Monday, 21 December 2009

I've just finished the first draft of my introduction, which means I've finished the whole thesis - at least in draft form. I've pasted in an excerpt from the introduction to the introduction, I expect it will be dismantled and condensed even further, though at 3043 words it was (for a change) pretty spot on with my intended target of 3000 words. Now I'm wondering if that is too short? There's always a neurotic compulsion to adhere to some mystical true thesis form, or ludicrous normative model...I hope its as long as it needs to be, which is as long as a piece of very long string, and hope that's ok..

Excerpt - strange how reading it on the web makes me read it more critically then reading it in .doc format on my own computer:

South, a Psychometric Text Adventure is an artists’ book and a set of software programs that re-conceptualise the artists’ book form. The South project represents a significant overlap between the artists’ book and literary works, hence the allusion to both forms throughout this thesis. In relation to both artistic and literary forms the project fosters a creative sensitivity to the temporally and socially entangled agencies that are always at play, but often subsumed, in complex systems of human-computer communication. South in both its analogue and digital book forms is designed to work with a physical location, the South Bank area of South London, but it is also designed to work with the subjectivity and ‘personality traits’ of individual readers, and to wider situating forces.

The software and book represent a practice-based hypothesis that subjectively and environmentally situated intra-active software can enliven digital literary works and artists’ books while significantly developing previous notions of ‘the interactive’. The software also presents the case for bespoke works while acknowledging and nurturing collective meanings and shared experiences. Such works challenge linear, humanist, conceptions of agency that might characterise the ‘bespoke’ as a solipsistic and individualist construction.
The South project evolved in relation to the continuum of my practice as a writer and fine artist engaged with making artists’ books. The project was also developed in the context of a critical examination of previous digital literary works. Throughout this thesis I propose that such works have not lead to the death of the book and that digital literature has not met the hyped expectations proclaimed by some commentators in the late 1980s and 1990s. Similarly, within the fine arts the artists’ book has, with a few exceptions, failed to engage significantly with computation. This thesis argues the case for these statements and for a material engagement with digital technology, and more specifically, for an engagement with interactive programming that extends the philosophical and critical involvement many artists have historically exercised in relation to the book form.
This thesis links the absence of significantly computational artists’ books to the putative ‘failure’ of digital literary works (again, acknowledging some important exceptions). It also associates the lack of significant material or processual impact on literary and artists’ books to a lack of critical engagement with both the philosophical meaning and material capacities of computers and ‘interactivity’. The rationale for my approach is rooted in a critical evaluation of key historic and contemporary digital literary works, for example, Talan Memmott’s From Lexia to Perplexia (2000). This work is notable for its engagement with computation beyond, as Katherine N. Hayles puts, it reducing computers to a matter of ‘hardware and software’(Hayles, 2000), however, I am weary of falling in with technologically deterministic outlooks on human-computer-interactions. Such outlooks are in danger of blankly suggesting that ‘computation is fundamentally altering the ways in which humans conceive of themselves and their relations to others’ (Hayles, 2000). Instead I argue for a more nuanced understanding of human-computer relationships, one that does not presuppose a discontinuity in the conceptual foundations of programming and computers from other cultural and philosophical artefacts. My thesis frames computational constructions within a historical continuum, in which both the subject and the subject’s generation of knowledge are linked to enlightenment and positivist philosophical positions, and therefore to wider cultural and historical movements. At the same time I have sought to confront or re-frame the separation between computers and humans, or indeed the ready made separations that we project between subjects and objects (including readers and books). An important aspect of my work has been to identify significant features of computational knowledge generation, while acknowledging that computers are not clearly separable from ourselves, but, like all human artefacts, are of us. This methodological position is supported by writers such as Donna Haraway (1991), Henri Bergson (1896, 1907), Rosi Braidotti (2006) Karen Barad (2007) and Lucy Suchman (1987, 2005, 2006). These writers shore up the proposition that human beings are entangled with their technologies and with complex, relational and temporally bound systems of agency.

Purpose of the research
This research was conducted in order to support the generation of significant new forms of digital and artists’ books; the research was funded by a full studentship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The research critically evaluated and examined the status and role of digital literature, artists’ books and the broader area of digital interactivity. My research explored the extent to which a priori structures should define computational literary works and wider conceptions of the interactive. The role, benefits and drawbacks of using the subjectivity and situatedness of individual readers was also investigated. Likewise the expectations and opinions of potential readers in relation to interactive works were also solicited and constructively embedded within the research design.
The research specifically highlights the importance of engaging with the cultural and philosophical significance of programming practices. Such an engagement enables us to recognise significant differences of kind between computational and analogue forms as well as meaningful differences in degree. This recognition can help us to focus on the strengths computation has to offer as well as protecting practitioners and theorists from making exaggerated claims for digital works. The results of this research are likely to benefit both the producers of interactive works and their users. This claim is supported by a number of new projects and collaborations I am involved in. These individual projects and collaborations deploy the methodological and technical strengths generated by this project, encompassing diverse areas from film-making, site specific performance, curation, website design, teaching and collaborative fiction writing.

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