Anne Frances Wysocki already created the webtext or new media piece A Bookling Monument in 2002. Still, it amazed me. The manner in which Wysocki tries to grapple the similarities between the way we view and envision the body and the book, combining this with a visual presentation of her text (which is an exploration of the senses itself) suits the context, the subject and the transitional process she is concurrently describing, perfectly. I also love the way she writes in a ‘tasting’ way, trying to grasp ideas, juxtaposing them with others, sometimes only putting some quotes next to one another, almost trying to create a virtual discussions between the texts she reflects upon and her own thoughts. And I like the way she asks questions way more than she gives statements or conclusions. Her text is like thinking in or as a process and the conclusions she reaches are mere reflections on this process, very insightful reflections that is.
Wysocki combines the idea or the philosophy of thinking about the body and body politics to the way we handle on, interact with and think about (the materiality of) books. Where the book is a carrier of or for words, the body is also a carrier, it can be seen as a place where meaning and context is inscribed in or subscribed too. Politics are inscribed upon the body. Wysocki compares the thoughts of Don Idhe, who states that there are two bodies (or ‘twinned senses’ of our body), the existential body as a precondition and the second body on which meaning is written, with those of Judith Butler, who argues that body and politics are one, for language or discourse already inscribe their materiality on the body, making it impossible to separate the two. Discourse is here seen as a process: our bodies are formed and inscribed upon in the process of discourse, it is not an object but something in flux, in continual transition. Wysocki quotes Butler saying that ‘discourse is a constitutive condition for matter’. Wysocki then uses their (Idhe’s and Butler’s) positions to reflect upon the book:
“Perhaps, then, looking at the body, as a mix of matter and overlaid culture is book-looking; conceptualizing the body as materialized ing through the processes of discourse is more appropriately digital. Perhaps.”
Wysocki argues that our technologies and representations are networked, not falling into the trap of technological determinism for which McLuhan is well known, but for the mutual influence of both on each other. For her there is no causal relationship. She compares “the medium” with the body, inside and outside, the words, the text as the inside, the book as the body, the exteriority.
“The book – pages contained within a cover – is thus a metonym for a particular sense of self: there is the visibly fleshed body containing (and so shaping) the thoughtful interiority visibly fixed within.”
Text on screens, be they ebooks or webtexts, are not static, but fluid, changing. Maybe, Wysocki says, we should look at our bodies also from this perspective of movement. Our thinking also does not resolve around fixed objects but around relations between objects. Our way of seeing of thinking changes in the digital realm as does our thinking about ourselves. However, this is still very much connected, as is with the book, to the ways of seeing and thinking we were used to. Wysocki thus states that “the image of the self [is] made in the image of the text”. We (have learned to) see each other as books as fixed objects, with meaning inside. But the book is also in transition
“But the book is now an unmoving monument in a world that appears to be becoming all moving, Virilio’s speed, Castell’s flows, Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblages, Butler’s materializings and performings.”
Our ways of seeing and our memory of how we should see, think, act is not comfortable in this new potential other and more offering digital world. Can we learn to see otherwise, Wysocki asks? It is maybe time for experimenting with other representations, which might be uncomfortable for our old ways of seeing, and memorizing but that might eventually satisfy all our senses. Wysocki wants to explore how we use the screen, how we represent on it. How is it comfortable or uncomfortable to our memory practice of what these things pertain? And how does this again relate to our perceptions of ourselves, as Wysocki states “Our relations to ourselves and bodies are very much dependent on how we see in relation to books.”
The book is also being remediated in the digital realm. The screen, the computer is more immediate, more drawing into the ‘real’ a closer representation of the real. Wysocki reflects upon this issue of the image vs. the word, of textual memory vs. visual memory, on the way our brain works when assessing both these media and thus also influences our perception of self. She questions whether screens are more immediate then books, she says we are in some ways lost between these two worlds, the world of the book and the world of the screen and in this transitory phase we are also at loss about our identity, in ever flux and continuously processual.
But Wysocki does not want to leave the book behind in this other dimension; she wants it to change, to adapt itself:
“In all my new media examples, the book is not being left behind; it is instead being asked to change, to contain a less orderly, less fixed set of characteristics than previously seen as possible.”
She produced four ‘new media pieces’ transcending art and science ‘that challenge the old ways of looking at and thinking about the book and the relationship of the book to ourselves and the way we look at our bodies’.
What kind of discomforts do these multimedia books encounter us with as they loose their fixity and the way we are used to interact with them and integrate multimedia, fluidity and the screen into our memory practices? We are now in a stage in which we are experimenting with “blending book and digital subjectivity”. Should we hold on to books of fixed containers, containing something? Do we need to learn to see differently or should we hold on to both ways of seeing?
As stated above, Wysocki uses quotes and excerpts off texts from book historians, new media theorists, philosophers and literary writers and combines these with her own comments and reflections thereof. She combines the quotes and the thinkers by using different ‘screens’ to bring them together, creating contexts. These screens all represent parts of the body (mouth, hands, figure, skin, hair) and parts of books and screens (paper, printed books, pages) In this way her work is multilayered and also multi-approachable, although it follows a logical route (from left to right, top to bottom, as our memory has learned us to approach a book and a text. This path is however not fixed nor necessary and there is also a lot to explore, things that can be missed and found, making the text not a fixed object but one that is different every time you access it, and you can access it from different places and different contexts.
“Rhythm Science is a text organized around synchronicities, mirror imagings, circularities, repetitions, loops, and spirals. Miller combines and recombines autobiography, history, theory, and practice. He entreats readers to try out their own recombinations: “Dig beneath what lies on the surface only to arrive where you started. It’s a circular logic, a database logic,” Miller intones.”
I am at the moment reading Rhythm Science and will be reflecting on it soon.