Hypertext Naturalness (Bolter)

(a post in which I don’t use a single hyperlink, though this parenthetical turns the whole post into some ironic comment on the text, no?)

Bolter, J. David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. 2nd ed. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. Print.

Among things on my to-do list (most of which is read/write/study for quals, of course) is to revise a recently submitted manuscript on naturalness in writing; a major part of my argument in that text is Bolter’s Writing Space, the 2001 second edition, not the 1991 first edition, which was pretty quickly made obsolete by the rapid development and quick-changing nature of the web.

Bolter mostly emphasizes the work of remediation in the “late age of print” (I love that phrase, don’t know why), the flexibility of hypertext as writing space and cultural/individual practice, and the technological material aspect of all writing. Much of his argument describes, how those aspects of writing that seem to us at any one moment natural or essential (linear arguments, a particular visual/alphabetic relationship, a particular understanding of how knowledge is organized) are situated and dynamic, continually being remediated by the medium that comes along next, despite our strongest instincts toward interiorization.

“There are good historical (as well as etymological) reasons, however, for broadening the definition of technology to include skills as well as machines. The Greek root of “technology” is techne, and for the Greeks a techne could be an art or a craft, ‘a set of rules, system, or method of making or doing, whether of the useful arts, or of the fine arts’ (Liddell & Scott, 1973, p. 1785). In his dialogue the Phaedrus, Plato calls the alphabet itself a techne. He would also have called the ancient book composed of ink on papyrus a techne; even Homeric epic poetry was a techne, as was Greek tragedy. All the ancient arts and crafts had this in common: that the craftsman must develop a skill, a technical state of mind in using tools and materials. Ancient and modern writing are technologies in the sense that they are methods for arranging verbal ideas in a visual space.The writer always needs a surface on [end page 15] which to make his or her marks and a tool with which to make them, and these materials become part of the contemporary definition of writing.” (15-16)

Writing technologies are, importantly, cultural rather than an outside deterministic force. He’s no Stiegler, this Bolter.

“It is not the complexity of the device that matters so much as the technical or literate frame of mind. Writing technologies are never external agents that invade and occupy the minds of their users. These technologies are natural or naturalized only in the sense that they are constituted by the interaction of physical materials and human practices. No technology, not even the apparently autonomous computer, can ever function as a writing space in the absence of human writers and reader.” (17)

A little dated (maybe a lot dated), and a little more focused on hypertext than applies to my questions and work (okay, maybe a lot more), but this is a fundamental argument about naturalness and techne for me. More on remediation when I get to Bolter & Grusin.


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