Culture Magazine

Radical DH and the Xenaverse

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
It's not at all clear to me just what "digital humanities" is or will become, but it's clear that some are worried that it is just another form neoliberal oppression and won't become much of anything unless it figures out how to be radical in the face of all that tech. Me, I'm Old School and believe in capital "T" Truth, though constructing it is certainly a challenge and a trial. For reasons which I may or may not get around to explaining here on New Savanna I'm inclined to think of all this throat clearing and hemming and hawing about radical DH as a form of territorial marking (I'm thinking of recent LARB piece and its fallout). The purpose of this post is to suggest that the territory was radically marked before the DH term was coined.
Back in 1998 Christine Boese released her doctoral dissertation to the web: The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: Chaining Rhetorical Visions from the Margins of the Margins to the Mainstream in the Xenaverse. It's certainly one of the earliest hypertext dissertations, if not THE first – I simply don't know. I figure that qualifies it as DH. Here's the abstract:
This dissertation is a case study applying methods of rhetorical analysis and cultural critique to the burgeoning online phenomenon called the Xenaverse: the online spaces devoted to the cult following of the syndicated television program "Xena, Warrior Princess." My work combines two modes of inquiry:
(1) Locating and capturing texts from multiple sites on the Internet known to be parts of the Xenaverse, and
(2) Supplementing those texts with data generated from the limited use of the ethnographic tools of participant observation and informant interviews, both electronic and face to face.
The primary focus of my analysis is on constructions of authority in cyberspace. I explore the constellations of social forces in cyberspace which have led to the success of a noncommercial, highly trafficked, dynamic culture or what is sometimes called a "community." The strengths and weaknesses of this online "community" are examined in terms of the ideals of radical democracy, using Fantasy-Theme rhetorical analysis. This research examines how the rhetorical visions of this culture are used to write the narratives of its ongoing existence, in a way that is increasingly independent of the dominant narratives of the television program itself. Using the relevance of an insider's point of view and taking a case which implies successful democratic social resistance to diverse hegemonic forces, I look beyond the Xenaverse and consider the strength of the frequently-cited claim that the medium of cyberspace is intrinsically democratizing. Considering that claim critically, I suggest democracy both is and is not being enhanced online.

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