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Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

2.2 The Discursive Materiality of the Book

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 One of the more interesting media theories that has come to the fore recently, media archaeology, offers some valuable insights for book history and any attempt to move beyond it. Media archaeological approaches challenge ‘the rejection of history by modern media culture and theory alike by pointing out hitherto unnoticed continuities and ruptures’ (Huhtamo and Parikka 2011: 3). Media archaeologists construct, in the spirit of Foucault and Kittler, alternative histories to the present medial condition: counter histories of the suppressed and neglected, to challenge dominant teleological narratives (Parikka 2012: 12–14). Media archaeology should not be seen as being distinct from the genealogical method, however, in the sense that some thinkers emphasise the contrast between archaeology and genealogy as being a clear distinction in Foucault’s thought, for example. Media theorist Wolfgang Ernst argues as follows: ‘with regard to media theory, let us put it this way: media archaeology is not a separate method of analysis from genealogy, but complementary with it’ (2003). Ernst does see a difference between media archaeology and a genealogy of media, but he points out that they are not separate methods of analysis: ‘genealogy offers us a processual perspective on the web of discourse, in contrast to an archaeological approach which provides us with a snapshot, a slice through the discursive nexus’ (2003). Media archaeology can therefore be seen as an incorporation of both archaeological and genealogical methods. New historicism and new forms of cultural history also influenced media archaeology, where it further draws connections with the Annales school. This was the context in which media archaeology formed its own niche in 1990s media studies, bringing more of a historical perspective to new and digital media studies (Hertz and Parikka 2012). As Jussi Parikka has emphasised, archaeology also refers to the actual excavation of media objects, of ‘going under the hood’ or exploring the inside of media to examine the interior of media machines and circuits by forms of hardware hacking and circuit bending (2012: 83).[22]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 What is interesting with respect to the approaches adopted by media archaeologists, is that media archaeology is seen as a different way to theorise, to ‘think media archaeologically’. It investigates new media cultures by analysing and drawing insights from forgotten or neglected past media, and their specific practices and interventions (Parikka 2012: 2). In this respect media archaeology is much more of a practice, a doing, an intervention than ‘regular’ media histories, and as part of that, the book historical debate. It is disruptive rather than representationalist (Huhtamo and Parikka 2011: 325). Therefore, media archaeological approaches could potentially be a valuable companion to book historical studies, where they stress the multi-layered entanglement of the present and the past and emphasise ‘dynamic, complex history cultures of media’ (Parikka 2012: 12). Although we can identify a lot of similarities and overlap between media archaeological and book historical approaches,[23] within the current heightened attention surrounding media archaeology, a focus on books and book history is curiously lacking.[24]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 However, as with new historicism, the question can be asked, to what extent, in its focus on histories of suppressed and neglected media, is media archaeology repeating and again emphasising these exclusions? In its creation of an ‘entanglement of alternative and neglected media histories’ how does it take responsibility for its own decisions and cuts? In what ways does media archaeology really ‘perform history differently’ through its (scholarly) practices, and in what sense is it really a ‘doing’? Especially since most media archaeological research is heavily theory-based and communicated mostly in a conventional text-based manner? It is here that a reading of the work of Karen Barad can be particularly valuable, to emphasise this focus on the ethical and on taking responsibility for our choices, or cuts as she calls them, into media archaeological, new historicist and book historical studies. In other words, how can we write a book history that will perform a different vision of the book, that is open and responsible to change, difference and exclusions and that accounts for our own ethical entanglements in the becoming of the book?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I would like to argue for a vision that seeks to move beyond binary thinking with respect to both the book as an object and the discourse surrounding the history and future of the book. In a social constructionist or constructivist vision of media, technology is seen as embedded, and understood predominantly by looking at the social context from which it emerges. Power structures—who controls, defines, owns the media etc.—are essential here. Technological determinism tends to stress that technology is an autonomous force, outside of forms of social control and context, and is seen as the prime agent in social change—except technology is always shaped and constructed, and is always political and gendered. The problem with constructionist theories, however, is that they tend to ignore material bodies as agential entities. Material bodies are not passive entities, just as technology is inseparable from politics: they are sites of bodily and material production.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Barad, in her theory of ‘agential realism’, focuses on the complex relationships that exist between the social and the non-social, moving beyond the distinction between reality and representation and replacing representationalism by a theory of posthumanist performativity. Barad’s work triggers a variety of questions: how are non-human relationships related to the material, the bodily, the affective, the emotional and the biological? How are discursive practices, representations, ideas, and discourses, materially embodied? How are they socio-politically and techno-scientifically structured and in what ways do they shape power relations including the materiality of bodies and material objects? Bringing this back to a book historical context I am interested in the following: how is the book situated through and within material and discursive practices? As Barad states, discursive practices are fully implicated in the constitution and construction of matter. In her vision materiality is discursive, just as discursive practices are always already material (i.e., they are ongoing material (re)configurings of the world). As she argues:

