Reflecting on the Blake Archive


For this day, I thought I would offer some thoughts on my work in the Blake Archive:

“The medium is the message,” observed by Marshall McLuhan in the landmark work Understanding Media is often misinterpreted as the medium supplants its own content.  What McLuhan meant (I think) is that we should focus on the effects of new media and what cultural pressures cause the change in medium rather than just looking at the content. The new recent update of The William Blake Archive provides a quintessential example of McLuhan’s theory at work:

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Looking at the two websites side by side, the first thing we notice is the drastic difference in interface. While content of the two websites is identical and these are, websites mediated through web browsers and devices, the new site not only has a different interface, but appears to be a different medium altogether. This pushes me to question is this a change in medium or just mediated through a different interface?

With Drucker in mind and her call to humanists to start to think about how to visually produce knowledge through graphesis, “the study of the visual production of knowledge,” we could interpret the redesign as just a new interface. The design of the new site reflects a more visually oriented culture (we used the interface of Netflix as an example).

I don’t think Drucker was calling us to remediate our research, but to make it more visual. However, to graph a novel requires us to quantify the novel, which does remediate it. So I guess I am having a difficult time distinguishing between mediation and interface.

I found Emerson’s thoughts on transparency particularly helpful in clearing up the difference between media and interface:

“The user-friendly now takes the shape of keeping users steadfastly unaware and uninformed about how their computers, their reading/writing interfaces, work, let alone how they shape and determine their access to knowledge” (49).

Paired with Galloway’s interpretation of interfaces as a multiplicity of different processes, we arrive at an understanding (I think) that a medium is a cultural object and that an interface is a cultural process. The way in which the digital texts are processed is an interface rather than a new media object. The technologies at play in the interface are often hidden, so they do not make their presences observable, but those technologies are shaped by cultural pressures like Drucker’s graphesis. So, I guess I am running in circles here.

For Galloway an interface is not an object, but “always an effect.” Similarly, Mak describes the digital page as an “expression.” So, since both the old and new site use the same XML documents as the base of the website, but create much different expressions and effects, then the new site is an interface and not a new medium.

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