Final Project Concept

For my final project, I want to try playing with the essay form by incorporating a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over during our unit on annotation and note-taking. As I noted in my blog post on Blair, I feel as if our readings really leave open the idea of note-taking being an ultimately expressive activity; it is a means through which a reader may ‘respond to the text’ via the margins of the text itself. Yet, taking a few steps back from our natural delineations of genres, one may note that this definition extends beyond note-taking in general. Consider the traditional literary essay and how it pulls from assorted marginalia and a text in order to elucidate hidden aspects of its subject. Is it not in itself ultimately a ‘response’ to a text, an attempt at lexicographic expression? Indeed, if one incorporate examples such as Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the short, epigraphic nature of Borges’ stories, they could even argue that the division between notes and Literature is a rather ephemeral one as well.

Wanting to explore this ephemeral division, I want to try writing an ‘annotated essay’ through Hypothesis (or any easily accessible annotation platform). Structurally, the idea seems rather simple: I would create a private Hypothesis notation on the text I intend to focus (or start) my analysis on. Once finished with an aspect of my argument, I would hyperlink to another text (or multiple texts) and continue my analysis via the hypothesis overlay for that piece. While a rather simple idea (and gimicky) it seems like a cool opportunity to use form to finally break from concerns of structure and linear argumentation that has plagued my essay writing since primordial elementary school days. Rather than force my reader to engage with my argument through an artificial linearity, I can simply leave the ‘flow’ of argument to her/him. That is, I can actually allow my reader to engage with my argument in the same manner that it truly developed.

Of course, form without content that complements its capabilities is wasted, hence why I wish to address another topic that I’ve been mulling over for a while: consumerism in Barthes’ “From Work to Text.” I still feel unease at the dichotomy Barthes draws between “the work” and “the Text” in regards to consumption (i.e. the former is a product of while the latter resists). The need for one to ‘return’ to the consumable work in the attempt to decipher the unlimited “Text” seems far too problematic for anything beyond a false division. The annotated essay seems a perfect opportunity to investigate these concerns: forcing the reader to engage with individual texts through the hyperlink strategy will allow them to visualize the intertextual web of signs that Barthes addresses in his writings while also forcing them to engage with the economy of digital production (e.g. site-traffic, paywalls, embedded advertisements) that is incurred in a contemporary exploration of “the Text.”

As I’m approaching the topic with a concern for the relationship between consumption, production, and art, my research will likely need to engage with classical critical theorists, most notably Adorno, while the digital nature of the project will benefit from some insights via Liu and some ‘classical’ arguments by way of Bolter and Grusin. As well, since I do not have the resources to consider all possible variations of “the Text” and how they have changed across the decades between now and Barthes, I intend to focus my inquiry on a single example of textual response: the individual essay itself. That is, I wish to simply display a counterpoint through how the annotated essay itself engages with consumption and capital in its own attempts to “play” with Barthes’ “Text.”

Returning to form, I also realize that even an unambitious use of hyperlinking between annotations will likely be an irritant to the reader. As such, there is a distinct possibility that I may need to abandon the use of annotation platforms in general and simply create a series of rudimentary HTML pages that simulate visiting multiple websites. (Which, due to separating the article from the immediate world of the World Wide Web, would significantly alter the argument as it provides a means to return to the text without engaging within the eternal recurrence of consumption.)

One thought on “Final Project Concept

  1. I like the restlessness with which you’ve been thinking through this topic, and the way the “content” and “form” are so closely intertwined. You might draw inspiration from other texts that tackle the very underpinnings of the form of critical writing: for example, the intro to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS has Deleuze and Guattari riffing on the nature of writing and authorship in their celebration of “schizoid” form, and Derrida’s GLAS is presented as two separate columns of text that run in parallel through the entire book, one ostensibly on Hegel and the other ostensibly on Blanchot (though of course the two columns bleed over into one another). And, as you mention, avant-garde creative work by Nabokov, Borges, DFW, and others who thematize the relationship between the supplementary “notes” and main “text,” tending to deconstruct this binary relationship.

    I too wonder about where you’re going to locate yourself and your readers in terms of interface. I think good ol’ hypothes.is might be the most pragmatic way to go: it’s so ugly and minimal that it might be perfectly situated to convey the point that Barthes’s Text, properly understood, means seizing control of the medium by virtue of minimal and kind of anti-aesthetic tools, forcing readers into a mode of reading with very different pleasures and demands than the somewhat distracted/consumption-based mode in which we read most stuff onscreen. As a practical concern, you’ll want to think about whether you want to encourage a linear mode of reading or a more hypertextual and decentered mode: if the former, you’ll need clear signposting somewhichway; if the latter, you’ll have to think sympathetically about how it will feel to read in a decentered, extensive, almost oceanic environment.

    Those are my thoughts, anyway: I’m excited to see what you come up with here.

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