The lesson of the j-engine is a visceral confirmation that alternate paradigms for narrative, knowledge organization, and analysis should be considered in the development of humanities computing applications. The j-engine asks the questions: Can random juxtapositions be incorporated into the tools of analysis to yield a broader range of possibilities? Do we have the cognitive skills to "read" these new organizations of material?
The j-engine is based on principles familiar to anyone working in humanities computing. The literary use of analogy trades on the often surprising similarities between ostensibly dissimilar subjects. Synchronicity, coincidence, and happenstance are staples of literary narratives. Stream-of-consciousness, fragmentation, repetition, and varieties of literary cut-up suggest the spontaneity and unpredictability of life's own stories. Juxtaposition has become subtly prevalent in the computing world: the windows computer interface allows any variety of programs to alternate in space or time. Hypertext allows the juxtaposition of diverse ideas, developing new relationships in their unorthodox placement. The web interface often juxtaposes heterogenous elements in an electronic version of McLuhan's resonant mosaic.
Watching the j-engine perform its operations on a selection of images reveals that there are many ways to tell our stories, just as there are many ways to organize our knowledge. Equally so, there should be many ways to interrogate our texts for meaning. The j-engine is a visual emblem, a stimulus to the need for discovering meaning and knowledge in the pseudo-random machinations of new media.
© 2004 Michael Nixon and Marshall Soules
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