Author Archive: dparker90

“4000 lines of one bare circumstance”

Monday, May 12th, 2014 by dparker90

Hi all,

Here’s an excerpt from my final paper (finally!). Read the full version here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bPArWyTBLjRYMoPiR-pT8M223v3r8hN_Fhj-de-_4Zk/edit?usp=sharing

John Keats’s Endymion (1818) – his longest work and first major publication[1] – has long been excluded from the canon of British Romanticism. While some anthologies acknowledge its existence in passing, most make no mention of it. Even Anne Mellor and Richard Matlack’s critically acclaimed British Literature 1780-1830, for example, includes lengthy excerpts from Keats’s earlier unpublished poems while confining Endymion to a single footnote.[2] This purposeful neglect speaks not only to the poem’s universally acknowledged badness – Nicholas Roe calls its lines “awkward and convoluted”[3] – but also to contemporary critics’ insistence on creating consistent authorial oeuvres. How, they wonder, could the youngest of Romanticism’s “big six,”[4] the poet who went on to write “some of the most admired poems in English literature,”[5] have composed such a bad poem? The most common answer is that Keats’s talent had not fully developed; Jack Stillinger discounts the poem as mere training material for better poems that followed, [6] while Roe treats it as a marker of Keats’s youthful radical political influences that he would abandon in later and better works.[7] By trying to squeeze it into a tidy critical framework, these critics do not adequately account for the work’s formal anomalies and overall messiness; more importantly, they fail to question what its condemnation indicates about our standards of poetic excellence and, more broadly, the limits of acceptable discourse practices. This critical sidestepping speaks to our tendency to smooth over difference, anomalies, and ruptures in search of discursive cohesion and fluidity. With its inconsistencies and flaws, Endymion is one such rupture in the seemingly cohesive discourse network of Romanticism.

My paper, then, investigates what this rupture tells us about the unspoken and invisible limits of this network; Endymion exposes those limits by extending beyond them. I argue that its “bad” poetics unabashedly calls attention to it as a mediated work of art – that is, a product of pen, paper, print, hand, and various other constraints imposed on its composition and publication – whereby it reveals and critiques Romanticism’s dominant discursive principle of unmediated natural language. While the movement’s emphasis on nature and natural language has long been recognized, this established aesthetic principle’s relationship with media – and, as I argue, its reaction against it – has not yet been examined. The critical backlash against the poem from its first reviewers, I contend, shows how itsformal flaws forced readers into an uncomfortable awareness of poetry’s inherent artificiality and mediation that was contrary to its dominant natural aesthetic. While prominent poets and thinkers William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued for poetry’s relationship to nature and strived to make their verses as close to natural speech as possible, Keats rejects this principle and instead exposes seemingly natural poetry as the product of mediation. In this way, Endymion is not only a reaction against the dominant aesthetic discourse of its time, but also speaks to the way in which writers of this period took advantage of media in order to critique it.

 

 

Final paper description & conference abstract

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 by dparker90

Hi all, below I’ve posted a description of my final paper, which doubles as my 250-word abstract submission for the International Conference on Romanticism. If you happen to read this before Monday, please let me know if there are any improvements I can make. This project is my first attempt to bring a media archeological approach to the study of Romantic poetry. So far my fellow Romanticists have told me that they don’t know what I mean by “media;” in the context of this paper, I think I’m trying to align it with poetic form, genre conventions, and publishing practices. Do you think those things count as media? Anyway, here you go: 

