Jay Bolter, locative rhetoric, and eversion

Final post catching up on Computers and Writing on Bolter’s keynote speech. The bottom line is that Bolter offers a vision of inscription (of writing/composition) that lies far beyond what any but a very small group of rhet/comp faculty, even within computers and writing, are able to engage. I think it shows us a world slipping away from us and really speeding away from what institutions are able to understand and do.

But I want to speak to some of the particular details. As I’ve mentioned before, in an interview with Arthur Kroker, Kate Hayles somewhat playfully identifies April 1994 as the end of postmodernism, signaled by the arrival of the graphical web browser. Bolter gives a related history, a history in which he played a significant role, in the development of avant-garde hypertext fiction and early web philosophy, inspired of course by William Gibson’s kenning cyberspace. As Bolter notes, the early web articulated itself as a separate space whose utopian promise lay in its ability to allow us to leave history and materiality in meat space.

And I think we all know where that dualism leads, both practically and critically/theoretically. Nowhere especially useful.

Bolter’s contemporary interests are in the intersection of the virtual and the material: intersecting virtual characters with physical spaces, offering location-specific media through wireless networks, and so on. It is maybe not surprising that Gibson has made a similar journey to where his last couple books, but especially the most recent Spook Country deal with these intersections. Spook Country deals very directly with the kind of "locative media" that also interests Bolter. Cyberspace is everting, as one of Gibson’s characters announces, turning itself inside out. And Gibson offers a Hayles-like date for this transformation

May 1st, 2000: the day that the Pentagon decided to stop deploying "selective availability," a technology that caused significant degradation of the GPS satellite signal. After that day, public use of GPS become practical, and it has exploded since that time.  Hayles suggests that postmodernism ends because the web makes everyday/mundane the shock of modern world that pomo addresses. In a sense it makes real the metaphors and images on which postmodernity operated. (Don’t make too much of that; it’s just a thumbnail. I don’t want to get caught up in that issue here.) What I am interested in suggesting is that, in a similar way, the arrival of locative technology makes everyday and material the spatial metaphor or image of cyberspace.

The result is the end of the non-place, non-identity (i.e, the no one knows you’re a dog effect) of the old web and the arrival of a new topography, a new inscriptional technology of place. This is something I’ve touched on a couple times over the years in relation to the discussion of the geospatial web and other matters. However, with Bolter this is a more sweeping issue, this is part of a new way of understanding compositional processes that network the virtual-informational symbolic environment with the virtual-unfolding materiality of a topologically-articulated environment.

Anyone who disbelieves such matters has turned a seriously blind eye to modern warfare. Sadly we know this is still where so much of our technology comes from. As I would argue, the symbolic environment is ultimately material; it has to be. But it is also clearly a special case as well. We switch back and forth between the informational-locative mediascape and the rest of materiality, slowly at first, then increasingly faster, until we reach a low hum, a resonating blur.

Judge this condition if you like. To me, it’s enough just to begin to try to get my mind around it.

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