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At the end of his now-classic essay “What Is an Author?” Michel Foucault writes: “The author—or what I have called the ‘author-function’—is undoubtedly only one of the possible specifications of the subject and, considering past historical transformations, it appears that the form, the complexity, and even the existence of this function are far from immutable. We can easily imagine a culture where discourse would circulate without any need for an author.” 1 Foucault’s essay has most often been read as proclaiming the much-celebrated “death of the author.” In posing the question of electronic authorship, I take up one particular version of the death-of-the-author story, the increasingly fashionable tale that the technologies of electronic writing have brought us to the verge (if not into the very midst) of this imaginary culture “where discourse would circulate without any need for an author.” By examining the critical discourse in which the theory and practice of electronic writing are being articulated, I want to single out the discursive logic that structures the current articulation of electronic authorship. I focus mainly on four of the most important recent books on electronic writing: Mark Poster, The Mode of Information; Jay Bolter, Writing Space; George Landow, Hypertext; and Richard Lanham, The [End Page 469] Electronic Word—all but the first of which have appeared both in print and in electronic formats. 2

Given the limited aims of this essay, however, I do not undertake an analysis of the electronic versions of these texts. Rather, I articulate the logic of authorship that emerges from these works as emblematic of the contemporary discourse of electronic writing—a discursive logic that frequently takes the form of a kind of technological determinism, which we might best characterize (with a nod toward Wimsatt and Beardsley) as constituting a technological fallacy. This fallacy most often manifests itself in propositional statements that ascribe agency to technology itself, statements in which the technologies of electronic writing are described as actors. For example:

The electronic word democratizes the world of arts and letters. 3

Pixeled print calls this basic stylistic decorum [the best style is the style not noticed], and the social ideal built upon it, into question. 4

The computer rewrites the history of writing by sending us back to reconsider nearly every aspect of the earlier technologies. 5

[E]lectronic texts naturally join themselves into larger and larger structures, into encyclopedias and libraries. 6

Electronic writing . . . disperses the subject so that it no longer functions as a center in the way it did in pre-electronic writing. 7

Computer writing, instantaneously available over the globe, inserts itself into a non-linear temporality that unsettles the relation to the writing subject. 8 [End Page 470]

[H]ypermedia linking automatically produces collaboration. 9

Hypertext systems, just like printed books, dramatically change the roles of student, teacher, assignment, evaluation, reading list, as well as relations among individual instructors, courses, departments, and disciplines. 10

In calling attention to these formulations I do not mean to suggest that they are in any way unique. Indeed, it is precisely the unremarkability of such propositions that I mean to remark. The fact that any number of similar sentences could have been drawn from these or other recent works on electronic writing attests to the powerful discursive logic that these works exemplify in thinking about the relation between electronic technologies and the theory and practice of authorship, a logic that I start to articulate in this essay. My argument has three parts. I begin with a discussion of the idea that the new electronic technologies realize or instantiate the theoretical assertions of poststructuralism, postmodernism, or deconstruction. I next look at some of the ways in which claims for the agency of electronic technologies in changing cultural practice often elide or marginalize the materiality of these technologies. Finally, I conclude with some speculations about why the discursive logic of electronic authorship tends consistently to represent new technologies as the primary, if not the sole, agents of fundamental change, and some suggestions about the direction that future discussions of electronic authorship might best take.

