Review: “Waves (Response to a Blog Post)”

Still from “Waves (Response to a Blog Post)”

I’d like to talk about Daniel Anderson’s short video essay, “Waves (Response to a Blog Post),” which he released a week ago on Vimeo. First, let’s take a look at it, shall we?


I first watched this film on my television, comfortably sitting on my couch. I tensed up almost immediately, succumbing to a kind of claustrophobia. This digital work, this “screencast,” is something I relate to viscerally. As a writer and, particularly, as a blogger, “Waves” illustrates the work I do on computers in a way I hadn’t conceived of before. It’s…frightening.

Here is Mr. Anderson’s description of the film:

This is my response to the blog posting, The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality. See the mantra: you don’t study digital composing, you perform it.

The post in question was published on January 9 by Stanley Fish at the New York Times. In it he discusses scholarship in the digital age and why he has opted to reframe his “column” as a “blog.” He ends his piece with a question or, perhaps, a challenge:

The pertinent challenge to this burgeoning field has been issued by one of its pioneer members, Jerome McGann of the University of Virginia. “The general field of humanities education and scholarship will not take up the use of digital technology in any significant way until one can clearly demonstrate that these tools have important contributions to make to the exploration and explanation of aesthetic works” (“Ivanhoe Game Summary,” 2002). What might those contributions be? Are they forthcoming? These are the questions I shall take up in the next column, oops, I mean blog.

“Waves” appears to be the answer to that loaded question. Consider what the film is: it’s a window onto the desktop of a scholar who is mashing up and remixing the work of others in almost every conceivable way. The text, the music, the videos, the applications and even the graphical interface itself are wholly unoriginal, conceived not by the filmmaker but by other artists. Any one of us could replicate the work that Anderson performs in his film, but why would we?

Taking it further, we can talk about the way that Anderson released this work into the world. It was uploaded to Vimeo, where many would be watching it on a computer screen. The experience changes if you watch it on a tablet or on a television; it is completely different if you watch it windowed or fullscreen; and the experience of watching this either on a Mac or a Windows machine alters the viewer’s perspective even further. The portal through which we view the work completely changes the experience. If the challenge is that scholarship will ignore digital technology “until one can clearly demonstrate that these tools have important contributions to make to the exploration and explanation of aesthetic works,” then I’d say that burden has been met.

I spend a great deal of time in front of screens. When I’m not in front of a computer, I am usually watching television or tapping away on my iPad or iPhone. Digital tools surround me because I like them and they enhance the way I work and live. No matter what the screen, I am always aware of my surroundings. The coins and papers on my desk, the subway train on which I clack away on my iPad, the park from which I am tweeting, etc. The screencast, however, disembodies the act of making a digital work. Anderson’s film feels corpse-like, a computer almost running itself for its own amusement and gains. Like I said, it is frightening, but I can’t look away.

According to his Web site, Daniel Anderson is an English professor at the University of North Carolina where he studies “new media composing and instructional technology.” His aim here may have been academic, but I would argue that the outcome is entirely cinematic. There are a severe amount of interpretations that “Waves” is open to which only adds to the joy of experiencing it. Plop ten people down in front of this film and you’ll get at least ten different explanations, maybe more. Now that’s cinema.