Multimaterializing At/Through

In “The Posthuman Body: Inscription and Incorporation in Galatea 2.2 and Snow Crash” (Configurations 5:2, 1997) Katherine Hayles translates Lanham’s At/Through dichotomy into a dialectic between understanding print’s nature as inscription or as incorporation. That is, when we conceive of words as inscription they become mere signifiers: “word seem to flow effortlessly from the page into the mind.” As incorporation words become to us “as material objects rather than abstract concepts” (246). Hayles elaborates:

It is no accident that words are much more often discussed as inscriptions than as incorporations. The power of inscription lies precisely in its ability to be transmitted from site to site, as if it could float free of materiality and move in an ethereal realm of pure thought. In my citation of Lanham above, for example, [Hayles quotes ‘At’ and ‘Through’ in a previous paragraph.] the quotation counts as “exact” if the words and capitalization are correct, even though the typeface is different from that used by Lanham and the medium of transmission has changed completely. By contrast, incorporation is always specific and instantiated. These words appear on a particular piece of paper, unlike any other in its precise shadings and minute irregularities of ink. Viewed as incorporations, my words can circulate only when the material object in which they are instantiated is physically moved. In this sense, no matter how widely they may be cided, they never leave your bookshelf. No wonder that writers from the classical era on have preferred to think of their words as inscriptions instead of incorporations, for then circulation can proceed unimpeded by the necessity for physical transmission. (246-247)

How multiply exact and inexact is this quotation now that it has been retyped not once, but twice, and that from an HTML version of a print document entered into a library full-text database subscription service, where original page locations in the print document are intrusively marked in the text with an “[End Page 246]” inserted into the middles of sentences. The multimateriality of the text intrudes on any possibility of allowing it to settle into simple Through mind-to-mind atextuality.

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