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Gregory Ulmer - Biography

Gregory Ulmer, Ph.D., Joseph Beuys Chair at EGS, is Professor of English and Media Studies at the University of Florida. Gregory Ulmer received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Brown University (1972).

The motto guiding Gregory Ulmer’s teaching and research is borrowed from the Japanese poet Basho, who advised "not to follow in the footsteps of the masters, but to seek what they sought." From 1972–1980 Gregory Ulmer taught the Humanities sequence in University College (from the Classical Greeks to the present in literature, philosophy, and the arts), from which he gained an overview of the Western cultural tradition. He joined the English Department in 1980, where he had been teaching a course in critical theory, to which he added composition and film studies. This curriculum helped him recognize that new media were affecting our moment the way print affected Renaissance Europe, or the way the alphabet affected Ancient Greece. The handbook he was using in his composition course was a distillation of a technological and social evolution going back to Plato's invention of the concept, and Aristotle's invention of propositional logic. He realized that the Humanities disciplines were the heir of this tradition of invention. Taking seriously the responsibility of doing for new media what Plato and Aristotle did for writing, he introduced the term "electracy" to name this apparatus or social machine.

This research program evolved in two stages, represented by two trilogies. The first "grammatology" trilogy began with Applied Grammatology (1985), using the work of the philosopher Jacques Derrida to show that the tradition of Western methodology is relative to literacy. The careers of three figures who had introduced an image-based mode of knowledge (Joseph Beuys, Jacques Lacan, Sergey Eisenstein) were reviewed to indicate that the invention of electracy was already well underway. Teletheory (1989) theorized and demonstrated a new genre (mystory) that would be to educating with new media what the topical essay has been to print education. Heuretics (1994) addressed the impasse reflected in the phenomenon of frequent calls by humanities scholars and theorists for a logic or language adequate to the contemporary spectacle, with few if any actual proposals for what this logic might be. In response Heuretics formulates a poetics for the invention of methodologies and tests it by generating a logic for hypermedia (choragraphy). That same year Gregory Ulmer began teaching his courses in the Networked Writing Environment (NWE), testing the principles outlined in the first trilogy.

It required nearly ten years of transition before Gregory Ulmer put into research form the experience of the NWE. The second "image" trilogy begins with Internet Invention (2003), a hybrid theory/textbook, communicating in a kind of "Rosetta Stone" format (experimental thought juxtaposed with introductory exercises and assignments) everything Gregory Ulmer had learned up to that point about humanities computing. The optimistic proposal of this work is the close fit among the features of digital media, popular culture, and the various logics of creativity (lateral, right brain). Electracy with its support for discovery complements and supplements the emphasis in literacy-based disciplines on verification and proof. Electronic Monuments (2005) followed with an extension of the image logic taught in education to the public sphere of citizenship. As an apparatus or social machine, electracy includes a transformation of identity at the individual and collective levels, as well as changes in equipment or reasoning practices. Electronic Monuments proposes and demonstrates a practice that could support democratic deliberative reason by means of which citizens participate in the policy decisions governing their communities, against warnings that democratic politics is impossible in a society of the spectacle.

The final work in this imaging trilogy – Avatar Emergency – is in progress (see his blog, http://heuretics.wordpress.com). This book proposes an image category system (metaphysics) called “flash reason,” and demonstrates how to apply it as a consulting practice applied to public policy formation. This theory is Gregory Ulmer’s contribution to a collaboration with colleagues in a research group, the Florida Research Ensemble (FRE), with whom he has been working since the early 1990s. Gregory Ulmer recently formed a group (named “E”) consisting of colleagues in various fields of computing and visualization to develop experimental database ontologies.

Gregory Ulmer’s seminar is a practicum on grammatology and heuretics applied to the invention of electracy.

Gregory Ulmer is a Professor of Electronic Languages and Cybermedia at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he teaches an Intensive Summer Seminar.