VirtualDayz

I explore media in transition. My research encompasses film, video, print, digital arts, and the web. I'm interested in what artists and writers are doing and in what critics and scholars are saying.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Digital Remembrances (Inspired by a week at UC Berkeley)

I spent last week at the University of California, Berkeley, where I attended the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute, the third stop on an itinerary that so far has included the Media in Transition (MIT4) Conference at MIT (see June 30th entry) and the Transliteracies conference on online reading at the University of California, Santa Barbara (see July 8th entry)—three interdisciplinary events that have contributed to my research on innovative approaches to autobiographical and biographical representation at the beginning of the twenty-first century. I’m particularly interested in how documentarians, writers, artists, and performers are using new media technologies to record, preserve, frame, shape, evoke, archive, disseminate, and transform memory on both individual and collective levels. Are they “remediating” genres from other media (Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin), “navigating the database” (Lev Manovich), constructing a “possibility space” (N. Katherine Hayles), or doing something else?

Although studies of new media, such as the texts I referenced by Bolter and Grusin, Manovich, and Hayles, help to contextualize digital experiments with memory, so do studies of personal narratives, such as the book Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, by literary theorists Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (University of Minnesota Press, 2001). Life narrative, the term Smith and Watson recommend, signifies self-referential practices that challenge norms associated with traditional, Western, canonical autobiography as a master narrative that celebrates “the autonomous individual and the universalizing life story” (3). Smith and Watson identify fifty-two genres of life narrative, including auto/biography (a/b), autoethnography, autofiction, case study, collaborative life narrative, confession, diary, letters, meditation, memoir, oral history, relational autobiography, self-portrait, survivor narrative, testimonio, trauma narrative, travel narrative, and witnessing (183–207). Media used for telling autobiographical stories also cover a broad range: “short feature and documentary films; theater pieces; installations; performance art in music, dance, and monologue; the painted or sculpted self-portrait; quilts, collages, and mosaics; body art; murals; comics; and cyber art” (74).

I support Smith and Watson’s notion of life narrative, but in my work I want to recognize biographical modes, too, especially memorials, shrines, and portraits of others. “Life writing,” the broader term, which does recognize biographical modes (3), emphasizes writing at the expense of other media and is therefore usually too restrictive for my purposes. I tend to use “personal narrative” as a general term and vary my terminology according to context. So far most of my work has addressed autobiographical texts, a tendency that probably will continue. In my studies of video, some of the most interesting work I’ve seen has blended autobiographical and biographical modes (a/b), thus blurring generic distinctions and producing creative hybrids.

My research continues, so please feel free to recommend projects and Web sites.

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1 Comments:

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