In Chandra Mukerji’s “Me? A Digital Humanist?” she challenges the reader to “rethink the history of technology, asking more questions about technology and humanist values, or we can rethink digital culture, asking more questions about the cultural traditions it deploys” (52). In order to present readers with this challenge, Mukerji describes and examines the “immersive environments” (43) that mazes and labyrinths create. By first using the Palace of Versailles as a physical space that can be thought of as both an “immersive environment” and “a memory palace” with the mazes and labyrinths that it possesses, Mukerji is then able to transition to thinking about the digital world in the same ways, as being both an “immersive environment” and a “memory palace” that also possesses mazes and labyrinths that the users must navigate as they engage with the digital world.
Mukerji’s use of the Palace of Versailles as an example to illustrate the more abstract processes that occur in the digital world is incredibly helpful to the reader and important to her argument as she likens the digital world to the palace. First, she describes the palace as an “immersive environment,” meaning that it is a space that “conveys a reality that is both imaginary and real” (44). One of the most important things for the reader to consider as he or she reads this text is in terms of power: In what ways does the immersive environment that characterizes the digital world assert power over the user? Just as people who navigate through the palace gardens at Versailles have logistical power being asserted over them as they see all of the grandiose sites that the palace has to offer but do not understand how every aspect that makes the palace so grandiose works, so too do users of the digital world also experience logistical power being asserted over them (us) as they (we) are benefitting from the logistics behind the digital operations that they (we) engage with on a daily basis even though we do not understand how many of the different aspects of the digital world work together.
Secondly, Mukerji’s description of the Palace of Versailles as a “memory palace” helps the reader to better grasp the ways in which the digital world can also function as a “memory palace.” One particular part of this description that I thought was interesting was the part where Mukerji discusses how the king tried to control how visitors experienced the palace as a “memory palace” by providing itineraries for the visitors. Mukerji explains, “He [the king] did not explain the stories embedded in the garden art. He simply asked them to obey his rules of conduct, forgoing their individual agency to enter a wonderland of classical memory and territorial power” (46). In a similar way, the digital world also functions as a “memory palace” where the creator of the system is the one who controls the user’s experience.
Additionally, describing the Palace of Versailles in terms of its labyrinth also helps the reader to better understand the mazes and labyrinths that are very characteristic of the digital world. One particular part of this description that I found particularly interesting was when she describes the importance of the “political life of the maze” (49). Mukerji describes, “They were supposed to use their confusion in navigating the maze to experience the limits of human powers and to highlight the hubris of those who mistook human abilities for godlike powers” (49). In a similar way, this challenged me to think about how I use my confusion as I navigate through the digital world.
I tend to be a bit technologically challenged, so trying to understand bits and pieces of Mujkeri’s article were sometimes difficult for me as I don’t completely understand some of the digital processes that she touches on. Thankfully, she doesn’t go into too much depth to where my lack of understanding when it comes to the digital world interrupts my understanding of her overall message.
I am also not super familiar with digital games, so reading the parts that focused on digital games were sometimes confusing. However, thankfully, my understanding of labyrinths helped me to better understand the larger point that Mukerji was trying to make.
Question to Gretchen Henderson (author of Galerie de Difformité): Aside from the different paths that you present for the reader to take as he or she navigates through your book, in what ways is _Galerie de Difformité _a memory palace where you, as the creator of the book, are controlling the ways in which the user/reader experiences the images and text that make up this system of the book?