Giselle Beiguelman's "The Book After the Book" questions the concept of the codex in the age of online reading. Throughout this work, many of the familiar staples of printed book technology, such as paper, ink, bindings, and cuttings—not to mention assumptions about the stability and permanence of text—are reconfigured in a kaleidoscopic fashion made possible through online publication.
According to a description of the project by the artist, “The Book After the Book” “is a hypertextual and visual essay about cyberliterature and the net_reading / writing_condition. Its main focus is non-linear narratives, which reconfigure the literature/book relationship starting from the very notion of volume." Although this is an accurate self-analysis, what is most intriguing about this straightforward description is that in contrast to many web sites with prominent “about us” pages, one will not find this description on the home page when one accesses the work for the first time; nor will one find it referenced or overtly signaled anywhere on the site. Rather, one stumbles upon the project description only after exploring various html pages, hunting down links, and reading many different texts about the role of reading in the digital age. This peculiar structure of the project serves to de-stabilize assumptions about the linear nature of reading pathways, both in print and in online works of electronic literature and digital art. And in that the project is also interspersed with quotations from and references to writers as various as Agostino Ramelli, Jorge Luis Borges, and Jacques Derrida, it also functions as a meta-critical commentary on not only the way reading, books, and writing are mutually informing categories, but the discursive way we have come to understand these categories in the first place.
It’s difficult to categorize this work as an example of any one type of writing, and this seems in part to be its point. Instead of offering a straightforward exposition about how the written word is mutating in the online environment, “The Book After the Book” performs the evolving nature of textuality through a variety of contrasting strategies, including legibility and illegibility, images and words, singular and plural authorship, motion and stasis, and black and white layering. Readers interested in a more sustained and nuanced engagement with this intriguing piece of electronic literature may wish to consult Kim Knight's research report on the University of California's Transliteracies Project's web site.