The material-construction-of-textuality


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The material-construction-of-textuality

  1. 1. Florence Margaret Paisey The Material Construction of Textuality Textuality and materiality are indivisible. Material forms or materiality and its textuality inhere meaning and hermeneutics, creating a substrate of textuality, whether in digital objects and artifacts or physical artifacts. Inscription or textuality creates materiality. My argument, therefore, rests on the notion that materiality and textuality are sociotechnical innovations and that they are interwoven, so that the construction of text, as McKenzie stated, forms materiality or material construction (McKenzie 14). This constructed materiality or substrate of a text unites with textual forms to produce a mise-en-page, interacting with its elements, such as typography, producing textual interpretive potentialities greater than the sum of their separate or discrete parts. Durkheim (1895) viewed the whole as greater than the sum of its parts – so it is with materiality and textuality. Each inheres embedded and self-evident meaning and rhetoric that contributes to a holistic sense of communication. Greetham (11) holds that any medium of communication technology – graffiti, painting, fresco, architectural space, musical composition or book – is the purview of the textual scholar. He maintains that it is for the textual scholar to grasp the sense of these forms, their function, and their sense or ontology and content. Material forms or materiality and the informational content contained within, textuality, inhere meaning and hermeneutics. Textuality, then constructs materiality in all forms and characterizes the technologies and architecture of the mise-en-page. This page, so often taken for granted, is not simply a receptacle for “the transmission of ideas” (Mak 9). The page, in itself, together with
  2. 2. Florence M. Paisey 2 inscribed traces, such as typography, communicates sense or meaning and often influences one’s thought. The relationship between the materiality of the page and its elements is of consequence. This relationship, between the materiality and the material construction of textuality has been reciprocal from the origins of recorded messages in antiquity, such as clay tables to current digital media. The historical passage of the material constructions of textuality and the mise-en-page form a dynamic relationship with a historical progression of material constructions and textuality or the organization of information on a page. However, what exactly constitutes the mise-en-page? As stated previously, the mise- en-page is the material construction of texts – words, graphics, markers, memorials, symphonies, paintings or artefacts that are inclusive of all communication technologies from papyrus prayer scrolls, scripts, Roman lapidary letterforms to digital media and the typography allied with digital media. Each form of a mise-en-page organizes information differently, yet each forms a material, if invisible or intangible, construction of textuality and how that textuality is displayed. However, before addressing the importance of the technology of the mise-en-page and the effects of the technology of letterforms or typography on the transmission of messages or communication, let us turn to the factors that underpin continued growth and sustainability of textual technologies, in general. How did the mise-en-page evolve; what factors led to its continued growth and sustenance? The notion of what factors determine the success or failure of a technology lies at the heart of the growth and sustenance of textual technologies in general and the mise-en- page together with specific letterforms. In recognizing the social dimension of textual
  3. 3. Florence M. Paisey 3 technologies, one is also acknowledging that the social as well as the technical are collaborative in shaping what technologies develop and how they are purposed. This relates as much to textual technologies as it does to a bicycle, mailbox or spoon. Pinch & Bijker, “If [technologies] evolve or change, it is because they have been pressed into that shape” (13). In this sense, the social can be viewed as a path of “associations” between unstable heterogeneous elements. What processes and associations influence the shape and direction of technologies? Why do technologies develop in one direction, rather than another? What pressed the mise-en-page of the clay tablet into papyrus, and papyrus into parchment, vellum, paper, and all materiality that undergirds textuality? What moved letterforms from cuneiform to Hebrew forms, Greek, and Latin, which, ultimately, became identified as the Roman alphabet and the basis on which variations of Western letterforms or typefaces evolved? Textual technologies have taken on many forms from monuments to scrolls to tattoos and digital media. Clearly each textual technology and the materiality on which it is constructed carry variant meanings, functions and content. They are sociotechnical communication technologies. How have textual technologies, in particular the mise-en- page and letterforms, been shaped or constructed by social dimensions? What social, historical and technical negotiations have directed their innovation, evolution and their diversity? What motivates an individual to appropriate a particular technology or artifact while discarding another? These issues are at the heart of a sociotechnical perspective. The sociotechnical point of view maintains that the social and the technical do not develop as mutually exclusive entities, propelled by separate systems of internal logic or determinism. They develop in counterpoint, seamlessly, within heterogeneous
