Elayne Zalis, PhD, MA
Writer, Editor, Author
Essays on Personal and Cultural Memory
My interdisciplinary studies of the media arts influenced choices I later made as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. I wrote the following essays early in my academic career while exploring innovative approaches to personal and cultural memory across a range of media.
“At Home in Cyberspace: Staging Autobiographical Scenes,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Biography: An International Quarterly, 26.1 (Winter 2003): 84-119. This special issue examines “Online Lives.” (about 14,000 words)
United by a common tendency to raise questions about the meaning, recollection, and locus of “home” in a digital age, the five hypermedia websites on this virtual tour open up arenas for staging autobiographical scenes differently. Broadening the scope of The Home Project that the trAce Online Writing Centre maintains, and drawing on theories of spatiality and cyberculture, the survey of Family Portrait, Grandfather Gets a House, The Family Album Project, Home Maker, and Heard It in the Playground shows how these networked experiments with collaborative storytelling transform personal home pages into new spaces for cultural intervention. While merging “private” and “public” spheres, these examples also provide forums in which culturally diverse casts of characters showcase theatres of recollection for heterogeneous audiences around the world.
In September 2015 the journal Biography published Online Lives 2.0. I was invited to contribute an update to my 2003 article. This time, however, instead of critiquing work by other people, I take a personal approach and discuss how my critical explorations of new media inspired me to write Arella's Repertoire, a novel framed as a blog. My essay is titled "Designing a Theatre of Recollection for the Digital Age: Shifting Perspectives and the Autobiographical Eye."
“Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, Flag and Trick or Drink,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Screening the Past: An International Refereed, Electronic Journal of Visual Media and History, v. 13, Dec. 2001. (about 16,000 words)
The essay links the independent videos Flag (USA 1989), by Linda Gibson, and Trick or Drink (USA 1984), by Vanalyne Green, with traditions of women’s autobiographical videomaking in the United States that blur boundaries between “private” and “public” spheres to politicize the personal. The essay focuses on how Flag and Trick or Drink interweave personal, social, spatial, and historical strands to tell the story of a woman’s life. The personal archives that the videos showcase suggest how diaries that the videomakers kept when they were adolescents instigate the adults’ remembrances of the past. The essay suggests that Flag and Trick or Drink open up directions for others to explore further in a range of old and new media.
My personal collection of video art tapes and research is housed in the Elayne Zalis Video Studies Archive in the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell University. The contents of my collection are listed online.
VirtualDayz, a blog I started in June 2005, also addressed the media arts and new media, as well as memory, personal storytelling, literature, and performance. My blog posts from June 2005 through July 2006, the most active period, have been collected in the book VirtualDayz: Remediated Visions & Digital Memories. I also briefly kept another blog, Transforming Video Art: Private & Public Archives.
Selections from the blogs:
MIT4 (regarding a conference at MIT, Media in Transition: The Work of Stories) (posted June 30, 2005, VirtualDayz):
"As the title suggests, the conference focused on Media in Transition, and the theme this year was storytelling in its many forms: 'as a cultural practice, a social and political activity as well as an art form' (MIT4 website, “Mission”). The scholars, journalists, artists, and media professionals who participated crossed disciplinary boundaries to debate trends in both traditional and 'new media.'" Read more
Merce Cunningham Dance Company and "Soft Cinema" (posted July 10, 2005, VirtualDayz)
"I saw the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform in LA last month [at Walt Disney Concert Hall]. After the matinee, Cunningham participated in a Q and A that gave this living legend a chance to share anecdotes from his remarkable life. His reflections ranged from Black Mountain College to computers as a choreographic tool. This session with the audience added another layer to the performances we had just seen, “Fabrications” (1987) and “Split Sides” (2003). . . .
"I thought about this performance yesterday while watching an interview with new media artist and scholar Lev Manovich that was included on the recently released 'Soft Cinema' DVD, along with three short movies he and his collaborators produced to test his influential theory of database aesthetics." Read more
Annette Kuhn and Memory Work: Reflections on "Family Secrets" (posted July 27, 2005, VirtualDayz)
"I've been reading Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, a memoir by British film scholar Annette Kuhn (1995/2002). A blend of cultural criticism and cultural production that engages both the psychic and the social, the hybrid text brings together a series of autobiographical case histories that use private and public images from Kuhn’s past as prompts for 'memory work,' which Kuhn defines as 'a method and a practice of unearthing and making public untold stories' (9–10). In a manner reminiscent of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Kuhn reflects on her family album, as well as on news photographs and film scenes, to 'unravel the connections between memory, its traces, and the stories we tell about the past, especially—though not exclusively—about the past of living memory' and in the process to reveal 'the collective nature of the activity of remembering' (Kuhn, 4, 6)." Read more
Enigmatic Fascinations: Re-viewing Memory Texts--a personal follow-up to Kuhn's book (posted August 1, 2005, VirtualDayz)
"Contributing to my personal archive, the memory texts I’ve created have themselves taken on the characteristics of family albums and memorabilia, resources that usually instigate the type of memory work Kuhn practices. . . . These dynamics became clear to me while viewing a new DVD copy of “In the Beginning,” a two-minute compilation of 8mm home movies from my childhood that I made for an introductory film class many years ago. Little did I know then that the shots I spliced together with Scotch tape would someday be the only moving-image footage left from my youth." Read more
Recollecting "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana," a novel by Umberto Eco (posted Sept. 29, 2005, VirtualDayz)
"After listening to Umberto Eco discuss his latest novel with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s “Bookworm” last month (aired in LA August 25 and accessible online), I ordered The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana from my local library right away. Since my knowledge of Eco’s work had been limited to his theoretical writing on semiotics—and to the film based on The Name of the Rose—I was curious to see for myself how this scholar crossed over to fiction, especially with a personal narrative that disinters both private and public archives to chronicle, in Eco’s words, the 'dismantling of self,' and to document, in Silverblatt’s words, 'memories of things lost.' . . .
"Village Voice critic David Ng shifts the focus to new media when he argues that The Mysterious Flame may be Eco’s 'most hypertextual novel to date—a sprawling network of mnemonic associations ripped straight from a highly troubled brain.'" Read more
DIY Video Summit (USC) (posted Feb. 10, 2008, Transforming Video Art)
"Because I’ve studied independent video movements that emerged during earlier media revolutions, beginning in the late 1960s, I was intrigued by the focus of this conference and the questions it raised. While listening to discussions about democratizing modes of new media production, distribution, and exhibition; inventing novel discursive styles and formats; and empowering underrepresented populations by allowing them to speak for themselves and tell their own stories, I was reminded of those earlier video pioneers who in many respects paved the way for the new media makers of today. Although social contexts have changed and communications technologies have evolved, relationships do persist between media artists and activists of the late twentieth century and DIY video makers at the beginning of the twenty-first century who are introducing theories and practices of their own." Read more
Transforming California Video: A Change of Address (re: Getty Exhibition) (posted March 15, 2008, VirtualDayz):
"On Thursday night I attended the opening of California Video at the Getty Center, a lavish refuge nestled in the mountains overlooking L.A. After a tram ride up to the museum, I passed through a festive courtyard where hundreds of guests sampled a variety of international cuisines and schmoozed on their ways to and from the exhibition upstairs. Ascending once more, I paused to take in the spectacular view before entering the exhibition space and embarking on a journey into the past, an excursion—I would discover—with both cultural and personal dimensions." Read more