“4000 lines of one bare circumstance:” Endymion’s Mediated Poetics

 From its conception, John Keats’s Endymion (1818) was shaped by the formal constraints of its poetic medium. When publishers Taylor and Hessey contacted Keats about producing a work of epic length and scope, the poet reflected that it would be “a trial of my Powers of Imagination and chiefly of my invention which is a rare thing indeed – by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare circumstance and fill them with Poetry.” Keats envisioned Endymion’s formal medium as preceding and existing independent of its poetic content. Taking its cue from Keats’s reflections on the poem, my paper reads Endymion as enacting a critique of Romantic media by drawing attention to its own poetic medium through its subversion of both the heroic couplet and the epic genre. In the same way that media theorist Friedrich Kittler reads Goethe’s “Wandering Nightsong” as a discourse on the constraints of German discourse networks, I argue that Endymion comments on the constraints of poetic media precisely by pushing those formal constraints to their limits, a claim that can be confirmed both by analyzing the poem’s form and by examining the critical response in journals such as The British Critic. The poem’s clunky couplets, off-kilter rhymes, and other formal elements that critics tend to chalk up to Keats’s youth and inexperience in fact perform a sophisticated critique of the rules they break. At the same time, the poem’s frequent code switching from epic to “poetic romance” – in the proem of Book II, for example – disorders the conventions of these genres and readers’ expectations for them. In what is often read simply as “bad” poetry, Endymion disrupts communication channels and exposes the mediated reality of Romantic discourse.

Media and Semantics

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by dparker90

Along with Renee and Kyle, I attended the Stephanie Strickland / Eric Baus event last Friday at Counterpath Press in Denver. While Renee has already blogged about her experiments with Baus’ “reduced listening” methodology, I want to reflect on the relationship between sound and content – and media and semantics more broadly – that his talk brought to light.

As Renee describes, Baus demonstrated a three-tiered listening method: 1) causal listening, or determining where a sound originates; 2) semantic listening, or determining what the sound means; and 3) reduced listening, or focusing on the traits of the sound independent of meaning. His talk placed special emphasis on reduced listening in order to pick up features of sound that we tend to filter out. Much like Kittler’s description of writing as a medium that filters out everything but itself, Baus explained that semantic listening leaves us unaware of what’s happening at the level of pure sound. Just as the camera picks up everything within its view, reduced listening helps us pick up everything else that’s going on in a recording, including background noise, subtle vocal qualities, and other minutia. 

And yet, I’m not convinced that the relationship between sound – the medium, if you will – and semantic content is as clear cut as Baus would have us believe. I agree that reduced listening helps us pick up on features of recordings that might otherwise go unnoticed and has the potential to enhance our listening experiences, but I don’t think this listening method adequately accounts for what I argue to be the complex relationship between medium (sound, in this case) and content. When I asked Baus about the role of semantics in reduced listening, he explained that once you’ve thoroughly investigated the sonic environment you incorporate meaning back into the sound; now that you’re fully aware of the nature of the sound, you can think about how it interacts with meaning. However, I’m not prepared to agree that sound and meaning “interact;” in poetry and music, isn’t meaning made of sound? I think we often get stuck in these Cartesian material/mental binaries where you can supposedly pull one from the other, or in this case, take meaning out of sound and vice versa. In contrast, I’m convinced that the medium is the message, and that the message wouldn’t exist without the medium. Maybe it’s less systematic than Baus’ tiered listening system, but I’m more interested in listening to the way sound makes meaning, and how meaning, in turn, shapes the way we listen to sound. What I’m getting at here is that media/content are not so easily extricable from one another, and that truly active listening engages both at once.    

The Gamer’s Gaze

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by dparker90

Despite my lack of video gaming prowess during most of youth, I’m extremely proud to say that I singlehandedly brought down quite a few Klingon birds-of-prey last time I was in the MAL. Playing the Star Trek: Motion Picture game on the Vectrex game console, I relieved a lot of post-Monday stress while shooting those little ships. Unfortunately the Enterprise suffered a few cracks to the bridge, and I definitely jumped every time the screen “fractured” from being hit.

My experience with the game got me thinking about the different ways in which gamers are positioned as participants in gaming experiences, especially when it comes to visual perspective. I hope to relate this line of thought to Crary’s argument about how the nineteenth-century saw a new science of vision that focused on the human as a viewing technology. Is it possible to map changes in visual perspective in video games? I haven’t played enough games to answer this thoroughly, but I’ll share some of my thoughts based on my experience. Those of you with significant gaming experience, please tell me if you agree. 

