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Diigo Fiction: Marginalia in the Library of Babel at WRT: Writer Response Theory




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TagCrowd footprint of post[This post offers context for a work-in-progress entitled “Marginalia in the Library of Babel.” alpha release.] updated
Let us write stories in the margins of the Web:

The web is becoming ours to write with. Whether supplying, ranking, or reviewing its contents or reordering the web with our folksonomic tagclouds, we are becoming the owners of more than just our Craig’s list and Ebay possessions. We are orchestrating this web and making of it what we will. Jeremy and Matt Kirschenbaum have reported on the moments when the tagclouds become art (see inset image made via TagCrowd.com). And now the web pages themselves have become our surfaces, our building blocks. Here’s how…

Social Bookmarking:

It begins with the ability to share bookmarks in Social bookmarking. Social bookmarking is part of the fiber of Web 2.0. Sites such as Delicious, Diigo, Furl, Spurl, Citulike, Stumbledupon, and Zotero, a program that Academic Hack likes which will soon add sharing abilities. The list goes on and on. The viral videoWeb 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us by Matt Wesch captures this spirit, even as it promotes a fairly optimistic vision (he has since started a blog to handle feedback on the piece). It is clear from his video of screen captures, that Wesch sees the social bookmarking as fundamental to our role as the refashioners of the web. Jill Walker has seen past some of the visual effects to demand that the piece stay truer to its title.


Bookmarking systems themselves seem to be reproducing at viral rates. For an excellent, though already dated review of systems, see: Tony Hammond, Timo Hannay, Ben Lund, and Joanna Scott wrote an excellent article in D-Lib on Social Bookmarking Tools. Richard McManus offers another comparison. It is a sign of the moment that already some of the sites have folded and armies of clones have emerged to take their place. As one programmer put it to me lately, these features were always a possibility on the web, but now they have been systematized and the rate of development of new systems for social annotation has accelerated beyond imagining.

If social bookmarking allows us to share our library catalogs, social annotation sites allow us to share our libraries complete with their underlinings, highlights, and marginalia.

screenshot of taleDiigo, which has a cameo in the Wesch film (nominated for best supporting web ap), offers itself in its latest beta incarnation as a site for sharing annotations in the form of sticky tabs. Thus, the web becomes notable. I have already begun to use this site in my classes for commenting on blogs my students write.

But why not use this tool, in the spirit of Writer Response Technologies, in the spirit of Flickr fiction and Tag Cloud Art, as a tool for creating fiction. Because Diigo offers the social annotation of sites, there is the possibility of creating narratives, parasitic though they may be, upon the websites of others.Following the genre of annotation fiction, discussed at length below, why not turn the web into a means of characterization, to turn web reading practices themselves into ways of examining the ergodic, interiority of our characters, or to stitch together tales of paranoia in the way that various ARGS have.

If we use the tool in this manner, the Web will be, as author Roberto Leni has put it, our palette.


Literature of Annotation:

The literary genre of fiction with or in annotations is quite large and seemed to boom within the context of postmodernism (though arguably the “serious” footnotes of Modernist authors such as TS Elliott are to blame).

Frequently mentioned texts of annotation include: Pale Fire, Infinite Jest, House of Leaves, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, the same texts that often show up on the syllabi of experimental and electronic literature courses. William Denton has compiled an excellent list of fiction that falls into this category. Jeremy Douglass has also suggested Dracula as a related title.

History of Marginalia:

Marginalia has an enormous history that long predates contemporary footnoting practices. Scholia and marginalia in medieval Europe provide one source. Cave painting no doubt provides another (or cave paintings that comment on other cave paintings). In the late 20th century, “Writing from the margins” or in the margins became a rallying cry and organizing theme for center- periphery discussions of artistic production outside of the dominant culture. The margins here became metaphors for the excluded as well as for the physical space that has not been inscribed by the activated reader-writer, of whom this blog is quite fond.

“Marginalia in the Library of Babel”

Borges tells the tale of “The Library of Babel,” this universe of texts in which every combination of characters has been realized. The textual corridors of this infinite library stretch on infinitely in multiple directions, abysses below and above. As with the “Garden of Forking Paths” and “The Book of Sand,” this story seems to give the blind Argentinian sway over our electronic lives as the purveyor of our future selves. In the apotheosis of Borges, in the anachronistic plagiarism attributed his work, he becomes the Oracle of Adelphia (Comcast).

Others are quick to point out the distinctions, though, particularly this postlapsarian web in the face of his perfect system of hexagons. Just as our gardens of forking plots are mere shadows of his imaginary realm of every possibility gathering around in simultaneity. Yet his narrator, who could endlessly wonder the docuverse, seems so much like us, or how we imagine ourselves.

Yet that narrator’s position is very un-Weblike. He does not write, nor really read, just merely wanders. This is not our elastic web? This tale-that is currently in seed form-presents a reflection upon our Babel of a Web and the scribbling of the patrons.

“Marginalia” offers one example of annotation used to write upon the web and to use the web as writing. Borges seems an uncanny muse for this project for a variety of reasons, explored in the tale. After introductory text post, the story begins with a machine translation of Borges’ tale, posted on the web. Floating over the text, are the reflections of a meta-narrator, who sends the reader to other places on the web. As a result, the story is also reading over the shoulder of this character. The bookmarks themselves are the story.

It is not clear how this genre might unfold across the Web, but it certainly has the tools necessary to go beyond its current closed systems (of codex books), to become a true parasitic art form, annotating itself onto the pages of the web, turning sets of web pages into poems and other collections of bookmarks into vast narratives.

Technical Limitations:

Firefox is the best and perhaps only way to see this piece. Also, you currently have to register and install the Diigo tool bar to see the Sticky notes, though the site says this is not necessary. [You no longer need the Diigo toolbar plugin.] Due to the ever-shifting nature of the Library’s holding, the individual links may or may not lead where you would expect.

Again, come this way to the story: “Marginalia in the Library of Babel.”



8 Responses to “Diigo Fiction: Marginalia in the Library of Babel”

  1. 1 Mark Marino

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    [update] The Diigo toolbar is no longer required for viewing the annotations. Readers can now access all of the notes using a Firefox Browser.

  2. 2 KyleXY

    Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/writerresponse/writerresponsetheory.org/wordpress/wp-includes/functions-formatting.php on line 76

    Protonotes is another free annotation service worth a look. It’s geared more to annotation for project collaboration. http://www.protonotes.com. It requires IE, but for good reasons http://www.protonotes.com/solutionExplanation.html

  3. 3 josuelegido

    Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/writerresponse/writerresponsetheory.org/wordpress/wp-includes/functions-formatting.php on line 76

    Hi, i dont know if this is useful, for me it is, but i just found out a good spanish social bookmarking tool. here you have:

    http://www.miselegidos.com

  4. 4 Mark Marino

    Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/writerresponse/writerresponsetheory.org/wordpress/wp-includes/functions-formatting.php on line 76

    Thank you for the link. In what context do you use miselegidos? What do you think the advantages of using language-specific systems are?

  1. 1 PART
  2. 2 Web 2.0…We Respond to We/sch at WRT: Writer Response Theory
  3. 3 Grand Text Auto » Marginalia + Paraphernalia = Story
  4. 4 De la Ficción » De la linearidad del texto en Internet: DIIGO

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