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Understanding New Media Art Through Close Reading:
Four Remarks on Digital Hermeneutics

by Roberto Simanowski

With the increasing importance of digital media in all areas of social and cultural life, it is necessary to define a conceptual framework for understanding the social changes it generates. This implies to introduce students and readers to the new methods of critically interacting with media in digital culture. Conference presentations and publications develop the theoretical background and methods needed in scholarship and education to approach the new topics. At various universities, scholars discuss the consequences of such developments under the umbrella terms of digital literacy, digital humanities, or “electracy.” Nevertheless, scholars also must concentrate on the aesthetic aspects of digital media, investigating in new artistic genres emerging from or changes in existing genres brought about by digital media. This, however, should not happen on the ground of a metatheoretical discussion or thematic reading, as was common in the 1990s, when the understanding of the technology (such as hypertext) as the embodiment of contemporary critical theory distracted critical attention for the actual work and led to misinterpretations of the theory applied in favor of establishing a link between this theory and technology. It is important not to reduce any specific example of digital art to the status of typical representative of some aspect of digital media or of some genre of digital art. It is time to pay attention to the specificities of particular works. This does not mean that we should abstain from discussing a specific work as an example of a genre, or try to refrain from understand a genre itself as a signifying form in contemporary culture. If close reading aims at critical reading, making generalizations and suggestions concerning certain interdependencies between the particular artifact and the broader cultural situation will be inevitable. The crucial questions are where one starts, how much attention is paid to the work at hand and what, first of all, are the central aspects of a hermeneutic perspective in digital media. The following text proposes a few general ideas towards the development of digital hermeneutics.

1. Understanding New Media Artifacts by Using Traditional Criteria
2. Hermeneutic of Invisible Text
3. Signs Without Meaning

4. The End or Beginning of the Work

5. Notes

6. Works Cited

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