Home > Uncategorized > Link to “Computers, Cut-ups and Combinatory Volvelles”

Link to “Computers, Cut-ups and Combinatory Volvelles”

Here is a link to my Masters thesis, which I’m going to be showing next Monday:


You can click on “ABOUT THIS WORK” on the left for the introduction, or click around the blocks for the meat of it.

Just briefly: this work explores the art of combination as a media topos across different periods, focusing in particular on actual mechanisms or machines for generating text. Really, it argues for an understanding of reading and writing as two sides of the same coin — interlocked, material practices interfacing with a particular platform. Rather than squeezing and pinching and prodding a rather untraditional media archaeology into a rather traditional thesis, I created a website that attempts to enact the very mechanisms I investigate, involving the reader in cutting up and recombining the text to produce meaning.

The four square design is, first and foremost, a product of screen realty — my original design added a new block with each click, creating this sprawling, unmanagable grid of flippable, changeable texts — but second, an echo of the cut-up methods of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, who would slice a page into four equal parts and remix them to create a new text. (It also provided me with constraints while writing.) Although I’ve decided the outcome of each link, there’s no set order in which to explore; you can go clockwise, counterclockwise, or just jump back and forth between two blocks.

The grid on the left side of the screen is a visual map to help orient you in the text. Hovering over different sections will tell you which topics are being explored, so you can see what you’ve covered and where you still have to travel. Clicking on any block in the grid removes all four blocks on your screen and starts you over in the top left corner. And, finally, the color coding of the blocks links to the shadow behind each square to indicate when you’ve jumped to a new topic.

Every block that slides onto your screen is added to “Your Text” at the bottom of the screen, generating a linear version the thesis. The colored blocks link back to the themes above to create a layering effect — as if the linear text itself is an archaeological site, depositing meaning.

I have to emphasize that this was an experiment in function and scholarship. It’s successful at some things, but fails at others. Since I’m currently working on a much lighter version of the site (because it grew organically, the code is incredibly unwieldy — in fact, quite possibly as inefficient as a could have made it), I’m actually more interested in talking about the failures than the successes.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. whitneyannetrettien
    October 7, 2009 at 9:34 am

    I wanted to add — I know others have been thinking about and using digital media in their work, and would *love* if you posted it!

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