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3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive
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From: Jack Kessler
Subject: e-text and e-publishing -- a new, French, model? (Part 1/2) (15 Feb 95 FYIFrance: e-text and e-publishing -- a new, French, model? (Part 1/2) Electronic publishing -- by universities, individuals, "new" commercial publishers, "traditional print" commercial publishers -- is generating a lot of excitement, both online and off-. Anyone interested in e - text and e - publishing, and in a very different approach to both perhaps being adopted on the non - Anglo - American nets, might be interested in seeing http://www.cnac-gp.fr . Most of the general e - text / publishing excitement is about the money to be made. Now that the Internet's "acceptable use policy" gloves definitely are removed, traditional publishers are racing each other to be first to market in the promising electronic arena. Writers and various non - traditional publishers are racing just as fast to develop techniques, taking advantage of the new media, which they hope will circumvent traditional publishers' overhead costs and fees. Much of the excitement is non - financial, in addition. Dreamers are imagining a hypertext universe. Specialists are seeing hope, at last, for the exactness of rigorous text markup and bibliographic standards. The graphic - inclined are yearning for multimedia: in everything, it sometimes seems. The politics - inclined are sure that "global villages" are growing -- or, a few of them, that "global political control" is beginning to fester -- all as a result of our new electronic information world. E-text publishing's greatest problem thus far, claim the most visionary of networking's advocates, has been its inability to take full advantage of the new media's new tools. Where are the interactivity, hyperactivity, multimedia, and universal access, of a print journal which merely has been uploaded onto the nets? Plain un - marked - up ASCII text has its proponents, but many more criticize such use of the brand new bottles for the same old wine. The French are excited, like everyone else, and one new French e - text and e - publishing project, recently announced, promises to address this e - text format problem directly. At http://www.cnac-gp.fr/ on the WorldWideWeb ("W3", in the standard European formulation of this unpronounceable mouthful) may be found a brave announcement, by no less than Paris' Centre Pompidou, of an "e - publishing" project which will (in eloquent text by Norbert Hillaire, translated and reproduced here with permission): "...take the measure of this technical mutation which we are witnessing today, this veritable anthropological change, comparable to that which the printing press or even the invention of writing, represented for humanity... it is as though today this extremely disparate assemblage called cyberspace has added, to all the open questions which constitute the very foundation of experience and of artistic expression, a new dimension which by virtue of digitization interconnects all things. Jumbled into this vast picture are telecommunications networks, virtual reality, robotics, interactivity, artificial life, multimedia: a collection which poses to the human species a great quantity of questions in the realms of ethics, aesthetics, politics, society, and epistemology. These questions demand to be addressed in an atmosphere of questioning, itself a new idea, at the crossroads of several languages (those of art, of philosophy, of science, of technology), perhaps even in an entirely new intellectual arrangement from that which established the hierarchy of disciplines and their relationships with one another, a new arrangement for which the encyclopedia furnishes a model, and in structures which will not be the simple prolongations of traditional lines of teaching and research, or traditional media for the transmission of knowledge such as the book..." Brave agenda, if much - needed. Many ideas for online e - text and e - publishing thus far have been lacking in both imagination and the funds and techniques necessary to design and implement the wilder schemes. What are the French proposing here? The Centre Pompidou project outline describes a project to be called _Tr@verses_ ("crossings", in the sense of to cross a street or barrier): "1. The project: a description of its general approach and its goals;" "+ Some new goals" Nothing less than "new forms of organization in the field of knowledge... " are needed: "Our epoch marks the end of the two thousand year old opposition, from ancient Greece to the Industrial Revolution, between the 'me'tis' of the Greeks (the tricks of the technician) and philosophy, between theoretical knowledge and practice. First because technique is taking, more and more, a decisive role in the process of scientific discovery. But also because the computer is not a tool like the others... at the hour when culture becomes a major goal for the industries of information, the people who promote culture are more than ever exposed to new responsibilities: principally not to abandon the politics and economics of culture and of history to those, engineers and policy makers, who hold the keys to the information industries... This assumes the development of a field for the criticism of technique, which will constitute a central focus of this journal." Note: a tacit bow is being made here to Pierre Le'vy, one of the more popular young French authors on these subjects and an acknowledged source of many of these ideas, in the reference to his concept "machine universelle". "+ A project for the Centre Pompidou" "A large part of culture today is cast in isolated networks for the production of knowledge which rarely have contact with the 'real world' from which they first emerged. There is a localization of thought and of research, as there is a localization of work and of the economy... There is no publication which sees itself placed above the frontiers which separate culture and society, art and technique, and precisely at the level where the study of these realms combines so that they no longer may be distinguished the one from the other... The new technologies of communication, and in particular a network like the Internet, lead in this direction, and it will be one of the first challenges to discover how to establish -- using a medium like the Internet, which the 