Panel: La Plissure du Texte
In the history of new media art and digital writing, Roy Ascott’s La Plissure du Texte (Electra, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1983), a work using telematics to create in real-time a world-wide, collective narrative (more specifically, a collaborative, multi-player fairy tale), has proven a watershed moment (Plissure, n.d.). Basic concepts and issues of authorship, text, invention, and linearity, among others, have been dramatically redefined as well as implemented in a concrete practice (as much a process in itself as a model for further development) of distributed authorship, text as “work” (instead of “product”), users’ participation, and multimedia connectivity, that it is no longer possible to study the art and technology field without taking into account this major achievement. Putting the stakes of Ascott’s involvement with collaborative world-making even higher, the recent upgrade and reconceptualization of this seminal work in the metaverse of Second Life, LPDT2, proves that the creative potential of La Plissure du Text is still intact, to say the least (LPDT2, 2010). Yet by creating a distance between the “old” and the “new”, i.e. by making the (once) “new” now (supposedly) “old”, LPDT2 gives also the opportunity to come back on an aspect that may have been overlooked in the euphoric reception of the truly utopian first version of the work, namely the question of its “reading”. So strong has been the emphasis on the shift towards the new paradigm of participation and connectivity, that the very question of the work’s reading did no longer seem relevant. Reading instead of “doing”, “performing”, “cocreating” La Plissure du texte seemed an example of McLuhan’s “rear-view mirror” approach of the future: (1967: 74-75). The neglect of reading, however, is not fully motivated here. First because reading is much more than just decoding the words of a text, it has also to do with the various stances and attitudes one takes towards a work (in this sense, reading has to do with global cognitive and cultural issues of “perception”). Second because Ascott’s key innovation has not been made from scratch. La Plissure du texte is indebted to all kind of textual ancestors (texts, models, authors). The revolution it brings about is not a tabula rasa, yet one new (big) leap in the history of art as connectivity, and it is plausible to argue that the relationship with this cultural and literary context, and hence the reading of it, is part of the work itself, so that participation can only be complete if one takes also into account the work’s background.
- Jan Baetens is professor of cultural studies at the University of Leuven (KUL), Belgium. His research topics range from French poetry (which he also practices as a published poet) and word and image iteractions in so-called minor genres (graphic novel, photonovel, novellisation). He has written and edited various books, among which recently: “Pour le roman-photo” (Brussels, Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2010), and “Constrained Writing”, a double special of Poetics Today, co-geust edited with JJ Poucel (vol. 30-4, 2009 and 31-1, 2010).
Full text (PDF) p. 169-174