Where is our future?

As it is supposed to be the way of tracking my pace through the time of pandemics, inevitably there will be some ups & downs. Let’s say the latter is the case this week, although I’m not sure anymore how to discriminate between these poles exactly. Even if I somehow managed to upstart (to some extent) my writing process and got gradually invigorated again with what I had put aside a few weeks ago, there are some days when sustained attention does not come easy or is utterly wrecked. Or, I’d rather say, it’s being diverted to some kind of an internal process I can only get a glimpse of. Actually, I’ve always felt my research and writing process seem more a creative endeavor than a properly structured and disciplined inquiry that can be properly designed and managed. This is not to say that I work on a whim or endlessly wait for an inspiration to present itself right in front of my face. However, to some extent, the whole process of playing with concepts, combining different theoretical perspectives and backgrounds, tracing the histories and lines of thoughts, analyzing the media objects or cultural phenomena is not without its pitfalls as well as sudden revelations and insights. Granted, in most cases, the latter is brought by the whole weeks of the ideas being developed behind the scene and arduous work going on in the background – so on the surface, I might be as distracted and absent-minded as any stereotypical academic.  In a way, I always hope that falling again in this distracted mode of being means something is going on behind the curtain of my consciousness. Usually, it is, but you just never know for sure.

So I hope that in reality, I managed to really kickstart this process. Also, it may be unpleasant and really difficult at times. Like when for weeks you can’t find conclusions that would sound relevant enough or adequate or coherent, or you don’t see how to develop some argument beyond the obvious, or you have the impression of going in circles. A bit like a koan practice, I was reminded this week, while attending another class of the course on emptiness by Roshi Paul Genki Kahn (How Empty is Emptiness? – I can’t help but see here a dash of a very specific, barely discernible sense of Zen humor along with a sincere way to study how the concept of emptiness has been developed starting with early Buddhist scripture through philosophical schools of Madhyamika and Yogaćara and then reformulated by Chinese Hua-yen all the way to Zen Garland Order). So this kind of practice provides me with yet another vantage point to better understand my work.

It dawned on me that the most difficult part of it is to let things unfold in their own time and manner, which may sound nice on the surface but requires a lot of courage (as well as trust and patience). And because this week I was again desperately missing my permaculture garden located on the Slovakian side of the border, in a beautiful village Lechnica, gardening became the focus of the week. I stumbled upon a quote that suddenly rang a bell when I was sitting in front of my screen listening to Roshi Genki:

“Change is one of the few things in Nature that is constant – the continual flow of unknowable and unpredictable relationships, which lead to choices, which in turn lead to actions, and which then become events laden with consequences. Thus everything is in constant process of becoming something else. […] In this way one of Nature’s great lessons is revealed if we observe closely and participate consciously in life: knowledge represent our notion of the historical surety of the past; change flows as the ongoing current of the active present, and uncertainty is the womb of future possibility, whether in my garden, a farmer’s field, a forest, or the world at large.”

It comes from this small book:

Chris Maser is better known as an author of The Redesigned Forest, an unconventional forester and designer of sustainable communities. Still, in this book, he manifests his gardening passion and links gardening with a much broader perspective on life, much like I was prompted to do some time ago. (And let’s leave aside, for now, “Nature” here as a construct). Apparently, the part of a process that comes as the most difficult is coming to terms with uncertainty as “the womb of the future possibility” – it has to resonate with this difficult time as well, where so many ordinary, everyday routines and structures we knew and took for granted are suddenly falling apart. Staying with this kind of trouble, to borrow from the famous title, is all about patience, trust, and perseverance. And a supportive community. This reminds me of the reason why I wrote this post in the first place – apart from the fantastic community of fellow Zen practitioners, I have the privilege to belong to a few others.  One of them became invigorated with the discussion on where our future is and how to start imagining it, where the ideas are or why there are not so many ideas about how to proceed and what to do next. Well, I would say there is no shortage of ideas around, but that is not the point. And what my point is, I’ll explain next, maybe earlier than next Sunday.

For now, I’m watching this womb of uncertainty where future possibilities grow:

Linear Process (or let’s decolonize narratives of pandemics)

,The current title of my blog, But where do we go from here? has been inspired by a poem I found in the small book, Follow the Blackbirds by Gwen Nell Westerman:

Linear Process

Our elders say

the universe is a

circle.

Everything

returns to its

beginnings.

But where do we go

from here?

Where are

our beginnings?

Our parents were stripped

of their parents

names, tongues           prayers,

lined up for their meals

clothes               classes tests.

When it was our turn

to come into this world,

they did not know

what family meant

anymore.

They did not

know.

Yet even

from here,

we can

see that the

straightest line

on a map

is a

circle.

 

IMG_4749

Here you can listen to a poet herself reading from this collection (a different poem).

