3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Feb 15, 1995 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on February 15, 1995. This particular issue originally was distributed in two parts, as indicated below.
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From: Jack Kessler 
Subject: e-text and e-publishing -- a new, French, model? (Part 1/2) (15 Feb 95

FYIFrance: e-text and e-publishing -- a new, French, model? (Part 1/2)

Electronic publishing -- by universities, individuals, "new" commercial
publishers, "traditional print" commercial publishers -- is generating
a lot of excitement, both online and off-. Anyone interested in e -
text and e - publishing, and in a very different approach to both
perhaps being adopted on the non - Anglo - American nets, might be
interested in seeing  http://www.cnac-gp.fr .

Most of the general e - text / publishing excitement is about the money
to be made. Now that the Internet's "acceptable use policy" gloves
definitely are removed, traditional publishers are racing each other to
be first to market in the promising electronic arena. Writers and
various non - traditional publishers are racing just as fast to develop
techniques, taking advantage of the new media, which they hope will
circumvent traditional publishers' overhead costs and fees.

Much of the excitement is non - financial, in addition. Dreamers are
imagining a hypertext universe. Specialists are seeing hope, at last,
for the exactness of rigorous text markup and bibliographic standards.
The graphic - inclined are yearning for multimedia: in everything, it
sometimes seems. The politics - inclined are sure that "global
villages" are growing -- or, a few of them, that "global political
control" is beginning to fester -- all as a result of our new
electronic information world.

E-text publishing's greatest problem thus far, claim the most visionary
of networking's advocates, has been its inability to take full
advantage of the new media's new tools. Where are the interactivity,
hyperactivity, multimedia, and universal access, of a print journal
which merely has been uploaded onto the nets? Plain un - marked - up
ASCII text has its proponents, but many more criticize such use of the
brand new bottles for the same old wine.

The French are excited, like everyone else, and one new French e - text
and e - publishing project, recently announced, promises to address
this e - text format problem directly. At  http://www.cnac-gp.fr/  on
the WorldWideWeb ("W3", in the standard European formulation of this
unpronounceable mouthful) may be found a brave announcement, by no less
than Paris' Centre Pompidou, of an "e - publishing" project which will
(in eloquent text by Norbert Hillaire, translated and reproduced here
with permission):

"...take the measure of this technical mutation which we are witnessing
today, this veritable anthropological change, comparable to that which
the printing press or even the invention of writing, represented for
humanity... it is as though today this extremely disparate assemblage
called cyberspace has added, to all the open questions which constitute
the very foundation of experience and of artistic expression, a new
dimension which by virtue of digitization interconnects all things.
Jumbled into this vast picture are telecommunications networks, virtual
reality, robotics, interactivity, artificial life, multimedia: a
collection which poses to the human species a great quantity of
questions in the realms of ethics, aesthetics, politics, society, and
epistemology. These questions demand to be addressed in an atmosphere
of questioning, itself a new idea, at the crossroads of several
languages (those of art, of philosophy, of science, of technology),
perhaps even in an entirely new intellectual arrangement from that
which established the hierarchy of disciplines and their relationships
with one another, a new arrangement for which the encyclopedia
furnishes a model, and in structures which will not be the simple
prolongations of traditional lines of teaching and research, or
traditional media for the transmission of knowledge such as the
book..."

Brave agenda, if much - needed. Many ideas for online e - text and e -
publishing thus far have been lacking in both imagination and the funds
and techniques necessary to design and implement the wilder schemes.

What are the French proposing here? The Centre Pompidou project outline
describes a project to be called _Tr@verses_ ("crossings", in the sense
of to cross a street or barrier):

"1. The project: a description of its general approach and its goals;"

	"+ Some new goals"

Nothing less than "new forms of organization in the field of
knowledge... " are needed: "Our epoch marks the end of the two thousand
year old opposition, from ancient Greece to the Industrial Revolution,
between the 'me'tis' of the Greeks (the tricks of the technician) and
philosophy, between theoretical knowledge and practice. First because
technique is taking, more and more, a decisive role in the process of
scientific discovery. But also because the computer is not a tool like
the others... at the hour when culture becomes a major goal for the
industries of information, the people who promote culture are more than
ever exposed to new responsibilities: principally not to abandon the
politics and economics of culture and of history to those, engineers
and policy makers, who hold the keys to the information industries...
This assumes the development of a field for the criticism of technique,
which will constitute a central focus of this journal."

Note: a tacit bow is being made here to Pierre Le'vy, one of the more
popular young French authors on these subjects and an acknowledged
source of many of these ideas, in the reference to his concept "machine
universelle". 

