I can’t imagine that the fine folks who produced the Digital Humanities Manifesto (distributed to C-18L by its indefatigable Netwallah, Dogsbody, and General Factotum, Kevin Joel Berland) will have any philosophical problems with me reproducing and hijacking/satirizing some of the content of their little piece.

Copyright and IP standards must, accordingly, be freed from the stranglehold of Capital. Pirate and pervert Disney materials on such a massive scale that Disney will have to sue… your entire neighborhood, school, or country.

I prefer not to “pirate and pervert Disney materials.” I’m not in the pornography business, not in the subversion business, not a Marxist, and finally not a pirate. Though I do have a tshirt with a skull and crossbones on it.

Co-creation is one of the founding features of the digital turn in the human sciences, because of the greater complexity. But this collaborative turn doesn’t exclude … perhaps there is a space of hermetic works of the mad individual.

“There is a space of hermetic works of the mad individual”–huh? In Erewhon, perhaps? Or another land where bad writing contributes to vagueness.

Among the highest aims of scholarship: entertainment; entertainment as scholarship: a scandal that is now no longer a scandal. To speak to an audience.

Another instance of academic self-loathing and false identification with the masses: Marx perfected this maneuver in his manifesto. According to anthropology and cultural studies, American Idol already serves that function, drawing us together and revealing a great deal about the contemporary geist to the astute commentator. (As sad as that is.) It seems fantastic to imagine that the audience should also have a highest aim, of attending to things of greater substance than entertainment currently offers. But Greek drama and public ritual of all kinds suggests that such a thing is at least theoretically possible, if unlikely.

Process is the new god; not product. Anything that stands in the way of the perpetual mash-up and remix stands in the way of the digital revolution.

I refuse to make “mash-ups and remixes” instead of essays and books, or to ask my students to do so. (To begin with, I’m already in a band, and we “remix” songs all the time, except that when we do we call it either a new arrangement or a mistake.) I’m sure it’s good times making Youtube videos, but I can’t send a student out into a precarious job market without teaching her something useful like creating wiki-content or doing research. Last I heard, being able to write clearly and think effectively is more marketable than being able to a parody pop culture–though admittedly it’s a lot less fun at karaoke night.

It’s also worth noting that the members of the collective, who themselves aim to produce serious works of scholarship entertainment, find it necessary to resort to the esoteric old ways, viz. the following example:

After a year of mostly daily blogging on this site, I am cutting back.

As most of you know, I am writing a book on the history of disbelief for Carroll and Graf. The blog — produced while working on the book — was an experiment conceived by the Institute for the Future of the Book. It has been a success. I have been benefiting from informed and insightful comments by readers of the blog as I’ve tested some ideas from this book and explored some of their connections to contemporary debates.

I may continue to post sporatically here, but now it seems time to retreat to my study to digest what I’ve learned, polish my thoughts and compose the rest of the narrative. The trick will be accomplishing that without losing touch with those -? commenters or just silent readers -? who are interested in this project.

Apparently even the avant garde can’t write a substantial book withut solitude and inwardness and reflection.

And if emancipation is the end-goal, why not, to raise a hoary but still relevant objection, emancipation from as well as emancipation to? Silence is a wonderful emancipator; ask anyone who’s ever lived under a totalitarian regime (or the author above). There’s a reason Orwell’s nightmare vision included the incessant blare of the telescreen.

Another thing that strikes me about this so-called argument is how much it smacks of Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. All is progress, no drawbacks or side-effects, just onward and upward. In Eisenstein’s case, writing with the benefit of hindsight, it’s pure Whig history. In the case of this manifesto, pure futurist fantasy.

As a corrective I recommend reading the excellent Print, Manuscript, and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 by David McKitterick, which argues that the transformative powers of a change in medium are hardly revolutionary–they take centuries to become manifest, and their effects are barely predictable, much less controllable. The collective fantasy of the people who wrote this manifesto, who seem to imagine themselves as Jack Sparrows remixing and mashing up corporate culture, is just that: a fantasy.

Robert Musil described (and also satirized) the inner life of this kind of intellectual in his novel The Man Without Qualities:

The intellectual types he kept running into nowadays wherever he went were chronically dissatisfied, finding fault because there was either too little or too much being done about this or that; to hear them tell it, nothing ever seemed to go as it should. He was becoming quite fed up with them. They were in a class with those miserable specimens susceptible to cold who always find themselves sitting in a draft. When they were not complaining about the preponderance of scientific attitudes, they were excoriating illiteracy, general boorishness or general overrefinement, fanaticism or indifference: whichever way they turned, they found something wrong. Their minds never came to rest, but were fixated on the ceaseless wanderings of that residual element in things that never finds its proper place anywhere. So they ended up convinced that their era was fated to be a spiritual wasteland that could be redeemed only by some special event or some very special personage. It was among the so-called intellectuals that the word ‘redemption’ and its kin came into vogue at this time. They did not see how things could go on unless a messiah came quickly. Depending on circumstances, he would be a medical messiah who would redeem the art of healing from the specialized research teams that pursued their experiments while human beings sickened and died all around them, or a messianic poet capable of writing a drama that would sweep millions into the theaters despite its ineffable sublimity; besides the belief that every kind of human endeavor needed a messiah to restore it to its pristine purpose, there was of course also the simple and unadulterated longing for a leader sent to put everything to rights with his strong right arm. The age before the Great War was a messianic age, and the fact that entire nations wanted to be redeemed in a lump was really nothing special or unusual for its time.

Especially amusing, to call intellectuals “miserable specimens susceptible to cold who always find themselves sitting in a draft.” Sure, academia includes a host of Mr. Woodhouses, but Austen’s comic brilliance provides us with a cornucopia of other academic types: the Mr. Eltons, Mrs. Eltons, Miss Bateses, and so on. We shouldn’t forget, too, that we live to make sport for others and laugh at them our turn. It’s our foibles that make us redeemable, as exasperating as we may be in our manifesto-writing moods.

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