Although differing on the precise details of the relation between theory, technology, and culture, all four authors would probably assent to Lanham’s contention that “it is hard not to think that, at the end of the day, electronic text will seem the natural fulfillment of much current literary theory, and resolve many of its questions.” 11 In fact the title of one of Lanham’s chapters—“The Extraordinary Convergence: Democracy, Technology, Theory, and the University Curriculum”—itself converges with one of the central theses of Landow’s book, set forth fairly explicitly in its subtitle: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. 12 Thus, even while Landow begins his book by endorsing J. Hillis [End Page 471] Miller’s contention that the relation “between electronic computing, hypertext in particular, and literary theory of the past three or four decades” is “‘multiple, non-linear, non-causal, non-dialectical, and heavily overdetermined,’” he most often describes this relationship as taking the form of electronic technologies converging with or embodying the claims of poststructural theory. 13 “[H]ypertext,” Landow writes, “embodies many of the ideas and attitudes proposed by Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, and others.” 14 This is particularly true, he argues, of Derrida, who “more than almost any other contemporary theorist . . . uses the terms link, web, network, matrix, and interweaving, associated with hypertextuality.” 15 Elsewhere in the book Landow describes grammatology as “the art and science of hypertext.” 16 He characterizes hypertext as “implement[ing] Derrida’s call for a new form of hieroglyphic writing that can avoid some of the problems implicit and therefore inevitable in Western writing systems and their printed versions,” 17 as well as touting hypertext as the “embodi[ment] of the Derridean text.” 18 Hypertext, which Landow defines as “the convergence of poststructuralist conceptions of textuality and electronic embodiments of it,” is seen to reconfigure the electronic author in two basic ways: by breaking down the distinction between author and reader, and by constituting the self of author and reader alike as “a de-centered (or centerless) network of codes that, on another level, also serves as a node within another centerless network.” 19

Like Lanham and Landow, Bolter and Poster also see the technologies of electronic writing as reconfiguring the authorial self. But where Landow in particular sees electronic writing as realizing or instantiating deconstructive accounts of the relations among authors, texts, and meanings, Bolter and Poster see these relations as more problematic. Building on the work of (among others) Walter Ong, Bolter sees electronic writing as signaling our location at the end of the late age of print. For Bolter, “electronic writing emphasizes the impermanence and changeability of text, and it tends to reduce the distance between author and reader by turning the reader [End Page 472] into an author. The computer is restructuring our current economy of writing. It is changing the cultural status of writing as well as the method of producing books. It is changing the relationship of the author to the text and of both author and text to the reader.” 20 In Bolter’s formulation, agency is ascribed primarily to the computer: electronic information technology is the agent that dictates or determines change.

Like Landow, Bolter represents the effects of the computer as resembling poststructuralist claims about writing; he notices, for example, the way in which “even the most radical theorists (Barthes, de Man, Derrida, and their American followers) speak a language that is strikingly appropriate to electronic writing.” 21 “Derrida’s characterization of a text,” he writes, “sounds very much like text in the electronic writing space.” 22 Despite the affinities between poststructuralist theory and electronic writing, however, Bolter remains convinced that computer technology is the agent of a fundamental change in the nature of writing, a change that, because deconstruction cannot finally be sufficient to it, will require the development of a new theory of writing. “Electronic writing takes us beyond the paradox of deconstruction, because it accepts as strengths the very qualities—the play of signs, intertextuality, the lack of closure—that deconstruction poses as the ultimate limitations of literature and language.” 23 Although “deconstruction has helped to free us from a mode of thought that was too closely wedded to the technology of print,” Bolter concludes, it is not a theory of electronic writing. Deconstruction can only tell us “what electronic writing is not. We will still need a new literary theory to achieve a positive understanding of electronic writing.” 24

One attempt at such a new theory is offered by Poster, who hybridizes Marx, McLuhan, and Baudrillard in formulating the concept of the “mode of information,” which functions for him as a periodizing concept analogous to Marx’s mode of production.

Every age employs forms of symbolic exchange which contain internal and external structures, means and relations of signification. Stages in the mode of information may be tentatively designated as follows: face-to-face, orally mediated exchange; written exchanges mediated by print; and electronically [End Page 473] mediated exchange. If the first stage is characterized by symbolic correspondences, and the second stage is characterized by the representation of signs, the third is characterized by informational simulations. In the first, oral stage the self is constituted as a position of enunciation through its embeddedness in a totality of face-to-face relations. In the second, print stage the self is constructed as an agent centered in rational/imaginary autonomy. In the third, electronic stage the self is decentered, dispersed, and multiplied in continuous instability. 25

