Lines for a Virtual T[y/o]pography: Electronic Essays on Artifice and Information

Abstract (in English): 

This dissertation is comprised by five interrelated electronic essays (plus a VRML installation) on artifice, information, and aesthetics. Each essay has been conceived as an intervention in the current critical discourse of new media studies. The essays oscillate loosely between the twin graphical themes of typography and topography, evoking what a recent writer in ArtByte magazine has called (in another context) "a vast network of dislocated visual events." The first essay, "A White Paper on Information," argues for a fundamental shift in the nature of information in the midst of our current "Information Age," a shift recognizing information (data) as a historically and epistemologically distinct category of representation; this shift, I argue, is a direct result of the rise (since the mid-eighties) of computer graphics and information design as leading-edge research areas in computer science. "The Textual Condition of Electronic Objects" explores recent debates in the textual and editorial theory community in order to encourage an understanding of electronic objects that accounts for their material composition at the computational level and their inflection by such considerations as platform, interface, data standards, software versioning, and the like. It seeks to offer an alternative to the predominant post-structuralist conception of electronic textuality. "The Other End of Print" documents the perfection and promotion of a virtual aesthetic in the graphic design of recent print media, and argues that print, far from being outmoded by the new publishing ecology of the computer, has in fact played a key role in the making and marketing of our most influential representations of cyberspace, virtual reality, and related phenomena. "Lucid Mapping" explores three-dimensional writing spaces as both typographic and topographic phenomena, while arguing at a more general level that aesthetics, far from being a distraction to an otherwise "transparent" interface, can play a key role in information design and human-computer interaction. It is accompannied by a VRML installation that demonstrates principles articulated in the essay. The concluding piece, a coda entitled "New Media, New Historicisms," centers around a review of Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin's recent book Remediation; it argues for a more refined engagement with various historicisms and historical practices in new media studies, and underscores the need for a serious documentary knowledge of information technologies, a knowledge based on archival research into the institutional infrastructures which support hardware and software development -- the corollary to the emphasis on the computational basis of electronic objects discussed in the essay on textual theory. 

Source: author's abstract

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Patricia Tomaszek