  4. 4. Florence M. Paisey 4 contingencies that societal, economic, political, scientific, professional and psychological dimensions impress. This sociotechnical perspective maintains the perspective (and assumption) that “technology, the social world, and the course of history should all be treated as messy contingencies” (Bijker & Law 8). One of the seminal papers that sets forth principles aimed at explaining the dynamics of sociotechnical innovation is Pinch & Bijker’s The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. They state, “… science and technology are both socially constructed cultures and bring to bear whatever cultural resources are appropriate for the purposes at hand” (Pinch & Bijker 404). Pinch & Bijker emphasize that elaborate social, scientific, and technological shaping occurs owing to discourse and negotiations within social and technical environments. The organizing principles encompassed in this discourse open the black box of technological development by identifying the actors and agents involved in technological innovation, its perceived applications, utilization, advancement, and integral social applications. Pinch & Bijker refer to this unit of organizing principles, framework, or theory as the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT). I will argue that SCOT does, indeed, offer a logical set of propositions that, when applied as a unit, will offer an empirical means of understanding how textual technologies are parlayed, applied, and directed as part of a cohesive, yet fluid, social fabric and construction. While Pinch & Bijker focused on sociotechnical innovations such as the bicycle, aircraft, and household appliances, their perspective addressed what factors move or drive any technology – this would include textual technologies. And, from a
  5. 5. Florence M. Paisey 5 sociotechnical perspective, textual technologies – of all forms and functions – need to be relevant to a social need or interest, be economically advantageous and politically valuable – certainly as a means of disseminating information whether as affirmation or protest. The central precepts that arise from this proposition include “relevant social groups”, “interpretive flexibility”, the “technological frame”, “inclusion”, “controversies”, “stabilization” and “closure”. In terms of SCOT, each relevant social group is characterized by particular variables and each group holds a stake in a particular technology or feature of a technology, including textual technologies. Were movable type irrelevant to the interests of significant social groups, another textual technology would have developed as negotiations among stakeholders altered the artifact and reached stabilization or resolution. Aldus Manutius’ script, lettera antica, became a model for many engravers (Jean 98). Manutius’s octavo format supplanted the quarto as a portable, inexpensive codex. University students needed a less expensive, portable, book. In turn, as the octavo’s size required smaller pages, the composition, organization and layout of the page evolved while also ushering in letterforms suitable to a smaller format. Sociotechnical factors moved and directed the flow the innovation both for the mise-en- page and the inscribed letterforms. The key principles in sociotechnical construction and potential technological success are the “interpretive flexibility”, the amount of “inclusion” or perceived meaning that a technology offers, and “relevant social groups” within a “technological frame.” This social constructivist perspective on technology identifies, conceptualizes, describes, and explains technological progression and the significant factors in play during its social
  6. 6. Florence M. Paisey 6 construction. That is to say, SCOT views technological development as a dialectical sociotechnical construction enacted between innovators and stakeholders or “relevant social groups” (Pinch & Bijker 406). As a theory, SCOT furnishes an explanation for an applied area of inquiry – it aims to explain the success [or failure] of an artefact. Having briefly discussed a few precepts of SCOT and the rationale it offers for the stabilization of technological innovations, it is now appropriate to turn to the textual technologies of the mise-en-page and letterforms – each of which complements the other. Bringhurst states, “A page like a building or a room can be of any size and proportion, but some are more pleasing than others, and some have quite specific connotations” (143). The design of a page, or mise-en-page, consists of lines or forms and the relationships among those elements. The functions of such design are manifold and may include imparting information or knowledge, influencing beliefs, attitudes, impressions, or behavior, entertaining, achieving an aesthetic quality that is compelling to readers. Any one of these notions describes a function of the mise-en-page, although any one text can include all of the above. Consider the following image, recently published in the New Yorker magazine. This image – without letterforms – imparts information, aims to influence attitudes, achieves an aesthetic quality and dignity that elevates its message and, clearly, opens views to its message.
