Posted on 2017/11/11 by

Boluk, Lemieux, and Richler

In Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux’s Metagaming, the title term is defined not as “games about games,” but as “the only kinds of games we play” (Boluk and Lemieux). The decision to buy the game, to play it, and to play with a friend are all metagames that we take part in. What struck me most about this introduction was their description of the commodification of games and then how this related to the Richler Reading Room: “After all, not only is a game easier to package and sell if it can be neatly reduced to its physical equipment, but any play that occurs in, on, around, or through videogames instantly becomes advertising for a product” (Boluk and Lemieux). If we view collecting as a metagame, Concordia University as a player, and Richler as a brand then the Richler Reading Room can be seen as a metagame being put on by the university. Similarly, any class, tour, or public event in the room can understood as a chance to sell and profit from the Richler brand.

If we take a moment to consider what the Richler room is meant to do according to the articles that covered its opening then it becomes even more evident that Concordia as an institution is playing a carefully orchestrated metagame. In Léo Charbanneau’s “Concordia Gives Mordecai Richler a Room of His Own,” as well as several other articles, Alan Shephard is quoted as saying that “the creation of the Richler Reading Room ‘will ensure that his works continue to be analyzed, celebrated and critiqued for generations to come.’” The president of the university is stating that this reading room will keep Richler’s legacy alive in ways that it might not have prospered without it. Further, Richler’s wife, Florence, is also quoted in Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins’ “Concordia honours literary icon” as saying that her husband’s “legacy will be immeasurably strengthened” by the room. As Walter Benjamin puts it, a collector wishes to “renew the old world” (Benjamin 61) with their collection. Concordia is renewing Richler’s legacy with the creation of this room. In the Desjardins article, Jason Camlot makes a comment that adds to the idea that Concordia is strengthening Richler’s legacy so as to benefit from this man’s celebrity. Camlot is quoted as saying, “From now on, every creative writing student will be able to say ‘I studied in the Mordecai Richler Reading Room.’” One can suppose that the ability to study in this famous author’s reading room might appeal to those who hope to have greatness rubbed off on them by being within proximity of Richler’s possessions. It is very possible that choosing Concordia as a place of study may be swayed by this possibility; Concordia may be counting on that.

I am inclined to believe that Benjamin is correct when he posits that a collection loses its original meaning when the owner is lost (Benjamin 67). The Richler Room is no longer Richler’s collection, but Concordia’s collection of Richler’s things. We can no longer experience the collection as Jacob Richler describes it in his article entitled “Mordecai Richler’s 5,000 Books.” We are not privy to the sprawling book cases in the family cottage that have taken over every room in the house nor can we laugh at the way in which leaving for “an ill timed trip” meant losing your room to Richler’s book collection (Richler). It is not Mordecai Richler that is coming alive in his possessions in this university setting (Benjamin 67), it is Concordia as an institution while they play a metagame. The room is being presented as Richler’s and his “booklike creations” are on display to validate this room as a personal collection (Benjamin 66). This presentation is part of Concordia’s metagame and upholds their creation of the reading room as a “magic circle” (Boluk and Lemieux).

There are many ways that we could view the Richler Room. We could see it as the University wants us to in their metagame. It is also possible to view the room in a way that is informed by Boluk and Lemieux. They write in their introduction of Richard Garfield, that

After treating each game as an individual, autonomous conflict (and losing more and more), Garfield (1995, 87) realized that his relationship to other players, to the larger social structure in which games are embedded, and even to the physical or economic constraints of certain rules functioned “not as ends unto themselves but as parts of a larger game” or ‘metagame.’ (Boluk and Lemieux)

Thus, we can understand the institutional influences at play in the room and continue to participate in the metagame. This knowledge would allow us to use the room and play the metagame, and potentially “win.” Our interactions with the room would allow us to appreciate it as the metagame wishes us to, but also in a subversive and productive way that would allow us to ask questions about power, institutional influence, and much more.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. 59-67.

Boluk, Stephanie and Patrick Lemieux. “Introduction: Metagaming, Video Games and the Practice of Play.” Metagaming:                          Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. Manifold Edition. University of                  Minnesota Press, 2017.

Charbanneau, Léo. “Concordia gives Mordecai Richler a room of his own.” University Affairs, 15, Jan. 2015.                                                        www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/concordia-gives-mordecai-richler-a-room-of-his-own/.

Desjardins, Sylvain-Jacques. “Concordia Honours Literary Icon.” 28, Nov. 2013.                                                                                               https://www.concordia.ca/cunews/offices/vpaer/aar/2013/11/28/concordia-honours-literary-icon.html

Richler, Jacob. “Mordecai Richler’s 5,000 Books.” Maclean’s.ca, 23, Nov. 2013. http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/my-                      dads-5000-books/.

Posted on 2017/11/10 by

Playing the OED

OED at bottom right

Mordecai Richler’s Oxford English Dictionary holds no place of prominence in Concordia’s Richler Rooms. Its location is humbling. It sits below a big, reflective, flat-screen TV; on a squat bookshelf that looks like but is not a TV stand; on two shelves below knee-level when the top shelf is bare; squeezed behind edgy plastic and metal chairs. One has to scrounge to get there. The dictionary’s twelve volumes and three supplements (this is a 1961 reprint of the first complete OED of 1933) belong to a mix of other books. If this mix were a cocktail, it would not taste good. Flanked left, the lot appears random and even a little grotesque, including a Francis Bacon biography with a face and a half of distorted flesh on the its cover, and a MAD comic book with MAD’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, stewing himself in a witch’s boiling pot. This is all taking place in the auxillary Richler Room, supplementary to the shrine Richler Room, where the author’s writing desk and chair face a wall where a collection of other dictionaries lives at a height not inappropriate to hang paintings.

The OED has been relegated to a non-place where no one can loiter long. Each volume is 9” x 12” x 2 and 3/8,” and weighs nearly 10 lbs, the same weight as an average one-month-old baby (confirmed separately by myself and Olivia Wood in a test that involved rocking a volume cradled in arms). The second edition (1989) in twenty volumes matches my fight-weight at 137 pounds. “Weight signifies significance,” Professor Wershler told us this semester, and this was true for the OED through the twentieth century, before its primary form became digital. It signified value with its huge individual volumes, its multiple volumes, and the total volume they occupied, and with the muscle you had to exert in looking up a single word. In form, the closest relative to a volume of the OED is a big heavy Bible, with its high-quality, translucent, thin pages and its presumption to totality.

The OED signifies wealth in a variety of ways. As noted, it takes up real estate. It also signifies with its gold-foil stamp on its tight-weave navy-blue cloth spine. This is gold signifying riches, and this is not the blue of poetry, but a class-statement blue—the blue of a businessman’s suit, the blue in a fraternity’s signature patterned tie. It is, Oxford Blue. Evidently, the books were delivered with cream-colored dusk jackets, three of which remain in Richler’s collection, a sign of the books’ limited use. Are these jackets not disposable packaging meant to be shed and thrown away or burned once they reach the owner’s library? Their perseverance here makes the OED’s status as commodity surface. These are like snakeskins that need to be shed so the books can get on with their lives and acclimate.

Le Corbusier pilotis (wikicommons)

The meaning of heft changes depending on how we curate it. If these books were positioned up high, the message would be that we should see them, that they are more important. They might also seem lighter. They could even appear to uncannily float like one of Le Corbusier’s massive rectangular building blocks set on pilotis. The lower something is, the heavier it appears, and the heavier it is—the harder it is to pick up without hurting your back. So, heft is prestigious, but heft is also a pain and inconvenience. But that can be prestigious too, I guess. In one way, owning a hardcopy of the OED in 12 or 20 volumes is a performance of martyrdom.

