Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Digital Imagination

I’ve been aware that the Morris Society needs to think through the relation of its various media to each other: not just that between its well-established Journal and Newsletter, but, in our digital age, the relation of Journal to Newsletter to website to blog to Twitter to Facebook. But suddenly that initial awareness has cut rather deeper. For this is not after all just a pragmatic matter of communicational efficiency between a Society and its members or the wider world, but rather a much deeper theoretical and political issue: how do Morrisian values and practices survive, mutate, hopefully even thrive in the digital epoch?

The Crafts Council is leading the way here, with its touring exhibition on ‘Lab Craft: Digital Adventures in Contemporary Crafts’ late last year. But we will want to take the issue into other Morris-related fields too. What will be the fate of the book in an epoch of web publishing? Will the book as we know it go the way of the dinosaurs, or may this, in an unexpected dialectical reversal, be a chance for the Morrisian ‘book beautiful’ to reassert itself as electronic publishing deals with our more utilitarian reading? Even more crucially, what is the relation between the new digital media and social unrest or political activism? How crucial were blogs, tweets and Facebook to both the English riots and the Arab Spring of 2011? Are they bringing utopia closer to us, or pushing it further away?

Rich material here, surely, for a series of linked lectures in the Kelmscott Coach House by contemporary practitioners and theorists; and someone, ultimately, should write a good book on the subject. Martin Crick has just given us an admirable history of the Morris Society from 1955 to 2005, and we must now think through the shape of its next fifty years, of which digitality will certainly be one of the leading elements.


Kotick said...

Worth noting too, perhaps, that the Modern Languages Association in the US is wondering about replacing the traditional PhD thesis format with possibilities of digitally-oriented work.

Owlfarmer said...

One of my favorite on-line "events" in recent years is the publication of the Morris Online edition at --with its scans of some Kelmscott editions and "turn the page" technology. Short of good facsimile editions, it's as close as many of us will ever get to the real thing. It's also made searching for materials a great deal easier. Perhaps Morris wouldn't be all that disappointed, because digital technologies do make works available where they haven't been. He did, after all, come to terms with some technologies because the could both abide craftsmanship and lighten the workload of those who made the goods.