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Discursive practices and material phenomena do not stand in a relationship of externality to one another; rather the material and the discursive are mutually implicated in the dynamics of intra-activity. But nor are they reducible to one another. The relationship between the material and the discursive is one of mutual entailment. Neither is articulated/articulable in the absence of the other; matter and meaning are mutually articulated. Neither discursive practices nor material phenomena are ontologically or epistemologically prior. Neither can be explained in terms of the other. Neither has privileged status in determining the other. (Barad 2008: 822)

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The last two sentences in this passage are very important in the context of the study of the book: there is no prime mover or most essential element, neither social, discursive nor material practices, nor the technology or object itself is solely of itself responsible for change, and they are each neither cause nor effect. Barad speaks of matter as matter-in-the-process-of-becoming. The same can be said of media or media formats such as books, which can be seen as dynamic, performative entities. By focusing on the nature of the relationship between discursive practices and material phenomena, by accounting for ‘nonhuman’ as well as ‘human’ forms of agency, Barad extends and reformulates[25] the discursive elements of, for instance, Foucault’s theory with non- or post-human object materiality.[26] Following Barad, agency becomes more than something reconfigured by human agents and looks at how media practices affect the human body, society and power relations. Both the object and the human are constructed or emerge out of material-discursive intra-actions (which Barad calls phenomena), a vision that actively challenges the dichotomy presently upheld to a greater or lesser extent in most book historical studies.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Following this approach, scholarly communication can be seen as a set of performative material and discursive practices. The scholarly monograph can then be analysed as one of these practices and at the same time as a process, as a relationship between these practices and how they are constituted or embodied. Scholarly and scientific practices—such as publishing—cannot be reduced to material forms but necessarily also include discursive dimensions. Practices do not only include the doings of actors but are constituted by, or encompass, the whole material configuration of the world (including objects and relationships). As Barad claims, following Butler, practices are temporal and performative; they constitute our life-world as they are constituted by it. Agency is constituted in relationships and is similarly performative, and as a relationship and not something that someone has, it is a doing (Barad 2007: 214).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Katherine Hayles argues along similar lines that materiality is an emergent property, it cannot be specified in advance, it is not a pre-given entity (and thus has no inherent or salient properties).[27] Materiality is and remains open to debate and interpretation. As she points out in relationship to texts as embodied entities:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the interpretive activities of readers and writers. Materiality thus cannot be specified in advance; rather, it occupies a borderland—or better, performs as connective tissue—joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user. (2004: 72)

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 A variety of material agencies entwine to produce our media constructions. The natural and the cultural, the technological and the discursive are all entangled. This perspective offers us a way to rewrite these modernist oppositions. It is not so much that we can speak of assemblages of human and non-human, but that these assemblages are the condition of possibility of humans and non-humans in their materiality. What is important is that specific practices of ‘mattering’, in Barad’s words, have specific ethical consequences. Things are entangled but the separations that people create signify that they create inclusions and exclusions through their specific focus. This ‘agential cut’, as Barad calls it, enacts determinate boundaries, properties, and meanings. Where in reality differences are entangled, agential cuts cleave things together and apart, creating subjects and objects. We need to take responsibility and be accountable for the entanglements of self and other that we weave, as well as for the cuts and separations, and the exclusions that we create and enact. As Barad phrases it, we are responsible for ‘the lively relationalities of becoming of which we are a part’ (2007: 393).

