Wondering About Words

Upon reflecting on the manifestos for this week, I ended up thinking about the centrality of text/writing in conveying information. As manifestos, each project attempts to subvert ideas regarding dominant ideologies/epistemologies in a multitude of fields. Whether explicitly or implicitly, each manifesto brings to the forefront questions of form in regards to knowledge production, particularly in thinking about incorporating human and computer epistemologies into an integrated approach.

However, despite efforts to re-imagine the dynamics of discourse into a form more attuned to the digital age, what struck me as interesting was the centrality of the written/spoken word to all of the pieces. While the form of each text was experienced in drastically different ways, the only one to engage with the word outside of its visual textuality was the FemTechNet manifesto. By experimenting with the aural dynamics of the cyber voice, FemTechNet’s manifesto played with ideas of the collective yet anonymous voice (“we are”) that is often embodied in the collective/collaborative grassroots project. However, it is usually not experienced outside of the disembodied voice of the written text, lending it a somewhat detached feeling from the humanistic affect it attempts to purport. Utilizing the oral form brings voice and texture to the disembodied voice we all read while experiencing text online. However, there’s an odd distancing effect given by the cyborg effect – there is an experienced dissonance of aural closeness that points towards humanity performed by a cyborg voice that is distinctly non-human as well as a disjuncture between the collective, humanist/subversive thought spoken in a singular disconnected outlet.

This seems to embody the spirit of glitch art as proposed in its manifesto, looking to the importance of interruption – “Flow cannot be understood without interruption, nor function without glitching. This is why glitch studies is necessary.” By experiencing this dissonance, the FemTechNet manifesto seems to offer a moment of exploration of experiences between human interaction, en vivo and online. By providing this perceived dissonance and continuity, it allows for an exploration of the distinctions between individual and collective, man and machine. The Vectors manifesto seems to explore this area as well, attempting to bring together the worlds of human thought and computer thought in their dynamic model. While these different approaches to exploring this “interruption” between human and machine “thought”/expression, a couple of things seem to be points of further exploration. Particularly in the Vectors manifesto, I find the project’s goal to combine human and machine thought slightly problematic as perpetuating this difference maintains the narrative that computers/technology exist in a realm parallel to their human origins. However, maybe this is the point in the interruption – to explore the distinctions and contours of this conversation, to examine the flows of discourse.

What also struck me, and perhaps this is me participating in the same practice of which I’m being critical, is the continued centrality of the spoken/written word to convey meaning even as technologies make it easier to create and share multimedia forms. As personal declarations of intent, manifestos have a necessity to declare clearly and succinctly how they are attempting to subvert problematic dominant ideologies. It’s interesting to me that the best way in which to do this remains the word. One would think that proposing manifestos antithetical to the word would be at the heart of subverting dominant modes of thinking and knowledge production. Wouldn’t collaboration amongst broader audiences subsume a need to communicate in a more universal language? Doesn’t the use of English assume a certain audience? A certain level of competency in order to comprehend and participate? I’m not proposing that I have a solution to the confines of language, but I find it striking that manifestos that aim to question the ideologies of linearity and modes of production continue to cling to language as the primary mode of expression. Are we confined to thinking in text form? Is this universal, or a production of the West with its roots in textual tradition? Are there ways to subvert the text beyond an interactive rearrangement of words or aural rendering of a text? Can a manifesto be communicated in an image, a video, a work of art, a song? Is there a hierarchy of mode of expression? Can we subvert it?

Wondering About Words

2 thoughts on “Wondering About Words

  1. danbyd1 says:

    Hi Nicole,
    What a good question. “Can we subvert it?” It is interesting that, in most of these readings, the want to subvert was accompanied by hints of an inherent inability to subvert. I remember we discussed in the end of one of the semiotics class how binary oppositions are pervasive. YinYang! If the glitch needs the clean channel of the media to exist, the channel also needs the glitch. If that is true, it may be that subversion is only a moment of rupture that quickly becomes integrated in the continuous cycle of communication.
    Regarding your question about the text form. It is hard to present an answer because even historical and established paintings have a title that helps us ground their meaning historically. Text provides a way in which we can convey abstract ideas in a defined way that is purported to be freer from misunderstandings than other types of communications. In other words, there is the idea that text can leave less room for interpretation. Why is Mona Lisa smiling?
    At the same time, technology development may find a way out of text. The computer brain interface may provide ideas directly into the brain without the need of text, although the programing of such medium may still required text.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post does a great job articulating a nagging thought I had as well; there’s a moment in the FemTechNet Manifesto (and I suppose I do already need to cede that the aural quality of the manifesto requires me to call it a ‘moment’ versus a text-based descriptor) in which we are told “there are no observers, only participants.” This made me wonder about these manifestos, I think in connection to your point about words. Certainly being forced to listen to the manifesto versus reading it creates a new form of engagement that I do not often experience in academia, but can it be said to be more interactive then, for instance, the Vectors statement? To your question of subversion, is it ever possible to go too far if the goal is truly to obliterate the passive observer?

    Liked by 1 person

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