Digital Humanities

A friend emailed me Feisal G. Mohamed's response to Fish's recent discussion of digital humanities. Here's my response.

I think there's two basic genealogies to digital humanities/technology studies. Reductive? Sure. But helpful.

The first traces back to Heidegger's "Question Concerning Technology." Heidegger argues that modern technologies can be traced all the way back to a Greek emphasis in "techne," doing, production. This has marked Western history, creating an overwhelming insistence upon using/consuming things. Often these scholars misread Heidegger's skepticism of techne-ology to be an absolute dismissal, a return to naturalism. I don't read Heidegger quite this way. His point is that we cannot get outside of "techne" and consumption, but can learn to dwell within it at least semi-consciously. Doing so allows us to open ourselves to other ways of Being in the world.

The second traces back to McLuhan. Que the optimism for a global village, connectivity, ethics, etc. We are how we consume. Blah, blah, blah. We all know this camp, because most of us in rhetoric and composition were reared in its wake.

Clearly, Mohamed's skepticism is rooted in a hardcore Heideggerian misread that believes the answer to our problems lies in a kind of Thoreau-ian naturalism far away from machines and their evil influence. The expectation that we "fully disarticulate" notions of innovation and progress is the give away--as if innovation and progress were really just ideological fantasies; note too that the author rigorously divides ethics and spirituality from materiality and digitality--as if the two were streams that could never be crossed. Boo. Of course, a lot of the writing I do is built upon the premise that new technologies make possible new ways of considering ethics and metaphysics, which I would argue melds, to some extent, the Heideggerian and McLuhan threads together. On the one hand, our dwelling within Being is always, already mediated by the technologies through which we experience and interact with beings; but, on the other hand, digital technologies have exponentially expanded our encounters with other beings and other ways of considering how to be (ethics).

1 comment:

trickert said...

Like what you say here, Marc, with the exception of the notion of mediation you invoke at the end. Heidegger is an opponent of the notion of mediation, and that will have been, and will be going forward, a sticking point in technology/digital studies.

Mediation is not a good way to describe what occurs with/through/in media.