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Bookmarks INTERNET LIFE, AFRICAN ART "Regarding Bookmarks. Thank you for posting it. It was an interesting read, altiiough I had to stop drinking my water until I finished it, because every odier sentence made me snort with disagreement, sending water up my nose. I am not unhappy about tiiat (now that my shirt is dry) because I am most interested when I am thinking polemically." Getting up noses is something this column has been doing metaphorically since it began, though it came as a surprise to hear that it had now happened almost literally toJason White. He explained tiiat there was something about the column's "electronic presence" on the Internet diat makes him "itch" to respond: "If I read it in a journal and disagreed, I would generally feel no urge to vent my disagreement. But in an electronic forum I simply pant to take issue with the points raised." White isn't the only one seized by the electronic itch. Since it began in March of this year, PHIL-LIT has turned out to be one of the most lively and intelligent academic lists in cyberspace, with over five hundred members at latest count. Daily, diey open their computers, mostly to eavesdrop on debates of die moment—literary tiieory, philosophy , popular culture, postmodern cookie recipes—but often enough to take part. The result can be riveting. You read a message, perhaps someone's opinion on Althusser or a point in Wittgenstein, and widiin an hour there are half a dozen different reactions, from Taiwan, Helsinki, Sydney, either Cambridge, Mexico City, and Nordi Dakota. If the topic is contentious enough, such as PHIL-LIT's discussion on jargon in literary theory, it may stretch out for months and comprise hundreds of postings. Need help witii an item of information? A friend Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 423-434 424Philosophy and Literature who saw Jackie Kennedy's funeral on television wanted to identify a poem read. Widiin a couple of hours, thanks to friendly Phil-Litters, I had die Cavafy poem itself. There's been a lot to learn about the new electronic world of the academy. I once called it a brave new world, but the PHIL-LIT manager, David Gershom Myers, pointed out tiiat die last tiling that was permitted in Huxley's utopia was independence of thought. There is so much independent thinking on PHIL-LIT, so little gatekeeping, tiiat the proper literary allusion ought to be to Ivan Karamazov: as no God controls the Internet, everything is permitted. In fact, the immense value ofan email list on a topic ofshared interest is so clear to everyone, so exciting and new, it tends to be oversold. On some days, diere have been as many as thirty or forty postings on PHIL-LIT, many of them following the same discussion "thread." It can be stimulating for participants and bystanders alike, and the contributions display a level of intellectual quality I've not seen elsewhere on the Internet, but it's sometimes too much. (Even at its liveliest, PHIL-LIT is sleepy compared to a list devoted to opera: OPERA-L, a nonstop din of information, argument, and opera chatter—over a hundred postings per day. I lasted less dian 24 hours for fear my machine would overload.) Too much email makes me want to go home and setde down with a book. And what, pray, is a book? Well, it's a piece of extended, fictional or discursive prose diat is written, probably rewritten, and above all edited. Books cost money to print, ship, and market. These investments along the road from writer's study to bindery amount to a significant risk. The author invests time and effort while die publisher risks money and reputation by placing its name on the book. It's all matched finally by the investment of the reader who buys tire tiling, hoping that it will be written in intelligible prose, say something wordiwhile, etc. Considering how often we're disappointed by books from reputable publishers , it's not surprising what the life of the mind can look like on die Internet, a virtually free, unedited medium. There's nothing new about the...


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pp. 423-434
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