Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hayles, Writing Machines

Hayles, N. Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

Hayles combines personal anecdotes, theoretical lines of inquiry into materiality and the embodiment of literary texts, and related analytical applications concerning the materials-based signifying practices involved in Lexia to Perplexia, A Humament, and House of Leaves. The gist, if I can be so hasty in reducing Writing Machines to something tidy, is that while digital texts have foregrounded materiality, books too have a long and complicated involvement with production, material signification (as much simulation as representation?), and the mechanisms of inscription. Hayles emphasizes a "sense of the material" (10); she accounts for coming to this sense through art books, talks in front of audiences that we skeptical that her vocabulary was too literary (40), visits to the MOMA, and involvement in courses where students built techno-literary installments as projects.

Hayles asks, "Why have we not heard more about the material?" (19). Writing Machines winds toward a response (texts have bodies), even if much of it is grounded in literary analysis. That is, Hayles gives readings of the pre-digital-though-digitally-styled bookworks listed above. She opens with definitions of three considerations related to media and materiality: 1. material metaphor (22), 2. technotexts (25), and 3. media-specific analysis (29).

A few of the more salient points here:

  • Account for all signifying components, including the material aspects of texts (22);
  • RB's "Work to Text" essay emphasis on dispersion, multiple authorship, and rhizomatic discursive structures (30);
  • On theory: Theoretical gestures and personal anecdotes can (successfully) be "double-braided" (this is the model for Writing Machines) (106);
  • Dynamic interplays prevail in print, in books, and perhaps books more apt than digital texts as RADs (random access devices) (99);
  • Remediation is generational (128).

Key terms: inscription technologies (24), textnotexts (25), cybertext (39), "poken" (85), screnic (30), layered topographies (77), minifestos (58), mindbody (74).

See also Phillips and mapping (Humament globes), p. 98d.

"The physical attributes constituting any artifact are potentially infinite; in a digital computer, for example, they include polymers used to fabricate the case, the rare earth elements used to make the phosphors in the CRT screen, the palladium used for the power cord prongs, and so forth. From this infinite array a technotext will select a few to foreground and work into its thematic concerns. Materiality thus emerges from interactions between physical properties and a work's artistic strategies" (33).

"Amidst these complexities, what is clearly established is not the superiority of code to flesh but metaphoric networks that map electronic writing onto fluid bodies. Lexia to Perplexia intervenes at beginnings and boundaries to tell new stories about how texts and bodies entwine. The shift in materiality that Lexia to Perplexia instantiates creates new connections between screen and eye, cursor and hand, computer coding and natural language, space in front of the screen and behind it. Scary and exhilarating, these connections perform human subjects who cannot be thought without the intelligent machines that produce us even as we produce them" (63).

"The implication for studies of technology and literature is that the materiality of inscription thoroughly interpenetrates the represented world. Even when technology does not appear as a theme, it is woven into the fictional world through the processes that produce the literary work as a material artifact" (130).

Related sources
Drucker, Johanna. Otherspace: Martian Typography. Atlanta: Nexus, 1992.
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003.
Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
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