[-empyre-] performativity and the 'new'
it's funny that you mention Austin's 'performative' Marcus, as that is
what I was thinking about in response to giselle's comment about
executable code too. I did wonder however if the performative is more a
matter of speech than writing? but that then led me to think of the
practice of signing something, and how the signature operates as a
written form that, in effect, alters the value or worth of a document,
not only authenticating it in some circumstances, but also ascribing it
with a different 'identity' in terms of cultural value.
Of course I think what you're saying giselle about code providing a
more literal affective condition is true and i guess it's also true
that ultimately this agency of the written might come to reorganise
radically the relationship that we have between humans and machines -
but isn't there a step between the writing of the line of code and the
action it produces - not being a programmer i'm not totally clear about
how this works, but isn't there some action of 'reading' that the
computer does, to translate this code into a particular pattern of
on/off, or 0/1? Is there something too to be explored in that step,
about digital writing/reading?
I also wanted to pick up on this idea of the 'new' - it seems obvious
to me that a 'new' technology will bring with it new practices and
forms - wedge shaped writing stylus' produced straight edged cuneform
scripts and later cursive scripts could not have developed without the
development of a different form of (softer) writing technology (Rod
Mengham's 'The Descent of Language' is interesting in regard to all
this stuff) - but equally, this current technology is also being
experienced through us - live bodies, historical and experiential - so
surely it is inevitable that many 'older' forms and practices will be
threaded through and adapted in this new digital context. Perhaps that
is an obvious thing to say, but i think our own role should not be
discounted in all of this.
One of the parallels drawn with the digital and earlier practices that
always attracts me is the links made between digital space/media and
medieval cultures. The medieval manuscript page is not only visually
(because spatially orientated, rather than line based) similar to much
textual-visual work produced in digital media, but it is also, more
interestingly, conceptually resonant as this medieval 'page' was
considered much more a live and inhabited space, multi-authored, and
kind of performative too in a way - in much the same way that a 'page'
in cyberspace will operate. Then there is the idea that webspace is
similar to medieval conceptions in space in terms of how it provides a
kind of invested 'faith-filled' (?) unreal space (margaret wertheim
writes very accessibly about this). Reading also Mary Carruthers'
writing about medieval mnemonic systems i can't help but relate much of
that to the digital because of the emphasis on 'places' as sites from
which thoughts or memories are recalled. I think Steve MacCaffery has
done quite a bit of research into this relation between medieval
constructs and visual poetries (prior to and including the digital).
I like this throw back to a pre-renaissance context because it does
figure the digital as actually very much a rupture with a long
established and increasingly hegemonic tradition. Of course the 20thc
was full of moves to upset this tradition but the digital seems to be
the technical 'embodiment' of many of those attempts to dislodge us
from Cartesian, rational, visual-centred, individualism that is the
legacy of renaissance thought.
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