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Rebecca Sutton Koeser

Lead Developer at Princeton University Center for Digital Humanities, PhD in English Literature.

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Notes from a panel session on designed text deformation at AIGA Converge Design Educators Conference on June 3, 2017.


Designing Deformance

Jacqueline Lorber Kasunic and Kate Sweetapple, University of Technology Sydney

Thinking through making; making as a means of thinking.

Making as hermeneutic. New for digital humanities, but not new for design.

Ways of working with text outside of traditional problem solving. Not fixed communicative intent - indeterminate endpoint, discovery; draw attention to qualities of a text. New method of understanding, making as generative activity within digital scholarship.

Alterations, deformance - reading backwards, isolating only nouns and verbs, etc. Oulipo - playful, unconventional approach; formal & procedural constraints. n+7 - substitute each noun with the noun appearing 7 nouns away in the dictionary.

Purpose is not to ascribe new meaning to a text, nor for immediate apprehension of knowledge. Defamiliarize, estrangement, to see the text anew.

Digital technologies have made deformance a more likely process. Text as infinitely malleable and mutable. Collocation, text mining as a kind of deformance.

Here, more interested in graphical rather than linguistic deformance.

Graphic materiality as deformance strategy. Created a typology to look at graphical deformance on axes of linguistic and graphical alteration.

Edition of Moby Dick where each chapter is displayed on a two-page spread, setting the font size so that the chapter fills the two pages. Some chapters are much longer than others - dramatically shifting speed of movement within the work. Calls attention to the form, doesn’t do interpretation.

Writing Rights. High graphical alteration, little or no linguistic alteration. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, along with documents about the debates involved in writing these articles. Visually representing amendments, revisions, rebuttals, as well as speech acts that are referenced but not documented. Allow historians to read the debates associatively and make connections between speech acts.

“To see and hear”, by Hetterich. Text is radically transformed, removed all non-dialogue content and displayed in a radial arrangement. The density of the visualization indicates the amount and dispersal of dialogue, and whether it is consistent throughout the work or not. Provides a means for a kind of distant, comparative reading.

Moby Dick transformed into a dictionary/concordance. Typeset like a dictionary, but operates like a concordance. The text is not reduced, but altered; it doesn’t look like the original novel. Typographic conventions transform the text from one genre to another. This version provides a history of the use of a term across the work; “micro-narratives.”

Ended by performing a lovely n+7 deformance of their own introductory paragraph.

Design and Digital Studies

Jentery Sayers, University of Victoria

Case study of a graduate seminar. Laboratory work across the disciplines.

Work here is influenced by spending time with visual artists (no formal design program at University of Victoria, although students still practice it). Teaches literature, cultural studies, speculative fiction. Overlaps with literature studies and graduate seminars. In the graduate seminar, can’t assume any technical background or assume that students know about or have any interest in Digital Humanities.

Critique students’ assumptions about Digital Humanities to get them thinking:

  • a service (people who work with technology help the people who have ideas; lab/library vs faculty)
  • no aesthetics (e.g. putting design as the last thing after building a project; a “vulgar” understanding of design)
  • compute for proof (text mining as an argument; think about computation creatively or conjecturally)
  • you must program (think about it differently, or do DH without programming)

Response to Assumptions

  • Select an -ism (arbitrarily set from 1870 to 1970); futurism, surrealism, symbolism, etc. Usually use a “tutor text” that they study throughout the semester.
  • Interpet through alteration. This is unsettling to literary scholars - typically you write around the text, you don’t change it. Give them other terms - remediate, deformance.
  • Conjectural analysis - aligned with speculation but not necessarily future-oriented. What if this text were different?
  • Low-Tech Prototyping. (Doesn’t close off programming or data visualization, but makes it clear that it isn’t required.)

“Meaning” … is what is left behind after the experiment is run.

Not what a text means but what it can do. The idea of use, beyond the publication stage.

Ways that students manipulate their text: make it a booklet (start thinking about typography); make it a form (Gitelman Paper Knowledge); make it indeterminate (glitching, redaction) “A Short History of __”); make it __

Distill what a prototype means in this humanities context. Imitation, forgery, scenario, counterfactual, model, glitch, wish.

  • Imitation - labour of production
  • Forgery - persuasive false versions of a text
  • Scenario - performance, participatory design
  • Wish - what is the worldview the text desires?

Working to have students come out with a basic sense of media studies and cultural criticism. In this course, moving students from exposition to performance and negotiation. Treating design as a form of inquiry.