'hard' sciences have used for a long time -- the theoretical discussions of today's situation of art and culture... " "One also must remember the current separation between teaching and research; the Centre Pompidou also may have a role to play in this area... the networks... generally are affiliated with the universities (this is the case, for example, in France with the Internet)... the Centre has a role to play as a cultural bridge providing contacts for independent artists and researchers who are not connected with universities... _Tr@verses_ may be understood as an un - habitual and heterodox research center, and as a pedagogical tool of a new style. Here again, the history, the specialty, the notoriety, and the logistical capacities of the Centre Pompidou, and its unparalleled situation in the context of world culture, necessarily take it in this direction." Note: for non - francophiles or -phobes, the Centre Pompidou really is somewhat unique -- there are few single national cultural centers elsewhere as well - attended, as deluged with tourists, as productive of interesting events, and as well - subsidized, even if the paint is beginning to peel a bit off of elements of its equally - unique architecture. "o A comprehensive project" The Centre Pompidou's, "Ircam, BPI, MNAM-CCI, De'partement du de'veloppement culturel, Revue virtuelle, Revues parle'es, services informatique et audiovisuel," all are affected by the new technologies and all may be involved in the new e - publication: how true this total impact, and how desirable this total involvement in dealing with it, are at other institutions as well! "_Tr@verses_ must be a space for the joining together and resonance of the many diverse media of thought... mixing text, music, sound and audiovisual recordings, fixed images, etc." "+ The basics of the project" "o Liaison with tradition" "The first responsibility of this journal will be to inveigh against the technical and instrumentalist vision of the technology itself, in favor of a more refined approach of a computational metaphor applied to the human spirit and to the management of its activities..." Note: thrown gauntlet #1. "o Art" "As the meeting - place of the greatest assortment of differing discourse and practices, art will be at the heart of our concerns... We must avoid addressing the questions posed by the new technologies solely through the forms... of their expression in today's art world: thus, in contemporary art, the field of questions to be debated or even posed in this journal will not be reduced simply to the obvious works of 'electronic art'... Another challenge: what is the culture of cyberspace today for the immense majority of human beings who are excluded from it? What are the inter - cultural relations of the global technological culture?" "o Several themes" "Literature, creativity, and software" "The question of literary creation and of the role played by form constraints is raised anew today by the electronic media. Are text generators tools of literary creativity? Does hypertext permit critical exploration which amounts to creative reading and transforms the nature of the relation between reading and writing?" "History" "History is a subject populated by a great quantity of research in a number of fields, but nevertheless our societies, pulled between amnesia and information overload, find that it poses great difficulties." "The notion of 'model'" "With the new technologies and the new forms of modeling which simulation makes possible, the very notion of a model, common to the arts and to the sciences, is changing. Such a theme could permit the in - depth treatment of relations between the arts and the sciences, establishing gateways between the field of cognitive science research, diverse strands of philosophy, and the arts." (end of Part 1/2) *** FYIFrance: e-text and e-publishing -- a new, French, model? (Part 2/2) (A continuation of the description of a new French e - text / publishing project of the Centre Pompidou, with an interestingly - French and perhaps new orientation, to be found online at http://www.cnac-gp.fr .) "2. Editorial hypotheses: a sketch of policies which might guide the project" "Why should the new technologies of thought, of communication, and of history be reserved exclusively to the fields of business, of war, of money, or of "hard" sciences, particularly as so many seem pleased to expostulate (often demagogically, it is true) that education and culture will constitute the grand challenges of the next century?" "+ Periodicals" "o Reviews and exhibition catalogs: the question of periodicity" "One wonders about the decline of journals and the success of exhibition catalogs. This latter success also involves a decline in a certain form of faithfulness, found in the periodicity of a journal as a mandate of a particular school of thought... (now) culture has been seized by the phenomenon of the unique event, which arrives at a given moment, a reference point in time, in a society which lacks points of reference and in which it is difficult to record cultural events in anything representing historical continuity... Exhibitions exist which are true events. Why not also events of thought, which will not be either books, or exhibitions, but an occurrence of collective intelligence in the service of a theme, of a problem, of a goal, of some cause which might constitute a true cultural event?" Note: Christo has wrapped several things in Paris recently -- his art projects often take years, and the event of producing them always is at least as significant, to him and to those participating (he and they say), as is any finished product, be it a wrapped bridge or a scattering of giant parasols. "o An annual event" "The Centre Pompidou offers the intellectual experimentation necessary for a production of this nature, all the resources which one could hope for: coordination with exhibitions, workshops which could be sites for both experimentation and for the production of intellectual objects to appear later (the journal becomes a process)..." "+ Editorial principles" "We wish to produce a flexible tool, offering different levels of use, different levels of the treatment of knowledge as functions of each specific objective, of each theme or problem confronted, of the evolution of the level of information equipment of the users: a tool which can at the same time go beyond the choice between users who are among a 'target' group and 'the