Hayles, Writing Machines

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)
  • 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"

"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
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,
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: U
of Chicago P, 2003.
Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins UP,