Media and fiction since 1900
A graduate seminar
English 506 + CSPT 500 | UVic
Winter 2020 | R 1:30-4:20pm
Jentery Sayers | firstname.lastname@example.org
Office: CLE D334 | M 1-3pm or by appt.
jentery.github.io/506/ (PDF without notes or prompts)
Media are frequently treated as means in the business of making records. They help to verify communication occurred. Did you get my message? They also help to confirm meaning. Do you understand it? Such treatments tend to economize experience. Media should, for instance, facilitate the seizure and extraction of information. Take a video. Capture some audio. Grab an image before it’s gone. They should function as proof. I saw this. I heard that. I was there. They should be efficient. Give me the tl;dr. They should secure consensus. Don’t you agree? And they should accumulate and produce value. Am I on brand?
This seminar accounts for the records business to move beyond it. That move is called “media aesthetics.” Step one is speculation, and step two is attending to an apparatus—from economical communication to possible communications to how we even communicate. If economical communication verifies occurrence and confirms understanding, then speculation operates in the subjunctive. What if communication were something else? Here, resistance, refusal, storytelling, and figurative language become potential alternatives to economized experience, as each may brush against the desire for efficiency. An apparatus prompts us to consider why and how. It joins the economical with the subjunctive by producing relations between them. An apparatus is not some underlying structure or ideal form. It’s an agent for content and design, and it’s often right in front us, like an interface—there, yet impossible to grasp. During seminar, I’ll suggest that the key ingredients of an apparatus are measurement, movement, sense, and making sense, and we’ll assess how apparatuses discipline and standardize experience while affording experimentation and speculation. We’ll examine five apparatuses in particular (grids, editors, networks, stacks, and engines), though we’ll need something to ground us and all our abstractions.
What else but fiction to put us on the same page? We’ll study media through discussions of radio dramas, fantasy, science fiction, comics, games, and experimental literature from the 20th and 21st centuries. Call it escapism, if you wish; however, these fictions will be quite useful for understanding apparatuses and the economization of experience today. For one, they will nudge us to listen, watch, see, and play as well as read. They will also position audio, image, and text as congealed labour: processes and techniques rather than objects and instruments. From this position, we’ll approach aesthetics as a question of embodied perception and sensation, and we’ll talk about how some experiences of fiction are singular and others are shared. Fiction will also be a site for speculation and worldbuilding, and for stressing why both the content and design of the subjunctive matter. We’ll ask what audio, image, and text mean and verify in fiction, but also what they do and, if you’re so inclined, what they want. Perhaps most important, we’ll consider aesthetics and politics together. How and under what assumptions are media and fiction categorized? How do media encourage and even rationalize particular ways of engaging fiction? How do we compose with, against, and even beyond the apparatuses that dominate cultural production?
This is not a technical course. The assignments are open to media practice (such as the composition of audio and video) without requiring it. The seminar does not involve any quantitative or computational methods, either. By “media,” I mean “audio, image, and text,” not “the media” or mass communications and their outlets. And by “media aesthetics,” I mean the practice of evaluating how design and content are apprehended, comprehended, synthesized, and reproduced. In this case, we’ll evaluate the design and content of fiction.
This seminar is an opportunity for us to attend to how:
The seminar contributes to your graduate education in English and/or Cultural, Social, and Political Thought by asking you to:
I hope this approach to the seminar offers you room to experiment with your own take on media aesthetics. If you find that it does not, then please let me know, and I’ll adjust my approach accordingly.
My name is Jentery Sayers. I’m an associate professor of English and Cultural, Social, and Political Thought (CSPT), and I direct the Praxis Studio for Comparative Media Studies. I’ve been at UVic since 2011, and I did my PhD at the University of Washington. Most of my work is in comparative media studies. I teach American fiction, cultural studies, media, materialism, and prototyping at UVic.
I designed this course to correspond with similar research and teaching efforts in UVic’s Department of English, including work in literary studies, but also textual studies, book history, and film studies, where questions of mediation are central to scholarly analysis. As part of the CSPT concentration, this course is also an attempt to enact theory, such as posthumanist and (new) materialist theories, in studies of media and fiction. One result of this attempt is less emphasis on distinct media and formats (such as books and film) and more attention to how media work across genres, experiments, and categories, hence the use of “media aesthetics” in the title instead of, say, “electronic literature,” “interactive fiction,” “audio fiction,” “games,” or “graphic novels,” each of which admittedly warrants a course unto itself. Finally, this seminar builds on previous “prototyping” seminars I’ve taught at UVic and is meant to serve a rather practical function by offering opportunities for you to approach material across modes (listening, seeing, playing, watching, and reading) and to iteratively develop a project or essay that aligns with your own interests in media aesthetics. This project or essay may speak primarily to academic audiences, or it may have a non- or para-academic context in mind.
Whatever your ultimate approach, the location of this seminar at UVic is key. The Department of English includes options for graduate students to complete MA essays or MA projects, and the university as a whole has a rich history of engaging media, broadly understood. From Special Collections to the Digital Scholarship Commons, you should have a chance to integrate your work with what’s happening elsewhere on campus. This seminar and its background aim to prepare you for such integration by presenting you with a framework for media praxis as it pertains to fiction in particular and communication in general. Perhaps, for you, praxis leans toward theory, technique, narrative, history, design, or . . . I’m thus excited to see what you do with the framework and how you change and redirect it.
The first week of this seminar is intended mostly for introductions. We’ll meet each other, and I’ll review the syllabus and speak to the point of the course. Then we’ll talk about media aesthetics and survey what we’re studying this term. I’ll conclude by sharing with you some relevant methods for approaching media and fiction.
