EBR: IN Review

After Thursday’s cyborgia.net-sponsored commercial for the Electronic Book Review, I felt I should try to back up my praise for the site with a sampling of some of its contributions. And as I do that, I’ll discuss a bit about how EBR is presented online. Each essay or review is filed under one of the following colour-coded categories, or “threads” (including the “thread editor’s statement”):

Electropoetics

For many who are committed to working in electronic environments, an electronic “review” might better be named a “retrospective,” a mere scholarly commemoration of a phenomenon that is passing. There’s a technological subtext to the declining prestige of authors and literary canons. To bring that subtext to the surface will be part of ebr‘s agenda.

((I think it’s crucial to point out that, in a culture that’s gone from uniformly print-based to radically electronic-based in just a couple short decades, we must acknowledge and try to grasp the rapidly evolving role of canons, authors, and texts (as presented in the above intro). It suggests nothing short of a paradigm shift in what we consider “literary”.))

Critical Ecologies

Initially presented as a thread in two parts, green and grey, Critical Ecologies continues to explore convergences among natural and constructed ecosystems, green politics and grey matter, silicon chips and sand. A 2004 Festschrift, with over a dozen essays on Joseph McElroy, hints at the literary implications of an ecological, medial turn in literary theory.

((This year, Al Gore– and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change– won the Nobel Peace Prize. Unless you’re among the most cynical of cynics, there’s no denying that this makes quite a statement for an increasingly ecologically-concerned, and certainly ecologically-aware, culture. In a previous entry, I also mentioned Dell’s “ReGeneration” contest, which shows a growing concern for the environment not only in individuals, but in large corporations and society in general. Eco-awareness increases daily, globally. “Green politics” are playing a greater and greater role on the world stage, in the media, and in contemporary texts. It’s only natural that literary theory must keep pace with the increasing focus on nature and the nature of materiality.

For the curious: There’s a funny little exchange that occurs in this thread. In the last three listed articles of 2004, Diana Lobb first writes a (rather scathing) review of N. Katherine Hayles’s book, Chaos Bound, in contrast to Paul Gilroy’s Against Race (The Emperor’s New Clothes). Hayles, who is a recurring contributor of EBR, responds to Lobb’s (mis)interpretation of her arguments (Visiting Wonderland). And Lobb makes an eloquent though not particularly conciliatory reply in which she invites other critics to disagree as happily as she and Hayles have (The Cheshire Cat’s Grin).))

Fictions Present

Everything that happens, happens now. The essays, narratives, and essay-narratives gathered under the thread title, Fictions Present, reaffirm the ‘presentist’ bias in electronic publishing and in ebr particularly: our non-periodical, continuous publication is designed to keep the archive current and to present critical writing not as an afterthought, but as an integral element in the creation of literary fictions.

((EBR is self-consciously electronic, in that it tries to make a statement about the evolution of texts in electronic media in everything it does, right down to its presentation. It’s a study in the development of a new kind of publication that takes advantage of all the internet as a medium has to offer, and let’s go of old print conventions without regret. “Fictions Present” identifies a unique characteristic of e-texts– the ‘Now’-ness of the medium– and in so doing emphasizes the fluidity of the digital (as opposed to static analog/print culture). This section is where “flickering signification” is placed center-stage, and the nascent notion of “cyberliterature” is given room to bloom into adolescence. In short, it is cyberliterature.))

Enfolded

Unique among ebr ‘threads,’ this one is composed of essays that reside apart from ebr. The ‘enfolded’ essays retain their origin and identity, but they become available through the ebr interface. The resulting network of affiliated essays brings ebr a step closer to a literary semantic web, whose content can be collected, tagged, and interlinked among a consortium of federated sites.

((Again, another instance in which EBR is self-consciously practicing what it preaches, revealing another unique aspect of texts on the net: the interconnectedness of virtual spaces, and the networks and meta-networks it creates.))

First Person

A field-defining collection published in March 2004 by the MIT Press, First Person – the book – already included in its pages numerous sustained critiques of its own positions. Remediated in ebr through the Summer of 2004, the book’s illustrations have been recast in color and the critique has been taken to a new level. A relation of games and narrative? … for first order practioners, that’s a given. The next-level relation – between game/narrative and literary tradition? …. that’s up to critics.

