11.0238 mind, body, book, imagination & the Internet

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 18 Aug 1997 23:16:36 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 238.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (43)
Subject: out on the inner trip

[2] From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler@ucla.edu> (7)
Subject: Re: 11.0236 out-of-body experience

[3] From: Glen Worthey <glenw@sulmail.stanford.edu> (81)
Subject: mind, body, book

[4] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (40)
Subject: imaginative uses of the Web

Date: Fri, 15 Aug 1997 10:41:10 -0400 (EDT)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: out on the inner trip


What strange musings you bring to us back from Wales.

At least that is one story I can compose out of the missives that you
have launched on certain parts of the actual world. Or such a
narrative is but a trick of memory or, more acurately, remembering.
Indeed reflection upon the activity of remembering as the fine
analysis you provide for the tagging of a tale of dismembering by
Ovidian hounds raises a quivering frisson concerning the ontological
status of what is remembered...goosebumps if you will about the simple
mundane transactions of storing and sorting.

The allusion sans citation above to one of your publications is for
some readers, placed in the position of overhearing, the
occassion of a minor case of the "common trauma" which, to transcode or
relabel, is also the great joy of the foreigness of homesickness to
the one intrigued by cultural differences (and similarities). The
value one assigns such experiences relates not only to what stories
one has been told, what one has preserved but also what one wants to
tell. The telological is never far away from the archeological in such
matters. Time bends.

That beast of indeterminate ontological status - what is remembered -
returns to us the wonderful though at times puzzling topic of
synchronization. To consider the intersubjective ground of "what is remembered"
brings out in the conceptualization of certain theories of memory a
notion that is logically prior to that of place: event.


is here. Memory as the activity of link making or link activating.
can be a leisurely walk around the palace or a dizzying run through it (Remember
those Flash Card drills for learning multiplication tables?)

Being online,

> Living like this, how can we not become rather different? But where is this
> pushing us?

Perhaps to an event where more people deal with artefacts, digital or
otherwise, as sites for the exercise of mnemonics and calculii, sites
where the made and the played are not all that different.

As ever, overdeterming the coincidences,


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Fri, 15 Aug 1997 12:20:12 -0700 From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler@ucla.edu> Subject: Re: 11.0236 out-of-body experience

Out of the body in cyberspace? One is out of the body when one really thinks or dreams or creates. At the screen, one comes back immediately as soon as one rises from one's seat and the back cracks and the knees falter. Not to speak of carpal syndrome. Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA Telephone/Facsimile: (310) 393-4648

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 13:45:41 -0700 (Pacific Daylight Time) From: Glen Worthey <glenw@sulmail.stanford.edu> Subject: mind, body, book

Willard's recent thoughts (and others' comments) on mind-body dualities and cyberspace brought to mind a recent review of an internet-only publication of a children's book, <cite>The End of the Rainbow</cite> by Bjarne Reuter, at <http://www.penguin.com/usa/buster>. The review, by Sarah Ellis, appears in <cite>The Horn Book Magazine</cite>, May/June 1997.

Ellis claims that her experimental reading of children's literature on-line was different from that on paper not in the physical ways of which we often hear: "I had expected that the use of a machine for reading would be uncongenial, but in fact it was fine. A laptop radiates a mild pleasant warmth on the lap; it leaves your hands free for your sandwich; and because it contains its own light, it solves the bedside light issue. I was pleasantly surprised."

What she found deeply unsatisfying about this type of reading was its _failure_ to transport her as book-reading on paper does: "By reading ..... I mean the absorbing experience of being taken out of yourself." She found that, while reading this electronic text, she was not as involved a reader as she usually is, not as attentive; the reading experience itself was not as "real" or memorable for her. "Reading from a screen," she writes, "turned me into a reluctant reader." For this particular task (and perhaps for this particular reader, although I believe many of us would concur with her), cyberspace turns out to be less transporting than paperspace; it proves less able to emphasize the mind-body difference, and less capable of enabling the jump from body to mind.