After Week 1, most weeks will include one or two modules organized around key issues in media aesthetics and communication. I’ll express those issues through questions or remarks that we might often hear or read. For example:
Each module corresponds with a particular work of fiction that will serve as a case study or “tutor text,” if you will.
The middle of the term (immediately after reading break) is dedicated to composing (or arguing) with and through media as a form of scholarship. I’ll detail some approaches, and we’ll look at some examples by scholars of media and fiction.
The end of the term is dedicated to your presentations (penultimate meeting) and workshopping your projects (last meeting). We’ll also recap the seminar and our discussions of media aesthetics during the last meeting. Somewhere between the middle and the end, I’ll ask you to meet with me to discuss your final project or essay. I’ll give you two weeks after our last meeting to finalize and submit your project or essay.
I’m asking you to access most materials online via their URLs or a passcode-protected reader I’ve compiled. (See me for the ID and passcode.) Links are provided in the schedule.
Here’s a list of what we’re studying this term (in the order of when we’re studying them):
Please purchase Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. It should be at the UVic Bookstore.
I recommend purchasing the following:
Of note, you can play Gone Home and Undertale with friends and watch gameplay videos of them online.
Alongside these materials, I’ve dedicated a section of this syllabus to notes. I’ll populate that section as the term unfolds. I don’t plan to use slides during seminar; however, I will include in our discussions various snippets of audio, image, and text from assigned fictions. As you study them, I recommend doing the same: consider screengrabs, sound clips, photographs, video, and whatnot for your own records and reference. If you’d like advice on archiving and annotating media, then let me know.
You’ll notice that most of the assigned materials are from the 21st century. I made these selections in part because I think (or hope) they will spark some engaging, if not pressing, seminar discussions about speculation and the apparatuses of media and fiction; however, we’ll still account for history in this course. For instance, during most modules I’ll provide overviews of where the assigned materials “fit,” and how, in media, fiction, and theory since 1900. I should also mention that my selections reflect an investment in narrative and storytelling. I did not include, for example, any artist’s books or poetry, both of which are obviously relevant to studies of media and literature.
Here’s the schedule for the term. I will notify you during seminar at least two weeks in advance of any changes. When materials are not open access or in the public domain, I abide by fair dealing guidelines. I also contributed to the artists’ Patreon accounts, where applicable.
To keep us on schedule, expect an email from me to everyone in the seminar once (and only once) per week. That weekly email should also encourage transparency and help us all plan ahead. I will often include lesson plans in my emails.
January 9th: on the point of this seminar
January 9th: on sense and making sense, including some methods for media aesthetics
Please select the date and assigned material(s) for your first co-facilitation. I’ll circulate a sign-up sheet.
January 16th: on messengers, curation, and relating with others (media: text; apparatus: network)
Please read Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” (2005).
January 16th: on worldbuilding, structural oppression, and being addressed (media: text; apparatus: engine)
Please read selections from N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015), which is the first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.
January 23rd: on broadcasting, decoding, and colonial dissemination (media: audio, text; apparatus: editor, network)
Please listen to part one of Colin Grant’s BBC documentary, Caribbean Voices (2009), about Una Marson, Calling the West Indies, and the Caribbean Voices radio program (1943-58).
January 23rd: on acousmatic voices, gaslighting, and shouting into the abyss (media: audio, text; apparatus: editor, network)
Please listen to Lucile Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number (1943).
January 30th: on texture, snapshots, and novels that aren’t novels (media: audio, text; apparatus: editor)
Please listen to all 14 recordings by Gertrude Stein listed under “From The Making of Americans” (from “Comments on…” to “George Hugnet”) (1911/1925; recorded at Columbia University’s Speech Lab in 1935; care of PennSound).
January 30th: on memory, playback, and emotional rapport with machines (media: audio, text; apparatus: editor)
Please watch a video of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1958, with Patrick Magee as Krapp and Donald McWhinnie directing).
Please select the date and assigned material(s) for your second co-facilitation. I’ll circulate a sign-up sheet.
February 6th: on archives, allusions, method cartooning, and entwining the personal with the political (media: text, image; apparatus: grid, editor)
Please read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006).
February 13th: on graphic diaries, cross-hatching, and true stories that never happened (media: image, text; apparatus: grid)
Please read selections of Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (2017).
February 13th: on voice-over, wayward guides, puzzles, and presence (media: image, audio; apparatus: stack, editor)
Please play Marina Kittaka’s Secrets Agent (2014) for at least 30 minutes.
Please submit your annotated bibliography today.
February 20th: on ellipses and waiting
It’s reading break. There’s no seminar this week.
February 27th: on integrating media and design into your scholarship
Please read Patrick Jagoda’s “Critique and Critical Making” (2017). I also recommend “Introduction to Pathfinders” and “Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl” in Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop’s Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature (2015) as well as Gregory Zinman’s Handmade Cinema (2020).
February 27th: on treating media and design as your scholarship
Please watch Amanda Strong and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) (2019) and read / play micha cárdenas and Bobby Bray’s Redshift & Portalmetal (2014). I also recommend Jordan Abel’s work.
Please select the date and assigned material(s) for your third co-facilitation. I’ll circulate a sign-up sheet.
March 5th: on roleplay, executable language, and protocols for action (media: text; apparatus: engine)
Please schedule a time to meet with me (20-30 minutes) about your project or essay.
We’ll visit the Obsolete Computing and Media collection in the library.
