MS 190: Authorship is the course website for the Fall 2006 Media Studies senior seminar at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
For this blog entry, I'm going to go through the notes I made in the margins of Siva Vaidhyanathan's book and expand upon one of them. There are a lot of things I'd like to say about the book, and Vaidhyanathan covers a ton of different topics, but I'm just going to flip through and find one thing to discuss here.
(Slight tangent: Spell Check on Microsoft Word doesn't recognize the word "blog." Weird. Maybe I'm just using an old version or something. And yes, I am a creature of habit; I can't write a reading response directly into my blog for fear that Internet Explorer will close randomly, causing all my work to disappear. You can call me paranoid, but trust me, it's happened before, and it's such a pain to rewrite something after spending time on it. In other news, I'm in the library because my computer broke last week, and the guy in the computer cubicle next to me has fallen asleep and started snoring reeeally loudly. Awesome.)
On Wednesday we talked about how Manovich sees database and narrative as "natural enemies," i.e. conflicting ways of making sense of the world. Because of this, he says they're in constant conflict, and each new medium that emerges privileges either one or the other (novel = narrative; photography = database; film = narrative; digital arts = database). But it seems to me that humans are inclined to look for narratives in every form of media. For instance, even with photography, which Manovich defines as a database art, people strive to construct narratives. We go to museum exhibits of photographic works that are grouped into themes, which strive to tell us a story and give us a coherent idea.
When it comes to First Person, I think it's interesting to discuss the structure of the book, even more so than the content... although in both structure and content, it's unlike any piece of literature I've ever read before. (Yeah, you can argue that House of Leaves is hypertextual in the same way, but that was fiction, and this is theory...) I've never seen an anthology in which another theorist responds to each individual essay, then the author of the original essay responds back, etc. As a result it feels more like a Web forum (albeit one full of extremely smart people) than a piece of literature, which is really cool (especially considering the subject matter).
Considering that this book was released in 1997, I find it amazing how relevant and precise many of Murray's predictions are. I mean, honestly, in terms of technology and the advancements of the internet, 1997 was forever ago and she definitely had a strong sense of the direction that television and the internet were going. While I agree with what other people have been commenting about the fact that the book is outdated and many parts are insignificant, I actually enjoyed the fact that the book was 10 years old. It was interesting to examine what she had written and see if her predictions were fulfilled or not. For example, she talks about how interesting it would be to have interactive, online sets for television programs where the audience could learn more about the show or the characters. While maybe this hasn't particularly happened in cyberspace (although I'm sure there are some cases), I know that almost every DVD that is released has extra features where the interested viewers can have an interactive part in deciding what else they would like to know about the set and characters and in some cases, even the plot. Best example of this being DVD's (of both film and television programs) where viewers can choose alternate endings or alternate scenarios in the DVD's, such as X-Men 3, where the DVD special features include multiple alternate endings, the ability to play the DVD with commentary to gain a larger insight into the film, character profiles, etc... Basically, the viewer can have an active part in deciding how they want to view the film. Not only is this available on the DVD itself, but typically similar things are shown on film or television websites, as well as public internet spaces, such as youtube and myspace.
Overall, I enjoyed Hamlet on the Holodeck. Murray has a clear and effective writing style that kept me entertained, and she made some clever and relatable references, from Einstein's Dreams and Brave New World to the computer game Myst and the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. But even though the writing is brilliant, a part of me felt like it's somewhat out-of-date. So much has changed since this book was published in 1997. Now, almost 10 years later, chat rooms have gone out of style and dial-up connections are becoming obsolete. At the time that Murray wrote this text, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace had not yet risen onto the scene. Napster had not been taken to court, and television episodes had not yet been sold for $1.99 on iTunes. I'm curious to see what Murray would say about all of these occurrences. It seems that she considers the Internet to be a utopia of free exchange (at least at the time that she wrote this book), and I'd be interested to see what she thinks about the issue of copyright violations on the Web, how this might change in the future, etc. Also, she mentions that the Internet allows everyone to tell his or her story through family albums, journals, homepages, and the like, all of which are "pushing digital narrative closer to the mainstream" (252). Today, the majority of the people I know have published information about themselves on the web, whether through MySpace, Flickr, Xanga, Livejournal, or similar sites. But these don't allow for as much innovation in representation as (I think) Murray anticipated. Their prepackaged formulas for display make personal information somewhat impersonal. Even when you choose a different background for your Blogger or plug in a code to change the look of your MySpace, it's all very prepackaged and unoriginal. So although digital narrative has become mainstream, just as Murray predicted, it hasn't taken on a very innovative or immersive form. But who knows... perhaps this will change in the future, as technologies improve and people become even more comfortable interacting with and manipulating the digital world.
