The Crying of Lot 49 by Mary Harburg-Petrich


Dear Dr. Kramer,

This page, at least, rests at the edge of the wiki as we intend it to collect and perform knowing (yet even here, to this page, other pages link hypertextually). We do not want to impose too many guidelines for how to go about assessing, navigating, experiencing the Book Theory wiki, for the very structures of the templates imposed by the website, themselves designed to foster freedom from constraint, are quite constraining, and should be accounted for if not resisted. Neither of us (nor are you?) is a computer programmer, and thus we necessarily rely on pre-written (free) code to conduct this project. With that avowed, we welcome any fortunately accidental meanings that erupt between the content of the wiki and the structures that govern its appearance on the screen. (For example, try changing the size of your web browser window: it will alter the arrangment of the text on this and other pages that contain images.)

So, hesitantly offered instructions: Begin by searching any word or phrase you suspect may have some bearing on or within our project and see what happens. If you arrive at something we have written, read it as you will, noting that hyptertextual links will offer the chance to jump to different pages. Once you have found a page to start with, you have found yourself "within the signifying chain," if you will, and should peruse and assess as you see fit. If in searching for a page you are informed that it does not yet exist, proceed as you feel you should. You may refer to the paper copy we have provided to be sure that you have read everything we have published as of 11 May 2009.

Which brings us to a brief discussion here (to be developed elsewhere) on the nature of form. Any discussion of textuality informed by the interdisciplinary field of book history, must, we believe, first and foremost address its own nature, here the electronic text. In her well-known article “Print is Flat, Code is Deep,” Katherine Hayles asserts “Beneath the alphanumeric language of the electronic text proper are layers of alphanumeric codes, from the system software of the computer to the word-processing programs or software packages in which the linguistic text was generated and through which it is being read” (419). Thus it is important for us to recognize that beneath the text proper of this wiki are a series of codes that determine the text’s structure, layout, and visual organization. Although these codes are not visible to the reader, we have chosen to acknowledge them here as a second language of the text, one that will become increasingly important to literary and textual scholars in the years to come.

The specific nature of the wiki as one form of electronic text, however, is another issue entirely. For while this pre-programmed wiki hides its alphanumeric codes, it discloses all alterations ever made to the text itself. Thus any reader, including yourself, can witness the formation of the Wiki as it records any alteration, incidental or substantial, made from its inception. We encourage you to view these changes by clicking on the history link at the bottom of the page. In addition, the Wiki, unlike other digital texts, allows any reader to change, delete, or add new content to it. Again, we encourage you to add and subtract as you wish. Our hope is that what emerges is a truly polysemous text.

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