A Topographical Approach to Re-Reading Print Books About Islands in Digital Literary Spaces

Critical Writing
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This paper interrogates the ‘topic’ of islands displaced from print books into digital literary spaces through a discussion of a web-based work of digital literature ...and by islands I mean paragraphs (Carpenter 2013) http://luckysoap.com/andbyislands/ In this work a reader is cast adrift in a sea of white space veined blue by a background image of graph paper. Whereas horizontally lined loose leaf or foolscap offers a guide for linear hand writing, horizontally and vertically lined graph paper offers a guide for locating positions, or intersections, along orthogonal axes such as latitude and longitude, and time and distance. In this graphic space the horizon extends far beyond the bounds of the browser window, to the north, south, east and west. Navigating this space (with track pad, touch screen, mouse, or arrow keys) reveals that this sea is dotted with islands… and by islands I mean computer-generated paragraphs. JavaScript continuously recomposes these fluid texts, calling upon variable strings containing words and fragments of phrases collected from a vast literary corpus of books about islands – Deleuze’s Desert Islands, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Bishop’s Crusoe in England, Coetzee’s Foe, Ballard’s Concrete Island, Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries, Darwin’s Voyages of the Beagle, and many other lesser-known sources. Individually, each of these textual islands represents a topic – from the Greek topos, meaning place. Collectively they constitute a topographical map of a sustained practice of reading and re-reading and writing and re-writing on the topic of ‘topical islands’ (Díaz), places only possible in literature. Called as statement-events into digital processes, fragments of print texts are reconstituted as events occurring in a digital present which is also a break from the present. A new regime of signification emerges, in which authorship is distributed and text is ‘eventilized’ (Hayles). Situated at the interface between an incoherent aesthetics, one which tends to unravel neat masses, including well-known works of print literature; and an incoherent politics, one which tends to dissolve existing institutional bonds, including bonds of authorship and of place; Galloway terms this regime of signification the ‘dirty regime of truth’.

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J. R. Carpenter