I came across this collection last December, at an amazing bookstore in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books, when I parted my ways with Midwest and Minneapolis, on my way home from a 4-month Fulbright teaching gig at Winona State University in Winona (Minnesota). I was sure at the time that I would soon be back to further explore the independent bookstores and theatres of Minneapolis (which turned out to be a scenic city notorious for such pleasures) as well as to see old friends across the state of 10 000 lakes, from Duluth to Winona and beyond. I also had other plans in mind: during my stay, I came to develop a keen interest in all things Midwestern (from organic farming in Wisconsin to local scenes of rural art in Minnesota and to the life and times of Mississippi’s ongoing presence in Midwestern economy, literature, and art). My teaching obligations, although moderate and well-planned schedule-wise, didn’t leave me much time. Somehow, I managed to make it to the extensive collection of Midwest-related literature in Darrell E. Krueger library at WSU. There was, however, one domain that I could not really venture into based on literature only (or at least I felt it would not be appropriate and adequate): Native American presence in American society and culture. Throughout my 4-month stay, I managed to find a few connections that could possibly lead to the development of a future network that could one day get me the opportunity to start working on a subject related to indigenous art. I previously wrote an article on connections between electronic literature and vocalization in joiking, based on my experiences with Sami culture. I was also lucky enough to be able to see a bit of Inuit art while visiting Montreal twice (in 2008 and 2018), and I was regularly following Isuma TV, almost since their very beginnings. I was so thrilled upon having heard that they would be hosting Canadian Pavillion at the 2019 Venice Art Biennial, where I later spent a couple of hours watching their movies, including one of my favorites, One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk). The whole idea seemed very complicated from the very beginning. For years, I had some other projects underway to focus on so the possible research project around the issues that I was interested in for a long time has been postponed almost ad calendas Graecas. First and foremost, I didn’t want to be neither a sort of a researcher-turned-cultural tourist nor a cultural anthropologist-on-the-go.

I could consider it then almost a lifelong idea that has been very slowly brewing up, circumstances permitting it may or may not come into being. I still don’t have specific questions to ask indigenous artists, and the theoretical framework has not been decided yet. Well, I have something provisionally and very roughly sketched – or rather, I thought I finally got a glimpse of it after having seen Julie Buffalohead’s exhibition in Minneapolis Institute of Art last December. I am also well aware that it is not entirely uncharted area, with quite an extensive list of literature available, most recently this excellent book by Jessica L. Horton. But I have to put the idea back on the shelf again where it will be waiting for better times and fortuitous circumstances (at least until I complete the book I have to write at the moment).

No wonder then that upon seeing the numerous great articles popping up here and there discussing different examples of the historical pandemic outbreaks, most notably the Spanish influenza of 1918-1920, I couldn’t help thinking that a similar form of the end of the world had already happened before to indigenous people across the globe, yet such aspect again gets rarely (if ever) mentioned in the current wave of interest in all things concerning epidemiology and virology. BTW: We’re exploring some of the narratives and imagery surrounding coronavirus in a Facebook group I started here. – Thanks to it, I am sure that I’ve seen the photo illustrating this article accompanying literally every single essay on historical pandemics. So far, I haven’t noticed, however, much reflection on (or even one comparison with) the large-scale outbreaks of smallpox, measles, or typhus that ravaged First Nations of America in consequence of the European conquer (the smallpox epidemics started as early as in 1518). The subsequent waves of diseases killed each time up to 30% of the population. The extensive and well-informed post on Wikipedia on Native American disease and epidemics quotes Yale historian David Brion Davis, stating that “the greatest genocide in the history of man. Yet it’s increasingly clear that most of the carnage had nothing to do with European barbarism. The worst of the suffering was caused not by swords or guns but by germs.” (I traced this quote to the article that appeared on Newsweek in 1991, in the context of AIDS). So asking questions and prophetizing on what’s next after the coronavirus pandemics, we could look back to the history as well – if we were only willing to decolonize our imaginaries and narratives of doom and gloom. The end of the world has already happened in a few places on the globe, and there are societies there which have survived. Why no to ask them what the living after the Apocalypse is like? If they are willing/able to share. I can’t help thinking that our future has been played out several rounds of it already but somehow we still can’t see it.

 

Why?

…because in a year or so I would like to be able to trace this journey. Just to check if I was right about what is gonna come for me and for the communities I belong to.  And for my research that suddenly and unexpectedly became tightly interwoven with the rest of my life. Or, rather, I was abruptly awakened to the fact that it’s always been seamlessly integrated with my everyday reality, only I wasn’t really willing to see it and to acknowledge the consequences. So for quite some time I’ve been desperately trying to establish boundaries between my professional life and my more or less private sphere. At the time it seemed so right and reasonable: not conflating one with the other so that they don’t bother each other too much and I can preserve some space to be someone different here and there. Occasionally these personalities intermingled, usually when I was heading for the performance or when I met people who knew me as a musician and/or as an environmentalist and an avid permaculture gardener. There is some kind of pleasure coming from switching gears and shape-shifting between the worlds that are set apart. Another thing is, any kind of ‘personality’ has always felt oppressive and fixed beyond my taste. But not anymore. I can’t gloss over the fact that writing is at the moment almost impossible, no matter how hard I’m trying to set me on my keyboard and limit the news consumption. And limit my interactions with family (mostly my ailing parents whom I can’t really help now because I can’t visit them out of virological concerns),  friends and communities I belong to, dispersed across continents and networks of communication on which we all became so strongly dependent as of recently (except maybe for the community of my Zen practice where, as we often say, the practice is the space where we stay together).

So I’ve been long neglecting the extent to which my research and teaching is in fact integrated with the rest of my life. Even last year, when I had to undergo quite serious surgery and then spent the whole month on paid leave to fully recover, the business quickly became running as usual. Or so it seemed. I stopped for a bit reluctantly. I noticed, for example, that I’m physically not able to bear the stress of hurrying up. Even chasing the bus seemed beyond my body/mind. Yes, it partly evolved out of the time of recovery regime, when for a couple of months I had to avoid straining myself too much. And these new ways of body/mind became so well integrated within me that I just couldn’t give it up. No matter how urgent things looked like, there was always this red light in my head that often kept slowing me down, sometimes against my conscious will. So no deadline was urgent enough to limit the proper amount of sleep, for instance. And you know what? I noticed that not meeting the deadlines does not incur the end of the world. Nor even the end of cooperation in most cases, if both parties see it as valuable.

Which is not to say I’m reckless or lazy. I’ve been (slowly) learning to respect my own limits. It took me more than a year to notice how unrealistic the timelines of my various endeavors were and I’m still learning the precious art of setting healthy boundaries. I’m de-learning everything I’ve heard, read or was taught on how the proper academic ‘career’ should be like. Granted, it is much easier when you’re tenured (in the country where I’m based we have a slightly different system but in general the postdoctoral degree of habilitation is an equivalent of tenure). Actually, my tenure already came at a price:  the surgery I’ve already mentioned and a couple of months of uncertainty whether it might be cancer. Luckily it wasn’t. The amount of stress I’ve undergone for all the 13 years of my academic career proved to be just insurmountable. And in a great part, it was me who cooked it up for myself. Wait, actually, nope. NOPE. It’s nothing wrong with having plans and wishes to succeed (whatever this success in academia means these days, for me it means to be included in the international networks of likeminded people of a shared field of interests). Nothing wrong with dreams. Rather, all is wrong with an often cruel and inhuman environment where you’re bound to pursue it. Especially, when you’re a female academic from a semi-peripheral country, where higher education and research has never been a priority (if measured by the reality of the level of financing, not the phantasies of consecutive governments’ declarations – the steady level of financing hoovers around 1% of GDP: in 2017 Poland spent 1,03% of GDP on R&D as compared to the average of 2,03 for the whole EU and yes, it increased to 1,21% in 2018 but it is more creative accounting than lived reality), from a family where you’re a first-generation holder of a university diploma (not mentioning PhD), someone who jumped on a bandwagon of a university career in her 30ies (for many reasons, one of which was a grim reality of the economic and social transformation of mid-nineties when you happened to graduate from the university – in pre-EU Poland the unemployment rate at the time was around 15% – and in dire need to support yourself rather than pursue the academic dreams).

So, here I am, associate professor at one of the best Polish universities (which, although occupies the tier of 301-400 in this ranking,  still is one of the two universities mentioned there at all, and earns #338 in this ranking). I’m not a fan of this kind of rankings, but they are often referred to as a (mistaken) measure of quality. The fun fact is that in the latter the Arts&Humanities division (my cohort, at #236) fares slightly better than Natural Sciences (#242), but we’re still being lectured on what waste of the taxpayers’ money we are. Or, wait. In this country, humanities are at the forefront of the current ideological battles and are considered a strategical asset in shaping the so-called “politics of history” and re-installing the proper amount of national pride. Which is nothing to be ecstatic about, if your field happen to be digital culture and new media art.

So, here I am, middle-aged, mid-career associate professor at one of the best universities in this country, famous for its 700-year history and for the fact that it turned down once the job application from no other than Marie Skłodowska-Curie (after she managed to graduate from Sorbonne). My gross salary is roughly 1387,71 EUR (1 498,91 USD) monthly (before taxes) which translates into 16 652,52 EUR yearly (17 986,92 USD), before taxes. This semester I teach 7 courses because my research grant has ended. For 3 years it used to pump up my salary by roughly 500 EUR extra monthly, before taxes – thanks to which I could afford meeting you at international conferences and buying books. Now I need to earn this money myself to keep in touch with my field (yes, I applied already for another grant but you know what it’s like). Each course is one 90-minute class meeting per week. Two courses are at the doctoral programs (one at another university). Normally, my teaching load is 180 hours per academic year, which translates into 6 30-hour courses (90-minute class meeting per week each). I’m required to perform the top-notch research (measured with Scopus-indexed publications and grant projects, whereas I prefer open-access online journals significant for the network of colleagues whose opinions really matter to me and engagement with the international forums fostering meaningful dialogue and mutual learning). I’m the vice-editor-in-chief of a leading Polish journal in cultural studies. I chair the Ph.D. program in the discipline of art studies within Jagiellonian University Doctoral School.

