KATHERINE HAYLES WRITING MACHINES PDF

Katherine Hayles [1] is a proponent of a critical method she calls "media-specific analysis," which is "a mode of critical interrogation alert to the ways in which the medium constructs the work, and the work constructs the medium. Yet Writing Machines, published in , is timely. As she states: … the literary community [can] no longer afford to treat text on the screen as if it were print read in a vertical position. Electronic text has its own specificities, and a deep understanding of them would bring into view by contrast the specificities of print, which could again be seen for what it was, a medium, and not a transparent interface. The meanings of literary works are generally still thought unrelated to the media in which they are presented, or for which they are written. While a host of experimental poets and writers on poetics have been daily exploding that view for decades [4], their work is culturally marginal.

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Katherine Hayles [1] is a proponent of a critical method she calls "media-specific analysis," which is "a mode of critical interrogation alert to the ways in which the medium constructs the work, and the work constructs the medium.

Yet Writing Machines, published in , is timely. As she states: … the literary community [can] no longer afford to treat text on the screen as if it were print read in a vertical position. Electronic text has its own specificities, and a deep understanding of them would bring into view by contrast the specificities of print, which could again be seen for what it was, a medium, and not a transparent interface.

The meanings of literary works are generally still thought unrelated to the media in which they are presented, or for which they are written. While a host of experimental poets and writers on poetics have been daily exploding that view for decades [4], their work is culturally marginal. Writing Machines is part of a push to help bring such modes of analysis from the margins into the mainstream of criticism. The emergence of electronic literatures in the 20th century and the ever-increasing use of new media in literature means that the acceptance of media and materiality as dimensions of literary meaning is inevitable, no matter how long it has been delayed.

Besides making electronic literatures critically legible, it could crucially affect the whole business of literary criticism, to the point of completely changing the way certain canonic writers are interpreted. The mere acceptance of electronic literature as historically legitimated, a basic premise of Writing Machines, poses enough of a problem in itself.

One of the questions or spectres Writing Machines raises is that of the possible eventual or actual obsolescence of print. Due to their sturdiness, usefulness, and their particular virtues as knowledge-storing systems, books and print will be with us for quite a long time yet.

The still evolving general concept of hypertext best defined as: texts with multiple reading paths was culturally present as soon as we had reference works [9] the Holy Bible, for example [10] bound in codex form. The way in which reading is usually organized in cyberspace basically extends from that form of randomized reading.

Due to the ubiquity of computers and by virtue of the fact that the WWW is still basically a gigantic reference text -- I have heard it called an endless library of informational pamphlets -- hypertext may have already become our new paradigm of reading. For many reasons, most directly tied to changes in technology, people are looking at print with fresh refreshed? As Hayles says in an interview accessible through the MIT web site: "Materialist and divergent works do not merely have a future; they are the future.

And so Writing Machines is stimulating for those interested in the literary dimensions of new media, or for students of literature not intimidated by new complexities. Hayles also takes great pleasure in her task, which is endearing in any writer. Nevertheless, I believe most readers will agree that when considered in its totality Writing Machines disintegrates.

The autobiographical or pseudo-autobiographical narrative components are the most galling aspect of the book. Where Hayles sounds high-minded and brilliant in many of the critical chapters, the quality of the writing in the narrative ones plummets to almost blog level -- unpleasantly raw. Doing so, she betrays that she neither has any skills as a storyteller nor as a creator of modulated narrative prose. Someone in the chain of command -- writer, editor, publisher, friend?

If the narrative chapters were replaced with more critical explications, or if the narrative and critical materials were more completely integrated, Writing Machines would be a far superior book. The critical components of the book, however, have their own problems. From the start, Hayles omits from her study almost all the valuable work that has already been done on the topic of "media and materiality" in literature. Much of that work has been accomplished through experimental poetry and its critics, recently extended into discussion of electronic literature.

The omission is incomprehensible. No body of writing in the world is more relevant to what Hayles attempts in Writing Machines. Most of what she is saying has been said, often more charismatically, often more clearly, albeit with different objects in mind.

Yet literary criticism has remained largely untouched by these experiments. Hayles often sounds as if she perceives herself as being naughty and very brave to venture into this territory. She formulates old ideas as if they were entering the world for the first time. She also self-dramatizes her intellectual process to make her not very original theories sound admirably hard-won.

Her chapter on A Humument is the major speedbump: anyone who has seen A Humument knows it is a whimsical, irrational, mercurial piece. Instead of giving it an appropriately lithe reading, Hayles goes at it with bulldozer and dynamite, like a paleontologist of old.

The material operations of writing and reading take center stage on page This page is visually transformed into the space of the room, inviting us to project our proprioceptive sense into the scene. Moreover, the space is imaged as an art gallery, complete with a picture on the wall and pedestals associated with the display of art objects.

Instead of physical objects, here the pedestals are occupied by rivers of text, a move that imaginatively cycles through the absent object to arrive at the words. The text reenacts this displacement by proclaiming a punningly appropriate phrase that performs what it names, abstracting the missing artifact into "abstract art.

Another pedestal-object proclaims: "art," while the third comments: "which made time penniless," an allusion to the complex processes by which material objects are abstracted into "timeless" art, as if the object could be removed from its historical specificity and treated as a representation that exists independent of its material circumstances.

What is really upsetting here is that we begin to wonder if Hayles is perhaps, by her sensibility, simply locked out of an understanding of poetics.

If so, she finds herself in a kind of Ancient Mariner scenario -- thirsty, but unable to drink from the body of water her ship floats on.

Most of what is happening, and is likely to happen, in electronic literature is dependent on a subtle, para-textual poetics. Writing Machines came along at the right time, and in many ways it offers a fresh look at important ideas. I sincerely hope that in future books, she will avoid the errors that make Writing Machines -- so promising, so fascinating -- so disappointing.

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N. Katherine Hayles

Key concepts[ edit ] Human and posthuman[ edit ] Hayles understands " human " and " posthuman " as constructions that emerge from historically specific understandings of technology, culture and embodiment; "human and "posthuman" views each produce unique models of subjectivity. According to Hayles the posthuman view privileges information over materiality, considers consciousness as an epiphenomenon and imagines the body as a prosthesis for the mind. This idea of the posthuman also ties in with cybernetics in the creation of the feedback loop that allows humans to interact with technology through a blackbox, linking the human and the machine as one. Thus, Hayles links this to an overall cultural perception of virtuality and a priority on information rather than materiality. Embodiment and materiality[ edit ] Despite drawing out the differences between "human" and "posthuman", Hayles is careful to note that both perspectives engage in the erasure of embodiment from subjectivity. Meanwhile, popular conceptions of the cybernetic posthuman imagine the body as merely a container for information and code. Noting the alignment between these two perspectives, Hayles uses How We Became Posthuman to investigate the social and cultural processes and practices that led to the conceptualization of information as separate from the material that instantiates it.

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