Looking at a new book on the subject, it must certainly be apparent that attentive careful expositions of flickering enactments of open screen text are best transacted in print. You can read all about it in Comparative Textual Media; Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, edited by N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman.
The production grit is well disguised with the University of Minnesota imprint drop shipped from the south side university press distribution plant operating under University of Chicago administration with products contracted from huge book on demand factories such as Lightning Source in Nashville. That’s “a burn on the Ryan” as we would say.
But the fancier transactions are the hand-offs of embodied sensations of flickering texts in the ambience. This is stretching the triad of surface, image and commodity that was imagined sufficient for all near-book-like reading, as if. Is everyone or anyone convinced that academic constructs should be driven to feral behaviors? Can humanist geeks and geek humanists survive in book city? Will our Hero, Resilience of Book Transmission dodge the screen sectarians and move on?
stretched triad 2
The magnificent program for art conservation at Buffalo State College provides intensive instruction and research across specialties of conservation treatment and materials analysis; between practice of Conservators and Scientists. Perhaps an open question is a stretch to a third component of practice and to a triad of transactions. This third vector would engage the practice of library preservation management as it emerges within the specialty of book conservation practice. Here we encounter the advent of digital humanities and the projection of book-centric preservation in this flickering screen zone of patrimony. Just such an instigation may occur.
We are supplying a learning aid for teaching book history to 4th and 5th graders. Of course one of the exercises will be with clay. The students are invited to use clay to invent writing using the exemplar of counting tokens.
The relation of commodity counting tokens and the advent of writing is recognized across five thousand years of archeological record as interpreted in studies of Denise Schmandt-Besserat. These enigmatic little wedges of clay and their counterpart tallies as marked on their clay envelopes provoke the most exciting recognitions. Here are just some from a few minutes.
The various tokens can all be made from a palm rotated marbles. These spheres can be flattened to make the discoids, rolled to make the cylinders and pinched to make the tetrahedrons and otherwise finger manipulated to make all others such as ovoids, quadrangles, biconoids, rhomboids or paraboloids. Beginning with the uniform clay marbles provides an elegant production method and the stylus marked symbols of shaped tokens schematize their shapes. Are the finger shaped tokens beginning to sound like words and their symbols beginning to sound like writing?
Johanna Drucker accounts for interplay of lettering templates and the binary displacement of defining and making letters. She notes the discord between technical image code and the ductile “clay” of hand inscription. If we compile recognition units of letter, word, and line together for our immediate purpose, we still need the tactile exercise for the children of making ideas into things.
It is a cognitive premise that we have pattern recognition powers applied to assimilate words as shapes. It follows that words are read as shaped letters and that lines of text are shaped words. From these derivative features we can surmise that symbolizing the shaped constructs, or writing, will also correlate with the cognitive pattern recognition strategy. Here is where technology intrudes. The shape transformer from token to symbol is a wedged stylus. Making one you immediately recognize the stylus as the pre-cursive type founders punch and then you also recognize cuneiform as counter relief in letterpress impression.
And there is another lurking discovery here. If words are shapes, what can be made of configurations or episodes of finger movements that elicit words from keyboards? And what is the implication of displacement from clay to finger prompting of mechanical and electronic lettering of words? Why are the counting tokens so iconic and keys so anomalous?
Keyboard displacement begins with speeding of text production. The Linotype operator produced text five times faster than the compositor at the case. Automation of mat or letter assembly, type founding, and mat distribution was integrated to a single machine/operator for the first time and the Linotype performed all three operations simultaneously in an eleven second cycle. Assembly of the characters was transformed as the spelled prompt from letter to letter was shortened while the keyboard also efficiently deployed punctuation, small caps, italic, bold, and other type sort variations within the same streaming assembly. This speeded text production, propagated content, opened new content genres and coverage and signaled the end of pirate copy for filling out content.
The Linotype keyboard features a different “lay” of the characters than either the arrangement of the case for hand setting and the typewriter or computer keyboard. Merganthaler’s design facilitated English spelling frequencies and accelerated keyboard navigation. Cut to Eldon, now well into his eighties, at the keyboard. Eldon is considered the world’s fastest living Linotype compositor and you can watch him and his fingers in the epic “Linotype: The Film”. Deaf Eldon’s touch-typing appears as lightning piano playing. The line-casting machine is alive with the automations he sets in motion. Using Mergenthaler’s ETAION array Eldon can set almost twice as fast as he could on the QUERTY array.
Another old “operator”, Buddy, was sent to typing class with teen-aged girls. He sat down and could type gibberish instantly. The instructor left him alone and soon he was typing perfectly. Remember, these operators can spell and hyphen -ate error-free. There is no “delete” key on a Linotype and a missed word can cascade a whole paragraph. What mysterious cognitive saccades are in place here? Where did the clay of the counting token go? Perhaps it is a “just so” story; that the recursive displacement between concept and clay or between imagination and making is the “thingness” of ideas. Children enjoy the ambivalence, stealth, good humor and eerie relevance of this situation so disconcerting for adults.
The diorama of American innovation of keyboard automation is well known. Adventures of a whole generation of inventors to cross over this obstacle of hand type setting are fundamental to later 19th century American enterprise and mass communication.
The Linotype exemplifies a near perfect syncopation of machine and operator interaction. The machine provides many cycle overrides but the operator must set the parameters for the machine cycle and respond to many signals, sounds, line sending actions, drive clutching and casting and distribution. Linotypes required continuous, on the fly, operator programming. This choreography began with the Linotype’s displacement of the compositor from the case and ended with the operator moved away from the machine itself.
The Linotype machine/operator collaboration proved versatile for a century. The Brooklyn made machine was used to produce a great variety of print genres and type matter. While line casting was applied primarily in newspaper production but it also came to wide use in many other printing specialties and was readily adopted for directory and bookwork. Its reliable performance in the field also advanced its use in job printing. It is no small wonder of its adaptability that line cast slugs could be locked up with hand set composition, half-tone cuts and display work or otherwise locked up as a matrix master for cylinder plate casting.
In the mid 1850’s on both sides of the East River young people were still fingering hand set type. Young Sam Clemens, “tramp” printer, was a lighting compositor in a Manhattan plant and Walt Whitman was making his first book in a dingy Brooklyn job shop. In the same decade other young ladies began fingering keys of typewriter arrays and Ottmar Mergenthaler of keyboard automation fame was born. A displacement between ideas and things was positioned to emerge as a force in the resilience of American literary transmission.
Other nineteenth century inventions such as telegraphy and instantaneous communication, photo print reproduction, web fed rotary presses, and electrical power all came to bear. Of new consequence was the live interplay of pictures and captions with such novel accommodations as expressive reference to photo imaged personalities. Text eventually flowed to tile compartments of the screen. New anatomies of literary and non-literary production became an American trait. Yet, as with other revolutions, the particular transformation to keyboard prompted text production was little remarked then or now.
One suggestive possibility here is that humanist anomalies such as the codex or the screen book obscure other inventions such as American keyboard texting. Perhaps Ottmar continued automation of words; just such a transaction is exemplified by his line caster and perhaps is now fulfilled in the server cloud displaced from molten metal. What is missing is the distinctive clay shaping of words of tally tokens associated with the advent of writing. The keys are uniform and the words are saccades of flickering finger motions. Just such flickering was apparent in early cinema frames and now is apparent in flickering page turns of screen books. Evidently our evolved mind can adapt to such innovations. Even more inherent may be productive merge and complementary integration of distinctive textual media.