Texts have been physical entities for a very long time. For centuries the written word has been physically represented on a surface, something to hold the text that the reader then interacts with to gather meaning from the words. Michael Witmore, in “Text: A Massively Addressable Object,” addresses—no pun intended—the sea change in textual representation that digitizing has ushered into the world and this change’s effect on textual “ontological status” (Witmore 1).
The “massive flexibility in levels of address” is an intriguing way to look at texts and the codes of language that allow for this “provisional unity” of the argument (1). Down to single letters, and as large as entire genre’s, these unities, give texts this “susceptibility to varying levels of address” at the heart of Witmore’s concept (1). In other words, digitization has brought new thought toward the reader’s function and the process of textual engagement, and whether or not that reader is human seems to be beside the point.
As we’ve written about previously in this blog, the human brain functions astonishingly during the act of reading: the speed of what Witmore terms the “continual redisposition of levels of address” as well as the mind’s imaginative force (1). Witmore writes of utilizing the computer’s ability to parse, to divide, to “address” texts by what they are programmed to recognize, and, in turn, uses this to study textual and linguistic structure. One aspect of language is its malleability. Conceptually, the composition and creation of physical texts can be understood in mathematic terms, much in the way a computer understands one or a thousand texts, or words or letters and numbers for that matter. But, how can we benefit from more than just pattern recognition and text mining? How can we pose ontological questions to texts and to ourselves as human beings seeing text in much the same ways only on smaller scales? Thought experiments involving text are one of digitizing’s byproducts that may be the future of the humanities.
Witmore, Michael. “Text: A Massively Addressable Object.” Print.
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