Based on the title alone, I can’t say I wasn’t warned, but man. ‘Lexia to Perplexia’ is hard to read. Really hard. Maybe even to the point of doing a major disservice to the ideas Memmott attempts to illustrate.

Granted, most academic writing is ‘hard to read,’ in the sense of being intellectually challenging: the ideas are complex, the language highly specialized, the author apparently having spent the past ten years of his/her life locked away in a tiny windowless office with no one to talk to but other academics. (jk, KF! jk!) Now imagine you take that challenging academic writing, swap in a bunch of code-related symbols/character strings/neologisms, scatter the paragraphs around, and then display the text in borderline-illegible color combination with a gridded background or two (up yours, Cartesian dualism!). Extra zest: layer effects symbolizing ‘the collision of incompatible transmissions’ that will definitely give you a headache. Bonus: distracting ‘find the link to the next bit of the essay’ minigames! Bonus bonus: no back button! You have to read it in one sitting! Whee!


That’s basically how my ‘Lexia to Perplexia’ reading experience went. I can respect, in theory, the notion of enacting thru code the chaos/disruptive nature of kommunikation in cybersphere, but in practice it’s…really unpleasant to look at, and even less pleasant to unpack critically. The ‘encoding’ process is clever, but ‘decoding’ is unnecessarily painful. I don’t feel like I’m allowed enough breathing room to properly digest and consider Memmott’s arguments. ‘Lexia to Perplexia’ deals with some really interesting material, but it’s heady stuff that takes time to process, and I really, really do not want to spend any more time than necessary staring at 8-pt. magenta text on a gray background deciphering Memmott’s quirky nEo|(log).isms to figure out what the cyber.hell he’s cyber.talking about.

With all due respect to conceptual complexity and aesthetic experimentation, it’s just…too much. Unless I’m totally missing the point and it’s supposed to be a parody of bad postmodern academic writing, because really? That’ll do, Talan Memmott. That’ll do. He has a point and he makes it, but I’m not convinced it’s a point that couldn’t be made in a more reader-friendly format.

At what point does ‘the aesthetics of failure’ become a failure of meaningful communication?

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