Hello World!

My name is Spyros Simotas and I am a PhD candidate at the French Department at UVa. This year, I am also a Praxis fellow at the Scholars’ Lab. In this first blog post I would like to briefly introduce myself honoring Brandon’s ice-breakers.

Brandon always comes to our meetings with an ice-breaker. Here are the three we have had so far:

  1. Which is your favorite animal?
  2. Which is your favorite plant?
  3. Who would you like to have dinner with, dead or alive?

My favorite animals are elephants, my favorite plants are palm trees and if I could have a meal with anyone dead or alive, I would like to have coffee with David Lynch.

I like elephants because they are big, they make the sound of a trumpet and they care about each other. Despite their size, elephants do not pose a threat to other beings. They are also smart and they can paint. Has anyone ever calculated the size ratio between an elephant and an average-sized bug? Bugs are the most common wild life form we are stuck with in the industrialized and post-industrialized world. Domesticated farm animals that we use for food or pets don’t count. We are stuck with bugs both literally and metaphorically. Unfortunately, I have never seen an elephant hanging from the wall, or lurking inside a piece of software.

I have seen palm trees! The reason I like them is because of their simple shape. Their trunk doesn’t branch out, it only ends with a crown of leaves, like a messy toupee. Palm trees are easy to draw. When I lived in California, I remember that sometimes, their tops would disappear in the early morning mist. Also, three cut out palm trees figure on the cover of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry as a fine representation of their iconic hair style. Which brings me to David Lynch and his own impeccably messy hairdo.

Having begun his career with Eraserhead, it is hard to tell whose, his character’s or his own hair, is the source of inspiration for this electrified spiky hair style. Since then, he has created a lot of strange and heartbreaking characters. Joseph Merrick’s story, better known as The Elephant Man, The Staight Story, not to mention all the characters from his early 90’s TV series Twin Peaks revived recently, 25 years later, for a third and final season. Thanks to his book on meditation, consciousness and creativity, I was also introduced to TM. It is a small book, called Catching the big fish, very easy to read and highly recommended.

As an ending to this post, I chose the following excerpt from the chapter “The Circle” where Lynch refers to the feedback loop between an art work and its audience.

“I like the saying: “The world is as you are.” And I think films are as you are. That’s why, although the frames of a film are always the same—the same number, in the same sequence, with the same sounds—every screening is different. The difference is sometimes subtle but it’s there. It depends on the audience. There is a circle that goes from the audience to the film and back. … So you don’t know how it’s going to hit people. But if you thought about how it’s going to hit people, or if it’s going to hurt someone, or if it’s going to do this or do that, then you would have to stop making films.”1

I think the same can be said about digital humanities. Our public scholarship, experiments, code, teaching, and service, also reflect who we are and reverberate with our audience. In our first Praxis meeting, we talked about impact, trying to pinpoint the idea of success. But ultimately, we don’t know “how it’s going to hit people.” In which case, it is always useful to remember the well-known Marshall McLuhan scheme of technology as an extension of certain urges or desires. It is important to understand what is the urge that we are trying to extend because technology, according to Jonathan Harris (who also came up in our first discussion), can have “dramatic effects” on people. That’s why, he calls for “a self-regulated ethics that comes from the mind and the heart of the creator.” Finding our own common interests and desires as a team will help us define the direction we want our project to go. At this early stage, we only know that we want to work with data from the Library, using technology to create new interactions with the archive. But it is with the principles of love, care and good intentions that we embark on this year’s Praxis adventure.

  1. David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, 2016.

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