Joseph Corneli
You’re Making Me Tense. Notes On Text And Futurity
In: The Future of Text: A 2020 vision (2020). F. Hegland, ed. (pp. 220-221).

“And finally, whether it has essential limits or not, the entire field
covered by the cybernetic program would be the field of writing.”
                               Jacques Derrida, ​On Grammatology

Before the invention of cinema, the ‘moving image’ was a shadow, a
flag, a pageant. I first invoke a phenomenological perspective on the
Future Of Text inspired by this history. I then turn to narrative
accounts of two long-running projects I have been involved with. The
essay as a whole is intended to be an exercise in the so-called Kafka
effect [1].​ My hope is to spark new thinking about text.

A shadow.​ The ‘Future Of Text’ is a blank page which is filled
in. More sinister, the difficulty of writing with the non-dominant
hand, a deficiency that can be corrected with discipline. Text has a
paleo-future, traced in phonograph records, written to be read with a
diamond; also a deep history, brought to you by the letters A, C, G,
and T.

A flag.​ The phénakistiscope cheats the eye and goes straight to the
brain.  Plateau, who harnessed animation to create the art of cinema,
also studied the animation of matter itself. In 1832, the real and the
virtual collide. The phénakistiscope, armed uprisings, a cholera
epidemic. Paris will be rebuilt from the ground up: ​“The underground
galleries... functioning like an organ of the human body, without
seeing the light of day.”

A pageant.​ Man is not a rope but a ​quipu​, with a few or a thousand
cords, each with a series of offerings, including mysterious fibre
balls of different sizes wrapped in ‘nets’ and pristine reed
baskets. He sits in silence and the Earth speaks.

Arxana​ was based on the idea of making everything annotatable, on the
view that texts grow through the addition of ‘scholia’ (Corneli and
Krowne, 2005). These cluster, subdivide, and evanesce, the full formal
rules of their composition as yet unknown.  Inside Emacs, regions were
marked up with text properties. Links were stored as triples and
manipulated programmatically (Corneli and Puzio, 2005-2017). We would
eventually demonstrate some inklings of Arxana’s mathematical
relevance (Corneli et al., 2017). Meanwhile, to boost my flagging
motivation in the face of mounting complexity, I decided to try
creative writing. The medium, a graphic novel without pictures. The
method, at first, typing onto 3x5 index cards with a mechanical
typewriter.  Later, I transcribed what I imagined I heard in
randomized and layered spoken word and audio journals, and presented
the results at a Writers Workshop. I had intended to use Arxana to
manage the resulting corpus and to assemble a text for publication,
but that hasn’t happened so far. Arxana was set aside throughout most
of the 2010’s. I completed a PhD in computing and two postdocs focused
on topics in AI. My creative writing experiments were superseded by
Jungian therapy and a dream journal.  The Peeragogy Handbook​ is a
how-to guide to peer learning and peer production. It currently exists
in a third edition (Corneli et al., 2016), with a fourth on the
way. The title derives at first from a cross-language pun: ​paragogy,​
​viz.,​ generation, production (Corneli and Danoff, 2011). Howard
Rheingold invented a neologism that made the topic more practical and
appealing, and used the occasion of his 2012 University of California
Regents Lecture to invite widespread participation. Building blocks
for a distributed poly-centred University already exist:

• Project Gutenberg... a Department of Classics?
• The Free Software Movement... a Department of Computer Science?
• Galaxy Zoo and SETI@Home... a Department of Astronomy and Astrobiology?

To get from here to there, we will need more effective learning
pathways. In the fourth edition of the Peeragogy Handbook,​ we are
tackling this by improving the way we use design patterns. There are
relevant paper prototypes [2].​ Deployed widely, peeragogy would be a
new powerhouse for knowledge construction. By contrast, a new ivory
tower would only go up in smoke as the world burns.

Reading and writing are intimately related. If you don’t believe me—or
your own eyes—consider that machines are still pretty bad at
both. Humans also struggle. We use text, in combination with other
machinery, to transcend ourselves—across time, space, and
identity. Turing predicted machines “able to converse with each other
to sharpen their wits.”  I think that’s where we’re headed, but I
don’t subscribe to his prediction that machines will therefore take
control. It’s more complicated. Pay attention to the gaps between
intention and action, issues and their resolution, questions and
answers, problems and solutions. This is where we weave.


1. Réda Bensmaïa in the foreword to Deleuze and Guattari’s ​Kafka:
Toward a Minor Literature (1986) refers severally and jointly to Kafka
‘effect(s)’, emphasising ‘a reading of Kafka’s work that is
practical’. Proulx and Heine’s article “Connections From Kafka” (2009)
focuses on one concrete effect: priming for learning. More broadly,
this line of work has to do with to understanding the conditions
under which violated expectations lead to new ways of thinking, rather
than a retreat.

2. ‘When enough slips merged about a single topic so that he got a
feeling it would be permanent he took an index card of the same size
as the slips, attached a transparent plastic index tab to it, wrote
the name of the topic on a little cardboard insert that came with the
tab, put it in the tab, and put the index card together with its
related topic slips.’ Robert Pirsig, ​ Lila (1991).


• Corneli et al., 2016. ​The Peeragogy Handbook​ (3rd ed.), Pierce Press/PubDom Ed. CC Zero.
• Corneli et al., 2017. Modelling the way mathematics is actually done. ​FARM 2017.​ ACM.
• Corneli and Danoff, 2011. Paragogy. ​Proceedings of the 6th Open Knowledge Conference​
• Corneli and Krowne, 2005. A Scholia-based Document Model for Commons-based Peer Production. Free Culture and the Digital Library Symposium Proceedings.​
• Corneli and Puzio, 2005-2017. Arxana. ​​. AGPL3.
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