Experiments in writing technologies: Reenactments as Epistemological Melodrama

Something happened in the Nineties...

Over the nineties, somewhere toward its end and into the next decade, the term writing technologies,
or one of its variants, began to be taken for granted. Taken for granted and even to belong to particular communities of practice. Instead of something "happening," it had already happened. In ordinary language it appeared casually. Its referents were sometimes historical – past writing technologies – and sometimes current. From that decade to the next scholarly books began to pick around its variants. Today's writing technologies no longer needed some slight of mind to come into relief ....

Leonardo's Dream Machines

(2003). Written and Directed by Paul Sapin. Produced by Julian Ware of ITN Factual for Channel 4 Video (UK) & PBS (US).

• Opening up an initially surreal Mona Lisa door into many kinds of reenactment, the documentary looks to Leonardo da Vinci for experimental, interactive and recontextualizing ways of viewing always interconnecting bits of the world, ways that open onto devices that enhance and play with those views.

Teams: Crossbow & Glider; engineers, historians, users (pilot & lead carpenter)

Specialists and Knowledge Worlds:
• design and structural engineers, aircraft restorers, skilled carpenters, art and science historians and a world-record breaking pilot make full-scale and part-scale working models.
• Aided in interpretation by additional art, science, military and church historians, a practicing and teaching artist, and skilled craftspeople in carpentry, metal work and restoration, as well as a bio-engineer, a cardiac surgeon, and a robotic engineer.


Ranging Reenactments:
Reenactments you might say, what do you mean?

A range of activities, venues, objects, skills, people and circumstances, among them living history reenactments. All inside a ranging infrastructure we are engaging today. The focus is on a networked and emergent reorganization of knowledge making and using that we here are quite possibly a part of, probably even agents within.

SCOPING AND SCALING ACTION • one activity of reenactment, a property of re-enaction

Imagine the term reenactment referring to a Google satellite map's departure point:

View Larger Map

a concrete venue also coming to include a lot of conceptual territory around it. To see the whole territory we pan out and up for a satellite view, or we come in closer and closer to see the very particular street patterns, maybe even to detail the backyard of a specific house. We move the orientation point around with our mouse, cursor, finger or whatever, to shift scope and scale.

Use moving around in Google hybrid view literally and figuratively as an example for experiencing a set of cognitive sensations.


Extensively defined forms of "Reenactment" displayed and used: these contribute to ranging affects and sensations displayed and available for vicarious experience by viewers as reenactment.

•• "experimental archeology" as contest; • costumed recreations of actors in fictional flashbacks; • "living history" hobbyist reenactors or historical interpreters

•• material and computer simulation; • computer and film animation – these reframe the first three as similar simulations for action adventure and trial and error understanding

•• pastpresents in televisual movement across objects as timeshift: "the Ken Burns effect"; • venues in pastpresents: simulation of LDV's scaffolding on Brunelleschi's dome today; • actors voicing LDV laid over present day venues or fictional scenes

•• repeating sequences of reenactor battles, of flying papers animations, and of a surreal Mona Lisa door opening upon reenactments; connect edited sections in montage effects

•• medical, bio-mechanical and aviation development sites and uses. • Rosheim robots reenact LDV robot designs, and LDV models from nature; layer upon layer of simulation

•• scholarly and fictional narratives, conflated interactively to shift centrality of authoritative knowledges without deauthorizing, open onto alternative knowledges without valorizing

•• the apparatus of cinematic recreation: the devices, crew and techniques of TV documentary


It's an experiment

"Experiment" in this context does not mean something original and novel: it's not "experimental" art, or special effects experientially intense in some computer environments. These experiments play with sensation and affect in multiple modes in the very traditions of melodrama, but not with the purpose of shifting thresholds of intensity or creating disjunctures from pasts. Connection and continuity are important here.

