An Autopoietic Writing Machine?
mark's generous response to anne's suggestive post has left me wondering about the relations between the automatic and the autopoietic. in an essay on joan retallak in ebr10, brian lennon defines autopoiesis as self-organization out of noise. and, in this sense, i do think it's important to open ebr (with more openness than the highly choreographed ripostes have allowed for) to more frequent and less "composed" reader responses. but for this to happen, i think we'll need more, not less, structure, extending to the ebr environment. i'm anticipating that one of the first steps toward defining our readership will be to generate a database listing the email address of every person who has contrbuted to ebr. out of that core group (of readers who are also critical writers), we may want to tag each one with a "thread" or group of threads defining that reader's unique set of interests (green or gray ecology; poetics; image + narratve, etc). this way, when a new essay is posted on a given subject, i (or my collaborating editor) can "automatically" identify readers with a demonstrated interest in a given subject.
in other words, the threading concept might be used to help us articulate structures in our audience that answer to the developing structures in the journal content (what anne calls "editorial interests").
one of the advantages to having started out with "the tri-annual, mono-themed" issues is that they have given us a set of threads, so that we have something definite to work with in the upcoming redesign. i'm not sure yet what the new interface will look like, but i'd hope that the decade of periodical issues won't disappear from view or (what amounts to the same thing) be embedded as a subsidiary link (a kind of ebr museum) within the new interface. i've been picturing the redesign as an unravelling of a long network, so that the periodical issues and the present (jacquard) loom-like background will open out to a differently structured network - a rhyzome, perhaps, or possibly even an old-fashioned loosely gathered bolus or spool. if we're hoping to visualize autopoiesis, we might look for ways of incorporating a moebus strip or a strange attractor. the final look and visual metaphor is up to anne, surely. but i would anticipate a design that grows out of elements that are already in place - such as the thREADing icon that we introduced in ebr9.
anne's description of the scaled down process by which each new essay will be added to the database is attractive: once a thread is identified, giving the essay a visual identity should be automatic. we need to be careful, though, about designing in "answers" to "a few questions in terms of the essay's affiliation with other parts of the journal (mostly with other essays or themes)." part of the editor's job is to hold in mind the connections with previous issues. and if we are prompted by pregiven questions, we might not be so free to define the journal's ongoing structure. avoiding that sort of automatism shouldn't be a big deal: when we do the programming, we should simply be open and highly general in posing questions to the editor.
i agree with mark that we should archive these posts - they could be themselves the content of the new database, when that's ready for launch. a discussion that becomes what it's about: what could be more autopoietic than that?