Bolter’s Chapters 8, 9 &10
Presented by
Carol Manget-Johnson
Critical Theory in the New
Writing Space
Revisiting the past 1960’s & 1970’s
 Debate in the academy- nature and uses of literature. Electronic writing
played a minimal role. Traditional readers and critics vs. theories of
postructuralists, postmodernists, neoMarxists, feminists and
postfeminists, and postcolonialists.
 Hypertext was ignored and electronic mass media criticized as
ideologically driven- by most of the academy.
 Then comes the World Wide Web – those academics [espousing
poststructuralists and postmodern theories] who were interested in
hypertext and hypermedia linked this new form of writing with various
critical theories, and they were the ones who have moved away from
the traditional way of understanding literary texts
 In 1997 George Landow in Hypertext 2.0:The convergence of
contemporary critical theory and technology aligns hypertext with
poststructural critical theory in what he calls “convergence.” His position
has prevailed among many opponents and proponents.
Question: Which other theory besides poststructural may undergird
Critical Theory in the New
Writing Space (cont’d)
Electronic writing technology- has flexibility, has various
forms of representation, embodies a multiplicity of
critical theories including the most traditional.
 The computer’s use today preparation of most printed books for publication
 as a tool for photocomposition- it reinforces the
stability and fixity associated with print, the
traditional views of the nature of authorship and
finally the economic dominance of major publishers
and distributors
But, electronic technology still seen as a threat to
literary values and not as an extension, by the
 The material characteristics of computer technology
does not fully determine the character of electronic
writing though it may seem so.
Question? What, then, does determine the character of
electronic writing?
Writing Technologies and the Literary
Critical Tradition
Before electronic writing
Traditionally, the qualities of good literature were:
Stability, monumentality, and authority
Authors deserved credit and praise- e.g. Shakespeare, Homer.
To the 4th & 5th century B.C. Greek poets and historians – The
thrust of writing was to give permanence to ideas and extend
human memory. The text was considered a monument to the
deeds and actors it described. Thus, the written epic poems for
Alexander the Great etc.
1st century A.D. and later the Roman revered Virgil, Cicero, Livy
who were considered authorities whose works were the to be
emulated. In general the concern seemed to be the immortality
of the subject or the author depending on whether it was the
Romans or Latin.
Writing Technologies and the
Literary Critical Tradition (cont’d)
BUT, stability and monumentality were not entirely stable because the
technology of the time could not guarantee preservation of written
texts/manuscripts. Papyrus and parchment could deteriorate. There were issues
of the texts being preserved and if they were, questions about accuracy due to
scribal errors, diminished authority.
THEN came the advent of the printing press which revolutionized the literary
- texts were preserved with greater accuracy
- printed copies of manuscripts had more authority than the manuscripts
- old authorities were challenged by writers in print
- printed words were harder to dismiss and the author more distant and
inaccessible to the reader
- the audience for popular and “elite” literature grew
- intellectual growth of author and wealth increased creativity in 18th century,
according to Martha Woodmanser. The authority of the author had expanded.
What does Bolter mean by ’19th century critics believed poets had special visionary
The End Of Authority
Why?- Traditional views of literature and authorship undermined by work of
academic theorists[ postmodern and culture studies], and the manner in which
popular culture/the academic community have been utilizing electronic
technology. How?
- www facilitates web sites that are transient, casual and un-authoritative.
Our culture has accepted and endorsed that.
- theorists who support hypertext portray electronic writing as a flexible and
responsive medium that challenges authority/fixity
- Reputable sites contradicted by activist groups with an agenda
- sites are not vetted for accuracy of content. Anyone can publish
- literary theorists & historians disliked the idea of a canon because of the
bias against minority & 3rdworld writers and the idea that it permits worship and
forbids criticism (Scholes)
Question- Are we sacrificing safety for individual freedom?
The debate over the canon was really a debate over the purpose and nature of
For: William Bennett et al
- [see Bennett p. 166] response- “. . .an important part of education. .”
- claim of universality.
- canon contains the best work of a tradition and its authors are vital to our
culture. Every educated reader should be familiar with it.
The End of Authority (cont’d)
Against- Robert Scholes et al.
- critical reading more difficult and conversation became like worship- too much
emphasis on the greatness and uniqueness of the authors of the canon.
Question: How could an ordinary reader hope to hold conversation with a great
- the best texts should be determined locally, by local conditions, limited and
facilitated by local wisdom- no imposition by a central power [Scholes 167]
- belief by traditionalists that there was a center to our culture, great works are
static in importance and message, and great authors are authorities.