March 12th: on links, forks, and portals (media: text, image, audio; apparatus: stack, network)
Please read / play Porpentine Charity Heartscape and Brenda Neotenomie’s With Those We Love Alive (2014) for at least 45 minutes.
March 12th: on simulation, subjective shots, and the everyday paranormal (media: text, image, audio; apparatus: engine, grid)
Please play Fullbright’s Gone Home (2013) for at least 90 minutes.
Please submit your genealogy today.
March 19th: on menus, refusal, and the design of encounters (media: text, image, audio; apparatus: grid, editor)
Please play Toby Fox and Temmie Chang’s Undertale (2015) for at least 90 minutes.
March 19th: on being deprecated (media: text, image, audio; apparatus: stack, editor)
Please read and watch Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ M00D 0F THE M0MENT (2007). Try this URL if the first one doesn’t work in your browser.
March 26th: on attention economics in and beyond the academy
Please present an overview of your project or essay during seminar. Your presentation will be followed by a Q&A session and feedback.
April 2nd: on productivity and portfolios
We’ll review what we did (and didn’t do) this term and discuss the use of portfolios in media and fiction studies. We’ll also discuss how and to what effects scholarship is labour. Then you’ll workshop your projects and essays.
Please submit your project or essay by Thursday, April 16th (two weeks from today).
I’m asking you to submit the following assignments this term:
I will provide in this section of the syllabus a prompt and rubric for each of these assignments. Please email me your bibliography, genealogy, and final project or essay in PDF, where possible. (I realize that most projects probably won’t export well, if at all, to PDF.) If you have materials from your co-facilitations and/or presentation, then please email me those documents, too.
I’m asking you to co-facilitate (with me and your peers) three seminar discussions this term. The aim of co-facilitation is to spark and sustain conversation about a work (on the schedule) you selected. I’ll circulate sign-up sheets for co-facilitations, and we’ll distribute the co-facilitations over the course of the term. You should plan to co-facilitate for 60 or so minutes of seminar. The rubric below should give you a sense of possible approaches. Please note that co-facilitations are not presentations.
90-100 = A+: Co-facilitation in this range demonstrates an incredibly high level of engagement. You researched the work you selected, you sparked dialogue about it with your peers and me, you listened attentively to others in seminar (without dominating the conversation or even speaking that often), you took and shared notes when helpful, and you asked compelling questions that prompted an array of responses. You brought handouts, slides, or notes to guide conversation, and you kept us grounded in particular aspects of the work, without any tangents. During our discussion, we attended to matters of apprehension and comprehension as well as synthesis and evaluation of the work. You planned ahead and ran draft materials by other facilitators, including your peers and me. Where useful, you co-authored materials with other student co-facilitators.
85-89 = A: Co-facilitation in this range demonstrates a high level of engagement. You researched the work you selected, you sparked dialogue about it with your peers and me, you listened attentively to others in seminar (without dominating the conversation or even speaking that often), you took and shared notes when helpful, and you asked compelling questions that prompted an array of responses. You kept us grounded in particular aspects of the work, without many tangents. During our discussion, we attended to matters of apprehension and comprehension as well as synthesis and evaluation of the work. You planned ahead and ran draft materials by other facilitators, including your peers and me.
80-84 = A-: Co-facilitation in this range demonstrates a notable level of engagement. You researched the work you selected, you sparked dialogue about it with your peers and me, you listened to others in seminar (without dominating the conversation or even speaking that often), and you asked questions that prompted an array of responses. You kept us grounded in particular aspects of the work. During our discussion, we attended to matters of apprehension and/or comprehension as well as synthesis and/or evaluation of the work. You planned ahead and ran draft materials by other facilitators, including your peers and me.
77-79 = B+: Co-facilitation in this range demonstrates a moderate level engagement. You sparked dialogue about your selected work with your peers and me, you listened to others in seminar, and you asked questions that prompted some responses. During our discussion, we attended to matters of apprehension and/or comprehension as well as synthesis and/or evaluation of the work. You planned ahead and ran draft materials by other facilitators, including your peers and me.
73-76 = B: Co-facilitation in this range would benefit from more engagement. You sparked some dialogue about your selected work with your peers and me, and you asked questions that prompted some responses. During our discussion, we attended mostly to matters of apprehension and/or comprehension.
Your annotated bibliography should help you to begin researching your final project or essay for this seminar. It should include at least ten sources, but no more than fifteen. Five (no more, no less) of the sources should be peer-reviewed journal articles. At least five other sources should be primary sources, such as works of fiction. Sources may be formatted according to MLA, APA, or Chicago. Each source should be accompanied by one or two descriptive sentences (what is it about? what’s the argument or technique used?) as well as one or two evaluative sentences (why is it interesting? why might it be useful for your project or essay?). Note that the aim of your final project or essay is to engage media aesthetics via a particular technique that articulates or entwines media with fiction. So, not “maps and fantasy novels” or “audio and science fiction” but, for instance, worldbuilding or the use of second person in specific works of fantasy or science fiction. Please also note that I’m encouraging comparative, multi-author approaches to techniques at play in the 20th and 21st centuries. (The genealogy, due later in the term, should help with this element of the final project or essay.) At the top of the bib, please include no more than five sentences explaining the technique you’re considering (you may certainly change your mind down the line) and why you think that technique may interest folks working in / around media aesthetics (what sort of questions or research does it spark?) At this point in the research, you can focus more on technique than authors or fictions. Before you select a technique, I recommend reviewing the 20 m’s (see “Notes” below) as well as the schedule for the seminar through the end of March. Maybe there’s something on the schedule that interests you, but we’ve not yet discussed it? You’re of course welcome to run ideas by me. I’m around. Please email the bib to me by February 13th. PDF is preferred. DOCX and HTML are great, too.