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 By envisioning the book either as a form of agency, cut loose from its context, relations, and historicity, or as a passive materiality on which forms of political and social agency enact, we make specific ethical choices or cuts which we can be held accountable for. My interest lies in exploring why these incisions are made within the book historical discourse: what are the reasons, the politics and struggles, the value systems that lie behind these choices? At the same time I want to rethink the book, and with it scholarly communication, as a material-discursive practice, as a process that gets cut into. I aim to think through what this alternative vision of the book could signify for scholarship and academia. What does it mean, for instance, to enact a different vision of the book through our practices and actions?[28] How can we perform the book—and with it ourselves as subjects—in such a way that we enable a more ethical system, one that encourages difference and otherness, fluidity and change, but also responsibility and accountability for our choices and exclusions?

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In this respect Barad’s vision is similar to that of Levinas, as in both ethics are already part of our entanglements from the start. As she states, ‘science and justice, matter and meaning are not separate elements that intersect now and again. They are inextricably fused together’ (Barad 2010: 242). For Levinas, ethics is inevitable and foundational (it precedes ontology), where we are always already confronted by ‘the infinite alterity of the other’ (1979). The other makes me responsible and accountable, s/he needs to be responded to (Zylinska 2005: 13). The self and other therefore do not stand in a relationship of externality to one another either. As Derrida puts it, ‘could it not be argued that, without exonerating myself in the least, decision and responsibility are always of the other? They always come back or come down to the other, from the other, even if it is the other in me?’ (1999: 23). Ethics is thus not outside or external, it is always already present in our practices and institutions and cannot be imposed from the exterior, as it is performed through these practices and institutions (Zylinska 2005: 3). This is why making cuts in ‘the fabric of the real’ is an ethical decision, one that needs to be taken responsibly, following an ethics that is not predefined beforehand but always open, and that is capable of responding to specific situations and singular events.

2.2.1 Print-Based Essentialisms

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 As part of my own intervention in the book historical debate, I will argue that debates on all three of the historical-discursive levels mentioned above (on the level of the sources, of history writing and of historiography), determine our vision of the book as a medium on a material level, and the book as a material entity in turn influences and structures these debates. Matter and discourse are both emerging from this continuous process. The book as a medium is thus never ‘done’ and gets reconstituted and reimagined constantly: by technological developments; by the ongoing debate over its meaning, function, and value; by historical developments (i.e. reactions to other ‘newer’ media via remediation, appropriation or remix); by the political-economies and social institutions with their accompanying practices, in which the book functions; and by new uses, which include new material practices and the changing context of the production and consumption of books.[29]   Nonetheless, a few salient features, which remain very much debatable and in many cases, have become central topics in the debate on book history, are increasingly seen as essential parts of the book in the common imagination, mostly in a reaction to the rise of digital media and the Internet, to which the book is often compared and is similarly contrasted to in various ways.[30] These salient features include notions of stability and fixity, the integrity of a work (bound with a cover), as well as that of a clearly defined author with distinct author functions (responsibility, credibility, authority, ownership), and the selection and branding by a reputable press, which additionally vouches for a book’s authority and quality. It is these features, however contested they might be, that have become the most well known aspects used to define a book in popular discourse. Furthermore, as I will argue, these perceptions are reproduced and fixed through our common daily practices, where they eventually become the basis of our institutions. As a result of this the salient features that have come to define the printed book look highly similar to the scholarly communication system that gets promoted within academia: one that is qualitative, stabile and trustworthy.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 The problem with applying properties to media is that the process of doing so often relies on a historiographic fallacy: what historically came to be the characteristics of printing has been projected backward as its natural essential logic. However, it took a long time for these features to be established and perceived in the way they are now. They are the outcome of material processes of practice and dispute, and as concepts and practices they are changing constantly. What we perceive as fixity, standardisation and authorship changes over time, their functions change and the way these features and practices get produced and reproduced changes. For instance, now that we have started to experiment with preserving our collective heritage within sequences of DNA, the book might start to look like an incredibly unsteady and temporary storage medium.[31] It is interesting to see how these ideas connected to the printed book will now be reconfigured, reimagined and challenged again by digital media, which serve as an added catalyst for the discussion on the future of the book. For example, as Kember and Zylinska point out, under the influence of the debate on new media, a distinction is upheld between new media, which are seen as interactive and converged, and old media, such as the book, which are seen as stable and fixed. However, arguably, if we take into consideration the work of Johns or the history of artists’ books, books can be seen to be just as ‘hypertextual, immersive, and interactive as any computerized media’ (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 4). As Kember and Zylinska emphasise, ‘the inherent instability of the book never disappeared, it just became obfuscated’ (2012: 4).