You buy them, then you have to make room for them and keep making room all your life. You move them when you move, carrying their weight, a match for your own body’s weight and your body’s strength. Owning the OED is a feat, like a marathon or a hotdog-eating competition, which offers glory from self-punishment. Of course, it also used to position you as one of the keepers of the English language, which is problematic. Online today, there are still many barriers to access, so if you use the OED, you are still a keeper. I wish this dictionary did not pretend to be free with a taster online edition called the “Free OED.” All in all, it is a machine that inscribes an elite secret society, which is not good for the English language.

The OED acronym is not just a short-form but a brand that reinforces a mythology about the Oxford English Dictionary as a kind of oracle—a medium between us and the divine, or us and the void, depending on your religion—which transmits otherwise inaccessible, pure knowledge about the English language. The acronym is a sign of what John Law might call “the punctualization” of the project. It performs a literal and symbolic simplification that contributes to the myth. This helps conceal the mechanics of what is, in fact, not just a dictionary but a complex network of actors that controls a body of knowledge made precious, which exercises all kinds of social, cultural, and political power over everything from individuals to universities to the law. “Ah yes! The OED. The gold-standard arbiter of English,” I mutter to myself. Or, as the OED website insists on its banner image: “The definitive record of the English language.” Better yet, in “A Short History” blog post on the same website, the OED is said to have “the last word on words.” Under the “About” tab, it is “widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language.”

OED aura (press photo)

The auratic delirium of the OED should not be taken for granted but interrogated and played with. Acronyms are sleights of hand with soft power. They have sprezzatura. Like nicknames, they intervene in our everyday discourse by drawing a line of inclusion and exclusion. In English departments, knowing what “OED” means is a rite of passage. It is a secret code that purports to let you in to the society of keepers of the history of the English language. If you know what it means, it sweats for you and affords you a kind of social power over those who don’t know; it also affords a power of access, because this resource is rich and a huge help to writers conducting research and honing the terms they will use to build arguments and careers.

OED metagame (from drawception.com)

I always felt, growing up, that I was not using the OED properly, and that, since it was so important and I was so incompetent, I was committing a kind of spiritual crime every time I touched it, which I could not stop doing. My family owned the Compact 2-Volume Edition (1971) that came with a magnifying glass. I tried hard but could never work the magnifying glass—I didn’t hold it in the right orientation, at the right distance, or something—nor could I understand any of the shorthand notation that I half perceived and half guessed through the glass darkly. My only obvious success was stealing the magnifying glass from my father’s library to go into the yard and burn ants. So I played God with the OED. I also burned bits of paper and played Prometheus.

Reading Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux’s philosophy of the metagame, a term they hone using the OED (it gets four references on page 10 alone), I now see my early relationship with the OED as legitimate. I was “reading” the OED, just not its printed text. Extending Boluk and Lemieux’s philosophy from videogames to books raises a crucial question: Not what is playing? But what is reading? Do I know what you or what anyone means by reading? Are there rules? My early “reading” of the OED meant pulling it off the shelf and dragging it around the floor, smelling it, wielding the magnifying glass like a hot sword, “reading” nothing. I did not read the introduction, so I did not know the rules. There was no “utopian play” for me; it was all bootleg. At least I never reduced the OED to a product; it was always something other than what it was intended to be. Boluk and Lemieux argue that metagaming can help us from swallowing capitalism whole, and to this end I see that ineptitude and error breed metagames that are not wrong but complete in themselves, and that offer insight into the mechanics of power and knowledge.

Looking at the OED this way, I am now most interested in the barriers to its use. As Boluk and Lemieux argue, there is no magic circle, ever, only a messy circle (15) of play, and this is a positive theory for both reading and writing. It echoes Law’s argument that we cannot oversimplify messy situations without torquing them. It suggests that everything we do “in, on, around, and beyond” (11) these activities counts; it is not discounted because it falls out of the bounds others have inscribed for us—bounds that have all kinds of arbitrary power to limit our range of experience.

Works Cited

Boluk, Stephanie and Patrick Lemieux. “Introduction: Metagaming, Video Games and the Practice of Play.” Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. Manifold Edition. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Law, John. “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity.” Systems Practice, vol. 5, 1992, pp. 379-93, www.heterogeneities.net/publications.

Martin, Reinhold. The Organizational Complex. MIT Press, 2003.

 

Posted on 2017/11/09 by

Tracing The Magic Circle: Metagames and Material Agency

In Metagaming, Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux argue that video games can serve as a site of critical engagement with the dominant systems of power in contemporary society. Their argument can be broken down into two basic moves: First, they suggest that video games themselves are perhaps best understood not as “games” in the traditional sense, but rather as a rigorously structured platform for having a very specific kind of “fun.” As they describe, video games “operate as the ideological avatar of play: a widely held, naturalized system of beliefs that conflates the fantasy of escapism with the commodity form and encloses play within the magic circle of neoliberal capital… Games have been replaced by video games and play has been replaced by fun.” With this conception of video games in mind, Boluk and Lemieux introduce their own technical definition of the term “metagame,” which they argue “transform[s] video games from a mass medium and cultural commodity into instruments, equipment, tools, and toys for playing, competing, spectating, cheating, trading, making, breaking and ultimately intervening in the sensory and political economies of those technologies responsible for the privatization of play.” This is to say, if video games function within the “the magic circle of neoliberal capital,” then the “metagame” describes the indeterminate (or at least, not-yet-entirely determinate) conditions through which subjects (both individually and collectively) integrate video games into the broad assemblage of (social, political, economic, etc.) phenomena that constitute the world.

So the focus, for Boluk and Lemieux, is not just the metagame itself, but rather how subjects engage with (and, importantly, actively create) their own metagames. In this sense, the set of metagames that emerge alongside any given video game serve as a site of tension, wherein both player and game traverse a narrow threshold between the “magic circle” of neoliberal logic and a not-yet-wholly-determined world. As Boluk and Lemieux describe, there is a lot at stake: “Entangled with video games as a mass medium and as a digital technology, play’s avatar incorporates the fantasies and fallacies of the twenty-first-century technical imaginary. As a result, the standard metagame reinforces the techno-utopian belief in the progressivist and teleological upgrade path, the escapist fantasy of sensory and cognitive immersion within virtual realities…the libertarian dream that the market is not only free but just and that ‘voting with your wallet’ is democratic, and the nostalgia for a collective identity based on consuming video games (rather than making metagames)”. In short, if we’re not conscious and deliberate in how we engage with video games (i.e., if we don’t participate actively in the production of our own metagames) we risk simply replicating the “standard” or normative apparatus imposed by the dominant centres of power.

With this in mind, I’d like to consider some ways in which the act and process of collecting video games constitutes a set of metagames that both replicate and subvert these normative power dynamics, and suggest how one might actively intervene and participate in the metagame of collection. To do this, I’d like to talk about styrofoam: specifically, the styrofoam packaging currently entombing R.O.B. the Robot and the Nintendo Entertainment System housed in the Residual Media Depot.

