Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How’d You Like Them Apples?

- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other:then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

and death i think is no parenthesis - e.e. cummings

Well, it’s been a hectic few weeks, blame my seminar groups for keeping me busy by making me constantly try and write classes that they’ll find entertaining (they’re damn smart, it’s been tough). My favourite challenge this week came after I’d attempted to make a positive statement about Post-structuralism, one that I’d lifted from Catherine Belsey’s great introduction: “It’s not about a radical subjectivism, you can be wrong, you can just never be certain that you’re right.” “But,” came the question within two seconds, “isn’t that you saying something that you’re certain is right?” “Um…yes…” Cue discussion of the irony inherent in the Death of the Author. I love teaching.

I’ve also been trying to come up with a decent abstract to submit to the Material Cultures conference that’s going on next year in Edinburgh. Thought I’d share what I’ve got so far as it crosses over with a lot of the concerns of this blog:

Mark Danielewski’s Kinaesthetics - An Extension of Modernist Haptics in the Digitally Defined Work

The Modernist fascination with manipulating the previously fixed book, enabling it to function as the reflection of a dispersing subjectivity, manifested itself in a proliferation of lexical, typographic, syntactic, and syntagmatic forms. In this respect “The Wasteland”’s quotations, E.E. Cummings’ abuse of the poetic line, and Joyce’s later experiments in style have become totemic. Alongside the challenge instigated by Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, the printed pages on which these works appeared, rather than the closed, visually spare, and linearly progressing objects that a history of codex reading had thus far dictated, suddenly became ruptured spaces of seemingly infinite possibility.
But the codex is an artefact, experienced with the skin as well as the eyes and mind, we are ‘kinaesthetes’. This has resulted in many contemporary writing projects engaging not just with the literary form of script, but also its physicality; as the technology for producing ever more radical textual spaces has emerged the previous limitations imposed on the possibilities for experimental writing by machinic and monetary concerns are brought further to light. The effects of the Modernists’ attempts to negotiate a nullified human transcendence with a shaping of words, therefore, continues to be explored and reinvigorated, and the ‘threat’ of the current trend towards the digitisation of text adds an extra vitality to the task of interrogating the physical - what are the implications of believing that we can look, but cannot touch?
I hope to show that the haptic experience of the codex represents our best chance of understanding materially aware works, particularly those which have emerged at this time of media convergence, where the screen has become as polyphonous as the subject before it. My paper will examine the work of Mark Danielewski as a continuation of the Modernist concern with the effect of the writing space in the age of digitisation, considering his novels as sites of several interrelated yet discontiguous movements - from Modernism to Postmodernism, from a consideration of form on the page to the page beneath the form, from the constraints of off-set printing to the freedom of digital typesetting, and from the (tangible) codex as the standard for receiving script to a new default of incorporeality.

Hopefully the paper will get accepted and I’ll be able to post the whole thing sometime next year. As you can see already, however, the concern is still very much with touch and technology. With the increasing fervour surrounding the, as yet, non-existent Apple tablet the importance of a truly proprioceptive media device occurring in the midst of the multiple discussions reacting to the ‘threat’ of digital incoporeality should not be underestimated.

The iPhone is a stunning thing (this is spoken with the lust of a non-owner), and its launch was responsible for putting, quite frankly, alien technology in people’s pockets. The thought of the same company offering a screen similar in size to an open paper-back book, as thin as a mobile, responsive to multi-touch gestures, net-enabled, mp3- and video-playing, capable of telephony, typing, annotating, sharing, e-reading, etcetera, well, I think that’s reason enough to get a little hot under the collar at the moment. It won’t be perfect, but I have a feeling that truly technology-converged tablets are going to be what we expect of computing over the next five years or so. No longer will you buy a medium, you’ll instead purchase a space which won’t tie you to an ereader, a videoscreen, a computer, a phone. Technology seems at its most appealing when its uses aren’t defined by its form, when the manual is just a list of suggestions.

The laptop currently represents our furthest step towards such a polyphonous space, and I think that a tablet which extended the appeal of both form and function, which made the interface intuitive, transparent, this seems the next logical step. What the burgeoning industry could probably do with is to be hit by a familiar competitor joining the fray, one with a huge amount of leverage and a reputation for innovation…then they need to surpass it utterly and end Apple’s synonymy with mobile media. This isn’t an argument for Apple, but for flexibility of devices being kick-started as soon as possible. The quicker this stuff gets into people’s hands the sooner we can start to really ask the e-book question: is it time to go digital? What better answer to the ‘an iPod for books’ cry than an iPod for books? I can’t imagine buying a Nook without seeing it…



P.s. - I almost forgot, there’s also an appealing eco reason for preferring converged devices - less plastic trinkets cluttering your life: just a tablet, a tv, and a set of decent headphones and you should be all set. That said, I’d much prefer it if its body was recyclable and came with cheaply replaceable parts so I didn’t have to throw it all away come the inevitable upgrade. Madness you say?