User:Simon/Trim4/Thesis outline second draft

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1. Background

Qs for Steve: Is this my background? Or a more general background of the research? Is this where I should mention the library I've created?
As a graphic designer I have designed graphic identities and publications. As a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language) I have taught a wide range of learners from diverse backgrounds to acquire skills in English, a language that is mostly used between non-native speakers. These two pursuits have a commonality in the representation of language; as typography, as text, as words attached to diverse voices that activate processes of translation and elicitation (in contrast with mother tongues). In exploring processes of annotating together I have become interested in the sociability of texts; how they bring people together, how texts can be separated from proprietorial notions of authorship, how they become conversations between readers, and the resulting imperative to protect them as fundamental parts of our knowledge commons.

I have created a digital pirate library, (the "bootleg library") that is available over the Hogeschool Rotterdam local network. I'm bootstrapping the instance (as opposed to developing the software before release) because I'm interested in what type of culture can develop around its use, and therefore what type of sociability comes from this type of library. Anyone who knows the IP of the library can download or upload texts, as well as write the metadata that forms the catalogue. Accompanying this is a physical bootleg library, which is a collection of texts that I have designed and printed. Rather than create a library to end all libraries by striving for universalism, and a supposedly objective stance on cataloguing, I'm interested in creating a diversity of libraries and materiality of texts within them, to represent the various publics that are formed around different collections of texts and their methods of distribution.

2. Thesis statement

The collection of a library represents the people that use it in terms of content, classification, annotation and methods through which the collection is created and distributed. Texts travel through many different material forms as they are written, designed and published. There are many translations that take place in this process, from the machines that interpret and translate text along the software stack, to the designer's translation of written language into typography, to the reader's experience of translation, which is linguistic and semantic. Translation is often a necessary part of making texts accessible to readers from diverse backgrounds, and also an active part of learning a second language. The material transformation of texts is a form of translation, through which diversity can increase representation, by breaking down standards that limit circulation. The publication of annotation associates texts with their readers, de-prioritizing the all-too-often tyrannical position of the author.


Topic 1: The sociability of libraries

Point A: Communities gather around repositories of texts

  • Libraries produce sociability, they become places where people gather to learn, take part in social events, protest, find support, shelter, a safe space.
  • In physical municipal libraries books become symbolic, representative of ideals of social democracy. When the books are removed it becomes more difficult to argue for the right to occupy the public space of the library.
  • The increasing privatisation of formerly public spaces (such as libraries) and public facilities are a threat to the sociability that binds together communities. The digitisation of texts is often part of a process of remediation, as a replacement for the technology that preceded it; printed matter. How can communities form around digital collections of texts, where readers may not enjoy the locality of physical libraries?

Point B: Within an archive, navigating a catalogue relies on proximity, in both physical and classificatory terms

  • The catalogue is the interface through which readers access a library.
  • In order to reduce workload and coordinate collections, public librarians share standardised systems of classification, which often exclude marginalised communities from representation (Olson, 1998).
  • Proximity (in a spatial sense) is related to locality - if something is local it is nearby, at hand, accessible. Proximity is also important in the way a collection is catalogued - one is more likely to discover a relevant text if it is located within (or nearby) a relevant section of the library.

The social practice of annotation establishes the presence of readers and their private thoughts within a public space, adding to the sociality of the library

  • Annotation can be defined broadly - any post-publication activity with text that leaves a trace (including writing notes, underlining, highlighting, dog-earing, writing metadata, deleting, the list goes on).
  • Provenance is established through annotation (historical identification of where the text came from, who used it, and how it was used) but also how the text was received by its readers. Printed texts that are determined to be historically important to a culture are identified as such by the residual marks and traces left on them; making the multiple object of a printed book a singular object, and adding to the aura it accrues (Benjamin,

Topic 2: Machine vs human translation

Point A: Machines read as much as (and arguably more than) humans do

  • As a text-based medium, software relies on text being read and written by machines.
  • Machine translation is a fundamental part of this process, artificial languages are implemented at various levels of discursivity to allow machines and humans to read code and interpret it.
  • Computer languages range from low-level (e.g. machine code) to high-level (language which more closely resembles human speech).

Point B: Something is always lost in translation, and something is always found.

  • As an act of decoding the meaning of a source, and encoding it in a new form, translation is a practice in which meanings, although naturalised (Hall, 1999) always shift.
  • There is no such thing as a completely faithful facsimile, every translation implicitly contains difference, sometimes in the smallest details.

