Lanham’s Electronic Word

Richard Lanham
The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts
Area: Digital Media

•    The demand for the PC medium preceded the medium itself
•    Literacy will not be lost, but literacy of print will offer electronic means new ways to read and write (Bolter)
•    The electronic word incarnates the distinction between literate and oral cultures
•    Print = philosophic medium
•    Electronic screen = rhetorical medium
•    What does this medium do to us and for us?
Chapter 1: The Electronic Word: Literary Study and the Digital Revolution
•    Electronic typography is both creator-controlled and user controlled
•    I can literally color the color of my rhetoric
•    The boundary between creator and critic vanishes
•    Electronic texts and availability (both means and in a capitalistic sense)
o    No money left over for other texts, but electronic texts will change this
•    The ethics of quotation will be questioned with electronic media
7: “The pixeled word, in fact, seems to sharpen both horns of our current Con- and Deconstructive dilemma.  An ever-varying chameleon text forever eludes definitive explanation, as the Decons would have it, but it also invites rearrangements that would allow the Cons to have their way with it.”
14: “What will emerge finally is a new rhetoric of the arts, an unblushing and unfiltered attempt to plot all the ranges of formal expressivity now possible, however realized and created by whom (or what) ever.  This rhetoric will make no invidious distinctions between high and low culture, commercial and pure usage, talented or chance creation, visual or auditory stimulus, iconic or alphabetic information.  And rather than outlaw self-consciousness, it will plot the degree of it in an artistic occasion.
18: “Who will ‘own’ an interactive novel after it has been repeated and interacted with?”
Chapter 2: Digital Rhetoric and the Digital Arts
•    Typography becomes allegorical, a writer controlled expressive parameter
o    The electronic screen fulfills an already existing expressive agenda rather than prophesying a new one
•    The iconographic computer desktop was modeled after the Greek memory system (Nicholas Negroponte)
•    Classical rhetoric was built on a single dominant exercise: modeling
o    Oration, rehearsed over and over in every possible form and content
o    Today we model everything digitally, and usually visually, before we built it, manufacture it, or embrace it as policy or sales program
35: Burke: Flowerishes—“to ‘orient’ ourselves to this self-conscious form of proverbial wisdom, we must, like an illiterate pretending to read, turn the book round and round in an effort to make sense of it.”
37: “This textual painting does exactly what the computer screen does: it makes text into a painting, frames it in a new way, asks for a new act of attention—and smiles at the seriousness that text calls forth from us.”
40: “Perhaps the most widely debated, though far from the most important, issue involving electronic text is whether writing on a computer creates verbal flatulence or not. Certainly it restores to centrality another element of classical rhetoric, the use of topics, of preformed arguments, phrases, discrete chunks of verbal boilerplate, which can be electronically cut, pasted, and repeated at will.  Classical rhetoric argued that repetition, without intrinsically changing the object repeated, changes it absolutely, and modern philosophers like Andy Warhol have dwelt upon this theme, replicating everything from Brillo boxes and soup cans to rich and famous faces.”


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November 2008
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