Re: [-empyre-] Sue Thomas - introduction

Dear Marcus and all,
I'll begin here with a small statement:

<< 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).>>

Digital literacy deals with a new writing condition. From now on,
writing does not inscribe anymore. It just describes.
A very popular and curious tag, "content = no cache", is enough to
introduce that discussion. Placed in the html code, it updates the
contents of any on-line page, erasing what was written before.
This is extremely fascinating not only because we know that our
culture links written data to memory, but also because an interesting
paradox emerges in the context of on-line writing: in a space-built-up
memory, what prevails is an architecture of forgetting.
Maybe not an architecture of destruction, signaling a bet on
collective amnesia, but rather one that resembles the art of
forgetting as outlined by Umberto Eco, that is, a different cultural
system that questions the dialectic of contiguity/similarity in
Western semiotics. (Eco:1987)
In this sense, it means an effort to deal with a cultural scaffold
where texts and images are permanently in transit, in a fluid
environment (a network system of interconnected computers), and due to
these factors are not oriented to representation through their
It is possible that the inconsequent metaphor between page and screen
conceals this situation. But it also denotes a vocabulary gap that
creates false parallel ideas such as web and site, and indicates a
weakness in the field of digital culture criticism.
As a matter of fact, those false parallels and synonyms suppress the
most interesting possibility of on-line writing: it celebrates the
loss of inscription by removing all traces of the acts of erasure.
(Novak: n.d)

Eco, Umberto (1987) "Un Art d'oublier est-il concevable?" in:
Traverse, 40 (1987), 124-134.
Novak, Marcos (n.d.): "Liquid Architectures and the Loss of
Inscription", [].


2005/10/4, marcus bastos <>:
> 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
> best,
> Marcus
> 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
> >
> >
> >
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum


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