Got Prism?

Funny thing about collaborative projects in the (digital) humanities: No famous last words. A nun scholar lives and dies by her last words, but around here we’re just part of an incredibox. On the week when we release Prism, I could regale you with all the lessons I learned this year (right about doubled the stock), how wonderful this whole experience has been (I wouldn’t trade your post-doc for my praxis), what exciting times we live in (don’t look down), but after perusing the drafts queued up on the wp-admin, it sounds like those tunes will be sung to perfection by my fellow praxers. Let me instead play a bit.

I’m sure it has not escaped your attention that Prism plays a sweet prank on the discursive class. The premise: graduate students collaborate to build a hermeneutic tool while learning much-needed technical and managerial skills their hermeneutic training made invisible. The punchline: Except for the cast of characters witnessing its birth, the tool the students make renders the hermeneut invisible.

Prism yanks the out-of-line hero in Aeschylus right back into the incredibox where he came from. Your username is only visible to you. Once you register for the first time, it descends to the MySQL underworld, effectively re-enacting the Eleusinian Mysteries that preceded the birth of Greek tragedy. “You can check out anytime you like/But you can never leave.” Brilliant!

BUT, the playful prank is not without use or merit, and we are laughing with you, not at you. Heck, I AM one of you. Yes, Prism abstracts interpretative labor (c.f. Baudrillard on Symbolic Exchange and Death), but it does so without foul. I’m guessing most folks would find the momentary anonymity quite refreshing. Truth be said, we don’t need to doodle our signatures on every wall. (c.f. Derrida… No? You don’t have to).

Furthermore,  and as David shows by example on his recent post, many new avenues of research open up with Prism. The tool does not replace, but sits to the left of other hermeneutic approaches. To pick one question of the many new questions that Prism opens up:

Given that anonymity changes the way we enact readings; and, given that the ruling ideology in Amerika would have us believe that racial identity is a thing of the past: How does the invisible subject react to symbolic Law?

Obviously, that is not the only new question Prism can ask, nor the first to come to mind for most users. We worked hard to make it generic enough that many disciplines could find plug-n-play uses for it. And then again, what else could Prism lead to, but renewed interest in interpretation as a microscopic-practice?  Yes, the lovely texts! Don’t be fooled by the promise of macroscopic understandings of difference. That is just a (mc)lure.


Textual critic, high theory acolyte, archive rat, hard-hat Caribbeanist, Rails aficionado, conference-trotter. My thesis focuses on the evolution of the play Et les chiens se taisaient by Aimé Césaire. Other projects include: an edition of Césaire, THATCampCaribe, a better Juxta, a class on #critcode, and Prism at the Praxis Program.

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