The components of the annotated bib, then:
Here’s the rubric:
90-100 = A+: The annotated bibliography demonstrates research on a technique at play in the 20th and 21st centuries that articulates or entwines media with fiction. It explains the technique and why it may be interesting to people working in or around media aesthetics. It includes fifteen sources, five of which are peer-reviewed journal articles and at least five others that are primary sources. All sources are formatted according to MLA, Chicago, or APA. Each source is accompanied by descriptive and evaluative annotations that are clear, precise, and even insightful in their pithiness. The bibliography as a whole presents a compelling and potentially publishable seminar essay or project. Its engagement with media aesthetics and the selected technique is original yet supported by precedent in fiction, media, and/or literary and media studies.
85-89 = A: The annotated bibliography demonstrates research on a technique at play in the 20th and 21st centuries that articulates or entwines media with fiction. It explains the technique and why it may be interesting to people working in or around media aesthetics. It includes fifteen sources, five of which are peer-reviewed journal articles and at least five others that are primary sources. All sources are formatted according to MLA, Chicago, or APA. Each source is accompanied by descriptive and evaluative annotations that are clear and precise. The bibliography as a whole presents a compelling seminar essay or project. Its engagement with media aesthetics and the selected technique is convincing and also supported by precedent in fiction, media, and/or literary and media studies.
80-84 = A-: The annotated bibliography demonstrates research on a technique at play in the 20th and 21st centuries that articulates or entwines media with fiction. It explains the technique and why it may be interesting to people working in or around media aesthetics. It includes at least ten sources, five of which are peer-reviewed journal articles and at least five others that are primary sources. All sources are formatted according to MLA, Chicago, or APA. Each source is accompanied by descriptive and evaluative annotations that are clear. The bibliography as a whole presents a promising seminar essay or project. Its engagement with media aesthetics and the selected technique is supported by precedent in fiction, media, and/or literary and media studies.
77-79 = B+: The annotated bibliography demonstrates research on a technique at play in the 20th and 21st centuries that articulates or entwines media with fiction. It explains the technique and why it may be interesting to people working in or around media aesthetics. It includes at least ten sources, five of which are peer-reviewed journal articles and at least five others that are primary sources. All sources are formatted according to MLA, Chicago, or APA. Each source is accompanied by descriptive and evaluative annotations that are clear. The bibliography as a whole presents a potential framework for a seminar essay or project. Its engagement with media aesthetics and the selected technique is supported by some precedent in fiction, media, and/or literary and media studies.
73-76 = B: The annotated bibliography demonstrates research on a technique at play in the 20th and 21st centuries that articulates or entwines media with fiction. It explains the technique and why it may be interesting to people working in or around media aesthetics. It includes at least ten sources, five of which are peer-reviewed journal articles and at least five others that are primary sources. All sources are formatted according to MLA, Chicago, or APA. Each source is accompanied by descriptive and evaluative annotations that are mostly clear. The bibliography as a whole presents an idea for a seminar essay or project. Its engagement with media aesthetics and the selected technique is supported by some precedent in fiction, media, and/or literary and media studies.
Your genealogy should help you to articulate what’s interesting about your selected technique and its uses in at least three works of fiction. (Where possible, select works by more than one artist or author. I recommend keeping the genealogy to no more than five works.) How and to what effects does the technique articulate media with fiction? What are the politics of this articulation? The aesthetics? What sort of apparatus is at play? What sort of speculations are made possible across media and fiction? Consider the genealogy to be a thorough description of “stress points” in your technique since 1900. You don’t need to follow chronological order (as if the most recent use is the best use), you don’t need many (if any) secondary sources to support your observations, and you don’t even need to make an argument. Just thoroughly describe how the technique is used and what it’s doing in at least three works of fiction; and as you do, tell your readers what’s interesting (both politically and aesthetically) about these uses. Don’t feel as if you need to present a tidy conclusion or a compelling introduction, either. Again, it’s not an argument. You may even want to conclude the genealogy with some questions. It’s not yet April, after all.
The genealogy should be between 500 and 750 words, plus references, formatted in MLA, Chicago, or APA. Please email it to me in PDF or DOCX before seminar meets on Thursday, March 12th. Put your name on it.
Here’s the rubric (please read it when you have a sec):
90-100 = A+: The genealogy articulates what’s interesting about your selected technique and its uses in at least three works of fiction. It engages with nuance the politics and aesthetics of the technique, an apparatus at play, and the speculations made possible. Its observations are both compelling and original. It exhibits the beginnings of publishable research in or around the field of media aesthetics.
85-89 = A: The genealogy articulates what’s interesting about your selected technique and its uses in at least three works of fiction. It engages with nuance the politics and aesthetics of the technique, an apparatus at play, and the speculations made possible. Its observations are compelling and occasionally original.
80-84 = A-: The genealogy articulates what’s interesting about your selected technique and its uses in at least three works of fiction. It engages with nuance the politics and aesthetics of the technique, an apparatus at play, and the speculations made possible. Its observations are compelling.
77-79 = B+: The genealogy articulates what’s interesting about your selected technique and its uses in at least three works of fiction. It engages the politics and aesthetics of the technique. Its observations are occasionally compelling.
73-76 = B: The genealogy articulates what’s interesting about your selected technique and its uses in at least three works of fiction.
