Jaffe on Digital Humanities

What I found particularly interesting in Aaron Jaffe’s The Way Things Go was that “everything exists to be on the internet.” The quote truly strikes the audience about the prevalence of the online. Another detail that caught my attention was his Rube Goldberg example. Providing an image of a contraption that ends with a guest being booted out the room, Jaffe explains it as a “device or scheme that achieves a simple objective by exaggeratedly or absurdly complex means.” With this critical description and other adjectives including “unnecessarily complicated,” “impractical,” and “needless complexity,” I couldn’t help but see Ian Bogost and his blown up picture of the propane tank flash across my mind. The Goldberg example seems to carry similar sentiments to Bogost’s criticism of “The Internet of Things,” which also goes back to the first Jaffe quote I mentioned: “EveryTHING exists to be on the Internet.” A recurring theme?

Jaffe also raised the question of a book’s value. Yes, those material printed items, bound, and leafed through. Is a book’s value truly gone when read? Because the information is already inside one’s mind? This could tie into Boris Groyes’ short essay, “From Image to File.” Groyes focuses on authenticity, an especially salient question in the time of digital documents and images, the time when the word “copy” is used carelessly and casually. Interestingly, Groyes believes there is no such thing as a copy because the curation of the object or information would be different.

Fast-forward to Aaron Jaffe’s talk on October 22, 2015: it seemed his usage of certain terms was misinterpreted by several people of the audience. However, he was better able to clarify and elaborate on his topic and thoughts during a lunch talk we had the next day. I found out that Jaffe started his undergraduate studies as an engineer, only to switch to the humanities by the end of his undergraduate career. Therefore, he’s seen both sides of the spectrum. From the informal lunch discussion, it seems Jaffe finds the term, “Digital Humanities” itself questionable- not quite the actual material (which threw some of the audience off the previous day). Jaffe expressed Digital Humanities as a marketing tactic or a pretty gift-wrapping, especially since, at his campus, few/none of the humanities faculty was part of the Digital Humanities.

I have usually thought about the Digital Humanities through the lens of how it’s done and what it is, but have not considered the vocabulary itself. Therefore, overall, I feel that Jaffe posed many questions and thoughts related to our Sawyer Seminar theme. But he also made sure to distinguish that perhaps these questions are raised simply because the fundamentals of different studies are ultimately focused on different things. “The sciences are concerned with causations; the social sciences with correlations; and the humanities with connections.”