 

R.O.B.’s styrofoam might serve as an useful point of departure for a consideration of collecting as a metagame, because it raises certain basic questions about what, exactly, is being collected. Is styrofoam part of a video game collection itself? Or is it a kind of para-artifact, contributing to what Henry Lowood might call a “historically valid experience” (5) of one’s engagement with R.O.B. And if that’s the case, what kind of history are we validating? Is the metagame of video game collection under neoliberalism simply another way to fetishize consumer goods as such? Or does a consideration of collecting as an active and participatory metagame provide a vantage from which we can parse out the tension between the act of collecting and the “magic circle” of neoliberalism?

As Philip Mirowski observes, this sense of tension is also one of the basic ideological features of neoliberalism itself: “Even through there has not existed full consensus on just what sort of animal the market ‘really’ is, the neoliberals did agree that, for purposes of public understanding and sloganeering, neoliberal market society must be treated as a ‘natural’ and inexorable state of mankind. Neoliberal thought therefore spawns a strange hybrid of the ‘constructed’ and the ‘natural,” where the market can be made manifest in many guises” (55). This schizophrenic conflation of “natural” and “constructed” is weirdly captured in styrofoam packaging, which, while obviously not “natural,” has certainly become naturalized as an omnipresent filler-of-space, or a looming and uninvited guest at the office party of late consumer capitalism. As Nathan Brown observes in his examination of Alexi Kukuljevic’s styrofoam sculptures, styrofoam is “a commodity whose use value is to protect commodities as they circulate. A consumer buys something else, and some styrofoam comes with it… a material byproduct of circulation, expanded polystyrene packaging is both invisible at the point of sale and already waste at the point of consumption.” This definition is helpful, as it points to styrofoam’s incidental circumscription within the assemblage of consumer goods, but it’s also incomplete: for the collector, R.O.B.’s styrofoam packaging obviously retains a kind of value, but it’s a value that is indeterminate and only ever partially circumscribed within the logic of a “marketplace.”

But we can get a sense of what else R.O.B.’s styrofoam is doing by addressing it directly: Not as a commodity already inscribed within the “magic circle of neoliberal capital,” but as a weird and never-wholly-knowable thing, an elusive and material form of agency. In the most literal sense, the styrofoam directs the collector on how R.O.B. is to be arranged. Its compartmental design produces an organizational structure that implicitly signals R.O.B.’s “completeness” as an object of collection. R.O.B.’s styrofoam produces its own internal logic, and in so doing actively orients the composition of the collection itself. To participate actively in collection, then, is to participate alongside one’s styrofoam in a metagame of human and non-human actors.

In this sense, the metagame of collection can be understood not only as a gamified mode of consumerism, but also as a site of radical interface between a human subject and the non-human other that not only challenges but productively intervenes in the normative structures of neoliberal capital. In approaching R.O.B.’s styrofoam as both a commodity and a force of material agency, the collector confronts his own entangled participation within an agential assemblage: he traces the porous membrane of neoliberalism’s “magic circle” to face the lively materiality through which the subject emerges in the world.

Work Cited

Boluk, Stephanie, and Patrick LeMieux. Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. U of Minnesota P, 2017.

Brown, Nathan. “The Logic of Disintegration: On the Art Practice of Alexi Kukuljevic.” Boundary2, Jan. 2017.

Lowood, Henry. “Playing History with Games: Steps towards Historical Archives of Computer Gaming.” Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, June 2014, Portland.

Mirowski, Philip. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. Verso, 2013.

Posted on 2017/11/05 by

Embodiment, Emulation, and Nostalgic Experience: The (After)Lives of the Game Boy Advance

In November 2006 and then in April 2013, Nintendo launched the Virtual Console for the Wii and WiiU respectively, a dedicated section of the Wii Shop Channel and Nintendo eShop that, according to their website, allows players to “experience some of the top titles from the NES, Super NES and Game Boy Advance eras.” The licenced re-releasing of classic games through the Virtual Console is in large part Nintendo’s riposte to video game piracy and an attempt to retain control over copyright; the platform provides access to content presently unavailable through traditional retail networks even as it admits to the ubiquity of proprietary software emulation.

Indeed, emulation has historically been an attractive alternative to using video game hardware not only owing to its ostensible costlessness but also due to its access(ibility), ease of use, role in software preservation, and its facilitation of gameplay or data modification. In contextualizing the use of emulators in the preservationist context of museums, Raiford Guins argues that the goal of video game emulation is:

to simulate a reliable and easily distributable copy (copies of copies like game software) so that the working program, the experience of game play, can persist in the present (and hopefully for the future) even if experienced on different machines and within different social contexts from those still resonating in the not-so-distant past. (36)

Guins is careful to communicate the fact that, despite public opinion, “emulation does not purport to ‘be’ the original game it simulates” (36), and he articulates his doubts that, even in the archival context of a museum, emulation can “reactivate the object reproduced” (29). Yet what about the authority of the emulator insofar as it exists indebted to and in close conversation with the original platform? I would go as far as to say that it is short-sighted to study the game without accounting for its emulators, which are inextricably linked to the production and circulation of the original object. Software and hardware emulation—sanctioned or otherwise—arguably allows us to obtain a fuller account of the game both as artifact and cultural object. In this probe, I focus specifically on the Game Boy Advance and the various platforms and emulators that have been developed and designed to play Game Boy Advance games: the Game Boy Player add-on for GameCube, the DS Lite, the VisualBoyAdvance GX emulator on a softmodded Wii, the WiiU, the VisualBoy Advance emulator on a Windows laptop, the MyBoy! Free app on Android, and VisualBoy Advance again on a Raspberry Pi arcade table.[1]

Data collected on the Game Boy Advance and the seven afterlives studied for this probe. (Click image to download legible PDF image.)

Despite Wolfgang Ernst’s proposal for “an epistemologically alternative approach to the supremacy of media-historical narratives” (55), to elide the sociocultural significance of Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance as well as the historical circumstances that conditioned its release results in a failure to preserve and articulate a complete historiography of the object. The Game Boy Advance exists as a testament to the lessons Nintendo learned in the production of the Game Boy and the Game Boy Color, its reception informs the direction of the Nintendo DS, and, along with the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, it anticipates the casual gaming, smartphone-centred era we presently find ourselves in. The isolation of either hardware or software from its afterlives runs the risk of invisiblizing certain relationships between the media platform, their cultural contexts, and the embodied experiences of their users.

Video games technologies are necessarily embodied, requiring players’ active interaction with the platform in order access the internal workings of the game. As a result, technologies are constrained by and designed for the bodies intended to use them. The original Game Boy Advance is a portable console, weighing approximately 136 grams, 201 grams with the two AA batteries, and measuring approximately 5.7 x 1 x 3.2 inches—for comparison, a MotoX Play phone weighs 170 grams, measures approximately 5.8 x 0.4 x 3.0 inches and seldom fits in the pockets of most women’s clothing. Unlike its predecessors, the Game Boy Advance is horizontally oriented with the eight-direction joypad, start, select buttons to the left of the screen and the A and B buttons to the right. Left and right shoulder buttons are located on their respective sides of the top of the console. It also features a GBA Game Link port at the top, and the power switch, stereo headphone jack, and analog volume dial control on the bottom. The thin-film transistor screen measures 2.9 inches diagonally with a resolution of 240 by 160 pixels for an aspect ratio of 3:2

What do these technical specifications mean and what do emulators have to do with any of this? When analysing video game platforms, it is worth considering the idealized bodies they suggest, and the affordances and constraints imposed upon them. A portable console must be light enough to hold for a significant amount of time and small enough to transport and play on the go. Its chassis must be both durable and ergonomic. The technical specifications of the Game Boy Advance locate it as an immensely portable console for its time, but the cost of carrying the entire platform from processor to battery in one small object is the sacrifice in processing power and display quality.

