Monday, March 10, 2008

PD(Q) 1.1: Form, Translation, Text: Blogging on Paper

This is a first draft of an introduction to a section in the first fascicule PD(Q). The blog posts included in this sections are:

Much of this feels a bit stale and returns to some of my old saws.  I'll probably cross post this on my blog tomorrow.  In any event, here's my intro:

Form, Translation, Text: Blogging on Paper 

PD(Q) is an experiment in translation. When it was first introduced on the Ancient World Bloggers Group blog, I eagerly agreed to participate. Since that time I have sought to understand what it is that we are trying to do and to recognize the implications of translating onto paper texts developed in the digital genre and medium of blogging. The mechanics behind the idea seemed quite straightforward, as the following blog posts will reveal. Bloggers would submit their best posts to a group of editors who will edit these posts, offer some form of mild peer review, and then assemble them in a quarterly journal which will be available at as either an electronic publication in PDF or in paper form for a modest price. At the same time, the posts included in each issues would be entered into a digital archive in a format suitable for stable, long-term storage.

The benefit of a paper version of the blog posts is to attempt to cross the divide between the kind of people who are comfortable with online, digital media, and people who feel most at home in the world of paper publishing. This happens to be a very current topic, as the discussions surrounding the Indiana University libraries announcement of the electronic Museum Anthropology Review over the past several weeks have shown. Some of these debates, however, reveal the persistence of considerable hesitancy to regard online publications as equal to those distributed on paper.

In some regard, the decisions of PD(Q) to provide a print venue for web based content reflects a kind of reverse migration from an fluidity and instability of an electronic medium to the staid legitimacy of a the printed page. A movement from an electronic medium to paper may well be simple for those electronic journals which continue to employ the basic format of print publications. The method that we will use to move the blogs from the web to paper reflect just such a simplistic approach. The webblog posts are moved from the web into a word-processor, edited for basic style (i.e. spelling and basic grammar), and then formatted for the dimensions of standard paper.

This process, however, brings to the fore a number of potentially valuable questions regarding how blogs or text native to a digital format are understood as a form of writing (I use the term “form of writing” to encompass the medium, genre, and style of a text). The following blog posts reveal some of the issues surrounding the idea and process of translation from one form to another; other issues, however, were explored other post, in emails, and comments on these posts which for various reasons we will not include in the print version of PD(Q). I will take the liberty of bringing up some of these issues here in a general, if somewhat superficial, consideration of the process of translation from the blogosphere to the world of paper publishing.

The first step in the translation process is extracting the blog text from the context provided by the blog itself. Blogs provide a vital context for this form of writing. From their onset, blogs were closely tied to the ephemeral communities and networks that appear on the internet. These communities are visible through the practice of linking to other blogs both through hyperlinks in individual posts and through lists of other blogs, called blogrolls, typically appearing on the side of the webpage. Both hyperlinks to other blogs and blogrolls served to contextualize conversations taking place in the blogosphere by validating the work of colleagues in the community. In many cases bloggers forge relationships through repeated references to the work of other bloggers often over the course of multiple posts spanning week or months. Translating a single post – or even a whole series of posts – from the blogosphere to paper removes some of the markers indicating that a blogger is a member of a particular community (although the PD(Q) community certainly replaces some of that) and strips away some of the meaning from a post that goes beyond what is contained in text and argument. While most of better bloggers might admit that each post can stand like a miniature manifesto, most would also concede that what makes the blogosphere interesting and perhaps even valuable is that links and blogrolls make visible the exoskeleton of context and community.

These links between bloggers and posts are most often made manifest through the use of hyperlinks which allow a reader to move laterally across texts and pages. We resolved to render hyperlinks as footnotes in our translantion of these texts from digital format to paper. This shifts the reading of a blog post from an exercise in intertextuality to the more traditional practice of continuous reading which marginalized a key indicator of the texts original context. On the web, hyperlinks in the text beg the reader to move laterally “across the text” linking from page to page and promote ways of reading that destabilize the integrity of the text. In the place of sustained argument essentially native to the linear arrangement of printed texts, hypertext encourages experiments with allusion, intertextuality, and at times even bricolage.

The different techniques used by bloggers to construct their texts (and anticipated by readers of these texts) highlight the difference in form, content, and reception from the formal printed page of academic publication. In particular, blog posts embrace the more improvisational, allusive, and ephemeral character of the medium bringing to the fore their provisional nature. Unlike the more linear and consequently more definitive statements that appear more commonly in paper journals, the provisional nature and form of blogs allows them a greater range of experimentation and speculation. Their interactive character intersects with their less formal tone and style of expression to evoke conversations or perhaps, in academic circles, the less formally structured experience of professional conferences.

As such blogs represent “works in progress” their formal publication in a venue such as PD(Q) with an eye toward increased circulation reflects an critical interest in the process of scholarship which stands apart from the more definitive works common to more formal print journals. The interest in the provisional and in the scholarly process parallels a movement across the humanities fueled by important developments in critical theory. From at least the 1970s, scholars from across disciplines have sought to demonstrate the myriad variables active during the interpretative process. In archaeology, for example, the growing interest in reflexivity has sought to capture the archaeological experience and the interpretive process at the “trowels edge”. The broader implications of this work is a growing appreciation of the contingent and provisional nature of all knowledge. The publication of the blog posts here, despite the recontextualizing exercise of translation from digital media to print, serves an important function to document the interpretative and creative processes that undergird intellectual life.

The following excerpts from a rather lengthy and more involved discussion provide modest insights into the processes of creating a print journal from the digital material in the blogosphere. The arguments advanced in these posts contribute to the ongoing discussions into the nature of digital publishes (and blogs in particular), and the role of print media in the future of academic life.

Any thoughts, comments, or open mockery would be much appreciated...

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