- The Future of the Page
Professors of the humanities joined graphic artists and writers at the University of Saskatchewan for "The Future of the Page" conference in June of 2000; the resulting book includes twelve essays built around the premise [End Page 216] that physical materials shape our interpretations of literature, and that our understanding of literary history depends on the unit of the page. Michael Groden remarks upon the suspense created by turning a page in mid-sentence, while Jerome McGann argues:
It is highly significant that readers of books move from recto to verso, that their field of awareness continually shifts from page to 'opening' (i.e., the space made by a facing verso / recto), and that the size of the book—length, breadth, and thickness—help to determine our reader's perceptions at every point.(Stoicheff and Taylor 2005, 153)
Here, in the chapter "Visible and Invisible Books: Hermetic Images in N-Dimensional Space," McGann sums up the position maintained by several contributors: literature's habitation in books remains a crucial part of any interpretation of a work. William W.E. Slights even argues that the book remains the best tool for reading, even though the computer has become an extremely useful tool for analyzing texts (86).
Only a fraction of essays in The Future of the Page speculate on the nature of forthcoming literature published in electronic formats. Instead, these scholars emphasize the importance of understanding neglected histories of the page, and how technology can provide new ways of examining existing literature. The dominance of the page throughout Canadian, British, and United States literary history motivates several of the scholars to critique the way the book has silenced non-print cultures. These essays, by John Dagenais, Slights, David R. Carlson, Marie Battiste, L.M. Findlay, and Lynne Bell, concern "decolonizing" the page.
"Decolonizing the Medieval Page," by Dagenais, draws attention to medieval pages not well-preserved—pages that tell stories of "fragmentation, loss, and attempted recovery" (44). Instead of showcasing only the most beautifully-preserved works, or those containing a central text with "authoritative" commentary, scholars should attend to texts with doodles, lewd insults, personal reminders, and glosses. These annotations undermine the authority of the central text, but enable us to better understand medieval culture. Both Slights and Carlson focus on Renaissance print culture; Slights shows how Renaissance marginalia could serve as a model for the future of the page, while Carlson explains how the methods of Renaissance printer Nicholas Jenson influenced the notion of the text as "fixed." For these scholars, academic discourse has colonized certain historical periods by ignoring key components of literary culture.
"Print Culture and Decolonizing the University: Indigenizing the Page," an essay in two parts, calls attention to more literal colonizing forces, those that, as Battiste points out, saw the literacy of indigenous cultures as "art" or "religion" instead of "literature" or "science" (111). Instead of pages, these [End Page 217] cultures used notched sticks or wampum belts to record knowledge; such forms of writing have been obliterated by the insistence of colonizers that native North Americans enter print culture. Findlay expands on Battiste's argument in Part II by offering an analysis of some indigenous drawings (some made on cast-away ledger paper). Findlay and Battiste spent a portion of the last five years working in collaboration with Bell, an art/art history professor, on an indigenous education research project. Bell's chapter focuses on contemporary indigenous and minority artists who challenge print culture's politics through the genre of artist's pages in contemporary journals. By piling up images often taken from or inspired by the dominant culture, the artist forms a site of resistance: one vivid example includes a grotesquely made-up indigenous woman on the cover of "Cosmosquaw," which mocks the contemporary women's magazine (264).
In "Virtually Human: The Electronic Page, the Archived Body, and Human Identity," Allison Muri writes of dominant culture's fallacies as well, though her critique applies to the intersection of literary and...