4.0186 Cyberspace (1/47)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 14 Jun 90 17:44:42 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0186. Thursday, 14 Jun 1990.

Date: Thursday, 14 June 1990 9:10am CST
Subject: 4.0179 Metaphysics of Cyberspace

Mike Heim's lovely account of cyberspace and the strange turns it gives
to designers' language dovetails nicely (as I expect he knows very well)
with his ostensbily more mundane question (in a previous message) about
what the literary-analytical software of the future will look like (and
about who will design that software). Richard Lanham has made the
argument ("The Electronic Word," _NLH 20 (1989) that the digitalization
not only of text but of work in other media, both visual and auditory--
and now tactile as well-- will work precisely to undo what books have
not been able to do: the fixity of THE text. Lanham argues that it has
been the central endeavor of humanistic scholarship since the
Renaissance to establish the text; but the electronic text is malleable,
mutable, to a degree unrivalled and impossible to print. My guess is
that there's an inextricable connection between what the
literary-analystical software of the future will look like and what the
software for "literary" *production* will look like, not only because
some of the analytical software will be designed to address the problems
posed by the "production" software, but also because the production
software, or the material it produces, will retroactively transform our
conception of older and more narrowly literary forms. That
transformation (those transformations?) is/are of course going forward
already: witness the arguments of Heim and others about the problematic
status of "the" text. We'll need software that knows about such
problems, software that avails itself of new means for representing the
complexities of what happens "in" a text as well as the complexities of
locating/constructing the object(s) of study. If interactive,
multimedia fictions become paradigmatic, as I think they will in the not
terribly distant future, and if the composers of such extravaganzas
start to employ the technology of cyberspace (expensive, yes, to be
sure-- but already down from the $300,000 range to something in the
neighborhood of $20-$30,000 for the "low-end" systems AutoDesk is now
working on), nothing we have now will be adequate to the task of
describing, tracking, analyzing what's "going on"-- not least because
nothing we have now is adequate to the task of tracking the "reader's"
experience of the material, or the reader's construction of the
material. (Another thing such scholarship will have to take into
account, I think, are "objects" like button scripts in, e.g.,
interactive fictions composed using tools like HyperCard: Stuart
Moulthrop, at the recent Computers & Writing Conference in Austin (May
17-20), did a brilliant demonstration showing that at least one of the
button scripts in John McDaid's _Uncle Buddy's Funhouse_ can and should
be understood as a poem capable of enacting itself.) And of course
we'll need to continue finding ways to examine the status of connections
between the virtual reality of the works under study and the virtual
reality of the work in the world... Oh, it's gonna be confusing! And a
hell of a lot of fun.
John Slatin, Univ of Texas at Austin