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.

 

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On Process and Manifestos