I figure it’s time to start a blog–for all the usual reasons a PhD student like me does:
- To help me organize thoughts and responses to all the reading I’m doing for qualifying exams and an eventual dissertation
- To set up a place to hear a mix of comments and conversations from my different communities (current and past student and faculty colleagues; scholars in the field; buddies who are interested in cool things)
- To celebrate coolnesses worthy of celebration
Since I’m studying new media, intellectual property, remixing, fan fiction, information literacy, and delivery in classical rhetoric, you might find anything at all relating to those topics on here. But of course, I reserve the right to mention anything else that comes up as well.
Cory Doctorow’s site recently mentioned this exciting site, W1N5T0N, that posts the entirety of his novel Little Brother online in a format allowing users to make paragraph-level comments (powered by digress.it, a WordPress plug-in).
I’ve seen this concept used before for academic work (an undergrad thesis in Lost and a stellar CCCC 2009 panel, “On Making Waves without Falling Out of the Boat: The Experience of Composing an Electronic Dissertation”), but never for fiction. It seems something like reading a fancy version of Shakespeare: lots of footnotes, half of which aren’t welcome and the other half of which are crucial insights that I’m glad I got. The difference, of course, is the people who are allowed to enter the conversation about the work: everyone, or only fancy, oft-published scholars.
There also seems that there’s a tension here: the best annotated works will be those that are popular enough to have a lot of people drop by to add annotations, but that eventually makes the novel that much slower to read as you pop back and forth between texts. (And it’s kind of sad, I imagine, to see a text formatted to allow comments that no one will comment on–something like passing a wonderfully small corner store that no one ever visits.) Doctorow’s work seems perfect in this respect: mid-level popularity with a dedicated (and, er, geeky) fan base that really believes in his copy-left agenda.
Now all we need is for the perfect ebook reader to come to pass–it seems to me that the more seamless the ability to add comments, the more services would offer it, and the more I would drool over it. In a recent Wired piece, Steven Levy describes Chris Anderson’s eventual dream for readers, which I think would fit nicely with the idea of the ever-annotated novel:
When I showed the DX to Wired‘s editor in chief, he rotated it to landscape mode to see whether it was wide enough to convey the experience of a magazine spread—it covered less than half the territory. Even the expanded screen could deliver only a shrunken facsimile. But then he took the leather binder that Amazon sells to cover the reader and flipped it open. The folio fit the open pages of Wired almost precisely. Imagine that binder crammed full of silicon and liquid crystal—that’s the form factor of the future periodical.