CRITICAL THEORY, WRITING THE SELF, AND WRITING CULTURE 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 hypertext? 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 traditionalists. 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 world. - 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 powers? 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 reading. 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 soul? - 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 Poststructrualism 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 phases - 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 hypertexts? Deconstruction and Electronic Writing 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 interpretations. 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 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 self. 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 consciousness. - 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 metaphor. Alan Turing and artificial intelligence – 1950 Questions: 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 (cont’d) 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 Ego 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 Hypertext - 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 material. Chapter10- The Network Culture 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. Thus 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, connections 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 attention. 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 hierarchy. 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 industry? 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. Questions???? 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?