In Star Trek on the Vectrex, the screen literally becomes the window of the ship, while you, the gamer, are positioned as the captain. The gamer’s gaze comes from the physical human body, and is of course mediated by the screen. I felt aware of my visual perspective every time the ship took a hit and my view was obscured by cracks in the screen. By affecting my vision, the shot to the ship felt intensely personal. My gaze was directly impacted by my participation (in other words, my failure to shoot the Klingons) in the game.

I wonder, then, how the gaming experience changes when the gamer’s visual perspective is altered. I’d posit that we build less of an emotional connection to a game when we’re our gaze is mediated through a character on the screen. The only other video game I’ve really played is Tomb Raider, which just released a version for the iPad. I downloaded it to test out my hypothesis (and also because I used to love making Lara do backflips and stuff).

Unlike the Vectrex’s Star Trek game, Tomb Raider for iPad set me at a distance from the action in the game’s plot. Because you play as Lara, I’d argue that it removes you one step further from the game. You’re positioned behind her, so you’re mostly watching her while she watches the action. While I think this perspective might also have something to do marketing the game to teenage boys, I think it significantly impacts the gamer’s affective response to the game. I can’t say that I feel particularly jarred when Lara gets eaten by wolves, or falls on spikes, or whatever other calamities my poor hand-eye coordination causes. I’m convinced that my apathy – in contrast to the Star Trek game – comes from the distant visual perspective.

Am I wrong? Does seeing the body of the character build a stronger emotional connection to the game for you? I think you could argue that a lack of body makes the game more impersonal, although this wasn’t my experience. 

Temporal limits of the media parasite

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by dparker90

If early 20th-century avant-garde poets exploited contemporary media practices in order to undermine the technologies that determined their situation, as Niebisch claims, does that mean that media parasites necessarily operate within the technology of their present? Since Marinetti’s work was primarily concerned with subverting newsprint, film, photography, and other media that shaped the early 20th-century, it would seem that in order to “be” a media parasite, one needs to infiltrate the media of one’s moment. If so, can we practice media parasit-ism(?) on dead media that no longer “determine our situation”?

Thinking back on my recent trips to the MAL, I’m inclined to believe that it’s impossible to subvert dead media – to draw attention to it as media, as Niebisch explains – because my unfamiliarity with older technologies means that I can’t ever see them as anything other than media. Does that make sense? Because they’re not part of my mediated world, they stick out to me as media. So, if the goal of the early avant-garde was to make consumers aware of the media ecologies they inhabited, we need to focus on the technologies that compose our own media ecology. Not to mention that I have enough trouble learning how to operate dead media for its intended purpose, much less subverting it.

And yet, we know there’s something new in the old. Maybe learning to infiltrate dead media could give us better sense of our current media ecology? Can media parasites transcend the ecologies in which they originated?

Locating Archives in Hardware

Monday, March 10th, 2014 by dparker90

My difficulty in approaching Foucault’s “The Historical a priori and the Archive” stems from the lack of concrete examples that could’ve been used to delineate the boundaries of archives and their contents. This is in part because Foucault explains that archives are systems of statements, groups of rules that characterize discursive practices rather than material ones. Following last week’s Ernst’s reading, I take issue with Foucault’s approach because the limits of what can be said or thought are in fact locatable within physical media. While Foucault asserts the archive is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements, I think that system is tied to the technological medium that, as McLuhan writes, “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (11). As such, I’m interested in determining whether we can locate archives that govern discourse in hardware itself. Are the limits of what a particular technology can achieve also the limits of the archive? Does this mean that archives of discourse are particular to specific media? 

I’d like to approach these questions by thinking about the possibilities for discourse offered by keyboards. The number and arrangement of keys determines what kind of content can be typed with this specific technology. The boundaries of this archive change, however, when we encounter a non-standard keyboard, such as those from the 1970s and 1980s connected the MAL’s portable computers. These are cluttered with unrecognizable signs and unusual arrangements of keys, presenting new ranges of possibilities of what can be typed. Perhaps this is a simplistic way of locating the boundaries of archives, but I think it holds even on a small scale. 

