Patrick Jagoda - Contributing to fields as diverse as literary criticism, digital studies, media theory, and American studies, Network Aesthetics brilliantly demonstrates that, in today’s world, networks are something that can not only be known, but also felt, inhabited, and, crucially, transformed
Patrick Jagoda, Network Aesthetics, University Of Chicago Press, 2016.
read it at Google Books
The term “network” is now applied to everything from the Internet to terrorist-cell systems. But the word’s ubiquity has also made it a cliché, a concept at once recognizable yet hard to explain. Network Aesthetics, in exploring how popular culture mediates our experience with interconnected life, reveals the network’s role as a way for people to construct and manage their world—and their view of themselves.
Each chapter considers how popular media and artistic forms make sense of decentralized network metaphors and infrastructures. Patrick Jagoda first examines narratives from the 1990s and 2000s, including the novel Underworld, the film Syriana, and the television series The Wire, all of which play with network forms to promote reflection on domestic crisis and imperial decline in contemporary America. Jagoda then looks at digital media that are interactive, nonlinear, and dependent on connected audiences to show how recent approaches, such as those in the videogame Journey, open up space for participatory and improvisational thought.
Contributing to fields as diverse as literary criticism, digital studies, media theory, and American studies, Network Aesthetics brilliantly demonstrates that, in today’s world, networks are something that can not only be known, but also felt, inhabited, and, crucially, transformed.
“Network Aesthetics is ambitious and comprehensive, informed and original. Jagoda manages to retain the fluidity of the term ‘network’ while understanding it in both its utopian and dystopian dimensions, and he displays an alertness to, and facility with, issues of medium specificity that is both rare and very welcome.” - Scott Bukatman
“Jagoda’s work makes key contributions to our understanding of the role of networks in contemporary cultural production and will be of value in a number of fields, from literary studies to film and television studies to digital media studies. Network Aesthetics is an important and timely book that powerfully affirms the ability of aesthetic forms and practices to help us make sense of our world—and also to intervene in it.” - Tara McPherson
“Network Aesthetics will transform the study of digital networks both for new media scholars and for film and literature scholars. Jagoda’s monograph is a fully fleshed out, closely argued, and richly detailed account of an emergent network aesthetics that informs both analog and digital forms such as the novel, the television serial, the networked game, and the augmented reality game. A remarkable book: lyrical, deeply ethical, and inspiring.” - Lisa Nakamura
THE WAY THE STORY GOES, the internet as we know it came to exist in 1989. That year didn’t mark its first appearance — the Department of Defense’s ARPANET had been in development since the late 1960s — but 1989 saw the introduction of the World Wide Web: the information space whose name metaphorized the network form which commonly characterizes and defines contemporary life. This form of the internet, popularized in the early ’90s, is slightly older than I am, a fact I bring up only to highlight both its novelty and longevity. I think of the world in which we now live as a web or a network of connections, in part because I’ve never known anything else. Yet the relative youth of the network form, or at least the technology that has helped it proliferate, should give us some hint that it is not at all a stable one, and our understanding of its function and role in our day-to-day experiences is anything but complete.
Questions, then, of what a network actually looks like and what it feels like are refreshing ones, ones that are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Without forcing readers to vacate the territory of interconnectedness that they’ve occupied for years (or in my case, my entire life), Patrick Jagoda’s Network Aesthetics demands that we reconsider the omnipresence of the term “network” and the seemingly concrete meanings that have come to adhere to it. It asks us to think seriously about what we mean when we talk about networks, what it means to undergird our daily life with network logic, and what possibilities exist once we start imagining networks — and the connection they enable — differently.
Network Aesthetics seeks to do just that by arguing that we cannot think through the conditions of contemporary life without first attending to the features and contours of the ubiquitous network form. Rather than focus on day-to-day mechanisms of connection like Facebook, Twitter, our cellphones, or email inboxes, Network Aesthetics — as its title declares — diverges from much of the discourse around contemporary networks to examine various aesthetic works that invoke, represent, and model the network form. The first section of the book focuses on the linear narrative forms of the maximalist novel, the network film, and the television drama. The second engages with distributed forms like digital videogames and transmedia alternate reality games (ARGs). A series of deft readings makes clear that our supposed understanding of networks is governed, at least to some degree, by how we encounter representations of them.