The various controls used to play Game Boy Advance games. In order: Game Boy Player, DS Lite, WiiU (3 and 4), Game Boy Advance, Laptop, Android (7 & 8, portrait and landscape mode respectively), and the arcade table in the Residual Media Depot.

The release of the Game Boy Player two years after the Game Boy Advance gestures towards these constraints that the Game Boy Advance places on the bodies of its consumers. The Player uses near-identical hardware as the Game Boy Player but uses the GameCube as a conduit to output video and audio signals to a television and outsource its power supply to an electrical outlet. Placed side-by-side, these two technologies highlight the affordances of each, namely portability at the cost of accessibility. Despite the kitschy, Game Boy Advance-inspired border that frames playback on the Player, the ability to access the content in almost any light environment and to see the screen from a healthy distance permits a player to experience a game they might not otherwise be able to. Similarly, the decision to release the first two models of the DS as a backwards compatible handheld allows Game Boy Advance games to continue to be portable even as they are now displayed on a backlit screen, the MyBoy! emulator on Android permits the games to be played with one hand, and a softmodded Wii uses software emulation to play games on the television at a faster speed and with less hardware than the GameCube, while also removing the distracting purple frame.

The delight that is the Game Boy Player frame and the difficulty of seeing anything on the Game Boy Advance display in a well-lit room.

A comparative approach to the afterlives of Game Boy Advance games offers insight into the complex interactions between, platform, game, and embodied player. Why do people want to play these games on various platforms? What are the affordances of each platform? What is the significance of nostalgia, habitus, and the idea of a video game’s aura in the construction of the Game Boy Advance as an object? These questions raise issues of geography, temporality, and cultural contexts. Who can afford the nostalgia that comes from playing on these platforms? How much knowledge is embodied?

The timing of the release of Game Boy Advance games on the Virtual Store in 2013 is strategic not only in providing an alternative to emulation that allows Nintendo to capitalize on their intellectual property but also because physical Game Boy Advance games have a built-in life expectancy of between ten and twenty years. Like most pre-solid state cartridges, Game Boy Advance games contain small CR2025 batteries that allow players to save data. These batteries, while fairly cheap and easy to replace with basic soldering skills, have a lifespan between ten and twenty years depending on use. Without a functioning battery, games will continue to run, but save data will be lost each time the console is powered down. Nintendo’s preservation of the games and their save data in digital form on the WiiU acknowledges the obsolescence of their own game cartridges. It might be worth considering what it means to interfere in the life of the object to replace the batteries. Are we preserving the object by replacing the battery or are we, in fact, creating a new object in its stead? In “Signal Traffic,” Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski argue that moments of failure can bring to light perceptions and preconceptions that are elided when the technology or infrastructure functions the way it should:

“Infrastructural breakdowns and acts of repair should be thought about as a ‘normal’ part of technological processes and as opportunities for retooling social relations.” (13)

The increasing obsolescence of the Game Boy Advance when placed against more ergonomic, cost-efficient, sustainable alternatives provides an occasion for thinking through materiality, infrastructure, embodiment, and nostalgic experience. In “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” Susan Leigh Star argues that “the normally invisible quality of infrastructure becomes invisible when it breaks” (382) as well as, I have argued, when it is replaced. A comparative analysis demonstrates how technology shifts incrementally to adapt to various social, cultural, and economic factors, allowing us to encounter a much larger network than is visible if we study the Game Boy Advance as an isolated object.

The data I collected above opens the floor to further questions about the ways Game Boy Advance technologies are embedded into other structures, social arrangements, and technologies. What is the scope of the Game Boy Advance’s influence? What infrastructural changes become visible after a study of its emulation? What aspects of gameplay on the Game Boy Advance are taken for granted through familiarity with the object? What strengths and limitations of the Game Boy Advance are transferable across platforms?

Fire Emblem emulated on a softmodded Wii, the VisualBoyAdvance Emulator for a Windows laptop, and MyBoy!Free on an Android phone.

We can also consider questions specific to the preservation and archiving of these technologies. What legal issues come into play with respect to digital rights management, and in which ways does an academic or museum context influence the outcome? Do consumers have the right to displace media they have purchased onto a device of their choosing for archival or accessibility purposes? Does it make a difference if one places their defunct ROM cartridge beside their softmodded Wii or laptop running VisualBoy Advance? Moreover, if the emulator is intended to answer a specific problem related to preservation, what preservation does the emulator itself need as technology continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace? A softmodded Wii, for instance, prefers USB 2.0 and non-SDHC SD cards, both of which become increasingly rare as portable storage becomes increasingly refined.

Quoting Henry Lowood, Raiford Guins states:

“in the archives or museums, preservation of emulators, restored machines, and software objects alone will not take us very far. Careful attention to the relationship between hardware, code, use and context for use is necessary and can only benefit the application of technical solutions as emulation and bit-perfect replication of software.” (33)

Unlike Guins, whose interest in emulation is restricted to its use in museum exhibits, and Lowood, whose “How They Got Game” project has avoided emulators, meta-data packaging and hardware preservation (Lowood 19), I have tried here to argue for emulators’ importance in the construction of the object and in understanding its cultural context. At the same time, I am cautious of affording too much authority to derivative objects; this probe is therefore meant to reflect some preliminary thoughts on studying the Game Boy Advance as a network, and does not proport to elide the significance of the original object itself.

[1] The research I undertook for this probe combines a practical analysis of objects in the Residual Media Depot (Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Player, Wii, Raspberry Pi Arcade Table) and in my own collection (DS Lite, Laptop, Android Phone), as well as online research for the Virtual Console on the WiiU. The Kingdom Hearts cartridge is property of the Depot, while the Fire Emblem .ROM file is an archival copy of a game in my personal collection.

 

Works Cited

Ernst, Wolfgang. “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine Versus History and Narrative of Media.” Digital Memory and the Archive, edited by Jussi Parikka, University of Minnesota Press, 2013, pp.55-80.

Guins, Raiford. “Museified.” Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife. MIT Press, 2004, pp. 31-73.

Lowood, Henry. “The Hard Work of Software History.”  RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, vol. 2. no. 2, 2001, pp. 141-160.

Parks, Lisa and Nicole Starosielski. “Signal Traffic.” Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, University of Illinois Press, 2015, pp. 1-27.

Star, Susan Leigh. “The Ethnography of Infrastructure.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 43, 1999, pp. 377-391, Doi: 10.1177/00027649921955326. Accessed 20 May 2017.

“Virtual Console Games.” Nintendo. Accessed 26 Oct. 2017.

Posted on 2017/11/01 by

The Lives of Boxes: Labels, Invoices, and Institutions in/on the ABRA Box

In his analysis of video games on display in museums, Raiford Guins highlights the usefulness of taking labels into account when he takes an interest in the Plaintiff’s Exhibit stickers/labels on the back of the original Brown Box prototype in the National Museum of American History, noting that the museum’s choice to hide the stickers from view conceals an important aspect of the device’s legacy: legal disputes in the game industry (72-73). When we ignore such labels, we ignore entire facets of history—perhaps even entire lives, if video games can have multiple lives and “afterlives” in museums, as Guins suggests (36).

