[-empyre-] welcoming Anna Gibbs and Maria Angel

Anna Gibbs A.Gibbs at uws.edu.au
Wed Oct 28 18:05:44 EST 2009

Hi Anna (and everyone else here),

To take your question literally to begin with, Anna, the screen is a lousy interface for reading, but that may change over time: it’s certainly better than it was in 1989, for example, and meanwhile there is always the print-out, though of course that makes collaborative and participatory reading more cumbersome. Then again, it may make for the slowness required by reflection of which you (Anna M) speak, and might ultimately lead to more thoughtful participation.
However, it may be the electronic keyboard that most changes the way we write, because it seems that it transforms the neurological relationship between hand and brain, and between language and gesture. The changes this inaugurates, in conjunction with those wrought on memory by the new (or ‘secondary’) orality to which Gregory Ulmer refers, are something Maria and I will write about on this list tomorrow.
For now I’ll just respond to Anna M’s immediate question, which resonates with some earlier ones she asked in this discussion. I think that people contribute to fora like this for the same very mundane reasons we go to conferences and seminars: to blow our own trumpet, to push a barrow, because we have a bee in the bonnet or maybe a kangaroo loose in the top paddock, to put off today what can be done tomorrow, to know what we think by seeing what we say, and so on. (Forgive me – my experimental work often revolves around clichés). This kind of forum also the obvious advantages of invisibility and time-shifting: you can wear your pyjamas, you don’t have to catch the eye of the chair or wait a turn in the queue of questions. I think the banality of the answer is why no one talks much about this unless we’re forced to conjure a high-flown rationalisation in the face of the increasing pressure in the academy to direct our time to activities with quantifiable outcomes. 

In this respect it’s plus ca change. Similarly, the pedagogical possibilities of wordpress/commentpress are different in degree rather than kind from print publication: they do help foreground thinking and writing as a processual activity taking place in an intellectual community – as conversation, as the wonderfully prescient nineteenth century French sociologist Gabriel Tarde has it. This helps deflate student narcissism and defuses some of the terrors of writing. The possibility of comparing versions militates against plagiarism and foregrounds the protocols – and politics – of citation. While the rapidity and fluidity of some forms, like Wikipedia, make individual contributions less recognizable (even if they weren’t anonymous), I don’t think the same is true for things like Networked, which are slower because they are less topical and more scholarly or at least reflective, more part of the culture of absorption than that of distraction, as Margaret Morse once termed it.

Johannes Birringer points out that Networked generates less comment than this discussion. Perhaps this argues for a different approach to writing which is not the product of the screen but which is demanded by the cultures it fosters: one which is more interrogative, which seeks to foreground its own gaps, silences, aporia, one which more actively appeals for intervention and dialogue. And maybe it calls for a more interventionist form of response which might, for example, make use of the modernist strategies of interruption and détournement, among others, so that texts appear more dia- or poly- logic rather than univocal and seamless, in complete agreement with themselves.
On the other hand, if the aim of something like Networked is simply that everything which appears in some notional final version will have been subject to extensive peer review, active structural editing and even additions (net-worked), then I think academics or those who contribute to the process are in effect providing the free labour for capital discussed earlier on the list. They are replacing the editors who once worked for literary and university publishing houses. This is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but it does it raise questions about how those outside the academy are recompensed, and about unacknowledged work within it.

On the question of accessibility, I agree entirely with Anna M. It’s overrated. I for one want a writing that engages me, that is exciting in part because of its difficulty and that challenges me to find ways to enter into it, to learn its languages and to play with them. I find personal and in-group shorthands in thinking/writing is what makes certain work less accessible than apparently more abstruse work which takes the time to make its case either by patient argument or by the indirections and dérives of, say, fictocriticism (an Australian term coined in the late 80s and referring to critical and theoretical writing that borrows the techniques of fiction and other literary modes to render its arguments performatively so that each instance invents a poetics adequate to own thought – cf also Rosalind Krauss on the paraliterary, the Barthes of the Lovers Discourse or Craig Owens on postcriticism
). And it’s less unfamiliar terms that are the problem (since part of the pleasure of reading is to be driven to learn, to seek to enlarge one’s experience of a piece of writing via the labour of filling in what’s too easily referred to as ‘background’ but which can ever only be partial), than bad writing, which seems to want the reader to mind-read, or to come from exactly the same place as the writer.
Finally, then, it seems to me that many of the problems things like Networked pose to writing are not radically different from those of earlier modes – although some subtle shifts in forms of subjectivity may ultimately have much larger implications, but that’s another story for another day.

Anna G

Associate Professor Anna Gibbs
Writing and Society Research Group
University of Western Sydney
Locked Bag 1797
Penrith South DC 1797
tel 9852 5412
fax 9852 5424
a.gibbs at uws.edu.au

-----Original Message-----
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Anna Munster
Sent: Wed 10/28/2009 7:36 AM
To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] welcoming Anna Gibbs and Maria Angel
I'd now like to bring Anna Gibbs and Maria Angel into the discussion, perhaps as 'other voices' and I've intro'd them below. They aren't authorial contributors to Networked but hopefully they might become contributors anyway!

I'm wondering if either of you might comment upon the question of reading new media/networked writing. We've had a lot of discussion the difficulty of reading dense theoretical writing in online environments and hence of people participating in the Networked project. Do either of you have any comments about the screen (broadly speaking) as a reading interface and/or the role and place of the reader in collaborative and participatory writing?

best Anna

Anna Gibbs is Associate Professor in the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. A specialist in affect theory, she works across the fields of cultural, textual and media studies and her most recent publications are in Cultural Studies Review, Interrogating the War on Terror (ed Deborah Staines) and forthcoming in The Affect Reader (eds Greg Seigworth and Melissa Gregg). A writer of experimental fiction, she also collaborates with visual artists and has recently curated an exhibition on Art, Writing and the Book. She is currently working on a project about Writing in the Media Culture with Maria Angel, and together they have published essays in Literature and Sensation (ed Anthony Uhlman and Helen Groth) and forthcoming in Beyond the Screen (eds Joergen Schafer and Peter Gendolla).

Maria Angel is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Current research interests include the transformation of literary genres in new media contexts, theories of writing, memory, and corporeality. She has published essays in the areas of literary aesthetics and visual rhetoric. More recently she has worked on the convergence of theories of affect with writing and new media. Her current collaboration with Anna Gibbs theorises the emergent field of literary writing in digital media and they are currently completing a manuscript At the Interface: Writing, Memory, and Motion.

A/Prof. Anna Munster
Director of Postgraduate Research (Acting)
Deputy Director Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics
School of Art History and Art Education
College of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 259
NSW 2021
612 9385 0741 (tel)
612 9385 0615(fax)
a.munster at unsw.edu.au
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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