by Éric SADIN (France), 2004
(partner / technical production: Gaspard Bébié-Valérian)
For the past several years, writer, critic, and theorist of digital culture - or, more precisely, of the digitization of culture - Éric Sadin has been developing a significant body of multimedia work, an essential aspect of which is the networking of media.
Although it stands as a work in its own right, his Web site After Tokyo must be considered with his interventions as a whole, which stretch from paper publications (Écart/S magazine, and the poetry performance 7 au carré, published at Les Impressions Nouvelles in 20021) to many theoretical or educational activities, including lectures, workshops, and conferences. As opposed to many cyberculture theorists, Sadin does not hold to the idea, typical of technological determinism, that new media will substitute for old, preferring to underline the likely more realistic notion of a sedimentation and interpenetration of the digital and the non-digital. After Tokyo is, from this point of view, a perfect illustration of the way Sadin conceives of cyberculture and puts it into practice. The Web site presents itself as a complement to a traditional book - Tokyo, published in 2005 at P.O.L. -, the basic idea being that the freely accessible on-line work and the book available in the bookstores reference each other.
After Tokyo takes the MacLuhanesque idea of media and tool to the extreme by establishing the identity of the concepts of "displacement" and "communication" as starting point: each means of communication is conceived in terms of displacement and vice versa, and the goal of Sadin's digital creation is to illustrate this two-level imbrication.
On one level, which we may call descriptive or taxonomic, the site records the various ways transportation and information networks are organized in Tokyo, epitome of the contemporary city, where the terms life, displacement, and communication tend to become interchangeable. To accomplish this, the work adopts a strategy of utmost transparency that might suggests Ponge's well-known adage: "a form of rhetoric by object" (My Creative Method2). Every communication-information "route" is presented according to a specific visual protocol, such that our pleasure in reading is redoubled: first, because of the attractiveness of the each "chapter," which tries to stick as closely as possible to its subject; second, by reason of the pleasure and the reward of discovery accruing to those who follow their own path through the site. After Tokyo, I must point out, is one of the very few Web sites one wants read completely: not only because the amount of the information presented isn't mind-boggling, but also because the sections, always surprising, are short, and never discourage reading further - or indeed, reading again, for the site's visual qualities cannot be exhausted at single viewing.
On another level, the work also functions as ars poetica, that is, it does what it says, and it says what it does. Readers are invited to navigate the site, which presents itself, once past the introduction, as map whose intersections become access points to a taxonomy of the means of communication-information brought up above. Following McLuhan again, Sadin has no compunctions about relying on a very broad and very open definition of what a media is, or what a means of transport is - which affords us, among other things, quite logically, a chapter on kareoke, for instance. This simple structure is remarkably effective: far from 3-D animation gadgets or labyrinthine hyperfictions given over to the reader's whim, After Tokyo manages to generate what so many other Web sites often fail to produce - real interactivity. For the reader, the idea of interactivity means something completely different from what is usually proposed on the Internet: instead of being quantitative ("how many times do you click?" or "how many paths can I choose myself?"), interactivity is qualitative here (gauged, both cognitively and emotionally, in terms of comprehension and intelligence: "what do I learn from taking such and such an initiative?", "what pleasure does such and such a path afford me?").
In short, After Tokyo doesn't merely speak of means of communication and the flow of information in the city. The site itself becomes an integrated information and communications structure; and the exceptional fluidity of its navigation, combining clarity and depth, enchantment and speed, makes of this work an essential contribution to the larger network Sadin is in the process of creating.
N.B. Compatible with Explorer and Opera
(this website does not work with Firefox or Netscape).
1 : Read Jan Baetens' interview with Éric Sadin about 7 about carré on remue.net.
2 : Francis Ponge, My Creative Method, Gallimard, 1961.
(Translated from French by Ron Ross)