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Transcriptions Bookshelf

These are works that are helping to shape the intellectual direction of the Transcriptions project—works in a variety of media that faculty in the project, speakers in its colloquium series, and graduate-student participants have been reading.

The Transcriptions Bookshelf is kept in a database where the link to "details" in a search result leads to additional citation information plus comments (annotations or mini-reviews) contributed by Transcriptions developers. (Note: the database is in transition from old to new Transcriptions interfaces.)


Featured Review
Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory

Marie-Laure Ryan, ed.
reviewed by: Jennifer Jones

In her Introduction (1976) to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin writes, "Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth." This statement identifies what Le Guin understands the contract constitutive of imaginative textual experience to be. As she goes on to say, "[i]n reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it." Similarly, Orson Scott Card articulates, albeit with a different focus point and outcome, his understanding of the textual experience in his Introduction (1991) to Ender's Game: "The story of Ender's Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it," he writes. "The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together."

Le Guin and Card make these claims years in advance of the contemporary theories of textual experience provoked by ‘virtual' technologies such as Internet, WWW, gaming, electronic mail/discussion threads, and MUD/MOO environments. Yet their claims resonate so strongly as to seem almost synonymous with the terms lauded as definitive of the power and novelty of these electronically-mediated textual experiences: immersion and interactivity, respectively. Is the idea of the suspension of disbelief the literary-theoretical equivalent of the concept of immersion attached to virtual reality? Or is the fictionality offered by a novel fundamentally different from the virtual environment of a MOO due to the fact that the latter is produced by technologies and delivered through a medium that is itself fundamentally different from printed matter? In the same vein, is interactivity as Card develops it, as a symbiotic creative experience between the author of a novel and its reader, equivalent to the interactivity offered by a hypertext poem? Or is the power of hypertext interactivity disbanded by this comparison?

I invoke the particular resonances between Le Guin and Card's statements with discourses of cyberspace and virtual reality and the questions they provoke because they exemplify the basis for the pervasive sense of urgency, interest, and anxiety at work in Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory (1999), a feverish anthology edited by independent scholar Marie-Laure Ryan. The fundamental question around which Cyberspace Textuality forms is that of how our relation to the written word has been altered as a result of this new medium of textual experienceelectronic textualityushered in by the new technologies. But as Ryan points out in her Introduction, this anthology comes as a second-generation attempt to answer this question, and as such, tries to be mindful of and yet also avoid the straightforward prophesies of salvation, doom, and Luddite resistance to electronic textuality and culture in general that have come to define critical and theoretical work in this area. As a result, the position Cyberspace Textuality takes on the question of what is the relation between the experience of print-mediated textuality and electronically-mediated textuality is neither one of transcendental similarity nor absolute difference. In other words, Cyberspace Textuality makes clear that the resonance between Le Guin's definition of the experience of reading novels with contemporary theories of immersion must be considered. However the worth of this resonance, as well as what is lost when we concede it, is also strongly at issue. The result is that the various contributors of this volume both struggle to develop a poetics of electronic textuality that supports its novelty and struggle to dismantle our critical sense that such a poetics is possible divorced from history, or literary tradition.

In addition to confronting the question of electronic textuality as an experience that both is and is not productively understood within the parameters of the Codex book and literary history, perhaps the most rigorous and nuanced work Cyberspace Textuality offers to readers is the attention paid by its contributors, in all of its areas of concentration ("Cybertext Theory," "Cybertext Identity," and "Cybertext Criticism as Writing Experiment") to some of the fundamental terms surrounding the debates about electronic textuality. The now almost ubiquitous terms such as virtual reality, virtuality, cyberspace, as well as immersion and interactivity are both discerned as such and worked through carefully to derive theoretically complex and yet specific definitions via attention to etymology (for instance Ryan's attempt to use the etymological roots of ‘virtual' to create a satisfying theory of the term for contemporary usage and understanding), historical specificity (Mark Poster's claim that virtual reality must be thought in terms of the particular machines that enable it in contemporary culture), theoretical/imaginative terms that have helped to usher in these terms' usages (attention to the birth of the term "cyberspace" in William Gibson's Neuromancer as well as the relation of terms like Baudrillard's "simulacra" or Derrida's "hauntology" to define virtual reality), and contemporary usages of these terms that affect their meanings or lack of meanings (the rampant and almost interchangeable use of the prefixes "cyber" and "virtual" by marketers and users of the new technologies).

Marcos Novak has said that "Cyberspace is poetry inhabited, and to navigate through it is to become a leaf on the wind of a dream." Cyberspace Textuality asks us not only to consider the value as well as the dangers of this tantalizing claim for the experience of electronic textuality, but it also asks us to consider whether such a statement can be altered, such that we read, "The fictional worlds of Henry James are poetry inhabited"; or, "The Prelude is poetry inhabited"; or, "Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age is poetry inhabited, and to navigate through it is to become a leaf on the wind of a dream." And if not, then why.


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Recent Arrivals

* Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) William Gibson (1992 poem)
Alan Liu

* Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace Lawrence Lessig (1999 criticism)
William B. Warner

* eXistenZ David Cronenberg (1999 film)
Alan Liu

* "Modern Marvels: The Internet: Behind the Web" History Channel (2000 TV episode)
Eric Feay

* Pi Darren Aronofsky (1988 film)
Alan Liu

* The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester (1956 novel)
Jennifer Jones

* Victory Garden Stuart Moulthrop (1995 hypertext fiction)
Jennifer Jones

* The Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing Jay David Bolter (1991 criticism)
Jeen Yu



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