Like his fellow electronic theorists, Poster proclaims that electronic writing “disperses the [authorial] subject so that it no longer functions as a center in the way it did in pre-electronic writing.” 26 But like Bolter, he is divided on the question of deconstruction’s adequacy to electronic writing. Thus his discussion of Derrida and electronic writing takes up the following question: “does the introduction of computer writing herald a stage of communication unforeseen and unaccountable by Derrida’s method of textual deconstruction, or does deconstruction itself rather open theoretical analysis to computer writing by destabilizing, subverting or complicating writing in a pre-electronic age?” 27 Although Poster is reluctant to come down completely on either side, the chapter is heavily weighted toward the position that deconstruction does not satisfactorily account for the introduction of computer writing. In particular, the Derridean concept of the trace is seen as unable to account for the immateriality of electronic writing. In computer writing, Poster contends, “The writer . . . confronts a representation that is similar in its spatial fragility and temporal simultaneity to the contents of the mind or the spoken word.” 28 Because the “marks or traces [of computer writing] are as evanescent as pixels on the screen,” and because such writing, “instantaneously available over the globe, inserts itself in a nonlinear temporality that unsettles the relation to the writing subject,” Poster concludes that computer writing “challenges and radicalizes the terms of analysis initiated by the deconstructionist.” 29

As persuasive as Poster’s critique might appear, it overlooks the fact that for Derrida the concept of the trace suggests that “the contents of the mind or the spoken word” are no less forms of writing [End Page 474] for their “spatial fragility and temporal simultaneity.” Like his fellow electronic theorists, Poster fails to recognize that the force of the Derridean critique is to demonstrate the way in which thought and speech are always already forms of writing. Deconstruction does not need to be instantiated or embodied in new electronic technologies; for Derrida, writing is always a technology and already electronic. 30 A similar misreading has developed in regard to Barthes’s poststructuralist distinctions between “work” and “text,” or between “readerly” and “writerly” texts, both of which distinctions are also habitually cited as theoretical anticipations of the technology of electronic writing. For Barthes, as for Derrida, however, the “writerly” “text” is always already immaterial, allusive, and intertextual—even in print. This is not to deny that in electronic writing the “work” has taken a different form, one that seems more closely to resemble the Barthesian “text.” But in describing hypertext or electronic writing as embodying the assumptions of Barthesian poststructuralism or Derridean deconstruction, electronic enthusiasts run the risk of fetishizing the “work,” of mistaking the “work” for the “text,” the physical manifestation (electronic technologies) for the linguistic or discursive text—as when Bolter claims that “electronic text is the first text in which the elements of meaning, of structure, and of visual display are fundamentally unstable.” 31 The force of the deconstructive and poststructuralist critiques is to illustrate the way in which this destabilization is true of all writing. To think otherwise is not to instantiate or embody these critiques but to mistake or ignore them. 32 [End Page 475]

Poster reserves his harshest criticism of Derridean deconstruction, however, not for its failure to account for electronic writing, but for its failure to provide a politically useful contribution “to the work of critical social theory, to its reconstructive task of analyzing late twentieth-century society.” 33 Because Derrida repeatedly refuses to provide “an examination in depth of the context of his own writing”—by which Poster means “the social context of computer writing”—he can only witness “from the outside the ‘more profound reversal’ of electronic writing.” 34 Like Landow’s and Bolter’s, Poster’s analysis of electronic writing relies heavily on its unproblematic characterization as immaterial, ephemeral, evanescent. The problem with this characterization, however, is that these ephemeral electromagnetic traces are dependent on extremely material hardware, software, communication networks, institutional and corporate structures, support personnel, and so on. In accounting for the social context of electronic writing, Poster (like other electronic theorists) repeatedly elides these very material, human, and technological contexts. This elision is emblematized in the following sentence from the book’s introduction: “In principle,” he writes, “information is now instantly available all over the globe and may be stored and retrieved as long as electricity is available.” 35 In the movement of this sentence from “in principle” to “as long as electricity is available,” Poster would elide virtually all of the important elements of the “social context of computer writing” that would seem to be the object of a truly “critical social theory.” Ironically, this sentence serves also to remind us of the way in which, while fetishizing the physical manifestation of textual form, the discursive logic of electronic writing habitually elides or marginalizes the material, technological context of electronic writing, even when the issue at stake is whether or how these new technologies alter or change current social, institutional, or political practices. In the next section I take up two interrelated aspects of the claim for practical consequences of electronic writing: the claim that the new [End Page 476] technologies demand a radical reconfiguration of humanities education; and the claim that the new technologies democratize writing and text-production (the question of politics).

