journal Kairos is
truly a web publication; it has no print counterpart, and it is self-aware
in its exploration of the web as a forum for academic writing. The journal,
for example, calls its feature pieces "webtexts," not articles.
Kairos is more web savvy and, not surprisingly, more visually
savvythan any other journal I looked at. One recent article"Not
a Cosmic Convergence: Rhetoric, Poetics, Performance, and the Web"
is particularly rich in visual design. Published in November 1998 as
a selected proceeding from the Computers and Writing Conference, it
is an unusual text in that it is a web version of a performance at the
conference. The author is indicated as Myka Vielstimmig, but as you
enter the webtext you find out that the name is invented; the authors
are mainly Kathleen Blake Yancey and Michael Spooner, with assistance
from several other people who participated in the performance. Vielstimmig
means "many voiced" in German.
a Cosmic Convergence" is at once a reflection on the possibilities
for reconstructing the academic essay to be multi-vocal, visual, and
non-linear, and an enactment of those possibilities. One of the voices
says in the piece: "Writing this way in academic texts is a stylistic
choice to represent synthesis and process. As such, it jars the reader
away from the analytical habit." Another voice asks: "What
about essays that invoke this sensibility, that abandon the extended
period for jump cuts, flashbacks, and collages of heretofore incompatible
genres?" The question is one we might ask of pop-up video, a collage
of genres that traditionally do not inhabit the same space.
One feature of the visual design in the Vielstimmig piece is the use
of different color type to capture different voices. There are two strands
that run throughout the whole piece, a teal voice and a magenta voice,
although we never learn whose voices these are. Other voices, in blue,
black, and orange, occasionally interrupt the dialogue between the teal
and magenta voices.
1: from "Not a Cosmic Convergence"
- The other
major visual component is reproductions of famous paintings and installations
by Leger, Matisse, Picasso, DuChamp, Cornell, Pollack and other artists.
The authors/producers make analogies throughout between the ethos of
certain movements within the history of artparticularly Cubismand
the ethos of a reconstructed essay, or what they call, the "new
essay, netessay, or digital essay."
There is very little that is transparent about this piece. It is deliberately
opaque, it deliberately invites us to look AT it rather than simply
THROUGH it. As a postmodern foray into the discussion of experimental
genres, it vigorously resists what Lanham calls
CBS style: a style characterized by clarity, brevity, and sincerity.
The disjointed prose and the collage of images for one thing strongly
discourage an easy equation of the text and some definitive meaning
"behind," "underneath" or "inside" the
text. There are also a number of self-conscious winks that the article
gives the reader throughout to indicate a movement away from sincerity.
Finally, I find the visual presentation of the webtext to be quite seductive;
the soft colors and the relatively high quality reproductions of familiar
artwork create a sensually rich viewing experience. The piece quite
successfully fulfills its purpose: to resist the ideology of transparent
text that persistently dogs traditional academic writing.