- an obsession with assigning authorship and verifying texts that followed the
industrial age of printing, the overriding objective being to capture every letter
the written texts of people like Plato, Euripides or the Church Fathers.
Hypertex and
Hypertext authors & theorists have encouraged us to
look outside of traditional criticism to find a paradigm
for electronic reading and writing.
We should look at the work of poststructuralists
(including reader response theory, semiotics and
deconstruction) in the 1960’s -1980’s prior to the
appearance of hyper fiction.
Poststructuralists refers to the writers of this period
whose primary concern was with making or
unmaking of meaning in literary and other discourse.
Poststructuralism no longer dominant discourse,
however it clarifies the cultural significance of
hypertext, and the reverse is true.
Reader Response and the
Architecture of Hypertext
In 1970’s and 1980’s literary theorists emphasized the role of the
reader who had been neglected in favor of the poet and then the
poem, ever since the romantic period.
Wolfgang Iser
- reader must participate in the literary act by realizing the
author’s text
- the text is an arena in which the author and reader participate
in the game of imagination
- the reading process always involves viewing the text through a
perspective that is continually on the move, linking up the different
- his description referred to printed texts, but characterizes the
reading of hyperfiction too.
The role of the reader in electronic fiction lies halfway between the
customary role of author and reader in the medium of print.
Electronic Signs
Semiotics – 20th century theoretical discourse acquired a particular
resonance for literary theory in the 1970’s and 1980’s through work of
Umberto Eco
What is semiotics? Study of signs and symbols individually and
grouped. Founder- Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure as the study of
“the life of signs within a society”
Semiotics grew in the same cultural matrix that produced the computer
In semiotic theory a sign is not a static thing, but rather a function, a
relation between the signified and the signifier: it is the sign function
that relates expression to contents.
Eco argues that the signs in a text intermingle and interrelate , as
points in a space whose coordinates are determined by the intersection
of many codes (1976). Both the written page and the printed page are
fields in the codes which can intersect, but the computer as hypertext
claims to offer a more appropriate space for such intersections.
Question: What impact has semiotics had on the construction of
Deconstruction and Electronic
Deconstruction? Largely the creation of Jacques Derrida denotes a
particular kind of reading, a method of criticism and a mode of
analytical inquiry. Whew! I looked it up. Somehow I thought it had to
do with taking something apart. Well ,maybe.
He says the text “is a differential network, a fabric of traces referring
endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces.
Thus, the text overruns all the limits assigned to it so far”
The poststructuralists claimed that the text was no more important
than its interpretations, because it cannot be separated from its
The text in electronic space seems to have no necessary margins, no
fixed boundaries except for the ultimate limitations of the machine.
Because an electronic text can change with each reading, it may not
make a univocal statement that invites deconstruction.
Question: In one reading of afternoon , the narrator does not visit his
lover’s psychologists; in another he does. Which is the reading that
needs subverting? (Bolter 182)
New Convergences and
Popular Forms
The field of cultural studies has been concerned with
visual as with verbal communication, as it explores
magazines, film and television as well as books and
newspapers for representations of and resistances to
dominant ideologies.
In addition to cultural studies of new media, a
growing number of critics and theorists are directing
their attention specifically to hypertext. Many are
exploring relationships between hyperfiction and
more popular media forms.
Looking At and Looking
Through a decade of experience with
hypertext and hypermedia, we have come
implicitly to regard oscillation between
looking at and looking through, between
transparency and hypermediacy, as a defining
characteristic of this new writing space.
Question: Does the speed of oscillation
determine or define our experience of reading
as hypertextual?
The Practice of Theory
20th century authors of hyperfiction have become some of the most
important theorists.
Michael Joyce, Moulthrop, Jane Yellowlees Douglas, Terry Harpold etc.
Literary practice and criticism have been regarded as dissimilar entities,
different genres linked with different rhetorical conventions though the
writer was occasionally the same. Bolter sites T.S. Eliot as an example
of one such who had been successful in both spheres.
Poststructuralists insisted that the distinction between literature and
theory is blurred, insisting that texts are interdependent or intertextual.
Motive? Traditionalists says it was so that literature could lose its
position in relation to criticism, considered secondary to literature and
move theoretical writings above the literature itself.
Bottomline: This was postructuralism’s attempt to make theory triumph
ain order to challenge the assumptions of print culture. BUT, this may
be unnecessary according to practitioners of hyperfiction, because the
creative uses of hypertext proved that theory can grow out of practice
and return to practice
Chapter 9- Writing the Self
The reflexive character of each technology permits writers to create
texts and in which they discover themselves and know themselves in a
new way.
Its probable that cultures invent and refine writing technologies partly
to refashion their definitions of mind and self.
