Friday, February 17, 2006


As Publisher of Alt-X, which first made its way on to the Internet as a gopher site in 1993, I play an active role in working with editors, designers, critical theorists, poets, hypertext writers, and the like. The most popular sections on the site are the electronic book review and the Alt-X press ebooks. My sense is that the reason these two sections are the most popular is that they bridge the more scholarly world of critical academic theory and the more spontaneous writing styles we associate with innovative fiction, poetry, and artist poetics. Vilem Flusser once wrote in his meta-essay entitled "Essay":
"No one thinks academically. People just pretend they do. They force themselves to think like that. Academic style is a result of effort (or, if you prefer, of mental discipline), so it is therefore a result of a first thought. The academic is a second thought, because it is a translation of a first thought. It is not spontaneous, but deliberate. The choice between the academic style and my own is therefore a half-choice: I will speak spontaneously, or I will choose 'academicism'."
This is especially interesting when we consider how scholars, critical theorists, visual and performance artists, and creative writers attempt to both locate distributed audiences for their texts as well as get personal and professional recognition for taking risks with the kind of material they are producing.

Standard academic writing and publishing would have you conform your subjectivity to the mold of jargon-ridden, scholarly writing, a somewhat predictable style that manipulates the given subject-matter "at hand" according to scholarly protocol.

But this is where ebr and Alt-X ebooks differ from the norm. We know that academic publishing is in a tailspin and that the economics of niche book publishing no longer makes sense. We also know that the more fluid and oftentimes collaborative electronic space that innovative thinkers and composers are experimenting in presents both academics and artists alike with an opportunity to blur the distinction between publication, performance, designwriting, and exhibition. Two examples that come to mind this second, because I just visited them, include Steve Shaviro's blog and the Future of the Book website which is about to experiment with the distributive writing practice of Ken Wark. Both sites are worth checking out.

The editor of ebr, Joe Tabbi, along with designer Anne Burdick and novelist-theorist Steve Tomasula, put together the double issue of ebr called image+narrative, which we launched at what was probably the best party of ISEA 1997 in Chicago. This double issue features poets, fictioneers, critical theorists, designers, and performance artists who examine texts that make use of their visual form and typography, including the Mexican photo-novella and graphic novels.

But we need to push this further. We need to see more experimental artist ebooks (see what students in my class last Spring created here). More live blog performances. More hard code.

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