Topic 3: Language, identity and code

Point A: Identities are negotiated through language

  • An individual's cultural identity (e.g. English, Dutch, Japanese) is often closely related to their "mother tongue", and the death of a language accompanies the death of a culture
  • Utterances are not just statements of fact or questions, they are also "speech acts", meaning that by saying something, a speaker is also doing something (Austin, 1971), such as when one says "I bet you $20".
  • The performativity of speech acts constitutes subjects (Butler, 1997).

Point B: Language is inscribed in code, with purposes to both conceal and reveal

  • Languages can be "artificial" or "natural". Although there is a lot of room for interpretation of whether a language is artificial, or natural, the general distinction between them is whether they were designed by humans to suit a specific purpose (as in artificial languages, such as computer programming languages), or if they evolved as general means to communicate (as in natural languages, such as English, Dutch, Japanese etc.)
  • As language is a social construct, there is not much that is "natural" in so-called natural language. It can also be argued that as "artificial" languages are created by humans, they can also be seen as "natural".
  • Both artificial and natural languages are discrete combinatorial systems.
  • Software and language are intrinsically related (Cramer, 2008), even those which we determine to be 'artificial', such as computer programming languages.
  • Convergence and divergence are phenomena that allow speakers to either associate or distance themselves from interlocutors.
  • Euphemisms and slang (as coded language) reinforce social bonds of communities and allow them to communicate in ways that encrypt their messages (e.g. rhyming slang, Polari).

Point C: The publication of written texts has a fundamental effect on social and cultural development in literate cultures.

  • The written word is a virus that makes the spoken word possible (Burroughs - from The Electronic Revolution - find reference!).
  • The voice disappears as it produces words (Dolar, 2006), which without the technology of writing leads to episodic narrative structures (Ong, 2012).
  • Writing is a technology that extends the memory of societies, and transforms the way chirographic and typographic cultures think (Ong, 2012).
  • Reading is, according to Kittler (1990) "hallucinating a meaning between letters and lines", referring to the supplanting of the "mother's voice" that traditionally haunted reading with visual, audio, kinaesthetic stimuli that emanate from computers (Hayles, 2005).


Austin, J.L., Urmson, J.O., 1971. How to do things with words: the William James lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, Oxford paperbacks. Oxford Univ. Press, London.

Butler, J., 1997. Excitable speech: a politics of the performative. Routledge, New York.

Burroughs, W. S., 2004. The Electronic Revolution. ubuclassics (accessed 16.10.2019 at

Cramer, F., 'Language' in Fuller, M. (Ed.), 2008. Software studies: a lexicon, Leonardo books. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Dolar, M., 2006. A voice and nothing more, Short circuits. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Hall, S., 'Encoding, Decoding' in During, S. (Ed.), 1999. The cultural studies reader, 2nd ed. ed. Routledge, London ; New York.

Hayles, N.K., 2005. My mother was a computer: digital subjects and literary texts. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago London.

Kittler, F.A., 1990. Discourse networks 1800/1900. Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif.

Olson, H.A., 1998. Mapping Beyond Dewey’s Boundaries: Constructing Classificatory Space for Marginalized Knowledge Domains. LIBRARY TRENDS 47, 233–254.

Ong, W.J., Hartley, J., 2012. Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word, 30th anniversary ed.; 3rd ed. ed, Orality and literary. Routledge, London ; New York.


Steve's notes:
- note on style: redundancy is good in Introduction, it allows the reader to understand the terms you use
- unpack "artificial" languages versus "natural" languages (in half a sentence :-)
- Note on structuring: I think you could make short texts (500 words) from all of these sub headings
- annotated bibliography
- put your own practice front and centre e.g. "I'm making this library, and the following concerns raise themselves...", and narrate your own experiences
- the library as garden is not an ideal, but something that is happening - ask how this is working, and bring these into what you're doing e.g logging the library
- what are the conditions that allow the library to be sustained? on a practical level
- you could also structure the text using a 'glossary of terms' e.g the work of librarianship "finding a place for things" - how taxonomy, indices etc can help with this

Discussion in group:
- strong emphasis on translation
- library (now topic 3) could be shifted to topic 1 as the starting point, the site through which things could be articulated
- like shelves in a library, the topics could be different books in the shelf, and write them as discrete articles, and then the relation could develop more
- make containers for each of the points, and write brief texts which address each of those things
- sociabliity of exchanging codes & translation the main gist of it
- Steven Connor "Dumbstruck" could be a good reference (about ventriloquism and embodiment of language)
- are you thinking about the problems involved in translation? there are methodologies of translation that are quite straightforward, but have their own problems (e.g. word-for-word translation). the library is a place for diversity of translations? there is a discourse on how language is a trap
- translation is also an engagement with text
- is there a space in between translation and the library? what is a text, what is a library?