Material Evidence

March 2010

The material book in 2010
Notes for a lecture in E-Rhetoric

My interests recently have moved towards hybrid production - a movement between digital and material composition - new media, and social media, digital media and transliteracy. All of these bring to the surface implicit strategies and give us a position from which to interrogate consider past and present practices and understanding - in literature, in composing, in reading and literacy. They also expand what people can do and what they can value in literature, in rhetoric, in the daily round.

I get the idea of materiality - the material book, the material in writing, the pressure of the pen against paper, the scent, the textures. I get materiality in composiotion in those other senses that material media influences rhetorical and literary choices.

I get the difference of materiality in reading, too. Proust doesn't differ from medial to media, but reading Proust is different in print than on screen. The significance of that difference: that's what's in debate.

I get the difference between the book and the movie - but that's because they aren't different versions of each other but two versions of the story, just as the story in the writer's head differs from the story realized in script and film. Different semiotic resources invoking different languages and constrained by different affordances.

Introducing a technology makes us aware of the affordances and constraints of prior technologies. Lets us see how the technology we consider natural shapes what we can do and how we do it. Quills - having to stop every hour or so to cut a new one - led to pencils - and not having to stop but now able to rub out - which led to typewriters - and so on to weblogs and wikis where - and this is a difference we need to consider - the writing medium is the same as the publishing medium.

With the quill, pencil, even the typewriter, the technology of composition is not the same as the medium of publication. Quill, pencil, typewriter all prepare a text that is, in the end, typeset for larger distribution. If, for some reason, we wish to distribute the just-composed work in the same medium as composed, we generally recopy it to hide the erasures, the false starts, the changes. We hide our tracks.

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How do all these matters change the role of the writer, of writing, of writing as professionals?
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