Drawing inspiration from Guins, I want to examine how a shipping label and an invoice can help illuminate the lives of a particular box from the Residual Media Depot. (After all, if video games can have multiple lives, so can the boxes they come/are stored in.) I call it the ABRA box, for its white and blue ABRA packing tape, and as it originally contained items shipped from the ABRA Montreal electronics store to Darren Wershler for the RMD. This box has had at least two lives that we can identify (in addition to the untold lives it might have led before leaving the ABRA store): 1) as a means of transport for products shipped to Wershler, and 2) as a storage space for items in the collection. The box’s Purolator shipping label and attached ABRA invoice testify to those lives.

One side of the ABRA box with the invoice enclosed in an attached pocket (left); another side of the box, featuring the Purolator shipping label (right)

We can consider the label and invoice more recent versions of the kinds of nineteenth-century American “documents” that Lisa Gitelman discusses: understudied documents like tickets and menus that emerge from nineteenth-century commercial printing, “that were merely printed, not edited or published . . . [that didn’t] have readers or create readerships, nor did they have authors or entail authorial rights”; not “produced in the interests of cultural memory” but rather as “instruments of corporate speech proper to the conduct of business of every sort, as well as to the operations of institutions” (11-12). Similarly, the Purolator label and invoice lack conventional practices of editing, publishing, and creation of readerships or authors, in addition to being instruments of institutions and the transactions between them, in this case the electronics company and the university.

The invoice tells us that the objects originally sold to Wershler and shipped in the box were USB powered speakers, arcade joysticks and encoder parts, and a wireless entertainment keyboard. I’m not entirely sure what all those are, but I know what they aren’t (also confirmed by Wershler): the objects currently in the box (an Xbox 360 with accompanying controllers/cables/AC adapter). Not only did the box transform from transport vehicle to storage container, its contents changed as well. This is not the same box that was shipped to Wershler on May 5, 2017 (as the Purolator label states). It has a new life. (The repetition of Wershler’s and Concordia’s names here reveals an interesting anxiety about such identity-shifting. Not only do the “ship to” categories on both the invoice and Purolator label specify Wershler and Concordia, someone also wrote those names yet again in bigger letters in black marker on the box. This may be good shipping practice meant to ensure correct delivery, but it also points to the dangers that this transition presents to the box: the risk of being lost or misdirected, of ending up in the wrong new life.)   

The ABRA invoice (left); the shipping label up close (centre); “D. Wershler” written in marker on the box (right)

If one of the aims of the RMD is to interrogate the power dynamics of collecting and its objects—to examine “not just how technologies were used . . . but who determined how they were used, who used them, and who determined what the significance of that use was for various kinds of communities, and for culture at large” (Wershler, “What’s in a Name?”)—documents like shipping labels and invoices are especially important to consider for what they tell us not just about the lives of boxes and their contents but also about the institutional frameworks/relationships that shape those lives. As Gitelman states, “Documents are integral to the ways people think as well as to the social order that they inhabit” and “can never be disentangled from power” (5).

The ABRA box’s invoice and shipping label remind us that the ABRA speakers, joysticks, etc. didn’t end up in the RMD just because they’re useful for studying game history—it was also a matter of someone having $309.45 to spend and choosing to spend it on them, of someone being hired by Purolator, of someone filling in the fields on the shipment form according to the corporation’s rules. [1] All this to say that when we examine an item in a collection, we shouldn’t forget the box it came in, who packed it, who brought it, and the many lives it may have had and will go on to have.

[1] Gitelman presents an interesting analysis of “fillable” documents specifically in Chapter 1 of Paper Knowledge, which I don’t have space to engage with here, but which certainly merits attention in a more in-depth discussion of labels/invoices.

Works Cited

Gitelman, Lisa. Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents. Duke University Press, 2014.

Guins, Raiford. “Museified.” Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife. MIT Press, 2014, pp. 31-73.

Wershler, Darren. Personal interview. 24 Oct. 2017.

– – -. “What’s in a Name?” Residual Media Depot, 21 July 2016, http://residualmedia.net/whats-in-a-name/. Accessed 31 Oct. 2017.

Posted on 2017/10/31 by

The Aquarius Home Computer and Raiford Guins

How do you work with and research something that is no longer used in the way that it was originally intended to be used? How do you reconcile the need to preserve video games and the need to interact with them through play? These are just some of the questions that Raiford Guins deals with in his “Museified” chapter. The answers to these questions are often quiet convincing and provide a hopeful alternative to video game researchers. Guins begins by challenging the definition of video games that relies on their being “powered up” (Guins 31). In the museum context, power is rarely surged through video games in the name of preservation, and so Guins shifts the focus from direct human interaction with the technology and instead focuses on what remains. Touch from the public often must be limited, or completely blocked due to the unfortunately rough handling of objects by the masses. Thus, when video games are no longer turned on and played with, we are left with “empty hulls” (35), and this chapter focuses on what can be gained from focusing on these remains.

Guins’ argument that much can be gained from examining these “empty hulls,” and that new questions can spring from them is quiet convincing. If I were to simply examine the Aquarius Home Computer System without touching it, or playing with it as it was intended, I could learn a lot about the machine and its cultural context. I could learn about the context in which it was released, how it had a difficult time competing with other machines on the market, and I could closely examine the box and realize that a lot may be said about the exclusion of young women from the art, as well as the exclusion of people of colour. These observations could potentially lead to larger research projects in the field of video games studies and they have all been formulated without touching the object.

When I began researching for this probe I was adamant that something would be lost if touch and play were completely removed from the observation and research of a video game. I had gained a lot of insight about myself, my research, and the Aquarius through working directly with it in its intended way. Then I began to research terms like museum, touch, the public, and quickly realized that the public is often lacking the touch anxiety and gentleness we have previously discussed in this course. In a CBC article, I read about a man who ignored the plentiful warnings about not touching the clocks in a museum and wished to set the pendulum of a clock swinging; he broke the priceless clock. In a Sydney Morning Herald article, I read about countless museum goers who touched, kissed, climbed on, and urinated on various museum objects. If the public does not respect the objects they are encountering, is it any wonder that museums are anti-touch? After this research, I could not begin to reconcile my feelings that using video game consoles as they were intended provided important information for a researcher with the fact that the public is perhaps too rough and maybe inconsiderate to be allowed to touch museum-worthy objects. Why do some people feel anxiety about opening boxes, or even just being in a room with “important” objects, and others feel that it is okay to touch ancient paintings and sculptures? If museum objects become community objects as Guins suggests, is it not then the duty of the museum to preserve the objects for everyone to be able to see them (53)? I have many questions about preservation and the human desire to keep things in perfect condition forever? What is the desire behind this act? These questions, however, may be for another probe.

(Taken from the Sydney Morning Herald)

I still do not know how to make sense of the relationship between touch and preservation. I have many questions about what constitutes museum-worthy, am I naïve to think that everyone will benefit from touching and playing with these objects, and are humans incapable of general respect for objects that do not only belong to them? What I have concluded is that the Residual Media Depot may be one solution to my questions. We are given a unique opportunity to touch and work directly with these objects, but there is a general understanding that we must be gentle with these objects. The opportunity to study the “empty hulls,” as well as to work with and touch the objects is given to students. This intersection is where new and exciting research can be had and celebrated.

Works Cited

Bailey, John. “Do Not Touch: What happens when museum visitors ignore the signs.” The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney              Morning Herald, 24 Nov. 2016, www.smh.com.au/national/museum-mishaps-seo-here-20161123-gsvtxm.html.

Guins, Raiford. “Museified.” Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2014. 31-73.

