Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis

Hayles, N. Katherine
Poetics Today

Lulled into somnolence by five hundred years of print, literary analysis should awaken to the importance of media-specific analysis, a mode of critical attention which recognizes that all texts are instantiated and that the nature of the medium in which they are instantiated matters. Central to repositioning critical inquiry, so it can attend to the specificity of the medium, is a more robust notion of materiality. Materiality is reconceptualized as the interplay between a text's physical characteristics and its signifying strategies, a move that entwines instantiation and signification at the outset. This definition opens the possibility of considering texts as embodied entities while still maintaining a central focus on interpretation. It makes materiality an emergent property, so that it cannot be specified in advance,as if it were a pregiven entity. Rather, materiality is open to debate and interpretation, ensuring that discussions about the text's“meaning” will also take into account its physical specificity as well.