Book review: Reimagining Textuality

textuality

Reimagining Textuality: Textual Studies in the Late Age of Print
Edited by Elizabeth Bergman Loizeaux and Neil Fraistat
U of Wisconsin Press, 2002

What is textuality at the beginning of the 21st century?
What does it mean to have a political culture mediated by the Web, where content can be sliced, diced, and recontextualized by and redistributed by hundreds of web sites?
Elizabeth Bergman Loizeaux is associate professor of English at the U of Maryland, where Neil Fraistat is professor of English. They offer a series of essays that address these questions from several perspectives.
As a discipline, they write, textual studies provides a broad umbrella for a host of subfields concerned with the production, distribution, reproduction, consumption, reception, archiving, editing, and sociology of texts. Scholars are exploring textuality beyond the printed word and assembled book, treating for the first time as the object of textual scholarship other cultural products that postmodern theory has been reading as texts.
They argue that the methods and concerns of textual scholarship are shaping and being shaped by other kinds of textuality beyond the book. Chief among these kinds is electronic textuality, which is creating new forms of textuality and making possible new ways of reproducing editing, and archiving texts.

Reimagining Textualityfocuses on three fields in which textual scholarship and postmodern theory and criticism are beginning to talk to each other about text and textuality in especially innovative and suggestive ways: textual editing, verbal-visual studies, and cultural studies.
The essays in the first section introduce current issues in textual scholarship, demonstrating the contributions made by postmodern theory over the past 15 years to editorial theory and practice. The essays in the next section grapple with the materiality of the text, in particular the visual component. The final section pursues intersections between textual studies and the fields of cultural studies and postcolonial studies.
Jerome McGann’s essay underscores the necessity for continued reimagining of the modes and methods through which we reproduce scholarly texts, especially as we work through the implications and possibilities of electronic textuality.
Daniel Ferrer argues that hypertext is not only a nonsequential body of verbal data, but is also a collection of electronic instructions and commands keyed to the verbal data, which allow it to be reorganized and reprocessed at will, keeping it in a state of flux. Hypertext, or rather hypermedia, offers a much more statisfying practical solution than the usual format of the critical edition.
Charles Bernstein writes that, for the generation now learning to read and write on computers, the medium of writing has radically and inalterably changed in ways that can be called hyperalphabetic if not postalphabetic. The association of picture, font, color, sound, link, and design creates a writing space that is closer to William Blake’s practice than it is to the school notebooks he grew up with.
Tim Hunt argues that textuality is historically conditioned and its terms and processes are intertwined with both social and technological conditions. Oral and literate cultures evolve different procedures for inventing and conserving verbal works, and ‘orality’ and ‘literacy’ encourage qualitatively different logics and styles of cognition.
New modes of storage: film, audio tape, video tape, and various digitized media, like written language — can be used to store, multiply, and circulate cultural products.
The performative and the compositional interact in varying ratios in the work of different individuals and graditions. These ratios, along with the interacting dynamics of different modalities of storage, transmission, and consumption, can be viewed as what we might call a rhetoric of textuality.
Stuart Moulthrop writes that electronic textuality is indeed something like barthesian or foucauldian texte: a teeming network of possibilities in which the evidence of the particular both excludes the general and testifies to its fecundity.

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