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This month in our publications, Manuel Portela reviews Johanna Drucker’s The General Theory of Social Relativity (2018, The Elephants), praising its negotiation of social theory, artistic practice, and critical thought as a collective “manifesto for a new poetics of the social.”
Continuing from ebr’s “Arabic e-lit” series that was first published in December 2018, we have a final essay to feature as part of the intriguing discussion that occurred at the Dubai conference on e-lit. Philippe Bootz and Xavier Hautbois’s “Elpenor: its multiple poetic dimensions” focuses on an electronic work that exemplifies the subgenre of “uncomfortable reading poems.”
“Descending into the Archives: An Interview with Hypertext Author Bill Bly” features a conversation between Bill Bly and Brian Davis that covers many topics on born-digital writing and archiving, and that highlights Bly’s long-term project We Descend, Archives Pertaining to Egderus Scriptor (1997 — present).
Finally, Rob Swigart offers a short riPOSTe to the Bill Bly interview. Here, Swigart recalls having a meal with Bly, during which time the two discussed the We Descend project as a non-linear, multi-temporal, and interactive effort. In this sense, Swigart notes that while We Descend “may remind of Pale Fire, or Dictionary of the Khazars (mentioned in the interview) … for [him] it’s messier than either of those, more grubby and hands-on.”
Comparing Johanna Drucker’s The General Theory of Social Relativity (2018) with seminal texts such as Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia (1951) and Guy Debord’s La Societé du Spectacle (1967), Manuel Portela notes the text’s great contribution in outlining the impact of our linear structures of society and politics on aesthetic practices. As Drucker approaches these structures in terms of their relativity and therefore also for the uniqueness of each, Portela holds that this stance of relativity inserts Drucker’s text into existing conversations of media studies. Effectively, it moves away from “theories of media that tend to reify technical mediality as the determinant content of processes of mediation” since the invention of electronic media and moving towards new materialist approaches as seen in Speculative Realism. Portela signifies The General Theory of Social Relativity as an epitome of Drucker’s lifelong work on “signifying spaces of writing,” holding that the text negotiates its analysis of sociopolitical thought and aesthetics with a self-reflexivity of itself as a critical text.
Philippe Bootz’s “Elpenor: its multiple poetic dimensions” describes Elpenor (in English and French) as potentially an electronic installation, a performance, and a publication in a virtual machine. As an installation, interaction happens through a user’s physical interaction with a mouse that makes the text difficult to read. As a performance, the scale of two screens and the splitting up of attention onto these two screens forces a user to oscillate their view. As a virtual machine publication, the project is set up as two windows on two adjacent screens, hindering simultaneous reading. Using examples of how Elpenor deconstructs primary works on screen while also computationally generating new text, Bootz demonstrates the ways the project defamiliarizes the reading experience, offering a subgenre that may be called “uncomfortable reading poems.”
“Descending into the Archives: An Interview with Hypertext Author Bill Bly” features a conversation between Bill Bly and Brian Davis that took place in January 2018 at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), home to the Bill Bly Collection of Electronic Literature. Here, Bly discusses his long-term project We Descend, Archives Pertaining to Egderus Scriptor, which has been ongoing since 1997. We Descend mediates the status of the archive over analogue and later digital formations, and currently, Bly is working on Volume Three.
In the interview, Bly lends his institutional memory of electronic literature, describing his memories of hypertext scholars and projects, as well as how he was inspired by Robert Coover’s 1992 essay “The End of Books” in the New York Times Book Review. Having long been fascinated with “old books” and the form of the archive, naturally, Bly had thereafter begun to experiment with textual forms in relation to terms that we may relate to bookish culture, including legitimacy, authority, and the “artifactual.”
Associate Editor and Director of Communications, ebr