If we can locate archives within the hardware of media, I think we can also open those archives and disperse the power they contain by opening and tinkering with hardware. Unlike Foucault’s archive that exists within a discursively-defined space, locating archives in the materiality of machines raises the possibility that we can subject them to investigation and experimentation.

“Mediatized” Historical Memory

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 by dparker90

Ernst’s Digital Memory resonates with my research interests more than any other piece we’ve read, and not only because the first chapter deals in romanticism and archeology; in addition to these, I’m interested in Ernst’s exploration of “mediatized” (38) historical memory exemplified in the organization and assembly of museums.

Of the museums Ernst mentions, I visited the Soane Museum on my most recent trip to London this past July. Ernst aptly calls it a “kaleidoscopic collection of cultural history,” (53) consisting as it does of cramped rooms and darks hallways full to the brim with archeological acquisitions from around the globe. One can view a Greek vase across from an Egyptian statute, or a wall decked in paintings from floor to ceiling. For a traveler like myself accustomed to museums arranged by historical epoch, artistic movement, etc., this arrangement overwhelmed my senses. I’m the sort of museum-goer who tries to see everything for fear of missing something important, an approach the Soane actively resists. There’s simply too much art in one place, not too mention the thousands of rare books lining the shelves. The antiquarian method of “singling out an object and telling its story” (61) seems to me the only way to experience it without feeling like you’ve missed out.

domenew

Ernst decries the cluttered “organization” of this museum because it forces the visitor to impose history on objects, which we should otherwise view with the “cold gaze of media archeology” (36). This approach would instead allow the object to work on its own, resurrecting an image of the past in a truly mediatic way (54). And yet, as invested as I am in media’s shaping of the past, I’m not sure this approach does justice to the cultural memories of objects. Take the Elgin Marbles (in the British Museum, not the Soane), for example. If I’m reading Ernst correctly (and please advise me if I’m not), the cold gaze of the media archeologist sees them as remnants of the Parthenon. That’s true, but they’re also tangible evidence of British imperialism, the expansion of empire, and the rise of the museum itself. Yes, those are human narratives, but they leave traces on objects, especially in places where the Marbles are scratched or broken. In this case, it’s difficult to separate the materiality of an object from its cultural memory.

99922-004-012C57EC

Thoughts on Copier Art

Monday, February 24th, 2014 by dparker90

The issue of Copier Art, with its reproductions of artists’ copier-made portraits and collages, is an important event in the variantologial spectrum of media art. Not only does it challenge notions of artistic originality, it also manipulates a technology – the copier – for creative purposes that are at odds with its intended function. The artworks in the volume disrupt conventions regarding artistic authenticity:  the work can be copied without losing any of its value, because there are no originals when everything’s a copy. In this respect, I find Copier Art to be a singular moment in the deep time of media that challenges our notions of the proper use of technologies in the present. Much like glitch art, the book, as both manifesto and guide, usurps a technology of control in order to redistribute power.

In teaching readers how to operate copiers and create copier art, the writers of the book continually emphasize the ease and accessibility of this methodological approach. It requires no technical expertise or expensive materials. The copier itself is easily accessible in a public library. However, we know that those who work in offices or other corporate environments would likely have access to this technology. Indeed, the copier was built precisely for these settings. In my view, the corporate worker is the ideal copier artist. However, from my experience working as a paralegal in a corporate law firm, the idea of making art on the office’s copier seems laughable; my manager would have thought it a waste of company resources and time. But that’s the point: waste! In his Variantology, Zielinksi urges us to conduct research and undertake artistic projects that cannot be put to use. Copier art undermines the intended purpose of the copier as a tool for corporate productivity by using it to produce artistic waste.

Finally, I think copier art (and maybe glitch art) challenges Kittler’s assertion that “media determines our situation” (xxxix). Yes, the range of what’s artistically possible in copier art are determined by the constraints of its media – specifically, the functions of the copier – but aren’t we asserting control when we use it for purposes other than those for which it was intended? When we create art from a technology originally intended for productive corporate operations, we’re making media play by our rules.