Of the four authors under discussion, Landow and Lanham are the most enthusiastic proponents of the consequences of electronic writing for humanities education. For Landow, hypertext does for education what it has been seen to do for writing: “electronic hypertext,” he writes, “challenges now conventional assumptions about teachers, learners, and the institutions they inhabit.” 36 He sees hypertext as leading to a fundamental reconfiguration of the practices of traditional education—breaking down the distinction between teacher and student, redistributing time allocation, encouraging collaboration, making students more active, and providing expert material to novices. “Hypertext, by holding out the possibility of newly empowered, self-directed students, demands that we confront an entire range of questions about our conceptions of literary education.” 37 But despite these enthusiastic proclamations, and despite the quite interesting ongoing educational applications of hypertext that Landow describes, he is not optimistic about the short-term possibilities for hypertextual education. Hypertext is unlikely to produce “dramatic changes in educational practice for some time to come,” he argues, “in large part because of the combination of technological conservatism and general lack of concern with pedagogy that characterize the faculty at most institutions of higher learning, particularly at those that have pretensions to prestige.” 38 While this may be an accurate characterization of his own peer group, it is not clear that it is equally true of the current generation of academic faculty, many of whose careers have been led by interest, inclination, and economic exigencies into concerns both with computer technologies and with pedagogy. Indeed, economic and class concerns would seem to suggest another major stumbling block to the implementation of hypertextual education: funding. Landow fails to consider the economic consequences of his proposals—not only the costs of obtaining, maintaining, and upgrading hardware and software for faculty and students, but also the costs of keeping class sizes at a reasonable level. Despite his reservations about faculty at institutions with “pretensions to prestige,” his educational utopia takes as its model his own situation at Brown University, [End Page 477] where he describes his own classes of sixteen and twenty students, far fewer than those in similar classes at less prestigious institutions. Although Landow contends “that the history of information technology from writing to hypertext reveals an increasing democratization or dissemination of power,” in his discussions of the pedagogical and political consequences of hypertext, class and economics are invisible.

The same is true of Richard Lanham’s treatment of politics and pedagogy in The Electronic Word, a work that Bolter heralds as a first step toward a “positive theory” of electronic writing. For Lanham, as for Landow, the politics of the electronic word is radically democratic: “Digitization of the arts,” Lanham writes, “radically democratizes them.” 39 Further, “the people who developed the personal computer considered it a device of radical democratization from its inception.” 40 Like Langdon Winner, Lanham believes that artifacts do have politics, that there are “assumptions that come with a book: it is authoritative and unchangeable, transparent and unselfconscious, read in silence and, if possible, in private. And we see the particular kind of literary and cultural decorum, and hence self and society, it implies much more clearly too.” 41 For Lanham, these assumptions are particularly evident in the textbooks we find in our elementary and secondary schools: “These volumes—physically ugly, worn out if distributed in the public schools, bound in vile peanut-butter-sandwich-proof pyroxeline covers, unmarked since unowned, written in a prose style intentionally dumbed down by readability formulae which filter out all the pleasures of prose, written of course to offend no one—these volumes do a terrific job of teaching students to hate reading.” 42 Contrast this state of things, he writes, with “interactive video-and-text-programs, based on laser-optical techniques”: “An interactive compact laser disk can hold one thousand video stills, two thousand diagrams, six hours of high-quality sound, ten thousand pages of text, and have enough space left over to make it all work together.” 43 Such technologies lead Lanham (as others) to dream:

Imagine a major “textbook,” continuing over a generation, [he urges,] continually in touch with all the teachers who use it, continually updated and rewritten by them as well as by the “authors,” with the twenty-four-hour [End Page 478] electronic bulletin boards and the other one-to-one devices of communication such a network inevitably stimulates. Imagine a department faculty collaborating to produce a full on-line system of primary and secondary texts, with supporting pedagogical apparatus, to be collectively updated and enhanced; it might encourage a real, and nowadays rare, collegiality. 44