I am asking each of you to present for five minutes during seminar on Thursday, March 26th. Your presentation should include the following three components: 1) a concise description of your essay / project, including the technique you’ve selected for study; 2) why you chose the topic and technique (e.g., why they are interesting or important); and 3) three questions you have for us (prompt feedback and advice from us on specific aspects of the essay / project). You may use slides or other media, if you wish, but please stick to five minutes. I will set a timer, and then we’ll have seven more minutes (per presentation) for discussion, mostly to address part three above (those three questions you have for us).
Prior to that meeting on the 26th, you should email me a 250-word abstract for your project / essay as well as three learning outcomes for it. The abstract should describe the motivation for your research (why do we care?), the problem or issue you’re addressing (including some language about the technique you’re studying), and your approach to that problem. You will then revise it in April for your final essay / project to also include your main argument (including results or findings, if applicable) and your conclusions (what you learned and what you hope others learn from your work).
Learning outcomes for your essay / project should address the sort of knowledge your essay / project will demonstrate. For instance, a learning outcome for an upper-level literature course may read like so, “Use a 3000-word academic essay, supported by at least three secondary sources, to communicate the importance of home, family, and kinship in two works of contemporary American fiction (published after 1980).” Such an outcome can be assessed quantitatively (number of words and sources) but also qualitatively (demonstrated knowledge about two works, home, family, kinship, and Am lit).
Final Project or Essay
Your final essay or project for “Media Aesthetics” should engage a particular technique at play in the 20th and 21st centuries that articulates or entwines media with fiction. It should be grounded in material from works of fiction. Your argument should be presented in 2500-4000 words (plus notes and references) or the equivalent across media (audio, image, text). It should be accompanied by a 250-word abstract or project description, and you should identify a particular venue (such as a journal, program, or initiative) for it. You should meet with me by March 19th to discuss your plans for the essay or project. At least two days prior to that meeting, you should email me a draft proposal (250 words), and during that meeting we’ll discuss potential revisions to the topic, scope, shape, and content of your proposal. I will also compose with you five outcomes for your essay or project. Three of those outcomes will be drafted by you, the other two by me. I’ll then revise them all for consistency and clarity. At the term’s end, I’ll use those five outcomes to assess your essay or project (where an A+ will imply a publishable project or essay, an A will imply the work exceeds the outcomes, an A- will imply the work exceeds some of the outcomes, a B+ will imply the work meets the outcomes, and a B will imply the work did not meet some or all of the outcomes). You will present aspects of your essay or project during seminar on March 26th and workshop it on April 2nd. It’s due by Thursday, April 16th. (Extensions may be granted if you contact me in advance.) You can submit your final essay or project by email, in person, or via my department box. Make sure you note the intended venue when you submit it.
As the term unfolds, I will share in this section my notes and reflections. Expect new content here almost every week of seminar.
From our first meeting (January 9th), here are some definitions of key terms I’m using to engage media and fiction. After “media” and “fiction,” they are alphabetized.
Again, these definitions are not exhaustive. I’m providing them to render transparent my own assumptions and approaches. Equally important, definitions are often quite fuzzy or contingent with history and culture. They are more like guides for situations than answers to important questions, and they should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism. What’s missing from them? What do people want from them? What makes them work? I thus hope you’ll question and revise these definitions rather than adopting them wholesale for deployment in this seminar or elsewhere.
What is the point of studying media and fiction together in the 2020s? Consider the following list, introduced during our first meeting (January 9th). It translates how this seminar applies generally to the practice of communication and specifically to its analytical, structural, social, cultural, and practical dimensions. None of these applications is restricted to the academy.
Approaching media and fiction together attends to matters of:
I use the acronym SCANNED (I know, I know . . .) to remember this list and to state succinctly why people might approach media and fiction together.
“Media aesthetics” is the framework we’ll use to approach media and fiction in this course. I define it as the practice of evaluating how design and content are apprehended, comprehended, synthesized, and reproduced. These terms are defined below.
We’ll use 20 words starting with the letter “m” to facilitate our study of media and fiction through media aesthetics. The list is a guide, not a set of instructions, and will inevitably fall apart with some practice and pressure. In the list I avoid common dichotomies between mind and body, logic and feeling, and analysis and experience, mostly because such dichotomies are driven by norms or ideals frequently critiqued within media and literary studies. Although there’s an order to the outline, with “Apprehension” appearing first, it’s not a hierarchy or series of steps. The “Evaluation” section may prompt revisions to “Synthesis,” for example, or some people may wish to start with “Comprehension.” I use “work” throughout the guide to refer to a work of fiction and its media (audio, image, and text), and I encourage repeated description to render the process as approachable as possible. Suggestions welcome.
“What’s happening here?” Apprehension is about impressions, sensations, and evocations. It’s about the moment, which may be familiar. “I’ve felt this before.” While experience may feel personal, it’s social, too. It’s structured by media and fiction, and it’s shaped by design.
Consider recording or annotating your (initial) engagement in real time (like an unboxing video or Let’s Play), if only for your own records. With express consent, you might do the same for someone else and then compare your results. Account for eye rolls and anxious feelings as well: what’s off-putting, predictable, unclear, discomfiting, frustrating . . . Apprehension isn’t necessarily appreciation.
“What’s this about?” Comprehension is about expressions, understanding, and situating things. It’s about making sense after the fact—identifying and arranging the parts. While it may feel impersonal, it’s nevertheless motivated. People usually want meaning and even purpose from media and fiction.
