How are sense perception and situatedness associated with knowledge? According to Johanna Drucker, there are elements of knowledge that cannot be adequately understood without considering one’s own relativity, a fundamental notion of the humanities:
I think the ideology of almost all current information visualization is anathema to humanistic thought, antipathetic to its aims and values…visualization performs such a powerful reification of information that graphics such as Google Maps are taken to be simply a presentation of ‘what is,’ as if all critical thought had precipitously and completely jettisoned. (2)
Perhaps the danger of digital technologies and approaches, as demonstrated by the passage above, lies in their frequent privileging of positivist ideologies, circumventing many of the lessons of poststructuralism. Said differently, the digital world could greatly benefit from humanistic scholarship.
In a similar manner, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick demonstrates that not everything can be understood from a purely quantitative standpoint, including texture and affect. What texture and affect share is that “at whatever scale they are attended to, both are irreducibly phenomenological” (emphasis in original, 21). Texture, which may seem easily reducible because of its material-like nature, is inherently tied to scale. Sedgewick notes that when an airplane circles an airport, an acre of forest may appear dense and structured; however, “when you’re chopping wood, a single tree may constitute shape or structure within your visual field, whereas texture pertains to the level of the cross-grained fibers of the wood in relation to the sleek bite of the axe” (16). Visual fields and other senses dictate not only our perception, but also certain immeasurable qualities.
Thus, Drucker asserts that “[h]umanistic conventions for the graphical production of spatial knowledge and interpretation would spring from the premises of situatedness and enunciation” (7). This idea applies to temporality as well, demonstrating the need for humanistic theory if digital scholarship is to accurately be labelled “digital humanities.” Currently, many aspects of digital scholarship, including the tools and methods used to perform such research, are at odds with what humanists arguably do best.
Questions to consider: Does the virtualization or mediation engendered by many digital technologies (e.g. the computer screen) necessarily resist the heterogeneity and relativity of a humanist approach? In other words, is it possible to adequately represent the “situatedness” Drucker describes with current digital tools? On the other hand, does the virtuality of certain digital platforms actually create a continual multiplicity of its own, contradicting positivism?
Drucker, Johanna. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew Gold. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
Sedgwick, Eve K. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke UP, 2003.