K. A. Wisniewski
The tradition of dialogue has its own rationale for reviving a work from the past. In this tradition, composers do not simply repeat the previous work, but ask themselves the same question the original addressed in its own time. Drawing upon the various uses of the remake is more than a convenience if one is exploring the method of choragraphy (or chorography), since this method has no standard form of its own, but calls for the sampling of an existing practice immanent within the object of study. Meaning arises choragraphically through evocation, in any case, and lacks a direct conceptual equivalent.
~Gregory L. Ulmer, “Kubla Honky Tonk: Voice in Cyber-Pidgin”
This issue (and, in fact, this journal) began, as many issues do, with a conversation, or rather a series of conversations. In 2014, Felix Burgos, co-founder of Textshop Experiments, and I enrolled into our second graduate course on “Electracy” taught by Craig Saper (part of the Language, Literacy & Culture PhD Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County). It was a strange blend of dense and extensive readings and discussions, off-campus “fieldwork”, and conceptual art—creative/critical writing workshops. It was perhaps the most intensive course our group of students had ever taken.
And it was a messy business. Each week, Felix and I would each have stacks of loose leaf and notecards (or in my case post-it stickers), files lined with GPS coordinates, memory cards filled with pictures and, on one week, days worth of raw video footage. In the hours prior to each session, we’d race frantically to bring some sense or cohesion to our week’s work—cutting, pasting, editing, (re)mixing…
Somewhere in the mix of things, Felix and I began to share an office in the Digital Publishing Lab at the university, spending ten or twelve hours together, talking through our projects and problems, leaving for meetings or teaching assignments only to return to where we left off or jumping into the middle of something else entirely. Each experiment was radically different from the last, and each week we’d push each other further. Some of these projects just didn’t work out, and many of them have yet to coalesce into longer works. Perhaps this is the sign of the textshop.
Felix did re-work one project to produce the multi-modal work, or electronic memorial, “Uncovering the Campus: Memory, Space, and Trauma” published in the journal Hyperrhiz, and I pulled together a set of notes for an artist book called Ploxes Mutter, a rhizomatic exercise weaving strange modes of signification that drift from anagrams to onomatopoeia, portmanteau words, and the occasional pun and close with the words “ulmer textshop.”
Around the same time, we began work on what would become Electracy: Gregory L. Ulmer’s Textshop Experiments (Davies Group, 2015), collecting, re-typing, and gaining permissions to these essays previously published by Ulmer and co-edited by Craig Saper and Victor Vitanza. From this work and our continued discussions, our original idea was to compile all of our own work produced from Saper’s seminar, or perhaps more aptly called “textshop,” and to produce a digital archive/website, a sort-of documentary of this fourteen-week odyssey. I joked about starting a journal and “publishing the un-publishable.” Somehow the trailer or introductory video for this site morphed into a Call For Papers.
I was in London on a research trip when I discovered the video was shared during a panel (with Sarah Arroyo, Victor Vitanza, Jan Holmevik, Gregory Ulmer, and Cynthia Haynes) at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).
Weeks earlier, I teased Burgos and Saper about creating a journal parodying the traditional scholarly journal, a sneering or mournful response to some of our colleagues’ aversion or resistance to the concepts of electracy and to the larger realms on the legitimacy of digital scholarship and experimentation in the Humanities. Despite their ambiguous administrative encouragement for “innovative” teaching and the incorporation of digital components, there is still a strange fear among many professors, colleagues, and friends that, in some way, the digital is the enemy or antithesis of print and a threat to the academy. Although several of our friends are in the electracy camp, simultaneously many of them don’t mention the term outside of their dissertations or in other circles. It has become a sort-of Fight Club; “the first rule of Fight Club is…”
The Textshop (T)issue
When we reconvened to work following our respective trips, Burgos and I asked Saper about the 4C’s conference. He pulled out a small, balled-up napkin from his backpack. “Here,” he said, “This is electracy.” It looked like an old, used tissue. Unraveling it, we found a set of notes he scribbled from a lunch he shared with Ulmer, and maybe some crumbs of pastrami and rye.
This inaugural issue is a return to our original idea: a collection of notes, fragments, marginalia, collages, and miscellaneous experiments addressing Gregory L. Ulmer’s most recent collection of essays or incorporating the methodologies of electracy, in general. They are tissues part of—holding together/pulling apart—a larger body—network—of ideas. A thread. A string. (Ficelle.) Borrowing from Henry James, or Jacques Lacan, in Internet Invention, Ulmer invites us to "look for the ficelle—the supporting character" (Ulmer 119) for each of our imagoes in our own popcycles, perhaps not expecting to make an appearance himself! Etymologically, the word text comes from the Latin textus, meaning fabric, and texere, meaning to weave. Appropriately then, Jacques Derrida connects the word text to textile, highlighting the idea of interweaving (enchainment): "This interweaving, this textile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text" (Derrida 26). And in a related tissue, Roland Barthes distinguishes between "Work" and "Text" by referring to the latter as a "tissue of signs," an interwoven, intricate fabric (Barthes 147). Although ideas of intertextuality are related to electracy, Ulmer rarely uses the term, opting for Derrida's "trace," and more often shifts our attention to the precepts of Barthesian bliss (jouissance) and Derridean freeplay (jeu). Electracy no longer asks, "How do I interpret this text?" or "What do I do with this text?" but, instead, "What can I make with this text?" It is here where we begin this journal.
Our overall goal is to create a space for scholars, writers, artists, film-makers, teachers, and students to gather, discuss, and engage with ideas and practices not readily welcomed at other venues or academic journals. It is a place to play and invent. It is a chance to share experiences and experiments. It is an opportunity to open the textshop.
Rather than offer a large a summary of electracy or an overview of the “tissues” that follow, we will allow each work to introduce itself and allow the reader to meet them as if they are old friends returning to the conversation of yesteryear . . . and make for themselves.
For Further Reading
Barthes, Roland. Image—Music—Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. Print.
Derrida, Jacques. Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Print.
Ulmer, Gregory L. Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985. Print.
- - -. Electracy: Gregory L. Ulmer's Textshop Experiments. Ed. Gregory L. Ulmer, Craig Saper, and Victor Vitanza. Aurora, CO: The Davies Group, 2015. Print.
- - -. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Print.
- - -. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.
K. A. Wisniewski is the author of Making Faces: Poems (2016) and the editor of The Comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical Essays (2009). He is one of the Managing Editors of Textshop Experiments.