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“We Are All Children of Algeria”

Visuality and Countervisuality 1954-2011

Nicholas Mirzoeff, Author

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How To Read This Scalar Project

On the usages of "We Are All Children of Algeria"

This is a Scalar "book" whose pages, each being equivalent to a single webpage, are linked into a book by means of "paths." To find individual paths, use the MAIN MENU, the top link in the left hand navigation bar. The "book" contains the equivalent text to a book chapter or a journal article but is extensively added to by visual materials--video, photography and other images--and links to other materials.

To find a specific page, look under the page heading; likewise for media, or tags.

You can also create a set of visualizations of the project, using the View menu. It'll show you that there's more media than text in this project, so you might watch it as much as read it.

Each path has a navigation "header" at the top  of each page. You can click to follow the path or the header will
indicate where you have intersected with other paths and you might want to take a turn-off.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to interact with the book. But here are some thoughts:
  • For the clearest exposition of the main set of ideas, follow the Main Route
  • The typeface helps to "call out" key ideas and sequences of ideas
  • The imaginary model behind the project is the demonstration, or protest: so you should feel free to branch off whenever you're getting bored or tired
  • There are some great things to watch, if you don't like reading online
  • At the beginning and elsewhere, I've borrowed a format from Alex Juhasz and explained my ideas in person on video
  • And there are specters, this is a place of haunting
In which the author indulges in some meta Commentary

Here I'll offer some general thoughts about reading in Scalar: below I offer some practical guidance. Scalar's primary affordance--to use the pet word of digital discourse--is that it allows for non-linear reading. For those of us who grew up with the codex form of the book, that can be unnatural, even disturbing. That sense that we don't quite know what to do next shows how deeply ingrained the practices of the codex have become. That is to say, we take it for granted that a book starts at the "front." It continues in a linear direction, page by page, until the "end" is reached at the back. We happily notice a variety of apparatuses that do not conform to this pattern, ranging from notes to appendices, dedications, acknowledgements, illustrations, charts, Roman and Arabic page numbers and so on. Critical scholarship in the 1960s and 70s demonstrated effectively that these conventions were not simply contrivances to assist the reader but ways of compelling narratives to serve a certain purpose, to limit the polysemy of meaning and to make sure that the reader read in the way that she was supposed to do.

There were a variety of experiments to displace this hegemony, such as Jacques Derrida's experimental project Glas. But it was above all with the development of hypertext, enabled by the quintessential HTML command, the hyperlink, that this movement really became extensive. The hypertext novel or story offered readers and writers new means of interaction and interactivity. Such efforts led to declarations that the Internet was likely to see a revival of the novel, even the epistolary form, while also supporting claims that it was primarily a text-based medium.

Since 2000, the net has become far more visualized, with the creation of YouTube in 2005 and the widespread popularity of photographs on social networking sites completely changing its feel. There are literally billions of photographs online, with over 5 billion on Flickr alone, while YouTube expands exponentially. Whereas the argument of this project is that visuality is not simply "visual," if there is such a thing, it must be accepted that the present form of online communication is deeply interfaced with visualized media.

The strength of Scalar, then, is that it forms a hybrid between these two modalities of online critical practice. It's a hyperlinked, non-linear reading platform that at the same time allows for a full integration with still and moving images of all kinds. A reader can progress by looking, or by reading, or by oscillating back and forth. The author both anticipates and enables this promiscuity without being able to control it. In the end, the disciplinary form--in all senses--of the monograph finds itself yielding to a form that has no real name: Intergraph? multigraph? videograph? The videograph (say) depends on a relation of trust: the author must trust the reader to find both what was intended and what was not but is nonetheless there. The reader trusts the openings that the form presents, without overly indulging in a hermeneutics of suspicion about what was elided or erased.

In short, this form is what would really be meant by open-source: not just the availability of the source-code (although that should be there) and not only its being made available free of charge to the user. Open-source would be an interactive commitment to the understanding that each and every form is imperfect but that each iteration allows author and reader alike to imagine means of improving both the code and what is created with it. An author comes to understand that books are never finished, merely abandoned to the publisher. With the videograph, that moment can be still further deferred--in theory--permanently or at least for as long as readers and authors want to engage with it.

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Discussion of "How To Read This Scalar Project"

begging for interaction

Nick: In "Learning from YouTube," I chose to not allow comments, perhaps the most unpopular and disturbing decision I made for that project as far as my readers are concerned (I do let them author their own page, or texteo, as I call it). I find that I am glad to be commenting here, but in so doing already feel how this practice is only the ghost of interaction, as I imagine I probably won't get a response, I'm not really writing with you, or others who may read this comment, nor an I writing your page. You end this page by imagining a radical openness to our Internet writing and I see how this interface for commenting (offered to me as a box over your text) both points to, constrains, and begs for more. I wonder what writing together would look and feel like, and what infrastructure and rules it might demand.

Posted on 11 July 2012, 11:31 am by alex juhasz  |  Permalink

How to read...

Just FYI the links provided on this 'how to read this scalar project' page went to a blank page (Glas) with the exception of the you tube link. I have a MacBook Pro so I don't think it is my computer. If these links don't go anywhere it somewhat calls into question the beauty of this form. With everything working I think Scalar might 'work' very well for the book I have been envisioning for years. And yes a book is never done. Or perhaps better stated the subject of a book in never 'done'. For example, we scholars have witnessed the effects of time on the critical understanding / appreciation of certain works of poetry. Certain books are literally dead and only useful to cite as past examples of where we went wrong. So we can now create a living breathing work that is never finished and lives beyond the original author - similar to the actual work of art it might be engaged with. Thus art and criticism interweave as they always have done. BUT one thing that troubles me here is the distraction this new form leads to as one reads / engages with it. The reason I am able to write the book I am writing is because of my very close reading of many books. I can replicate that 'worm hole' process / journey in this format but can it inspire the process in others? Can it replicate / replace the close reading necessary to arrive at that place of being able to write such a 'book'?

Posted on 24 January 2013, 8:10 am by Barbara Neri  |  Permalink

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