Scholarship and Digital Space

Loss Glazier writes in Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries, “It is as if we have been given a huge, brand-new, conceptually revolutionary operating system. The question then becomes, do we simply Laplink our old files to the new machine, or do we use this opportunity to reinvigorate, pluralize, and fortify our intelligence? What places us in that uncomfortable position between the Academy and a hard drive? It is the fact that a difficult leap of perception faces us? Can we defy our habits? Our idea of the digital literary work is confined by literary practice that has become habitual by nature; thus it is hard to see something anew and then part with old habits. The hard choice before us is to identify new forms of literature, expand our habits, and not be restricted to old forms in new clothes” (178).

The hard choice before us is also to identify new forms of scholarship, to expand our critical habits, and not be restricted to old forms of Academia in new clothes. Glazier hints at these implications when he uses the phrase “between the Academy and a hard drive” and when he speaks of “perception” and “literary practice.” And, it’s not just that we need to find (and celebrate) new modes of digital scholarship, but that we must allow our new digital environment to influence all forms of scholarship.

So, what do we know about digital space, and how does (or should) this knowledge influence our critical practices?

  1. Digital space is networked. The digital text is connected, as are its readers and writers. The hyperlink (both as a literal device in digital texts and as a metaphor) turns otherwise paradigmatic relations into syntagmatic ones. Whereas paradigmatic relations work by drawing a connection between things at a conceptual distance (e.g., metaphors), the hyperlink has the ability to bring things (no matter how disparate) into direct physical contact (i.e., a syntagm). Everything on the internet is metonymic. In digital space, everything is next to everything else: people, ideas, high-culture, low-culture, art, trash, literary texts, plagiarized texts, etc.

  2. Digital space is collaborative. Conventional notions of authorship are quite often contested in digital space. Many digital texts are coauthored, unattributed, or blended on the page so that it becomes impossible to distinguish one from another. Glazier writes in his call to action at the end of Digital Poetics, “We do not want to be distracted by the ‘image versus text,’ or other essentially analog debates” (178). In digital space, image and text have a simultaneity, a dependence, an inseparability. Often, these elements are produced by different authors/artists, but in becoming conjoined on the page, the author and artist are also conjoined.

  3. Digital space is defiant. It is revolutionary. Digital space is always already new, creating and recreating itself even as we look at it (and live within it). It defies its own virtuality by being textured and lively, 3-dimensional and populous. It speaks to us from a (usually) flat screen with the potential to engage us in a tangible and visceral way.

What sort of scholarship does digital space demand?

  1. Our work must be networked. It should be available and accessible. The work of the reader and the work of the writer should be coterminous on the page. We should, likewise, acknowledge the influence of our sources without making ourselves (and our work) beholden to them. We should bring ourselves into more direct conversation with our sources, dismantling hierarchies of critical thought, thus turning critical paradigms into critical syntagms.

  2. Our work must be collaborative. Scholarship must invite the reader and other critics (once its mere satellites) into a more intimate, more provocative dance. Even when our work is not produced by multiple authors/artists, it becomes collaborative when it’s given generously to its readers. Ideas are not property to be locked away and withheld. Ideas are at their best when they are allowed to more freely take root–when they are allowed to do real (not just conceptual) work in the world.

  3. Our work must be defiant. It can’t let itself be contained or obedient–it must come to life on the page/screen. Scholarship can no longer be static, can no longer be just letters and numbers splayed out on the page. It must resist the deadening impulse of much so-called “academic rigor.” It must engage our senses. It must be both viewed and read. It must be both intrinsically and instrumentally rigorous.

In addition to being influenced by Glazier, this post is also influenced by several stories about Helene Hegemann, the 17-year-old German plagiarist remixer, whose very successful first novel has been the cause of a great deal of controversy. For more on Hegemann, see this post on the blog for my “Queer Rhetorics” course.

Jesse Stommel

Jesse Stommel

Jesse Stommel is faculty at University of Denver and founder of Hybrid Pedagogy. He teaches pedagogy, digital studies, and composition. He spends most of his time with his badass daughter, Hazel.

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