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

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

The Opposing Statements

The reading of the different manifestos, statements and interviews were very instructive, especially in the way it conveys new approaches to escape the mainstream modes of production, consumption and perception. Each of these readings provoked different questions to arise, questions that I believe can go beyond the scope of the digital cultural and social forces behind the production of these texts.

In “Glitch Studies Manifesto,” Rosa Menkma not only advocates for the acknowledgement that the development of any media brings produces different and unexpected noise or glitches, but also that artists and activists must incorporate these glitches in their works so that listeners, viewers and users can experience what is “outside knowledge.” At the same time, Menkma acknowledges that “Not all glitch art is progressive or something new. The popularization and cultivation of the avant-garde of mishaps has become predestined and unavoidable.” Every scientific, religious, political, cultural and social structure seems to have started as a radical departure of a previously established system that, with time, may get accepted as the new norm if it is successfully implemented. While Menkma does attempt to warn artists to avoid creating works that employ techniques that have been incorporated by the system, this advice seems to be a silent scream in the noise of history. Glitch art, when speaking to most of us in an intellectual and emotional level, will probably have the same fate as the impressionistic art before it.

Nevertheless, when the system incorporates different forms of expression, the system can change. Arguing, then, that we need to rid our minds from established binary oppositions of what is clean and what is noise, like Menkma does, seems particularly appropriate. This merge of apparent oppositions can be found in the way that the authors of “Vector journal’s dynamic editorial statement” speak about the important use of text as the “clearest form of expression” while at the same time encouraging new forms of viewing and reading through vectors that provide unique ways of experiencing and understanding. Particularly interesting was how the searches, including those the statement has not found, stay visible on the screen, creating a kind of a visual map.

This kind of integration of binary oppositions can also be felt when reading McKenzie Wark interview on A Hacker Manifesto. Wark seems not only to have acknowledge, but also to be conformed to the fact that hacking has been incorporated as a mainstream practice in our society, without being able to provide clear paths through which hackers (with all the diversity found in the word) should march (besides acknowledging that the fight has gone from data to metadata).

“Femtechnet Manifesto” did not stay in the confines of its own ontology but is grounded on diverse layers of society. For this reason, it gets closer to abolishing binary oppositions. After all,

“We are a work group.

We are many genders.

We are an innovative learning technology.

We are FemTechNet”.

The Opposing Statements

A Line of Questioning

Perhaps because I began with the provocative “Glitch Studies Manifesto,” I was really intrigued by the tension between linearity and interruption that seemed to pervade all of the readings (or should I say, media experiences) for the week. Menkma’s manifesto sets the table for this dichotomy most cleanly: “the dominant, continuing search for a noiseless channel [read: uninterrupted linearity] …has been—and will always be—no more than a regrettable, ill-fated dogma” because “flow cannot be understood without interruption.” This basic premise of championing the unexpected interruption immediately bore fruit when I moved on to the Vector editorial statement, what appears to be a traditional few paragraphs curiously ‘interrupted’ by an invitation to click an image and move to an interactive display for the actual statement. Within this interruption was another series of interruptions, as the words I entered soon revealed themselves as part of a larger hierarchy that if not completely linear is at least conceptually adjacent. My own agency allowed me to skip around the hierarchy in my exploration, shifting the tension to myself as the user to sink or swim in an interrupted statement.

The McKenzie Wark interview was the most intriguing piece to this puzzle in my opinion, as my read of Wark’s answers versus Melissa Gregg’s questions pointed to a shift in his view of the “vectoralists” in relation to the hackers from the publishing of his book ten years prior. Where the initial idea of A Hacker Manifesto seemed to echo Menkma’s same championing of understanding the interruption to understand the flow, I read Wark’s current answers as somewhat disinterested from that ideological position; Wark seems far more concerned with simply explaining the state of hacking in 2013 (and consistently pushing his anti-carbon agenda) than in championing it. The notion that hacking as the interruption of the “vectoralists’” linearity is beneficial has given way to a more distanced view of the situation as almost deterministic: “few hackers end up owning the rights to what they produce. They become part of the vectoral class. But apart from a lucky few, they end up working for someone else.” I wonder if ‘hacking’ has become too antiquated to be truly counterculture, the technological equivalent of children dressing up as hippies for Halloween. If hacking is now an accounted-for piece of the vectoral class, what is the next step?


“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!”

A Line of Questioning

On Process and Manifestos

Reading, listening, and interacting with various types of manifestos this week, I could not help but meditate on the ways in which playing with format can contribute to critical and historiographic interventions in digital media and data studies. The interactive editorial statement of Vectors was obviously striking in the way that it engages a more active participant and troubles the boundary between both author and reader as well as manifesto and manifestation. In particular, I love the way that the search function and hyperlinking of components adds a collaborative element to the plain act of reading. Ironically, the philosophical question at the heart of this issue is brought out through a question asked under the search term, “search”: “Can an argument be interactive and remain an argument? We think that it can.”

This is a really interesting claim, and I’m not sure I’ve fully formulated my own understanding of its implications. But I do think that there’s a definite limit to the extent that it can be universalized into other forms of “interactivity.” What if, for instance, we were to encounter the Glitch Manifesto as a glitched or deformed text? So much of what is important in that manifesto is represented within its semantic content, so in that sense glitching it would either destroy its argumentative weight or transform the argument altogether. In fact, I think glitching the manifesto would be disingenuous—more a gimmick for the times than a genuine reflection of how new ideas can intervene into the old.

On the other hand, the sound file of FemTechNet is a more passively experienced, but still conveys a sense of process and temporal depth that is so important to experiences of digitality today. The use of a “female” mechanical voice to “read” the text similarly suggests a collaboration between the human and machine and in particular, feminism and its technicity. It moreover retains traces of its textuality in the way that it gets read and the way that it is organized. There’s an indexical, semiotic relationship in having a computer read a text—it’s almost as if you can hear the paragraph indents with each declaration.

By experimenting with format, FemTechNet and Vectors are both self-reflexive, creative meditations on the messages they put forth, but like the Glitch Manifesto and the Hacker Manifesto, they are also both reflections of the moment in which they are written. The self-conscious choice of sound coincides with a historical moment in media scholarship when people are calling for the de-centering of visual epistemologies over acoustemologies or haptic knowledge, just as a written list-form manifesto about glitch inevitably confronts established “templates” and “action scripts” through both its form and content.

What I think is ultimately a worthwhile challenge in writing these editorial statements is acknowledging the particular time and place that they arise and engaging in an extended dialogue with the past. Questions that McKenzie Wark’s interview asked are important consider: How might the battlefield shift over time? Who are the warriors? Who will be the inheritors?Why are we at “war” in the first place? This is why I liked the Vectors statement so much—by incorporating search, there is an embedded sense of the mundane acts of online mediation that have led to the event of the publication’s creation, as well as a record of relevant cultural keywords that we can reflect back on in the future.


On Process and Manifestos