“The Humanities Was Nice”

In late May, media theorist Lev Manovich presented “How to Read 1,000,000 Manga Pages: Visualizing Patterns in Games, Comics, Art, Cinema, Animation, TV, and Print Media” at MIT’s HyperStudio (via). The talk is relevant to my work because Manovich wants to create visualizations that deliberately alter the default scale at which we experience something like magazine covers or Manga pages. His “exploratory analysis of visual media” offers insights into culture, he says; visualizations “allow you to ask questions you never knew you had.”

Manovich wears a t-shirt that reads, “Smart Critique Stupid Create,” and he uses this slogan to gain create some separation between his work (stupid create) and traditional humanities (smart critique). Manovich kicks sand–maybe playfully, though it’s hard to say for sure–at the humanities again at the end of the Q&A when he says, “The Humanities was nice, but it was a false dream.” Obviously machine-reading and computational processing of images ring heretical for anyone deeply (e.g., career-deep) invested in one-at-a-time interpretations of aesthetic objects. The all-at-once presentation brings us to the edge of gestalt and permits us to grasp large-scale continuities. Manovich also mentions that this works differently for visual media than for semantic mining because the images are not in the same way confined by the prison house of language. The “how” promised in the lecture’s title carries well enough, but I would expect to hear ongoing questions about the “why,” especially “why Manga?” or “why Time Magazine covers”?

The video includes a couple of unusual moments: at 17:30 when Manovich grumbles about not being able to see his screen and around the 59th minute when host Ian Condry poses an exposition-heavy “question.” As for the practical side of the talk, Manovich’s frameworks for “direct visualization” and “visualization without quantification” are worth noting, and I would be surprised if we don’t hear more about them as these projects play out and are variously composed and circulated.

Narrative, Database

Today I read Ed Folsom’s PMLA article, “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives,” and the better part of the five responses to the piece and even Folsom’s response to the responses. I won’t attempt a full summary in this entry, but I wanted to note a few initial impressions and lingering questions.

The lead article discusses Folsom’s efforts to develop The Walt Whitman Archive, a growing digital collection of Whitman’s works–works not easily or summarily identifiable as narrative or as poetry. Folsom characterizes Whitman as a forerunner, noting that “[f]or him, the works was a kind of preelectronic database, and his notebooks and notes are full of lists of particulars–sights and sounds and names and activities–that he dutifully enters into the record” (1574). The identification of Whitman as an “early practitioner…of the database genre” (1575) doesn’t, as far as I can tell, explain why his work should be any more appropriate for digitization and databased setup than any other, but it does give us the background on Folsom’s insights into database as genre.

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Rrove is one of the
latest site-tagging apps making use of Google Maps API (via
& credit). I signed up for
an account this
morning and tested it with a link to the Palmer House in Chicago, site of the
’06 CCCC late next month. Rrove also has a community setting, so it might
be useful for conference hosting, collaborative markups of an area, and so on.
My first impression is that it’s a kind of geospatial del.icio.us, and although
the site still lacks a few features (such as RSS) common to the web 2.0 lineup,
I’m holding out hope that those features will roll out any day now. I have
other motives for seeing a web2.0-rich version of Rrove, not the least of which
is my GEO781 project, which, from my perspective several weeks removed from its
completion, will deal with some of the ways we might begin to recognize
cybercartography as writing. Still fuzzy (not discouragingly so), but I
think I’ll be dealing with Wayfaring,
Frappr and Rrove, developing
some of my earlier thinking on the
memorial froms
, while sorting through theoretical/pedagogical rationale for
(hyper)imagetext integration of geospatial writing. I just received my copy of
Google Maps Hacks
yesterday, too, and after leafing through it for a few minutes, I would guess
it’s going to be manageable to begin working up customized maps very soon.

On a related note, one of my colleagues in class (who studies and teaches
physical geography) raised several really interesting questions about the
discord between the textual/encyclopedic side of Wikipedia and its stalled
counterpart, WikiAtlas. It set us off into some fairly provocative
exchange about atlas authorship, and also got me thinking again about what
Manovich does with paradigmatic and syntagmatic. From my perspective, the
energy surrounding cybercartography is in the multitude of overlays more than
the landforms in the background. The excitement centers on the syntagmatic
possibilities for the map; its writability.

The Making of…

Coming back to a passage from Manovich that winked at me when I read it last

A visible sign of this shift is the new role that computer-generated special
effects have come to play in the Hollywood industry in the 1990s.  Many
blockbusters have been driven by special effects; feeding on their popularity,
Hollywood has even created a minigenre of "The Making of…," videos and books
that reveal how special effects are created. (300)

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Manovich – The Language of New Media (2001)

Notes on Lev Manovich’s The
Language of New Media
(2001). In the prologue, Manovich gives us what he
calls a Vertov Dataset–full-passage selections from elsewhere in the book
matched up with frames from Vertov.   It’s a distinctive and memorable
way to open onto the project–self-sampling and re-associating, which emphasizes
(paradoxically?) the relational and modular qualities of new media objects, the
intertwined historical-theoretical trajectories of cinema and computing that now
constitute new media, the logics of selection, association and assemblage
driving new media, and the evolving lexicon of new media, from database, loops
and micronarratives to transcoding, [var]-montage and the tele-
It’s all in the Vertov Dataset, then explained more fully elsewhere. 

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