Colleagues in North America have a lot to learn about the possibilities of the digital world from my colleagues down in the global south. Sometimes, when we feel we know a tool well, someone comes along and uses it in a strange and exciting new way. I have experienced this in my own work, where I have discovered some uses off the beaten path for the Juxta collation tool. Thinking about the different global approaches to new media, I was struck in particular by the way Dominican intellectuals and artist used Facebook as a full-blown publishing platform. I’ve been told that this might be a Caribbean-wide phenomenon. Sadly, Facebook limits you to a bubble of ‘friends’ that makes it difficult for me to survey too far afield. Of course, I am limited also because my approach to ‘friending’ is radically different than the one being used by those publishing work on Facebook. While I have to excuse each acceptance based on some personal narrative—which privileges the random acquaintance at the coffee shop over those interested in my work—my counterparts amass followings based on interest.
There are two kinds of publishing practices I can distinguish from my limited POV. One is exemplified by the work of one of Dominican Republic’s foremost living thinkers and poets, and one of my first mentors: Armando Almanzar Botello. He has disassembled his book of poetry, Cazadores de Agua, and re-mediated each of the poems on Facebook and 2 blogs (I still don’t know why he has two blogs). He has re-published each of the poems in their entirety several times on Facebook using the note feature, effectively recycling the poems every so often. I have never seen a similar publishing rhythm, and under such constraints. Paradoxically, at the same time that he limits his audience to his ‘friends,’ he has never reached a larger audience (as far as I can tell). The poems look clunky on Facebook to say the least, but they are read and commented on by a large group of interested readers. In that sense, the community he has built around his work using Facebook is not that much different than the small communities DHers in the north build around their public work in more open venues.
The same can be said of the second kind of publisher, exemplified by senior Dominican historian Frank Peña. Dr. Peña, who publishes highly charged polemics on his page, ranging from 1000 to 2000 words, also using the note feature. The pieces are well documented and written in unimpeachable Spanish. He usually draws 50+ comments on these pieces, even several days after they are published. In contrast to Armando, Dr. Peña is publishing original material of the sort one would associate with a political blogger. He is not the only one using Facebook as a blog. If I had to venture a guess, I would say the practice is born out of Facebook’s ease of use, as opposed to even the most user-friendly blogging platforms. Or, we could say that these intellectuals have found a vital way of building community in a way that can reach that ever-elusive anonymous public of public humanities. Although I remain critical of locking the content within a bubble of followers and the unsearchable abyss of the Social Network, I do have to admit the intellectual communities bubbling up around these writers are vibrant, relevant and anything but ephemeral.