January 28, 2010 Archives

Taylor Mali also wrote (and performed) the equally masterful "What Teachers Make."
Assigned Text:

Bolter (WM 75-81)

  • codex (from Latin "tree trunk"; "code" of laws)
  • rubrication ("red letter day")
  • saccadic (eye-jumps; not struggling letter-by-letter through a word)
  • readan (OE "interpret, advise")
  • lego (Fr & It root for "reading" -- lecture; "to collect," to pick up while navigating a physical space)
  • boustrophedan ("as the ox turns")
  • paratactic
  • periodic

line (oral narrative; command-line interface)
tree (codex; mutations and expansions; what-happens-next branching fiction)
network (hypertext; LARP; MMO games)

Let's jump ahead and make a connection to cyberculture.
Bolter, an early hypertext theorist, argues that "The Homeric oral poetry shows that the network is older than writing itself" (81). 

Hypertext offers multiple paths through a text; two different hypertext readers could take different paths through the same text, just as auditors at two different performances by classical poet-storytellers could experience two different versions of the same epic legend. The fact that the reader of a hypertext could make choices that resembled the kind of choices the poet-performer could take was part of much of the hypertext theory of the 90s.  Of course, a the reader of a hypertext story can only choose to follow the hyperlinks the author has chosen to provide, whereas a bard has much more free reign to extemporize. 

So the author of a hypertext does have the same kind of freedom as the performer of an oral epic.  The reader of a hypertext can construct an individual path through a hypertext, while one audience member in a crowd is only one potential voice in what the crowd wants to hear next.

Assigned Text:

Homer (WM)

Assigned Text:

Plato (WM)

The world had already moved steadily into the manuscript age by the time Plato wrote this dialog. We need to use our intellectual imaginations to re-construct a world in which face-to-face oral communication was the way to get ahead in life.

In the 80s, it was still common practice for most people to hand-write rough drafts, then type them up at a final stage. At my university, people put up flyers advertising typing services; the department secretary would offer to type up one graduate student's dissertation each year. 

Typing was considered a skill that was separate from composition. You've certainly seen old movies in which the secretary walked into the office, steno pad in hand, while the boss dictated a letter.  (In the 80s, I remember a teacher saying that women with good typing skills should not mention that fact in their resumes, because they'd be snapped up in a service job and wouldn't get the kind of experience that leads to a promotion... but consider the story of Tiro, which we'll look at in Di Renzo's article, "His Master's Voice" soon.)

So, my story suggests that skill with a keyboard could hurt your career, since you'd be seen as tied to a keyboard, rather than seen as a source of interpersonal interactions that are important to a rise through management.  In a similar way, Plato tells a story that reminds us that conveniences that keep us from having to do drudgery also rob us of the opportunity to master a skill. (I for one have no desire to learn how to skin an animal and prepare its flesh for cooking -- I'm perfectly happy to depend on the technological conveniences that separate me from that process. Still, I admire the independence of those  people who do not need to depend on Wal-Mart to feed their families. Do I admire that independence enough to emulate it?  Sadly, no. But I don't really understand my place in the economic world unless I can identify and understand different points of view. What is your place in the world of ideas?)

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