This turn to what Jagoda calls a “network imaginary” is an incisive one that accounts for the impossibility of comprehending, mapping, or describing networks in any tangible way. This is not to say that networks in the 21st century lack materiality; their physical infrastructures are inextricable from the ephemeral connection they enable, and recent work from scholars like Tung-Hui Hu, Nicole Starosielski, and Allison Carruth (to name only a few) shows the wide-ranging ecological, political, and ethical stakes of that materiality. But the network, as a form, is too vast and in flux to be fathomed as whole. As Caroline Levine has noted, “At any given moment we know that we cannot grasp crucial pathways between nodes, and this points to our more generalized ignorance of networks. We cannot ever apprehend the totality of the networks that organize us.” It is no surprise that Levine resonates here, as the approach she suggests in her 2015 book Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network grants form the same primacy that Network Aesthetics develops. Its investment in aesthetics posits that our media shape the way we think about the networks we occupy. In turn, the way we imagine those networks informs how we exist within, move among, and relate to them.
For instance, cautionary tales about the isolation that might accompany an overdependence on digital connection, like Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, or the closing chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, or even Spike Jonze’s Her, make some users suspicious of their own social networks, sometimes to the point of opting out and “going off the grid” entirely. On the other hand, films like Love Actually or Pay It Forward encourage an almost hyperactive awareness that our smallest kindnesses may, in fact, set off a ripple of positive affect toward even strangers who, unbeknownst to us, occupy the same web of kinship or sociality. These two responses — extreme suspicion of technology, or extreme openness to others — are simply illustrative, and in no way meant to be universal. But they do indicate how the art we consume helps mold our way of being in the world.
Comparative in the richest way, Network Aesthetics never privileges one media form over the other, but productively explores how each medium enables different kinds of network imaginings. Network films like Syriana that present multiple singular plots which gradually build atop each other to create a much larger interwoven one are particularly apt for thinking about emergence: how far-flung structures of connection only become visible when perspectives are made to expand. Syriana separately follows an energy analyst, a CIA operative, a Saudi prince and would-be reformer, a corporate attorney, and a Pakistani migrant worker, each of whom seem to operate in separate realms, but come into unforeseen direct or indirect contact with each other. The simultaneous development of transnational capitalism and terrorist network may to some, at first glance, seem coincidental, but the film’s networked narrative, made possible by its quick cuts between apparently unrelated plots, draws out the connectedness of these two features of the 21st century to show that they are impossibly intertwined. In a different, but equally significant way, the contingency of alternate reality games that rely on a fluctuating set of participants grapples with failure and improvisation. Looking at The Project, an ARG he helped design, Jagoda narrates the experience of things not always going according to plan. One entry into the game, which relied on would-be participants spontaneously joining in as they crossed the University of Chicago campus, saw little response. This “failure” fostered a reconsideration of public play and the spaces that games and play occupy in our day-to-day lives and routines. Another opportunity to improvise came when a participant took an unforeseen strategy of participation, which made it possible for the game designers to respond and restructure the finale of the game itself.
The two forms are drastically different, not least of all because Syriana is a constructed linear narrative, while The Project was participatory, and occurring in real time. However, they both engage importantly with the features constitutive of networks. These examples, and the other different media Jagoda reads, make up a kind of aesthetic constellation themselves, and taken together they demonstrate the perpetual mutability of the network. Networked narrative forms — the novel, the film, the television drama — represent and help to create our sense of the network, without which more participatory forms, particularly games that facilitate affective encounters with other actors, could not exist. That is to say, the network form is not ahistorical, but rather an ongoing process continuously being developed across and between different media.
