As per Melissa Dalgliesh’s request in her comments on my second conclusion post, I have decided to end the digital portion of my project with some discussion about how this blog will be transformed into a print-based dissertation that I will defend to complete the requirements for my doctoral degree. I do this for two main reasons: first, because I want this project to be as transparent as possible to underscore the importance of process in research; second, because I hope that my work can serve as the basis for more procedurally-conscious digital-print-hybrid projects. In its current form, the project is difficult to contain and thus difficult to defend. My goal is to present my committee with a project that will be feasibly organized in the general form of the traditional print-based thesis, but one that leaves in it elements of the process that was so integral to its production, and that remains the most important part of it both formally and politically. The vestiges of the project’s blog form will reappear in the print thesis in the following four ways: fragmented chapters, user-generated comments, user-suggested revisions, and authorial responses. For ease of reading, I will address these topics one by one.
While it would not be possible to revise and print each plateau individual (that would make a project of unmanageable length and almost impossible readability), I did want the final form of this project to retain some of the fragmentary nature of the initial posts. In my current revisions, which my committee seems to approve of, I am working to retain the fragmentary nature of blogging in the work by organizing the plateaus thematically, creating relatively short chapters of two authors. The posts are not recreated chronologically, but are rather organized topically, connecting two authors together where the single-author focus of the blog did not. Ten-page sections, each dealing with both authors, are separated by subheadings that unite both authors but also embrace the multiple voices and viewpoints inherent in this project. This also serves to recreate the connective elements of hyperlinking which cannot be reproduced on the page. While I have only fully revised two of these “chapters” at this point in my editing process, both collections effectively capture the expected cohesion of the typical thesis chapter while also gesturing toward the fragmented and connected aspects of reading these plateaus individually online. In producing chapters in this way, my final project will have four two-author chapters amounting to approximately sixty pages each, and a coda of four brief (ten page) meditations on four conceptual poets. While all terminology denoting the blog form will be edited out for the final product (for example, all use of the term “plateau,” and all references to “this” or “last week’s post”), the very organization of each chapter will contain within it the remnants of the procedures through which it was born.
Most of the comments posted to this site by readers are included in this project by way of endnotes. Typically, these are edited so that evaluative comments or jokes are removed (but retained in my heart), and repetitive comments are similarly edited. Despite this, the addition of comments to endnotes has resulted in very numerous notes that often overwhelm the initial reading of my work. As an example, my first chapter-proper which focuses on the works of John Cage and Jackson Mac Low contains following sixty-one pages of research just over six full pages of notes, both my own explanatory ones (most of which appeared in the initial posts) and comments. Contrary to the usual use of endnotes in research work, this overwhelming works to my project’s advantage, foregrounding the multiple voices that went into the production of this text. When a comment is added to my final work in an endnote, the full name of the reader (where available) is included, as well as the date and time of the initial comment. As an example, note xxiii of this first chapter records the following user-generated comment:
Comment by Sean Braune (21/11/13): “Ductor” is also an extinct species of prehistoric fish and its remains can now only be read through the trace of the fossil. What I love about Cage’s nonce words found through the mesostics for Merce is the plurality of virtual readings: on the one hand (the historian’s or etymologist’s) we have “sic” and “ductor”; on the other hand (the combinatorist’s) we have “sicductor” as its own entity; yet another, the different readings suggested by each font variation and script size, thus really pointing to the permutational quality of the mesostics; yet another, the “u” of “sicductor” that feeds into the overall mesostic spine of “cunningham” … the plurality of this seemingly simple nonsense word is really jarring. A punning poet may homophonically play and find a sick doctor; also where are these ducts? (ducts are like rhizomatic channels). Is this nonce-word also a conductor? or is it a “sic” duct” …. “or”?
Here, my colleague Sean Braune (whose own scholarship appears a few times throughout this project) is afforded a real voice in my work. I do not endeavour to incorporate his ideas into my own project, but rather to let his characteristic voice come through. I should add here that I have opted for endnotes rather than footnotes for this project so that the notes themselves do not overwhelm the literal pages of my work, but I am unsure if this formatting choice will be retained throughout my revisions.