Consider distilling the work, reflecting on it, and even graphing its parts, story, and/or relation to other works in its network. Note how and when these practices are about control, or the pleasure of making sense of things. When is control problematic? What do graphs or classifications get wrong?
“How does it all come together?” Synthesis is about boundaries and relations. It entwines apprehension with comprehension. It connects materials with abstractions and personal experiences with structures and designs. It’s never total or complete; it can’t and shouldn’t account for all the things.
Consider taking notes for each of these but developing a response to just one or two. Otherwise, the process may be overwhelming.
“So what?” Evaluation is about assessment, or why people should care about the work and engagements with it. Evaluations have intended audiences; knowing that audience and their expectations focuses the inquiry.
Again, consider taking notes for each of these but developing a response to just one or two. A response may not be an essay or series of paragraphs. Compose with audio, image, and/or text to determine what sticks with you and/or what others deem to be most compelling.
“What to do about it all?” Action is about learning and intervention: what people do with a work of media and fiction they encounter and study. Perhaps they do nothing with it. Preferring not to is indeed a sort of action. But so are improving the work, responding to it, integrating it into a project, discussing it with others, and drawing motivation from it. “Active learning” assumes many forms.
Consider how a given work of media and fiction intersects with your own interests and trajectories and then determine how to communicate these intersections to (or with) other people.
Approaches to media in fiction rely heavily on how media are measured: how they are divided into components and then isolated, traversed, compared, contrasted, and the like. These components are not the inevitable output of technologies. They are decisions with histories, norms, and expectations. That is, they are made and used often, they have conventions, and people want or assume particular experiences from them. They are also entwined with disciplines and discourses, such as how people talk about games, comics, radio, and books. A mechanism for the production of these components may be called an “apparatus.”
An apparatus is not exactly a form or template. It’s a relation machine. It helps people to sense and make sense of media in fiction—to measure media, build vocabularies for media, and move between, within, across, beyond, and to media.
Here’s a list of five apparatuses at play in this seminar. I shared it during our first meeting (January 9th). After each apparatus, I mention some components they produce and some relations they enable. I imagine a few of the terms may be unfamiliar, so we’ll discuss them during the term.
These apparatuses of course intersect. Any given web project, for instance, may involve all of them. Equally interesting, an apparatus may not be explicit in people’s engagements with media. The lines of a grid or the graphs for a network rarely appear on page or screen, and an engine usually wants people to forget they’re inside a program or world. An apparatus is thus more like an interface. It’s there, with palpable consequences; it’s just not tangible or tactile.
An apparatus has clear implications for design, yet it’s relevant to studies of fiction, too. If an apparatus is a relation machine, then those relations likely congeal with repeated and collocated use, understood in fiction as genre. Here’s another list, then. It uses prepositions to mark relations enabled by apparatuses and then experiments with those prepositions to describe components and experiences common in particular genres, which I italicize.
These aren’t recipes for genres, and this isn’t an exercise in totalization (as if one list could capture everything about genre). It’s simply a starting point for approaching media in fiction through an apparatus. I return to the notion of genre later in this course. For now, I’ll repeat here my definition of it: “genre: when fiction congeals into recognizable conventions accompanied by audience expectations; may become someone’s preferred way of engaging fiction.” The apparatus of media, or how they’re measured, shapes these conventions and expectations.
As part of “apprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the materials used in the work of fiction. Materials are about the work as matter and physical substance. Here are some ways to think about materials:
“Material” prompts considerations of the work as stuff.
As part of “apprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the modes or senses engaged. Modes and senses are about how people’s bodies are engaged or addressed by fiction. Here are some ways to think about modes and senses:
“Modes” and senses prompt considerations of attention and how we attend.
As part of “apprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the mood. The mood is about being in the world and engaging fiction. What’s the work’s vibe or feel? Here are some ways to think about mood:
“Mood” prompts considerations of distance, immediacy, and familiarity.
As part of “comprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider modules, which draw attention the work’s composition and arrangement. Here are some ways to think about modules:
“Modules” prompt considerations of the relationships between parts and whole.
As part of “comprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider measurements. To measure is to assess and/or quantify media, fiction, and engagements with them. Here are some ways to think about measurements:
“Measurements” prompt considerations of value.
As part of “comprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the main content or story. Here are some ways to think about content:
“Main content” prompts considerations of shared interpretation, or what puts people on the same page.
As part of “comprehension” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the moment(s) of the work’s composition, circulation, and reception. The moment is about context. Here are some ways to think about a moment:
“Moment” prompts considerations of shared situations, or what about a work puts people in the same space and/or time.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider how the work was made. How did it come together? How did this become that? Of note, it’s pretty much impossible to fully capture and describe this process, even if you can access, say, notes, documentation, or designer diaries. But here are some ways to determine or conjecture how a work was made:
“Made” prompts considerations of process over product.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may get meta about how the story is told. Here are some ways to get meta. Consider the:
“Meta” prompts considerations of design and structure.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider what the work means to you and others. Meaning is produced in all sorts of ways. Here are some ways to think about it:
“Meaning” prompts considerations of significance.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider how the work massages or manipulates people’s senses. Here are some ways to think about massage and manipulation:
Massaging and manipulation prompt considerations of discipline and pleasure.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider how people move with the work. Here are some ways to think about movement:
“Move” prompts considerations of agency and anticipation.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider what motivates people to attend and return to a work. Here are some ways to approach such motivation:
Motivation prompts considerations of traction.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider how the work morphs or changes shape. Here are some ways to approach morphing:
Morphing prompts considerations of mutability, where the work is neither frozen nor static but dynamic, changing with technologies and contexts over time and across space.
