Soft Authorship

I’ve completed my prospectus, met with my committee: I’m now a doctoral candidate, in the limbo that is ABD.

My research proposal can be summed up this way: when cultural artifacts are built of software, what is the nature and significance of software engineering as a form of collective and collaborative authorship (or artistic practice?) I’m planning to look at a range of work, from very commercial videogames to open-source projects to art-games made for installations.

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2 comments

  1. John

    The motion picture industry forked into three main traditions: commerical film production for mass audiences, industrial films, created on behest of companies promoting product and what not, and fine art film making. Within commercial film making, we have the blockbuster academy award type film, the art film (too entertaining to be considered fine art) and the “B” movie, today still alive in the form of movies that have very short theatrical releases in order to give credence to sales in video markets overseas. So at the end of the day, if you look at all this content being chruned out, less than 1% rises to the top as having even emblematic significance as a cultural artifact. Like a nondescript pot shard found among many in a archeology dig, your average unit product in this context is going to have a hard time justifying its own significance beyond the utility of forensically identifying the most banal attributes.

    Consumers of academic commentary, like those in the film world, will probably most easily identify with well known or celebrated authors, and thus be willing to scan one persons output for significance as it moves from project to project, without an absolue regard to the intrinsic value of the work itself. Alain Resnais moved from industrial film, to art movies, and Russ Meyer, industrial to “B” movies, and for some unknown reason has had all of their work elevated to nearly the same plateu, with the exception that Meyer is identified as a “vulgar” or primitive and Resnais as more exalted. Thus the published interview with a “Diablo III” author will necessarily carry more weight than a deconstruction of the work itself.

    I think the challenge here is to decontextualize the so-called artifacts from author and popularity and all other usual monkers, to simply have a clear headed and erudite look at the work itself. This is damningly complicated in games because in order to experience for example, the narrative, you are looking at a major time investment. Unless you have a team to unlock, analyzed and summarize all of these narratives, erudition will need to be called into in question. Assming you can overcome this hurdle, how do you measure the level of resonance with elite consumers (for example cultural critcs and art students) and how does this contrast with the level of resonance experienced by the masses. And, as you yourself are such an “elite consumer”, how do you avoid the simple bias of having conferred “elite resonance” simply by having mentiond the piece yourself?

    I guess these are problems with the appreciation almost any type of medium, but thse become especially acute in the emergence of a new form as they challenge the status quo. It is only too easy for a critic of your work to relegate the entire genre to “B” movie status where “formula” approaches to audience involvement can be seen to poison and devalue the artistic communication you would want to have perceived. Russ Meyer breaks us out of that trap by delivering work product that despite its “B” movie deisgnation, inane plot, and prurient appeal, has a very solid and aesthetic and a universal resonance. Not knowing this going into the body of work, how many “B” movies would you need to watch before you could have found him at random?

    William I think the challenge

  2. John

    The motion picture industry forked into three main traditions: commerical film production for mass audiences, industrial films, created on behest of companies promoting product and what not, and fine art film making. Within commercial film making, we have the blockbuster academy award type film, the art film (too entertaining to be considered fine art) and the “B” movie, today still alive in the form of movies that have very short theatrical releases in order to give credence to sales in video markets overseas. So at the end of the day, if you look at all this content being chruned out, less than 1% rises to the top as having even emblematic significance as a cultural artifact. Like a nondescript pot shard found among many in a archeology dig, your average unit product in this context is going to have a hard time justifying its own significance beyond the utility of forensically identifying the most banal attributes.

    Consumers of academic commentary, like those in the film world, will probably most easily identify with well known or celebrated authors, and thus be willing to scan one persons output for significance as it moves from project to project, without an absolue regard to the intrinsic value of the work itself. Alain Resnais moved from industrial film, to art movies, and Russ Meyer, industrial to “B” movies, and for some unknown reason has had all of their work elevated to nearly the same plateu, with the exception that Meyer is identified as a “vulgar” or primitive and Resnais as more exalted. Thus the published interview with a “Diablo III” author will necessarily carry more weight than a deconstruction of the work itself.

    I think the challenge here is to decontextualize the so-called artifacts from author and popularity and all other usual monkers, to simply have a clear headed and erudite look at the work itself. This is damningly complicated in games because in order to experience for example, the narrative, you are looking at a major time investment. Unless you have a team to unlock, analyzed and summarize all of these narratives, erudition will need to be called into in question. Assming you can overcome this hurdle, how do you measure the level of resonance with elite consumers (for example cultural critcs and art students) and how does this contrast with the level of resonance experienced by the masses. And, as you yourself are such an “elite consumer”, how do you avoid the simple bias of having conferred “elite resonance” simply by having mentiond the piece yourself?

    I guess these are problems with the appreciation almost any type of medium, but thse become especially acute in the emergence of a new form as they challenge the status quo. It is only too easy for a critic of your work to relegate the entire genre to “B” movie status where “formula” approaches to audience involvement can be seen to poison and devalue the artistic communication you would want to have perceived. Russ Meyer breaks us out of that trap by delivering work product that despite its “B” movie deisgnation, inane plot, and prurient appeal, has a very solid and aesthetic and a universal resonance. Not knowing this going into the body of work, how many “B” movies would you need to watch before you could have found him at random?

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