Seeing Ourselve(s) Through Technology

Jill Walker Rettberg’s book was a really interesting read and has a particular resonance for me as I move toward the summer working on my bibliography for affect and sentiment analysis, the cultural side of algorithms, and think/feel my way through the new punctum that data can provide. I really enjoyed Rettberg’s use of Roland Barthes’ studium and punctum, concepts (and a text) that I hold dear; in Camera Lucida, Barthes’ described the concept of studium as an average effect, a cultural connotation in figures, faces, gestures, settings, and actions and punctum as a sting, speck, cut, little hole, prick, a cast of the dice, the accident that pricks, bruises, and is poignant (CL 26-27). I paged back through CL for other descriptions of studium and punctum that I thought interesting in reading Rettberg’s text:

  • “the studium is always coded, the punctum is not” (51)
  • the punctum as revealed after the fact
  • the punctum as a subtle beyond
  • the punctum as a “detail”; a “partial object” (43)
  • “last thing about the punctum: whether or not it is triggered, it is an addition: it is what I added to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there” (55)

Rettberg’s idea that self/simple data (elements like location and time) as a new sort of punctum is intriguing, particularly in her discussion of it alongside N. Katherine Hayles’s concept of an active cognizer as a distributed cognition between human and machine. I’ve been thinking about quantifying myself and the way data can both speak of and for my experience this semester. Disclosure (though through media it has been exposed in slivers): at the beginning of the semester my mother was diagnosed with advanced stage v ovarian cancer. From a distance, my reaction was an impulse for documenting, collecting, gathering, expressing. Some of this has taken post in my blog with posts about my mother, or on Instagram with photos; but also unexpectedly through my iPhone’s locative capacities, and in apps I use for self tracking. I am dwelling in the active cognizer effects of my phone: looking at sleep apps that note my restlessness and insomnia and odd cycles; the most played tracks in my Spotify that show the repetition of two songs (Purity Ring’s “shuck” and The Microphones “my roots are strong and deep”); the geolocational data that follows the paths my parents take from home to around the hospital (or in odd moments, when the pictures taken there register as taken here) in photos my father sends me—this data is a beyond, not just a representation; to me it has affective, punctum qualities that reveal the partial object of my mother’s cancer. I’m interested in thinking further about Rettberg’s concept of filter: what is taken out of this experience and what colour is added in (I wrote this post in January about what it means to visualize disease; I’m interested in returning to it by thinking of what it means to visualize seeing ourselves).

What does this quote from Johanna Drucker

“Rendering observation (the act of creating a statistical, empirical, or subjective account or image) as if it were the same as the phenomena observed collapses the critical distance between the phenomenal world and its interpretation, undoing the basis of interpretation on which humanistic knowledge production is based.”

make available to us for thinking about human(istic) data? About the punctum of data gathered and visualized?

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image sandwich

[ENGL 527: playing with Photoshop]

cloudwavI found these images via Pinterest (out of curiosity as a search sieve – they came from Tumblr an FFFFOUND!). I wanted to create something symbolic of what I am feeling at this juncture of closing in on my MA and starting my PhD – both in the clouds out of excitement for my future, but also a bit out to sea, or adrift, for leaving the comforts I have constructed for myself (with the support of others) at Eastern. Both are representative of travel or movement, flux in ebbs and flows of change. But neither are unpleasant or foreboding; the crest of the wave is small, and the cloud formation is cumulus; but the potential for a more tumultuous trajectory exists, as thunderstorms can spawn from mounting cumulus clouds and waves can build with wind. While this image represents pathos to me to in this particular event, mythos is also present, as culturally clouds and waves serve as metaphors – head in the clouds, and ebb and flow. To invoke Barthes, I believe that apart these images could represent studium, particularly in their function as metaphor for states of being that can be felt in a more general sense, but together they create punctum to me, or a more poignant combination of metaphor to represent feeling.

Camera Lucida

[ENGL 527]

Citation: Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang. 1980. Print.

Summary: The photograph touches, has an effect, when it is withdrawn from its usual context of composition talk – technique, art, reality, etc.- to allow it to rise on its own accord into affective consciousness (55).

Keywords:

  • studium
  • punctum
  • animation
  • adventure
  • operator
  • spectator
  • spectrum
  • biographemes
  • camera obscura
  • sign/signifier
  • affect

Passages to Keep:

“I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss its point of effect” (53).

“What I feel about these photographs derives an average affect, almost from a certain training. I did not know a French word which might account for this kind of human interest, but I believe the word exists in Latin: it is studium, which doesn’t mean, at least not immediately, “study”, but application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity” (26).

“The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points. This second element that will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is the accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)” (26-27).

Accepted Claim:
Last thing about punctum: whether or not it is triggered, it is an addition: it is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there” (55).

Claim of Some Doubt:
Since every photograph is contingent (and thereby outside of meaning), Photography cannot signify (aim at a generality) except by assuming a mask…the mask is the meaning insofar as it is absolutely pure (as it was in ancient theater)” (34) (and the intermediary is by way of Death 31).

3 Sources to Aid with Reading:

Not sure of which texts, but Barthes references Nietzsche, Brecht (weakness of critical power of photography) , and Sartre (posture of existence)Post-class (Re)Focus: