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Hyperspace: the untrodden frontier

October 14, 2012

I am not quite sure how to begin this baptismal post. However, I will start with a stream of consciousness method and hope that I can learn from it!

The above statement and resulting words below are a direct nod to Paula M. Krebs’ theory of ‘next time, fail better’.

Krebs’ view is that we must a take a chance and learn from failure. One cannot necessarily predict a person’s reaction to failure but what Krebs points out is that our reactions tend to fracture into discipline dependant categories. Krebs’ suggestion is that, within the realm of computer science, there is an acceptance that a program may or may not work. Examination questions generally require a specific answer, where right and wrong will be clearly defined. Humanities, on the other hand, notes the quality of writing or the framework and development of an idea.  In the latter discipline, outright failure is not a common occurence. Therefore, during my time as a young undergraduate student writing analytical essays on literature, film and the theory of language, many of my peers (perhaps myself included) were not equipped to understand that a critique was not a criticism but an evaluation of our ability. It was a snapshot of our work, from which we could improve where necessary and hone our existing skills and strengths. Instead, there were hordes of people fretting about where they went wrong and focussing on their failure, as opposed to why they failed. In my experience, the more I fail, the less I feel. This is to say that, failing helps me shed the fear of failure. With fear itself cowering in a corner, I can make a fresh attempt without apprehension weighing down it.

As a now rusty polyglot, I found one particular deviation from the computer science and humanities divide, which is the field of linguistics. Krebs is accurate in saying that humanities scholars hold a collective aversion to even an utterance of the word ‘failure’, however linguists are an occasional exception to the rule. The process of second language acquisition is riddled with a plethora of grammatical errors and oceans of incorrect pronunciation; consequently, many language learners are obliged to become comfortable with haphazardly muddling their way through the different stages of acquisition. If you take a covert glance at any oral language class, you will witness an entire group of failures.  There is, however, a small exception to this exception. In my first year at university, there were several students with a gift for completely accurate German to English written translation. Yet, upon entering an oral language class, they faced a number of difficulties. As such, the success of translation did not translate into the spoken word. Many of my fellow learners were literally afraid to speak, as they confessed that they shuddered at the thought of incorrect conjugation or nonsensical pronunciation. Instead of speaking and erring, they chose not to speak at all. In the end, their decision not to fail was the main obstacle preventing their success, so that their belief became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Krebs’ portrays a creative writer as an individual who is not censored by this fear. I was once afraid of putting pen to paper but as soon as I tried my hand at creative writing classes and free-writing, I understood the thought process which had hampered my previous efforts. This is certainly a skill which many professional creative writers have mastered to perfection. Free-writing exercises would be beneficial to arts students during their first year orientation week, as it would allow them to face the dreaded ‘F’ face on.

Kimberly Singletary’s HASTAC article suggests that the traditional lifestyle of a scholar can make a positive shift with the help of technology. This could also be applied to the life of the creative writer. Emily Dickinson’s isolation, for example, may have changed upon the introduction of technology (perhaps to the detriment of her work). Dickinson’s identity was intertwined with her social seclusion, in a similar fashion to many 21st century academics and their beloved theses. Singletary posits that it is now possible to embrace the world of social media from the same desk at which you spend hair-tearing hours of sometimes futile study hours. A scholar can shirk the cloak of solitude and instead make a measured contribution to communities like HASTAC. At the very least, HASTAC can act as a support group for any struggling academic, providing them with encouragement at times when they need some heartening words. When harnessed appropriately, the internet permits interaction and enrichment with little time and energy required for a successful outcome. A discussion forum may provide advice and new insights, while a blog post will allow you to ‘sound’ out your thoughts. Not only will this help invigorate the mind of a scholar with new ideas and other points of view, it will also help them build up a professional network which they can maintain for future years. Since the start of this Masters, I set up this new blog and also a new Twitter account. In that short period of  time, without moving from my seat, I found new databases, read articles from other digital humanists and even learned about laser scanning at Stone Henge. Needless to say, the benefits of HASTAC and networking in general will far outweigh any criticism thereof.