Writing technologies partake in the constant cultural redefinitions of
self, knowledge and experience.
20th century –we turned to radio, film and TV (audio-visual media
21st century our focus is audiovisual digital media (graphic forms on the
Web, virtual reality, computer games), in addition to electronic writing.
Overwhelmingly, electronic writing, rather than print, appears to be
perceived as more authentic or appropriate space for the inscription of
Question: Why a more authentic space?
Writing as Analysis
Semiotic theory- philosophical perspectives- The mind not so much a computer
as a network of signs which would lead to its understanding as a text. Further,
the mind is regarded as a writing space occupied by interwoven signs.
Walter Ong(1982)made Mc Luhanesque argument .
- writing was a representation and powerful extension of thought process.
- writing was a transformative technology- it has transformed human
- literal mind was objective, oral mind traditional
- writing made logical relationships more discernable and subordinate one
idea to another.
- various writing technologies allow reader/writer more control when
speaking and listening
Under technologies constructed by ancient and Western cultures, writing was
perceived as helping analysis and reflection.
In Western culture, writing as a technological practice developed in association
with schools, legal systems and modern bureaucracy which accumulated around
literacy and without which they wouldn’t exist.
Writing as Analysis (Cont’d)
Earlier view of computer as a writing surfaceattempts to deploy the computer as a cultural
 Alan Turing and artificial intelligence – 1950
 Could computer ever pass the Turing test?
What definition of intelligence or mind is
supposed by his test?
 Could human thought be explained as a
network of interrelated symbols?
Writing the Cartesian Mind
Writing as a process of analytical reflection encourages definition of the human
mind and definition of the human identity- and suggest that our reasoned
discourse expressed in written form is most important.
In making verbal thought visible, writing can fashion the mind as a personal and
cultural metaphor wherein memory becomes a writing space and the writer a
homounculus who views the world through our eyes and records what he sees.
Perceptions are translated into words and images and recorded and the writer’s
inner thoughts and conclusions as well.
Views on writing the mind:
- Mind as a writing space goes back to ancient and modern
Western literature – Aeschylus (poet0, Dante, Shakespeare,
- Plato- who thought thinking and writing were inseparable
- Socrates- whose metaphor for ‘writing in the mind’- “the best argument
is that which is written with intelligence in the mind of the learner which
is able to defend itself and knows to whom it should speak before
whom to be silent.”
- Freud- the perceiving self is shaped by writing
Writing the Cartesian Mind
Technology of writing traditionally
regarded as creation of human mind or
the mind is the creation of writing.
Descartes argues that “what makes us
function is our ability as a reasoning
agent- a writer who inscribes and takes
responsibility for his mental text.”
Hypertext and the Cartesian
Ong- the emphasis of the power of
writing- a tool for rational analysis and
the unified ego.
- Embraced by computer specialists who
defined intelligence as symbol
manipulation whether done by machine
or agent.
Back to Landow! Poststructuralist theory underlying
hypertext > hypertext as writing technology can be
aligned with the critique of the Cartesian ego.
Question: What influence does the Cartesian ego
have on hypertext as a writing technology?
Electronic Writing and the
Postmodern self
- not always transparent though it can be used to
challenge the notion of thought as a transparent
network of signs, and the Cartesian ego as the
author of that network
- lines up with large and varied group of theorists
(Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Kenneth Gergen, [Lyotard &
Bandrillard- post modern], not only poststructuralists.
These have argued for notions of the self that are
multiple, fragmented, and in an important sense
Chapter10- The Network
We write our culture through electronic technologies
We choose which groups we want to identify with whenever we want
We exploit the www to enable a culture of temporary allegiance and changing
cultural positions through e-mail, chat rooms etc.
We are individualistic though we can form groups. But, we enjoy the freedom to
be autonomous. Thus, we can affiliate ourselves with others then break those
associations as we see fit.
We prefer to deploy electronic technologies as interactive applications that allow
us to respond and talk to each other.
The network is displacing hierarchy
Electronic writing reflects and is reflected in our culture of interconnections such
that the making and breaking of social links result in people beginning to
function as elements in a hypertextual network of affiliations
What we value most.
The capacity to promote multiplicity, heterogeneity and immediate, if temporary,
The enormous leverage to average citizens at little cost- intellectual, social,
commercial, and most important political leverage,. (Fred Rheingold,1994)
Diversity? According to Rheingold these virtual environments are liberating both
on a political and personal level
Network Culture cont’d
We find expressions of popular culture, commodity culture and
traditional high culture, but there is no special demand on the user’s
Question? Is that last statement really accurate? What about sites that
bombard with marketing ploys/ excessively attention- grabbing,
flashing graphics, promises and sometimes coercion?
