Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#1 Adilkno 1 Jan 1994

Virtual Writing

Everyone is a designer.


Virtual Writing 8#1 -

John Sasher

1. Designer media

To make a periodical, you need a format and a design. Then you just let volunteers and free-lancers fill up the columns, people that think they have something to say. A combination of design, marketing and distribution determines the success of the magazine. The content doesn't matter a fuck. But without content, the concept magazine degenerates into designer gloss, only interesting for professionals. The biggest danger for designer reviews is that the buyer will take the product for a professional journal. The empty look tells readers that they are completely free to ignore the content while enjoying the magazine. If they read it anyway, the word order is pure coincidence and the provocative quotes, sharp observations and intriguing associations are an extra added attraction. Design should be indeterminate and at the same time be distinct. If the image is too strong, the whole thing will be perceived as lifestyle and design has become fashion. As a useless product, design has to remain in the model stage to keep one step ahead of hype. It must constantly renew itself with software investment. When a program is understood, it can be thrown away.

For centuries, the book was not marketed on its contents. The creative monks' designer bibles weren't intended for reading, either. Church Latin had a nice typeface, but it was the pictures that made it ( were the evangelists moonlighters? ). The male couple Gutenberg-Luther put an end to this Plaisir du texte . Only in the era of designer media, in which words have been re-evaluated as random ASCII, has author-related content again become superfluous. The status of books and their authors' prestige vanish when you realize that they have to start moving in six weeks, and disappear from the shelves if they haven't moved in three months. To put a book on the shelves vertically is to declare it dead. The basic material called 'book' has fallen into the hands of the window dresser. As soon as the book object stops presenting itself as a ware and avoids the gesamtkunstwerk of the bookstores, it has lost its scene and an unpredictable odyssey begins. The search for a title acquires a sporting aspect, and to read a title requires an `uncontemporary' effort that can only be produced from behind a battery of answering machines, faxes and turned-off doorbells. Once the designer book has shaken off its style, subject, author and market, it acquires the brilliance of a prodigy. Design speculates on the existence of an unknown that is discovered at the moment of design; it seeks not to exploit but to escape.

2. Security through obscurity

The computernet liberates the writer from his publisher. Unencumbered by résumé or oeuvre, a willing author can hurl book after book directly into the Net. If your masterpiece has been wiped off the networks in ten days, you park it on your own FTP site or BBS for the benefit of the virtual community. The writer can save her or his book from certain destruction in the paper market. The only thing that matters to the collection of connected files are the tags. The tag 'Weltfremdheit' or 'discipline research' activates different search functions than 'Safe writing' or 'Ferdinand Kriwet'. Electronic writers receive a daily, comprehensive literature update and this has consequences. Deconstruction software reveals which grammatical, rhetoric and educational tricks make a text readable in spite of its `polculsex' content. The quality of world literature is on the rise. If you follow the writing activities of renowned authors, the question of how they do it is quickly answered. It's a dizzying thought that earlier generations wrote their books with ineradicable ink. This is why programs are being developed on demand to produce text-critical editions during writing and send these tens of versions hourly to the fleet of hard discs that document culture in atomic shelters. To give their texts that little something extra that separates literature from the rest, authors throw their personality into the struggle, the unique combination of a gene-package, a cultural cross-over, salient biographical data and an education: Camille Paglia, Donna Tartt, Elisabeth Bronfen.

The text that chooses to appear in the network instead of on the table, strives for the greatest possible economy of word. Reading pleasure used to be based on piling stylistic ornaments on top of story lines. The literary calculator now recognizes this to be static and an obstacle to communication. The electronic readers have all their texts pre-scanned, filtering out added value. For example, there is a killfile that destroys all sources and examples from before 1989 (or 2012); a quotation eraser that gets rid of everything in quotes; the command skip interdisciplines , that erases everything except the reader's specialisation; create summary , that summarizes a text according to the reader's wishes; and show method , that shows self-referential excerpts and takes out all the exercises. Textual cleansing shareware provides access to mega-oeuvres like Goethe, Simenon, Dilthey, Marx, Konsalik, Vestdijk, Balzac, Heidegger, Voltaire, D'Annunzio and Agatha Christie. A technical solution has been found for Althusser's guilt at not having read the complete Hegel and Kant.

