Playing With Monsters: An Uncanny Digital Archaeology

Poster created by Shang Yang

I was honored and excited to be invited to give a virtual brown bag at the Stanford Archaeology Center earlier in October. I was initially worried that I wouldn’t have time to make something that would capture a virtual audience, but I decided to do my favorite thing–make trouble. For the lecture I decided to mess with the usual, expository, talking-head format through some fairly minor interventions in video editing. As my digital surrogate disgorged the lecture, I typed alongside, providing snide commentary, marginalia, etc.

At one point we were “zoom bombed” which was utterly delightful and disruptive, and I was excited that some audience members thought that it was part of the talk. It was important to me to add creativity and levity to the usual academic spiel and to try out some of the affordances we are all encountering in our new online world of information dispersal.

I received some truly excellent questions and comments from the audience, and it made me miss Bay Area archaeology in all its fine permutations. So, I’ve pasted the abstract below and the video. I’m working on a paper along the same lines, so I’d be happy for any feedback.

Abstract:

Monsters, in their sensuous, ambivalent, in-betweeness, can be an expression of creative impulse, subversion, of evidence of play within archaeology. Braidotti’s monsters “represent the in between, the mixed, the ambivalent…(the) horrible and wonderful, object of aberation and adoration.” Digital interventions are Frankenstein’s monsters, lurching somewhere between Tringham’s “faceless blobs” and an idealized ontological collective—networked and multi-faceted but still oddly homogenous. Archaeological monsters are a human and unhuman aggregate, one that digital archaeologists should recognize as we practice assembling, as Haraway states, “articulations among cosmos, animal, human, machine, and landscape in their recursive sidereal, bony, electronic, and geological skeletons.” In this lecture I discuss a monstrous digital archaeology, confounding our senses, invoking joy as a form of resistance and inviting playful interventions.