I wanted to respect the integrity of the material. I got interested in the changing nature of the book, and the new possibilities for publishing in digital form. I had ideas about how I wanted to communicate with an audience, what sort of relationship I wanted to set up with them, and between them and the material. I have to admit, too, that I wanted to do something that would be as interesting to write as it might be to read.
I wrote it in bits because bits were what I had to work with – and, in the end, what I think the world consists of. I might have tried to join them together rather than simply juxtapose them, that is to write over them, to smooth them out, to talk about them, incorporate them into my story rather than let them stand (and speak) for themselves.
The risk is that in eliding sources you erase them. I wanted to give them both their singularity and their similarity, their relations to each other. This kind of writing is much more like curation than creation: it’s a collecting and putting together, a form of bricolage. The aim is to be phenomenologically correct, to give an account of politics as it appears, as we experience it. Action – our own and others’ doings and sayings – occurs as fragments disconnected in time and space to which we sometimes attribute a certain sequence or logic. Action is always multiple, always inter-action, and it seemed right to try to create a polyvocal or dialogical text. I’m trying to be true to what we know of what others do, which is invariably second-hand and indistinct; I wanted to reproduce the haziness and uncertainty of what’s going on.
It seemed to follow from thinking about how to write about doing that I should question what form the product should take. At the same time as there is a recalibration of politics going on, a fundamental change in the means of communication is taking place. These two intersect to some extent, of course, but not wholly.
Given that I wanted to write a book, what is a book, now? What might it be, if we thought more about what we’re trying to do with it? Should it have pages, both recto and verso? Should these be composed of lines, and should they begin top left and descend in sweeps to bottom right?
These then beg further questions not just about which publisher to approach, but how to publish, in which medium. Is this a codex book with front and back cover and leaves of paper in between, or a website, a set of objects held together at least provisionally, by a set of links? Either way, how should it be distributed? Should I sell it or give it away? How can I control how it looks, which is at least as much about craft pride as about authorial autonomy? And if the book itself is to do politics, and to do it through and through, ‘all the way down’ so to speak, then every detail becomes significant. How to do without serifs, for example, ‘those little epaulets of authority’?
I had this idea about presenting the material as a mosaic, each coloured piece having shape and weight in itself, but also generating discernible figures and patterns when arranged with others. Making this arrangement explicit acknowledges the possibility or even inevitability of rearrangement. Think of a kaleidoscope: any viewer might turn the barrel and see a different pattern.
In this way, I’ve tried to make a book to look at, as well as to read. The visual arrangement of the page allows and even requires the reader to make sense of it as she wants, to find and follow what’s interesting and leave what isn’t. It’s form of writing in which the reader does the work, or at least some of it. Most reading in hypertext is like this, in which the reader actively follows links, choosing some and not others, or simply chooses not to. Espen Aarseth writes about ‘ergodic’ literature in this way, using a term from physics derived from the Greek words for ‘work’ and ‘path’.
Of course I want my book to be read for whatever sense it makes, but I’m also glad just to give up the bits that glitter. It’s to be raided – in the way I’ve raided other books – for whatever might be useful or meaningful, or both.
Whatever you find here, though it won’t be enough. It will say that something is worth looking at and thinking about, but this looking and thinking is necessarily unfinished, incomplete. Most writing and talking – and teaching – about politics entails telling people things, saying what is so whether its object is a fact, an opinion or an interpretation. I want to show people things, even though they’re mostly things they’ve seen and know about already. But then I want to say ‘No, look again, think about this, think about what it is and how it works’. I want to encourage and even help you to think, but what you think is up to you.
So the tone or mood of the book is indicative, suggestive, not declarative or authoritative. Why would I want to be authoritative? What kind of politics is that?
Ulises Carrión (1975) ‘The New Art of Making Books’, Kontexts: a review of visual, experimental poetry and language art 6-7. Vanessa Place describes serifs as ‘little epaulets of authority’ in Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing. Managing language in the digital age, New York: Columbia UP, 2011, p 104; Goldsmith’s own remark about ‘every font’ is p 204. On the ergodic, see Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext, Perpectives in ergodic literature, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997
‘Education must shift from instruction…’: Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, coordinated by Jerome Agel, The Medium is the Massage. An inventory of effects, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967, p 100. ‘The practice of teaching…’: Jeroen Lutters, The Trade of the Teacher. Visual thinking with Mieke Bal, Amsterdam: Valiz, 2018, p 55; Bal invokes Chantal Mouffe. See also Darcy Leigh and Richard Freeman (2017) ‘Teaching politics after the practice turn’, Politics 1-14