As part of “synthesis” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider how the work is maintained over time. Here are some ways to approach maintenance:
Maintenance prompts considerations of persistence and obsolescence.
As part of “evaluation” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider how the work mediates its relation to power and “common sense,” which includes norms, assumed knowledge, and congealed ways of perceiving. Here are some ways to approach mediation:
Mediation prompts considerations of ideals and worldviews.
As part of “evaluation” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider who and what the work misses, overlooks, or essentializes. Here are some ways to approach this question:
“Misses” prompts considerations of continuity, expectations, and omissions.
As part of “evaluation” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the memories the work elicits and how it elicits them. Here are some ways to approach this question:
“Memories” prompts considerations of retrieval, recollection, and forgetting, including the material dimensions, embodied experiences, and craft of time.
As part of “evaluation” in the 20 m’s, you may want to consider the role of mimesis in the work. Here are some ways to approach mimesis:
“Mimesis” prompts considerations of how boundaries are drawn between inside and outside, close and distant.
If you’re working on the use of audio in fiction, then these terms may be helpful.
May be defined as:
May be defined as:
Often includes components such as:
May be defined as what’s said by a speaker who is either not seen or is communicating from a moment before or after what’s being seen. While many definitions of voice-over are preoccupied with the “location” of the narrator (e.g., “non-diegetic” sounds or narration, which do not occur within the “world” of the story), it’s perhaps more productive to treat voice-over as yet another audio element of a work. Voice-over links voice with other sounds as well as with text and images. The speaker often recounts events happening on screen (or within a frame) and/or provides perspective or understanding for those events. Voice-over is common in the use of flashbacks and dream sequences, for instance.
Here are some ways to approach what voice-over is doing in a given work:
The voice-over may be recognized for the “grain” of its voice (its signature) or the “voice” of the grain (the signature or trace of a sound recording on wax, vinyl, tape, etc.). Finally, people often want to hear themselves in voices (see the story of Echo and Narcissus). What assumptions are at play in such desires?
I’m borrowing some of this language from Sarah Kozloff, Linda Martín Alcoff, Michel Chion, and Roland Barthes.
If you’re working on images in fiction, then the following terms and notes may be helpful.
Images may be interpreted as:
Today, the word image often refers to graphic images: maps, graphs, photographs, drawings, and the like. Graphic images rely on marks, and they can be circulated as pictures. But images may also imply likeness: not the picture in hand or on screen but what the image resembles or reveals. Cartoons, for instance, don’t look exactly like who or what they represent; however, they do express likeness (the essence, spirit, style, aura, or image of who or what’s represented).
When we consider how images are made in comics, the following terms are often used:
These notes draw from work by Lisa Cartwright, Hillary Chute, Gilles Deleuze, Mary Ann Doane, Scott McCloud, W.J.T. Mitchell, Charles Sanders Peirce, Susan Sontag, and Marita Sturken.
If you’re working on games and fiction, then the following may be useful.
Components of a game (drawn from the work of Walker White):
Some key terms for games (drawn from the work of Anna Anthropy, Naomi Clark, Alexander Galloway, Brenda Romero, and Brian Upton):
Evaluation of games (drawn from the work of Anna Anthropy, Naomi Clark, Brenda Romero, and Brian Upton):
If you’re working on text and fiction, then the following may be useful. (The list is not intended to be exhaustive.)
Text often functions as:
Image: here, we might consider the text’s perceptual and graphic dimensions, such as the layout of a page or website or the arrangement of words; recall M00D 0F THE M0MENT or My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, for example
Symbol: in this case, we’re talking about text as the use of systems (alphabets) of characters (symbols) to compose words and create meaning (connotation and denotation); this version of text is most common in studies of fiction; recall our analysis of “Message in a Bottle” or Fun Home, for instance
Script: we may also note how text functions as a recording or document, the content of which is to be performed or rehearsed; scripts may also function as evidence of an event or performance; recall our discussion of Sorry, Wrong Number, for example
Instruction: here, text conveys rules or steps to follow, without much, if any, attention to connotation or figurative language; this use of text is most common in games (video and tabletop); consider Secrets Agent and Simple World, for instance
Tag: text may also be used for organization, structure, or markup; it may facilitate association or pattern analysis; this is text as metadata or hashtag; consider the use of HTML in works such as With Those We Love Alive
Action: this is executable text, from menus, links, and buttons in an interface to the use of programming languages as “source code”; consider any game here, including the use of the C++ and C# languages to create Gone Home, which also relies heavily on menus to navigate options and perform certain actions
Type: here we’re examining text as lettering and its design; aspects of type include its stroke (straight, curved, or angled letterforms), axis (neutral, positive, or negative “inclination” of the stroke), aperture (the openness or constraint of a letter), and serif (a visual stop at the beginning and/or end of a stroke); consider the use of typefaces in the game, Undertale
Of course, text as media serves several of these functions at once. An important thing to remember is that text isn’t just Text. Its multiple, often contradictory functions mean it’s not homogeneous in its intent or effect.
There are no prerequisites for this seminar. It is part of the English graduate program (MA and PhD) and Cultural, Social, and Political Thought concentration (MA and PhD). It’s a special topics course (English 506, Studies in Literary Theory: Special Topic).
The genealogy and final project or essay are required to pass this course. Failure to complete these two assignments will result in a failing N grade (calculated as a 0 for your GPA).
I will use the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ official grading system to produce rubrics for each assignment and assess your work. I do not post marks outside my office, and I do not use plagiarism detection software.
