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Mediawork Pamphlet Series

Research Report by Jessica Pressman
(created 2/26/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Codex Book / Digital Text Hybrids

Original Object for Study description

“Mediawork Pamphlets pair leading writers and contemporary designers to explore art, literature, design, music, and architecture in the context of emergent technologies and rapid economic and social change.” Published by the MIT Press, Mediawork Pamphlets “are ‘zines for grown-ups, commingling word and image, enabling text to thrive in an increasingly visual culture.” “Mediawork Pamphlets transform private theory into public discourse, visual experimentation into cultural intervention” and strive to “launch these hybrids out into a greater public” (Mediawork Website).

Peter Lunenfeld is Editorial Director of this innovative series that is inspired by such artistic collaborations as Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s The Medium is the Massage and War and Peace in the Global Village. The pamphlets are small, beautifully designed objects in which art and theory intersect.

Mediawork Pamphlets are small art books with shiny pages and sophisticated design, the result of a collaboration between a distinguished critic and distinguished print designer. But the pamphlet’s interdisciplinary innovation is not limited to the page: each pamphlet is accompanied by a “web-take,” an online component designed and built by a leading web designer.

Mediawork Pamphlets include Utopian Entrepreneur (2001) by Brenda Laurel, designed by Denise Gonazles Crisp, with a web-take by Scott McCloud;

The book and the web-take

Writing Machines (2002) by N. Katherine Hayles, designed by Anne Burdick, web-take by Erik Loyer.

The book, the web supplement, and the web-take

Rhythm Science (2004) by Paul D. Miller, designed by COMA, with a web-take by Peter Halley; the book, the web-take Shaping Things (2005) by Bruce Sterling, designed by Lorraine Wild, with a web-take by John Thackara.

The book and the web-take

Research Context:
The Mediawork Pamphlets series is an important contemporary experiment in publishing hybrid products that not only combine media forms (text, print design, and web design) but also reading audiences (academic and popular). The pamphlets investigate, display, and illuminate critical issues in the field of new media and digital culture. They are also themselves products and participants in the digital environment they describe, as they are collaboratively-created, cross-media assemblages. Their topics are diverse, as are the disciplines of the writers in the series; they can thus appeal to and inform a variety of critical fields.

Technical Analysis:
The pamphlets are produced in full color with slick pages; they are each around one-to-two hundred pages and measure around 7.5×6.0×0.3 inches. The books in the pamphlet series are available from MIT Press as well as at amazon.com; the web-takes and web supplements are accessible from the MIT Mediawork website.

Evaluation of Opportunities/Limitations for the Transliteracies Topic:
The Mediawork Pamphlets series is important for contemporary cultural and media studies and to the Transliteracies project both for what the works have to say about our digital culture and for they ways in which they say it. The relevance of these cross-media collaborations are evident in the works themselves, the reading practices they produce, and the kinds of critical writing strategies they can be said to inform. For the reader, reading across the assemblages that comprise each work means crossing media platforms and writing spaces to create cohesion from collaborative works and voices. The effects of the hybrid work on the writer are evident in Katherine Hayles’s Writing Machines, which embraces the spirit of collaboration in its writing style to entwine a pseudo-autobiographical voice with a standard academic perspective. Unlike the other works in the series, Writing Machines further embraces its status as a hybrid work by separating its critical apparatus (citational endnotes and bibliography) from the codex and placing it online. The series is a creative-critical venue that is relevant to the Transliteracies project not only in the actual products it publishes but also the future practices and products its innovations inspire.

Resources for Further Study:

  • The MIT Mediawork Pamphlet site
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. Writing Machines (2002)
  • Laurel, Brenda. Utopian Entrepreneur (2001)
  • Miller, Paul D. Rhythm Science (2004)
  • Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things (2005)
  • Lunenfeld, Peter. User: InfoTechnoDemo (MIT 2005)—This is “the first Mediawork book” with visuals by Mieke Gerritzen

  tl, 02.26.06

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