Melbourne based (Swinburne) academic Belinda Barnet’s history of hypertext, “Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext” is listed in hardback and Kindle at amazon. She’s interviewed all the key figures, and as far as I know this is the first history to be written.
There are three things that matter in relation to a networked specific practice and media production. These three terms apply to the formal attributes of digital media, the qualities that practice requires, and how audiences participate, use, and engage with networked media. There is no hierarchy amongst these three terms, and they move prove to be insufficient. The terms are porousness, granularity, and facets. The list does not include database, user, or interactivity, as these are not causes but consequences of this triumvirate of terms.
Porousness describes the way in which the objects within networked media need to be open to each other internally, and externally. They are open internally to the extent that its constituent parts are available to its other constituent parts through what Weinberger has rather informally defined as ‘small pieces loosely joined”. Similarly, the work itself, as an assemblage of constituent parts, needs to be available to other systems and objects externally, out on the network. This allows them to be shared, curated, and used otherwise. Porous media does not want or need to monopolise my attention, screen, or hardware.
Granularity describes the smallest constitutive unit in a work that provides closure and coherence by itself. It is a meaningful whole, as is. This unit does not need to be narrative. A work that is highly granular can be regarded as very porous. When a thing is porous and granular they have a multitude of possible connections with each other. These possible connections are the facets that things present to each other, or which other things cause to be presented. As there are a multiplicity of such facets, in any networked practice only some of this set of facets are ‘realised’, however the more facets that are enabled and available, then the more possibilities for connections between parts exist.
Where the units within networked media are granular and porous then these elements remain as elements during, and after, publication and distribution. This means these small parts still make some sort of sense, even if shifted elsewhere and into other contexts. This makes it easy to remix material, and the facets that can be provided to search, find, connect, and identify these elements then the easier and more successfully things can be mediated and montaged.
Cinema has always existed in such a condition, and it is the shots granularity and porousness to other shots that makes the cinema possible. A shot, has, in the terms above, many facets available to other shots to form a sequence. This means that the shift heralded by networked practice and media may not be as large as many believe, so that it is not so much the formal attributes as others that need addressing as media making moves even more substantially into networked modes.
If I apply this to online documentary then it is easy to see that a lot of online documentary does not understand this. The most common criticism is that the works are closed, with perhaps a nod to the modern version of the guestbook (comments or some other crude device to collect and aggregate other people’s words to itself). The second is facets, where the ability porousness of the parts to itself are trivialised into menus of choice, even where such menus become fancy dots, mouse events, or some other way of making a menu appear to be anything but the menu that it is. This produces largely linear, radial pathways through material, much like the architecture of a 7-Eleven (put the key sellers, e.g. milk, at the back and have each aisle lead you through it, with the impulse purchases closest to the milk and the counter) which in so many ways betrays an anxiety of granularity, facets, and porousness.
One of the ideas I floated at yesterday’s “Surface Tensions” symposium was that electronic literature is more in the register of the temporal than the spatial. I come into hypertext via cinema studies, and my early research was all about the ways in which hypertextual linking are exactly the same sorts of things as filmic edits (performative, pretty much able to join anything to anything). From there it is a small step to see that the Kuleshov experiment is about how the same shot can mean different things when placed in different relations. Hypertext works the same way (which is pivotal to something like Joyce’s “Afternoon”). This means cinema, and hypertext, are relational media, it is the relations between things that matter. Now, relations are significant because their terms are external to the things. This is the real point of the Kuleshov example. It is the same image of the actor each time but it comes to mean something different. How can something that remains the same mean something different? Because relationally is external to the thing, it is a set of terms that do not leave a mark (Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘incorporeal transformations’) upon the thing but which change the thing.
Now, as relational media when something appears, that is what particular set of relations it comes to be in (what sequence) matters. This is why, in a hypertext as in a film you can not visit the same space twice. By that I mean I may return to the same node in a hypertext a second time, but by virtue of its reoccurrence, the way its meaning will now change, or the way in which its reappearance will now change how I understand the story as a whole, it is just not the same node. Like the stream, you can’t visit the same node (or shot in a film) twice. It is not mere repetition.
From this we can see that it is a temporal medium. If for no other reason than a space is somewhere I can return to. Yes, it will be different (that’s time though, isn’t it), but I give you an address, and you, and I, and others, can meet there. We can meet there today, and tomorrow, and the day after. It is repeatable. We can’t do that with time. I can meet you at this address at 11am tomorrow, but I can’t return to that 11am tomorrow at another time to meet you. It never stays still like place and space. So in hypertext, and most forms of digital media, even where I might have spatial montage, as that phrase tells us, it is the montage (which is the temporal part) that matters the most. (And is hardly new to new media, film makers used split screens from very early on in cinema, not to mention of course the history of diptych and triptych compositions in painting.)
This temporality becomes interesting because it seems there is a will to movement, to passage in time, where writing moves or leaves the space of the page towards the temporality of something else. Possibly cinematic, though I don’t think it wants to be cinema, it might just want to drink from the same well as the cinematic as a temporal thing. The page is fixed, the reader largely controls the time of the text, here the materiality of the digital on a screen realised through its temporality as a post cinematic writing shifts or introduces time into the object itself. It is seeking a place in time. That’s really interesting, somehow.
Nice questions and provocations. “If it is about the literary, and if the literary is about language, how is this ‘contained’ in a database?” “If language is local and mediated locally, and digital infrastructure is global [and by implication the same everywhere] then what is the relation of one to the other?” (Manuel Portela.)
