The following excerpt is from the article “The State of the Book: A Conversation,” by Johanna Drucker and Buzz Spector, which is in the printed Printeresting edition of The California Printmaker (the journal of The California Society of Printmakers), p. 20. [Ed. Note: Totally worth buying and reading and owning.] This particular part is Johanna Drucker:
But as we shift towards the multi-platform possibilities that the current media environment offers, what changes will it make to our work? I find it very useful to use all media for their distinct capacities—aesthetic, production, distribution, affordability, etc.—but know […] that media only offer opportunity, they don’t determine anything. As I’ve said many times, the technical ability to produce avant-garde typography (i.e. Futurist and Dada compositions) was present in Gutenberg’s shop. The cultural disposition towards such innovation did not exist. Such work could not be conceived. Sure, shaped poetry has a long history, into antiquity, and all written language makes use of graphic affordances, but mixed font, diagonal, radically cut-up typographic work has as much to do with the bombardment of the senses in urban spaces by polyglot and multi-modal communications in verbal forms (radio, posters, newspapers, journals, advertising, film) as with technical innovation. [emphasis added]
I think that the point that Drucker is trying to make here is an important one: that any media in and of itself has no “natural” state, no “natural” progression that the work in that media inevitably follows. “Media only offer opportunity” to human and institutional agents. This is also the whole point of The Nature of the Book, by Adrian Johns, which talks about how everything we take for granted about books & print was not always so, and were constructed over time, differently in different places, through an extraordinarily complex set of conversations, arguments, laws, and practices. To cite a modern example, the Internet is not inherently and naturally “democratic,” and could/can/is be used for insidious and/or overt social control—all in the name of justice, of course.

What does this mean for us, now, in the opening stages of a possible shift from print to electronic text? It means that we shouldn’t let corporate/media/money interests tell us what the future is—it means that we must share in the active shaping of it. Which is why this is such an exciting time to be doing all of this writing, publishing, making, designing, shaping, becoming, occupying, sharing, talking…

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