The personal development fund for my whole Institute (around 20 employees) hoovers around 6552 EUR (7700 USD) PER YEAR. It is supposed to cover participation in conferences and publications, among others. Out of this, I can usually count on up to 400 EUR per year (the average international conference registration fee is in the range of 250-300 EUR).  I work on my own equipment. I have access to decent research infrastructure (Sage Premium, Project Muse, EBSCO, etc.). I have access to several platforms supporting online teaching (such as MS Teams, customized Moodle, and, as of recently, Webex). I have an extensive network of wonderful colleagues and friends across academia in Poland, Europe, the United States, and Australia. The range of support I was getting from my direct supervisors throughout the whole 13 years, on different stages of my academic career, varied tremendously. But as of recent, I can say I work in a generally supportive environment – without the support from my faculty, I wouldn’t be able to spend 4 months as Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Winona Stae University (MN) (it deserves the whole separate story here). I guess it is mostly because I’m considered an asset valuable enough – which is OK, I’ve been working hard to get where I am.

I don’t have kids. I have elderly parents to support financially (their income is roughly 600 EUR monthly and both of them suffer from different health conditions, with one of them being in the need of constant care).

I chose to write in English (which is not my native language so occasionally there might be some mistakes in how I surf its waves ) so that the larger group of people could follow (and, hopefully, participate in the discussion here).

I’m not complaining. I’m just summing up and clarifying for myself, where I am at at the turn of March and April 2020. I’m gonna write this journal mostly for myself. To check out in a year, how this road (now and supposedly) ahead has been.  

I was supposed to write a book, and rather quickly, summing up my research project that ended rather abruptly in January 2020. I’ll share this story separately too. I was supposed to write at least two reviews of the books I really dig and wanted to share my thoughts on them.  And as far as I can see on Facebook, I’m far from being the only one who stumbled upon a writer block.

So I’m gonna trace this journey hoping that it will help to kick start the process of writing in general. (My book on post-digital imaging will be in English, as was most of my publications over the last 2-3 years).

I was inspired by the Facebook post that Annette Markham shared one day, reporting her own obstacles with writing. I could totally relate to it and then this urge to somehow chronicle what is happening with me as a researcher these days started materializing.

I do hope I will still be in the capacity to read this one year from now. And I’m really curious where we’d all be, circumstances permitting.

Cyfrowa humanistyka raz jeszcze

okladkaW przerwie między wpisami anglojęzycznymi (nowość! 🙂 ) podsumowującymi doroczną konferencję Electronic Literature Organization: ukazał się numer specjalny “Czasu Kultury” poświęcony game studies oraz humanistyce cyfrowej. Udostępniam mój artykuł “Cyfrowa sztuka na styku sztuki, nauki i technologii” – jeśli redakcja zaprotestuje, to oczywiście zdejmę; liczę jednak na to, że zechcecie kupić cały numer, bo zdecydowanie warto. Choćby dla niezwykle ciekawych i/lub przydatnych w dydaktyce materiałów: wywiadu z Nickiem Montfortem (Piotr Marecki), wprowadzenia do game studies (Piotr Sterczewski) czy krytycznego podsumowania dorobku badań gier (Mirosław Filiciak). Cały numer jest godny zakupu, ale te trzy artykuły zdążyłam przeczytać i wydają mi się bardzo inspirujące.

Bardzo się cieszę, że mogłam wziąć udział w tym projekcie – jestem też bardzo wdzięczna za cierpliwość redakcji (moje relacje z deadline’ami są coraz bardziej skomplikowane 🙂 Jest jednak pewien aspekt całości, który potwierdza moją tezę o wielu nieporozumieniach towarzyszących humanistyce cyfrowej w Polsce – jest szczególnie ironiczne (zdaje się, że w niezamierzony sposób), że numer o takiej tematyce istnieje, póki co, w wersji wyłącznie papierowej. Jeśli jest to coś, o czym mamy dyskutować, nie może wylądować w “silosie z danymi”, których pełna jest sieć (i gdzie kończy spora część projektów digitalizacyjnych spod znaku #DH). Mogłabym powiedzieć, że piekło cyfrowych humanistów wybrukowane jest archiwami zdigitalizowanej zawartości, z której nikt nie korzysta oraz ambitnie zamierzonymi, ale zamkniętymi dla szerszego grona LVE, tworzonymi najczęściej na potrzeby kilku placówek zrzeszonych w konsorcja badawcze.

#ELO2015 (1)

fot. Anna Nacher

This is going to be a modest attempt at blogging in English (I warn you, it might be continued, at least sometimes). Actually it has started as an idea to write a short blog post sharing a few thoughts after the excellent international conference but now it turns out I’m well into 1330-word long post and haven’t even touched on the thoughts noted during the panels and performances I have attended 🙂 So, #ELO2015, part 1.

