N. Katherine Hayles “Translating Media: Why We Should Rethink Textuality”

These changed senses of work, text, and document make it possible to see phenomena that are now obscured or made invisible by the reigning ideologies. For example, with the advent of the Web, communication pathways are established through which texts cycle in dynamic interaction with one another. This leads to what might be called Work as Assemblage, a cluster of related texts that quote, comment upon, amplify, and remediate one another. One form of such an assemblage is illustrated by Dark Lethe, a science fiction site at which collaborators contribute stories loosely related to one another. Another example suggested by David Silver is the cluster of texts associated with Myst, which includes, in addition to the computer game and its companion game Riven,Web sites populated by devotees of the games, as well as the associated print novels that expand upon the narratives in the games and supply backstories and other plot details missing from the games.

Yet another example is the cluster of texts around House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski’s brilliant contemporary print novel. House of Leaves was first published on the Web before being instantiated in print. The print novel itself exists in four different editions, each significantly different from the others. Also in the cluster is a Web site devoted to House of Leaves, on which hundreds of readers make postings exploring details of the print novels. Other examples include the now-common practice of setting up Web sites to go along with the release of new films. Although many of these sites are merely publicity vehicles, a new genre is emerging in which the site is an independent aesthetic production initiating media-specific strategies to transform, subvert, and play with the film’s material. The fascinating site for Requiem for a Dream includes pseudo-advertisements, graphic mutations of scenes and characters from the film, and reinscriptions of scraps of dialogue recontextualized visually and verbally to interrogate their meanings, an Assemblage that Jack Post has compellingly argued constitutes a new art form

Going along with the idea of Work as Assemblage are changed constructions of subjectivity. The notion of the literary work as an ideal immaterial construction has been deeply influenced by a unitary view of the subject, particularly in the decades when editors sought to arrive at the work by determining an author’s “final intentions.” The work as it was formulated using this principle in turn reinforced a certain view of the author as a literary figure. The unitary work and the unified subject mutually reinforced and determined each other.As the rest of critical theory and cultural studies was deconstructing the unified subject and exposing the problematic ideological bases on which it rested, editorial criticism underwent similar revisionist movements, particularly in McGann’s arguments for the “social text.” Perhaps now it is time to think about what kinds of textuality a dispersed, fragmented,
and heterogeneous view of the subject might imply.

An appropriate model may present itself in Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic Body without Organs (BwO), a construction that in its constant de- and re-territorialization has no unified essence or identifiable center, only planes of consistency and lines of flight along which elements move according to the charged vectors of desire. The examples given above of the Work as Assemblage (which by analogy can be abbreviated as the WaA) can be thought of as clusters, like all embodied literary works, but in these instances the clusters take the distinctive form of rhizomatic tendrils branching out from one another in patterns of fractal complexity.WaA in this view is not an aberration but a paradigmatic configuration that writes large the dynamics of remediation and media specificity at work in all embodied texts. Rather than being bound into the strait jacket of a work possessing an immaterial essence that it is the goal of textual criticism to identify and stabilize, the WaA derives its energy from its ability to mutate and transform as it grows and shrinks, converges and disperses
according to the desires of the loosely formed collectives that create it.Moving fluidly among and across media, its components take forms distinctive to the media in which they flourish, so the specificities of media are essential to understanding its morphing configurations.

To see such possibilities—to bring the Work as Assemblage into sight at all—requires a fundamentally different view of authorship than that which undergirds the idea of the work as an immaterial verbal construction. The subjectivity implied by the WaA cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered unified. Rather, the subjects producing it are multiple in many senses, both because they are collectivities in and among themselves, and also because they include non-human as well as human actors.With an electronic text, the computer is also a writer, and the software programs it runs to produce the text as process and display also have complex and multiple authorship (not to mention the authoring done by hardware engineers in configuring the logic gates that create the bit stream). A robust account of materiality focusing on the recursive loops between physicality and textuality is essential to understanding the dynamics of the WaA. Once we let go of the assumption that the literary work must be an expression of an immaterial essence—a line of thought dominant in literary criticism at least since the eighteenth century—we see the new forms of textuality that, galloping ahead of textual theory, are already cycling through diverse media in exuberant and playful performances that defy the old verities even as they give rise to the new.

The present moment presents us with a rare opportunity to break out of assumptions that have congealed around the technology of print, rendered transparent by centuries of continuing development, refinement, and use.This opportunity is powerfully present in the implicit juxtaposition of print and electronic textuality. The game is to understand both print and electronic textuality more deeply through their similarities and differences relative to one another.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *