Read­ing La Plis­sure du Texte “Back­wards”


Session Title:

  • La Plissure du Texte

Presentation Title:

  • Read­ing La Plis­sure du Texte “Back­wards”



  • Panel:  La Plissure du Texte

    In the his­tory of new media art and dig­i­tal writ­ing, Roy As­cott’s La Plis­sure du Texte (Elec­tra, Musée d’Art Mod­erne, Paris, 1983), a work using telem­at­ics to cre­ate in real-time a world-wide, col­lec­tive nar­ra­tive (more specif­i­cally, a col­lab­o­ra­tive, multi-player fairy tale), has proven a wa­ter­shed mo­ment (Plis­sure, n.d.). Basic con­cepts and is­sues of au­thor­ship, text, in­ven­tion, and lin­ear­ity, among oth­ers, have been dra­mat­i­cally re­de­fined as well as im­ple­mented in a con­crete prac­tice (as much a process in it­self as a model for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment) of dis­trib­uted au­thor­ship, text as “work” (in­stead of “prod­uct”), users’ par­tic­i­pa­tion, and mul­ti­me­dia con­nec­tiv­ity, that it is no longer pos­si­ble to study the art and tech­nol­ogy field with­out tak­ing into ac­count this major achieve­ment.  Putting the stakes of As­cott’s in­volve­ment with col­lab­o­ra­tive world-mak­ing even higher, the re­cent up­grade and recon­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of this sem­i­nal work in the meta­verse of Sec­ond Life, LPDT2, proves that the cre­ative po­ten­tial of La Plis­sure du Text is still in­tact, to say the least (LPDT2, 2010).

    Yet by cre­at­ing a dis­tance be­tween the “old” and the “new”, i.e.  by mak­ing the (once) “new” now (sup­pos­edly) “old”, LPDT2 gives also the op­por­tu­nity to come back on an as­pect that may have been over­looked in the eu­phoric re­cep­tion of the truly utopian first ver­sion of the work, namely the ques­tion of its “read­ing”. So strong has been the em­pha­sis on the shift to­wards the new par­a­digm of par­tic­i­pa­tion and con­nec­tiv­ity, that the very ques­tion of the work’s read­ing did no longer seem rel­e­vant. Read­ing in­stead of “doing”, “per­form­ing”, “cocre­at­ing” La Plis­sure du texte seemed an ex­am­ple of McLuhan’s “rear-view mir­ror” ap­proach of the fu­ture: (1967: 74-75).  The ne­glect of read­ing, how­ever, is not fully mo­ti­vated here. First be­cause read­ing is much more than just de­cod­ing the words of a text, it has also to do with the var­i­ous stances and at­ti­tudes one takes to­wards a work (in this sense, read­ing has to do with global cog­ni­tive and cul­tural is­sues of “per­cep­tion”). Sec­ond be­cause As­cott’s key in­no­va­tion has not been made from scratch. La Plis­sure du texte is in­debted to all kind of tex­tual an­ces­tors (texts, mod­els, au­thors). The rev­o­lu­tion it brings about is not a tab­ula rasa, yet one new (big) leap in the his­tory of art as con­nec­tiv­ity, and it is plau­si­ble to argue that the re­la­tion­ship with this cul­tural and lit­er­ary con­text, and hence the read­ing of it, is part of the work it­self, so that par­tic­i­pa­tion can only be com­plete if one takes also into ac­count the work’s back­ground.