Do not expect, however, the official report of any sort – as I said, I just want to share some impressions from the awesome scholarly event. (Thank you, Kathi Inman Berens for accepting my request to use your photos from the event – more to see as Flickr album). Here’s Kathi’s Storif-ied report from the conference. Also, Anastasia Salter published another report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I’m writing in English not so much out of vanity, hoping to find a global audience (and vain we, as academics, can be! 🙂 as rather for entirely different reason: to keep the inspirations, thought and ideas flow, in accordance with the general mood of Electronic Literature Organisation Conferences. I’ve attended two of them so far: the one in 2013 in Paris and now, two years later in Bergen (I missed the one in Milwaukee, USA in 2014 though). The two events were hosted in completely different environments: one being THE city, imbued with all the rich narrative textures accumulated through time and materialized in various media, another – a compact, scenic, very walkable town squeezed between the coast and the mountains, offering both the breath of fresh air and a glimpse into several layers of history from the ancient Vikings through  Hanzeatic world of networked economy and culture to the cutting-edge new technology hot spot (one can easily notice Tesla’s car outlet on the way from the airport).

Espen Aarseth (and Jill Walker Rettberg), opening keynote lecture, fot. Kathi Inman Berens

Espen Aarseth (and Jill Walker Rettberg), opening keynote lecture, fot. Kathi Inman Berens

As far apart as Paris and Bergen seem to be, both conferences had at least one thing in common: the attitude. The group of people attending these conferences (and, I dare to say, the scene of e-lit in general) is probably the most supportive, hospitable and welcoming I’ve encountered so far. Considering how often the opening remark at the various presentation gets crafted into something of a warning: “I’m not really into e-literature”, this is also probably the most open-minded audience of scholars and media practitioners in the academic world. On the other hand, due to many reasons, the very category of e-literature keeps stirring controversy and discussion, of which we’ve been reminded during the opening keynote lectures by Espen Aarseth and Stuart Moulthrop. Aarseth questioned (in a somewhat provocative way) the notion of e-literature itself, stating for example that games could be considered its most important form. Regarding the number of interactive multi- and transmedia e-lit installations, it is a good point. Actually, as my field of research is mostly media art, I frame the considerable body of e-lit work as such, therefore sometimes the discussion focusing too much on “literariness” or grounded in the heavily text-based thinking seems to miss the point. When, for example, Stuart Moulthrop elaborated on movement from text to context, I couldn’t help but think: what if discriminating between both is not easy or even possible?  Especially in the environment of corporate networked media when business decisions strongly affect the way we access the content? And what about the whole school of thought represented by Stanley Fish and his deconstruction of text/context divide? What about paratextuality? (following simultaneously  #ELO2015 on Twitter I could see that similar questions bothered also others in the hall). During the panel I was moderating on the same day, Hybrid Books, Augmented Artists’ Books, Touch Literatury and Interactivity, Kathi Inman Berens provided an interesting example of how difficult discriminating between text and context can be in today’s ecosystem of corporate media when she demonstrated how e-lit’s alleged obsolescense can actually be linked to planned obsolescence, in-built in the whole range of Apple’s mobile devices. Kathi explained how adapting Steve Tomasula’s TOC to iPad prevents the audience from reaching out to its original version designed for the older OS (her presentation was based on the chapter published in this collection). On the other hand, combining “the old” and “the new” (I’m always wary of using such adjectives when media technolgies are concerned, following the Lisa Gitelman’s books on the subject of new media and the whole endeavour of remediation theory) can bring about an extremely interesting and inspiring way of inquiry – Søren Pold proved the method is fruitful when (referring to Ink After Print literary platform and installation) he showed how “combinations of books, screens and online media related to a post-digital media reflexivity” (I’m quoting from ELO2015 catalogue). By the way, I think it is exactly such reflexivity which keeps popping out now and then when we discuss current media ecology so it deserves even more attention.

fot. Kathi Inman Berens

fot. Kathi Inman Berens

Therefore, in a similar way I’ve had some doubts about the otherwise very catchy Moulthrop’s formula that “remediation is never to have to say sorry for destroying literature in the name of >> the future of literature<<“. Of course the notion of remediation has been discussed, criticized (for many good reasons) and defended from almost every angle possible. But all doubts aside, to me the theory of remediation has always been a way to say that what we are dealing with is not the linear teleology of “progressing” (or “regressing” for that matter) media technologies but rather that it is the complex process of mutual transformations and contingent materializations of the creative process temporarily embodied as media. Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska in their Life After New Media.Mediation as a Vital Process offer an interesting account of procesual thinking about media and this procesual thinking is why they advocate using  the term mediation instead. Maybe this is why Espen Aarseth’s stance that all our discussions are not so much about digital/non-digital as they are about “politics of funcionality” has struck me as really insightful.

