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Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness

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Jeff Clapp

on 17 May 2016

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Transcript of Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness

Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness:
Surveillance and Algorithm in Contemporary American Fiction

Jeff Clapp
Caroline Levine’s
Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network
(2015) argues that the forms mentioned in its title are equally characteristic of texts and of contexts.

For Levine form is not genre and form is not the “elements of literature” (eg, setting, metaphor). Nor is form the unique and singular property of a particular work; ie, the form of Joyce’s Ulysses is only the form of that book.

This paper comes from a simple question: if Levine is right about what form is, how many are there? How readily can one add another?
If algorithms are a form of contemporary life, what do they look like as a form of contemporary literature?
Is contemporary surveillance “scary”?
The field of surveillance studies has established a neutral concept of surveillance, which is defined, for example, as “the systematic monitoring of people or groups in order to regulate or govern their behavior.”
(Monahan, “Surveillance as Cultural Practice” 2011)

This neutral account of surveillance is largely brought about by the influence of Lyon, who has long argued that forms of surveillance can be placed along a spectrum from “care” to “control.”
Surveillance Society
, 2001)
For a more general and more theoretical version of Lyon’s claim, see Giddens,
A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism: The Nation-State and Violence
(1985) in which democracy and surveillance emerge as twin elements of modernity as such.
thought experiment: think surveillance without Orwell
thought experiment: think surveillance without Foucault

In Rosen and Santesso’s
The Watchman in Pieces: Literature, Surveillance, and Liberal Personhood
(2014) literature and surveillance are redescribed as conjoined attempts to understand, communicate, and coordinate with other people.
Ref: Zunshine on reading and autism
The computer science definition of algorithm differs substantially from the critical-theory accounts.

According to Goldschlager and Lister, an algorithm is a “description of the method by which a task is to be accomplished” (Computer Science: A Modern Introduction, 12)

For example, if the task is: get dressed, the algorithm might look like this:

1) Put on pants
2) Put on a shirt
3) Put on socks
4) If your socks are brown, then put on brown shoes
5) If your socks are black, then put on black shoes
6) Look in the mirror
7) If you look good, go on with your day
8) If you look bad, remove all your clothes and return to (1)

Today I’m going to use the term “procedure” to define this understanding of what an algorithm is. This is wrong in computer science terms but fine for our purposes. The algorithm-as-procedure is a set of operations that when iterated, completed a task, comes to an answer, reaches a conclusion, or arrives at an ending.
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