- Dec 2016
the materiality of our (textual) scholarship and its material modes of production, is and should not in any way be separate from a discussion on the content of our work.
If performative publications are the material expressions or incarnations of specific research projects and processes, entangled with them are various other agencies of production and constraint (i.e. technological, authorial, cultural and discursive agencies, to name just a few). What I want to argue is that performative publications as a specific subset of publications actively interrogate how to align more closely the material form of a publication with its content (in other words, where all publications are performative—i.e. they are knowledge shaping, active agents involved in knowledge production—not all publications are 'performative publications', in the sense that they actively interrogate or experiment with this relation between content and materiality —similar to artist books). Yet in addition to this there is also an openness towards the ongoing interaction between materiality and content which includes entanglements with other agencies, and material forms of constraint and possibility.
This concern for the materiality and form of our publications (and directly related to that the material production and political economy that surrounds a publication) is not a response to what elsewhere as part of a critique of certain tendencies within the field of new materialism is seen as a reaction to ‘the linguistic turn’ (Bruining 2013). On the contrary, I see this as a more direct reaction against perspectives on the digital which perceive digital text as disembodied and as a freeing of data from its material constraints as part of a conversion to a digital environment. However, content cannot be separated that easily from its material manifestations, as many theorist within the digital humanities have already argued (i.e. Hayles, Drucker). Alan Liu classifies this 'database' rhetoric of dematerialization as a religion that is characterised by 'an ideology of strict division between content and presentation' where content is separated from material instantiation or formal presentation as part of an aesthetics of network production and consumption (Liu 2004, 62).