- The Future of the Page
The dozen essays in this volume were gathered from the 2000 “Future of the Page” conference, organized by editors Peter Stoicheff and Andrew Taylor under the co-sponsorship of the University of Saskatchewan and the Men-del Art Gallery. The book’s dual institutional origins reverberate throughout its form and contents, which speak as directly to expressive possibilities emerging outside the field of literary studies as they do to more traditional forms of literary erudition. The scope of inquiry here is “multicentred” (to borrow contributor William Slights’ term), encompassing textual and bibliographical studies, art history, post-colonial theory and historiography, design theory, digital art and scholarship, and a range of period emphases extending from the thirteenth century to the present. Most importantly, essayists in The Future of the Page examine growing areas of overlap between these fields, setting them into contrapuntal, mutually interrogatory relationships with each other.
Given the number of approaches, methods, and strategies on display here, the volume could easily have had the feel of being “pieced-together”; instead, however, it reads like a high-stakes conversation among engaged participants. True to the art-historical branch of its institutional genealogy, the book is lavishly illustrated, and visual analysis comprises a major part of even the most “literary” of the essays here. Future also includes among its contributions a striking experiment in visual argumentation by artist/ designer Edison del Canto. Some of del Canto’s digitally generated diagrams and layouts include fascinating visual echoes—branching structures, competing impulses of randomness and control—of the medieval and renaissance examples shown by other scholars in the collection. In these sorts of echoes it is possible to discern the book’s distinctive collective accomplishment: it participates in the elaboration of an interdisciplinary field that I will refer to provisionally (and somewhat inelegantly) as “interface [End Page 177] studies”, and makes a thoroughly persuasive case for the necessary prominence of literary-critical expertise within this emerging project.
Many of the essays in Future serve as bracing correctives to the apocalyptic, with-us-or-against-us claims that have been made repeatedly, from both sides of the page/screen divide, for or against the continuing vitality and pertinence of print vis-à-vis digital media. A series of argumentative threads run through the essays, generated from an array of standpoints and extending across a range of material, architectural, and ideological contexts. Most prominent among these is the idea that “the page” (notwithstanding the singularity of the collection’s title) is and has always been a plural entity, infinitely variable in its modes of production, composition, and consumption (see Stoicheff”s and Taylor’s introduction, as well as essays by Alberto Manguel, John Dagenais, Marie Battiste, L. M. Findlay, and Lynne Bell). Moreover, “the page” is not (in Edward Tufte’s term) a “flat-land”, but is instead (as Jerome McGann puts it) “n-dimensional” or “multivariate”, shot through with mobile, mutable possibilities far exceeding the mere fact of its portability (in addition to McGann, see also Dagenais, del Canto, Michael Groden, Battiste, Slights, and Joseph Tabbi).
Future essayists also demonstrate the importance of examining in detail the multiple resources rallied and deployed by page-makers past and present, rather than assuming that we know what a “page” in fact is or that we are as yet fully aware of the capacities that “the page” has demonstrated in the past and might demonstrate in the future. (All contributors participate in this conversation, but Allison Muri’s discussion of the page and the body is especially provocative here.) They show as well how necessary it is at present to look back, with eyes readjusted, to interpretive questions posed by print-based literary texts. I would point out especially Groden on Joyce; McGann on Rossetti and Hopkins; and Tabbi on Gaddis; together, these three essays also comprise a marvelous series of meditations on the relationship between work process, design, technology, and specifically “literary” expression and interpretation.
While many of the essayists in the volume—implicitly or...