Critical Studies of Media Arts and Sciences

Graduate Seminar / Supervised Readings

SIP 825S Doctoral / SIP 637X Masters

Fall 2010, Room EV7.725

Organizational meeting Wednesday September 8, 3:30-4:30,

(Wednesdays: Pattern Maths Workshop 2:00 - 3:30; Threads: 3:30 - 5:30)

Prof. Sha Xin Wei


Seminar Description:

This is a readings-based seminar on the foundations of art research and on the critical studies of media arts and sciences.

It is intended for PhD, MFA, and advanced Masters students in humanities, arts, and sciences, as well as researchers affiliated with the Topological Media Lab. Topics and readings will vary according to the semester and individual participants' interests. Broadly, they include gesture, agency, and materiality from phenomenological as well as technical perspectives, with ethico-aesthetic implications. We will read and discuss a small number of substantial works in as much depth as we find fruitful. At the end of every semester, we will propose a bundle of readings or themes as the focus for the subsequent seminar.


Fall 2010

This Fall, the two purposes of this graduate seminar will be to (1) survey theoretical negative critiques and positive approaches relevant to contemporary studies of media arts and sciences, and (2) discuss special themes of current research interest around topological media.

The main discussions are held in common with CART 414 which meets Thursdays 1:30 - 5:30, EV5-615.

Threads Wednesdays 3:30 - 5:30

Graduates will participate in one (or more) of the special topics threads. These will meet every third week (either Wednesdays 4:00 - 6:00, or Thursdays 3:30 - 5:30, to be arranged.)

This year the proposed threads are:

(1) Memory, Place, Identity seminar with Prof. David Morris, Tristana Rubio and other graduate students in Philosophy from McGill, Concordia, + TML researchers. Readings include selections from including Merleau-Ponty and Ed Casey. The goals include reviewing experimental work to date, and to write an experimental design that can be carried out in Winter.

(2) Psychology and Architecture. This will be a set of readings and discussions around experience and construction of space and place. The Fall will be mainly based on reviews of the state of the art and culminate in some experimental designs. Readings may include selections from Heidegger and David Seamon. The first part will prepare for an informal workshop with Drs. Helga Wild on psychology, the body, and rhythm, and Dr. Linnaea Tillett on lighting and event.

(3) Ecology-economics / Vegetal Studies: Laura Boyd-Clowes, Morgan Sutherland, + affiliates of the TML in Toronto, SF, Poland. Two advanced students with the TML are finishing dissertations and MFA related to this area: Jen Spiegel, Flower Lunn. And we will have Niklas Damiris in late October give a talk on eco-economics, so the first month constitutes a preparation for that workshop.

Supplementary Thread: Maths for Patterns Wednesdays 2:00 - 3:30

Supplementing this will be a weekly session WEDNESDAYS 4-7 PM on non-instrumental mathematics for critical and cultural studies. This starts as a rapid survey of math to beginning graduate level from a creative point of view, and includes forum and support for (1) temporal textures , and (2) pattern theory and tracking.

There is an order to things:

Linear Algebra
intro to Dynamical Systems
intro to Statistical Physics

Monte Carlo methods
Spectral methods
(for PhD, philosophical work)
intro Differential Geometry
intro Topology
intro Measure Theory

We should move fast but do it well. Take turns teaching each other. I can give some orienting talks for Linear Algebra and ODE's and intro Dynamical Systems. You must do or try to do exercises yourselves.

I will commit some of my time this Fall to work with you on this, but I expect you to do it smart, for big payoff: supple (not brittle gappy) knowledge. This means you will take turns to lead the group. Pick special topics to absorb and present in working group. For example one person can do a series on Monte Carlo methods for the group, another on eigenvalues and spectrum of an operator.

I will work with the presenter 1-1. Everyone must do exercises. I will not check or grade them or provide answers so recommend you work for example from Schaum outline series (or equivalent -- there are many texts with worked exercises). I will pay for texts that we decide are useful.

Winter I will not have time for hand-holding, but at that point you should be ready to do special topics. And then we can maybe also enroll experts.

I expect the audience to splits into two: programmers / "makers", and writers / "theorists".

If the PhD's are interested, at that point, for those of you who have the basics, then I can give intros to some of the "real" math from Riemannian geometry, point set topology, measure theory... with theorems and maybe one or two arguments to give you a flavor of how the theorems are made. This will be off the cuff, but as real as we can make it. I will not expect you to create proofs unless you can, but by the end of the year. (someday :) but by the end of the year, it would be great if you can follow a proof and understand some of the process of propositional adventure to which Stengers gestured.

This would be more useful for the philosophical investigations and for graduate research in engineering than for hacking. Different audience different purpose, and different level of sophistication. So it's up to you. But by then I should have written the last chapter that I'll be revising: the math chapter. We can decide in December.

After the ATACD (topology and cultural dynamics) conference in Barcelona, and this recent one in Aberdeen on Lit+Math, I think there's definitely an opening for a new generation of informed discourse. But I would very much like to do it in a way that is much more sophisticated as to mathematical content and to the ethos. (Cf. Patrice Maniglier's structuralism, as a supple alternatve to Badiou-ismo.) This may prep the PhDs for readings of Deleuze, Simondon, Badiou, Plotnitsky, Petitot, Connes etc.

Previous Themes

General Mechanics

A reading group can meet weekly. Advanced, veteran doctoral students may choose to do individual readings and presentations.

This 3 credit seminar will typically be offered every semester: Fall, Winter, and sometimes Summer.
Students from programs other than the SP should check with their home programs that they can take this course for credit. Faculty of Fine Arts MFA students may receive seminar credit for this course with permission of the MFA seminar office.


The evaluation depends on in-class participation and the final paper. Typical length will be 15 pages. You may submit in French as well as English.
Students who make satisfactory progress in their graduate program and in this seminar, may repeat this course for credit with permission of the professor and relevant offices.


Fall 2010 Potential references include


Complete Bibliography

Readings will be selected from the associated list of references.   You may suggest other relevant readings and present them after discussing them ahead of time with me.