((This section is somewhat different than the others, since a significant portion of it is comprised of a dialogue between the critics. Each of the original essays features a series of threaded responses– called ‘ripostes’– from an impressive stable of literary theorists, many of the names you’ll probably recognize if you’ve dabbled your toes in the deep end of the Humanities pool.))

Technocapitalism

Recalling that Donna Haraway’s Cyborg was never meant to be a wired, blissed-out bunny, Marc Bousquet and Katherine Wills recover the political dimension in socialist-feminist thought. Their five-volume edited series, “The Politics of Information,” brings class back into cultural studies, considers the Web as crucial to the expanding ‘informatics of domination,’ and recovers the cyborg as a key figure for an entire world of labor and lifeways.

((In a number of ways, this is probably the most relevant section in the study of humanities computing, despite the fact that its content is becoming dated. With such contributions as Prospects for a Materialist Informatics: An Interview with Donna Haraway, Next Generation Student Resources: A Speculative Primer, and Histories of the Future (A review of Bruce Sterling’s nonfiction book of predictions, Tomorrow Now), it’s hard not to find something of value in an evaluation of how technology has transformed the way we interact and (co-)exist. And before I forget, I should mention the five-part set of articles by Marc Bousquet that introduces this thread to EBR:

Beyond the Voting Machine

The Politics of Information

Textual Events

The Informatics of Higher Education

Teaching the Cyborg

Each article is a summary of what new essays have been added to the thread ‘Technocapitalism’, and what each has to offer in analysis. Each of the five articles by Bousquet can be viewed as an affirmation of the underlying themes– a list of what’s at stake in his notion of ‘Technocapitalism’.))

End Construction

After a full generation of constructivist thought, after close to a decade of Internet construction and nearly as long a period of activity at evr/altx, we’re ready to put an end to the construction of periodical issues. Instead of working within an unconsidered paradigm inherited from print media, the ebr editors intend to construct our own ends, over time and on terms that we set for ourselves (within the constraints of the web environment).

((It is here that EBR’s deliberate scheme for ‘new’ electronic publishing is perhaps most explicitly stated. This thread is devoted to exploring/using/creating electronic media, as well as discussing the texts that seek the same.))

Music Sound Noise

As “sound” approaches ever more closely the condition of music it too approaches a kind of writing, which is then retroactively revealed to have been “noisy” all along.

((Where music is reviewed under the scope of the electro-literary. This is where the poets hang out.))

Webarts

Like the webarts here under discussion, ebr approaches the Internet, in the first instance, as a unique art medium.

((If I had one criticism of EBR, it would be that this thread is so under-developed. The Internet has become a unique– and infinitely rich– art medium, especially in the last several years (and only increasing with years to come), and I’m afraid EBR has failed in its undertaking to record it.))

Writing Under Constraint

The count-down is complete; the line has served its time. I nthis spirit of millennial closure, the Winter 1999/2000 issue of ebr will be the last written under the constraint of periodical publication.

((This thread has certainly evolved beyond its original description. To give you an idea, its most recent contribution is Revolution 2: An Interview with Mark Z. Danielewski, in which Danielewski’s new novel Only Revolutionswhich revisits the pattern-obsession and chaos-compulsion of his 2000 chef-d’oeuvres, House of Leaves is discussed.))

The final three threads I will let you explore on your own to draw your own conclusions. Enjoy!

Internet Nation

Postmodern politics (against the capitalist culture of postmodernity) after Bosnia, Kosovo, the 2001 U.S. Election, 9/11, the 2004 expansion of the EU….

Image + Narrative

Installed as a double issue starting in the winter of 96/97, contributors sought to explore through literature a transition already evident in the culture at large, where technology had enabled narratives of all types to undergo transformation by the image.

Writing (post)Feminism

Postfeminism remains an awkward yet laudable movement among younger women, and women no longer young – one which embraces pluralism and homosexuality, one which expects that women are just as involved in the electronic frontier of the Web as men are.

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