Liu 2008

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Alan Liu, Local Transcendence

"Transcendental Data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse"

new encoding standards, forming a "discourse network 2000" (210)

especially interested in "what will discourse netwrok 2000 mean for the act of authoring?" (210)

"What is the social logic that underlies the techno-logic of discourse network 2000?" (211)

"How is an author now a postindustrial producer?" (211)

"What are the aesthetics of encoded or structured discourse or, as I will term it, of postindustrial dematerialization? And: How is it possible for writers or artists to create in such a medium?" (211)

thought experiment: the problem of sending a poem over the internet to a distant computer, these "idiots savants" of machines

  • poor solution is to "transmit procedure" (212) -- difficult to adapt to local needs
  • better solution: "break the circuit of transmission and reception into 2 independent parts assisted in their mating by a common standard" (212)
    • this is the database solution, SQL/relational databases
    • XML/markup
    • content management - transmission management - consumption management

WWW connected by "thick, pliant strangs of XML" that "enable a new order of knowledge" (215)

3 powerful needs inform this vision:

  • "need to make discourse as transformable as possible between varying technological and social conventions so that identical content might flow just as easily, for example, to a printed page, a Web page, or a cell phone display" (215)
  • "need to make discourse autonomously mobile" (215) -- fixed points of sender/receiver separate from logic of message itself
  • "need to automate such discourse so that a proliferating population of machinic servers, databases, and client programs can perform as cyborgian agents and concatenated Web services facilitating the processing and reprocessing of knowledge" (216)

TRANSFORMABILITY, AUTONOMOUS MOBILITY, AUTOMATION = "governing ideology of discourse network 2000: the separation of content from material instantiation or formal presentation" (216)

data islands, data pours, where "author in effect surrenders the act of writing to that of parameterization" -- parameters determind how content is loaded

"Content, in other words, becomes semiotically transcendental [in sense of Derrida's 'transcendental signified']. The transcendental signified of discourse network 2000 is content that is both the center of discourse and -- precisely because of its status as essence -- outside the normal play or (as we now say) networking of discourse." (217)

"data pours open the prospect of a new model of authoring predicated on technologies enforcing ever more immaculate separation of content from presentation. Or, rather, the term technology -- along with its whole complement of undecidably objective / social complements (technique, procedure, protocol, routine, practice) -- is too narrow. What is at stake is the very ideology (as I called it) of strict division between content and presentation -- the religion, as it were, of text encoding and databases." (220)

"Discourse network 2000 is a belief. According to tis dogma, true content abides in a transcendental logic, reason, or noumen so completely structured and described that it is in and of itself inutterable in any mere material or instantiated form." (220) --> unpack this entire paragraph

if this discourse network makes sense, "then such faefulness is symptomatic of the exquisitely tight, even supple fit between this rationale and the combined values of industrial efficiency and postindustrial flexibility now responsible for managing our new world order" (221)

encoded or structured discourse dates back to late 19c/early 20c, industrialism, Taylorism

Wendell Piez, showing how John Hall's interchangeable-part manufacturing process of 1820s and 1830s in Harpers Ferry "was the predecessor to the logic of separating content from presentation that ultimately triggered not so much databases and XML as the exact social, economic, and technical need for databases and XML" (221-2) -- still, no standardization of parts; John Hall developed those

Liu extends this argument to Taylor & Taylorism; decisions extracted from "embodied work of the laborer and described on instruction cards as procedures that could be optimized, reprogrammed, distributed, and otherwise mediated" (224); gave us modern management -- management as document processing/control through communication, and functional foremanship / distributed management

"Databases and XML are now our ultimate functional managers. They are the automatic mediators of the work of contemporary knowledge." (225)

well-designed documents "facilitate factory-like standardization of office work" (226)

"The upshot of such a social history of databases and XML is that the common presumption of business writers, technologists, and others that there was a sharp break between industrialism and postindustrialism is historically too shallow. 61 There was, indeed, a break, but its distinctive nature cannot be appreciated without first recovering archaeologically the surprising bandwidth of connection between the two epochs. In light of the capitalism underlying both, after all, the separation of content from presentation now being mandated by business-oriented information technology is a profound euphemism. From a historical perspective, knowledge (the great value of postindustrialism) is being separated or extracted from what presentation really means: labor. What Marx called “surplus labor value” is in the post-Marxist, postindustrial world nothing other than the programmability of work— a programmability that can be functionally managed, extracted, mediated, optimized, and distributed (e.g., licensed to other companies or the end user) for what, in a classically Marxist view, is excess gain." (226-7)

industrialism = regularizing the processes of standardization and management themselves

postindustrialism = "metastandards for making standards" (228) -- maybe metaindustrialism (228)

modern art "apprehended the spirit of industrialism in the formalist credo that form is integral to content or, transmuted into the new idiom of process, function" (234)

"Postindustrialism, however, shows that there was a third term in the modernist equation of form and content that had not been expressed and that the mere deletion of this term made possible the most far-reaching efficiency-cum-flexibility. That third term is materiality, the implicit substrate of a New Typography poster, imagist poem, or artifact of Bauhaus architecture or furniture design that absolutely fixed the relation between form and content for any one mass-production run." (234)

"Material embodiment -- in the substrate of a work and th bodily practices of the artisanal artist both -- was no immaterial to the full, independent expression of content and form." (234-5)

status of author? "The origin of transmission in discourse network 2000 is not at the cursor position of the author. Indeed, the heart of the problem of authorship in the age of networked reproduction is that there is no cursor point." (235)