On the other hand, any frictions coming from the clash of paradigms might be very refreshing and rewarding as they broaden the scope of interrogations concerning the positions, attitudes and perspectives usually employed while encountering the work of e-lit. For somebody like me, primarily interested in media theory and media art, such discussions are often much more fruitful and inspiring than the ones I witness and participate in during (new) media art festivals and media theory conferences (I have already mentioned that  I usually utter the “new media” phrase with caution, haven’t I?).

fot. Kathi Inman Berens

fot. Kathi Inman Berens

It was practically impossible to digest all of the awesomeness of ELO 2015 – simply because of the obvious physical and mental constraints (sometime during the second day upon arrival I became dizzy, disoriented and numb to the extent that I was walking down the street without really knowing where I am, how I got there and where I’m heading – and I wasn’t even partying the evening before). Talan Memmott has captured the feeling in the short post at the ELO2015 FB’s event’s wall, saying that the conference was “simultaneously restorative and exhausting”. But precisly because our days were packed up to the physical limits and beyond, the creative process has been invigorated and sped up. It had a lot to do with the transversality of the space we were experiencing. Mornings and early afternoons were slightly more theory-oriented and consisted of classic presentation and discussion panels, late afternoons and evenings were designed as artists’ showcases.  The numbers are seldom (contrary to common belief) self-explaining but one cannot ignore the fact that during 3-day long conference we had a chance to see 5 exhibitions and 2 performance evenings, not to mention papers, “lightning talks”, artists presentation, all fascinating conversations going on during lunch and coffe breaks. It was massive indeed! After all, the conference program and catalogue edited by Anne Karhio, Lucas Ramada Prieto and Scott Rettberg counts 273 pages!.

So what follows in the next sentence is my take on “dispersed agency”. It wasn’t actually me, distinct, individual self who was thinking, posing questions and working to find out the answers: this was the act of plugging in into communal flow that has been initiated and maintained by the scholars, media practitioners, the artists, machines and materials comprising the installations, clouds in the sky over the city, the sounds of rain drops falling on the rooftop windows of our hotel room at night and all the body movements back and forth across the city and beyond (both expereinced and imagined). The notion of dispersed agency was employed by Simon Biggs during his presentation on the extremely inspiring performances: Bodytext, Tower and Crosstalk, first of which was also performed on the evening show. To me it is as a perfect example of agency distributed between human, machine and code. On the more mundane human level, ELO2015 community was as heterogenous as possible: 40% of artists and speakers were women and we came from 27 countries in the world (you can see the diversity growing between 2002-2014 at a blog post by Jill Walker Rettberg, informed by the research done by Daniela Ørvik from University of Bergen). NB: In terms of knowledge base, the wall of FB event is worthy to check out for all kinds of contacts, resources and information on ELO2015.

Next: about encounters, performances, flows and thoughts and what conference banquets are for (at awesome conferences as compared to banquet life at the average ones).

And I was supposed to write a book. Look, what I am doing instead. Am I just procrastinating again?

Uniwersytet: strefa martwej wyobraźni

Wygląda na to, że wątek korpouni rozrasta się niepomiernie (czy kogoś to dziwi?). Chociaż przytoczony przez Marka Carrigana we wpisie, który reblogguję, fragment z książki Davida Graebera dotyczy nauk społecznych, nie mogę oprzeć się wrażeniu, że równie dobrze opisuje całość academii, w tym również bliskie nam zakątki. Coraz częściej “strefy martwej wyobraźni” wydają mi się dosyć oczywistym opisem sytuacji – wszystko zaczyna być w academii bardzo regulowane i… martwe: nowe budynki, ujednolicone godziny zajęć dla calego wydziału, czysto statystyczne i -metryczne zasady oceny dorobku naukowego (a więc potencjału intelektualnego) pracowników, doktorantów i studentów, konieczność planowania z rocznym wyprzedzeniem, nawet uczelniane bufety z daniami z mikrofali i uczelniane tablice ogłoszeń, na których widnieją przewidywalne plakaty o przewidywalnych ewentach. Wspominałam o tym pisząc co nieco o skromnej próbie prowadzenia kursu w formie projektu. Im więcej bicia piany o “innowacyjności”, tym więcej martwoty i tym mniej przestrzeni na niekonwencjonalne myślenie, wykraczające poza szablony (tworzone najczęściej w Excelu i rozpowszechniane w postaci kiepskiego makro w Wordzie).

Proszę więc o wybaczenie osobistego tonu i osobistego wątku – ponieważ nadarzyła się możliwość, postanowiłam wdrożyć jakiś rodzaj strefy autonomicznej zupełnie gdzie indziej. Mam nadzieję, że będzie to zdecydowanie miejsce dla żywej wyobraźni i kształtowania żywych form wymiany wiedzy, doświadczeń i dyskusji. Krótko mówiąc, zakładam własny ośrodek w oczekiwaniu na czasy, kiedy uciekinierzy z murów martwej akademii będą szukać miejsc, gdzie można naprawdę pracować 🙂

