Naomi Mandel

Naomi Mandel was educated in Israel and completed a B.A. in English and American Literature and a B.M. in Piano Pedagogy and Performance at Tel Aviv University (1993). In 1994 she traveled to the United States to study at the University of California, Irvine, where her M.A. (1995) and Ph.D. (2000) focused on contemporary literature and critical theory. She is currently Professor of English and Film/Media at the University of Rhode Island, U.S.A.

Mandel’s published research reflects her interdisciplinary, comparative approach that uses fiction and film to work through critical issues in contemporary culture and philosophy, and her enduring conviction that literary fiction, popular history, film, and other commercial culture work together with political events and social crises to articulate the terms by which reality is perceived.

She is the author of Against the Unspeakable: Complicity, the Holocaust, and Slavery in America (University of Virginia Press, 2006), which critically examines the widespread assumption that vast and violent events are unrepresentable or "unspeakable," and of Disappear Here: Violence after Generation X (Ohio State University Press, 2015), which links recent developments in technology, media, and global politics to cultural, philosophical, and ethical approaches to violence.

She has also published three volumes of edited essays that attest to her commitment to academic collaboration across national and disciplinary divides, as well as over a dozen articles and reviews.

Research project: Hack : Game : Code

Hack : Game : Code, a book-length scholarly study, analyzes the representation of computer culture from the popularization of the personal computer in the early 1980s to the mainstreaming of Web 2.0 in the first years of the 21st century. The study focuses on images of hacking, gaming, and coding in the visual and literary culture of the digital revolution and the Information Age.

The goal of the project is to describe the topics, themes, and issues that inform these images; to analyze their origins, to map their transformation, and to identify and examine their contemporary manifestations in the contemporary period of false news, government-sponsored hacking, and post-truth. 
The 1980s and 1990s saw the publication of crucial texts in journalism, literature, graphic novels and film that have retained significant contemporary resilience. In 1984, Steven Levy published Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which traced the rise of hacker culture from the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT in the 1940s and articulated The Hacker Ethic. That same year, William Gibson published Neuromancer, the novel that gave birth to the cyberpunk genre and popularized the term “cyberspace.” Together with the popular 1983 Hollywood film WarGames (John Badham, dir), these texts defined and determined contemporary hacker culture.
This period also saw the evolution of gaming culture from the video arcade to the home entertainment system (Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Castle Wolfenstein), and the birth of global gaming culture with the visually sophisticated multiplayer Doom: released as shareware in 1993, Doom was seminal to the emerging online gaming culture.

In recent years, the rise of Silicon Valley and the establishment of global technoculture have been mythologized in cultural products on the birth of the personal computer (Halt and Catch Fire, AMC; Silicon Valley, HBO) and films about tech age icons Julian Assange (The Fifth Estate), Mark Zuckerberg (The Social Network), and Steve Jobs (Jobs; Steve Jobs).

This cultural reverberation is equally evident underground, or on the “dark net”: Ross William Ulbricht, creator of the Silk Road website, took as his handle “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” a character from the popular 1987 film The Princess Bride. The hacker collective Anonymous chose as their symbol the Guy Fawkes mask, a reference to the vigilante hero of V for Vendetta, originally a graphic novel published in 1986 and adapted for the screen in 2005. The “Rules of the Internet,” created on /b/, a forum on the imageboard 4chan, are drawn from Fight Club, a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk, adapted for the screen in 1999 by David Fincher—a film extensively quoted in Mr. Robot (USA), generally acclaimed as the most realistic on-screen depiction of hacking to date.
As these examples indicate, popular culture from the 1980s and 1990s continue to serve as crucial touchstones for the hackers, programmers, and visionaries of the Information Age. Hack: Game: Code analyzes these touchstones to uncover how literary and visual artifacts of the period, adapted and transformed by computer and online culture, perform significant social, cultural, and political functions in our contemporary, hyperconnected, technologized world.

Dates of stay: 01 October 2017 - 31 July 2018