I found Scott McCloud's discussion of the history of comics extremely interesting, especially because I'm taking a class on Ancient Art. Since I'm learning about the visual iconography of ancient cultures every week, it's great to see McCloud compare these same concepts to a more contemporary art form. In some ways, it might even be possible to extend his analysis back to some of the cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic era, which (debatably) show animals and people in sequence. From this perspective, "comics" as McCloud defines them ("juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer") are much more than 3,000 years old (which he claims on page 107).
So there I was, reading House of Leaves and procrastinating on my thesis proposal, when I stumbled upon this:
"In 1990 in The New York Times, Andy Grundberg wrote: 'In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they will be well aware that they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has been manipulated. Even if news photographers and editors resist the temptations of electronic manipulation, as they are likely to do, the credibility of all reproduced images will be diminished by a climate of reduced expectations. In short, photographs will not seem as real as they one did.'
I'm exactly 91 pages into House of Leaves. In relation to this course, I'm especially interested in how the book contains several layers of authors--Zampano, the author of the manuscript on The Navidson Record, Johnny Truant as he comments on Zampano's text and adds details about his own life, and Navidson, the videographer (that is, if he ever actually existed). It's also interesting that there is an appendix in the back that gives even further insight into these fictitious authors' lives (i.e. bits and pieces from Zampano's other writings, letters from Johnny Truant's mother, etc). The book is very complex and somewhat hard to keep up with at times, since Johnny's own stories often diverge from the plot of Zampano's manuscript. Still, it's interesting, and it's nice to be reading a novel, since the material for all my other classes is pretty much just history and theory.
Ok, so I get that Peter Wollen really likes this Curtiz guy... but to be honest, I have no idea whether or not I agree with him about Curtiz as an "auteur." Although Wollen writes well and makes a convincing argument, formulating any sort of real opinion on this essay definitely requires watching some Curtiz films. It's been a while since I've seen Casablanca, but even then, I didn't know that Curtiz made it. I guess that says something about his style of authorship (i.e. that his films really do stand alone, and that most people generally know about his work, but not about him... the "death of the author"? Perhaps. But probably not, since there are still plenty of directors and producers out there whose names and styles are widely recognizable.) I was especially surprised that I'd never heard of Curtiz, since according to Wollen he "made more films than anyone else in Hollywood; 45 in his native Hungary...15 in neighboring Austria...2 in Berlin...and then no less than 102 in Holywood..." (67). It's amazing that he was so prolific and had such a huge presence in early Hollywood, yet I'd never heard his name before, even as a Media Studies major.
Looking through my copy of the Marchessault reading, I noticed that I wrote a lot of notes next to the part about graffiti on a woman's washroom wall. She draws a substantial amount of meaning out of the quote: "Now that women can be authors, the author is dead." I don't know about you, and I don't know how things are at York University, but I've never seen anything this "deep" on a bathroom wall. Most of the things people write while on the toilet, whether in Sharpie or lipstick or carved painstakingly with a pocketknife, are usually far less profound. All that aside, though, I don't necessarily think that gender has anything to do with the death of the author (at least not as Barthes defined it). It seems that the dead author is gender-neutral. If one believes that in the modern era the author becomes displaced by his or her language and essentially becomes his or her language, it should not matter whether this displaced author is a man or a woman, at least not in Barthes' terms.