Space as Digital

Tom here. I intend to riff a little on what Kaitlin put in her inaugural post regarding digital space, while later establishing some of my long-standing queries.

There is a portion of my mind that rather sees the space of the digital realm as something between a shadowbox and the chthonic, a sort of magical realm or pseudomagical domain that arises out of a bifurcation, chimerical or not, of the Real and the Not-Real. Chimerical because we create and project into this space – this space phenomenologically cannot exist outside of our existence (verily, because there is no power source or infrastructure in place to power all spaces of the digital indefinitely and perpetually) – and allow the space to manifest to our whim and purpose, finished when we are (Objects within the Real do not so adeptly and readily bend to our presumption and dogma); Not-Chimerical because there is a liquidity in the permanence as it appears to outlive – it could outlive its Subject or exist completely independent of its Subject, it could outlive its Object whether through obsolescence or irrelevance (though I’m acutely aware of some of the inconsistencies here regarding inside/outside existences). So, we have a crisis of existence of the ephemeral from the outset. This is a fancy way of starting off, here.

Then, there is the portion of my mind that has difficulty imagining manifestations of identities and applications of place or prominence within the digital. Tracking identity is an exercise in fragmentation and fluidity in the world of the Real as it is; when we get to a state where polymorphism and consistent, perpetual morphology as a static device of being is expected and perhaps demanded, it gets of course just that much more difficult. The Hyperreal is the home and hearth; Baudrillard is vindicated in the primary arguments posited in “Hypermarket and Commodity” and Has Everything Already Disappeared?: the sign system of the Real collapses and we navigate a maze of hologram and holograph (and holophone, even), uncertain of any basis. Time and time again, fact appears destroyed and fact becomes irrelevant, thank in huge part to the quickness and ease of digital speech; the meme culture as virus infects the certification and verification of the lived experience, from everything from “You cannot trust everything you read on the Internet” (Abraham Lincoln?) to whether the Royal Wedding happened to copy Disney’s Cinderella(Self-reference alert.) Beyond this, we have the self-extension, the Real-Beyond into digital space – manifestation of the self into the hypergnosis and hyperspaces: creating an artificial or aspirational being of ourselves on social media; controlling a mechanical shadow-self by self-empathizing mechanically (that was weird to type); legitimizing a collective or individual digital sociopathy and schizophrenia when such things get unhealthy or exceed what is acceptable (a term that is, of course, loaded and undefined and perhaps impossible to disentangle within the digital). There is an extension of the self, a psychic/phantom self, that (re)emerges as a schema-psyche-kairos junction-self in the digital; this is the self that obfuscates the Real from the digital-Real; this is the self that takes personally the death of a character in Warcraft; this is the self that spends hours perfecting and pruning Tweets to present an ideal character unportrayable by humans; this is the self that undergoes therapeutic chrysalis, catharsis, and transformation in the realm of the digital; this is the self that subtly inverts paradigms of authenticity and begins to influence comportment and existence in the Real. This is far more than MMORPG or Twitter or self-identifying as the protagonist in a video game.

So, what the hell does this have to do with music?

We go back to the elementals of space and origin in this regard. But My hour of blogging I allotted myself thus far for the week has expired. I will pick this up later, apropos to music; however, I turn it back to K so that I can clarify, if I need, some comments I made so far, or receive leading questions on how this all points back to sonic art.

Digital as Space

Kaitlin here. Apologies for the belatedness of this post, but the end of the semester teaching, course work, and Master’s program requirements kept me busy.

For this first blog post of actual content, I wanted to discuss one of the terms that is highly misunderstood in digital studies, but also my own (inter)disciplinary understanding: space. In our respective fields, Tom and I have both developed an interest in space, whether it is how space functions as a location for potential action to unfold, space as a rhetorical creation, or the ways in which space interacts with music for a particular effect.

The digital is understood fundamentally as a type of space, hence the term “cyberspace.” Yet the spatial is often obscured because it is not clear how bodies, identities, users are able to inhabit this space. There is not a *there* to discuss as we would discuss the rhetorical dimensions of urban spaces. My research has been focused on the role of bodies and identities as they are created, maintained, and contested in digital spaces. This type of study requires a more nuanced understanding of digital space than currently exists. Binaries are pervasive when encountering the digital: real/unreal, physical/virtual, meaningful/meaningless. When the digital is understood as a space, it is typically divided into discursive metaphorical or the more easily accessible and tangible spaces of MOOs, websites, physical tech. I would argue that we’re limited in addressing digital space because of how materialism has been problematic linked to meaning (how matter matters a la Karen Barad), but that’s a chapter from my thesis that I won’t get into here. Given the multiplicities of spaces in the digital, how do we define digital as a space? What digital spaces are productive sites for academic inquiry?

I’m interested in discussing the digital as a space because it’s an epistemological/ontological switch. The digital is typically constructed as a thing, noun or adjective, object. As an object, the digital acts as a sort of tool that allows the user some sort of agency; the digital can be used for a particular purpose (as in, this iPad is a digital tool that has pedagogical applications).  Understanding the digital as a space then allows the digital to become a site for potential, for extensions beyond. The digital as a space functions more as a Deleuzian plateau from which flights of fantasy, appendages, and rhizomes begin.

Tom- your thoughts?

Edit: Currently reading Scot Barnett’s “Psychogeographies of Writing: Ma(r)king Space at the Limits of Representation” in the most recent issue of Kairos. He’s dealing with critical spatial theory, phenomenology, and representation/experience that may be useful to grounding at least part of this conversation. I’ll probably write a post on my thoughts after reading through the entire web-article.

We’re New Here.

This has only just begun.

Tom here. Kaitlin will join us shortly.

This is a brainplayground. This is a space to discuss between us (in a semi-surveilled, potentially-public space) issues of embodiment and representation as they appear in writing – both prose and non-prose (though this is its own odd problem…) – and as they course through the general idea of the oft-debated idea/fact/notion of the text. We will use this as a means to shape upcoming intellectual collaborations both in an interdisciplinary fashion as well as for our individual disciplines. The ultimate goal: a series of scholarly and/or philosophical essays (with this blog as the sandbox) and/or at the very least a book proposal. Roland Barthes got to get the symbolic representation of oikos-power, son.

Kaitlin is a rhetorician, gender studies scholar, and fan/critic/student of digital cultures. She holds degrees from UNC-Greensboro and Virginia Tech and is currently a PhD student in Rhetoric at The Ohio State University. She spends her summers working for Duke’s TIP program in Lawrence, KS. I (Tom) am a composer, music theorist and itinerant musicologist, and aesthetic theorist. I hold degrees from UNC-Greensboro and the University of Texas at Austin. I’m an assistant professor of music at South Carolina State University, and over summers I am a philosophy instructor at the East Campus of the Governor’s School of North Carolina.

The idea for this collaboration arose spontaneously during a disembodied conversation over an instant messaging tool; the topic of our conversation was the constant reinterpretation of the text and a struggle with defining and isolating the absolute text in the world of music – something I have been exploring for years, and as we continue to progress into a William-Gibson-fantasy of digital culture and embodiment – having to review and rethink the idea of being there and readdressing our idea of agency – it only makes sense (if in a convoluted way) that searching for the Real and reevaluating our control over it in various forms is a common endeavor for us.

This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, but over the coming months/years/epochs, we promise to tease out as many leads and ideas as possible and argue and agree as vehemently as necessary.

-Tom