« Intellectuals, Books, and Gitlin | Main | Grossberg's "Articulation and Agency" Notes »

Thoughts on Paper and Technology

This is my third posting to the blog. Thought I knew what I was doing on the second try, but I had to have Matt May, with Amy's moral support, walk me through the process of doing this the correct way. First I posted to the "welcome" page, then I posted as a comment to Amy's most recent blog. My blog didn't seem to be occupying the appropriate space. So, this is my third, and final attempt. As they say, third luck's the charm, dammit!!

My thoughts about "Paper Machine" is that there seems to be more agency afforded to those who use technology in the circulation of texts via the internet. What I thought was important regarding his discussion of the word processor is how censorship is exercised not only by the person composing the text, but also by the programmer writing the computer program. On page 28 he discusses the fact that the program includes a spell check and dictionary and simply by the fact that some words are recognized as "normal"/standardized, this is a form of censorship. I think Sam's discussion touched on this implicitly, but I felt an explicit reference should be noted. He says, "It's instructive, too: what are the words that are not regarded as normal or acceptable in French usage, and so remain censored, these days by the contemporary dictionary incorporated in the machine, as they would be by some other media power for instance?" This quote seems to suggest that computer technology imposes censorship on language. At the same time, he proposes a possibility for more agency than I think we've encountered up to this point. Indeed, by the end of chapter 3, he's talking about possibility for resisting formal/institutionalized forms of censorship (such as the explicit forms Butler notes can be found in the law, or such as exercised by publishing houses and word processing programs). For him, circulation of signifiers on the internet opens up strong possibilities for re-signification. At least, that's how I read it.

Though we all aspire to see our names linked up with articles and books that we've published, the reality is that we may or may not be published, and/or maybe in venues that may or may not accept the ideas we promote (remember when Ron said QJS would not publish his article on "debating both sides). However, the internet is one space where re-signification is possible. He says, "A new freeing up of the flow can both let through anything at all, and also give air to critical possibilities that used to be limited or inhibited by the old mechanisms of legitimation--which are also, in their own way, word-processing mechanisms."

In chapter 5 I also get the sense that there's more flexibility for re-signification when using newer forms of technology. He says on page 60, "writing with ink is more fluid, and thus 'easier,' than on stone tablets, but less ethereal or liguid, less wavering in its characters, and also less labile, than electronic writing. Which offers, from another points of view, capacities for resistance, reproduction, circulation, multiplication, and thus survival that are ruled out for paper culture." This called to my mind the news I heard recently on Democracy Now about bloggers circulating a memo regarding Dubbyah and Tony Blair's decision to bomb the Al-jazeera television station back at the beginning of the War in Iraq. Perhaps this isn't what Derrida means by resistance, but maybe it is. I'm interested in knowing what others think. Democracy and freedom of expression and deliberation becomes an exercise one can participate in on the internet. It is also an example of people engaged in re-signifying what George Bush represents/signifies regarding spreading democracy around the world.

Additionally, I had the same feeling that Ron did about Butler's theory offering a limited possibility for resistance, at least when gender is concerned. For example, everything I know about queer theory suggests that there's only so much one can do when performing gender in ways that attempt to resignify male and female. Cross dressers will always resist the essence of femininity by wearing lipstick and high heels while at the same time reinforcing those binary oppositions of what it means to be woman or man. Jessica's example certainly suggests there is room for resistance, but the transgendered example is limited because that person remains on the margins. Doesn't really seem that the potential for shaking up gender binaries packs much punch, to be honest.

Derrida brings an excitement to the discussion, especially when one considers the amount of independent media and blogging that goes on these days. I don't keep up with it myself, but my spouse does a fine job of keeping me informed, and it seems there are pockets of resignifying and resistance going on out there every minute of every day.

As for my final thoughts, I wondered what it would feel like to flirt on the blog. I'm going to give it a try. Wink, wink!!!