Media-Specific Analysis

One of the projects this semester is a media-specific analysis. Inspired by Hayles’ argument that the material and formal properties of a work can shape both its meaning-making strategies and how an audience interprets it, you will explore the literary, rhetorical, and expressive potential of a piece of electronic literature, a databased object, or a videogame. The investigation will be roughly 4-5 pages long. When it is due depends upon what type of new media artifact you’re analyzing:

  • An e-lit MSA is due October 10
  • A database MSA is due October 31
  • A videogame MSA is due November 28

As for how to actually perform a media-specific analysis, keep in mind the questions that various critics and scholars have raised about new media. For example, consider the following:

  • Noah Wardrip-Fruin argues that to understand new media “we must read both process and data.” Data refers to the words, images, and sounds that make up a “text,” while processes refer to algorithms, calculations, and other ways the program moves or manipulates the data. Furthermore, Wardrip-Fruin urges us to look at interaction, surface, and context.
  • Hayles insists that “print is flat, code is deep”—meaning that electronic works have surface texts, but also underlying code (and codes) that shape that surface text. Electronic works are also transformable, recombinant, and reliant upon “cyborg” readers who must do some of the meaning-making work of the text.
  • Janey Murray suggests that new media works are procedural, participatory,  spatial, and encyclopedic.Since her formulation dates back to 1997, it’s intriguing to think about the way her categories might have involved in the past 15 years.
  • Lev Manovich contrasts narrative and database, arguing that database is the dominant symbolic form of the 21st century.
  • Robert Simanowski views databases using the language of literary naturalism and literary formalism.

When it comes to finding a work to discuss, I encourage you to browse through Volume One and Volume Two of the Electronic Literature Organization’s anthologies of digital work. An excellent source for database-oriented works is the Rhizome ArtBase. You can also analyze a work that someone (even you) has already blogged about for our class, or which we discussed in class itself (excepting works like Nine, which we thoroughly analyzed in class).

The media-specific analysis is worth 20% of your final grade. Upload it to Blackboard on the appropriate due date in PDF format. Be sure to cite your object of study properly, using MLA format.