The Film & Media Studies Program at Amherst College presents the Helene Keyssar Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring Tung-Hui Hu this spring! Hu will be presenting a talk entitled, "How to Comply with an Algorithm: Lethargy and the Affects of Big Data". Please join us March 8, 2018 from 4:00-6:00 PM in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (Frost 2nd floor). Free and open to the public.
Traditional means of resistance to digital control have involved extending the legacy of tactical media to newer platforms—by unmasking algorithmic procedures, jamming apps, obfuscating data trails, and so on. But these spectacular actions are readily co-opted by communicative capitalism, which has gotten better and better at, as Jodi Dean puts it, “captur[ing] critique and resistance, formatting them as contributions to the circuits in which it thrives." If it is virtually impossible to undermine digital platforms or to refuse their use, what avenues are left for artistic critique? This paper examines one potential way forward through recent works by London and Athens-based artist Erica Scourti. While digital platforms demand that we offer up our emotional life (“What’s on your mind?”, asks Facebook), many of Scourti’s artworks find ways to comply with “sincerity but not authenticity.” For example, in “Think You Know Me” (2015), she performs a seemingly-personal text built by repeatedly accepting the first predictive text suggestion given to her by her iPhone—a strange hybrid of her words with the Internet’s words. Scourti’s artworks are examples of what I term lethargic media, a way of doing just enough to satisfy the injunction to communicate, while slackening the bond between subject and user online. While lethargy is often a self-sabotaging tactic, it is also a way of engaging with the bad options left to media artists working within digital capitalism. The affects they take up--disengagement, reticence, exhaustion--may not yet be articulable or even recognized as feelings, but are nonetheless key to writing a history of the present.
Tung-Hui Hu writes on media art and the politics of digital culture. He is the author of A Prehistory of the Cloud (MIT Press, 2015), and three collections of poetry, most recently Greenhouses, Lighthouses (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Hu has received fellowships from the NEA, Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and the San Francisco Foundation, and is an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan.