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From Digital to Analog Agrippa and Other Hybrids in the Beginnings of Digital Culture
Agustín Berti.
Peter Lang Publishing (Nueva York).
This book is the product of an extended investigation of the origins of "digitalization" and its effects on a culture primarily based on the deep relationship between print (and other forms of technical reproduction) and intellectual property laws. This relationship has long been grounded in the common sense assumption that pure content can have infinite material actualizations without changing the content in any way. That is, a piece of text or music remained a piece of text or music, regardless of its medium. Western culture, a culture of books, has been built upon this belief. This is most apparent during the 20th century in terms of editorial, film and recorded music industries and their approach to publishing (i.e., the technical reproduction of text, image and sound) and the enforcement of "book-based" copyright conventions. This model has been replicated in other cultural industries such as music, film and videogames. Digital technologies in contemporary culture have undermined and, at the same time, strengthened such practices, provoking an unprecedented quarrel over the possession of, and access to, cultural products.The proposed book confronts this paradoxical situation, that is, the tension between conceiving cultural objects as finite and discrete objects that can be "owned" and the theoretically infinite possibilities of replication and sharing made possible by digitalization--by way of focusing on the culturally fascinating event surrounding the release of Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) in December 1992. This admittedly peculiar piece of work by writer William Gibson, artist Dennis Ashbaugh, editor Kevin Begos and a number of additional collaborators, was both an art object with erasable images and a diskette. The latter included a software program displaying a digital poem that allowed only one reading. Such a piece -even over twenty years on--poses a challenge to a range of assumptions about literature, art, meaning, preservation, archiving and books, as well as what all this means for future thinking about these objects and practices in the age of digital technologies and new media.In order to show the importance of Agrippa for digital culture studies, the book will include a discussion of the origins of the artistic project itself and how it bespeaks a series of cultural, artistic and technical genealogies. It will also shed light on the frequently understated importance of the materiality of digital culture and the naïve and biased investment in the "technological sublime" currently underway in contemporary society. In response, this proposed book develops a critique of digital technology and its alleged neutrality. The genealogies that converge in Agrippa imply looking into the history of digitalization and its effects on the perception of both cultural heritage and cultural production. But they also imply looking into the history of books and a number of concepts often taken for granted by scholarly approaches, such as the importance of text over the meaningful surface (or storage) in which they are inscribed. The research reported in this book will also help to unveil the technological and artistic developments of the time in which this peculiar piece of work appeared, such as Michael Joyce´s hyper-novel afternoon: a story and text-based computer games. This extended discussion shows how Agrippa anticipated a number of contemporary phenomena associated with digital culture such as piracy, leaks, remixes, memes, zombie editions of classic novels, different forms of digitalization of analog content and more. Furthermore, Agrippa also forces us to rethink the concept of content itself, a concept that rules the way in which culture is produced, received and preserved today.Endorsements for Agustin Berti´s From Digital to Analog:"From Digital to Analog engagingly reveals the hidden significance of anomalous, unusual digital objects such as the early electronic literary project, Agrippa (A Book of the Dead), and of diverse practices of piracy, hacking, bootlegging, remixing, e-poetry, digital memes, leaks, clones, and zombies to understanding the strange life of digital objects and the current cultural formations they unsettle, redouble, and preserve. Its roundabout, thick description of the backalleys of digital culture and critical pursuit of what may appear to be momentary aberrations to acceptable, standardized digital reproduction effectively mobilizes recent philosophy of technology to unpack a series of persistent, unavoidable questions digital objects pose today. The book sheds crucial light on seemingly contradictory traits, such as digital objects´ notoriously immaterial materiality, and underscores the pressing -at once technical, aesthetic, political, and economic- importance of confronting this unacknowledged, underexplored complexity. Recontextualizing and rejecting predominant ideologies of the digital as "pure content" by reading them through and against the oblique shadows, contours, and diffractions provided by stray digital literary experiments and other unexpected digital forays, From Digital to Analog reasserts and significantly expands the value of reading electronic literature, print and digital hybrids, and other variously experimental digital practices with full awareness of their critical contributions to digital cultures face to face with their technicity." Laura Shackelford, Associate Professor of English, Rochester Institute of Technology / Author of Tactics of the Human: Experimental Technics in American Fiction"From Digital to Analog surpasses expectations as a critical reading device. It comes with a spectrum of well-chosen case studies running from the pre-digital to the digital culture, and authoritative discussions on such topics as the materiality -and its degradation from the originals- of literary, artistic, game works, the analog/digital divide, hybrid (re)production and circulation, opacity and transparency of technology in a genealogical perspective, crafting and cracking codes (the "evasive ontology [and ethics] of copies"), copy rights and piracy, and the ever changing modalities of their conflicting preservation. It is a book that will become indispensable for the study of what the author states as the grounding of codes, and will certainly entice its readers to rethink their assumptions when exposed to our mutating activity of encoding/inscribing/recording and transmitting culture in all its institutionalized/professionalized areas, including the tech industry. Highly recommended for students, scholars, and anyone who wants to know more about certain compelling issues within our digital humanities multiverse."--Luis Correa-Diaz, University of Georgia/Academia Chilena de la Lengua
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