Katherine Hayles: Writing Machines

[Readings] (08.29.08, 4:38 pm)



Institutions are not run by specified rules, but rather by complex networks of individuals, among whom the real causes and reasons for things become apparent. It is individuals and networks of them that cause things to happen. Hayles wishes to look at the digital age and writing environments, but to do that must focus on the networks of forces and individuals that surround the discipline and culture.

To do this, she is starting from a somewhat autobiographical perspective: Hayles started pursuing a track in science (specifically chemistry), but later found the cutting edge research to be tedious and unengaging. She took some courses in literature, and in a new track, found herself puzzling out the inconsistencies with her scientific discipline (ambiguity over clarity, investigating rather than solving problems, etc).

Electronic Literature:

Hayles opens this chapter by noting how the Turing Machine (and by extension the computer) was originally theorized as a calculating machine, but had a hitherto unexpected power for simulation. Hayles poses simulation as applying to environments, and this makes it seem a much more tactile and somatic experience than a conceptual one. She connects simulation to literature and the result is this sort of electronic literature.

Hayles specifically is looking at Talan Memmott’s hypertext work, “Lexia to Perplexia”, which is a jumble of jargon and wordplay, intended to confuse the idea of subjectivity. Hayles describes this language as a creole of English and computer code.

The admitted illegibility is an indication of electronic processes that the reader does not understand, or cannot grasp. “Illegibility is not simply a lack of meaning, then, but a signifier of distributed cognitive processes that construct reading as an active production of a cybernetic circuit and not merely an internal activity of the human mind.” I think this is supposed to mean that interpretation is transcendent of human thought.

The goal in this transformation is to raise awareness and weave together the human body with electronic materiality. This idea seems to be looking in the direction of Donna Haraway, but going more in the direction of a semiotic system. The goal is not to challenge human nature, but challenge subjectivity and language.

Prevalent in the work are allusions to Narcissus and Echo, and these mythological references are intended to highlight the collapse of the original into simulation. Following Baudrillard, there is no longer an ontological distinction between the real and the simulated.

The work is intended to be a “later generation” multimedia or hypertext work, very active and confusing with respect to user interaction. The work goes beyond general hypertext and instead of moving from lexia to lexia it acts nervously, seeming of its own accord.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorHayles, Katherine
TitleWriting Machines
Tagsdms, cybertext, digital media
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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