|Carolyn A. McDonough started the topicThe Mangle in the forum DHUM 70000 – Introduction to Digital Humanities:
I’ve been immersed in p. 56-60 of Presner’s “Critical Theory and the Mangle of Digital Humanities” to the point where I couldn’t put it down. His connecting of Critical Theory to DH has me jazzed. I posted this in the Forum also, but I see the class is using this side more to reply, so here it is again.
The mention of Horkheimer and the references to Kant, Marcuse, Bloch, Pickering, et al, made this is an amazing read for me.
I’m especially relishing Presner on the “intellectual origins of critical theory” and as a method. He establishes the “purpose of this chapter is to concretely connect… CT with ‘the mangle of DH'” (p. 56) following Pickering’s articulation of ‘the mangle’ (which I’ll leave for all to read on their own).
I’ve studied and written extensively on Adorno & Horkheimer and Walter Benjamin for my first MA in Media Studies at The New School, and the latter also in ITP Core 1. My thesis seed at The New School was on A&H’s essay “The Culture Industry” as applied to the field of advertising (which my research in 2006/07 revealed to me had not been done) and I examine Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in the context of the “selfie” in my interactive paper “The Digital Aura”.
I’m always re-reading, re-thinking and re-visiting the A&H and Benjamin essays and keep copies of them at my desk. When I first read them about 15 years ago, I couldn’t believe how prescient they were (and in my opinion, still are). Now I will add Presner to this group of readings.
I like the aspects of CT that Presner addresses/highlights such as its confronting of “bad facticity” (ESPECIALLY AlND MORESO IN OUR CURRENT ‘FAKE NEWS’ TIMES.) I also appreciate how Presner describes that the “task of CT”, he suggests, is to “take us out of the domain of facticity” altogether (alleluia) and “into the domain of social practices, the speculative, the future-oriented, and the ethical.” (p. 57)
Presner paraphrases that for Horkheimer (in 1937!) the “traditional theory” from philosophy and science was about “factual knowledge and technical mastery” and “isolated from social and material conditions”. (p. 57) Horkheimer just couldn’t abide this in a post-Marxian perspective, and therefore aspired to CT which includes social and material conditions.
I could go on and on as I’m obviously quite lit up here, but I’ll wait for class….
Does Horkheimer’s notion of “traditional theory” accommodate the mangle (at least in the history of science)? Tom Scheinfeldt explores in “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” how the concept of the mangle in many ways /is/ scientific or that scientific inquiry historically looked an awful lot like a mangle, or, as he summarizes, “The eighteenth-century electrical machine was a parlor trick—until it wasn’t.”
As we move away from “traditional theory” in general, though, it seems like Presner wants us to not just to acknowledge social or the cultural elements that contribute to the mangle, but to document them actively and critically. He asks, “What is at stake in exposing and documenting this mangle of practices, performances, conditions, social relations, and disciplinary powers at the core” of DH tools themselves as well as the content, information, or archive? I also think we can ask: What would a project that exposes and/or documents the mangle look like and does every scholarly endeavor necessarily have to address its own mangle-ness?
Miriam Posner’s “What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities” seems to apply this idea of self-awareness not to the design or outcome of projects or to the structure of fields, as in Liu’s “The Meaning of the Digital Humanities,” but to data itself and data models. She cautions against the impulse “to flatten the world into known data structures and visualizations that might easily be reshuffled into a corporate PowerPoint deck,” from reductive data about identity to the default turn to a colonialist worldview as presented on Google Maps, and calls DH to “stop acting as though the data models for identity are containers to be filled in order to produce meaning and recognize instead that these structures themselves constitute data.” Instead, Posner wants us “to hold ourselves to much higher standards when we are claiming to develop data-based work that depicts people’s lives.” DH should prioritize “interrogations of structures of power in order to develop models of the world that have any relevance to people’s lived experience,” a call for embracing the complexity of categories of data and an echo of Presner’s/CT’s call to pay attention to the social, cultural, and/or material.
Even in projects not directly concerned with data about lived experience, this awareness of complexity, contingency, or possibility is critical. For example, Johanna Drucker offers “publication date” as a category that is not fixed and whose meaning is not given; publication date “can be considered in relation to any number of variables” and refer to “date of appearance, editing, composition, acquisition, review, distribution,” or else another feature of a text. (The link to the full article: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/5/1/000091/000091.html.)
All of this is to say: I completely agree that Adorno & Horkheimer will have a lot to say to connect CT to DH and that the mangle is going to be at the forefront of my mind moving forward!
A & H indeed have much to say connecting CT to DH. I feel like a cult follower of them as I also have a copy of their great CT work “Dialectic of Enlightenment” by my desk. The takeaway concept from Presner that I look forward to learning more about in class is Pickering (1995) IN Presner:
the “doing” and “making” in science are characterized by “the mangle” which in [Pickering’s] formulates is a “dialectic of resistance and accomodation.” Heady stuff…
Thumbs up to the Johanna Drucker mention — online articles have made citations very complicated due to “publication date” and the action of “access” in research.