Jagoda’s sustained critical engagement with popular cultural forms is welcome at a time where the humanities, publicly and within the academy, are often asked to give an account of themselves and their value. The demand to explain why literature, TV, films, art, video games, and other media forms “matter” and the assumption that they, in fact, don’t, seems to be louder than ever, when everything from bank advertisements to presidential candidate policy plans suggest doing something — anything — else with our time instead of making or studying art. Jagoda is rightly apprehensive of treating the humanities as an overly heroic field, one which offers revolution and resistance at every turn. That apprehension similarly applies to a sometimes too-optimistic view of the liberatory potential of networks that has sprung up in the wake of very literal revolutions, like those during the Arab Spring, and resistance movements, like Black Lives Matter, enabled by new digital technologies. Lionizing humanities and networks this way, though, puts us at risk of slipping into an easy, uncritical view of both, which in turn can stagnate the exact revolutionary work we aspire to. Jagoda is anything but uncritical of the power of the humanities. However, in his careful attention to the interplay between media and the modes of relation they give shape to, he does make the simple, necessary case for aesthetic work and the study of that work in today’s political and cultural reality.
Network Aesthetics opens with an epigraph from Howards End, an imperative to “Only connect!” that Jagoda rightly notes is a condition that seems to go without saying in the 21st century. He spends the rest of the book complicating this, though, gently pushing at each turn against the sentiment that connection is as predetermined as we think. “Everything is connected” is a truism we like to cling to for a variety of reasons. It can be an equally powerful declaration within both a rhetoric of optimism and idealism and a rhetoric of clear-eyed realism and suspicion. It suggests something like a unified whole, one whose seemingly disparate parts are connected and do, despite evidence sometimes to the contrary, add up to something that coheres in an understandable way, a way that makes sense. Perhaps most significantly, it projects a kind of mastery, an insider knowledge of what that unified whole looks like, and how it makes sense.
But it also indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the network(s) it invokes, a misunderstanding that takes for granted the different kinds of networks we encounter, ones that are constantly evolving and developing, responding to innumerable stimuli and variables. There is certainly something attractive about the idea of network as totality: certainty itself. But continuing to treat our current form of networked life as a predetermined and immutable fact tricks us into also accepting as fact the uneven development of control and power that has underwritten the rise of contemporary structures of culture, economics, and politics. When we celebrate the connective power of Twitter, we miss the violent sexist and racist discourse that countless users face every day. When reserving an Uber is as simple as a few keystrokes on an iPhone, it is easy to miss not only the exploitation of labor and resources that made the iPhone possible, but also the exploitation of labor and resources that made the Uber possible. Conversely, when insisting that the success of YouTube celebrities, or the notoriously toxic comments left on their videos, is a sign that culture has reached a new low, we overlook the tight-knit and inclusive online communities that have built up around those content creators. None of these realities supersede each other, but rather exist simultaneously with each other, and a deeper understanding of our network imaginary can help us see this multiplicity of interconnectedness.
This is not to suggest that simply thinking less rigidly about the phenomenon of connection is a revolutionary act, one that can singularly disrupt power and hierarchy. But what network aesthetics can do is teach us how, in this relatively young internet age, to slow down enough to make room, aesthetically, affectively, and otherwise, for the possibility of other kinds of connection. In the face of the impossibility of moving outside of or beyond these networks altogether, Jagoda’s closing thoughts are useful, proposing ambivalence, rather than opting out entirely. Ambivalence here is a kind of “extreme presence” that demands “a deliberate intensity, patience, and willingness to forgo quick resolution or any finality at all.” It is a necessary position of uncertainty, one that creates the space for other ways of thinking about networks to emerge. Ultimately, spending time attending to network aesthetics teaches us something important, generous, and hopeful about how to be in this world now, not only with the networks we’re constantly shaping and reshaping, but also with each other, the myriad friends, loved ones, acquaintances, and total strangers alongside whom we shape and are shaped. - Mary Pappalardo
Michael Maizels and Patrick Jagoda, The Game Worlds of Jason Rohrer, MIT Press, 2016.
This book, and the exhibition it accompanies, offers a comprehensive account of the artist’s oeuvre. The book documents all seventeen of Rohrer’s finished games, as well as sketches, ephemera, and related material, with color images throughout. It includes entries on individual games (with code in footnotes), artist interviews, artist writings, commentary by high scorers, and interpretive texts. Two introductory essays view Rohrer’s work in the contexts of game studies and art history.