If you need to request an extension or you’re concerned about the possibility of a late submission, then please email me. I recommend that you do not fall behind on any assignment, if possible, but I understand that extensions may be necessary for numerous reasons. I will comment on all assigned work I receive from you during the term, regardless of when it’s submitted.
The best way to communicate with me is in person, either by appointment or during my office hours, which are Mondays, 1-3pm, in CLE D334. You are also welcome to email me at email@example.com. I respond to work email between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.
I’m asking you to meet with me at least once outside of seminar this term. We’ll take 20-30 minutes to discuss your final project or essay.
I will provide feedback by email on each assignment. Feedback on your co-facilitations may be bundled with feedback on other assignments, such as the bibliography and genealogy.
Throughout the term, I’ll request feedback (verbal and in writing) from you on how the seminar is going. I’ll also ask you to complete Course Experience Surveys at the end of the term (during our last meeting).
Weekly attendance in graduate seminars is expected. If you must miss a meeting, then please notify me ahead of time by email. Cases of continuous, unexplained absence may result in your ineligibility to complete the course. Attendance and active participation in discussions and workshops are part of fulfilling the course requirements. I will notify the Graduate Adviser if you have three or more unwarranted absences.
Laptops and mobile devices are welcome in (but not required for) this seminar.
The University of Victoria is committed to promoting, providing, and protecting a positive, supportive, and safe working and learning environment for all its members. You and I are expected to adhere to UVic’s equity and human rights policies. You should alert me immediately if you have any questions about these policies and their application, or if you have concerns about course proceedings or participants.
You and I are expected to adhere to UVic’s academic integrity policy and be aware of the policies for the evaluation of student course work. Violations of the integrity policy will result in a failing grade for the given assignment and may additionally result in a failing grade for the course. By taking this course, you agree that all submitted assignments may be subject to an originality review. I do not use software to detect plagiarism in essays or any other assignments.
Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability or health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) as soon as possible. CAL staff are available by appointment to assess specific needs, provide referrals, and arrange appropriate accommodations. The sooner you let us know your needs, the quicker we can assist you in achieving your learning goals in this course.
I want you to thrive in this course and everywhere else. Please let me know as early as possible if you have any concerns or if you require any assistance to succeed. I’ll do my best to help.
If you need to cover gaps in care, then please don’t hesitate to bring your children to seminar. Babies who are nursing are always welcome, as I do not want you to choose between feeding your child and continuing your education.
UVic takes student mental health very seriously, with a website full of resources. We offer services such as assistance and referral to address students’ personal, social, career, and study skills concerns. Services for students also include crisis and emergency mental health consultation and confidential assessment, counselling services (individual and small group), and referrals. Many of these programs are connected with Health Services, which is located at the Petersen Health Centre (Lower Parking Lot #5, off Sinclair Road, behind the residence cafeteria). Many offices have walk-in hours as well as appointments.
The Student Services website lists several policies that you might want to know about and may make your life at UVic safer and easier. Only some of them are directly related to this seminar, but they’re still important.
As a faculty member who has the privilege to live and work as a guest on these lands, I acknowledge with respect that the University of Victoria is located on the unceded territory of the Lkwungen peoples and the Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations, whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel Anderson, Erin R. Anderson, Anna Anthropy, Kristin Arola, Moya Bailey, Cheryl Ball, Anne Balsamo, Lynda Barry, Nina Belojevic, Ruha Benjamin, Kathi Inman Berens, Lauren Berlant, Helen J Burgess, Rachel Sagner Buurma, micha cárdenas, Steph Ceraso, Deb Chachra, Ed Chang, Kandice Chuh, Wendy Chun, Hillary Chute, Beth Coleman, Heidi Rae Cooley, Cathy Davidson, Tracey El Hajj, Lori Emerson, Mary Flanagan, Jacob Gaboury, David Gaertner, Alexander Galloway, Margaret Galvan, Alex Gil, Lisa Gitelman, Dene Grigar, Richard Grusin, Aimi Hamraie, Liv Hausken, Katherine Hayles, Sara Hendren, Garnet Hertz, Paul Heyer, Stefan Higgins, Curtis Hisayasu, Patrick Jagoda, Kat Jungnickel, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Lauren Klein, Kim Knight, Kari Kraus, Virginia Kuhn, Elizabeth LaPensée, Alan Liu, Hector Lopez, Elizabeth Losh, Alexis Lothian, Shaun Macpherson, Lev Manovich, Mark Marino, Shannon Mattern, Ellen McCallum, Tara McPherson, W.J.T. Mitchell, Nick Montfort, Aimée Morrison, Stuart Moulthrop, Janet Murray, Timothy Murray, Lisa Nakamura, Alondra Nelson, Marcel O’Gorman, Élika Ortega, Allison Parrish, John Durham Peters, Miriam Posner, Jessica Rajko, Howard Rambsy II, Rita Raley, Matt Ratto, Margaret Rhee, Roopika Risam, Tara Rodgers, Daniela Rosner, Anastasia Salter, Mark Sample, Alana Sayers, Cynthia Selfe, Steven Shaviro, Karis Shearer, Emily Short, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Nick Sousanis, Jonathan Sterne, Jennifer Lynn Stoever, Jesse Stommel, Victoria Szabo, Cathy Thomas, Phillip Thurtle, Whitney Trettien, Bill Turkel, Annette Vee, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Jacqueline Wernimont, Kathleen Woodward, Melanie Yergeau, and Gregory Zinman, whose approaches to teaching and research have especially influenced the construction of this syllabus.