Divination and Digital Narratives

Workshop at MIT Experimental Collections on Tarot Divination

Cambridge, MA, 2020

Emilie Hardman, Curator of Strange and Interesting Things at MIT, and Kythe Heller, a session of thought with MIT’s extensive collection of medieval, modern, and contemporary interpretations of the Tarot deck.

Divination practices, from astrology to zygomancy, have been durable social and cultural engagements from the beginning of human history. Such practices and their attendant tools have shown no sign of abating either; in fact, recent years perhaps even point to a resurgence of interest and engagement. The drive to ask questions, to seek guidance and advice, to build stories and narrative frameworks may be deeply fed through such practices. Divination need not be considered within occult frameworks, nor indeed should it be considered solely an attempt to determine the future; these practices are social rituals and narrative-generating activities that actively create opportunities for self-reflection and exploration in personal and public contexts. As such, they offer new modes for working with users to create and share immersive and interactive narratives. Within digital and immersive environments we are particularly interested in how working with chance-based systems such as tarot can create opportunities for story building, performative practices, art-making and public empathy generation that holds space for diverse users to experience a sense of their own agencies, to play with temporality and dis/identification, and to practice resistance or resilience. With projects focused on exploration and use of divinatory practices that involve artificial intelligence and virtual reality, this panel will explore the resonance and phenomenology of divination in interactive digital platforms, film, games, and writing.

Emilie Hardman is head of the Distinctive Collections department at MIT Libraries. Distinctive Collections comprises the Aga Khan Documentation Center, the MIT Institute Archives, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Visual Collections, and the Wunsch Conservation Lab. The department collects, preserves, and fosters the use of unique and rare materials such as tangible and digital archives, manuscripts, ephemera, artists’ books, and more. 

Kythe Heller is a poet, multimedia artist, and scholar whose work re-imagines art-making as a practice of consciousness: In what ways can our work become sites of evolution, realizations of new social, technological, and ecological relationships, by considering how to use language and media to radically change our ways of being in the world? She is author of the poetry collection Firebird (Arrowsmith), two chapbooks, critical studies in philosophy of religion and poetics published by Cambridge UP and Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics, and essays and poems. Her performance and multimedia work has been staged at the Harvard Film Studies Center, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, SEEDS Festival, Sonoma State University, WAXworks (NYC), BAX (NYC), Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and elsewhere. Currently she is completing a doctorate at Harvard University in Comparative Religion and Art, Film, and Visual Studies/ Critical Media Practice. She founded VISION LAB in 2017.