Bottomline: Technology not universally available. Global hypertext system,
though its known as the World Wide Web, is mostly limited to
developed countries and exclusively to the upper and middle classes of
3rd world countries, though not elitist in the traditional sense.
Consequence of networking of culture= abandonment of high culture
ideal (literature, music and fine arts). If no single culture only network,
then no favored literature or music, nor single standard of grammar or
diction or writing
Cultural Unity
Isn’t that because people are freer to make linguistic choices, not that there isn’t
a standard?
Electronic writing is being exploited to oppose standardization, unification and
The WWW is chaotic; because there are no demands for accountability; because
there is no central authority- individuals and organizations add their pages and
sites to the global hypertext daily without censorship.
This writing system changes to suit its audiences of reader-writer with no
interference from any standard or predetermined authority.
Questions: What are the implications of this for students in our writing classrooms?
How will it affect their ability to use formal language (the standard), in an
academic setting, for example? Decipher reputable sites and information from
the inaccurate?
Is unity an achievable and desirable goal?
- fragmentation of our textual world is only a problem when judged by
standards of print technology which expects the humanities to be relatively
stable and hierarchically organized.
- Postmodern culture values instead, the heterogeneity and spontaneity of
shifting positions- the ability of small groups to fit local circumstances.
- Any insignificant group the world over can use the global hypertext- the
WWW to propagate their interest regardless of what it is – more so because
hypertextual publication can and doe accommodate all the mutually
incomprehensible languages of the political and academic world.
Remediation of Culture
The distinction between high culture and popular culture has almost disappeared.
Ease and equal accessibility to a variety of cultural representations- including
pornography- disgust the traditionalists who want to see the distinction between
respectable literature and forbidden images maintained through some hierarchy.
Electronic forms of communication provides the opportunity to redefine cultural ideals
inherited from printed genres and forms
- How so? Through our network culture that rejects hierarchical distinctions and
uses the Internet and Web which it can manipulate to express its preference for
popular forms
- network culture construes new media as radical forces able to disrupt the
traditions of print
In the late age of print, electronic technology defines itself as remediation , and print
technology defines itself as resisting remediation.
The Internet matured through a technology congenial to our culture where individual
autonomy is prized. The WWW grew out of the same culture which accounts for its
distributive architecture, lack of security and hypertext model of associative thinking.
Questions: To what extent do the technologies determine these different qualities that our
culture is assigning? p. 209
Control issues raise questions of censorship for porn and protecting intellectual
property, would technology always defeat any method of censorship, protect
intellectual property, or attempts to protect economic interest of the entertainment
Remediation of Culture Cont’d)
For all our communicative purposes, print is now measured over against digital
technology, and the ideal of perfect communication that our culture is
associated with print is under constant challenge.
BUT, print allows for imposition of copyright while in an electronic writing space
words and images are transient and susceptible to being copied and altered
easily [plagiarized?]
What then? If technologies determine cultural values any ideas of copyright for
electronic publication has been curtailed, though hypertext seem to suggest a
different social and economic model.
Tyanna Herrington- an ideological struggle over intellectual property: it’s
between those whose focus is economic for the owners of information and
entertainment vs. those who want to use technologies for social benefit.
What else? On one hand the focus of electronic commerce on the net – reestablish familiar genres such as newspapers, auction, magazines, bookstores,
porn. On the other, other constructions of new media are working to undermine
the older models of economic and cultural control. Meanwhile our culture
continue to find in the Internet and WWW, qualities of decentralization, local
autonomy and flexibility.
What then?
The reforming or remediating potential of the new writing space has
probably not been exhausted.
There is still power wielded by entrenched hierarchies that could force
new media technologies into traditional formal legal and economic
structures. But, it’s possible that those traditional structures will
change even as they try to assimilate new media.
The future of text as a remediator of culture is uncertain, even if text
(as hypertext) continues to serve a variety of function in cyberspace.
Millions know how to surf the web, create their own sites, but largely
users are still consumers of web sites and other multi media which
remains a privileged mode of communication within the already
privileged world of the Internet (Bolter 213)
Situation may change.
When most users gain fast access to the Internet and have the
software and hardware needed for audiovisual communication,
will they continue to type e-mal messages?
Will they not seek to recapture the immediacy of phone and
face to face conversation through real-time, video and audio
conferencing over the Internet?
Will they not look to other audiovisual media (TV, film, and
radio) as defining the authenticity of communication that they
wish to capture and refashion in new media?
Will written verbal communication come to be regarded as an
ancillary form, to be used when microphones or cameras fail or
when the Internet connection is degraded?