This little review makes other common-sense observations which seem to counteract some of the claims of computer media: "Reading on the screen also gave me a revelation about my own reading style. I realized that I do not read in a strict linear, steady way. I speed up and slow down. I skip. I put my finger in a page that I'll go back to when I've finished the really good bit that I'm on. I even occasionally start in the middle of a book. Looking back, I know that this is a reading style that I developed in childhood to cope with the problem of savoring versus galloping. None of this works on the screen. It is too cumbersome to scroll back and forth. Ironically, the medium which prides itself on being interactive and nonlinear was, in this experience, tiresomely inflexible, ploddingly linear." She also relates a similar, altered perception of time while using interactive media -- an impatience with downloading, scrolling, etc: She finds that "this 'just get on with it' mood is deeply antithetical to the reading of fiction."

Ellis recalls the "multisensual experience" of childhood reading that she missed in this experience: the tactile, visual, aural, even olfactory "child pleasures" of book reading -- "the pleasure of someone who knows that carrots cut in sticks taste better than carrots cut in coins." It strikes me that modern children's literature is a prototypically multimedia creation, even without considering the inexplicable (or perhaps less defensible) multisensory experience of childhood reading Ellis remembers; how and why is it that multimedia cyber-reproductions fail even in this regard?

Finally, the very appearance of the book on the Net prompts some economic questions, for the publishers claim that "the harsh realities of today's market for translated books" -- this one is an English translation from Danish -- "prohibit traditional publication in bound form. However, Dutton Children's Books believes so passionately that this book deserves an audience that we have arranged with the author for the complete book to appear only on the Internet and free to all readers." Doesn't prevailing wisdom in the humanities computing community hold that a good electronic text is often more expensive than a print edition? Or is this merely a shifting of financial burdens? And should we be grateful to publishers who refuse to print good books?

Ellis contemplates the possibility that her reading experience was perhaps poisoned by her grown-up association of computers with work, with heightened feelings of download-impatience, and that children may well "read" computers quite differently.

It seems to me that these are not trivial questions, but ones that relate to larger issues of reading and even of consciousness (child and adult, physically and cybernetically bound and unleashed) -- and, more immediately, to the type of political pronouncement that initially led Ellis to write about her small reading experiment: that school libraries would soon, thanks to the Net, become obsolete. We've heard that sort of claim before.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Glen Worthey Academic Text Service Stanford University Libraries ph:(650)725-5647 fax:(650)725-8495 glenw@sulmail.stanford.edu

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 23:05:53 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: imaginative uses of the Web

In "Oetzi the Alpine iceman cometh, but only between nine and five", Kate Connolly reports in this morning's Guardian on an Irish anthropologist, Tom Varley, who is doing his best for five months to live like an ice-age man. ("Oetzi" is the name given to the perfectly preserved specimen, found in a glacier about 6 years ago in the Oetztaler Alps.) "Dressed in animal skins and a grass coat, Mr. Varley, aged 41, is trying to piece together the life of 'homo tyroliensis'. He lives in Ferlach, Carinthia, in a hut made of branches and mud, and has planted a garden. His life centres on the fireplace, whose ashes he uses for rituals.... [He] survives on nuts, berries, roots and mushrooms, and by fishing in a nearby river. He hunts small animals, but only when absolutely necessary. He is not allowed to speak. Visiting members of the public can look into his three-acre enclosure but are not permitted to enter." His three daughters "consider him 'a weirdo, but they'd be upset if I wasn't'". Those of us with daughters, or sons, may be excused for wondering if he isn't painting a rather different picture from that of his offspring, who were not interviewed, but there certainly are children less lucky in their parents. "'It's great, living like this. You're free as the breeze. In the Stone Ages you could do what you wanted, you could sleep all day and you had no job to go to. I advise everyone to do it.'" Hmm. Not being an anthropologist I cannot say with any authority at all, but I'd guess that Stone Age men and women had to work reasonably hard to survive, like all the time they were awake, or nearly.

The remarkable thing about Mr. Varley's story, however, is that in the evenings he puts aside his Stone Age existence "to record the day's adventures in a daily diary, on the Internet at <http://www.swp.org/>". This is a very sophisticated site, with RealAudio clips of Varley speaking and a number of images. Most of the text is in German, but not the interview clips.

At first, I suppose, one marvels at the disjunction between the purist's imitation of something so very old followed daily by description of it using something so very new, and the humour of the article, more than hinted in the title, may point this disjunction into a dismissal. But the intensity of the effort is clear, and the passion to recreate a vanished past, with more than a little idealising of it, something very contemporary if not quite coeval with the net. And here we are, with him virtually in Austria, living out his experiment. Does he update his Web site while wearing his grass coat?

WM - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801 e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/>

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