Where reader comments have provoked me to make a substantive revision in my work, I typically do so without signalling it in the paragraph proper. Once the revisions are made, I add an endnote providing the original comment as a signpost that a major revision has occurred in this work and as a citation to the reader who originally suggested this revision. This element of my project is one I am particularly fond of because it lets the process (and the multiple authors involved) be made manifest, and it does not allow me to take the credit for work that has been made stronger by the input of other readers. It also marks the final version of this project as distinct from the draft-like status of the original blog posts. One example of this is when I completely abandon the terminology of “culmination” that I originally used in my discussions of Mac Low’s The Stein Poems at the suggestion of Mike O’Driscoll. Instead, I replace “culmination” with “combination,” and the first time I do so I append the following note:
Comment by Michael O’Driscoll (23/08/13): I think that the nuancing of JML’s deterministic methods that accounts for the tensions he so deliberately developed between choice and chance is an important and more recent component of our understanding of his diverse body of work. The Stein poems seem an excellent locus for such considerations. However, rather than framing them as return or culmination, it might be more productive to give some thought to how this series “broadens the medium” of language (to paraphrase Bernstein) in the way that captured JML’s attention when he discovered new procedural methods. JML never left anything behind, but I also don’t think he would have thought of any one method as summary.
Again, O’Driscoll’s own voice is permitted here in order to give credit where it is due. This not only returns to the process of the original production of this scholarship, but it also signals that the work is an ongoing process—one that will continually change and revise itself even after the print-based version is submitted and defended.
Finally, my own responses to comments are also included in the endnotes, at times resulting in a back-and-forth conversation that can span up to five comments per note. While these responses appear throughout my project, they are most frequently found in dialogue between my supervisor, Andy Weaver, and myself. The following is a representative sample of our comment-based discussions:
Comment by Andy Weaver (19/08/13): While I take your point about avoiding exegetical readings of the 62 Mesostics, do Cage’s comments about the sequence in his introduction invite or privilege certain readings?
Response (20/08/13): I have been thinking a lot about how these descriptions of the indeterminate or chance produced texts by the author necessarily shape/limit potential readings. In Jackson Mac Low’s work, for example, he places a good deal of privilege on these procedural descriptions. Cage is somewhat less interested in guiding the reading process in that way. On the one hand, these descriptions emphasize process over end-product, and that is positive and postanarchist. But, they also close off potential readings so long as we understand them as external markers guiding textual readings. Poetics, such as Cage’s forward, can actually open up potential readings, though, as long as the reader always understands them as doors to new available readings rather than skeleton keys that unlock exegetical secrets. A task easier said than done, to be sure, but one that move reading away from a hermeneutical privileging of authorial intent. It’s tricky, but when Cage tells us he failed but liked the poems regardless, he’s urging us to note process without looking for the answers it may provide.
Comment by Andy Weaver (21/08/13): Poetics as a proliferation of possible meanings? That’s an interesting idea. I suppose it depends on who is writing the poetics?
Response (22/08/13): Definitely true. Marinetti’s poetics, for example, close off his poetry (and make is morally difficult, too). But, Marinetti’s work and the mandates of Futurism are really instructions. I still firmly believe (and perhaps this is my own preference at play) that the poetics of the vast majority of the authors in my project open up their poetries rather than limit them.
While this discussion of Marinetti is tangential to my project, it appears here as the culmination of a discussion between my supervisor and I that not only caused me to revise and edit my work on Cage, but also informed my work on Mac Low moving forward from that point. These personal responses serve not only to allow for tangential notes like the one above, but they also signal the degree to which the reader-generated comments are tempered by and ultimately edited by my own authorial voice which cannot help but loom over this project. I am particularly interested, too, in the ways that my own voice in the comments section foregrounds the fact that the comments are dialogues rather than editorial instructions. In terms of my discussions with my supervisor especially, they demonstrates the ways in which the digital form of my project has shaped and altered the ways that I engage with my supervisor, and the ways that he is able to organize, affect, and provoke my scholarship.
In the end, while the final project will differ dramatically from this initial digital one, it will still embrace the potentials of connection, commonality, and multivalence that form the core of my project at large. While I may have initially been hesitant to produce a print-based version of this work, as I head full-tilt into the revision stage of this project I look forward to organizing and combining all of these disparate materials into one project that refuses the complete cohesion traditionally expected from the doctoral thesis. I appreciate its hybrid nature and its refusal to let the work, the frustration, the difficulty, the errors, and the joys of the writing process remain implied at best, or more typically invisible. The transition from digital to print signals, too, the postanarchist interest is dissolving binaries; I may print this project out in the end, but it will always already (or always also) be a digital project. Above all, what it really does is open up the potentials for open, collaborative scholarship that never pretends to be anything but. And it is with this embracing of the radical potentials available to all of our work that I finally (!) close this project out.