The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 also encourages a transition to ‘hands-on engagement’, in particular with the ‘material remains of the past’ in the classroom, whereas an archive should ‘become a place of teaching and hands-on learning’. Since returning to university, I noticed remarkable changes since my graduation over six years ago. The classroom has expanded from the campus to our screen and fingertips. What was once ‘I’ll photocopy it’ and ‘I’ll buy the book’ is now ‘I’ll send you a link’ and ‘I’ll download it’. A book bin is a conveyor belt and, for most of us, queueing for a computer has transformed into registering for a wifi connection. In other words, what was once ‘later’ is now ‘instantly’. I find this a very effective way to learn and, as mentioned above, I particularly enjoy online global academic networking, which allows me to access a pool of incredibly experienced intellectuals. As a fledgling digital humanist, an online presence also allows the course reading material to become tangible and makes it easier to digest. The gap between learning and real-time practice closes more and more each day, allowing a new generation of up-to-date graduates with a very relevant skillset to emerge from our universities.

Pedro Hernández-Ramos underlines the need for commentary to be ‘insightful’, while Krebs’ garden of milk and honey is that ‘humanities students should be more like computer-science students’. Hopefully, by plunging into the world of digital humanities with my first blog post clenched firmly in my fist, I am one step closer to these goals.


Krebs, Paula M. ‘Next Time, Fail Better.’ The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web. 2012.

Singletary, Kimberly Alecia. ‘Interdisciplinary intellect – HASTAC and the commitment to encourage collective intelligence.’ Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. Web. 2011.

Presner, Todd. ‘The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0’. Web. 2011.

Hernández-Ramos, Pedro. ‘Web Logs and Online Discussions as Tools to Promote Reflective Practice’. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning. Vol 3, No. 1, Summer 2004. Web. 2004.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2012 9:42 pm

    Well I hope it was not a baptism of fire. My two-cents worth is that I thought this was a finely-crafted piece of work and sensitively written. It gave me a good pointer towards the direction I see may be required of our writing. In line 10, after the nice failure/learning curve graph, (did you draw it yourself or ‘find’ it?) there is a space before the full stop at ‘heartening words’. That is nit-picking in the extreme!

    • October 16, 2012 9:04 am

      The oeuvres d’art are my own. Thanks for your comment and for highlighting the gaping abyss before the full-stop on line 10, which has now been rectified.

      When beginning this blog post, I definitely felt a kinship with Krebs’ and Beckett’s ‘next time, fail better’ doctrine. In recent times, free-writing has become my saviour and it gets me over that hump of ‘Failure Fear’ when putting pen to paper. My motto is ‘write now, fix it later’.

  2. Dan Kenny permalink
    October 20, 2012 10:22 pm

    Very well writen. Points well made in clear precise terminology. I also find this helpful in terms of the way to present work this year.

    • October 24, 2012 7:36 am

      Thanks, Dan. I felt that “stream of consciousness” remained loyal to Beckett’s and Krebs’ slogan, so I gave myself permission to follow that path.

      I recently read an article, “When Digital Humanities Was in Vogue”, by Natalia Cecire which addressed a different phrase, “More hack, less yack”. Cecire said ““More hack, less yack,” they say. I understand the impulse, and to some degree admire the rough-and-tumble attitude of those in digital humanities whose first priority is getting things done. Hell, I like getting things done. But I cannot agree with the distinction between theory (little-t) and practice that this sets up, nor the zero-sum logic that it implies—i.e., that in order to do more we must speak less. “More hack, less yack” is, of course, just a slogan, a “spontaneous philosophy,” a stopgap. But stopgaps won’t do now that digital humanities is in vogue” (Journal of Digital Humanities, Table of Contents for Vol. 1, No.1 Winter 2011, I would like to think that our new DH blog contributions are part of the overall DH theory movement!

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