Strange Loops of the Infinite
by Kate Fagan
“Strange loops of the infinite” is a curious and elegant phrase. It originates in ‘Écrivaine’ by Nicole Brossard and appears in this issue’s critical feature on Brossard’s work, coedited by Canadian scholars Jodi Lundgren and Kelly-Anne Maddox. At one point during a long conversation with Susan Rudy and Anne-Marie Wheeler about the particularities of ‘Écrivaine’ in translation, Brossard momentarily abandons words, lifts her arms, and traces a moebius strip in the air. All three are trying to agree on a translation for the giddily sensual phrase nous caressons du bout de nos doigts des boucles d'infini. This is Brossard’s description for the corporeal experience of reading digital and internet texts, a process she likens to “constantly bypassing the present… with a view on each hemisphere.” It is a gorgeous instance of linguistic and visual punning that embodies the physicality and occasional oddness of translation.
For an electronic journal like How2, the expression “strange loops of the infinite” has remarkable resonance. And as a way of dramatising encounters between languages, and between digital and page-oriented technologies, it is especially applicable to this new issue. Rather than enumerating loops along the issue’s many flight-paths I will leave it to readers to map their own peculiar byways. Instead I want to use this space to farewell one of our longest-serving editorial contributors and welcome a new designer.
This edition marks the end of a significant era for How2. Roberta Sims winds up her job as chief web-designer—hard working captain of our html ship—and will continue in an advisory and contributory capacity. Over the past eight years she has dedicated thousands of hours of time and imagination to the magazine. Back in 1998 when How2 was emerging, and after speaking with Cynthia Hogue, Roberta offered to take on the role of designer alongside her own full-time job as webmaster for Bucknell University. She established the lay-up template that is now so recognizable to How2 readers and spent subsequent years finessing the journal’s interface and expanding our available palette of technological resources. This has been a huge project. As the magazine’s audience has grown, and with it our volume of contributions and the scale of each production, Roberta has organised and coded and slogged her way through and over a mountain of poeticalia, usually flying solo at crunch time.
As a non-designer I sometimes feel it is hard to genuinely appreciate the gritty, arduous and often anonymous nature of web development. Working via the internet with an editorial team can be a disembodying thing, well-suited to the moebius loops of our issue title. For several years after I joined How2 in 2000, Ann and Roberta and I would engage in complicated 3-way virtual discussions involving endlessly detailed requests for deft technical manoeuvres. Earlier, Kathleen Fraser and Jo-Ann Wasserman had similar experiences. We were still trying to establish basic guides for devising a poetry journal beyond the usual strictures of printed pages, shared edit rooms, paid positions and national borders. How, literally, to make How2? Roberta was patient and practical throughout. Usually she would be in Lewisburg, Ann would be in Melbourne or Philadelphia and I would be in Sydney. No matter how difficult the task, we eventually crossed that cyberline and felt elated every time an edition went live.
I have vivid memories of one particular issue that Roberta and I completed without a managing editor. Over many crazy weeks we catapulted it between us, watching it warp and defy gravity. I was due to leave for a mid-year holiday and ended up taking my dinosaur desktop computer and its many cables with me, setting them up in a small NSW coastal town on a much smaller table. With insects and night-birds and the world wide web for company I hunched over the screen until a magic email arrived from Roberta at 4am: ‘Congratulations! It's up!’ It all seemed weirdly implausible and yet somehow it happened. Much of this was due to Roberta. To this day she and I have never met in person, despite years of email correspondence and random phone calls. Editing by email requires a very thick skin at times and I’d like to thank Roberta not only for her friendship and fine work, but for tolerating years of gymnastic electronic requests and late-night demands with good will and pragmatism.
Almost two years ago, Roberta agreed to step aside and let a new designer shoulder the wheel if we could find someone happy to accept the role. We began searching for a replacement. The process was destined to be challenging given the size of the task, Roberta’s capacities and the magazine’s geographical scope. Fortunately just the right person has appeared on How2’s London horizon and I am extremely pleased to welcome John Sparrow to our editorial team. John is a poet and new media artist completing post-doctoral studies at Royal Holloway College, where he works alongside our managing editor Redell Olsen. He has done an absolutely marvellous job for this issue and we look forward to his ongoing creative contribution to How2’s virtual architectures. Welcome John! I’m sure readers will also join me in extending our real thanks and gratitude to Roberta Sims, and wishing her the very best for the future. Here are her words:
Sydney, May 2005
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