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The Culture of Information
ENGL 25 — Winter 2003, Alan Liu
Notes for Class 14

This page contains materials intended to facilitate class discussion (excerpts from readings, outlines of issues, links to resources, etc.). The materials are not necessarily the same as the instructor's teaching notes and are not designed to represent a full exposition or argument. This page is subject to revision as the instructor finalizes preparation. (Last revised 2/7/03 )

Preliminary Class Business

  • Web-authoring workshop
    Tue. Feb. 18th, 1:30-3:30
    South Hall 2509 (Transcriptions Studio)

  • Drop-in tech support hours:

    • Jennifer Stoy (jmstoy@umail), M 12-5, T/Th 2-4:30

    • Michael Perry (mperry@umail), T-F, 2-4:30

  • English 25 Technology Help Page

  • Next time: interactive class on the literature and art of new media

Ed Falco's Use of New Media (continued from last lecture)

Self-Portrait as Child with Father is a work that exploits the nature of hypertext to say something about the nature of memory and identity:

  • This is what memory and identity are like: intense modular units surrounded by blind links whose associative order is a navigational puzzle, lacks closure, is generically indeterminate, distorts point of view, etc.

    • cf., Turner painting

    • cf., the movie, Memento (trailer)

    • cf., Pynchon's "delirium" and the old, drunk sailor's "mattress" of memory, a passage that functions like a hypertext with blind links (p. 102)

  • This is what memory and identity are like in an age of von Neuman information architecture in which "memory" is always separate from "processing."

Olia Lialina's My Boyfriend Came Back From the War (1996)

An early "hypermedia" work that showed what artists could do with new media (the open-source, copyleft cult of Lialina)

Lialina's original frameset version of Boyfriend:

  • A "hypermedia" version of hypertext (images, graphic design and typography, framesets, and animation/sound in later "covers" of the work by others)

  • Equivalent problems of navigation, closure, narrative, point of view, interactivity.

  • Lialina's specific deployment of the principles of new media underlying these problematics:

    • Digital Modularity = constriction of human relationships

    • Linking = the opposite of expansiveness, freedom, and connection: exhaustion, imprisonment, disconnection

From "Hypermedia" to New Media Art

Limitations of the standard definition of "hypertext":

George Landow, Hypertext [excerpted in Trend, p. 100]:

Hypertext . . . denotes text composed of blocks of text–what Barthes terms a lexia–and the electronic links that join them. Hypermedia simply extends the notion of the text in hypertext by including visual information, sound, animation, and other forms of data. . . . Electronic links connect lexias "external" to a work . . . as well as within it and thereby create text that is experienced as nonlinear, or, more properly, as multilinear or multisequential

Toward a renegotiation of text and image (and multimedia) in the new media age

The Case of Graphic Design
("Graphic Design" = Graphics + Typography + Layout)

Example of contemporary, mainstream graphic design (from advertising):

Chanel "Allure" Ad, 1999 Chanel ad from Wired 7.09, Sept. 1999
(9 x 10.75")

Where the Allure of Mainstream Graphic Design Came From (A Short History)

19th-Century Typographic Design

1888 Poster Showing Principles of 19th-C. Graphic Design

Avant-Garde Typographic Experimentation
(see Johanna Drucker, The Visible Word)

F.T. Marinetti, from Zang Tumb Tuuum (Milan, 1914)

F.T. Marinetti, from Zang Tumb Tuuum (Milan, 1914)
F.T. Marinetti, "Bataille a neuf etages: Mont Altissimo (Rome, 1916)

F.T. Marinetti, Bataille à neuf étages: Mont Altissimo (Rome, 1916)
I. Zdanevich, "Soiree du Coeur a Barbe" (Paris, 1923)

I. Zdanevich, Soirée du Coeur à Barbe (Paris, 1923)
T. Tzara, "Bulletin" (Zurich, 1918)

T. Tzara, Bulletin (Zurich, 1918)
  • Main Features:

    • Assymmetrical layout
    • Use of diagonals in layout
    • Designed use of white space
    • Emphasis on contrasting elements

  • Goals: Intended to shock the bourgeois (and its concept of art as "high culture"); mimetic of the WW I-era sense of culture

The Professionalization/Mainstreaming of Avant-Garde Graphic Design Principles (see Jan Tschichold, The New Typography, 1928; excerpts):

arrow down
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El Lissitzky, Two pages (poem titles) from Mayakovsky (1922-23)

El Lissitzky, Two pages (poem titles) from Mayakovsky, Diya golossa (1922-23) (reproduced in Tschichold)
Piet Zwart, from advertising leaflet

Piet Zwart, from advertising leaflet (original in Dutch) (reproduced in Tschichold)
Jan Tschichold, poster and cover Jan Tschichold, display poster for publisher, 1924 (l.), and cover for "elementaire typographie, 1925 (r.)
Willi Baumeister, invitation card Willi Baumeister, invitation card (example of "reading order" reproduced in Tschichold)
Jan Tschihold, example of bad layout Jan Tschichold, example of good layout
Jan Tschichold, examples of bad and good layout from The New Typography
Jan Tschichold, brochure for "The New Typography"

Jan Tschichold, brochure for The New Typography

  • Informational "clarity" (quote 1 | 2) (a version of the Modernist credo of "form follows function"

  • The naturalization of the look-and-feel of avant-garde design (cf., Manovitch on the "anti-montage" tendencies of contemporary "compositing")

  • Paul Rand's Designs for IBMCorporate style: Swiss Style, International Style (migration of European designers after WW II; the Container Corporation of America; Paul Rand and IBM)

Thus was born the "look and feel" of contemporary corporate graphic design: a "designed" form of immediacy:

Chanel "Allure" Ad, 1999 Chanel ad from Wired 7.09, Sept. 1999
(9 x 10.75")

New Media Graphic Design (and Anti-Design)

Design in the age of media/information saturation and digital principles:


  • Unclarity

  • Denaturalization of the look-and-feel of avant-garde design (aggressive montage vs. compositing)

    • assymmetry to the nth degree
    • "grids" used ironically (example)
    • hybrid, "bleeding," or "distressed" fonts and images (as opposed to sans serif)

  • Exposure of the underlying principles of digital new media:
    • digitization (e.g., Greiman's "jaggie" fonts)
    • modularity (retro photo-montage)

  • Reflection of "postmodern" or "postindustrial" age

Current New Media Art and "Net Art": The Example of Two Artists

George Legrady, Pockets Full of Memories (2001)

Lisa Jevbratt,



  • Johanna Drucker, The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909-1923 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • Edward Falco, "Typing with Edward Falco" (interview with Falco) (Blue Penny Quarterly, 1996)
  • Philip B. Meggs, A History of Graphic Design, 2d ed. (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983)
  • Paul Rand, A Designer's Art (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1985)
  • Darrell Sano, Designing Large-Scale Web Sites: A Visual Design Methodology (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996)