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 There are additional reasons why it is important to keep on questioning, critiquing and reconfiguring what are seen as essential print-based features. Print has come to shape and serve certain functions for scholarship. By continuously emphasising and fixing what are in essence fluid and contestable features, we run the risk of making both print and the book, and with them eventually the scholarly communication system, into a conservative and conservationist entity. As Barad has argued, this can lead to an essentialising approach, where a media’s essences become fixed and differences are erased. Such an approach will limit our understanding of the book and its heterogeneous, multiple interactions (Barad 2000: 222). However, when we start to recognise and emphasise that these so-called salient features are contested concepts that are reconfigured constantly when the book’s materiality changes, readers change, the production methods change, and the discourse changes, we can begin to acknowledge that the book as a medium, concept, and material object, keeps on changing too in relation to new contexts. As Kember and Zylinska make clear, ‘media are always hybrids’ (2012: 4). Books are among beings and among agencies, entangled and implicated in them. We are involved in the processes of becoming of the book, in our analysis and histories as well as in our uses and performances of the book. In this sense, we have a responsibility when it comes to the creation of conditions for the emergence of media, where we emerge with these media; we “do” media, just as media are performative through their specific affordances. When we start to acknowledge agential distribution, we can begin to look at the book as a processual, contextualised entity, where the book becomes a means to critique our established practices and institutions, both through its forms—and the cuts we make to create these forms—its discourses, and through the practices that accompany it.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 A further aspect of my critique of the perceived salient features of printed books focuses on the underlying humanist assumptions they perpetuate. We can see this in the way authorship is conceptualised and continuously reasserted following a liberal humanist notion of the author as an autonomous subject or agent. This anthropocentrism, affirming the primacy of man in the creation of knowledge, remains strongly embedded in our publishing practices, instead of emphasising the multiple entangled agencies (human and non-human, technological and medial) that are involved in the production of research, for instance, from the printing press to desktop publishing software. Here, as Barad argues, a humanist notion of agency as a property of individual entities is maintained. These kinds of essentialisms are further upheld when the book is talked about as an original piece of work, and as a fixed and bound object or commodity, which can have certain material effects.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 These humanist visions pertaining to the book, or to the scholarly monograph more specifically, are repeated within digital or post-digital spheres, together with essentialising practices such as copyright and DRM, which are further objectifying the book as a commodity. This situation is then sustained by a discourse of the (history of the) scholarly book that does not fundamentally critique or aim to rethink these humanisms, including those maintained through the political economy that surrounds the monograph. It is foremost our scholarly publishing institutions that have invested in the cultivation of this print-based situation and humanist discourse, and these institutions are eager to maintain their position and to defend their established interests. Although book historians are aware of how this humanist focus on the book has been constructed out of various power struggles, I will argue that they do not concentrate enough on their own publishing practices, nor are they formulating potential alternative visions of the book—based on open-endedness, for example (Drucker 2004).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Related to what I explained earlier, in the remainder of this thesis, when I mention the print-based features or discourse of the book, I am thus referring to the essentialising and humanistic aspects that have been brought forward by this discourse and by the institutions and iterative practices surrounding the book that are similarly maintaining them. In the next three sections I will analyse three aspects in particular that can be seen as some of the most fixating, essentialist, humanistic, and print-based features of the book: autonomous authorship, the book as a commodity, and the fixity or bound nature of the book. Although each of the following sections discusses one of these topics separately, they cannot be thought independently: as scholarly practices and institutions they overlap and reinforce each other. Nonetheless, chapters 3 to 6 will proceed by analysing the institutions, practices and discourses that have influenced and shaped these print-based features of the scholarly book in relationship to the history of the book. At the same time, I will discuss how these essentialising aspects are simultaneously maintained and critiqued in a digital context, where I will analyse various digital experiments with the book that have attempted to think beyond these fixtures, and that have tried to challenge the stability, authority, and commodification of the book. This includes projects that have experimented with concepts and practices such as remix, fluidity or liquidity, and openness. However, as critical as they may be, I will show how many of these digital book experiments continue to adhere to humanist mechanisms, practices and institutions.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Each of the next sections will commence with a diffractive (re-)reading of the discourse on book history, related to that specific part’s theme. Haraway first introduced the practice and concept of reading diffractively. Her approach was extended by Barad, who argues that, as a methodology, diffraction ‘provides a way of attending to entanglements in reading important insights and approaches through one another’ (2007: 30). Van der Tuin defines it as a reading that ‘breaks through the academic habit of criticism and works along affirmative lines’ (2011a: 22). In this sense it is not based on a comparison between philosophies as closed, isolated entities, but on ‘affirming links between (…) schools of thoughts’ (Van der Tuin 2011a: 22). Where Haraway states that diffractive readings ‘record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference’ (1999: 101), Barad defines diffractive methodologies as follows: ‘I call a diffractive methodology, a method of diffractively reading insights through one another, building new insights, and attentively and carefully reading for differences that matter in their fine details, together with the recognition that there intrinsic to this analysis is an ethics that is not predicated on externality but rather entanglement. Diffractive readings bring inventive provocations; they are good to think with. They are respectful, detailed, ethical engagements’ (Dolphijn and Van der Tuin 2012: 50).

