My Experience of Composing Digital Media in a Nutshell

            Ahhh… Composing Digital Media. I took this course simply to fulfill a writing intensive credit. I have a talent for art that wasn’t being put into use in the medical field so now I had the opportunity to relinquish my pent up creativity onto new mediums. I figured I wouldn’t have to do as much writing as a more literature based writing course, so it would be a breeze. Ha! I remember walking in the first day and hearing the syllabus. We were told about the numerous projects and how we were going to have to spend countless hours outside of the classroom learning skills and doing most of our work on the projects. This is the point where I started to question what the heck I was doing here, but something was telling me I signed up for this class for a reason. I thought maybe she was joking and just trying to scare us away, but now as I’m sitting here trying to remix my last video project on the last week of class, I know this was no joke. I can honestly say after taking many difficult classes thus far a Pitt I have yet to put as much time into a single class as this.

While daunting, you get out of this class what you put into. The amount skills we have accomplished in this class in astounding in the short time we had together. I’ve heard of whole courses dedicated to single, simple programs such as Word and Excel, but we managed to utilize numerous. While I have had some previous experience in Photoshop, this class was a much needed refresher and only broadened my comfort with the program. I had always wanted to learn how to code websites but have never pursued it, because I deemed it too intimidating and complex to learn on my own. Through this course though I was able to rapidly learn and create my own website in less than a week. After learning multiple programs I feel a lot more confident in myself handling all sorts of media.

            Ultimately, I am glad I had chosen to tough it out in this class. Although I may not need all these abilities in my line of work, I feel accomplished to have diversified myself and picked up this vast skillset that may come in handy at some point or another. Beyond just the skills, I learned I could accomplish anything I put my mind too. Like I said earlier although I am proficient in art, which didn’t so much correlate as much as I had originally planned, this was a whole new realm for me out of my science based knowledge background. I feel that the readings from DJ Spooky and deep thought discussions of archiving methods, definitions, and how much our lives are immersed in the archive, I have become better rounded and I am grateful for it. I was opened up to perspectives I have never heard before and offered my own. As tedious as it was at times, Composing Digital Media was a very rewarding class.


Alternative Archives and Remixing

While standing in line at a coffee shop, Paul D Miller (AKA DJ Spooky) notices a familiar face sitting at the table next to him.  Judith Jack Halberstam was drinking a tea and reading about a “silly archive” written by Laurent Berlant.  DJ Spooky introduces himself.

DJ SPOOKY: Hi Judith. Mind if I sit with you? DJ Spooky is the name.

HALBERSTAM:  Yea. Take a seat. I have heard of you before.  You are the guy that wrote the book Rhythm Science, right?

DJ SPOOKY:  Yes. That would be me.  I am a big fan of your books and your alternative approach to writing.

HALBERSTAM: Why, thank you!  Some people do not understand the ideas I write about, but I am sure you can because of your different ways of thinking.

DJ SPOOKY: Haha! I will take that as a compliment! What are you reading there?

HALBERSTAM:  Oh, it’s a “silly archive.”  Have you heard of one before?  It was written by Laurent Berlant.

DJ SPOOKY:  Yes. I have read Laurent Berlant before.  It amazed me how she could captivate the reader by incorporating such silly objects into her works.  I think that a lot of people just don’t know how to “color outside of the lines” when it comes to understanding different ideas or generating new ones.

HALBERSTAM: When people want to think differently they actually have to use a different archive, and different concepts. And it is actually remarkably difficult to think outside of received wisdom, or “common sense”, as Gramsci would call it.

DJ SPOOKY: I feel the challenge is to keep striving to create new worlds, new scenarios at almost every moment of thought, to float in an ocean of possibility.  The Dj “mix” is another form of text and its involutions, elliptical recursive qualities and repetitions are helping to transform an “analog” literature into one that is increasingly digitized.  Dj-ing lets me take the best of what’s out there and give my own take on it.  Remixing it.

HALBERSTAM:  That reminds me of the “silly archive.”  I take my texts and add in additional things that I find silly. (Like a remix) I love the distinctions of serious/non-serious, high/low knowledge. There is so much pleasure involved engaging in texts that you think are fun and funny, and that are just unexpected.

DJ SPOOKY:  I do consider myself a rhythm scientist.  I began with the archiving of sound, text, and image.  Because I remix, I find that everything comes full circle.   It is easy to remix something because it is already in the archive.  One does not have to stray from the archive to create something “new” (which is usually just recycled information).

HALBERSTAM: One should recognize that the “great” archive is just one among many. And the great tradition is actually just a tradition. I focus on other and alternative archives. That way, something new and original can be created.

How can we find these alternative archives that Judith Jack Halberstam references?  Should we stray away from the “great archive” to better understand alternative thinking?

