Reaction to Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media

Perhaps this reaction is due in part to all the attention we have paid to inquiry questions while writing our grant proposals, but I really found the way Manovich framed his argument very useful.  Manovich analyzes “the language of new media by placing it within the history of modern visual and media cultures,” and posits several central questions: How does new media rely on “older cultural forms and languages” and how does it break with them? How do “new media objects” interact with the viewers, and how does new media “represent space and time?” Finally, and probably most importantly, in the historical evolution or “archeology” of new media, where are the critical historical turning points? (8).  Much of the answer for Manovich is found in the process of digitization–or the converting of media into binary code, and he believes this profoundly changes the human experience. At least I think that is part of what he is saying–the theory of new media was a little abstract at times.  If I missed something with the essential way he framed his narrative someone please enlighten me…

At any rate, I want to offer my own perspective on something interesting that Andy wrote in her post for this week when she discussed the “Forms” chapter.  I find myself continually intrigued by the challenge (and I use term challenge loosely in some cases and not so loosely in others) of determining what constitutes a sites narrative.   Even though a lot of history related sites are databases/archival sites, that does not necessarily imply the absence of a narrative.  On the contrary, the selection of documents, which ones are privileged, which types of documents, and who wrote them, are all essentially similar to the choices one would make in constructing a narrative text.  In reading this particular chapter, and trying to relate it to history and the differences in the various forms of history based websites, I kept returning to the famous Michel Rolph Trouillot argument about historical silences and how the role of power in the production of historical source material ultimately provided several critical steps in the construction of a narrative.  In essence, Trouillot posited in Silencing the Past; Power and the Production of History that “silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of the source; the moment of fact assembly (the making of an archive); the moment of fact retrieval (the creation of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).” In many respects these stages of historical silences create narratives before a historian ever puts a pen to paper or digitized a document. (Trouillot, Silencing the Past, 26).  Undoubtedly, we need to be aware of the balance between the text on a website being overwhelming, but we are already constructing narratives by creating an archive in the first place, we just need to be aware of it, and account for possible distortions as best we can.  Now, if only visitors would read the “About” and find all this information….

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