Network Aesthetics

Wednesdays@NICO Seminar, Noon, February 19, 2014, Chambers Hall, Lower Level

Patrick Jagoda, University of Chicago


For over two decades, scientists such as Albert-László Barabási have closely studied network structures. Though the concept of the network seems most appropriate to fields such as biology, computer science, mathematics, and neuroscience, it has occupied a central place in the humanities since the late twentieth century. This term comes up, for instance, in comparative literature and area studies (e.g., through metaphors of transnational circulation and linkage), philosophy (e.g., Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the “rhizomatic” network), and new media studies (e.g., through an interest in social media networks). My own work turns to the aesthetic and affective dimensions of networks — the hopes, fears, and relations elicited by networks such as the Internet, the new global economy, terrorist organizations, and various biological formations. I contend that contemporary American literature, art, and new media, in particular, have kept pace with science by calling attention to the aesthetic and cultural impact of interconnected systems. Narrative, visual, and procedural art forms encourage critical engagements with the network as the new dominant configuration and category of life. In this talk, I use a media studies lens to show how a number of artists have adapted the storytelling techniques and aesthetic strategies available across several forms — novels, films, television series, and computer games — to account for, mediate, and ultimately transform the form of the network.


Patrick Jagoda is Assistant Professor of English and an affiliate of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. Jagoda specializes in new media studies, twentieth century American literature, and digital game theory and design. He is a coeditor of Critical Inquiry and his publications appear or are forthcoming in such journals as American Literature, boundary 2, Critical Inquiry, differences, International Journal of Learning and Media, Neo-Victorian Studies, Post45, and Social Text, as well as edited volumes such as The American Novel 1870-1940 and Cyberspace and National Security. His current book project is titled Network Aesthetics. Jagoda has also worked on several projects related to digital storytelling, transmedia game design, and new media learning. He is the co-founder of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab where he has led the design of projects, including card games, interactive narratives, and alternate reality games related to various social justice topics. The Lab fosters research across the humanities, arts, and social sciences that includes work on digital media and learning, emerging cultural and narrative genres, and the social and emotional health of youth.