It is hard to deny the appeal of Lanham’s Lennon-like “imagination” of the electronic textbook. But as powerful, attractive, and desirable as this image is, and as depressing and unacceptable as his picture of current textbook-based education may be, the claim that “electronic ‘textbooks’ are democratizing education in all the arts,” 45 like the claim that “the electronic word democratizes the world of arts and letters,” 46 transfers political agency from people to things, from cultural practices to machines. In so doing, Lanham can easily overlook the fact that the current state of elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education is a consequence not only, not even primarily, of the technologies of writing they employ, but of the priorities we as a nation place upon education. It seems equally certain that as new electronic technologies continue to be installed in our schools, they will be installed not “democratically,” but by means of the same kind of trickle-down economics under which American education operated throughout the 1980s.

Or will they? Lanham’s and Landow’s discussions (and the questions I have raised about them) have all operated according to what Bruno Latour has described as the “diffusion model” of explaining the dissemination of technoscience. In this model, new technologies like electronic writing or hypertext are seen to succeed or fail based on their own agency, not on the agency of the people and institutions who have taken them up. Latour describes two bizarre consequences of this fairly common explanation of the dissemination of new technologies: “First, it seems that as people so easily agree to transmit the object, it is the object itself that forces them to assent. It then seems that the behavior of people is caused by the diffusion of facts and machines. It is forgotten that the obedient behavior of people is what turns the claims into facts and machines; the careful strategies that give the object the contours that will provide assent are also forgotten.” 47 For Latour, the diffusion [End Page 479] model “invents a technical determinism, paralleled by a scientific determinism.” 48 The conjunction of these two determinisms produces a

second consequence . . . as bizarre as the first. Since facts [like machines] are now endowed with an inertia that does not depend on the action of people or on that of their many non-human allies, what propels them? To solve this question adepts of the diffusion model have to invent a new mating system. Facts [like machines] are supposed to reproduce one another! Forgotten are the many people who carry them from hand to hand, the crowds of acting entities that shape the facts and are shaped by them, the complex negotiations to decide which association is stronger or weaker. 49

The diffusion model operates according to what David Bloor has christened the “principle of asymmetry,” in which society and culture are seen to enter the picture only when something goes wrong, to explain why it did not work: “society is simply a medium of different resistances through which ideas and machines travel.” 50 The failure of electronic writing technologies to have universally and immediately transformed humanities education, for example, would be accounted for in the diffusion model “in terms of the resistance, the passivity or ignorance of the local [academic] culture. Society or ‘social factors’ would appear only at the end of the trajectory, when something went wrong. This has been called the principle of asymmetry: there is appeal to social factors only when the true path of reason has been ‘distorted’ but not when it goes straight.” 51 This principle is evident in both Landow and Lanham, who seem to ascribe agency to academic faculty and administrators almost exclusively in their guise as Luddites. “Humanists are such natural Luddites,” Lanham writes, “and have become so used to regarding technology—and especially the computer—as the enemy that it takes some temerity to call the personal computer a friend.” 52 In the relations among theory, technology, and society described by Landow and Lanham, factors like class and economics, or agents like individuals or society, are seen, not as the cause of the proliferation of electronic writing technologies within elementary, secondary, and postsecondary humanities education, but [End Page 480] only as possible obstacles to the more complete dissemination of these new technologies.

If what I am claiming is indeed the case, that the discursive logic of electronic authorship simultaneously ascribes agency to and elides technology, then how are we to make sense of this failure to account for the materiality of electronic technologies, their imbrication in a multitude of economic, social, and cultural contexts? How can scholars who celebrate the democratizing possibilities of the new technologies fail to take into consideration their materiality, their economic and social costs?

