Event, Fall – Harvest

Gavin Keeney's picture



“Holy Archangel Saint Michael, defend us in battle …” – Franciscan prayer

If in the so-called Digital Humanities the primary game is the production and dissemination of media across diverse platforms, feeding an increasingly dizzying array of mediatic practices, then what many today see as the emergence of a new super-discipline also draws its primary fire from the production of events. “Event, Fall, Return” is the generative or operative configuration of performative agency – with “Event” being the construction and performance of the work, “Fall” being the archiving or recording of the work, and “Return” the re-performance or transformation of the singular work across works but also for works. “For works” then suggests the “quantum” nature of the life-work, an apparent continuous series of works perceived retrospectively as one work. Arguably, the life-work is of a higher order than mere singular works. At the least, that is the hallmark of Romanticism in the Arts and Letters.

Since the emergence of post-digital practices, withholding or erasing aspects of production and/or record has been a common theme. Some of the games played with archives are part of this detour through negation. The intentional erasure or withholding from mediatic practices of the concluding form of the work – after performance and after re-performance – suggests the classical via negativa, with an increase in generative agency possible through the elimination of unnecessary or corrupted forms of commodification. Temporarily exiting the house of mirrors of digital production may be seen as one way of honoring the autonomy of the singular work or the emergent life-work.

In the production of transmedia, this via negativa also resembles an a-theological purge of what is, in fact, the curse of “digital everything” – i.e., the theft or misuse of works. The theft occurs at the point of transfer of the work to the theater of operations best illustrated in the Digital Humanities by “uploading everything to the Cloud.” The Cloud, as everyone knows, belongs to the vectorial class (either the abject for-profit version or the not-so-innocent pseudo-nonprofit academic version). The production of works for works (a concept that bestows agency to the work versus to the author, and a concept that transfers any explicit or implicit ownership of the work to “no one” and therefore “everyone”) is a possible way forward for mediatic arts that reside uneasily in the slipstream of the Digital Humanities.

“Erasure” then becomes “Harvest” – and “Event, Fall, Return” becomes “Event, Fall – Harvest,” with all of the attendant semantic indeterminacy of a higher-order cycle that escapes both rote instances of eternal return from within the circuit of Capital as effective “work for hire” (whatever form that might take) and explicit capture as de-based cultural commodity (on whichever side of the divide between proprietary or public goods the work first appears in its autonomous path as work for works).

The terms utilized here to describe the shift from “Event, Fall, Return” to “Event, Fall – Harvest” have their own history or discursive provenance. That history has been developed transversally across multiple disciplines, and one may find traces in Philosophy, Theology, Political Economy, etc. Discourse analysis betrays, however, the discursive depletion of semantic agency over – perhaps – ten-year cycles. This process of depletion is what is present in both the Humanities and the Digital Humanities today, as in related disciplines and super-disciplines, and it is also why aspects of digital enterprise in the Arts and Humanities oftimes go underground or off-stage (e.g., vanish into P2P networks). In the High Romantic sense, singular works are erased for the Time Being – i.e., “erased” or “kicked upstream” on behalf of, or in pursuit of, higher-order works for works.

September 29, 2017


Lauren Tilton's picture

Role of DH

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; background-color: #ffffff} span.s1 {font-kerning: none}

I’m interested in this definition of the digital humanities.  “Production and dissemination of media across diverse platforms”  is such an expansive definition that it could characterize forms of knowledge across almost any field (i.e media studies, film studies, etc).  Rather, I wonder if the object of study and critique here isn’t DH, but forms of knowledge production that participate in the “Event”, which isn’t necessarily particular to DH.  After all, isn’t one aspect of knowledge production to produce and disseminate scholarship in different forms in order to engage with a scholarly audience? There are many fields that see media disseminated across different platforms as a form of knowledge production. And depending on the field, the very definition of media is expansive.  At the same time, I'm excited about conceptualizing a realm of knowledge production that isn’t complicit in the logics of capitalism and neoliberalism. Perhaps this means not producing at all or playing with what producing means? And performance studies offers exciting avenues. So, I find this question about “Event, Fall, Return” interesting, but it seems like the “so-called Digital Humanities” as a discipline (and many of those engaged in DH would actually disagree with calling it a discipline) is less the site of critique here.   

Gavin Keeney's picture

Subverting Capture

Yes, I would agree that this attempt to subvert capture by Capital through creative maneuvering is not specific to a critique of the DH.  Yet the DH is the current privileged place to valorize mediatic forms of scholarship. I am also arguing from the perspective of the work in/for itself, versus the platform. Platforms condition works — and increasingly define works. My main concern is nonetheless the Moral Rights of Authors and the complete evisceration of those rights by platform cultures. We all know the term "the precariat" by now. But it only exists due to the opposite term, "the vectorial class".