Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2024

Volume 50 Issue 2
    • 201Meghanne Barker
    • One face in the crowd meets another. Eyes lock, only to disappear again. Craigslist missed connections, a minor genre of the personal ad, reveal the imbrication of mediation and missing. They articulate anxieties over shifting relations in cityscapes and communication infrastructures. This article treats missing as an act and affect defined through mediation. Studying a vernacular narrative form such as the missed-connections ad offers insight on the significance of missing to urban life. The architecture of missed connections shows that they trace and generate connections among physical, transit, and media infrastructures. Articulating a moment of loss and hope for recuperation, missed connections look simultaneously backward and forward in time. They describe interactions at once mundane and unique, leaving gaps that invite projection. These entextualizations of in-person encounters inspire various forms of remediation. These acts come to reanimate cities as spaces where surprise moments of fleeting intimacy can reveal themselves at any momen

    • 225Benjamin Lindquist
    • Long before Siri and ChatGPT uttered their first automated words, there was only one way to program synthetic speech: with paint and brush. During the transformative years between 1930 and 1960, artists, linguists, and engineers mixed sound and image in a way that combined artistic production with new technologies. What was known as “synthesis-by-art” grew into the rules that power computer speech today. This article concentrates on the emergence of rule-based speech synthesis at Haskins Laboratories in mid-twentieth-century America. An unexpected outgrowth of their work with disabled Second World War veterans, members of the Haskins group had developed a new machine that converted visual patterns into sound: the Pattern Playback. Like holes in a player-piano roll, painted shapes were mechanically translated into distinct sounds. Early experiments at the laboratory promised “a new art form.” Researchers painted pictures of music and listened to geometric shapes. This work eventually grew into a psycholinguistic program committed to painting the shapes of speech. But these early aesthetic experiments had helped researchers cultivate a familiarity with paint, brush, and subjective bodily knowledge. This allowed them to intuitively develop a recipe for painting synthetic speech. In other words, their painting hands enacted knowledge long before they could articulate the complex rules that govern how phonemes interact. By the late 1950s, lab member Frances Ingemann successfully converted this “embodied knowing” into a machine-legible code that rigorously detailed how to paint synthetic speech. She had hoped that her rules might result in a reading machine for blind users that would automatically convert text into speech. Instead, her work was coopted by J. C. R. Licklider, who described Ingemann’s rulebook as “a digital code, suitable for use by computing machines.” While Licklider would use the work of Haskins Laboratories to spearhead his novel concept of man-computer symbiosis, he obscured the extent to which this digital code grew from the anomalous bodies of wounded war veterans and the subjective knowing of painting hands. Indeed, the forgotten history of early text-to-speech shows the indivisibility of interactive computing and digital codes from the material practices and embodied cognition from which they grew.

    • 252Andrea Kelly Henderson
    • As familiar as the form of the mathematical equation is to us, the ostensibly simple act of equating unlike things was an achievement many centuries in the making, and one that would ultimately redefine European mathematical enquiry such that its bias toward geometry and the concrete would be displaced by a bias toward algebraic abstraction. The moment of that displacement was the nineteenth century, and its broader significance is on particularly striking display in the British context, where the implications of algebraic abstraction were the object of sustained enquiry among mathematicians, logicians, and economists. This article argues that the ascendance of the algebraic equation, and the transformation in the conception of number on which it was premised, were not simply the product of evolutionary pressures internal to mathematics; the Victorian embrace of algebra was also a response to the practical and cognitive demands of Victorian economic life, which was increasingly reliant on attenuated exchange relations and merely nominal forms of ownership. This was an economy organized around the global extension of trade and characterized by the exponential growth of financial intermediation, of what Walter Bagehot called “number abstracted from reference.” Victorian economic practices thus modeled an abstraction that helped to justify the abstractions of mathematics, and that mathematics in turn was used by economic theorists to argue for the necessity and objectivity of their models. This mutually sustaining dialogue is particularly visible in the writings of William Stanley Jevons, who applied the principles of algebra to philosophy and economic theory so as to reconceive the logic of cognitive and social life in terms of equations. This logic, for which he was merely a spokesman, continues to shape our faith in the special value of abstract, theoretical knowledge.

    • 277Maureen N. McLane
    • This article establishes itself first in a kind of slough, a lack of inspiration, and transvalues this via Fred Wah’s poem “Ikebana” and Roland Barthes’s celebration of haiku as a form that “lacks inspiration.” Following Barthes on “the minimal act of writing that is Notation,” this article explores and theorizes the status of the notational in and for poetics. The article registers and sustains the ambiguity in notatio, notationis and suggests that the notational points to a conceptual dialectic between condensation and dilation. Poets Tonya Foster and W. S. Graham offer key cases, as do the author’s own poems. The article moves from haikus and other short forms (including the imagist poem) to haibuns (a mixed form of verse and prose) to questions of accent as a mode of differentiation from the surround. Drawing on Claudia Rankine and Jacques Rancière (as well as on classical rhetoric), the article also shows how the notational as censure might register antagonisms and not only accents or gestures (as notational forms are typically glossed). Alert to the enmeshment of notational forms with other media—such as the novel and photography—the article suggests in its final turn that a notational poetics can also vivify the (sometimes latent) diegetic aspect of short, minimal, “uninspired,” supposedly “immediate” notational forms and practices, as we see in the dance of notation and annotation, or in the unfolding of haiku within mixed forms such as the haibun.

    • 317Kwabena Slaughter
    • This article explores issues of what is seen and not seen, recorded and disregarded, as they relate to the author’s practical experimentations with alternate uses/forms of the camera. These alternates include the slit-scan camera and a little-known form called the cylinder pinhole camera, which was originally designed and tested by the photo historian Joel Snyder. What do these cameras tell us, the author asks, about the center and periphery of an image as it exists inside a camera before that image is recorded on film? The prioritization of content at the center of an image, the article argues, is consistent with the West’s cultural bias toward making two-dimensional images on rectangular surfaces, such as drawings, paintings, and photographs. But we see something very different by looking into the black box of the camera, something not so rectangular. The figures included here, then, are meant to disrupt the center-periphery binary that has ruled photography in the West. These photos offer new insight into social expectations about the capacity of the camera, of panoramic images, and about strategies for analysis of art-making practices in general.

    • 335Peter Schwenger
    • The mark is the present moment of writing. It follows that if we give some thought to marks, we will also learn something about writing. The mark takes place in a certain space, from which it distinguishes itself. In George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form, a right-angle mark becomes the founding gesture for a study of distinction, space, and the relations between them. The Spencer-Brown mark is presented as the elegant minimum needed to convey the idea of “continence” or spatial enclosure. Repetitive attempts to enclose a space are evident in the earliest circular scribbles of children. Serge Tisseron suggests that, later on, filling the space of a page with words proceeds by a similar circularity: thoughts are thrown out from an elusive inner space and pulled back in the form of written lines. When words fail us, we may revert to marks—as in cases of graphomania, like those of Emma Hauk and Charles Crumb. The artist Irma Blank devoted a lifetime to exploring the nature of writing through various forms of marking. Her series titled Eigenschriften presents a ritually repeated act of self-making through the mark.