Reviews of the book:The Wall Street Journal
Coverage of the Exhibition:The New York Times
Fast Company: Co.Design
The Creator’s Project
New Media and American Literature. A Special Issue of American Literature. Ed. by Wendy Chun, Patrick Jagoda, and Tara McPherson, Duke University Press, 2013.
The authors of the wide-ranging articles in this special issue all respond in different ways to these questions. They all start, though, with the premise that literature, technology, and media have always been deeply intertwined. The essays in this issue explore several aspects of the emerging new media landscape, including data visualization, hypertext markup language, videogame studies, the digital humanities, and multimedia archives. Alongside the print publication, this issue includes four online essays created with “Scalar”—a born-digital, open source, and media-rich scholarly publishing platform. Contributors include Craig Carey, Lauren F. Klein, Jeff Scheible, Richard Jean So, Patrick Jagoda, Gary Hall, Curtis Marez, Jeffrey Shandler, Steve Anderson, and Jentery Sayers.
Comics & Media. A Special Issue of Critical Inquiry, Ed. by Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
The past decade has seen the medium of comics reach unprecedented heights of critical acclaim and commercial success. Comics & Media reflects that, bringing together an array of contributors—creators and critics alike—to discuss the state, future, and potential of the medium.
Loaded with full-color reproductions of work by such legends as R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Lynda Barry, the book addresses the place of comics in both a contemporary and historical context. Essays by such scholars such as Tom Gunning, N. Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and W.J.T. Mitchell address a range of topics, including the place of comics in the history of aesthetics, changes to popular art forms, digital art, and ongoing tensions between new and old media. The issue explores our understanding of what comics are and can be, and the growing place they hold in our culture.
Reviews:Twentieth Century Literature
Oxford Art Journal
Interview with Comic Book Resources
Peer-Reviewed Essays and Book Chapters
“Reinvigorating Adolescent Sexuality Education through Alternate Reality Games: The Case of The Source.” Sex Education. Co-authored with Alida Bouris, Jenny Mancino, Brandon Hill, and Melissa Gilliam. Vol. 16, Issue 4, July 2016, pp. 353-367.
“‘Because If We Don’t Talk About It, How Are We Going to Prevent It?’: Lucidity, a Narrative-Based Digital Game About Sexual Violence.” Sex Education. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Erin Jaworksi, Luciana Hebert, Phoebe Lyman, and M. Claire Wilson. Vol. 16, Issue 4, July 2016, pp. 391-404.
“The Source: An Alternate Reality Game to Spark STEM Interest and Learning among Underrepresented Youth.” Journal of STEM Education. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Alida Bouris, and Brandon Hill. Vol 17, No 2, April-June 2016, pp. 14-20.
“LifeChanger: A Pilot Study of a Game-Based Curriculum for Sexuality Education.” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Stephen Heathcock, Sarah Orzalli, Carolyn Saper, Jessyca Dudley, and Claire Wilson Vol. 29, Issue 2 (April 2016), pp. 148-153.
“The Commons as Network.” ASAP/Journal. Contribution to Editor’s Forum. Moderator Amy J. Elias. Volume 1, Number 1 (January 2016), pp. 47-9.
"Worlding through Play: Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source." American Journal of Play. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russell. Volume 8, Number 1 (Fall 2015), pp. 74-100.
"Network Ambivalence.” Contemporaneity. Vol. 4 (2015), pp. 108-118.
“Digital Games and Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction. Ed. Gerry Canavan and Eric Link (Cambridge UP, 2015), pp. 139–152.
“InFection Four: Development and Evaluation of a Youth-Informed Sexual Health Card Game.” American Journal of Sexuality Education. Co-authored with with Melissa Gilliam, Ainsley Sutherland, and Stephen Heathcock. Volume 9:4 (December 2014), pp. 485-498
“Game Changer: Collaborative Alternate Reality Game Design, Transmedia Storytelling, and Health Education.” International Journal of Learning and Media. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Ainsley Sutherland, and Stephen Heathcock (Forthcoming), 33 MS pages.
“Gaming the Humanities.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 25.1 (2014), pp. 189–215.
