Release Notes: Summer of Darkness

Thoughts on a new project, Summer of Darkness

The past two months or so I have been full bore on the development of a special project – the first creative collaboration with my partner Anindita Basu that we have ever published. It takes the form of an iOS app (sorry Android folks). I do hope you will check out the app. You can read more about it on its own website. We’ve even made a trailer video:

I’ve published this as a project of Digital Scenographic, but this project was created without financial or institutional support of any kind – it’s something that we just wanted to have exist in the world, and so we went ahead and built it. I can’t afford to do this very often, and unfortunately it meant that we had to leave out certain features we couldn’t afford to work on in the time we had (for example, we designed a geolocative social game which was part of the experience. I’m not going to say too much about it because we’d still like to add it at some point, but it didn’t make the cut for version 1.)

In any case I’ve been thinking a lot about this project in terms of Digital Humanities as it relates to my research on narrative, technology and performance. I’ve found it often very difficult to convey my work in DH terms, mostly because what I do (theater, events, productions and projects) rarely involves “big data” or computational analysis of large corpus, both of which seem to be the defining feature of DH in a university setting. Much of this work is utterly fascinating, but to say that it describes the limits of Digital Humanities is unfortunate.

So of course the big-data-DH folks are myopic, and of course I would say that. But truly: the line of inquiry here is one into the nature of the change of relationship between audience and performer, the shifting role of authorship and the changing relationship of the archived to the archive. I have always, vigorously argued that the edge cases are where the interesting work is, so support or not, I will continued to queer up the place while I explore your stacks.

Summer of Darkness is many things, but for me it’s also a performance of an archive: a chance to provide a unique guided tour through material which is well known. In an age where the ownership, exclusivity and access to creative materials forms the basis of a large swath of our economy, it also seems significant to me that this entire project was made possible largely from a “lapse” in copyright law that makes the material public domain. This is of course not a lapse at all, but the way that copyright law was intended to function. At the moment it seems doubtful that explorers 200 years from now will produce similar works if we continue on the path we’re on – all the doors to cultural capital will be firmly locked. I do hope I’m wrong.

In any case Summer of Darkness is a story about a well known collection of individuals who wrote some of what are considered the canonical texts in the European monster-story genre (and indeed of English literature). These texts are so well known we’ve largely forgotten the context of their creation, forgotten they were written by a group of roving teenagers at loose in a foreign land. Forgotten that they are tied inextricably to romance, failed relationships, birth control, family estrangement. They encode the navigation of women in the social structure of the times, the privilege of the aristocracy. To be sure there is a voyeuristic reality-TV thrill in reading the mortifying journals of 17 year old Claire obsessed with the lover who doesn’t want her, but there is also a deep humanity. The issues at hand are fiercely timely: feminism, rebirth, apocalypse, the act of care and patience, climate change, narrative record and all the words and data we leave behind. The retelling of this story is itself a story, a record of the things that each of your authors of this project thought were critical, and an exercise in omission of those that were not. And somewhere, below the text, below the subtext even, is the story of how Anindita and I arrived in Switzerland, and what it means to be far from home, navigating a narrative with no clear form 200 years after the canon was an idea in someone’s head.

In the midst of these thoughts this article in the LA times popped up in my feed. I find it an exceedingly necessary critique, but embarrassingly reductive (as a side note, this is a sad pattern with most contemporary criticism I haven’t quite wrapped my head around – are we really afraid we won’t be heard if we don’t burn down the house?). I won’t rehash it, except to say I think it’s ok to roll your eyes and still appreciate the scholarship, which traces the origin of some key ideas and vocabulary rather well. The core question of what is allowed in and out of the academy remains, as always, important. Still, there are breadcrumbs out in the world – work being done in the shadows in and of institutions, in the cracks and crevices of the silos. Because in spite of protests to the contrary people remain messy, and crazy. They give birth to hideous progeny as a result of nightmares and anxieties, they float on boats in the middle of lakes, and drown because they never learned to swim, and die of freak accidents and bloodletting, and somewhere in the middle they create and reflect and, if they’re exceedingly lucky, someone remembers them.

Andrew and Anindita in front of the Château de Chillon, shortly after arriving in Switzerland in 2012.

Please enjoy Summer of Darkness!

Lausanne, May 2016