  7. 7. Florence M. Paisey 7 JR’s Mise-en-Page of Protest in a Brazilian favela -- The New Yorker Magazine, November 28, 2011
  8. 8. Florence M. Paisey 8 This is a text of protest. As depicted, the shanties in the Brazilian slum are painted – clearly, the most flagrant images are the eyes and their positioning as they look out and over the slum. This mural followed a Brazilian military raid, thought to be connected to the Brazilian mafia. Three young men of the favela were killed. Afterward, the generally quiet and socially isolated community rioted in protest. Although many were injured during the riot, no medical aid was called or administered. Following the riot, the painted eyes throughout the favela began to appear. The painter responsible for the images is JR, a French painter who heard of the killings, traveled to Rio, introduced himself to residents of the community and began painting. The residents said they wanted dignity – JR sought to attract attention to the plight of this community (Khatchadourian 56). This mural lacks letterforms, yet it is a mise-en-page and it is an unambiguous example of how materiality restricts or constrains textuality, compelling the artist to innovate and find a means of depicting a narrative within the constraints of the materiality. The favela emerges as a conceptual structure that directed the organization or composition of the information or images. The proportions of the mural are balanced and linked to individuals – like a printed page, this mural evokes certain responses in the reader, independently of the discrete elements in the mural or text on a printed page. Materiality and textuality are linked – their meanings conflated, content and function fused. Text or letterforms on a page have values, social, individual, cultural, and phonetic. They are representations of thought and speech that express rhythmic meter and, like poetry, that rhythmic meter embraces meaning, communication, and functionality. The combination of the printed mise-en-page and letterform (including punctuation, paratext,
  9. 9. Florence M. Paisey 9 rubrics, rubrication, running titles, and marginalia) all offer the reader interpretative potentialities and performances. Mak states, “...structures for arranging these letterforms in manuscripts and printed books are graphic indications of how graphic designers visualized ideas and organized them for themselves and others” (16). Early page designers divided the page to aid reading and understanding. One of the most influential Protestant bibles was the Geneva Bible; its influence and popularity related strongly to the interpretive aids provided. These aid included study features such as illustrations, maps, annotations, marginalia, and the Roman letterforms that facilitated reading. A few editions of this bible were issued with Gothic blacklettering, but what became the household bible for nearly a century, just preceding the King James Bible, was lettered with a clear, legible, serious Roman Textura letterform and Robert Estienne’s numbered verses. These reading aids, as identified above, contextualized the reading experience in elemental ways. The mise-en-page and typography are expressive features of materiality and textuality; they are cultural artefacts and technological innovations. Each innovation has developed and been negotiated socially as well as economically until the most stable form was attained. The great typographers, Aldine, Grippo, Jensen, Estienne, Garamond, Gill, Morris all achieved a balance between art and sociotechnical variables. Jenson, however, is noted particularly for his contribution to the mise-en-page, which became a model of composition and arrangement on the page. Jensen succeeded in translating the humanistic script from manuscript to type where legibility of forms and spacing of letters, so that they provide a match between counters (Chappell 79).
  10. 10. Florence M. Paisey 10 The variety of typefaces developed since the 15th century, when the printing press was invented, has given mise-en-page an immense range of possibilities. Yet, despite this range, generally letterforms may be traced back to scribal origins. Although many computers, for example, make available more than 100 fonts, with options for lightface, boldface or italic; for black and white or a variety of colors; and for a wide range of type sizes, all of these options, ultimately, derive from scribal forms or early letterforms and typography. The mise-en-page done well depends not just on the prudent use of letterforms and organization, but also on the application of basic design principles. Among them are balance, contrast, proportion, and unity. Among these principles are balance, contrast, proportion, and unity. Jensen, again, was a master of this perspective. The concept of page or mise-en-page has expanded with the advance of technology. Clay, papyrus, parchment, and vellum were early materials, as were the walls of caves such as Lascaux and other topographical features. (The carvings of historical faces on Mount Rushmore are modern extensions of this, as are graffiti and murals on the walls of buildings.) In conclusion, it is apropos to mention de Saussure and the post-structuralists such as Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, and Eco. These semiotic linguists have enlarged and deepened our understanding of materiality and textuality – what one views as a conflation of messages embedded in the mise-en-page and the placement of its letterforms together with the letterform, itself, can be further understood in light of de Saussure’s sign and Strauss’ floating signifier. Each form of materiality and textual inscription conveys a message, a communication. These messages reach the reader as signs that one’s culture and society have established with specific connotations. Although the sense of signs
  11. 11. Florence M. Paisey 11 existed from antiquity, an awareness of what triggers the messaging in textual, material constructions extends our understanding of technological textuality and role that materiality plays in its multi-layered communication. The shaping and direction of textual technologies rests on sociotechnical factors where social and economic issues play into the direction innovation moves and attains stability. Neither technical achievement nor technological innovation proceeds along a detached, linear, deterministic path. Rather, scientific anomalies and social factors influence the discovery, construction, design, and production of knowledge and technology, textual technologies. One of the many theories on how the social shapes technology is the social construction of technology (SCOT). This theoretical framework offers a means of analyzing how social factors shape innovations and how the process of innovation, in turn, provides insight into how technological innovations develop. AJ’s mural on the shanties in Brazil is an artistic innovation, moved by injustice as a performance, inscription, and sign of social protest. The mural or textuality is constrained by the materiality of shanties rising up a hillside. The mise-en-page and its counterpoint – typography – are shaped by the material construction of the page and produce a personality that functions through its content as a performance for readers.
  12. 12. Florence M. Paisey 12 Works Cited Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. 3rd ed. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 2004. Print. Chartier, Roger. "Texts, Forms, and Interpretations." On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language, and Practices. 1st ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1997. Print. Chappell, Warren & Robert Bringhurst. A Short History of the Printed Word. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks, 1999. Print. Clair, Colin. "The Birth and Infancy of Printing." A History of European Printing. New York: Academic Press, 1976. 1-14. Print. Greetham, D. C. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York: Garland, 1994. Print. Howard-Hill, T. H. Why Bibliography Matters. A Companion to the History of the Book. Ed. Eliot, Simon Oxford: Blackwell, 2009. Print. Jean, Georges. Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts. New York: Abrams, 1987. Khatchadourian, Raffi. “An Artist’s Global Experiment to Help Be Seen.” The New Yorker, November 28, 2011. Magazine. Loeb, Marguerite H. "A Collection for the Study of Typography." Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum 24.12 (1929): 3-13. Print. Mak, Bonnie. How the Page Matters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. Martin, Michael. "Geertz and the Interpretive Approach in Anthropology." Synthese 97.2 (1993): 269-86. Print. McKenzie, D. F. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Print.
  13. 13. Florence M. Paisey 13 Pinch, T. J. & W. E. Bijker. “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and Technology Might Benefit Each Other.” Social Studies of Science, 14, (1984): 399-441. Web. Bijker, W. E., T. Hughes and T. Pinch. The Social Construction of Technical Systems. Boston: MIT Press, 1999. Print. Samuel, Raphael. "Reading the Signs." History Workshop 32 (1991): 88-109. Print. Umiker-Sebeok, D. Jean. "Semiotics of Culture: Great Britain and North America." Annual Review of Anthropology 6 (1977): 121-35. Print.