HTNM Revisited: Alan Liu

10 Mar, 2015

HTNM Revisited: Alan Liu

History and Theory of New Media dispatch from BCNM DEs Kate Mattingly (TDPS) and Nicholaus Gutierrez (Rhetoric).

Last Thursday, March 5, Professor Alan Liu of the University of California, Santa Barbara delivered a talk as part of the History and Theory of New Media lecture series. His talk, entitled “Against the Cultural Singularity: Toward a Critical Digital Humanities,” posited a rough framework for how Digital Humanities can maintain its traditional methods of digital making, while at the same time offering a form of cultural critique that borrows from important lineages in the humanities (Frankfurt School, Poststructuralism) in order to engage with the “black box” of contemporary culture. Liu shared early work on his newest project, which seeks to provide a blueprint for moving the humanities toward a larger social vision that can advance, channel, and resist neoliberal society. Seeing these modes of praxis as not necessarily mutually exclusive, Liu is interested in understanding the various institutions that make up contemporary neoliberal life—corporations, hospitals, and, of course, universities—in a way that might harness technology for the purposes of humanities advocacy and civic engagement. Liu began with a quote from Eliel Saarinen, “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context––a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan,” that situated his ideas in an architectural metaphor. In other words, institutions can be compared to boxes that overlap and intersect, and Liu’s theory is that the academy stands to learn as much from dominating institutions as vice versa. He cites New Media scholars such as Jussi Parikka and Rita Raley as people who are asking important questions about social change and Liu hopes that digital humanities scholars can attune their work to developing analytical pedagogical tools rather than focusing on changing research or teaching patterns in isolated, “stand alone” approaches. “I aspire to a society that does not subscribe to a cultural singularity,” he said toward the end of his talk, adding: “I don’t build products; I build the people who are building the projects."

Check out the slideshow below for photos from the event, and stay tuned for video and audio podcasts!