Copier art

Patrick Firpo, “Look Both Ways Before You Cross”

Does Size Really Matter?

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by dparker90

I don’t want to give too much away from tomorrow’s presentation, but suffice it to say that I’ve been trying to incorporate the principles of Zielinski’s variantology in my MAL research with varying degrees of success and confusion (but that’s the point of this methodology, right?). I’ve been trying to forego my preconceived impressions of certain artifacts in the hopes that my encounters with them will be organic and informative. What I’ve found so far is that my experiences in the lab are often shaped – occasionally unbeknownst to me – by objects’ size. I’m thinking specifically of my recent experiments with the Lab’s magic lantern (early 20th-c), in which the physicality of the object played an enormous role in shaping my encounter with it. Taking the extremely heavy device off the shelf, I couldn’t find a place to set it up. This resulted in carrying it around the lab, trying to fit it on various surfaces near plugs. Once I finally set it down, it was difficult to maneuver so that the light would shine against a blank wall. Before I could even use the magic lantern for its intended purpose, I was struck by the (literal) weight of its object-ness.

I’m going to attempt what I hope is a Zielinski-esque analysis of my experience with the lantern: its sheer physicality led me to think about the sizes of contemporary devices, and how our emotive relationships with technology are determined by our interactions with them as objects. Trying to maneuver the lantern reminded me of setting up my 1999 Samsung TV (see what I just did? Deep time jump!), which proved similarly resistant because of its enormous back. The largeness of these technologies calls to mind the contemporary emphasis on smallness in modern technological marketing. I mean, I bought my MacBook Air because it only weighs 3 pounds! Unlike the lantern and old TV that resist portability, most of my recently developed devices – MacBook, iPad, iPod – seamlessly merge into my everyday activities in part because of their sheer lack of mass.

This leads me back to Deleuze. I wonder if increasingly tiny technologies are another aspect of societies of control; in contrast with the heavy magic lantern, I sometimes forget that my devices are objects separate from myself. My iPod’s so tiny that I can put it in my armband while jogging, as though it’s an extension of my body. The inconspicuous size of this technology allows it to shape my experiences without drawing attention to itself as object.

Invisible subjectivity and societies of control

Monday, February 10th, 2014 by dparker90

Reading Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” I can’t help but wonder how to characterize the modern subject. If subjects under what Foucault terms “disciplinary societies,” were characterized by uniformity and self-discipline – I’m thinking of the example in Discipline and Punish of reform-school students who didn’t participate in France’s 1968 student riots because of the self-monitoring behavior that had been instilled in them – how can we describe the modern subject in Deleuze’s terms? Instead of “vast spaces of enclosure,” we are now controlled by the invisible forces of corporate competition, fluctuating markets, “floating rates of exchange,” and commodified information. I’m also thinking here of what McKenzie Wark calls the “privatization of metadata,” which operates under the appearance of freely giving information – not charging a fee to join Facebook or Google+, for example – platforms that actually “extract far more than they give.”

So, if these are the new terms of control, what kind of subjects do they create? In line with Deleuze’s assertion that societies of control operate under free-floating, ever-shifting dynamics of power, I want to suggest that the modern subject is in fact unaware that it is being controlled and subjugated. Like Wark describes, mechanisms of control like Facebook and Google work under the pretense of giving users freedom, when in reality they privatize and manipulate users’ data. Modern subjects don’t feel they need to resist these controlling platforms because the control they exert is invisible. Within disciplinary societies, subjects could locate and actively resist power structures in schools, factories, prisons, etc., by forming labor unions and organizing demonstrations. Nowadays, it’s hard to resist “the man” when you can’t pin him down. Maybe this explains why so many of us discredited the “Occupy Wall Street” movement back in 2011 – if you’ve been trained to see yourself as an independent, decision-making individual, it’s harder to see what you’re up against. That’s what I find most frightening about societies of control: you don’t know when you’re subject to power because it feels like freedom.

