Post-Hermeneutical Reading Group
Convened by Daniel Braun (Princeton University), Tyler Whitney (Columbia University), and Solon Barocas (New York University)
With support from the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities, Princeton University, and the Information Futures Group, New York University
The Post-Hermeneutical Reading Group will reconvene this semester to continue our inquiry into the fate of interpretation in the humanist and technical communities. Once again, we will meet in New York City. Sessions will be held at NYU and Columbia University. We've invited three scholars to share their current work. Below, you'll find the proposed dates and topics. The exact locations for each session will be announced shortly.
Session 1: March 1st 4-6pm (Columbia)
Janet Vertesi (Sociology, Princeton), on the Mars Rover Mission and learning to see like a machine.
Session 2: March 29th 2 – 4pm (NYU)
Matthew L. Jones (History, Columbia), on the history of data-mining.
Session 3: May 3rd 2 – 4pm (Columbia)
Jonathan Sterne (Art History & Communication Studies, McGill), on perceptual technics and the MP3.
Please email any of the coordinators with questions: Daniel Braun <email@example.com>; Tyler Whitney <firstname.lastname@example.org>; or Solon Barocas <email@example.com>. We'll add you to our list serve, through which future announcements will be disseminated.
Danny, Tyler, and Solon
Below you will find the group's mandate, and the details of last year's proceedings.
In 1990, David Wellbery used the odd locution, post-hermeneutic criticism, to describe the work of German media theorist Friedrich Kittler. The coinage was meant to identify a kind of scholarship that had, in Wellbery’s borrowed phrase, suffered the difference of post-structuralism, and made its crucial insights the operating program, the hardware, of a new kind of criticism. The use of a technical vocabulary to describe the foundations of a critical practice that could no longer be said to read works of literature, but rather to manage their exteriority, their ‘objective discursivity’, the historical ‘network’ of their coming into being, should come as no surprise. This reading group will try to understand the fact of this new kind of criticism in two distinct, but related fields and ways.
The first will concern literary study, broadly construed. Here we will want to ask: What might constitute both a non-hermeneutical object and a non-hermeneutic criticism? What kind of knowledge can literary study seek to produce if, beyond the horizon of hermeneutic criticism, the familiar strategies of interpretation, explanation, contextualization, in short, of making texts mean, have lost their epistemic and disciplinary force? Because post-hermeneuticism, in Wellbery’s definition, lays claim to a program (in all of the senses of this word), we will try to understand its practical consequences. Is Kittler’s scholarship the only kind of work, available, imaginable, that can be said to practice an authentic post-hermeneutic criticism? Or could there be other, non-hermeneutical approaches to textual criticism? Finally, we might consider the relation between quantitative analyses of literature and post-hermeneutic criticism.
The second domain is the strictly non-textual. We will want to look at a set of technical, largely automated procedures that run and act on what we might call 'non-phenomenological' information. If the criterion of hermeneutic inquiry is legibility, we will want to identify and consider a range of practices that need not, or strictly do not, make use of human-readable data in order to execute a function, make a decision, or yield up a descriptive account. We might think about, for example: operational images (e.g., infrared data and the whole range of the sub-visible, but also data captured through light sensors, never rendered in a visual medium); algorithmic, informatic, or computational models of actionable knowledge with no perceptible status of their own (e.g., consumer credit scores and trading models); automated security and military programs that select, monitor, and aim to predict the movement of targets without admitting of any observational subject (e.g., facial recognition technology and smart bombing); and so called ‘data-veillance’. These operations all constitute a point of non-access, a form of absolute interiority, of non-legibility. Might they also model a kind of non-hermeneutics?
We would like to pursue the overlap of these two fields, humanist and technical, in order to gain a purchase on the insult each has dealt to our contemporary sense of a text, and to our canons of criticism.
The group welcomes scholars working in fields related to media theory and may be of particular interest to graduate students in literary studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, film, art history, architecture, and anthropology.
What is Post-Hermeneutics?
Meeting 1. Friday, March 16, 2:30 pm, NYU
David Wellbery, “Foreword” in: Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800-1900, trans. Michael Metteer and Chris Cullens (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989), pp. vii-xxxiii.
Friedrich Kittler, “Media and Drugs in Pynchon’s Second World War”  in: Literature, Media, Information Systems, ed. John Johnston (Amsterdam: GB Arts International, 1997), pp. 101-16.
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “A Farewell to Interpretation” in: Materialities of Communication, ed. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1994), pp. 389-402.
Alex Galloway, “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” in: Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 28 no. 7-8 (December 2011), pp. 85-102.
Technical Knowledge and the Non-Phenomenal
Meeting 2. Friday, April 20, 2:30 pm, NYU
Vilém Flusser, from: Into the Universe of Technical Images , trans. Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).
Philip E. Agre, “Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy” in: The Information Society 10, no. 2 (April 1994), pp. 101-127.
Carolyn Lee Kane, “Infrared, Or, the Algorithmic Production of Visual Knowledge” (unpublished paper, 2011).
Kate Brideau, “The Techno-image as Epistemological Model” (unpublished paper, 2011).
Post-Hermeneutical Literary Study
Meeting 3 Friday, May 11, 2:30 pm, NYU
Stephen Ramsay, "Toward an Algorithmic Criticism" in: Literary and Linguistic Computing 18, no. 2 (2003), pp. 167 - 174.
D. Sculley and B.M. Pasanek, “Meaning and Mining: the Impact of Implicit Assumptions in Data Mining for the Humanities” in: Literary and Linguistic Computing 23, no. 4 (2008), pp. 409-424.
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, "Extreme Inscription: A Grammatology of the Hard Drive" in: Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination" (Cambridge: MIT UP, 2008), pp. 73 - 109.