Friday, 7 August 2009

annoying things - 9119 words

- drinkingeveryoneofhiswordsinonegulp - julio cortazar -

My computer decided to switch itself off without warning today. This has led to me spending more time backing work up than writing it. I'm sure typewriters aren't this terrifying.

N. Katherine Hayles' Electronic Literature is possibly the best book I've read on theorising the new technologies of reading. I'm only halfway through.

It keeps getting better too.

My research crosses some of the same territories, and Hayles' work has started to help shape some of my arguments by carving a real divide between works that originate in print and abide by 'bookish' rules, and works that are 'digitally-native', operating by rules which are emergent in these early days of 'electracy'.

With this opposition subconsciously acting as a framing device I began to realise, though I guess I always knew, that my own work is concerned with the books that fall in between, the books with multiple bodies, books that were originally printed and have become digitised, or work that has only ever existed online but appears in recognisably print-like configurations, books that feel that they have to mimic books because the new medium unsettles things. I want to tell you how these books might function in this liminal state; I want to show you the(/a) history of how they got to this place, and why I believe that we need to know that history in order to fully understand what's going on with digital texts; I want to show you what effects all of this might have on the ways in which we cognise, think philosophically, and administer our legal practice. Only another 90,000 words to go...

I'm glad to say that Hayles and I have something in common: we both write about printed works which bear hallmarks of the new digital world. As such, and as people with excellent taste, we choose to write about Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves from time to time, some of us with more critical acclaim than others...



- from chapter 2 (Heidegger's Being and Time is on its way; his notion of 'readiness-to-hand' will make an appearance in this discussion in the future) -

"The revolutions of both photography and film led to a belief that they were able to apprehend reality without mediation (to such a degree that photographs were initially refused the protection of copyright as the image had been created by the reflection and capture of light, a scientific, rather than artistic, endeavour). To borrow from Bolter and Grusin's Remediation, this is transparency produced by novelty, and it has come with every revolution in visual media, from perspective painting to virtual reality, only to be, almost instantly, irrevocably diminished by hypermediacy, the other pole of observation where the eye behind the lens, the brushstroke, the hand on the camera becomes the object of focus. From this point onwards, a point of realisation, the viewer can only ever oscillate between these two states, as someone with their nose pressed to the glass might go cross-eyed to see the dirt on the window to the world.

Transparency via ubiquity comes about when an object is used so often, and is so suited to the task at hand, that it becomes functionally invisible to the user. Whether this is the tennis player whose racquet becomes an extension of her arm, or the photographer who is as happy looking through his lens as through his eyes, ubiquity or internalisation of a technology can produce a powerful effect of media transparency.

Linked to ubiquity is what I will necessarily term ‘intuitiveness’. This form of transparency occurs when a new object immediately melts away from observation, again from its prodigious suitability to the task required of it. This is the transparency to which the designers of most mainstream technology aspire: for a user to pick up their new item, be it a phone, a camera, or a car, and either through analogy (such as computer icons resembling the real-world things they designate, such as calculators, desktops, or paintbrushes), conformity (following the lead of prior technologies), or some other logic (the ergonomic requirements of the average hand for example), instinctively know how that device is going to function.

Codices have almost certainly never produced the brief and profound hit of transparency through novelty; by its very nature written language always produces a very obvious wall of mediation which must be deciphered, and even the expert reader must take some time over an unfamiliar sentence. I have no doubt, however, that a book’s contents have elicited this feeling; be it a poem which seems to transcend its language, or a novel which transports us to another place to be amongst very real people, readers are rarely privileged to forget all that is around us, and all that we hold in our hands. This, however, is never an effect of the medium itself - the book is something to transgress, not something with which to be transported."

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