Mindful of Multiplicity

Mindful of Multiplicity

2001-09-01
Othermindedness
Michael Joyce
University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Linda Carroli reviews Michael Joyce on networked culture, whose emergence changes our ideas of change.

Othermindedness: a focus on our “mindedness,” a murky sense of a newly evolving consciousness and cognition alike.

Network Culture: calls us to a new mind, one in which we must not merely affirm seemingly passive choices but find a ground on which to do so.

Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture, a collection of essays, is prefaced with Joyce’s accounts of the substantive terms which comprise the title: “othermindedness,” “network culture,” and “emergence.” The threads of these definitions are articulated as a kind of imperative and woven through each of the texts that follow: each is both singular and connected. It is through these poetic qualifications that the book itself emerges as a book, a collection, as a series of meditations and recurrences addressing time, place, textuality, and virtuality.

Emergence: change lies in things but is disturbed unpredictably; in the course of the disturbance not only do the things change but change itself does. Changing change…constitutes emergence.

This approach to emergence resonates with Sadie Plant’s observation that everything has changed, even our ideas of change have changed (45). Change, as a kind of constantly moving becoming, breathes life into both “othermindedness” and “network culture.” It’s quite likely that network culture will never actually exist in a completed state but rather be constantly emerging. Here, narratives of self are interwined with narratives of theory, to generate what Joyce describes as “both a narrative of theory and a text theoretically at least a narrative and thus not unlike what Gregory Ulmer calls ‘mystory’.” With “othermindedness,” Joyce introduces himself as a creature of network culture, a practitioner, a theorist with a fragmented sense of self. Even our writing, always, is fragmentary. Donna Haraway reminds us that all writing and intellectual work is also fragmentary, flourishing in webs and comprised of conversations and connections (vii). Dancing with shadows. Trusting Outsiders. That’s how Joyce describes his experience of network culture.

With so many competing forces, who can any of us trust? Not concerned with migratory text/s, this book is a literary journey, a journey literally. An intimate introduction steps into the preface, the personal recollection of an Irish-American boy gazing through a screen door. That door, the inbetween, like a computer screen, the hyphen of inside-out, outside-in. For Sandy Stone, the virtual community is a community of belief. It is both a statement and a question. What will any of us believe of such an openness? “The electronic text is a belief structure, and the workaday reader is apt to believe that even the most awkward contemporary technology of literacy embodies the associational schema of the text it presents” (105). Worlds will be made of words. Work about hypertext is constantly punctuated by mention of books, as if computers present a danger rather than a choice, a change or a difference. However, for Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “the book is not the image of the world.” As Jorge Luis Borges writes, “a book, any book, is a sacred object for us.” If emergence means changing change, then endings (of books or otherwise) might never happen. In network culture, spaces for and of writing emerge.

Paul Virilio once said, “space is how you practice it” (53). By extension Joyce writes about different grammars of space: “joining together to write their space, they read with their actions, their objects, and their interactions with each other on the screen.” This applies to MUDs and MOOs, Listservs and even email. Using these technologies, we are writing and practicing cyberspace: as hypertext, fragment, and collaboration. Cyberspace is not just practiced through writing. Reading also becomes a spatial practice. It is through these textual encounters that we might experience the nomadic, the errantness of place at breakneck speed. Joyce proposes a “middle way” approach to writing and teaching. In appropriating the middle voice of Greek verbs, Joyce suggests that the subject performs an action and that the action somehow returns to the subject. “In interaction the middle voice returns person to the self, the reader whose experience itself creates the meaning of the new form.” The middle voice confers continuity and coherence.

Contours emerge from within the text. “Contour is one expression of the perceptible form of a constantly changing text, made by any of its readers or writers at a given point in its reading or writing.” This contour is like a caress and the rhizome, connected and reterritorialising, but not necessarily touching. Within Zygmunt Bauman’s works, postmodern ethics are the ethics of caress. see Linda Brigham’s review of Bauman on Globalization This is an ethics based on open-handedness, touching without pressing, obeying the shape of the caressed body (92). Joyce refers to an ethical imperative that operates within network culture. He urges artists, thinkers and writers to take responsibility “for even seemingly passive choices, for virtual worlds and for alternate selves” and “to be mindful of ourselves in increasingly other roles than as passive consumer, but rather as cocreator and reciprocal actor.” These are an ethics which account for the body, not to be sliced and dismembered by shards of light. These are ethics which are mindful of multiplicity and of what could possibly come next.

Nextness, as Joyce describes it, is a measure of the future. We live in a constant state of nextness, anticipation of the future and the promise of speed. In that waiting is the anticipation of “a true electronic form.” In keeping with theories of remediation, he notes, “the new electronic literature will seem self-evident, as if we have always seen it and, paradoxically, as if we have never seen it before.” In a constant state of nextness, the new electronic literature will bear a great burden: to be simultaneously new and old, unfamiliar and familiar, possible and impossible. The new electronic literature will emerge from the othermindedness of network culture.

Throughout this collection of essays, Joyce has revelled in his fragmentary self, sketched portraits of those uncertainties. Uncertain, in the sense that it might be difficult to ascribe those fragments. In the Coda, he provides a “Portrait of the Artist as a Search Engine Entry.” How do findings from search engines portray any one of us? For Joyce, what was missing from his portrait, an “animated mixture of coherence and happenstance” also “once promised to make the web a brave new world.” Joyce isn’t particularly looking for a “brave new world” and it’s hard to say whether a great many people are looking. Though many people are making self portaits, ubiquitous homepages are emerging as an autobiographical practice. Joyce made an Borgesian observation about libraries in an earlier chapter: in an information society, “we don’t collect, we are the collection.” Out of curiosity, I have searched for myself on the Web, to see my own portrait, myself as a collection. When served the results, I saw things of myself that I had never seen before and wondered how “they” can know so much. Even so, I also wondered how they can know so very little.

Linda Carroli also reviews Joyce’s third hybrid collection, “Moral Tales and Meditations.”

works cited

Bauman, Zygmunt. Postmodern Ethics. London: Blackwell, 1996.

Foucault, Michel. “The Political Technology of Individuals.” Technologies of the Self. Ed. Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick H. Hutton. University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. 16.

Haraway, Donna. “Acknowledgements.” Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience. London: Routledge, 1997. vii.

Plant, Sadie. Zeros and Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture. London: Fourth Estate, 1997. 45.

Stone, Sandy. “Will the real body please stand up? Boundary stories about virtual cultures.” Cyberspace: First Steps. Ed. Michael Benedikt. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992. 105.

Virilio, Paul. “Virilio’s Apocalypse.” Interview with Virginia Madsen. 21C, 2:95, Australia, p 53