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Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing


Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing

Nearly a decade ago, Johanna Drucker cofounded the University of Virginia’s SpecLab, a digital humanities laboratory dedicated to risky projects with serious aims. In SpecLab she explores the implications of these radical efforts to use critical practices and aesthetic principles against the authority of technology based on analytic models of knowledge.

            Inspired by the imaginative frontiers of graphic arts and experimental literature and the technical possibilities of computation and information management, the projects Drucker engages range from Subjective Meteorology to Artists’ Books Online to the as yet unrealized ’Patacritical Demon, an interactive tool for exposing the structures that underlie our interpretations of text. Illuminating the kind of future such experiments could enable, SpecLab functions as more than a set of case studies at the intersection of computers and humanistic inquiry. It also exemplifies Drucker’s contention that humanists must play a role in designing models of knowledge for the digital age—models that will determine how our culture will function in years to come.

262 pages | 28 halftones, 16 line drawings, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Art: Art Criticism

Computer Science


“As we all grope our way into a remediating world, this book talks about how to put first things first: most especially thinking before knowing and aesthetic practice before philosophical reflection. Am Anfang war die Tat has rarely been so well demonstrated.”

Jerome McGann, University of Virginia

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Background to SpecLab 

1.0 Speculative Computing

1.1 From Digital Humanities to Speculative Computing 

1.2 Speculative Computing: Basic Principles and Essential Distinctions 

2.0 Projects at SpecLab

2.1 Temporal Modeling 

2.2 Ivanhoe  

2.3 Subjective Meteorology: A System of Mapping Personal Weather

2.4 Modeling a Critical Approach: Metadata in ABsOnline 

2.5 The Patacritical Demon 

3.0 From Aesthetics to Aesthesis

3.1 Graphesis and Code

3.2 Intimations of (Im)materialty: Text as Code 

3.3 Modeling Functionality: From Codex to e-Book   

3.4 Aesthetics and New Media

3.5 Digital Aesthetics and Critical Opposition 

4.0 Lessons of SpecLab       




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