Friday, March 27, 2009

Readers versus Processors / Losers versus Users

One thing I dislike about the empiricist and positivist turn in recent so-called materialism is that reading goes missing.  It's all about the device and how it may be used.  Nothing goes missing, supposedly, and nothing gets lost.  Reading is processing information.  Texts thus become irrelevant.  It's all about the data. Today I returned to Geoffrey Hartman's The Fate of Reading (1975) and was drawn to the subheading of his lead essay, entitled "Reading: Alive or Dead?"  Hartman's humanism gets in the way of an analysis of reading and writing machines (he wants to keep reading and writing mutually reenforcing activities), but it's still worth a look.  See p. 272 for example:
"I hate to end on a question that sounds like a dignified whimper.  but modern "rithmattics"--semiotics, linguistics, and technical structuralism--are not the solution.  They widen, if anything, the rift between reading and writing.  They convert all expression into generative codes needing operators rather than readers."

From a Freudian perspective, however, all readers are operators, their close readings driven by their obsessive compulsiveness.  reading is not "semi-automatic," it is always already automatic (the essence of the human is a machine).  Avital Ronell maintains in the Telephone Book that readers and writers are always effectively telephone operators, subject to hang ups, obscene phone calls, dropped calls, time lags, belated transmissions, missed calls, and so on.

For a more probing account of writing and reading, I recommend Derrida's Paper Machine and Lacoue-Labarthes on the auto in Tyopgraphies.

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