Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: Rethinking Signification in New Media

Critical Writing
Page Numbers: 
Journal volume and issue: 
25.1 (Sprint 2004)
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Abstract (in English): 

Lulled into somnolence by five hundred years of print, literary analysis should awaken to the importance of media-specific analysis, a mode of critical attention which recognizes that all texts are instantiated and that the nature of the medium in which they are instantiated matters. Central to repositioning critical inquiry, so it can attend to the specificity of the medium, is a more robust notion of materiality. Materiality is reconceptualized as the interplay between a text's physical characteristics and its signifying strategies, a move that entwines instantiation and signification at the outset. This definition opens the possibility of considering texts as embodied entities while still maintaining a central focus on interpretation. It makes materiality an emergent property, so that it cannot be specified in advance, as if it were a pre-given entity. Rather, materiality is open to debate and interpretation, ensuring that discussions about the text's "meaning" will also take into account its physical specificity as well.

Following the emphasis on media-specific analysis, nine points can be made about the specificities of electronic hypertext: they are dynamic images; they include both analogue resemblance and digital coding; they are generated through fragmentation and recombination; they have depth and operate in three dimensions; they are written in code as well as natural language; they are mutable and transformable; they are spaces to navigate; they are written and read in distributed cognitive environments; and they initiate and demand cyborg reading practices.

(Source: Abstract from Project Muse)

Earlier version was a keynote address at Digital Arts and Culture Conference, 1999

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Scott Rettberg