To illustrate my point, I leave you with this horrifying “article” that popped up on my Facebook: “Could It Be? Millennials Are the New Generation of Hippies, But With Better Weed.” Now, truth be told, many of its commenters vehemently disagreed with its content, but the fact that someone actually wrote this, and that someone else posted it on Facebook, reveals that at least some modern subjects truly believe that they’re resisting power. Under of the auspices of freedom and choice, societies of control create a population of consumers who remain unaware of the forces controlling them.

Rethinking Romantic Texts with Media Archeology

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 by dparker90

This is a repost from my other blog, the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus (www.nassrgrads.com), but Lori thought it might also be of interest here. Worlds collide!

In my first post for this blog, I wrote about how my background in archeology influences my perception of texts as physical objects, and how I’d like to move towards an “archeological hermeneutics” that takes into account a text’s material conditions as contributing to its content and their significance. Moving forward, I’d like to complicate our understanding of text-as-object by introducing what I’ve so far learned in my “Media Archeology” seminar taught by Lori Emerson. It came as a surprise to my family and friends that I enrolled in this course, because I tend to take classes that focus on the study of 18th and 19th century literatures. Although I won’t be reading any texts “in my period” for this class, I’ve found it has in fact supplied me with a variety of alternative methodologies for my Romantic-era research.

Although those who work in the field tend to resist a concrete definition, Jussi Parikka calls media archeology “a way to investigate the new media cultures through insights from past new media, often with an emphasis on the forgotten, the quirky, the non-obvious apparatuses, practices and inventions” (Parikka loc 189). We’re encouraged to take apart machines in order to understand how they operate, and in turn expose the conditions and limits of our technologically mediated world. Relying on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, among other texts, media archeologists expose structures of power embedded within the hardware of modern technology, revealing the ways in which media exert control over communication and provide the limits of what can be said and thought.

I find this way of thinking about the structures and limitations imposed by media particularly useful for the study of 18th and 19th century texts. Instead of thinking about how printing and publication practices give rise to individual texts, as I have in the past, I’ve started to consider texts from the inside out: what do books tell us about the cultural conditions and constraints imposed by the media in which they were (and are) written, manufactured, and consumed? Like the ASU Colloquium’s post, I wonder what three volume novels, for example, might tell us about communal reading practices and circulation of texts and, importantly, our modern reading practices in comparison. I’d hypothesize that circulating texts and libraries would contribute to communities of readers in which reading was, perhaps, a shared experience. In contrast, modern reading tends to be solitary experience which involves owning texts (especially when the library has only one copy of the book you need).

I’ve also found media archeology’s rethinking of linear time and notions of progress particularly useful and interesting. Collapsing “human time” allows us to bring together seemingly unrelated technologies for comparison and analysis. I’m thinking here of the Amazon Kindle and 18th century circulating libraries, which both create spaces for communal reading. In contrast to the private reading practices I described above, I think the Kindle – and specifically the “popular highlight” feature – presents an opportunity for readers to become aware of their participation in collective readerships. When you click on a pre-underlined sentence, it shows how many other people have also highlighted it. While at first I found this feature annoying – perhaps evidence of the private relationship I tend to have with books – I’ve begun to enjoy the way it makes me aware that I’m one of many readers who’s enjoying this particular text. Furthermore, I wonder if my newfound sense of collective readership would also give me a better understanding of Romantic-era reading practices that were likewise characterized by shared texts and mutual engagement. The ASU Colloquium posed an important question about whether we should attempt to read texts as their original readers would have; since many of us no longer have access to the original 3 volume novels and their circulating libraries, maybe we can gain insight into these texts and reading practices from the vantage point of our own collaborative technologies.

