[-empyre-] Books And pixels

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Sat Jun 12 03:10:34 EST 2010

I've been thinking lately on "binding" as a critical concept.
Typically, when we think of print publications, we think of them as
"bound"--The pages stitched, stapled, or glued together, squeezed
between two covers.  In strict material fashion, this binding makes
the book portable, manipulable, archivable, ordered, and finite.

But binding is also a metaphor.   Binding can refer to tying a term to
a point of reference, which evokes the sense of the bound object as
being something tied to another.  This sense of the word is also
evoked when we think of boundaries around physical, figurative or
virtual territories, regions, zones.  Conceptually, it narrows the
range within which play is tolerated.

In general, we are not in the habit of thinking of boundaries as good
things.  Boundaries imply laws, structures, rules, limitations, etc.
But we rely upon them all the time.  Even a true disagreement requires
a basic framework within disagreements can be perceived, felt, and
articulated.  (For instance, as someone who doesn't read or write in
Cantonese, it would be impossible to have a disagreement over email
with someone who can only read or write in Cantonese).

I think when we talk of electronic literature and other weird media
forms, we often struggle with the way these texts are bound, rather
than the texts themselves.  Or, I should say, the binding itself
figures as significantly as the contents.  It is hard to know what to
make of a text, when the points of reference are undefined, when they
aren't mapped onto some familiar strategy for reading.  This has
tended towards the caricatured postmodern position of absolute
relativism....  where technology is nothing but boundless
opportunities for radical new ways of doing everything.  The
flexibility is certainly there, so the material constraints are less
of a factor.  But, in a practical sense, the more readable texts
provide internal cues or rules for their interpretation.

It is hard to read a text, when we don't understand the parameters
within which it is to be used or understood.  I am reluctant to say
that things have to have limits....  but it is hard to enter into a
sustained dialogue when, for instance, you don't know if every other
word is a code word for something else, and if these code words will
shift at random intervals, and if there is any concept or process that
can aid in the apprehension of this code or no pre-scripted set of
revelations to reward readers who do figure it out.  I do not mean to
say that there is no place for works that consist of noise....  but it
is useful to know, or to be able to figure out, if you are dealing
with an unstructured random process, with noise.

Having said all that about boundaries, I'd like to point to the second
purpose they play.  They are necessary for transgression, for critical
reading, for analysis.  We position ourselves outside of a text and
create metacommentary, bring in secondary sources, search for leaks,
build bridges to other texts, questions concerning authorship, etc.

On the one hand, the binding makes the book something you can both
live inside of and hold within your hand.  I don't really know where
else to go from here.  And I would be curious to see if this notion is
repulsive to people.  I think sometimes, in this period of technical
transition, we think towards bigger, faster, and more....  when what
we also need are useful things, whether we are talking about tools or
lines of verse, narratives or manuals.


On Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 8:33 AM, Joost Kircz-HvA <j.g.kircz at hva.nl> wrote:
> Just back from a conference on E-readers (E-ink) in Brussels, I rush to
> respond.
> John Haltiwanger wrote:
>> This sounds like research that would benefit the humanities
>> significantly. Has there been much cross-pollination with your
>> research into fields outside of the physics/computer science/cell
>> biology that you mention in the end of the abstract?
> In principle it should work in fields were we have structured reasoning and
> a well designed line of argumentation. As this work started with phyics and
> Anita de Waard expands it to cell biology. Modularisation is a way to handle
> hypertext and to help people skip those parts of an article the a) know
> already, b) are not interested in or c) are too technical.
> Unfortunatley I'm not aware of other reserach projects along this line.
> Please read more than the abstract.
>>> In that sense, my interest is the question”What communication demands
>>> what
>>> technology”and explicitly not gee look Msword 2020 will be able to show
>>> the
>>> coding just as Wordperfect does.
>> I was wondering if you could follow this line of thought a bit,
>> perhaps with more details of what fits where, and how to decide?
>> Have we already developed the ideal grammars of typography for dealing
>> with long-form prose (essays, books) through our experience with
>> printing ink on paper? Or does the screen offer space for new grammars
>> that we are still to encounter?
> Typography is a helper for structuring a text. Not the other way around.
> But just consider the differences between typesetting/ word processing.
> MS word and Latex (or Tex) mix presentation and structure. This is whole
> issue of SGML (1986!) to split that. After a long period of slumbering in
> the HTML phase, XML as a SGML dialect is picking up.
> There a more issues in this context: 1) the content (meaning) must be clear
> and a emphases must be added (bold, exclamation mark, etc). This is true for
> digitally born material 2) Given a historical standardised typography you
> can use that to analyse a text. This is true for digitalisation programmes.
> 3) using tags of all kind enables you to change text, search a text etc.
> Presentation is coming after content formulation.
>>> 3)- A nagging question “What is a book”
>>> Because we call everything between two covers a book and the whole trade
>>> organised along those lines, this doesn’t mean that it is a book in an
>>> electronic environment. A telephone directory is not any more a book, an
>>> encyclopaedia is not any more a book. But a novel or a text book is. I’m
>>> working on a discussion paper on this subject. I tend to define books as
>>> that creative product that, in principle, has a story line that must be
>>> followed from a starting point to a conclusion (though as in hypertext
>>> and
>>> games, we might have more outcomes).
>> Is there a time/space component to this? For example, serialization:
>> Is it a book if it hasn't finished yet? What about a (hypothetical,
>> afaik) collaborative text in which the story is intentionally
>> changing, piece by piece? In other words, does book imply a certain
>> stasis, perhaps a physical embodiment? The "two covers" could be the
>> top and bottom plastic of a game DVD, a first and last blog post, or
>> the beginning and end of a PDF file's structure. Both these imply
>> finished products, or at least a static existence. Could "unchanging"
>> be a formal attribute of what we expect in a book? (This is with the
>> understanding that books change, but with the attitude that a new
>> edition is a new incarnation--the elements of the old edition do not
>> change automatically to match the new one (yet, at least; I would
>> argue that this feature is not necessarily a good thing)).
> Good points,
> I would say a book is a finished product and a new version is a new book.
> Joost
> --
> Dr.  Joost Kircz
> Lector Elektronisch Uitgeven,
> MCI- HvA. Rhijnspoorplein 1, 1091 GC Amsterdam K. 03A04 , T. +31-20-595
> 1799, F. +31-20-595 1720.
> M. +31 6 2470 9924
> Zie ook: www.kra.nl
> _______________________________________________
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