Proszę w dodatku o wsparcie (najważniejsze jest finansowe, ale nie tylko ono się liczy) – działa już projekt Biotop Lechnica na PolakPotrafi.pl. Pierwsze dni dają dużo optymizmu i sporą nadzieję, mimo świątecznej przerwy. Można też przeczytać tam znacznie więcej o samej idei miejsca – jego przeznaczeniem jest być otwartym, nie wykluczam więc, że będą tam odbywały się alternatywne spotkania o charakterze akademickim 🙂 Jest to jednocześnie oferta i propozycja dla tych z Was, którzy o takich zdarzeniach myślą i szukają na nie miejsca. Póki co jednak, mamy tutaj zaledwie słabej jakości połączenie z siecią 🙂

Nie, żebym porzucała academię (a przynajmniej nie teraz), bezpowrotnie porzuciła mnie raczej nadzieja, żę w tych ramach da się realnie stworzyć miejsce dla żywej wyobraźni i myślenia wykraczającego poza schemat. Jeśli się mylę, to dobrze; jeśli się nie mylę, nadzieje są gdzie indziej.

Dostarczyciele kontentu czy wspólnota akademików?

60290341Jak (ostatnio) nieco ponad 19 milionów akademików, mam swój profil na Academia.edu – założony w 2008 roku. Zdążyłam więc w tym czasie doświadczyć kilku zmian. Najbardziej znaczącą z perspektywy czasu wydaje mi się wprowadzenie “sesji”, czyli moderowanych dyskusji wokół prezentowanej na Acdemia.edu zawartości. Muszę przyznać, że początkowo ogarnął mnie entuzjazm – rodzaj Facebooka dla akademików w 2008 – 2009 roku jawił się dosyć obiecująco (zwłaszcza, że szybko pojawiła się opcja logowania przez Facebooka i możliwość podpięcia Academia.edu do rozlicznych aplikacji i serwisów w uniwersum FB). Sceptycym ogarnął mnie jednak nie tylko za sprawą kierunku, w jakim zmierza Facebook oraz dyskusji, jaka toczyła się na liście AoiR jakiś czas temu (niestety, nie mam do niej dostępu, bo chwilowo archiwa listy są niedostępne). Jej leitmotivem była myśl o udostępnianiu swojej pracy wprawdzie w na poły otwartej formie (żeby korzystać z Academia.edu trzeba mieć tam profil lub logować się przez Facebooka), ale w systemie, nad którym nie mamy zbyt wielkiej kontroli.

Mocniejsza fala sceptycyzmu ogarnęła mnie po doświadczeniach z serwisem Scribd. Przypadku modelowym, jak się wydaje, dla pewnych procesów związanych z mediami “społecznościowymi” (wspominałam o tym już tutaj). Otóż Scribd powstał właśnie około 2007 roku – wg Wikipedii narodził się z dyskusji dotyczącej trudności z publikacją artykułów naukowych. Ciekawostką jest jednak to, że hasło w Wikipedii nie wspomina ani słowem o kluczowym dla serwisu wydarzeniu: mianowicie między 2011 a 2013 rokiem Scribd zmienił charakter. Z serwisu udostępniania dokumentów zamienił się w serwis subskrypcyjny, w modelu abonamentowym (za 8,99$ można czytać dowolną liczbę tekstów). To także zresztą charakterystyczne – opisy firm na Wikipedii mają charakter nie tyle informacji, ile reklamy (ślad dyskusji na ten temat można znaleźć w historii edycji hasła, w zakładce “Talk”). Choć trzeba przyznać, że forpoczta tej zmiany mogla pojawić się wcześniej, w 2009 roku, pod postacią gestu premiującego autorów zamieszczających swoje utwory i chcących za nie otrzymywać wynagrodzenie. Na czym polega mój problem ze Scribdem? Wcale nie na tym, że nagle zażądano płatności (rzeczywiście niezbyt wygórowanej) za coś, co wcześniej miało charakter darmowy. I nawet nie na tym, że kiedy chciałam ściągnąć swój własny tekst, to musiałam zapłacić za opcję “Premium” (bo gdzieś zapodziała się ostateczna wersja). Choć właściwie, jeśli się zastanowić – to ostatnie zdarzenie uzmysłowiło mi, że mam do czyneinai z pewną tendencją a Scribd stał się tylko jej wyrazistym symptomem. Firma po prostu skapitalizowała naszą dobrowolną aktywność – prezentując się początkowo jako serwis “wymiany” a nie “subskrypcji”, zachęcała użytkowników do “współdzielenia” i zwykłej aktywności w rodzaju “lubienia”, “zaznaczania”, embeddingu itp. Kiedy w 2008 roku Scribd uzyskał status serwisu należącego do czołówki platform społecznościowych (wg jednego z rankingów przytoczonego w haśle Wikipedii), było oczywiste, że zdołał tym samym przyciągnąć odpowiednią liczbę użytkowników (co nie jest, biorąc pod uwagę spektakularną klęskę Google+, takie gwarantowane). Rok później podpisano umowy z czołowymi wydawnictwami i stopniowo zaczęto zmierzać w stronę serwisu subskrypcyjnego. Nie bez znaczenia jest zapewne fakt, że po drodze pozyskano znaczny kapitał z Redpoint Ventures – to jednak temat na zupełnie inny, choć też znaczący artykuł (nic bowiem w kapitalizmie informacyjnym nie jest “rynkowe” w uproszczonej wersji, w ktorej “rynek” opiera się po prostu na sprzedaży produktów).

