This is an annotated bibliography of my pieces for if:book, chronologically arranged more as a reminder for myself than anything else. This is incomplete!
More important things
One of my first pieces for the blog, an attempt to find commonalities in the disparate. In this case, I was looking at the role of the reader, as seen both by Michel Butor & the other writers of the nouveau roman and online romance publishers. I haven’t looked back in on what the romance publishers are doing since.
A pair of posts thinking about what is and is not in electronic books, both informed by Laurence Sterne and the indignities he’s suffered at the hands of Project Gutenberg. The latter is a reading of an electronic edition of Ron Silliman’s The Chinese Notebook.
Part of an argument with Steven Johnson, the author of Everything Bad is Good for You. We all read his book & disliked it, mostly for the technological determinism that he’s peddling. I don’t think the book merits that much attention, though it is interesting how most of the reviews of it were failed to engage with it in any substantive way. There’s a metadiscussion that could be had about the failure of book review culture in this regard.
An attempt to look at how information is organized in books and documents and how these decisions about structure impact the reader. The quote from Guy Davenport about seeing the page as a unit that I use in “Mothlight” probably should go here. This should be followed up on: there’s more to be said about the rigidity of XML-structured documents and what that doesn’t let us do.
The first of an occasional series of posts about how the work of the artists associated with the Fluxus movement in the 1960s (the first generation of followers of Marcel Duchamp & John Cage) seems to presage many of the current arguments about technology and information. This was about Dick Higgins and his ideas about intermedia, spurred by managing to track down a couple of his books, which are sadly hard to come by.
A piece about watching Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight, on film and on DVD, and how the reader’s use of technology can reveal the structures that underlie a work of art.
A wandering piece of thinking about how books (and their covers) function as cultural signifiers.
An attempt to think about Proust & Wikipedia at the same time, with mixed results; this one brings in Duchamp’s thinking about the role of the object in art. I’m not sure if I agree with it entirely.
A second attempt to mix Proust & Wikipedia, which gets at the failure of the architects of Wikipedia (and many of their critics) to recognize exactly what’s interesting about their work.
Really: wondering why we bother to finish things, and what something being “finished” can mean in the digital age; Wikipedia melancholia. Romps through a lot of people with frightening speed: Laurence Sterne, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Robert Musil, Marcel Duchamp, George Maciunias and Fluxus, Daniel Spoerri and his collaborators on An Anecdoted Topography of Chance. Another of Spoerri’s collaborators, Emmett Williams, has died since this was published, an ironic note.
Less important things
Complaining about the design and editing of print-on-demand books is like shooting fish in a barrel (and this piece can barely contain its snideness), but design is an important concern if print-on-demand becomes a mainstream publishing model. This could stand to be redone: in the two years since, print-on-demand has become much more prominent, and not everything looks quite so bad any more. Most things, yes.
A complaint about free things: noting that giving away a PDF of a book designed for print isn’t actually that useful. This same criticism could have been repeated any number of times. One feels bad about complaining about things that are free, but if you’re going to give something away so people can use it, you should give it away in such a fashion that it is usable.
Looking at book piracy on the Internet and what it reveals about reading habits. Slight.
More print design criticism than anything else: looking at the design of David Foster Wallace’s “Host” essay in The Atlantic and seeing how screen design was inflicting itself on print design. This could stand to be updated: when “Host” was collected in Consider the Lobster, it was necessarily (but poorly) redone so that it could appear in black and white. Maybe magazines are more like the internet than books?
A short piece desiring versions for online texts.
This piece was probably too short and foolishly assumed more familiarity with evolutionary biology than most readers probably have. Gould and Lewontin famously argued that evolution doesn’t work by design, but often by accident: what we might perceive as a feature is often just a byproduct of some other selection pressure (a line of thought similar to the programming dictum “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature”). Here I argue that the page is an arbitrary unit of text. This is obviously a contentious thing to argue, and this should have been given more space.
A little piece about how “reading” is actually a complex idea, covering many disparate things.
An analysis of how conversation on blogs works over time: the problem of trying to have asynchronous conversations.
A quick note on how blog-based communities are politically polarized in ways that newsgroup-based communities were not.
A quotation from Theophile Gautier that I stumbled upon in his preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin pointing out that books have been under fire for a very long time.
Nobody seemed to understand this, perhaps because the illustrations used were too vivid: everyone has strong feelings about R. Kelly. What I was arguing was that what he was doing – turning songs into musicals – was structurally similar to what everyone and there sister was doing turning blogs into books, but that he was doing a more interesting job of it. Alas.
A little piece about newspapers, spurred by one of the illustrations in Marshall McLuhan’s The Mechanical Bride and a deep dislike for USA Today.
The first of these: Beppe Grillo attempts to use Wikipedia for political ends. Beppe Grillo’s blog is still up there (no. 20 in Technorati), and the entry for Silvio Berlusconi in the Italian Wikipedia is still heavily locked down. The second: et in America ego.
Talking about the problem of authority w/r/t how conversations happen on blogs and mailing lists.
An obituary for Nam June Paik, and a quick examination of his work with respect to networked culture, another in my series looking at how Fluxus presages just about everything.
Sophie is still coming!
I discover that Italian videobloggers are making an “open source” film and interview their leader.
Summarizing a study about how people consume and produce poetry online.
Looking at various efforts to apply maps to books.
Pointing out that mainstream publishing’s ebooks are still a dumb idea. I am very proud of the presentation of this.
A piece thinking about using old technologies and what they reveal about new ones. Fear of abstractions.
A post from the International Conference on the Book, where I conversed with Sven Birkerts. This was something of an attempt to address a weird lacuna in the way we talk at the Institute: we’ve always skirted defining the word “book”.
Another in the occasional Fluxus series: Jonas Mekas is selling films online, which seemed vaguely interesting from a distribution perspective.
What happens when you try to use Wikipedia on a video iPod. In short: it’s a novelty, but not tremendously useful yet.