"Speculation: Financial Games and Derivative Worlding in a Transmedia Era.” Critical Inquiry. Co-authored with N. Katherine Hayles and Patrick LeMieux. (2014), pp. 220–236.
“Hollywood and the Novel.” The American Novel 1870–1940: Volume 6 of the Oxford History of the Novel in English. Ed. Priscilla Wald and Michael A. Elliott (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014), pp. 501–516.
“Fabulously Procedural: Braid, Historical Processing, and the Videogame Sensorium.” American Literature. 85:4 (December 2013), pp. 745–779.
“Gamification and Other Forms of Play.” boundary 2 vol. 40, no. 2. Summer 2013, pp. 113–144.
“Speculative Security.” Cyberspace and National Security: Threats, Opportunities, and Power in a Virtual World. Ed. Derek S. Reveron (Washington D.C.: Georgetown UP, 2012), pp. 21–36.
"From Intervention to Invitation: Reshaping Adolescent Sexual Health through Storytelling & Games.” African Journal of Reproductive Health. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, S. Orzalli, S. Heathcock, E. Sutherland, A. Menendez, and O. Ojengbede. Volume 16 Number 2 (June 2012), pp. 189–196.
“Wired.” Critical Inquiry 38 (Autumn 2011), pp. 189–199.
“Terror Networks and the Aesthetics of Interconnection.” Social Text 105 (2010): pp. 65–90.
“Clacking Control Societies: Steampunk, History, and the Difference Engine of Escape.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010), pp. 46–71.
“The Terror Complex: Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis.” Exit 9: The Rutgers Journal of Comparative Literature, Vol. IX (2008), Special Issue on “Terror and Textuality,” pp. 93–116.
Peer-Reviewed Multimedia Publications
“Lucidity: Connected Learning and Transmedia Games.” Audiovisual Thinking: The Journal of Academic Videos, Issue 5, 2013. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Seed Lynn, and Ainsley Sutherland), video essay.
“Between: An Interview with Jason Rohrer.” Critical Inquiry (Fall 2011).
Reviews and Short Essays
The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media (José van Dijck). Critical Inquiry (2014), pp. 458-9.
“The Next Level: Alexander R. Galloway’s The Interface Effect.” Los Angeles Review of Books (January 25, 2013).
The Transmedia Turn in Popular Culture: The Case of Comic-Con.” Post45 Contemporaries (2011).
Invited Talks and Keynotes
“Affective Experiments: Gamification and Other Forms of Play.” Keynote Address at “In Play: Games, Aesthetics, Performance” interdisciplinary symposium at the University of Maryland, 2016
“Game Mechanics in Jason Rohrer Videogames.” Invited talk at “Thinking in Play” symposium at the Wellesley College Davis Museum, 2016
"Scaling Gamification: From Game Theory to Videogames." Invited pre-circulated chapter and talk at "Scaling Forms: Dialogues Across Disciplines" symposium at the University of Chicago, 2016
"Becoming a Lifelong Leader and Learner: The Role of Digital Technology" (with Harry L. Davis). Invited talk at the "Global Leadership Series" at the Chicago Booth School of Business in London, 2015
“Network Realism and The Wire.” Invited Talk at “Urban Narratives of Injustice: On The Wire” symposium. The Initiative on Race, Gender & Globalization at Yale University, 2015
“Experimental Games: Affect Theory and Non-Sovereign Play." Invited Talk at "Feeling Games" symposium at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Department of Humanities, the Center for Humanities and Technology, and Galvin Library, 2015
“Designing for Collaboration: Game Changer Chicago and Transdisciplinary Play.” Invited Talk at the Humanities Without Walls Consortium “The Global Midwest” Workshop, 2014
“How To Do Digital Humanities Right: Humanities With a Maker Spirit” (with Cathy Davidson). Invited to run a core session of the Chicago Humanities Summit (hosted by the Modern Language Association and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences), 2014
“Gaming the Humanities: Transmedia Play and Connected Learning.” Invited Talk with Melissa Gilliam, Humanities Day (sponsored by the University of Chicago), 2013
“Alternate Realities: Digital Games and Transmedia Cultures.” University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center, Speaker Series, 2012