Jeśli piszę, że to symptom szerszego procesu, to głównie dlatego, że nie brakuje podobnych przykładów. Jedną z takich historii – angażowania i wykorzystywania aktywności odbiorców po to tylko, by ostatecznie potraktować ich jak zbędny balast – mogłabym opisać przywołując to, co Google zrobił z serwisem Panoramio. Niewielka firma oferowała od 2005 roku serwis z geolokalizowalnymi zdjęciami, który w 2007 przejął Google i włączył w swoje serwisy mapowe.  W wrześniu 2014 Evan Rapoport, menadżer tworzonego przez Google własnego serwisu Views, oficjalnie oznajmił na forum Panoramio, że oba serwisy zostaną połączone, a dokładniej, że “zawartosć Panoramio migruje na Google”. Oznaczało to jednak przejęcie tylko zawartości, a pominięcie rozbudowanego forum oraz pozostałych narzędzi społecznościowych, jakie w trakcie użytkowania zostały przez społeczność wypracowane. Decyzja spotkala się oczywiście z żywiołowym protestem “Panoramian” i proces negocjacyjny się rozpoczął (choć przypomina raczej potyczkę mrówki ze słoniem). Ta perspektywa obrazuje nie tyle nawet instrumentalne podejście korporacji do wspólnot kształtujących się wokół zawartości, ile raczej głębokie niezrozumienie tworzenia, roli i znaczenia wspólnoty (powtórzę: nie jest to zaskoczenie – fakt, że w Google nie rozumieją społeczności, najlepiej pokazują losy Google+). [mówiłam o tym w Bergen w grudniu 2014, aktualnie piszę tekst]

Dlatego trudno mi całkowicie cieszyć się z platformy Academia.edu, nawet jeśli oferuje teraz rzeczywiście ciekawe narzędzie umożliwiające dyskusję nad zamieszczonymi tam tekstami. I nawet, jeśli te dyskusje są bardzo inspirujące. Oznacza to bowiem przesunięcie dyskusji, które – owszem, przedtem trudniejsze do poprowadzenia, bardziej rozproszone, mniej stabilne i mniej być może dostępne – w orbitę przestrzeni korporacyjnej. Dyskusje, które przedtem mogły (?) toczyć się choćby między blogami, teraz będą się toczyć na platformie sygnowanej Academia.edu, co do której celów i strategii rozwoju nie wiemy nic – jest to bowiem kolejne przedsięwzięcie oparte o venture capital (z funduszami pozyskanymi m.in. ze Spark Capital), a zatem prędzej czy później osiągany zysk stanie się sprawą wagi zasadniczej.

I choć osiąganie zysku – zwłaszcza w sposób zrównoważony, oparty na ciekawych pomysłach i na zasadach “fair” – jest godne szacunku, to jednak nie do końca ufam (na razie) Academia.edu. Czas pokaże, czy zostaliśmy rzeczywiscie zaprojektowani jako wspólnota akademików czy też raczej jako dostarczyciele zawartości (i danych). Czy to jest rzeczywiście przejaw otwartego dostępu i otwartej nauki, jak głosi hasło w Wikipedii? (I nie tylko ja mam takie wątpliwości, sądząc po dyskusji edytorskiej). Chyba zbyt mało wiemy o tym modelu biznesowym, żeby podejść do tego bezkrytycznie. Skądinąd krzepiące, że założyciel Academia.edu, Richard Price, jest humanistą (pracuje nad doktoratem z filozofii) – moje wątpliwości dotyczą zresztą nie tyle domniemanych intencji twórcow obu serwisów (czyli Scribda i Academia.edu), ile uwarunkowań kapitalizmu informacyjnego, które stanowią podłoże dla funkcjonowania podobnych serwisów.

Co do tego, że potrzebujemy nieco innych przestrzeni konwersacyjnych niż Facebook i Twitter, raczej nie ma wątplwości – najświeższą taką próbą jest propozycja czasopisma e-flux: platforma nazwana Conversation, która proponuje miejsce dla pogłębionych wymian zdań.

Pisząc to wszystko oczywiście jestem świadoma, że posługuję się WordPressem i że zapewne to wszystko tak czy owak wyląduje na Facebooku, gdzie najczęściej toczą się dyskusje. Nie jest to, wbrew pozorom, głos o zupełną autonomię od sieciowych seriwsów (co nie jest raczej możliwe), raczej zdanie relacji z kilku wątpliwości. Tak czy owak, mam nadzieję, że – mimo mojego sceptycyzmu – zaproszenia do sesji Academia.edu nie przestaną napływać 🙂