The better these experiments work, the more possible it is that they can be taken for granted and added to workable infrastructure, material and conceptual, already in place. Nor does "experimental" mean good, or better, or successful or progressive. What it does mean is trial and error learning and making taking place in multiple layers and units of interaction and articulation.



strong feelings that go together with strong evaluations of what THEY mean by reenactment
definitions that mark out specific communities of practice
elaborate taxonomies of large extensive area I use "reenactments" to open out upon

strongly declarative in careful differentiation, specific to expertise and evaluation
pleasure, animosity in the DETAILS


GRAIN OF DETAIL: signal of and for membership in particular communities of practice.
NOT an appeal to what everyone knows or understands....

INSTEAD about facilitating folks with alternative expertise
• to take a lively interest in and journey among knowledge worlds
• to invest in knowledges they don't have, yet

Grain of detail is carefully limited and dynamically interconnected, via reenactment, to a range of possible interactive contexts, not all salient or available to every viewer, but presumably each salient and available to various sets of some of those viewing.

This is an element of that scoping and scaling activity that reenactments produce, and of that ability to address diverging audiences simultaneously.


Such transmission skills were especially honed in the nineties,
• experiments amid the ideological complexities of the so-called culture wars,
• themselves elements in the turmoil of knowledge, culture and entertainment economies restructuring and intertwining under globalization.

Privatization and public financing are important pivot points.
What counts as an author and what counts as an audience are too.

• Having to address many diverging audiences simultaneously --
• Having to author knowledges as merely one of multiple agencies with very limited control

These are circumstances that become more and more intrusive for various communities of practice in the nineties and after.


Televisual products and processes are both realities and metaphors for such forms of production

Even better, they are models of and simulations for many other venues increasingly absorbed into an ever widening scope created amid culture crafts, publics and industries.

In the nineties and after these come to shape an array of cognitive sensations accessed, skilled and displayed by new technologies

together with creative uses of skills and devices in various kinds of inscription, assemblage and action connecting additional activities, venues, objects, skills, people, powers and circumstances


Nineties transnational image and media wars

multi-racial, multiple cultural European Union amid globalizing connections and competitions, those with the US and those with cultural industrial districts around the world.

At the same time, globalizing culture industries more and more clearly include academies and museums in refreshed associations with heritage and enterprise "culture." Of course, including academies means I include myself amid shifts in knowledge workings and global academic restructuring. And while we all here may well traffic in knowledge worlds, indeed broker culture shock, we experience it ourselves, are dislocated by it all, and work, whether we like it or not, among our own experiments.


What makes it possible to realize and take pleasure in this?

affects amid clashing knowledge worlds
skills in working with, resolving, polarizing, overriding or describing these clashes

relatively explicit and highly interactive
another layer of sensation and affect to epistemological melodrama

keep viewers
• hooked on their own sensations of shifting cognition and intensities of affect
• hooked on sensations of their own possible agencies in groupings beyond individual control


And what might a Google satellite mapping offer to such action among reenactments? How are scoping and scaling activities of reenactment in ways emerging out of the nineties?

three domains:

"knowledge work" – that is to say, work cultures centering knowledge and information systems and technologies as economies themselves and as forces in various economies

"culture crafts, publics and industries," or, public culture sewn up with economic development amid shifts in cultural value, all displaying in varying proportions among old and new technologies of entertainment. Think of the culture, history, science and image wars impacted by so-called "heritage culture" and "enterprise culture." And add

"academic capitalism," where is displayed recombinations of national interests, global economies and ideological shifts in the nineties that develop across the Anglophone academies, evident in various forms of privatized education and technology transfer and favored by both (US described) neo-liberals and neo-conservatives.

Reenactments refuse

• to keep pasts and presents separated

to manage or delimit by membership
• authorities and alternative knowledges
• metaphors and their referents
• materialities and theoretical abstractions
• affects and cognitions
• scholarly expertise and cultural entertainment

agency and control are rarely at the same scale of analysis

Consciousness at the levels of infrastructure, variation, inclusion, undecideability, means we are "bits" of such transdisciplinizing "consciousness," not a Leonardo-like "Man" at its center.

Laboring to participate in a universe in which we are only some of the objects, devices, things, processes and trial and error reassemblages in self-organizing "learning" is one work of reenactment. Engaging cognition as sensation and affect is another.

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