One way to begin to make sense of this failure is to look at the recurrent trope of dematerialization used to represent the consequence of electronic technologies. For Lanham, as for Poster, digitization produces desubstantiation: “Digitization is desubstantiating the whole world of the visual arts. This common digital denominator of the arts and letters forces upon us a rhetoric of the arts like none seen before.” 53 Because all arts can be digitized, Lanham contends, they can be simultaneously desubstantiated and transformed both into a common language and into each other: “Digitization gives [the arts] a new common ground, a quasi-mathematical equivalency that recalls the great Platonic dream for the unity of all knowledge. Digitization both desubstantiates a work of art and subjects it to perpetual immanent metamorphosis from one sense-dimension to another.” 54 Like Poster’s vision of electronic writing’s dematerialization of the subject, Lanham’s desubstantiated utopia would elide both the programmer and the program-code, along with all of the culturally constructed assumptions by which sound and sight can be translated into digits and into each other—assumptions that are anything but simply mathematical or “quasi-mathematical.” Lanham’s elision of the material and social context of the computer (including, but not limited to, programmer, hardware, and software) is clear in a sentence inserted in the midst of a discussion of computerized programs for turning geometric drawings into music. Celebrating the way in which such programs make musical composition “available to performers without formal music training,” Lanham parenthetically qualifies: “(The computer training required is something else.)” 55 This parenthetical “something else” stands for what Lanham and others fail repeatedly to [End Page 481] theorize: the material, economic, cultural basis of this digital desubstantiation.

This elision of the material and cultural basis of electronic writing seems inconsistent with that aspect of the logic of electronic authorship that foregrounds the causal role of technologies. In noting that entities like writing, literature, authorship, or texts are seen not as neutral, transcendent, or disembodied, but as constituted by the particular technologies in which they are materialized, electronic theorists would call attention to the constitutive or determining role of technologies of writing or information. The logic of electronic authorship that I have been mapping out depends in the first instance upon the rhetorical move of historicizing technologies. To then imagine that current technologies of (and like) writing are destabilized by pointing out that they have histories is only to suggest that since things used to be different, they could be again. That is, to point out that literary or cultural or humanistic knowledge is technologically constructed is seen to lay the basis for a potentially significant challenge to the Western tradition’s assumption of disinterested knowledge.

Unfortunately, theories of electronic writing seem only to reproduce the fundamental logical oppositions that structure this tradition. The discursive logic of electronic authorship seems almost invariably to marginalize or elide its own central insights, either by making the technology itself transparent or by eliding the complicated discursive relationships between knowledge and power. While the logic of electronic writing that I have been tracing out depends upon the insight that the forms and content of liberal humanism are technologically constructed, it seems blind to the analogous insight that the great truths of the Western tradition are culturally constructed as well. William Paulson has attempted to explain this phenomenon, arguing that digitization and desubstantiation of the texts of Western culture strips them from their cultural and social context. 56 Because all information can be translated into digital code, can be made to appear on the screen in the same format as all other information, Paulson contends that electronic technologies are inevitably decontextualizing technologies. In so arguing, however, he reproduces the technological fallacy by ascribing agency to the technology itself. To imagine that digitally reproducing texts from two different historical contexts would decontextualize them is both to fetishize technology by making an idol of [End Page 482] the “form” in which writing is commodified, and to fetishize the particular historical context in which those texts were reproduced. Electronic information technologies do not decontextualize the texts of Western culture, they recontextualize them. Thus, rather than celebrating or lamenting electronic writing for decontextualizing or desubstantializing the great texts of Western print culture, we need to analyze the cultural work that electronic writing can do and already does.

In arguing for the cultural work performed by electronic writing, I do not mean to be taken as inverting the technological fallacy into a cultural fallacy, as suggesting that instead of considering technology as an agent of cultural change, we should consider culture as an agent of technological change. Rather, I would contend that the characterization of electronic writing as unstable, ephemeral, or dematerialized needs to be carefully reconsidered. Following the lead of Latour’s analysis of technoscience in action, I would suggest that to understand what is new and different about electronic authorship, we need to look at the way in which the network of inscriptions that constitute electronic writing circulates within a heterogeneous social space of cultural, linguistic, and technoscientific practices. In calling for thick historical or ethnographic descriptions of the circulation of electronic writing within this heterogeneous social space, I want to insist with Latour that technoscience and culture are not distinct, autonomous realms capable of “acting” upon one another but interrelated realms in which action is always made possible through the association of heterogeneous elements, in which technology and culture are organized through heterogeneous networks of strength, power, and alliance rather than separated into homogeneous, even if intersecting or interrelated, realms. Once we begin to pay careful attention to the circulation of electronic writing within these heterogeneous networks, I am confident that we will begin to realize that what finally makes electronic writing so remarkable is not its immateriality but rather its power to marshal such a diversity of material, cultural, and technological forces. Like print, but more powerfully and materially, the technologies of electronic writing function at what Latour calls “centers of calculation” to appropriate, incorporate, and control the heterogeneous network of cultural, linguistic, and technoscientific practices that constitute information capitalism at the end of the twentieth century. 57

