July 9, 2007

Remediating Literature Conference: Marie-Laure Ryan’s Keynote

by Scott Rettberg · , 9:42 am

Marie-Laure Ryan’s opening keynote at the Remediating Literature conference was focused on “Self-Reflexivity in Net.art.”

Self-reflexivity is part of the nature of human intelligence. Self-reflexivity is a distinct feature of human language, mathematical systems, and computer code. Self-reflexive contemplation is often a response to curiosity aroused by a new medium. One example of is the character of Don Quixote, whose habit of silent reading is what drove him crazy. Initial anxiety surrounding print culture.

Digital text — part of a new medium, uncertainty with regard to place in traditional media/print culture.

Feedback loop, Recursivity, Self-Reflexivity
— examples of self-reflexivity in net art.


Recursivity — patterns, mandlebrot sets, fractal spirals, optics/mirrors. In computer code, we see semiotic functions that generate copies of themselves.

Ryan’s focus is on self-reflexivity in manmade artifacts rather than on self-reflexivity in the natural world — self-reflexivity in systems based on feedback loops.

Semiotic phenomenon produced by mental operations.

Feedback — a mechanism observed in a closed system.

Recusivity is a pattern.

Paradoxical feedback loop e.g. “This sentence is false.”

Various types of self-reflexivity.

Throughout the talk, Ryan examined self-reflexivity in digital objects using a schedma based on three aspects: explicitness, scope, and focus.

Explicitness: how strongly does a work represent itself?

Literal self-reference: “This sentence is false.”

Iconic self-representation: e.g. A logo with object.

Emblematic or symbolic self-representation: double meaning in narrative and poetry — example of the well-wrought urn in Keats.

Drawing attention to itself through form

The axis of scope

How much of the text is self-representational?

How much of itself does the work represent?

Part of the image reflects itself > Completely, almost completely, partially, incompletely.

Axis of focus

Does the work represent itself in particular, or is it generic/categorical reflexivity? — for example Shelley Jackson musing on writing hypertext in her hypertext (Patchwork Girl).

Individuated self-reflextivity — the example of the crazy quilt section of PG which is a designed as a quilt.

The vast majority of net art offers little gratification to the eye, but to the mind (as in conceptual art) — the focus is not on how beautiful or how moving the work is, but how playful.

“They Come in a Steady Stream Now” by Richard Powers. Contrast of playful spam to seven serious emails from Powers that comprise a melancholy meditation on aging. Dystopic future of present condition of pre-posthumanists.

Last email requires registration — familiar internet ritual of registering in order to continue . . . forcing the reader to engage in a feedback loop with the same system the work has been a reflection on. Marie-Laure’s spam filter initially put it in the trash can. Final delivery is a .pdf including the last message and the previous one. The fragmented parts from the fragmentary medium are brought whole into a print media artifact.

Powers’ Explicitness: Literal, Scope: Partial, Focus: Categorical

Self-Reflexivity in Codework
Examples are from “Exhibit CodeEdoc”

Works in which code of the work become part of the screen display.

John Klima “Jack and Jill.” You win it by selecting variables — chauvinist, feminist, etc. Boring game, but the code tells the story, and the reader selects the variables. The code tells the story of the game

Klima: Explicitness: Emblematic, Scope: Partial, Focus: Individuated

Brad Payley: “Codeprofiles”
Example of work that displays itself as it is running. By selecting different modules, reader effects first statement, which then effects the execution of the program

Explicitness: explicit and emblematic elements, Scope, Complete/Complete but only symbolically because program does not only output itself. Focus: Individuated.

Self-Reflexivity and mapping: Lisa Jevbratt: 1:1

When the map is part of the territory.

Lewis Carrol has demonstrated that a 1:1 map is infeasible, since the map itself would block out the sun.

Jevbratt: map that includes every address on the web. Interfaces that visualize all IP numbers within a range. IP address subsets represented as blocks of color/bands of color. Each pixel is a link. Most links generate 404 errors — either they no longer exist or are protected. 24 out of 25 sites 404 — only one that worked turned out to be an astrological site.

Representation not really 1:1, since the nature of the web is to link, and visualization does not represent that.

Works that claim correspondence should be subject to critical examination/skepticism.

Explicitness: N/A, Scope: Intended as Complete/Complete, Realized Complete/Partial. Focus: Categorical.

Self-Reflexivity of these works undermine the idea of immersion based on transparency.

For net art, reflecting on itself is not a source of identity, but it is identity.

Dysfunctionality as theme of net.art — questions over purposeful dysfunction and dysfunction by design.

2 Responses to “Remediating Literature Conference: Marie-Laure Ryan’s Keynote”

  1. William Patrick Wend » Weekend Reading Says:

    […] illiam 7-27-2007 @ 18:09

    Over at Grand Text Auto Scott Rettberg has put up some notes from the Remediating Litera […]

  2. Grand Text Auto » Digital Media, Games, and Open Access Says:

    […] This includes people at small liberal arts colleges, even if they write award-winning papers, and independent scholars, even if they regularly keynote conferences and contribute authored and edited volumes to the […]

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