	"+ A project for the Centre Pompidou"

"A large part of culture today is cast in isolated networks for the
production of knowledge which rarely have contact with the 'real world'
from which they first emerged. There is a localization of thought and
of research, as there is a localization of work and of the economy...
There is no publication which sees itself placed above the frontiers
which separate culture and society, art and technique, and precisely at
the level where the study of these realms combines so that they no
longer may be distinguished the one from the other... The new
technologies of communication, and in particular a network like the
Internet, lead in this direction, and it will be one of the first
challenges to discover how to establish -- using a medium like the
Internet, which the 'hard' sciences have used for a long time -- the
theoretical discussions of today's situation of art and culture... "

"One also must remember the current separation between teaching and
research; the Centre Pompidou also may have a role to play in this
area... the networks... generally are affiliated with the universities
(this is the case, for example, in France with the Internet)... the
Centre has a role to play as a cultural bridge providing contacts for
independent artists and researchers who are not connected with
universities...  _Tr@verses_ may be understood as an un - habitual and
heterodox research center, and as a pedagogical tool of a new style.
Here again, the history, the specialty, the notoriety, and the
logistical capacities of the Centre Pompidou, and its unparalleled
situation in the context of world culture, necessarily take it in this
direction."

Note: for non - francophiles or -phobes, the Centre Pompidou really is
somewhat unique -- there are few single national cultural centers
elsewhere as well - attended, as deluged with tourists, as productive
of interesting events, and as well - subsidized, even if the paint is
beginning to peel a bit off of elements of its equally - unique
architecture.

		"o A comprehensive project"

The Centre Pompidou's, "Ircam, BPI, MNAM-CCI, De'partement du
de'veloppement culturel, Revue virtuelle, Revues parle'es, services
informatique et audiovisuel," all are affected by the new technologies
and all may be involved in the new e - publication: how true this total
impact, and how desirable this total involvement in dealing with it,
are at other institutions as well! "_Tr@verses_ must be a space for the
joining together and resonance of the many diverse media of thought...
mixing text, music, sound and audiovisual recordings, fixed images,
etc."

	"+ The basics of the project"

		"o Liaison with tradition"

"The first responsibility of this journal will be to inveigh against the
technical and instrumentalist vision of the technology itself, in favor
of a more refined approach of a computational metaphor applied to the
human spirit and to the management of its activities..."

Note: thrown gauntlet #1.

		"o Art"

"As the meeting - place of the greatest assortment of differing
discourse and practices, art will be at the heart of our concerns... We
must avoid addressing the questions posed by the new technologies
solely through the forms... of their expression in today's art world:
thus, in contemporary art, the field of questions to be debated or even
posed in this journal will not be reduced simply to the obvious works of
'electronic art'... Another challenge: what is the culture of
cyberspace today for the immense majority of human beings who are
excluded from it? What are the inter - cultural relations of the global
technological culture?"

		"o Several themes"

"Literature, creativity, and software"

"The question of literary creation and of the role played by form
constraints is raised anew today by the electronic media. Are text
generators tools of literary creativity? Does hypertext permit critical
exploration which amounts to creative reading and transforms the nature
of the relation between reading and writing?"

"History"

"History is a subject populated by a great quantity of research in a
number of fields, but nevertheless our societies, pulled between
amnesia and information overload, find that it poses great
difficulties."

"The notion of 'model'"

"With the new technologies and the new forms of modeling which
simulation makes possible, the very notion of a model, common to the
arts and to the sciences, is changing. Such a theme could permit the in
- depth treatment of relations between the arts and the sciences,
establishing gateways between the field of cognitive science research,
diverse strands of philosophy, and the arts."

(end of Part 1/2)

***


FYIFrance: e-text and e-publishing -- a new, French, model? (Part 2/2)

(A continuation of the description of a new French e - text /
publishing project of the Centre Pompidou, with an interestingly -
French and perhaps new orientation, to be found online at
http://www.cnac-gp.fr .)


"2. Editorial hypotheses: a sketch of policies which might guide the
project"

"Why should the new technologies of thought, of communication, and of
history be reserved exclusively to the fields of business, of war, of
money, or of "hard" sciences, particularly as so many seem pleased to
expostulate (often demagogically, it is true) that education and
culture will constitute the grand challenges of the next century?"

        "+ Periodicals"

                "o Reviews and exhibition catalogs: the question of
                periodicity"

"One wonders about the decline of journals and the success of exhibition
catalogs. This latter success also involves a decline in a certain form
of faithfulness, found in the periodicity of a journal as a mandate of a
particular school of thought... (now) culture has been seized by the
phenomenon of the unique event, which arrives at a given moment, a
reference point in time, in a society which lacks points of reference
and in which it is difficult to record cultural events in anything
representing historical continuity... Exhibitions exist which are true
events. Why not also events of thought, which will not be either books,
or exhibitions, but an occurrence of collective intelligence in the
service of a theme, of a problem, of a goal, of some cause which might
constitute a true cultural event?"

Note: Christo has wrapped several things in Paris recently -- his art
projects often take years, and the event of producing them always is at
least as significant, to him and to those participating (he and they
say), as is any finished product, be it a wrapped bridge or a
scattering of giant parasols.

                "o An annual event"

"The Centre Pompidou offers the intellectual experimentation necessary
for a production of this nature, all the resources which one could hope
for:  coordination with exhibitions, workshops which could be sites for
both experimentation and for the production of intellectual objects to
appear later (the journal becomes a process)..."