Richard Grusin
Georgia Institute of Technology
Richard Grusin

Richard Grusin is Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Tech. He is currently at work on a book on the cultural history of the national parks in America, tentatively entitled The Reproduction of Nature: Art, Science, and the National Parks, 1864–1916. An essay drawn from the research for this book is forthcoming in Configurations in 1995.


1. Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 138.

2. Mark Poster, The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); J. David Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer in the History of Literacy (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1990); George Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Thoery and Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Richard Lanham, The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

3. Lanham, Electronic Word, p. 23.

4. Ibid., p. 4.

5. Bolter, Writing Space, p. 46.

6. Ibid., p. 89.

7. Poster, Mode of Information, p. 100.

8. Ibid., p. 128.

9. Landow, Hypertext, p. 95.

10. Ibid., p. 163.

11. Lanham, Electronic Word, p. 130.

12. Ibid., p. 101.

13. Landow, Hypertext, p. 27.

14. Ibid., p. 73.

15. Ibid., p. 25.

16. Ibid., p. 30.

17. Ibid., p. 43.

18. Ibid., p. 59.

19. Ibid., p. 73.

20. Bolter, Writing Space (above, n. 2), p. 3.

21. Ibid., p. 161.

22. Ibid., p. 162.

23. Ibid., p. 166.

24. Ibid.

25. Poster, Mode of Information (above, n. 2), p. 6.

26. Ibid., p. 100.

27. Ibid., p. 99.

28. Ibid., p. 111.

29. Ibid., pp. 127–128.

30. See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), for example, in the chapter entitled “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing,” where Derrida notes: “And thus we say ‘writing’ for all that gives rise to an inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, choreography, of course, but also pictorial, musical, sculptural ‘writing’” (p. 9). For Derrida, the kind of nonphoneticized writing represented by the digitization of information in computer technology already exists in any number of different forms. He locates this kind of writing throughout the epoch of the logocentric metaphysics of presence; it is not a form of writing awaiting a new technology.

31. Bolter, Writing Space (above, n. 2), p.31.

32. In Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), pp. 4–5, Barthes contrasts “readerly” and “writerly” texts, noting that writerly texts can only be found “by accident, fleetingly, obliquely in certain limit-works . . . : the writerly text is not a thing, we would have a hard time finding it in a bookstore.” Of course, he does not mean that the writerly text could be more easily found in a computer store, or on the Internet. Rather, as in his discussion of the punctum and studium in photography (in Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard [New York: Hill and Wang, 1981]), the accidental quality of “writerly” texts does not operate (as readerly texts do) according to a purposive semiotic structure. As with Derrida, Barthes is describing conditions of writing already present in print technology. Just as we already have writerly texts in print, so we would not have to strain our imaginations to come up with multiple examples of electronic texts that have all of the characteristics of the readerly.

33. Poster, Mode of Information (above, n. 2), p. 110.

34. Ibid., pp. 108, 110.

35. Ibid., p. 2.

36. Landow, Hypertext (above, n. 2), p. 120.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid., pp. 160–161.

39. Lanham, Electronic Word (above, n. 2), p.107

40. Ibid., p. 108.

41. Ibid., p. 8.

42. Ibid., p. 9.

43. Ibid., pp. 9–10.

44. Ibid., p. 10.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid., p. 23.

47. Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 133.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid., p. 136.

51. Ibid.

52. Lanham, Electronic Word (above, n. 2), p.23.

53. Ibid., pp. 3–4.

54. Ibid., p. 11.

55. Ibid., p. 12.

56. William Paulson, “Computers, Minds, and Texts: Preliminary Reflections,” New Literary History 20 (Winter 1989): 291–303.

57. Latour, Science in Action (above, n. 47), chap. 6.

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