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John Hollander Literature and Technology: Nature’s “Lawful Offspring in Man’s Art” MY RUBRIC MAY BE THOUGHT TO COVER AT LEAST THREE DIFFERENT questions, each of them vast and complex. The first concerns the tech­ nologies contributing to and shaping the formation of the activities and institutions of literature throughout history. The second comprises the matter of technology as represented in or by literature. I shall be more concerned with the second o f these than the first. A third question, as to whether literature is itself a technology, will be considered shortly. A trivially technological response to being asked to discuss literature and technology might be to inquire—in the language by which many of us cope with databases—what sort of Boolean opera­ tor the “and” in this case is. As a rubric it could cover: Literature “about” Technology; Literature “as” Technology; Literary Technologies (whatever they might be); The Literature of Technology (also ambiguous). The first ques­ tion, as to what contrivances enable literature to exist, lurks behind these: all of them seem initially to have been generated by the first technologies with which speech was represented and thus partially preserved. It might be noted that this embraced both the hardware of making enduring marks on surfaces, and the software of encrypting language in various forms o f writing system. A technological history would observe such sequences as pictogram-syllabary-alphabet as well as tablet-papyrus, vellum-roll-codex (and back to virtual roll on the computer screen), for example. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 6 4 , NO. 3 (FALL 1997) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 2 004 753 The question of writing systems themselves might extend to the crucial matter of printing and the current matter of the micro­ chip (which may or may not prove to be as, or more, crucial), and so forth. I mention this only because it seems inevitable to start with the implication that literature is itself a technology. The notorious charge leveled by Socrates in the Phaedrus against the technology of writing, and how inventing it supplanted and ruined the earlier, better, and somehow more natural operations of memory (the nineteenth centuiy might think of this as being more “organic”), suggests that the very invention of writing was a new technology whose product would be what we call literature. But I shall leave moot here what is to me the m ost interesting question o f oral preliterature and whether build­ ing discursive structures out of phonological materials prominent in particular languages—what Roman Jakobson called the “organized violence” committed by poetry on the ordinary probabilities of occur­ rence of phonological features—can or should itselfbe designated tech­ nological. Is, then, the music—the linguistic, syntactic, and rhetorical rhythms, even occasionally the choreography—of primitive song the fruit of a kind of primal software? I would think so, but shall consider oral literature only for a moment in passing here. The development of writing itself, then, particularly as it has been investigated in the past two decades by the late Eric Havelock (1986) and Jesper Svenbro (1993), might be conveniently stipulated as the initial enabling technology. And yet, the identification of the liter­ ary with what is written aside, the matter of “oral literature” raises another question here. It can be assigned, as Plato implicitly does, to some notion of a pretechnological realm. Or we can be more sophisti­ cated and ask of it why the arts of language that go into oral literature are any less of a technology than those of the potter? The ability to perceive, from the point of view of one’s own language, possibilities in it for rearrangement of elements ignored in ordinary discourse, and to direct particular patterns of rearrangement to particular functions— this seems as much of a technology as the ability to deploy marks on 754 social research a surface to generate visually compelling representations, or the abil­ ity to construct and tune musical instruments. There being nothing in nature before Edison to preserve actual speech other than parrots and echoes (both of these preserving only a few syllables, although one for long periods of time and the...


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