“Man ignores museum ‘no touching’ policy, breaks one-of-a-Kind clock.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 12 Oct. 2017,                            www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-friday-edition-1.3614924/man-ignores-museum-no-touching-policy-                      breaks-one- of-a-kind-clock-1.3614930.

Posted on 2017/10/27 by

‘From the Desk of Mordecai Richler’; networks of authorship in the university collection

    David Ludwig and Cornelia Weber’s study of university collections is notable in its self-confessed narrow focus on the sciences. Their construction of the institutional collection is indubitably formed by its origin in this field and its transposition to the humanities, while casting its fair share of light on certain things, casts likewise long shadows over book-based disciplines by privileging non-literary objects and thus risks misrepresenting the material legacy of non-scientific disciplines at large while rendering it nearly impossible for literary collections to be considered such.

    Ludwig and Weber describe the university collection as comprising “three-dimensional or audio-visual objects at institutions of higher education,” however we are told that consequently this definition would exclude “libraries and university archives”(2). By virtue of this reasoning, much of the Richler rooms would be divested of its status as a collection, with only the miscellany of non-literary appurtenances such as cigars, photographs, trophies, chairs, etc., being ‘concrete’ enough to qualify.

    The library of books are completely elided from this notion of collection. Interestingly, though this feat of transposition results in a certain form of obfuscation – Ludwig and Weber’s concept of the university collection disavowing the materiality of the library – it simultaneously reveals a trajectory in thought around literary production which is borne out by mediatised representations of the Richler rooms that focalise on the miscellany of physical objects in preference to literary objects. Newspaper articles, photo essays, video tours, etc., all favour the account of these non-literary objects, and a fixation upon the trio of “the late novelist’s simple, rough pine desk, Smith Corona typewriter and the ashtray where his Montecristo cigars once smouldered,” is not uncommon (Bradshaw). The relationship between these objects is one of representational importance in which they create a mutually constitutive network arranged around the performance of an author. While the objects upon the desk are integral to this network, the desk as an organisational surface takes precedence in this account.

The spatial arrangement of objects around the desk in the Richler Rooms. Photo taken by Christinne Muschi.

 

    Both written and visual representations of the Richler rooms are dominated by the writer’s desk. As the most physically imposing object in the room and one which uniquely affords its own ordering surface already culturally crystallised with a certain kind of agency in literary production, the desk is the perfect instance of reification of the indexical relationship between symbolic and physical positionalities performed by the Richler rooms which collapses and erases the labour behind the arrangement of objects upon it, such that the placing of an object seems to issue from authorial intent rather than that of a research assistant. Just as the sundry effects of Richler have been placed upon the desk so too have the tangled ideas of 20th century literary labour to the extent that the desk is interpellated by a number of ideological works that its rough hewn surface conceals as rustic ‘simplicity’. More than the rows of books which encircle it, the desk draws one’s eye immediately – this canny presence further elabourated by its ubiquity in photographs of the room. A diorama performing literature, positioned centre-stage. Thinking of Jules Prown’s attempts to categorise objects, it stubbornly resists to sit still: art; adornment; applied art; device (3)?

    In being positioned within a collection diorama, the visual order of display wraps up the desk and obscures its openness for writing and research outside of a network of knowledge of Mordecai Richler. While it is also subject to ideological positioning in space, the desk itself is made to reproduce this framework, becoming a sort of spatial ordering principle in which “heterogeneous bits and pieces… that would like to make off on their own are juxtaposed into a patterned network which overcomes their resistance”(Law, 381). Entoiled by the network of the author, objects positioned on the table are inhered with a sense of historical legitimacy, they are in their right place so to speak, which disparages attempts at changing the configuration of the desk surface.

Everyting in its right place. Photo taken by Will Lew.

 

    Insofar as “‘knowledge’… may be seen as a product or an effect of network of heterogeneous materials,”’(Law, 381, emphasis original) the network of objects ordered by the desk produces a certain kind of knowledge grounded in the author which undermines the functions of a university collection through presenting a constantly modified arrangement of objects as being stable and petrified in time and intent – as though Richler had left it this way himself. Just as the rooms’ contents are inserted into a signifying network by virtue of their historical and nominal positioning under Richler, this not only performed upon the desk but also by it, extending this same authorial order to its own contents. The result is an artificially simplified object, whose plainness belies the processes of punctualisation in which it is complicit. The desk mobilises the ashtray, typewriter, etc. in its creation of Richler’s workspace, using their authority of position to bolster its own symbolic importance, while at the same time investing these objects with that power.

    The rooms, aided by the desk installation, seem to be caught in a moment of stasis – stalled still in their originary phase as a spectacle. Four years on from the inauguration of the rooms, they are at an impasse, both in a traditional sense as in that of Lauren Berlant’s, “a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things…”(4). That is, as an assemblage which exists in the world that must continually seek to transform itself in the name of survival. And yet this survival and openness is restricted by the initial promise of the Richler diorama; the rooms though under constant modification and ordering remain delimited by their positioning under the signs of Richler, which narrows the scope of relationality afforded to the rooms as a teaching resource. It seems to me then that operating around the dramatic restaging of Richler’s workspace becomes imperative to the survival of the room as a university collection. The interest comes in using the auratically saturated diorama as a training ground of sorts for unpacking the sedimented layers of space-object relations and reinterpreting the room outside of its relation to Richler. As the rooms are open to the public only by request, the focus turns inward and use as a research and teaching resource remain their most salient characteristics.

Works Cited

Berlant, Lauren, Cruel Optimism, Durham; Duke University Press, 2011.

Bradshaw, James, “Mordecai Richler was here: Concordia reading room replicates writer’s office,” The Globe and Mail, 27 November 2013, consulted 20/10/2017: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/mordecai-richler-was-here-concordia-reading-room-replicates-writers-office/article15646959/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Law, John, “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity,” Systems Practice, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1992, pp. 379-393.

Ludwig, David and Cornelia Weber, “A rediscovery of scientific collections as material heritage? The case of university collections in Germany,” Studies in History and the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2013, pp. 652-659.

Prown, Jules David, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method,” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 17, No. 1, 1982, pp. 1-19.

Posted on 2017/10/24 by

The Function of Rubbish: The Richler Room Appraisal and the Structural Elements of Aura Production

Mark A. Meadow’s article, Relocation and Revaluation in university collections, or Rubbish Theory revisited deals with an objects potential to take on simultaneous shifting values and uses in a collections context. Specifically in regards to objects which move from the active field to the collection.

“Finally, having reached a point of obsolescence, microscopes and similar instruments are relegated to the status either of sentimental or institutional memory—the ones in the display cases—or as rubbish, albeit rubbish that is not discarded.” (Meadow 5)

In the case of microscopes, the shift from laboratory research to nostalgia object or teaching tool, results in a drastic decrease in that objects market value. (Meadow 6) In the case of the Richler Room we are engaging with objects which no longer act as a private, fluid resource for a living apparatus, but rather an appendage of an estate manifesting as a static (re)rendering of a nostalgic moment for semipublic academic consumption. Can we avoid relegating objects to the status of ‘rubbish that is not discarded’?

Box 43

Author libraries and literary studies don’t entirely share the same priorities or customs as the sciences, therefore these categories of function and value operate differently. For example, many of the texts and objects in the library have most likely seen an increase in market value since the establishment of the library, potentially because of the importance placed on nostalgia in relation to the all-important role of the author-function within the discipline.

