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Writing and Reading: Mosaics and Nonlinearity, Part One

1 June 2012 by

In 1951 Marshall McLuhan published his first book entitled, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Besides its title being partially derived from Duchamp’s work on glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, what’s interesting about the book is the way its contents are non-linearly sequenced. The book is disjointedly comprised of various popular advertisements and articles [of McLuhan’s time] that are each accompanied by a short critical analysis by McLuhan. Because there is no weaving together of each analysis into any kind of distinct narrative–only isolated subjects (though there is a grand theoretical narrative that is apparent), one could essentially open the book, land on any page and begin reading, jumping around from page to page until completion. McLuhan actually coined a term to describe this type of reading arrangement, calling it a ‘mosaic approach’ to consuming and contextualizing content.  In this way, The Mechanical Bride parallels the nonlinear structure of the blog and in fact, could comfortably exist as such.

Today, there is much critical investigation into the ‘new’ ways we read and understand texts. Many summarize today’s reading and publishing processes as being in some way afflicted by the pace of the internet and other mediated platforms and for the most part this is true. With this though, there seems to be a large, confused debate concerning reading on the screen versus reading in print, and the intrinsic properties that can be discerned between the two—and this perhaps is yet again, another case of digital dualism. Many argue that today, again under the influence of the screen and the internet, that reading is no longer reading, but using: the screen emphasizes ‘looking’, strategizing and specifically picking out certain words and phrases, allowing one to skim across content and find what one needs. Many are also concerned about an emerging generation failing to read and digest larger, more comprehensive texts because of the redirection into these digital formats.  Many of course also reason against these propositions and concerns, some even suggesting that this type of ‘speed reading’ is the future and that one must meet the future with acceptance (or rather an all too willing tolerance).  However, for now, for part one, I’m not directly interested in this ‘reading and understanding’ debate.  My current views on such matters do not align themselves with such distinct severing of technologic forms but rather understand offline and online to be cumulative experiences, absent from any nonsensical, hierarchical privileging that usually pins one experience, or format, over the other (atoms and bits).  Whatis interesting though, is the fluid properties of the blog, of the ‘mosaic approach’ to not only reading, but writing and furthermore how blogs become books and how books are really blogs. It is this diffusion I wish to briefly explore.

While there is so much talk and writing concerning digital and print formats and their differing modes of perception/communication, there are surprisingly few interrogations that really address and even utilize these two formats cohesively, and even fewer theoretical/philosophical texts that attempt to experiment with the relationships between them.  I Read Where I Am, is a reader comprised of 82 essays (with an average of about 500 words per essay) that is compiled by Mieke Gerritzen, Geert Lovink, and Minke Kampman, and is one elegant attempt that really exemplifies such relationships (extensive thoughts on this to come). Another though, perhaps an example more direct, is the book Post-Internet by writer and thinker Gene McHugh. It is these two books that I’m going to talk about for the next few days.

 

Hand Motions is a blog column on DINCA continually featuring writing from Louis DoulasWyatt Niehaus and Ria Roberts.

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