Re: [-empyre-] Sue Thomas - introduction

Dear Sue,

tks for your post. I´ll get to your question, after some comments.

The move from analogic / electronic to digital — not only print to
digital, but also cinema to digital, video to digital, etc — is the
prelude to our proposed discussion, since the very idea of "Digital
Writing" points to a tension of old and new, which is always
suspicious of being "looking to the present by a raw-mirror", as
McLuhan once said.

The dialogue between concrete poetry and digital media, for instance,
is located on this passage — and certainly Friedrich Block can talk
about it better than me. Concerning that, I would only sustain that
the most interesting works of digital literature are closer to
concrete and visual poetry in attitude than in results.

Given this tension, one solution would be substituting the term
"Writing" for a completely new one, avoiding to debate if "Writing" is
"inscribing" or "moving thoughts from mind to mind". (And I am
deliberately avoiding the metaphor of "digital snow", since I am not
sure if digital media is soft and flocky, or really fluid and liquid.)

Another solution would be broadening the concept of writing, to make
it operative on a context where word-based works are very different
from what was traditionally understood as a text, and also very
different one from another — e.g. Robert Kendall´s "A life set for
two", Mark Amerika´s "Filmtext", Brigid McLeer´s "In Place of the
Page", and Giselle Beiguelman´s urban interventions such as "Read the
East", "Egoscope" and "Poetrica".

All the mentioned works use words, but not all of them can be
understood as mere "inscriptions on digital snow" — if not for any
other reason, at least because a lot of what is 'written", while they
are active, is lost forever. This happens because some of them deal
with the dynamics of networked and distributed agencies; the text they
produce evaporate, as if the digital snow melted into transitory
streams. (And it would be nice to know what Giselle and Brigid think
about it).

On my PhD, I tried to combine both approaches (maybe a little bit
influenced by Michel Serre´s idea of the "tiers inclus'), by coining
the word "writt-end" (ex-crire). But I am not happy about its
translation to English, so I decided to use "Digital Writing" as a not
so provocative equivalent.

Defining "Digital Writing"  (poorly translated from "ex-crire") as the
inscription "of characters on an interface, with the intention of
moving concepts from mind to mind, through a network of coded
variations of elements once understood as text, image, sound and
video, etc". aims to stress how digital media aren't as hard surfaces
as the paper, the film and the videotape were.

The proposed definition is as a combination of Giselle Beiguelman´s
statement that "the interface is the message" and the semiotic
understanding of language as a flux of sound, visual and verbal
elements, developed by Lucia Santaella (with aid of Peicean
Semiotics´s phenomenological cathegories). It aims to approach digital
literature with a semiotic framing, going back and forth from
"thoughts" to "inscription".

I can go back to that afterwards, if you consider it relevant: this
idea is related to a theoretical effort to approximate Derrida and
Peirce, which was not fully developed on the thesis, but informs
important excerpts of the text; there´s also an article by Floyd
Merrel, on the relation of Derrida and Peirce ("Semiotics and Literary
Studies", avaible at


ps. maybe it would be better to say that "Digital Writing is the
movement of thoughts 'inscribing' thoughts from mind to mind, through
a network…"; I´ll get back to it when commenting Bill Seman´s post on
"Writing and Pattern Flows"…

On 10/4/05, Sue Thomas <> wrote:
> Hello everyone, and thanks for inviting me to be part of this fascinating
> series of conversations. We've been asked to discuss "whether the concept of
> writing is still adequate to describe the most eloquent examples of creative
> processes involving words and digital media."
> I'd like to begin by outlining my own experience of writing so it's clear
> where I'm coming from. It's possible that those on the list who know my name
> will connect it with the trAce Online Writing Centre
> which I founded in 1995, with the help of Simon Mills, and of which I was
> Artistic Director until this year. You may not be aware, however, that for
> the most part, my own writing has appeared in conventional print format. I
> have published two novels, 'Correspondence' (1992) and 'Water' (1994); a
> 'Handbook for Creative Writing Teachers'; an edited  anthology 'Wild Women'
> (1994) a collection of contemporary writing by women related to Clarissa
> Pinkola Estes' study ''Women Who Run With The Wolves', and most recently a
> personal travelogue/memoir of wired life 'Hello World: travels in
> virtuality' (2004). I've also published quite a few short stories, essays
> and articles, and I'm currently working on a book about nature and
> cyberspace.
> It may seem odd that such a print-based writer should be the driving force
> behind trAce but the reason for that is quite simple: I am interested in
> online community and the way we live with computers, and when trAce began we
> had no specific intention to work with digital writing. What most fascinated
> us was the cultural phenomenon of writers working together online, and then
> as time went on, a part of that community responded to the digital by
> producing new media writing.
> My personal experience of writing in the digital focussed for several years
> on LambdaMOO telnet:// and MOO-based writing in
> general, because I was intrigued by a world made out of text. I did make an
> early piece of hypertext, very clunky (!) but still viewable - Revolver
> (1997)  - but really my personal
> interest has always been more towards plain text than multimedia, more about
> what happens on the internet rather than how it is inscribed upon. (This
> essay 'Walter Ong and the Problem of Writing about LambdaMOO' has more on
> this )
> But in relation to the reason we are here this month, I would like to think
> about what writing actually is. Wikipedia says: "Writing may refer to two
> activities: the inscribing of characters on a medium, with the intention of
> forming words and other constructs that represent language or record
> information, and the creation of material to be conveyed through written
> language." (I was interested to read Marcus's definition: "Digital Writing
> is the inscribing of characters on an Interface".)
> In 'Walden' (1854) Henry David Thoreau describes a Canadian woodchopper who
> occasionally passes by his cabin:  "He particularly reverenced the writer
> and the preacher.  Their performances were miracles.  When I told him that I
> wrote considerably, he thought for a long time that it was merely the
> handwriting which I meant, for he could write a remarkably good hand
> himself.  I sometimes found the name of his native parish handsomely written
> in the snow by the highway, with the proper French accent, and knew that he
> had passed.  I asked him if he ever wished to write his thoughts.  He said
> that he had read and written letters for those who could not, but he never
> tried to write thoughts..."
> The writing in the snow is what Wikipedia would categorise as inscription,
> making an image which represents or records information, whereas what
> Thoreau calls 'writing thoughts' is a process of creation which involves
> translating an idea or an experience into text or, as Ted Nelson said 150
> years later, "text is the self-portrait of human thought'. For this, one
> needs no images, only plain text. The intricacy is in the language alone.
> So I would like to ask whether this conversation around 'writing' is to be
> about thoughts, or inscriptions on the digital snow, or both?
> Best
> Sue Thomas
> Sources:
> Thoreau, H.D. 1854, 'Walden'
> Ted Nelson quote from Tonfoni, G. 1994, 'Writing as Visual Art'
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum

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