        "+ Editorial principles"

"We wish to produce a flexible tool, offering different levels of use,
different levels of the treatment of knowledge as functions of each
specific objective, of each theme or problem confronted, of the
evolution of the level of information equipment of the users: a tool
which can at the same time go beyond the choice between users who are
among a 'target' group and 'the rest'.  A tool, combining unity and
diversity, and sufficiently developed to accommodate a certain
variability in the user's choice of media."

"2.2.1 A variable approach"

"Journals... There are more and more of them, but they concern less and
less.  Their existence is not possible without subsidies, and they
appear in extremely specialized fields... The perspective of hyper -
specialization, or that of a generalist approach which can only treat a
thing superficially within its restrained space, this journal will
oppose... Not the partisan overview of a question, viewed by its
supposedly - best specialists, but a user's space enriched and opened
to new areas, unanticipated even by those in the field, bringing to the
scene a very large number of points of view on a given theme, and
adding to the theme diverse levels of competency... A space in which
the user her/himself can construct her/his own singular view, a view
reflecting only one of the facets of the kaleidoscope... "

                "o A variable approach to texts and to media"

"One might imagine an object both dense and pliable... which mixes
luxury with modesty, richness or content density with lightness..."

"2.2.3 Variable levels of use: hypertext as a response to the
philosophy of the project"

"A place for perspective, for "what - if" scenarios in unanticipated
directions, or directions a priori different from the usual...
Hypertext: non - linearity...  non - hierarchy... connectivity...
variability... these qualities, which define hypertext and distinguish
it from the book, also define the basic idea of the undertaking which
we propose... in hypertext, the page becomes the physical place of a
dialog between the text and the reader, as was the medieval codex which
opened its margins to the writing of the reader... One must imagine,
finally, a publication in part made by the users themselves..."

                "o Of doors and windows"

"_Tr@verses_ thus may be thought of as a door through which one only
must pass, to gain access to a room containing another or several other
doors. The model of journals has been that of the window, lands of
knowledge perceived and admired from the outside through the authority
of the authors of which they are composed or of a handful of
specialists (the editorial committee). We are concerned here to make
doors which the user, if s/he desires, may open, to enter new spaces,
such that that user's presence and manner of being in the successive
rooms of the knowledge space modify the structure of the whole,
creating a profound renewal in the relations between writing and
reading...  We must, in sum, for each of the goals which the journal
proposes, think of a tool, a product, a collection of same which makes
reference, and to which the user may in fact refer, without any
limitation other than her or his curiosity, inclination, or personal
professional needs."


Such is this French e - text / publication program: a project "to be
followed", as the French themselves say. The description is worth
reading in full in the French:  it includes references to Pierre Le'vy,
Ponge, Michelet, Guattari, Roubaud, Calvino, Ovid, Lucretius, Vale'ry,
Leibniz, Luccarella, Lebrave, Stendhal, Montesquieu, and Ted Nelson,
among others -- the French educational system is a remarkable thing.

If an American longs for the details -- the devil being in the details
-- much of what is being proposed here appears at least to evoke known
techniques: there are smatterings here of WorldWideWeb and hypertext,
and Mosaic browsers and multimedia links and MUDs and MOOs and Internet
Relay Chat, all of these well - known now in France -- they are
speaking of, at least, a yearly printed version and a cdrom, although
one suspects that there will be more -- anyone having a hard time
envisaging multitudes of simultaneous users of a multimedia text, and
discussing and arguing and indeed fighting over it, need think now only
of Usenet, or of the better - disciplined PACS-L e - conference with
its 9000+ users in 65+ countries, to get the general possible idea.

An American has to compare this French approach with the one s/he knows
so well from home. In the US, trial - and - error leads to declarations
of principle; in France, lofty declarations are the necessary prelude
to trial - and - error. The approaches are different. The US perhaps
has been rich enough to afford the one, while France has found it
necessary -- not so much through poverty perhaps as through long,
bitter, political experience -- to search first for the apparent
clarity of the other. At least the French present all the above to the
world in advance, as they did their plans for their new giant library,
and the presentation in this case is available online in German,
English, Spanish and Italian: that sells better "overseas" than
presentations made only in "american" ASCII.

(Umberto Eco has characterized DOS as "Protestant, or even Calvinistic.
It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal
decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics...", while he calls the
Macintosh computer, "Catholic... cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it
tells the faithful how they must proceed... via simple formulae and
sumptuous icons": perhaps the Franco - American differences noted here
are nothing more. If so, it is salutary -- perhaps humbling -- to
realize that some very old differences ultimately still rule the
development of some of these very new techniques.)

***

XXX


FYI France (sm)(tm) e - newsletter        ISSN 1071 - 5916

      *
      |           FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter,
      |           published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal,
      |           experiment, in the creation of large - scale
      |           "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material
     / \          written by me which appears in FYI France may be
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  ---------       address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if
 //       \\      if it is going to make them money, they must get my
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        Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.    

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