Shadow Dance

Shadow Dance

2003-07-17

In looking to the future of the ‘electronic book,’ Ciccoricco digs up some of ebr’s manifesto-like remarks of old.

Dear Stuart Moulthrop,

I’ve taken much from your response to my recent essay on Contour in ebr. One comment I am eager to make regards the discussion of the title, the “electronic book review.” You wrote, “I parse the name ‘Electronic Book Review’ as ‘Book Review, Electronic.’ Mr. Ciccoricco seems to think it means ‘Review of Electronic Books.’ As the editor, of course, he has the casting vote.”

As a relatively new addition to the editorial staff of ebr, I am in the unique position of advancing the vision of the journal while at the same time hammering out my own - from within and without. But although I did not attribute this explicitly in my own essay, my source here was an early essay written about ebr in ebr by its editor, Joseph Tabbi [see “ebr version 1.0 Winter 1995/96]. Here’s the excerpt in mind:

In this spirit of recombination, ebr will go on reviewing books in print (preferably before they are out of print. By taking advantage of the more streamlined electronic production process, an electronic journal should get around to covering small-press, scholarly, fringe, and other small-run titles within the period of their limited shelf life). Yet the term “book” in our title cuts two ways, and the journal will also be, in large part, a review of electronic books: CD-ROMS, hypertexts, critical art ensembles, archived talk lists - whatever comes to be written (and not just typed and slung around) in digital and electronic environments.

So yes, this suggests that ebr, in title and in spirit, does like to have it both ways. In the contour essay, I can say that my attempt was to speak more as a contributor than as an editor. Regardless, these remarks by Tabbi constitute “the casting vote.” [For more on ebr ‘s evolution, in particular in contrast to that of Postmodern Culture, see Joel Felix’s L’Affaire PMC: The Postmodern Culture-Johns Hopkins University Press Conversation, and the subsequent Riposte “exchange among editors” between Moulthrop (PMC) and Felix (ebr), Eds.]

Of course, your question of “what exactly is an electronic book?” remains at stake - along with the persistent question of what is necessarily lost and gained when narrative and hypertext technology converge. In light of historicizing statements that, aesthetically, hypertext narrative fiction did not (past tense) live up to its great expectations, I wonder: has the promise of hypertext narrative resided in that which is somehow ‘not-narrative?’ [see Linda Brigham on hypertext and narrative in Are We Posthuman Yet? (final paragraph), eds.] To borrow Douglas Coupland’s word, is it necessary to first “denarrate” our texts in order to make them viable in electronic environments? (Coupland, Polaroids from the Dead. London: Flamingo, 1997. 180). Or, in another sense, is the “denarration” of narrative itself an inevitable effect or outcome of digital forms? The great expectation of ‘de-authoring,’ in hypertext practice, sure didn’t work. But for those who expected double or multiple authoring of texts, the result in practice is positive. We can hope that the many critics who are more content to theorize the newfound dimensionality of narrative will patiently take time to inhabit it - not only thinking, but also reading and writing hypertextually. Whatever their form, words take time.

With regard to your further comments on “the conventional wisdom of print” and the “creativity of a digital age,” I can agree with you that the point I make has a blind side. My intent (on the not-blind side) was simply to counter what has been called the ‘Oedipal urge’ to stamp out ‘conventional’ modes of creative production in order to make possible an ascendancy of the new. But by all means the “facts” you present (in relation to reticent publishers and an institutionalized short-sightedness) are also a solid check to my more ethereal musings on “wisdom” and “creativity.”

I also wanted to emphasize that certain essays of your own allowed for any such “convergence” in an extended, and atomized, meditation on Contour. The Shadow of an Informand: A Rhetorical Experiment in Hypertext, in particular, is invaluable to those of use who similarly seek ways in which “the rhetoric of hypertext might escape its shadow status and take on the full three-plus dimensions of hypertextual discourse” [31].

Dave Ciccoricco
Christchurch, New Zealand