Literal Art

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

John Cayley dadas up the digital, revealing similarities of type across two normally separate, unequal categories: image and text. "Neither lines nor pixels but letters," finally, unite.

(Source: ebr First Person thread page)

Pull Quotes: 

A line is a string of letters, and letters are the "atoms" of textual materiality. Letters build words and lines in a manner that allows far greater significance and affect to emerge from modulation in processes of compositional or programmatological generation.

Linemakers, poets and writers generally, have long lost all claims to a mastery loaned to them by so-called print culture, by the discourse network of 1800. They must once again serve the literal matter of language, and as such they must serve the machine: typewriter, word processor, programmaton. Its literal symbolic materiality should, in turn, be recognised as intrinsically and necessarily, not only historically or momentarily, engaged with the entire gamut of cultural production that emerges from the generalised, networked use of programmable machines.

... [Kittler] provides us with one of the most sophisticated arguments explaining the most recent recasting and downplaying of the materiality of language, the subordination of line to pixel, in the context of so-called digital art and culture. How can one justify an engagement with verbal art, with language, when symbolic manipulation may be indistinguishable from the machinic symbolic? It's far too tempting for workers in sound and light to adopt this supposition or to proceed with their work on its basis, in a hypercool posthuman irrational.

Kittler's statement that there "would be no software if computer systems were not surrounded by an environment of everyday languages," (my emphasis) is crucial and telling. They are so surrounded.

I'm trying, as it were, to turn our attention from lines of verse to the letters of literal art and to place the latter in a significant constructive relationship with the pixels of digital graphic art. My argument is that the material manipulation of pixels derives, culturally, from an underlying gasp of the manipulation of letters.

For me digital characterises any system of transcription with a finite set of agreed identities as its elements. It follows that such a system allows: (1) programmatological manipulation of its constitutive elements (without any threat to their integrity); (2) invisible or seamless editing of cultural objects composed from these elements; and (3) what we now call digital ("perfect") reproduction of such objects.

The world of letters has played a crucial role in the development of digital art and culture. Text is indeed "the web's primary and foundational media" and the artists of texts are poets.

Teaching Resource using this Critical Writing:

Resource Teaching Resource Type Author Yearsort descending
The Word Made Digital (CMS 609J, Fall 2009) Syllabus Nick Montfort 2008
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Eric Dean Rasmussen