Human beings have a physical need to string words together before striking the first hard sentence. At the end of the day, writing that makes use of the selection programs preserves the three sentences that withstood the test. Text production the following day starts with those three sentences. Less radical are the help files that remove mistakes, prevent platitudes and point out bad journalistic habits. The selection program removes all sentences using constructions such as the eminent authority , would be justified in saying... or italics that have been used to prop up weak sentences. The compact text naturally has the density of a summary, the quality of poetry, it conceals one's poor knowledge of foreign languages, suppresses every tendency towards explanation, eliminates formalities and replaces the snail's pace of reason with the brilliance of the keyword. The point is to formulate knowledge so precisely and with such complexity that it cannot be hacked into by the software of others. Writing on computer must never reach a conclusion; if it did, the train of thought that produced it would have to be left out. Sentences no longer want to have a relationship with antecedents and offspring. Glue words like because, thus, as well as, and, but have been scrapped. In principle, any sentence may follow any other. The mystery of texts is that an order of sentences does indeed exist. Text wants to be one step ahead of imagination and accelerates to the point of absurdity. It does not need the logic of machine language. One in a thousand texts contains something new; unlikely correspondences emerge (between the camera and a fish's eye, and what are Hindi-telephones?) that stimulates one's fantasy. Compressed text is precise and obscure. It evokes a hidden world of thought that seemingly need no longer be reported. People are becoming concrete, while the reader arrives at a level of abstraction usually inaccessible. Because EXIT signs have been hung all through the text, tourism in abstraction is easy to endure.

3. Writing without a bearer

Since ancient times, writing involved storage on clay tablets, pillars, parchment, paper or hard disk. Virtual writing means: producing language that only exists in the RAM. On-line text turns the written word into an unstable medium. There is no Nobel prize for the best telephone conversation. All of your love for humanity and genius is lost forever when you hang up. What the Hittites, Aztecs, Mayas and other vanished cultures talked about will remain a mystery to us. The written word causes single events. When text becomes as ephemeral as the spoken word, it ceases to be evidence. It does not need to preserve or transmit any culture. Context-free writing does not aim to retell any stories or to degenerate into a mythological stage. It practices the now-and-nevermore kind of communication and sharpens punctual consciousness. Language turns out to be capable of correctly transmitting the meanings we intend, when not distracted by body language or its setting. When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message.

The real existing cyberspace is a text-based environment, not because of a cultural decision, but because of a technical limitation that people must live with at the end of 1900. The ephemeral computext is the ironic re-emergence of the written word after the word was declared dead in the new image culture. Writing has succeeded in renewing itself by finding a new mass medium. All books can be resold anew on CD ROM. The book store can survive, like the library annex databank. Melancholy warriors for the preservation of the written word should demand that all humanity go on-line as soon as possible. Literacy is learning to type on a keyboard. Large sections of the population must still be taught to express themselves through the keyboard.

In the worldwide conspiracy, to avoid the convergence and synergy of mass and written culture, Sega and Nintendo have moved towards non-literary, visual interfaces, which require no command of language. Text for some, images for all. The question is: is the Net to be a playground or a classroom? The speed with which Internet is spreading reveals the strength of text culture. Virtual writing is the written word's answer to the designer media, because it is not in search of a material form. It has already found one. The primitive nature of on-line text surpasses design. The ephemerality of real-time media negates all good intentions of stylists and curators. While text has been cornered by design in the paper world, it has created a new, free space in the electronic universe. Until the Net falls victim to the designers.

translation JIM BOEKBINDER