Practices of art and knowledge alike are rife with misreadings, misrepresentations, mistakes, and misuses. Often these misses have served a subjugating authority, given short shrift to that which they claim to do justice, or simply testified to their creators’ limitations.
It’s a different story on the margins. Here, reading into and in spite of texts, following inclinations and curiosities that stand in tension with their foundations, gives us both a more comprehensive picture of their successes and failures and more creative, constructive relationships to canons as sources of knowledge, fonts of inspiration, and sites of challenge. Above all, we – the editors – wanted to understand “counter-work” as an intellectual methodology and artistic practice in its own right, borne out of a brave engagement with what or whom it addresses. All works, questions, and material innovations contain the seeds of their own undoing – and we wanted our contributors to take them there.
For this issue, we looked for pieces that forced the resources of their chosen subjects to speak (out) against themselves – ones like FICT.site, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, and David Kolb’s Socrates in the Labyrinth. We asked potential contributors to show us how their chosen sources are dead and boring by making them do conceptual and performative work that vibrantly testifies to the truths of their own lives. As we told them earlier this year: Meet them as you would a friend who fascinates and frustrates you.
“Counter-work” is a tricky concept to explain as much as it is to execute. Still, digital tools, resources, and platforms of dissemination make this practice more accessible to creator and audience alike than ever. On that note, this issue also features the winner of last year’s Critical-Creative Philosophy competition, a retrospective of which you’ll find here.
We hope you enjoy this issue; that it shows you some new ways to do serious art and scholarship; and that it inspires you to “counter” your disciplines, mediums, and platforms in your own professions and projects.
— Carlota Salvador Megias and Ian Hatcher, co-editor-conspirators
Rediscoveries of electronic literature are no different than rediscoveries of print literature. Without structured acts of rediscovery, the works that shape a given era can easily be lost - and this is even more the case for a digital canon whose platforms are changing all the time. The editors of The Digital Review nod to David Madden and Peggy Bach, who asked important writers of the 1970s and 1980s to select and write about their favorite works of neglected fiction. The Digital Review and the Electronic Literature Lab will be doing the same, over the current decade, for at least a few (of the thousands?) of forgotten digital works.
This issue of The Digital Review features two distinctly different classic hypertexts. The first, John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse (Funhouse), a narrative produced with HyperCard 2.0, was published by Eastgate Systems in 1992/3 on floppy disk and then on CD-ROM. The second, David Kolb’s Caged Texts, a philosophical essay produced with Storyspace, was intended for inclusion in Socrates in the Labyrinth released by the company in 1994 but remained unfinished. What the reconstruction of these works has in common is the way their complexity was translated to the platform of the Web.
Funhouse, for example, involves both digital and physical media. It was distributed in a box containing five 3.5-inch floppy disks (and later one CD-ROM), two musical cassette tapes, page proofs of a short story written by Arthur Newkirk entitled “Tree,” and a letter from an editor of Vortex magazine to Buddy Newkirk about the page proofs. All these artifacts make up the literary estate of the player’s Uncle Buddy (whom they did not know existed) that set up the conceit for the mystery the reader must solve: Who is Uncle Buddy and what happened to him? Thus, in reimagining Funhouse for the Web, these physical clues had to be re-created as digital objects and incorporated into the story so that they are readily accessible and hold the same important status in the narrative.
Caged Texts, like the four hypertexts included in Socrates in the Labyrinth, is built on a specific structure identifiable by its name––in this case, the work of John Cage. An artist known for his experiments with musical forms, Cage was introduced to the I Ching in the 1950s and became interested in composing music based on chance. To reflect this aspect of Cage’s work, Kolb pulled a book from his shelf, opened it to a random page, and then entered a passage from it into a lexia. This act was repeated until he had entered passages from books by 21 philosophers, from the ancient to contemporary periods. The reimagined Web version, based on the files Kolb provided the lab, maintains the randomness of the original hyperlinking structure. Likewise, the lab also randomized the interface to further represent Cage’s experimental approach to art.
 See Nick Carbone. “Socrates in the Labyrinth: David Kolb Re-Thinks Argument and Philosophy.” Kairos 1.1. Spring 1996. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/1.1/reviews/carbone/socstart.html. As Nick Carbone points out in his 1996 review of the work in Kairos: “Habermas’ Pyramid” is a linear essay accentuated with a “multi-level pyramidal hypertext outline” (8). “Earth Orbit” presents “statements of linear argument . . . ordered in multiple cycles and epicycles” (9). “Cleavings” combines “four classic but diverse texts” (9) and makes a comparison of their hypertext form to their linear form. “Aristotle’s Argument” takes a “complex argument from Aristotle” (9) and puts it into the ‘mixed form’ explored in Socrates in the Labyrinth.
 Caged Texts, once completed, was donated to The NEXT by the author for open access to the public. It can be found at https://the-next.eliterature.org/works/2085/0/0/.
Caged Texts is "a hypertext originally intended for the Socrates collection. It demonstrates the creative power of the hypertext link. Randomly chosen texts are connected by random links, and yet despite the chance juxtapositions, usable insights result."
-- David Kolb
Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse is a hypermedia novel and game built on the HyperCard 2.0 platform and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 1992/93. At the heart of the story is a mystery: All of these artifacts comprise what is left of the literary estate of Arthur “Buddy” Newkirk. You, the reader, are left to solve the mystery of who “Uncle Buddy” is and what happened to him––and you must sleuth through the digital funhouse on your computer screen and physical artifacts you hold in your hands to answer these questions.