficultt to define and enchanting noise artifact; it reveals itself to perception as accident, chaos or laceration and gives a glimpse into normally obfuscated machine language. Rather than creating the illusion of a transparent, well-working interface to information, the glitch captures the machine revealing itself.” (29-30)


According to the quote above, maybe modernity and social media aren’t the problem.  Maybe the Qur’an via Twitter is actually allowing the “machine [to reveal] itself.”


My project (and career in academia) is still coming together, or falling apart depending on  how you read this rambling piece, but perhaps the fogginess in my own thoughts is merely setting the stage for clarity:


“Noise turns to glitch when it passes a momentary tipping point, at which it could  tip away into a failure, or instead force new knowledge about the glitch’s techné, and actual and presumed media flows, onto the viewer.” (31)


I’m thinking this quote means there is a real purpose, perhaps even potentially incredibly interesting end to my project.  Or perhaps, and excuse my language, I’m just writing convoluted and unecssary bullshit and I need to shape up.

Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions

2 thoughts on “Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions

  1. lisayhan says:

    Hi Ali,

    I think there’s something poetic about the way you’ve paired a rambling with the subject of glitch. Glitch to me is about embracing imperfection and allowing the echo chamber of partial ideas, images, sounds, and other objects to reverberate indefinitely to generate a meaning that may very well seem indefinite, exhausting, and unproductive.

    If I understand correctly, you see the Qur’an and oral/aural Arabic poetic tradition as a living, evolving, and imperfect transmission of ideas that gets “glitched” when it is frozen in bits and pieces by digital media’s attempts to achieve fixity and clarity. I think this is fantastic (and coherent!) claim to investigate, and I think the rambling is itself an integral part of exploring this idea. After all, glitch is often about making ugly processes visible (or revealing the art in ugly processes), and maybe taking that manifesto seriously means letting the ramblings loose. Perhaps the “shaping up” will come with exploration, with contradiction, with creating visualizations and tossing them away, and with letting those failures point you in new directions.

    (As a side rambling, while I was reading your post I started to imagine a visual analogy to what you were saying in the form of datamoshing—the effect where certain pixels in a video image trail behind or freeze, infringing on the transmission of the video. I guess the analogy is that this reminds me of the chopped up, half-frozen half-live way that Qur’anic recitation gets transmitted through Pinterest quotes and youtube clips).

    I’m excited to see where your project ends up!



  2. Ali,

    I think this is just wonderful. You’ve drawn out something that I don’t think we can afford to forget – something, I think that the Glitch Manifesto ironically obscures in its rush to celebrate error as a moment of unbounded potentiality. For the glitch – a visual or auditory inscription of a textual and/or technical rupture – to appear as freedom, or as freedom’s possibility, the meanings of freedom have already to be monopolized in a particular way. Freedom has already to be involved in a history that ties order, reason, and knowledge primarily to written language; freedom has already to be a freedom-from precisely the ignorance, sensuality, and imprecision that Enlightenment epistemologies have assigned to orality. Glitch appears as freedom only within a particular vernacular of freedom. And this is a vernacular derived from a specific textual politics wherein orality (or aurality, or tactility, or hapticity more generally) is located outside intelligibility; the source of poetic and aesthetic potential, perhaps, but nonetheless outside law, history, knowledge, time. Expelled from the here-and-now, denied coevalness. While this might have a certain appeal within the idiom of Western avant garde aesthetics, it risks repeating precisely that hierarchical ordering of knowledge through which Western modernity casts itself as a civilizational ideal.

    Given the ways in which this ideal has been (and continues to be) enrolled in projects of mass dehumanization – colonialism, genocide, white supremacist ethnonationalisms – it is perhaps worth questioning a bit more carefully the seductive move from glitch to freedom. How does glitch, as an appeal to freedom, involve us in the pained and often violent genealogies of Western vernaculars of freedom itself? How might this appeal not only inherit but even help to hold in place an epistemological ordering that comfortably abides the presumed non-intelligibility of orality?

    You’re far from babbling. This is a fantastic question you’re raising. Much appreciated, Ali. I can’t quite reconcile the quote that follows to what you’ve written, but I’m hearing echoes of the latter in the former. From Lisa Lowe’s fabulous The Intimacy of Four Continents:

    “The ‘overcoming’ of internal contradiction resolves in ‘freedom’ within the modern Western political sphere through displacement and elision of the coeval conditions of settler dispossession, slavery, and indentureship in the Americas. In this sense, modern liberal humanism is a formalism that translates the world through an economy of affirmation and forgetting within a regime of desiring freedom. The differentiations of ‘race’ or ‘nation,’ the geopolitical map of ‘south,’ ‘north,’ ‘east,’ and ‘west,’ or the modernization discourse of stages of development – these are the traces of liberal forgetting. They reside within, and are constitutive of, the modern narrative of freedom but are neither fully determined nor exhausted by its ends. They are the remainders of the formalism of affirmation and forgetting.”



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