To close this post, I want to introduce one more concept from my media archeology reading that I’ve also found particularly applicable to the study of Romanticism: glitch aesthetics. Typically understood as accidents and hick ups within games, videos, and other digital media, glitch artists exploit them in order to “draw out some of [that technology’s] essential properties; properties which either weren’t reckoned with by its makers or were purposefully hidden” (McCormack 15). Again, media archeologists are concerned with exposing the power structures embedded in technologies, this time by giving us a peek of what lies beneath. While looking at glitch art, I couldn’t help but think of an experience I’d had in the British Library reading Keats’s manuscripts. I remember finding an additional verse to “Isabella: Or, the Pot of Basil” in George Keats’s notebook in what I think was Keats’s hand etched nearly invisible on the opposite page. Of course, this mysterious stanza threw a wrench in the carefully constructed argument I’d planned, and I had no idea what to make of it. Now that I look back on it, I’d like to think of that stanza as a textual glitch – it’s possible that Keats never intended for it to be read. Perhaps it had even been erased from the page. For me, this “glitch” reveals the textual instability of the poem and disrupts the sense of solidity and permanence with which I’ve come to regard Keats’s oeuvre.

I still have much to learn about media archeology and its methodologies (which I’ve certainly oversimplified), but I think this field could lead our work in Romanticism in new and exciting directions.

 

Curing writer’s block with a typewriter

Saturday, January 25th, 2014 by dparker90

After reading about Renée’s adventures with the Altair 8800b, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences at the MAL last week. I’d spent Wednesday morning preoccupied by a travel grant application, trying to write a convincing argument about why I deserve to get paid to read old books in faraway libraries. After several hours writing, cutting, and pasting, I was left with an unsatisfying three sentences. As usual, I’d been paralyzed by the importance of the project and rendered incapable of putting words on the page. I left for the MAL in my frustration, hoping that playing with Google Glass might stimulate my creative faculties, or at least provide a much-needed distraction.

Like Angie, I found my experience with Glass slightly underwhelming, probably due to my inability to look at both screen and outside world at the same time. I think what’s supposed to make this gadget cool is it’s ability to superimpose the Google interface into your direct line of sight so that you’re looking at the world through it, but I couldn’t help continuing to view them separately. The Glass blocked my vision rather than augmenting it, though perhaps with more use I’d adapt to this. After all, it took me 2 months to make the transition from Blackberry to iPhone keyboards without hitting multiple letters at once.

Craving something more analogue after my experience with Glass, I turned to the Olympia De Luxe Typewriter. I have to echo Renée here when I say that this machine really put up a fight. Assuming that loading paper would be self-explanatory, I didn’t check for instructions. I think my incorrect assumption is indicative of our standardized and commodified “user friendly” electronics, where using an iPad, iPhone, or MacBook for the first time feels instinctive. Not so with Ms. Olympia De Luxe, who continually resisted my efforts to unriddle her.

Finally managing to load paper, I set to typing. I began the experience with Parikka’s text in mind, aware that the possibilities of what I could create on the typewriter were limited by the technological constraints of the machine itself. This proved partially correct, as I was obviously unable to alter text once it was printed on the page. Putting ink on the page initially felt limiting in its tangibility and permanence – there was no going back after pressing a key. However, as I continued to write, I found that the finitude of ink on page had an advantage: I was forced to construct complete, meaningful sentences before putting them on paper.

Of course, compared to the seemingly endless possibilities for writing and editing offered by modern Word processors, the typewriter was limited. Yet, in the knowledge that what I put on the page would stay on the page, I began to think before writing each word, resulting in cohesive, thoughtful prose. Taking another stab at my grant proposal, I found that the slower pace of writing offered by Olympia forced me to collect my thoughts before putting them to paper and improved the quality of my writing.

I don’t mean to suggest that it’s better to write on a typewriter, or that the finished product turns out any better with this technology, but I do think my experience with Olympia says much about the limitations – or seeming lack thereof – of modern Word processors. In my case, at least, the overwhelming possibilities of what can appear on the page sometimes prevent me from writing anything. Once something does get written, I can’t stop editing and rewriting until the inevitable deadline, and who’s to say that the resulting product is any better than it’d be on a typewriter? Paradoxically, even when technologies promise endless creative possibilities, we are subject to their limitations.