Cox putting Derrida in Motion

Derrida claims “a science of the archive must include the theory of this institutionalization, that is to say, the theory both of the law which begins by inscribing itself there and of the right which authorizes it.” Essentially, Derrida believes theories regarding the law which begins the practice and why it should be permitted are required.  In Richard Cox’s Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist, he certainly agrees with the need to have a right which authorizes archiving, however he potentially views the law(s) of archiving as something that are, and should, be subject to change.

Cox claims that collecting is of basic human instinct, and that deeper inner-meaning regarding life’s purpose is often encountered as a result.  There is an age old proverb: “you won’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from”.  Cox’s claim is a less cliché and more detailed version of this.  More importantly, it fills the void opened by Derrida when he claimed there was need for a right which authorizes archiving.  It is something that is instinctually done by humans and leads to further enlightenment. Cox, however, potentially disagrees with Derrida’s need for a theory of archiving law.

Cox also states the claim that “Archivists may need to alter their mission and priorities, but the possible results may be unprecedented in terms of gaining public support and understanding. “  Some may view this statement as counterproductive to Derrida’s as it changes the initial “law” of archiving.  However, much like any institution of great age, laws are certainly subject to change.  Cox believes the new mission, or law, of archiving should serve to work with society instead of work for the society.  This is because of archiving’s change in layout, digital. 

Not only does Cox make statements that align with Derrida’s, his statements are examples of humans putting the concepts of Derrida into action.  That is exactly how the citizen archivist connects with Derrida’s notion of the archive.

Question:  According to Cox, archiving teaches us as humans more and more about the inner-meaning of life.  If this is true how does that align with his beliefs that we should use certain restraints in what we post specifically on media such as MySpace and Facebook?

The Institutionalizing of the Archive

What is an archive?  Before reading Richard Cox’s “Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist,” the image the word “archive” brought to mind was a big room, almost cathedral-like with its high ceilings and an immediate sense that there is a need to be quiet and solemn.  But the room does not contain religious items; no, rather it holds dusty filing cabinets filled with old, boring documents, and bookshelves with leather volumes, each volume having its own assigned place.  It is a room to be respected, but it is also room that feels impersonal and lonely; a place that I think would be incredibly boring to work at.  Yet I do, in a sense, work in an archives.  Actually, I freely volunteer my time to update it and maintain it—perhaps even too freely.  The archive is well known by the name Facebook.

Prior to reading Cox, I never would have classified Facebook as an archive.  But it is.  I am constantly archiving tidbits of my life on my account, from updating my status as a record of what I’m currently doing to posting pictures of significant events.  An archive is so much more than a dusty, lonesome records room.  According to Cox, I am a citizen archivist, and, partially thanks to the digital era, my private archives are rather public.  Jacques Derrida says in Archive Fever, “a science of the archive must include the theory of this institutionalization, that is to say, the theory both of the law which begins by inscribing itself there and of the right which authorizes it.”   I think that Cox would agree with Derrida.  One of the focuses of Cox’s article is the relationship between private and public, or institutional, archives.  Yet as he speaks of the changes archiving is undergoing due to the digital age, I would argue that he demonstrates how the lines between personal and institutional archiving are blurring. 

Public archives are, as the name implies, public, and Cox speaks many times of the way personal archives are becoming more public.  He often refers to documents—such as certificates and diplomas—and pictures being “framed and displayed… in public spaces,” and how “the Internet has provided a new space for displaying personal archives, such as blogs and personal photograph galleries.”  Cox himself juxtaposes public and private archives when he says that these items are “often displayed with the care of a museum exhibit.”  Derrida also comments on this publicity when, speaking of archives, “The dwelling, this place where they dwell permanently, marks this institutional passage from the private to the public.”  By posting previously private pictures on the Facebook, a citizen archivist causes his or her archive to go through that “institutional passage.”  But Derrida makes an interesting point when he that this “does not always mean from the secret to the nonsecret.”  As Cox pointed out, we have a tendency to display some archives in public spaces, like the wall in our living room.  So when we take an old picture from the wall, scan it into the computer and post it on Facebook, goes from one institution to another, but not from the “secret to the nonsecret.”

So, what is an archive?  Clearly Cox and Derrida have shown me that my original thoughts on the subject were not entirely accurate.  I am sure there do exist record rooms, perhaps a bit dusty and quiet, that clearly contain archives, but in simply exploring the idea of a citizen archivist, Cox expanded the definition of an archive to include pictures hanging on the wall in a living room or a status update on Facebook.  Derrida and Cox both have shown me that archives are often very public, not stored away in an old room where people cease to care about them.  And yet, I feel that I cannot give an all-encompassing definition of an archive.  What is it?