Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Thanks, Wikipedia

About a year ago I made a bet with another researcher that I could reference Wikipedia a couple of times (legitimately) in my thesis. It was a joke at the time, based on the look of horror when I told someone that I understood Phenomenology because I'd read the Wiki entry on it (also meant to be a joke, although not entirely false).

Anyway, turns out I can win the bet. Online searching has become a valuable tool for my research – primarily, using the "similar to this" function. For instance, the function on Amazon which suggests if I like a particular book, I may like a list of similar books based on other people's buying history – I have located a number of examples I wasn't aware of using this. Also, on Wikipedia, looking at the suggested links has lead me to some interesting classifications of other similar types of literature, such as:

"The term slipstream was coined by cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling in an article originally published in SF Eye #5, July 1989. He wrote: "...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. Science fiction authors James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, editors of Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, argue that cognitive dissonance is at the heart of slipstream, and that it is not so much a genre as a literary effect, like horror or comedy."
The description of this as a literary effect, rather than a genre is interesting because it is essentially how I describe the practice of integrating of typo/graphic elements in novels: rather than a new genre or literary form (to rival the novel), it is style of writing employed when words alone will not suffice.

On the visual side, the Letterists first gave the name 'metagraphics' (metagraphie) and then 'hypergraphics' (hypergraphie) to their new synthesis of writing and visual art. Some precedents may be seen in Cubist, Dada and Futurist (both Italian and Russian) painting and typographical works, such as Apollinaire's Calligrammes or Marinetti's Zang Tumb Tuum. "Composition – which is simply a fragmentary purification of the former object – in (or alongside) a figurative structure, this second composition digests the first one - transformed into a decorative motif - and then the whole work becomes figurative. However if one places a letterist notation on (or beside) a realist "form," it is the first one which assimilates the second to change the whole thing into a work of hypergraphics or super-writing." Isidore Isou, "The Force Fields of Letterist Painting" , from Les Champs de Force de la Peinture Lettriste (Paris: Avant- Garde, 1964).
Ignoring the ridiculous phrase "super writing", idea, and (if I understand it correctly, and here is where I need to leave the convenience of Wikipedia and do some actual research...) they are claiming that if you incorporate a 'letterist notation' (what I would call a 'typo/graphic element') into a 'realist form' (in my case, the written text in a novel) the synesthesia of these two modes creates an entirely new kind of text. This mirrors my argument that, when integrated, rather than supplementary, word and image can communicate something that words alone cannot – the synesthesia of word and image produces a unique expressive form.

Wikipedia is useful as a kind of buffet for sampling new ideas, labels, genres, phrases that might overlap my area of research, but also useful in locating examples through a 'six degrees of separation' approach. I keep finding 'friends' of the books that I'm studying through these online networks.

The debate is being had in other media, too:

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