When we consider the collection in terms of function/value in the university context, we begin to understand the room in its current iteration: the desk, the typewriter, the shot glass, the etchings, and pithy political buttons, all heralding a bygone Montreal. What’s more these curated objects seem to cultivate a frozen moment in the history of literary production, a period when creative practice required tactile trappings. And so, the production of aura. Nostalgia, the correlation between the milieu and the author function. The illusion of access is so established, one feels uncertain if one is allowed to sit in the famous chair, as if they would be tampering with a portal.

The collection literally radiates from this point, effectively diffusing the simultaneous warmth and distance of atmosphere and prestige. Though our movement through the room feels prescribed to a degree, there are apparent loose ends or fractures, moments which indicate that the ideological work at play is in fact constructed, not homogenous or fixed.

“How does the system I am working within encourage me to value and classify objects? What forms of knowledge does the system privilege and what else should be said about this object?” (Krmpotich 116)

In her exploration of Collections Teaching Management, Cara Krmpotich highlights the importance of examining the objects, texts, and organizational aspects of the collection which resist the dominant narrative and exist as outliers or red herrings, sometimes generating their own implicit narratives. Our urge to (re)generate aura, narrative, or cultural meaning from a jumble of things speaks to the premise of the library-collection. But by this urge we may be neglecting important objects or patterns which may broaden our understanding of Richler, Montreal, the publishing industry, collections practices, our field in general, etc. We see this clearly if we begin to examine the contents of the filing cabinets.

The Mordecai Richler Library Evaluation is an 8 1/2” by 11” spiral bound document drawn up for insurance purposes. “Monetary values of the collection were a requirement during the acquisition process and were generated by an assessment made by an antiquarian book expert, namely, Adrian King-Edwards, the owner of The Word bookstore.” (Jason Camlot, email exchange) The appraisal is the only physical index present in the library, and at first glance it is a welcome guide. As a guide though, it is still inscribed with the ideological determinism present in the room’s layout. Its organizing principals, however, may help to illuminate aspects of the structuring framework which may otherwise be so naturalized as to escape our attention. In the margins of each spread sheet there are numbers delineating value. The values ascribed (or, additionally, the values which are missing from the report) inevitably effect our reading of the objects at hand. As a curator, student, or researcher it is clear what directions we are being ushered in, how we are supposed to make sense of these objects and subsequently how we should organize, handle, and conceive of them in relation to each other.

Most of the objects seen displayed in room 655 are catalogued in Box 43, so as one can see there are many ‘hard-hitting’ nostalgic pieces here—Richler’s passport, tobacco tin, etc.

Richer’s library in Magog was packed up by his family, and the subsequent organization of the boxes of non-book objects is meant to approximate this initial ordering. The spreadsheets, with their hodgepodge of high-value nostalgia and author-related material alongside apparently ‘lower’ milieu (such as maps, scraps or unused pads of paper, invocies, and newspaper clippings) seem to hint at implicit narratives, hidden in this juxtaposition which was dictated by the authentic origin point of the estate. The presence of maps which have been deemed financially meaningless seem to buoy up, contextualize, or bring to life the higher-value items, the typescripts for essays, the samples of handwriting.

It is easy to break down the role aura and nostalgia play here. For example, the “VAT 69 scotch whiskey glass with paper clips and pen from the desk of Mordecai Richler” is valued here at $50.00 CAD, whereas a quick eBay search will locate multiple identical glasses, priced from $4.99—$12.99 CAD.

 

The difference, we are meant to suppose, is made up by its proximity to Richler and its associations with the construction of him as a masculine, author-subject. The same exercise can be applied to countless objects in the collection. That we are dealing with the imprecise business of aura and estate is part and parcel of the author-library project.

Another aspect of the appraisals influence can be found in instances where value is seemingly pointedly not ascribed. The absences have their own generative potential. In the case of the maps in Box 43, we understand that we are meant to flip through them on our way to more important objects, and for most of these like instances it is easy to suspend belief and plug into the system of value at play. At other times it seems random, or the logic feels difficult to follow. Some bundles of miscallneous papers, envelopes, pads, and receipts are worth more than others. What meanings are naturalized by this system? How do the texts and objects fall in sequence and what effects does this produce?

Boxes 76 and 82 appraisal sheet

 

The appraisal consistently values instances where Richler’s physical handwriting appears, but his typescript is not afforded the same prestige unless clearly sanctioned as relevant. Material broken into eight categories concerning an unpublished book project on the “Marten Hartwell crash” is valued at 1,800.00 CAD (Box 76). Miscellaneous typescript on the other hand is consistently valued very low, if valued at all (see Box 43).

Some miscellaneous ‘low value’ objects

Objects like the torn page of a poem, the single line of typescript, the scads and scads of newspaper columns clipped and glued by hand, the errant bookmark which states in papyrus font: ‘I am master of the moments of my life,’ it has been decided that these do not contribute to the man, the myth, the legend, the estate of Mordecai Richler. But the affect these objects produce can act as an access point, for the beginning of an understanding of a fuller picture of whoever once worked inside this library.

 

Works Cited

Camlot, Dr. Jason. Email correspondence. 14 Oct. 2017.

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology 38.2 (2015): 116.

Meadow, M. (2010). “Relocation and Revaluation in University Collections, or Rubbish Theory Revisited.” UMAC Journal, 3-10.

Posted on 2017/10/21 by

Since the beginning of this class, and more generally of my university career, I have been more interested in the studying of studying than the study content itself. I have spent more time thinking about why we are studying Milton and Shakespeare in Introduction to Literature than reading the works of the authors themselves. In class, I am often guilty of paying more attention to who is speaking, in what order, for how long, with what tone than listening to what is actually being said.

In this classroom, I have noticed a general state of anxiety worth investigating. Just last week, Penelope shared her anxiety about the boxes and few other students voiced a similar feeling. I myself felt anxious in this class at several occasions for various reasons. At the beginning, in September, when I started my master, I was anxious and questioning my place in university. After one year of absence, academic jargon sounded void and appeared performative. I wondered, if I have so many problems with the institution, why am I back here? Why am I doing this to myself?

As I am coming to term with my place in university again, I am more engaged with the material and the source of my anxiety has shifted. I am now anxious about the non-functionality of the books, the room, the collection and the institutional motives behind it.

In the frame of the university, the collection – rather than the books individually – is what matter. What to make of the books then? The books, mostly unannotated, and ordered differently than in Richler’s house, don’t say much about the man, the writer. I see the 20 copies of Barney’s Version and can’t help wondering why they can’t be distributed to the students who need to read it in the Quebec/Montreal Literature class. As a book collector myself, I must agree with Benjamin when he writes: “the true freedom of all books is somewhere on [the collector’s] shelves” (64). The books – out of their original context – appear encapsulated within the walls of the institution – dead. They are unlikely to be read from cover to cover; to be traded; annotated. In my collection, I know each individual book, where they are from, who recommended to me, how much I value the taste of the person who recommended the book to me, which significant passages are in which books, underlined in which color, with what comment next to it. I use them as support, as source of knowledge, when I talk, when I write. I use them comfort myself.

