Translating Media From My Mother Was a Computer: digital subjects and literary texts Katherine Hayles pp 90-116
Traditional Assumptions about “Literary texts Created by a unified author, whose intentions both implicit and explicit are paramount.
Text - “the specific sign system designated to manifest a particular work” that is language, then the alphabet, then punctuation and grammar Divided into three stages: Work - “an abstract artistic entity” Document - “the physical artifact seen as merging with the sign system as an abstract representation ”
Texts were “stable ontological objects” that are expressed through a variety of codes So there is one “authentic” version of a text Which exists almost as a Platonic form
“ The text itself has no substantial or material existence” Readers find meaning primarily within the content of the text so the media on which it is presented to them is less important.
Hayles claims that text are entirely inextricable from their embodiment. In print readers understand meaning not only from the words on the page, but also the kind of paper used, the typesetting the colours, the weight and smell of the book This is multiplied in digital media, where links, rollovers and animation, as well as formatting and typesetting all shape a readers interpretation.
McGann - critics and authors should abandon attempts at convergence and liberate text through deformation, of redoing, remaking and reformation. Re-defines print texts as electronic, so he views “ paragraph indentations and punctuation as forms of marking equivalent to HTML.”
Because texts are inextricably linked to their physicality and materiality they can never be identical. Merely by reading different editions or even copies of a you are reading a different text.
Hayles understands materiality as; “ The interaction of its physical characteristics With its signifying strategies.” It is linked to a texts context and so is emergent and open to debate.
Continuum of embodied textuality Texts that differ slightly E.g. different editions Different media Braille electronic Tape books Remixed Film versions Stage and musical versions music 2nd hand/ antique books marginalia hardcover annotated
This continuum leads to a view of literary works as an assemblage. A “cluster of related texts that quote, comment upon, amplify, and otherwise intermediate one another”. So these texts do not have single author rather multiple authors including the machines that allow the text to be viewed.
The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing The Death of The Author Roland Barthes
“ We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” “ Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.”
Deleuze and Guattari Body without Organs Rhizomatic structure No unified essence or definable centre Able to mutate grow and transform at the will of the collective that creates it.
Hayles uses arguments from analogy or inductive arguments. Unfortunately neither of her analogies work. For linguistic translation to be a problem you have to assume that there are some ideas even a narrative that is associated with a text. That the text has intention associated with language. Perhaps even that there is an essential message to be translated. Hayles denies all of this is important to textual analysis then claims it is analogous to media translation.
Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which is surely easy enough - he wanted to compose the Quixote. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original, he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided word for word and line for line - with those of Miguel Cervantes. - p 91 (Collected Fictions Trans. Hurley, A.)
Texts are much more than artifacts. Hayles privileges the discussion of the physical materiality of a text over its content which is the primary was readers interact with and understand a text.
“ For other texts, the paper’s contribution may be negligible.” “ Electronic text exists as a distributed phenomenon.” “ There is no platonic reality of texts. There are only physical objects such as books and computers, foci of attention and codes that entrain attention and organise material operations.”
Problem of externality Another analogy Mind body problem There is tension between our knowledge of ourselves as individuals and our understanding of the external world
Internal aspects of the text language, the narrative, the characters are synonymous with the individual. The external world is the physical embodiment of the text
Hayles answer to this problem is to say there is nothing but the external. That while texts are made up of both signs, that is writing and their physical manifestation, the book or the website. A change to the external will result in wholesale change to the internal.
Content plays a much larger role in a readers understanding and interpretation of a text than Hayles will admit. The words and ideas are more important and impart more meaning than the medium.