I have just spent one week with 400 other Digital Humanists. This is what happens when you go to the yearly conference of the DH association of the German-speaking countries. It took place, as I mentioned in an earlier post, in the lovely city of Graz and the program was, to say things euphemistically, somewhat dense.
I listened, tweeted and chaired. These three activities filled the five days in a way that I, in part, expected and in part did not.
When you arrive on Monday and leave on Friday, you are neither the first to arrive nor the last to go. But many are only staying for a couple of days, and it really is an emotional roller coaster to see the facilities get filled during the Tuesday to a point that you simply cannot find the people you are looking for and empty gradually from the Wednesday evening on. It is like being trapped in a strange time dimension.
The main rhythm was imposed by the plenary sessions, during which the higher moment of the ascending curves was reached: one was the opening keynote on Tuesday, the other the closing keynote on Friday. But the poster session (Wednesday in the late afternoon), although not a plenary during the slam, also brought everyone together – the third highlight. When I organized the third DH Berlin Einstein-Workshop with Claudia Müller-Birn a year ago, general feeling also was that the poster session was the real climax of the event.
The remarkable thing about a poster session is that, as an organizer, you can handle it more or less good, plus, the people presenting their posters are unpredictable slamers, some boring, some really good and many in between, and there may not be enough room for people to navigate between the posters and talk as much as they’d wish (it is often loud). Still, there is so much more exchange and discussion room than in any other traditional humanities format that everyone comes out of it filled with an amazingly energetic momentum.
I had the pleasure of chairing sessions dealing in part with media I am not used to work with. Plus, I deliberately went to sessions dealing with still other media. It was intellectually extremely stimulating to see how approaches from radically different angles (theater, architecture, music, graphic novel, video game) would (to my eyes at least) converge with text-based methodological issues, one of which being the impossibility to render everything.
I have been thinking about surrogates in a way that was, so far, very abstract. Surrogates are a key to us dealing with the fact that totality is delusional. Resorting to them amounts to acknowledging that there are missing bits which we can define solely as an instance, by their function or place for example. In Graz, I experienced the presentation of approaches struggling with a much more material understanding of surrogates and sometimes even sources. I think that we (we text people) do also work with representations that necessarily flatten performativity and have to deal with epistemological constraints very similar to those of other media, but the technical impedimenta still seemed to be weighing too much to make similarities emerge so easily.