The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

February 7, 2008

Electronic writing, approach

Electronic writing is always protocol-based and always dynamic. Keyboard
strokes signal interrupts, the screen-image is constantly refreshed, fonts
are interchangeable, links and animations may be present, the text may be
updated by the original author or modified by others, the text might be
deleted once and for all, or temporarily deleted, or duplicated and
transformed from one to another site, or printed out hardcopy, or faxed,
or entirely transformed into another medium - audio, steganography, online
or offline calligraphy, and so forth. The text is fluid, inherently
non-canonic, every instance is equivalent to every other, every instance
is original and plagiarism. The text is burdened by apparatus from ebook
reader to desktop, cellphone to electronic billboard. The text requires
maintenance, electrical current, to continue its electronic presence. The
text requires the transparency of protocols to be present, presented. The
text requires an interface from electronic hardware-software circuitry to
visual or other presentation. The text requires busses or connectors from
one component to another, and from internal electronics to display. The
text also requires data storage, and encoding/decoding as well as the
potential well of checksums and other means ensuring minimal errors. If
the text is transferred from one hardware medium to another or one file
format to another, it requires interoperability - an interoperability
which leaves the surface of the text relatively inviolate. The text
requires data storage which itself exists within a physical potential
well, producing the semblance of at least momentary stability. The text
requires light or sound or haptic or other sensors. And the text requires
a relatively stable input environment, within which the interrupts are
apparently operating smoothly, transmission is relatively clear from
infractions or appears clear from such, lag is sufficiently small and the
buffer sufficiently large to give the writer/programmer/artist at least a
degree of illusory autonomy.

Let us not forget that machines, habitus, economy, are required. That the
stability of signs and sign systems are required. That mutually understood
sememes are required. That languaging among a community of more or less
speakers/writers is required.

The text itself, per se, requires nothing. Nothing is required unless com-
munication, beyond the communication of error, anomaly, distortion, annih-
ilation, creation, exchange, displacement, condensation, theft, hack,
repetition, meta-transformations or meta-signifiers based on the bracket-
ing of the text - unless communication based on at least the semblance of
interiority, is desired; in this sense the author is ghost, wraith, close
to invisible beyond, beneath, the text, perhaps present at the birth of
the text or system or links of text, and perhaps not.

And this list, drawn from apparatus, habitus, text, language, economy,
catastrophic and stable regimes, may be extended or diminished - the terms
are variable, problematic; the 'worldview' stemming from the true world is
equally problematic.

Nonetheless: The text, and one might of course argue that each and every
text is always already dynamic, that such is the nature of communication,
written or spoken or otherwise. Still: One might or might not make a
distinction between traditional texts and those that are up for grabs in
relation to electrical and other dynamic forms of reproduction, whose
outputs are also dynamic, at least to the extent of redrawing/rewriting/
rewryting the image or text or social/creative internal and external
content and positioning of the text.

Now further, what is it that we teach, that is normally taught, if not for the 
stability of the canon, or stability for that matter of or other 
entities and projects and productions or producings which are not stable 
whatsoever but are part and parcel of literature today, however such may be 
defined? Unless literature is confined to the printed page, in which case it is 
also confined to a relatively small corner of electronic- social life today, 
that is, confined to a relatively small and perhaps irrelevant corner of life 
itself. So perhaps it is time, and of course in this space/place I am preaching 
mainly to the converted, to teach litera- ture as a residue or heartland of the 
social-technologic, as a production of desire, at least to the extent of the 
desire to be produced, in rela- tion to literature as theory or language or 
other artifacture? In spite of the fact that theory is essential to 
hermeneutics and the reception of literature. In which case, literature might 
be approached top down, or sides-in, lateral, so that, for example, the 
existence of the external flash drive, conveniently plugged into a machine for 
extra memory, operat- ing system, creative software, text repository, would be 
inherently part of the questions: What, how, why, when, where do we write? 
Where are our writings deposited? What hope do we have for their survival? What 
about _this particular text_ within this particular environment - a momentary 
housing at best? What about momentary housing? Obsolescence? And so forth?

From a related discussion with Sandy Baldwin, Frances van Scoy Azure Carter: 
Given the above, what are the software issues themselves? What are the textual 
or graphic or other interfaces employed? What are the esthetics of those 
interfaces? Since every interface both transmits and filters, what are the 
conditions of transmission, and what is filtered out, what artifacts are added 
in? Is the interface considered an object or a process (continual updating of 
beta, name+number (Quicktime 7.4 for example), is it purchased or free, open or 
closed source? What is the user control over the interface and what is the 
interface's control over the user? (For example, user-specified fonts may 
override monospaced fonts in a text apparently involving graphic-ascii or other 

Further, there are phenomenological issues related to traditional media, to 
media in general: What is the genre-lens we're using in reading/looking 
at/processing/hearing/etc. a text? What is the history of the genre? Of genre? 
How does genre relate to canon and is the text considered canonic? Is it 
considered a finished text, an object, a process, an unfinished text, a 
variorium, an ur-text, a meta-text, a critique of another exemplary text, a 
system of procedures or modules or sub-modules? Further, is the text considered 
part of a cycle? Of a community of texts? Written by one or more authors? Is 
the user part of a community of users, for example a book club? Was the text 
written for a community or specific community? What theory, if any, is used to 
approach the text? What is the text's relation to that theory? To theory? Who 
wrote, programmed, created, tended, the text? Is the text interactive, 
reactive, stationary, mobile within the interface, apparently within the user's 
control, out of the user's control; does it alter the interface framework, 
collapse or appear to hack into the framework? And is the text designed to be 
read/viewed/ heard/etc. with a particular viewer in mind? With a particular 
person or group or groups of people?

Finally, is electronic writing textual? Can one speak of an 'electronic
text'? Is electronic writing _read_? Are there other ways to approach it?
(Is electronic writing an 'it'?) I want to argue against canon, genre,
static or state approaches, I want to argue in favor of a general field
phenomenology of organism, inscription, inscribing, emanent, machinic and
other phyla, wryting and other processes, I want to think through no final
solutions, no stages of consciousness, no conclusions, no edifices, no
thing, other and no other, I want to argue against this messaying, this
lack (what did I forget, what did I leave out, what have I gotten wrong,
what don't I know, what did I express poorly if at all?), I want to argue
against argument, I want to argue the favor of your


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