First words in the Language of New Media

I’ve been reading Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media.

Or rather I’ve read up to somewhere between pages twelve and eighteen, but its been a fun adventure so far. It’s somehow ironic that a book with the ambition of recording the development of digital media semantics is shackled to such an old medium as the printed and bound book. There’s a copy available from the Winchester School of Art Library, but it always seems to be out and I haven’t had the heart to recall it. I can’t say if one person has held onto it for months, or somebody just checked it out moments before I looked on the web catalogue. And having experienced how it feels to bring a book home from the library, and the next day get a recall notice, and have to post it back, wouldn’t want to put another student through that. I was hoping there would be a e-edition available from the library, a couple of books I’ve wanted to look at have been available that way. But, again somehow ironically, it’s dead tree or nothing.

Or so I thought, but when I checked Amazon I discovered they do have a Kindle edition. Yes, it is more expensive than the paper version bought at another online store, but it does mean I can download a preview onto my iPad.

Reading that preview it’s apparent that Manovich is fully aware of the irony inherent in writing a book about new media. The numbered pages are preceded by a prologue, which Manovich titles Vertov’s Dataset. He explains:

The avant-garde masterpiece Man with a Movie Camera, completed by Russian director Dziga Vertov in 1929, will serve as our guide to the language of new media. This prologue consists of a number of stills from the film. Each still is accompanied by a quote from the text summarising a particular principle of new media. The number in brackets indicates the page from which the quote is taken. The prologue thus acts as a visual index to some of the book’s major ideas.

It’s Manovich’s attempt to create an analogue hypertext user interface, or front-end, for the book. It would have been good if the Kindle edition’s page numbers in brackets were links to the pages themselves, as the numbers in the Contents table are,  but if I want to use the prologue as intended, I shall have to acquire a paper version of the book.

The prologue is enticing though. A glimpse of page 158 says:

Borders between worlds do not have to be erased; different spaces do not have to be matched in perspective, scale and lighting; individual layers can retain their separate identities rather than being merged into a single space; different worlds can clash semantically rather than form a single universe.

He asks (on page 317) “can the loop be a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age?” And on page 322 argues:

Spatial montage represents an alternative to traditional cinematic temporal montage, replacing its traditional sequential mode with a spatial one. Fords assembly line relied on the separation of the production process into sets of simple, repetitive and sequential activities. The same principle made computer programming possible: A computer program breaks a task into a series of elemental operations to be executed one at a time. Cinema followed this logic of industrial production as well. It replaced all other modes of narration with a sequential narrative, an assembly line of shots that appear on the screen one at a time. This type of narrative turned out to be particularly incompatible with the spatial narrative that had played a prominent role in European visual culture for centuries.

This prologue (and the more conventional introduction that made up the rest of the preview) have got me hooked. I’ve ordered a copy, not from Amazon though and not a Kindle edition.  The paper version is available more cheaply, and postage free, from the Book Depository – which itself is, oh irony of ironies, owned by Amazon).

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