Richler’s current collection and my collection have little in common to the point where I became uncertain about what a collection was. I was uncertain about what becomes of a collection when the collector dies and is therefore completed. Baudrillard reminds us that “the collection is never initiated in order to be completed” (13). What does this accumulation of books represent now within the walls of the university? Is it still a collection? Why is the university deploying resources (faculty members, money, space…) to archive Richler’s ordinary books i.e. not rare? The Richler’s rooms make apparent Benjamin’s point that “the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner” (67). The room looks unfinished even though a considerable effort has been done to recreate Richler’s work environment – unsuccessfully. The clash between Richler’s massive wooden desk and the stack of the university’s cheap plastic chairs highlights the differences between the domestic and public spaces as production of knowledge. In contrast to Richler’s office space in Magog, the university appears like a hostile and uncomfortable place for learning where knowledge, like the contemporary plastic chairs, is massively and cheaply produced.

Cara Krmpotich’s article “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically” alleviated my anxiety by illuminating a purpose to this room – I had not considered – as a teaching tool. The setting of this class has, so far, considerably fostered my reflection on the politics of archive and collection. Richler’s room, as an object of study “ introduces ethical and logistical dilemmas, […] raises self-awareness and reflectivity of the institution as a whole, the role of collection in particular, and the relations among the staff and stakeholders” (113). I am enlightened to have found a function to this room but I am still concerned about the cultural politics of it. We can criticize the power structures of the university from a feminist or postcolonialist perspective all we want but, in the end, it is the material we engage with that reflects the values of the university. First and foremost, the university insures the physical existence of a selection of books and also maintain their significance through time. While we were taught that an indicator of a chef-d’oeuvre is its resistance through time, we have overlooked the institutions that have helped maintained certain works alive – both materially and intellectually – and the motives behind it.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “This Non-Functional System, or Subjective Discourve.The System of Objects. Trans. James Benedict. London / New York: Verson, 1992. 71-105

Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. 59-67. 

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology. 38. 2: 112-122.

Posted on 2017/10/20 by

No home row and loose keys or, when,“old media become the content of newer media”

I bout my McBoo Pro O 10.7.5 in 2012. I bout te computer tuent in rpic ein. I w in prorm t Concori tt wou tec me te principe, rue, n bic o te obe C6 uite, web ein n ome vertiin.

ere we re in te o 2017. I prepre to enter Concori Mter’ tuent o creative writin in eprtment o Eni, te etter rom my eybor ben to I. irt I w . Te etter .

Te etter . No .
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ometime I cou pre te renc nue option on my eybor n I’ be be tocce one more ey.

Ti I meninu moment or me ince te eybor one o muc or me over te yer. It urvive pi o ppe uice. It epe me ein coupe webite, penty o poter n yer n to expre mye viuy n wit etter.

T te beinnin o my creer mter’ tuent, I in tt te etter re in wy. It’ iy romantic tin n I now te McBoo Pro ut cnnot continue. It cnnot upport me in wor or coe ie it ue to.

Te entire mie row o te eybor no oner wor. My ubn owe me two vieo on te McBoo eybor tt uet wy to ix tem wen broen. Te irt I wi try I to it te T ey ive time in row. Tt mit o te tric.

Te econ ve n inventory o te ne eybor n on ow to cen it. I wi try it we. Te computer crrie me trou o muc over te pt ive yer. It has wore r or me. I m sa to ee it flal aprt n ope tht one o tee operation w ep.

Wi me uc!

Old laptop + new laptop

The above text is a micro memoir on the life of the keyboard belonging to my 13” MacBook Pro from late 2011.The keys from the middle row of the keyboard began to fail in the summer of 2017. While the computer itself works, albeit slowly, something upon the computer’s logic board does not function and connect to generate a representation of language in my attempts to use the keyboard letters: a, s, d, f, g, h, j, k and l.

Put another way, the malfunction of the laptop keyboard is worthy of investigation from a media archaeological perspective. Looking to Wolfgang Ernst, the failed keyboard contains “frozen media knowledge,” that’s primed to be “unfrozen” and “liquefied.” As a media archaeologist, I will not literally melt down the failed keys. Instead, I’ll talk about the fractured keyboard parts together by blending the approaches from several media archaeological thinkers.

Two of the four categories Wanda Strauven developed, “The Old in the New: From Obsolescence to Remediation” and “Ruptures and Discontinuities: Foucault’s Legacy” resonate well in this scenario. Within “the Old in the New”, Strauven calls on McLuhan’s law of obsolescence where, “old media become the content of newer media and, thus, lose their initial novelty and effectiveness.” The gaping text I wrote which you just looked at bears no effectiveness and none of the initial novelty and excitement it would have had to me as when I first purchased the computer in early 2012.

While the malfunction is plausibly a simple and resolvable failure of the logic board, it brought inconvenience to communication in the context of my life – as student, writer, and designer and the economies attached to each post I hold. Still, I re-purpose the keyboard and laptop for a new relationship and a kind of new media.

Screen shot from YouTube video, “How to Fix Any MacBook Keyboard” by Save Apple Dollars website.

Why continue to work with a broken keyboard? Because when Strauven points to out that “the principle of remediation is often taken for granted in recent media historical research,” I want to think more deeply into this relationship we as computer-users have to the life-cycle of a computer (or any other similar device): from newness and novelty, to malfunction, repair, waste and renewal through purchase of a new device. Remediation is defined as “the action of remedying something, esp the reversal or stopping of damage to the environment.

You’ll see on the slide here a screenshot from a Youtube video by “Save Apple Dollars” called “How to fix any Macbook keyboard.” In a Foucauldian sense, I question the power relationship between laptop makers and marketers and literally seek remediation out of obsolescence. When Strauven talks about “Ruptures and Discontinuities: Foucault’s Legacy,” and Erikki Huhtamo, I believe this is an example of an approach that “emphasizes cyclical rather than chronological development, recurrence rather than unique innovation.” When it comes to laptops and other handheld devices, the “gaps and absences, silences and ruptures” of the materials we use in view of consumption and the environment resonates as much as John Cage’s silence.

The letter D on my keyboard became loose after I tried to repair it following instructions from the YouTube video “How to fix any MacBook keyboard.”

This resonates too, when Jussi Parrika asks how we can “rethink familiar media technologies in new material constellations and in ways that lead to new modes of using, consuming and institutionalizing media.” Despite the ingenuity and importance of my old MacBook Pro, it has been designed for “cradle to grave” rather than for “cradle to cradle” use, as design thinkers William McDonough & Michael Braungart argue in their book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things.”

Etch-A-Sketch engine drawing. Credit: Les Chatfield.

Etch-A-Sketch engine drawing. Credit: Les Chatfield. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

As potential piece of my own archive of home e-waste and old, dead laptops, I look the MacBook Pro with some of the whimsy in the spirit of Walter Benjamin and his own library collection. Throughout the process of preparing this probe, I personified my old and my new laptop side by side. Told them to get along as they sat side by side on the table. Imposed the meaning of time in my own life on the laptops – out with the old, in with the new, as we say. In this instance, the whimsy can be carried only so far. To problematize the life cycle of the laptop following Friedrich Kittler’s hardware media theory has a place in this conversation. There’s a quality of the invisible with the popular marketing and consumption of computer hardware and software that stands to be liquified. In addition, the inscription of writing material can stand to be erased, shaken up, and re-worked.

Works Cited
Ernst, Wolfgang, and Jussi Parikka. Digital Memory and the Archive. 39 Vol. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Electronic Mediations Web.

Strauven, Wanda. “Media Archaeology: Where Film History, Media Art and New Media (Can) Meet” in Preserving and exhibiting media art: challenges and perspectives. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013. Web.

McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle :Remaking the Way we make Things. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Web.

Parikka, Jussi. What is Media Archaeology?. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012. Web.

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