jc02 posted 9 Feb 2004

It will keep coming back to the culture of time, to the intrinsic temporality of signifying poetic automata.

Materiality is one of those terms that I know that I need in practice as well as theory. Hayles' formulations have helped me to clarify what I mean by it, especially, "The materiality of an embodied text is the interaction of its physical characteristics with its signifying strategies."* which, essentially, you paraphrase in the opening part of the quote from your review.

* 'Translating Media: Why We Should Rethink Textuality,' The Yale Journal of Criticism 16, no. 2 (2003): 277, original emphasis.

Focusing on literal substance, the literal artist sees larger linguistic structures as formed from literal limbs and organs. Basically, we are grateful for the corporal metaphors suggested by the conjunction of materiality and embodiment (while remaining wary of all metaphor if not denying it outright). At least these metaphors (disguised as critical thought) keep the abstracted, ideal, authorized edition at bay, that compiler of the disciplined and finally dead corpus. Or, you may be able to signify with différance alone, just let it vive.

Moreover, Hayles engages - more and more - with code as a constituent and co-producer of literary signifiers. She recognizes that the signifier of writing in networked and programmable media is coded. I've elaborated the many senses of code we use in this context and argued that, in its strongest sense - as operative in the generation or modulation of literary objects - code guarantees the temporality as well as the programmability of signification in the writing of new media.

In practice, what this means is that we will have to deal with literary signifiers that have durations within which the literal constituents of the signifying structures change and reconfigure, doing so without particular structures losing their identity for the purposes of interpretation.

Note that I do mean literary signifiers. Your invocation of sound in Loyer's WebTake involves other, audio, media where the durational materiality of the sign is already (and of necessity) well established. Although we are, indeed, trying to pin down and clarify the characteristics of literary automata that must be treated with the type of critical attention we apply to loops, clips and phrases of music or film, nonetheless, because we are still dealing with the literal, the symbolic, the literary, our critical methods must be, as Hayles would say, media specific - an amalgam of recognizably literary criticism and methods similar to those we apply to time-based art.