rest'. A tool, combining unity and diversity, and sufficiently developed to accommodate a certain variability in the user's choice of media." "2.2.1 A variable approach" "Journals... There are more and more of them, but they concern less and less. Their existence is not possible without subsidies, and they appear in extremely specialized fields... The perspective of hyper - specialization, or that of a generalist approach which can only treat a thing superficially within its restrained space, this journal will oppose... Not the partisan overview of a question, viewed by its supposedly - best specialists, but a user's space enriched and opened to new areas, unanticipated even by those in the field, bringing to the scene a very large number of points of view on a given theme, and adding to the theme diverse levels of competency... A space in which the user her/himself can construct her/his own singular view, a view reflecting only one of the facets of the kaleidoscope... " "o A variable approach to texts and to media" "One might imagine an object both dense and pliable... which mixes luxury with modesty, richness or content density with lightness..." "2.2.3 Variable levels of use: hypertext as a response to the philosophy of the project" "A place for perspective, for "what - if" scenarios in unanticipated directions, or directions a priori different from the usual... Hypertext: non - linearity... non - hierarchy... connectivity... variability... these qualities, which define hypertext and distinguish it from the book, also define the basic idea of the undertaking which we propose... in hypertext, the page becomes the physical place of a dialog between the text and the reader, as was the medieval codex which opened its margins to the writing of the reader... One must imagine, finally, a publication in part made by the users themselves..." "o Of doors and windows" "_Tr@verses_ thus may be thought of as a door through which one only must pass, to gain access to a room containing another or several other doors. The model of journals has been that of the window, lands of knowledge perceived and admired from the outside through the authority of the authors of which they are composed or of a handful of specialists (the editorial committee). We are concerned here to make doors which the user, if s/he desires, may open, to enter new spaces, such that that user's presence and manner of being in the successive rooms of the knowledge space modify the structure of the whole, creating a profound renewal in the relations between writing and reading... We must, in sum, for each of the goals which the journal proposes, think of a tool, a product, a collection of same which makes reference, and to which the user may in fact refer, without any limitation other than her or his curiosity, inclination, or personal professional needs." Such is this French e - text / publication program: a project "to be followed", as the French themselves say. The description is worth reading in full in the French: it includes references to Pierre Le'vy, Ponge, Michelet, Guattari, Roubaud, Calvino, Ovid, Lucretius, Vale'ry, Leibniz, Luccarella, Lebrave, Stendhal, Montesquieu, and Ted Nelson, among others -- the French educational system is a remarkable thing. If an American longs for the details -- the devil being in the details -- much of what is being proposed here appears at least to evoke known techniques: there are smatterings here of WorldWideWeb and hypertext, and Mosaic browsers and multimedia links and MUDs and MOOs and Internet Relay Chat, all of these well - known now in France -- they are speaking of, at least, a yearly printed version and a cdrom, although one suspects that there will be more -- anyone having a hard time envisaging multitudes of simultaneous users of a multimedia text, and discussing and arguing and indeed fighting over it, need think now only of Usenet, or of the better - disciplined PACS-L e - conference with its 9000+ users in 65+ countries, to get the general possible idea. An American has to compare this French approach with the one s/he knows so well from home. In the US, trial - and - error leads to declarations of principle; in France, lofty declarations are the necessary prelude to trial - and - error. The approaches are different. The US perhaps has been rich enough to afford the one, while France has found it necessary -- not so much through poverty perhaps as through long, bitter, political experience -- to search first for the apparent clarity of the other. At least the French present all the above to the world in advance, as they did their plans for their new giant library, and the presentation in this case is available online in German, English, Spanish and Italian: that sells better "overseas" than presentations made only in "american" ASCII. (Umberto Eco has characterized DOS as "Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics...", while he calls the Macintosh computer, "Catholic... cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed... via simple formulae and sumptuous icons": perhaps the Franco - American differences noted here are nothing more. If so, it is salutary -- perhaps humbling -- to realize that some very old differences ultimately still rule the development of some of these very new techniques.) *** XXX FYI France (sm)(tm) e - newsletter ISSN 1071 - 5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter, | published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal, | experiment, in the creation of large - scale | "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material / \ written by me which appears in FYI France may be ----- copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so // \\ long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail --------- address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if // \\ if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives are at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search for FYIFrance), or via gopher to infolib.berkeley.edu 72 (path: 3. Electronic Journals (Library-Oriented)/ 6. FYIFrance/ , or http://www.univ-rennes1.fr/LISTESemail@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR econference archive), or via telnet to a.cni.org , login brsuser (PACS / PACS-L econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison - pen letters all will be gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
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