Fountain: Scholarship and the Illusion of Permanence

 Published on April 19, 2016 /  Written by /  Reviewed by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris /  “Unshaken” by Aftab Uzzaman; CC BY-NC /  1

This is an experimental publication combining video and text. It was created in response to a call for papers seeking a “meta-level consideration of what ‘counts’ as scholarship, ideally in a form that pushes at the edges of what ‘counts.’”

The video features quotidian footage taken near major universities in the Boston area. The footage was recorded on a smartphone and focuses on constant or slowly changing factors of the everyday environment — flowers blowing in the breeze, cars passing, rivers flowing, people walking by. The video suggests both the beauty and triviality of ephemeral content. Original music for synthesizer accompanies the video, but the music, like the visual content, avoids engaging directly with the viewer.

The text of the video is also available as an annotated outline, with links to texts that support and challenge the video’s various claims. To provide the broadest possible access, sources have been limited to freely available material.

The video attempts to make scholarship strange again, even for those of us who spend our days surrounded by it. It intends to draw a comparison between the current moment in the history of scholarship and much earlier moments in the histories of the arts when long-established forms were destabilized by new modes of creation. As the video progresses, the footage is increasingly manipulated in Quartz Composer to suggest degradation and digital glitching, and to achieve a more abstract visual mode, with a corresponding shift in the tone of the soundtrack.

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  1. Provocations I am left mulling over:

    If the permanence and internal stability are illusionary qualities of scholarship, what happens if we intentionally resist that illusion, and value scholarship that expects to be temporary (as openly licensed projects hope to be, in some way)– the brocoleur scholar?

    If scholarship is recast to primarily serve the public, how does its definition change? How does its shape change?

    What happens if we make libraries visible in our scholarship? If we make MAKING scholarship visible? If we think of scholarship as a makerspace rather than a product?

    If libraries are gatekeepers, what happens if they always work for the open gate? How does that change how they function?

    Can libraries be a space of decentering rather than reifying? How does that affect their classifying functions?

    In what ways can the practice of citation be a gesture of opening and extending? How can citation resist exclusivity? How does the definition of “scholar” currently rely on exclusivity?

    Are all sources already impermanent and unfixed? If so, the threat is not in unfixing them, the threat is in the revelation.


    Thank you for a piece that helps me raise so many questions about my own investments and ideas. Really will enjoy thinking about this for a while!

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