Monster Theory 2.0: Remix, the Digital Humanities, and the Limits of Transgression

‘Is remix a monster, and digital humanities the means through which it is destined to bring down the old-fashioned, exclusionary, and hierarchical modes of humanities past?’

This is the question I ask at the beginning of my chapter in the new Routledge Handbook of Remix Studies and Digital Humanities, edited by Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, and xtine burrough, and the answer is not as simple as it may seem. There are lots of great chapters in the book, divided into sections on ‘Epistemology and Theory’, ‘Accessibility and Pedagogy’, ‘Modularity and Ontology’, and ‘Aurality and Visuality’. My own chapter, on ‘Remix, the Digital Humanities, and the Limits of Transgression’, uses the metaphor of Frankenstein and his creature to suggest that the transgressive potential of remix and the digital humanities lies less in the form of these disciplines, and more in their practice: How they are allowed to intersect, evolve, and escape their traditional (anti)humanist foundations.

From the chapter:

As remix and digital humanities strive toward newer and more egalitarian futures […] the old hierarchical attitudes toward authorship, scholarship, and the humanities persist. In the case of the humanities, the scholar is placed in a position of domi- nance over digital technology and must attempt to quantify and control it for the sake of future generations. The result is largely framed as one of two equally problematic options, summed up neatly by Luciano Floridi in a 1995 article on the future of the humanities after the Internet. Floridi argues, “we are giving the body of organized knowledge a new electronic life, and in so doing we are constructing the digital heritage of the next millennium. Depending on how we meet the challenge, future generations will consider us as new Pygmalions or as old Frankenstein.”25

Floridi’s Classical/Gothic divide may seem melodramatic but is a common one in metaphors of humanism and technology. Writing five years later, Timothy Clark makes the same distinction, pointing to a millennial shift in our relationship with technology, and framing the digital turn as a monstrous one: “The traditional, Aristotelian view is that technology is extrinsic to human nature as a tool which is used to bring about certain ends. Technology is applied science, an instrument of knowledge. The inverse of this conception, now commonly heard, is that the instrument has taken control of its maker, the creation control of its creator –(Frankenstein’s monster).”26

Similarly, in 2012, Virginia Kuhn writes that remix is not “the bright and shining answer to the anxiety of loss surrounding humanities inquiry or its attendant echo of loss in the digital humanities—remix culture will not save The Iliad.”27 In this scenario, the application of remix and other digital practices in digital humanities either carries us toward a classical humanist utopia, in which remix conquers “past tired ideological divides” to elevate the humanities to new heights,28 or into the arms of a Gothic monster, where the wrong configuration of parts might spell the end of the humanities altogether, the creatures turning on their makers. In this chapter, I want to suggest the third option that we have ultimately been misreading Floridi’s monster metaphor altogether. As in Shelley’s Frankenstein, it is not the remix monster that will destroy the humanities, but us as digital humanities scholars, attempting to shape it to our narrow, humanist image. Instead, we need to reenvision ourselves as a Gothic Humanities, not in charge of shaping new generations, but curators of a grand “crypt of body parts that can be stitched together in myriad different permutations.”29

Read the rest of the chapter through your local library on the Taylor & Francis website. If your institution does not have access I am always happy to be contacted about sharing my pre-publication proofs.

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