Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Signifying Monkey

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Contextual note: I have to read (skim) Gates’ work very quickly, because it’s been recalled by the library. Please read my notes with that in mind… I’ll return to this entry and give a more detailed reading when I get the book back.

each literary tradition, at least implicitly, contains within it an argument for how it can be read (xix-xx).

I think that, for my stuff, the most valuable parts of Gates’ text involve meta-discourse and the vernacular: the idea that a discourse can discuss itself in a coded meta-language.

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Clay Spinuzzi, Tracing Genres Through Organizations

Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres Through Organizations. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

Spinuzzi opens his study of “the crucial subversive interactions in which workers engage as they use designed information” (27) with an anecdote that brings to mind de Certeau; Barbara, a police officer presented with a traffic accident tracking system that uses a old database and an unwieldy map, uses her own artifacts (Post-it notes) to optimize the process herself. This, he claims, presents a very different paradigm for information design — the user is not a victim waiting to be saved by good design, but an agent who refashions the system for her use.

Barbara is not waiting around to be rescued. Although the software is not set up to facilitate the particular tasks in which she is engaged, she does not wring her hands and wait for an information designer to come slay the dragon. She picks up available tools, adapts them in idiosyncratic ways, and makes do. (2)

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Thomas Pavel, Fictional Worlds

Pavel, Thomas. Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.

Pavel starts from previous understandings of fiction that center atomically on the truth-value of characters, events, and utterances, and points out the limitations of defining fiction on that granular a level — instead, he argues for an understanding of fictional worlds, “…a model that represents the users’ understanding of fiction once they step inside it and more or less lose touch with the physical realm” (16).

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Henry Darger

Henry Darger was a recluse who wrote a 15,000 page illustrated novel titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Matthew Michael quotes Stephen Prokopoff:

The story recounts the wars between nations on an enormous and unnamed planet, of which Earth is a moon. The confict is provoked by the Glandelinians, who practice child enslavement. After hundreds of ferocious battles, the good Christian nation of Abbiennia forces the ‘haughty’ Glandelinians to give up their barbarous ways. The heroines of Darger’s history are the seven Vivian sisters, Abbiennian princesses. They are aided in their struggles by a panoply of heroes, who are sometimes the author’s alter-egos. The battles are full of vivid incident: charging armies, ominous captures, alarms and explosions, the appearances of demons and dragons.

Darger’s work includes some disturbing portrayals of violence visited upon hermaphroditic children. Matthew Michael writes on his Darger site:

Darger’s paintings, as well as the passages of the Realms of the Unreal they illustrate, often are disturbingly violent. Great numbers of clothed and naked children are strangled, eviscerated, and tortured by cruel Glandelinian soldiers. The numerous, explicit depictions of torture have led several critics to speculate as to whether Darger was in fact a child murderer or serial killer. He most probably was not.

The “most probably” is not particularly comforting, but the general consensus seems to be that Darger’s was a troubled and violent mind which, in a testament to the benefits of art therapy, found expression through the creation of his epic work, rather than through acts of violence.

John Ashbery has written a long poem on Realms of the Unreal.

Art in America’s article on Darger is particularly good.

Anyway, this is what I’m researching today.

Reproducing “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

All quotes from http://bid.berkeley.edu/bidclass/readings/benjamin.html

Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. For the study of this standard nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations–the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film–have had on art in its traditional form.

An attachment to an idea of originals and forgeries weighs over Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”; perhaps it eulogizes the idea of originals. But “the original” is not only an artifact but its context:

The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity…

The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.

The “authentic” artwork is the original artifact in a place and time; in the case of drama, this includes the performance captured. In the age of mechanical reproduction, the authentic object and context are diminished, and through reproduction the artwork detaches itself from its original context.

It seems like we’re so far past even the axioms here. There’s nothing prior to reproduction any more. What aura is “Toy Story” detaching itself from? Where does the original manuscript for this entry live?

… for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.

And so we return and begin again. One might, at first glance, assume that, with something like a persistent world game, we’ve left the territory of ritual altogether: there’s no single artifact or performance to even separate from its aura. All we have is the interaction of dispersed clients across a server. And yet in this space ritual is nearly all there is. The art of a persistent world game consists of countless moments that are too multiple and ephemeral to be reproducible — story-making so invested in the moment and in action that it exists only in real time. Even as we entirely detach art from a physical presence or locus, we restore its irreproducibility.

Here’s another writeup on art in the age of digital reproduction.

Fantomas and Fantomex

Just came across Fantomas while reading Eco’s “The Myth of Superman”:

It is certain that mechanisms of this kind [the iterative scheme, with a closed causal chain, where events progress in a cycle rather than a line] proliferate more widely in the popular narrative of today than in the eighteenth-century romantic feuilleton, where, as we have seen, the event was founded upon a development and where the character was required to ‘consume’ himself through to death. Perhaps one of the first inexhaustible characters during the decline of the feuilleton and bridging the two centuries at the close of la belle epoque is Fantomas.

Fantomas is an inspiration for Grant Morrison’s Fantomex, who has been running around New X-Men recently, so it’s nice to see him thrown into Eco’s mix.