A few years before the Electronic Book Review was launched, the late Umberto Eco, addressing a symposium on the future of the book at the University of San Marino, made use of a familiar allegory. This was the story of Thoth and the invention of writing, and he told it as a way of prefacing his enthusiasm (as opposed to a general despair in the broader public) for the emerging correspondent modes reading and thinking. Then, as now, our vantage point is liminal, a Duchampian infra-thin in which one age (the age of the book) is transitioning into another (the age of the screen).
It’s been 60 years since grammatology emerged as a field of study, and 50 since it announced, via Derrida, this seemingly perpetual in media res – the expansion and interminable reconstitution of the field encompassed by writing. Several conditions now compel us to consider more fully the width of this field of grammatological inquiry: the rapid deterritorialization of meaning consonant with late capital (Deleuze); the book’s diminished status as liberal humanism’s preferred mode of social inculcation (Sloterdijk); the condition of ‘speed’ in the post-industrial information economy (Virilio); and techno-capitalism’s short-circuiting of retentional development (Stiegler). That is to say, our cultural tectonics are realigning in a hurry and we find ourselves amidst a volatility in which grammatology’s role must again expand.
Gathered here is a series of essays with two main agendas: the explication of emerging cognitive styles and their relationship with digital writing and reading, and an exploration of the creative potential therein. The essays by Katherine Hayles and Bernard Stiegler are of the former category and deal mainly with the techno-cultural landscape in which processes of grammatization would and will take place. They serve to circumscribe the possibilities explored within this gathering. Hayles attends to phenomenon of hyper-attention broadly associated with emerging generations of media-saturated students; it’s draw-backs relative to humanism’s long cultivated deep attention, but also the ways in which e-literature leverages this shift. Steigler is more directly concerned with trans-subjective nature of these emerging grammatizations. The English translation of Stiegler’s essay was originally published in an issue of Culture Machine devoted exclusively to the problem of attention.
Some of these essays chronicle past and ongoing projects within this field of inquiry, while others outline possible trajectories. In some sense, the implicit project of EBR has always been grammatological, so the essays gathered from within the journal necessarily draw tangents to arguments and concepts running throughout EBR, such as critical and educational praxis, the posthuman, and the potentialities of electronic writing.