The Xtranormal Future of the Humanities

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(Crossposted at Arcade.)

In the spirit of continuing the conversation we have been having on Arcade about Stanley Fish, the recent axing of French, Italian, classics, Russian, and theatre at SUNY Albany, and the future of the humanities, I’d like to present this video (h/t Mark Vega).

This is a video created using "xtranormal," a service that allows one to choreograph computer generated figurines, creating primitive animated three dimensional storyboards, based on text inputs. While painful and funny — especially for those of us who are on the job market this year — xtranormal raises interesting questions about possible new directions in the development of narrative art, giving us a hint of what is to come, what critics will have to give consideration to.

The tools with which this video were created are relatively primitive, but should we expect narrative art of considerable sophistication to be created using tools such as this in the near future? It seems clear to me that the answer is yes — we will in a not-too-near future be inundated by animated narrative in huge quantities. And, as I hope this video makes plain, such videos can be incredibly intelligent and engaging. Of course, anyone who has ever watched South Park — or, as I have, taught episodes of South Park in a course — already knows this.

In a future where anyone, working more or less alone, can construct films of (increasing) sophistication, will the ultimate promise of being a novelist — sole, individual control over one’s artistic output, at least in theory — give way to a world of one-person moviemakers? Will all classic literature be mediated by a new layer of animated figures acting out plots and scenarios originally written in novelistic form? If so, is this a bad thing? Are there pedagogical opportunities such systems offer teachers willing to embed new media in the classroom?