History matters. The history of the discipline of digital humanities is not well known outside of the discipline and is too easily either appropriated, or misread, by those coming in. For Willard the change was the arrival of the Web, which was a tsunami that ignored what had been before. Hands on, practical making experience, is fundamental to the digital humanities. You need to make to get the materiality and thickness of the digital. Otherwise you misjudge the possible and the available. Interdisciplinarity matters, but it is a process not a thing. In the digital humanities the boundaries are fluid, but the discipline needs to build itself to be a more robust discipline. It is a trading zone, and in the digital humanities are perhaps poachers more than traders. (Willard McCarty)
I’ve been invited to participate in this. I was very clear that I really didn’t think I was the electronic literature person anymore, having moved much more strongly into what you could call hypertextual video, though still deeply interested in other forms of scholarly practice that deal thickly with the digital. Seems that was near enough so I’m being jetted and put up for a night. The Sebel. Swish. It’s a symposium that is part of ISEA. Come along, is a day of conversation more than presentations so am expecting good things.
Date and time: Monday June 10th 2013 10am -5pm
Venue: The Sebel Surry Hills Hotel 28 Albion St Sydney
Join us for a one day symposium with visiting scholars to discuss e-literature as an emergent discursive formation, hosted by the Creative Nation: Writers and Writing in the New Media Arts ARC Discovery Project. There will be no registration charge, and catering will be provided. Please RSVP to Suzanne Gapps by 31 May and let us know of any special dietary requirements. Readings and detailed program will then be sent out to participants.
Electronic literature is not just a thing or a medium or even a body of works in various genres. It is not poetry, fiction, hypertext, gaming, codework, or some new admixture of all these practices. E-literature is, arguably, an emerging cultural form, as much a collective creation of terms, keywords, genres, structures, and institutions as it is the production of new literary objects. (Joseph Tabbi, Electronic Literature as World Literature;or, The Universality of Writing under Constraint)
As writing migrates off the page and across a range of different electronic media authorship, readership, and textual form are being radically transformed by digitality, programmability, and the database. Emerging literary forms in digital environments highlight the need for a new language, a disciplinary and technical vocabulary adequate to the interactive and networked modes increasingly characterizing literary production and its reception. These changes are happening in concert with wider processes of cultural transformation associated with what has become known as cognitive capitalism, with its immaterial labour, its reliance of the database as both source and archive, and increasing emphasis on the circulation of knowledge rather than of material products. The literary is now (re)located in networks, knowledge bases, global systems, and material and mental environments, as Tabbi has argued. In this context, the growth of online literary databases or directories (which describe and document born digital works) is giving rise to not only to international, transdisciplinary collaboration but to new conversations in and beyond the academy, and which play a crucial part in reconstituting the literary. This re-orientation towards the database, as Tabbi puts it, is a means of accessing born digital writing but also it involves a way of conceiv[ing] the works peculiar, media specific integration with externalities (the world not outside the text, but environing it). How, then, might we think about new literary genres, new communities of writers and readers, and new modes of distribution and archiving?
Keynote Speaker: Professor Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago
Joseph Tabbi is a leading authority on the effects of new technologies on contemporary fiction. Past President of the Electronic Literature Organisation founding editor of the electronic book review, he is the author of Cognitive Fictions (2002) and Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk (Cornell). He has edited and introduced both William Gaddis’s last fiction and his collected non-fiction (Viking/Penguin). His essay on Mark Amerika appeared at the Walker Art Center’s phon:e:me site, and was a 2000 Webby Award nominee. Also online (the Iowa Review Web) is an essay-narrative, titled Overwriting, an interview, and a review of his recent work.
Invited Speakers: Manuel Portela and Adrian Miles
Manuel Portela is Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of Coimbra, Portugal. He was also Director of the University Theatre (2005-2008). He has translated fiction, poetry, and theatre, including works by Laurence Sterne, William Blake, and Samuel Beckett. He received the National Award for Translation for Tristram Shandy in 1998. With John Havelda & Isabel Patim, he recently edited and translated Pullllllllllllllllllllllllll: Poesia Contempornea do Canad (Lisbon: Antgona, 2010). He has published, exhibited, and performed his own visual and digital works. He is a team member of the project PO.EX 70-80: A Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature (http://po-ex.net/), the author of DigLitWeb: Digital Literature Web (http://www.ci.uc.pt/diglit), and co-founder of a new Doctoral Program at the University of Coimbra: Advanced Studies in the Materialities of Literature.
As you work up, remake, bend, stretch, scratch, scrape, rework, manipulate, wend, tear, rip, cut, glue, paste, sketch, and otherwise think through the making in the doing of a Korsakow film it is worth thinking about what the terms of this making consist of. For example if I were filming something the terms of my making might include:
- frame rate
- composition and framing
- movement (of camera, of subject, of lens via zooming)
- exposure contrast
- depth of field
These are the formal things I can use to make with, my palette if you like.
In a Korsakow film, a part from the actual video clips (which would of course include the list above), when I am designing the work I have:
- background (colour, photos, sounds)
For each of these the other terms generally apply. For example for the thumbnails that are used for navigation I can think about if they have sound, text, colour. What size should they be? This is the formal language of stuff I have to work with, and their various combinations – keeping in mind I can have different interfaces in the one project.
In addition, via keywords, I have clouds, connectors, and corridors. Clouds are clusters of dense interconnection. Connectors are those nodes that bridge between two or more clouds. Corridors are passages that I want to insist upon, for instance (and most commonly) the opening screen of many a Korsakow project. Clouds I take from Mark Bernstein’s ‘cycles’ (in his “The Patterns of Hypertext”), connectors I think I just grabbed then since the alliteration was nice, corridors I remember from something Anja Rau wrote way back in the early days describing parts of Mark Amerkia’s Grammatron.