11 April 2009

final draft of my thesis is up!

So here it is: a final draft of the web version of my thesis, as submitted for my defense on Friday.

There are glitches, yes. And 1/3 of the text is either not online, or not yet written. And the hover-over on the citations are not entered. Nor are the translations. And I haven't debugged it for IE so please, please use FireFox or Safari if you take a peek. But damnit, I'm close.

As I mentioned previously, my research explores the art of combination as a media topos across different periods, focusing in particular on actual mechanisms or machines for generating text. Really, it argues for an understanding of reading and writing as two sides of the same coin -- interlocked, material practices interfacing with a particular platform. Rather than squeezing and pinching and prodding a rather untraditional media archaeology into a rather traditional 70-page thesis, I've created a website that enacts the very mechanisms I investigate, involving the reader in cutting up and recombining the text to produce meaning. Here's what it looks like:

The four square design is, first and foremost, a product of screen realty -- my original design added a new block with each click, creating this sprawling, unmanagable grid of flippable, changeable texts -- but second, an echo of the cut-up methods of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, who would slice a page into four equal parts and remix them to create a new text. Although I've designed the outcome of each link, there's no set order in which to explore; you can go clockwise, counterclockwise, or just jump back and forth between two blocks.

The grid on the left side of the screen is a visual map to help orient you in the text. (Because this is a draft, not all of the texts have been assigned a block on the grid.) Hovering over different sections will tell you which topics are being explored, so you can see what you've covered and where you still have to travel. Clicking on any block in the grid removes all four blocks on your screen and starts you over in the top left corner. And, finally, the color coding of the blocks links to the shadow behind each square to indicate when you've jumped to a new topic.

Every block that slides onto your screen is added to "Your Text" at the bottom of the screen, generating a linear version the thesis. The colored blocks link back to the themes above to create a layering effect -- as if the linear text itself is an archaeological site, depositing meaning.

I hesitate to share this publicly, because the writing is still very much in progress. For instance, although the section on digital poetry looks small, it isn't -- I just haven't added those texts to the visual map yet. So while I welcome and want feedback on the website design and functionality, please know that what you're reading is a draft.

That being said, what do you think? Am I insane? Or is this actually read-able?

29 comments:

John McVey said...

Not insane, but not readable in the way I want it to be. I'd rather do my own "cutting up and recombining the text" by means of marginalia, notetaking etc., not see (arbitrarily) preformatted blocks written in stone, so to speak, as I stumble through the sections. (There's a name for that, where the drunk's walk through snow across the square, at midnight, eventually evolves to become the official pathway. Lichtenberg describes it, probably others.)

Akin to a problem in design, where the designer does too much of what's best left to the reader/user.

A smart index might help in this regard, or any other kind of augmentation of the text. an index, for example, would help one see how systems that are centuries out of chronological synch, as it were, line up (perfectly or imperfectly) under some other heading, making them contemporary to us.

I love the grid at left side of screen. Maybe these can designate tags, rather than "chapters"...?

But I'm conservative. Will give it more thought when able.

Whitney said...

Marginalia and notetaking wouldn't work for this project because it's all about operating on text within constrains, about the very act of combining as a kind of writing in itself. If the program is opened up to marginalia and other kinds of "input texts," it no longer becomes the kind of Leibnizian "alphabet of human thoughts," but is just like any other text that one can mark up, etc.

I agree about the tags, I originally had them instead of "themes" -- they make it look more planned and coordinated than it is -- but decided they're necessary for the thesis. I'm thinking about using this design again for other projects and would change to tags, I think..

Fletch said...

I would say that the difficulty as the reader is that I didn't know where I was going. When I found a thread that I was interested in, I had to take my chances to find the continuation of that thread (or what might be seen as the start of the next progression.

Perhaps the reader could rearrange the sections at the bottom of the screen to form the text as they wished, rather than as they exposed it?

Whitney said...

hi Fletch -- thanks, that's a really interesting concept! i like it. kind of like . . you're not creating a "final" version, but an infinitely recombinatory one that you can shift around and edit.

won't make it into this version, but definitely an interesting thought for a future iteration of this project..

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