- Mar 2017
Both the article in itself and its design in DJMP raise questions about the architecture and materiality of the book and publishing, including academic publishing, through its discussion of artist books and open access. The interesting discussion is of course how ways of publishing, textual formats, ways of writing, editing and reading relate to different kinds of politics, e.g. institutional, economic, ways of ascertaining quality, etc. These are very important questions, both in global politics (e.g. the discussions on ‘fake news’ and its relation to social media), in institutional politics (e.g. the standards and quality assessment of academic publishing) and in art and literature (e.g. whether readers are able and willing to actually read and understand different forms of texts). In general, it is a question of how the text mediates and transforms the reading, how meaning is produced and how/whether it reaches an audience, whether it is productive of e.g. meaning, knowledge and/or action. It is a discussion of the text between mediator and tool.
It is noteworthy how little has happened after several decades of digital publishing and a plethora of death sentences for books and print: Even though some things have changed and are changing e.g. WWW’s ‘non-linear’ and labyrinthine, multi-cursal (Aarseth 1997) hypertext and the collaborative writing tools and platforms like wikis and social media are part of our everyday textual culture, we still have books and journals. Why? Is it because, as Stuart Moulthrop suggested already in 1991, that although hypertext affords new visions about a shared writing space, the responsibility for changes of this magnitude come from a diverse elite (of software developers, literary theorists, legislators, capitalists) who despite their differences remain allegiant to the institutions of intellectual property (the book, the library, the university, the publishing house). In other words, Moulthrop suggests that “it seems equally possible that engagement with interactive media will follow the path of reaction, not revolution.” (Moulthroup 2003 (1991), Andersen and Pold 2014). Is it because of institutional conservatism, because readers are conservative and slowly adapting (as the rather slow development of hypertext seems to suggest), is it a political battle (as the current discussions of the role of digital media, social media versus traditional media might suggest)? And to which extend is it a battle we should go for, if it includes breaking down the kinds of authority that comes with established publication formats and editorial processes (at least the current political climate raises some concerns).
I know that many of these concerns are afterthoughts to an article and a design done before the current situation, and in this sense, they are more reflections that might be relevant for further work. However, the questions remain, whether hypertext and collaborative authoring always leads to more freedom and productive reading/writing? Whether deconstructing the order of the text and its extended argument is always a good thing? We have of course examples of great hypertextual formats that function well as tools and presentation of knowledge, e.g. the encyclopedia, but maybe there are also good reasons to preserve the extended argument of the book and the article? Today it seems simply wrong to assert that "hypertext does not permit a tyrannical, univocal voice” (Landow 1992) faced with Trump and Wilders’ tweets. Consequently, I think, the argument of the article and its design could relate to the history of hypertext and electronic literature, though the discussion of artist books and open access publishing is also relevant.
The implementation in DJMP is in many ways exemplary and manages to present the article in nice ways, including the posters, the ability to comment and follow keywords. It allows its reader to access and use the text in different ways, and gives the valuable possibility of commenting and reading other people’s comments. In this it also follows paths from hypertext and electronic literature/digital culture, e.g. Electronic Book Review of A Peer Reviewed Journal About_. The design in many ways affords that it can do as it ‘preaches’, and in this way experiments with different ways of publishing academic texts. This is needed and current academia is not open enough to these kinds of experiments, that are, as argued, much more than making open access a homogeneous project – there is a need for an ongoing critical struggle that includes the forms of publishing. This is necessary, also to reach the popular masses on Twitter and Facebook! Currently, it is a problem, that standardizations within academia driven by STEM standards does not invite for such experiments that would in many cases not even be accepted as examples of academic publication. Also, I want to finish emphasizing that my discussion above is mainly stirred by the qualities of the publication, the important questions and reflections it raises.
Andersen, C. U. and S. B. Pold (2014). "Post-digital Books and Disruptive Literary Machines: Digital Literature Beyond the Gutenberg and Google Galaxies." Formules 2014(18): 164-183.<br> Landow, G. P. (1992). Hypertext the convergence of contemporary critical theory and technology. Baltimore, Md, Johns Hopkins University Press.<br> Moulthroup, S. (2003 (1991)). You Say You Want a Revolution. The New Media Reader. N. W.-F. N. Montfort. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England, The MIT Press: 691-704.<br> Aarseth, E. J. (1997). Cybertext perspectives on ergodic literature. Baltimore, Md., Johns Hopkins University Press.