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 It is thus not my aim to dialectically read the various positions in the debate on book history in opposition to each other, as I have done at the beginning of this chapter to expose the binary tendencies in the discourse, and to illustrate the differences in position-taking between Johns and Eisenstein. Instead my aim is to read these book historical insights together diffractively to acquire an overview of the debate from multiple positions. At the same time I want to use this diffractive methodology to emphasise the genealogical aspects of the debate, where, as Barad has stated, by reading insights through each other, we can explore where differences emerge and get constituted (Barad 2007: 30). To explore where these differences emerge, I will be reading the debate diffractively in relation to each specific theme that structures this thesis (authorship, the book as commodity, and the book as a fixed an stable object).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 I am thus not installing what Van der Tuin has called ‘a new master narrative’ (2011a: 26), in the sense of putting forward a new performative or feminist new materialist reading of the book historical debate in opposition to earlier readings. Instead I will use a diffractive method to read established narratives through each other, in order to emphasise their entanglement. As van der Tuin has stated: ‘the diffractive method allows us to affirm links between seemingly opposite schools of thought, thus breaking through a politics of negation’ (2011a: 27). The aim of this diffractive reading is to explore where differences arise and to move beyond the binaries of the discourse in order to present a more entangled vision, showcasing both sides of the debate together. At the same time I want to extend the representationalist visions that continue to structure the discourse on book history, instead exploring its performative character. For example, my discussion of the debate serves to show the continued influence it has on the present and future material manifestations of the book. Finally, with this diffractive reading I want to draw attention to the lack of engagement many book historians have with the becoming of the book, and with the shortcomings of the discourse as far as promoting alternative scholarly book and publication forms is concerned, for example. My diffractive reading will thus be a re-framing on three fronts: I will read various discursive narratives through each other; I will then diffractively read these narratives through the lens of the three main print-based book features (authorship, the book as commodity and the book as a bound and fixed object); and, finally, I will read them in the context of the present and future of the book, de-emphasising linear visions of time and history, and instead affirming the performativity of our discourses.

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