Notes for N. Katherine Hayles Print is Flat, Code is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis

Expanding textuality beyond printed page likely retains fascism of semiotics, eliding differences in media.

(68) Lulled into somnolence by five hundred years of print, literary studies have been slow to wake up to the importance of media-specific analysis. Literary criticism and theory are shot through with unrecognized assumptions specific to print. Only now, as the new medium of electronic textuality vibrantly asserts its presence, are these assumptions clearly coming into view.
(68) Useful as [Barthes'] vocabulary of text was in expanding textuality beyond the printed page, it also had the effect, in treating everything from fashion to fascism as a semiotic system, of eliding differences in media.
(69) Attuned not so much to similarity and difference as to simulation and instantiation, MSA moves from the language of “text” to a more precise vocabulary of screen and page, digital program and analog interface, code and ink, mutable image and durably inscribed mark, texton and scripton, computer and book.
(69) If we restrict the term
hypertext to digital media, we lose the opportunity to understand how a literary genre mutates and transforms when it is instantiated in different media – in this case, the genre of literary hypertext – and then varying the media to explore how medium-specific constraints and possibilities shape texts.
(70) With significant exceptions, print literature was widely regarded as not having a body, only a speaking mind.
(71) Rather, materiality should be understood as existing in complex dynamic interplay with content, coming into focus or fading into the background, depending on what performances the work enacts. I can think of many contemporary electronic works that foreground the interplay between natural language and computer code . . . but I know of no work that foregrounds the computer's power cord.

Materiality reconceptualized as interplay of physical characteristics and signifying strategies.

(72) The crucial move is to reconceptualize materiality as the interplay between a text's physical characteristics and its signifying strategies. This definition opens the possibility of considering texts as embodied entities while still maintaining a central focus on interpretation. In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the interpretive activities of readers and writers. Materiality thus cannot be specified in advance; rather, it occupies a borderland – or better, performs as connective tissue – joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user.

Construct typology of electronic hypertext by considering the medium and extent to which its effects can be simulated in print.

(73) The point here is to explore what Bolter and Grusin call reverse remediation, the simulation of medium-specific effects in another medium, as when Voyager Expanded Books simulated turning down page corners and marking passages with paper clips. My technique, then, amounts to constructing a typology of electronic hypertext by considering both the medium in itself (its instantiation in digital computers) and the extent to which its effects can be simulated in print (the reverse remediation that blurs the boundary between electronic media and print).

Point One: Electronic Hypertexts Are Dynamic Images

Point 1: electronic hypertexts are dynamic images.

(75) Code always has some layers that remain invisible and inaccessible to most users. From this we arrive at an obvious but nevertheless central maxim: print is flat, code is deep.

Point Two: Electronic Hypertexts Include Both Analog Resemblance and Digital Coding

Point 2: electronic hypertexts include analog resemblance and digital coding.

(76) Print books and digital computers both use digital and analog modes of representation, but they mobilize the two modes differently.

Point Three: Electronic Hypertexts Are Generated through Fragmentation and Recombination

Point 3: electronic hypertexts generated through fragmentation and recombination.

(77) With digital texts, the fragmentation is deeper, more pervasive, and more extreme than with the alphanumeric characters of print. Moreover much of the fragmentation takes place on levels inaccessible to most users.

Point Four: Electronic Hypertexts Have Depth and Operate in Three Dimensions

Point 4: electronic hypertexts have depth and operate in three dimensions.

(78-79) To distinguish between the image the user sees and the bit strings as they exist in the computer, Espen Aarseth (1997) has proposed the terminology scripton (the surface image) and texton (the underlying code). . . . With electronic texts there is a clear distinction between scriptons that appear on screen and the textons of underlying code, which normally remain invisible to the casual user.
(79) In reverse remediation, some books play with this generalization by making print pages inaccessible.

Point Five: Electronic Hypertexts Are Bilingual, Written in Code as Well as Language

Point 5: electronic hypertexts are bilingual.

Natural language intersects code in comment lines and underlying syntax.

(79-80) Typically, natural language appears at the top (screenic) level, although it is also frequently found at lower coding levels in comment lines. More subtly, it serves as ground for the syntax and grammar of computer languages, which are specifically permeated, as Rita Raley (2001) has argued, with the linguistic structures and grammar of English. . . . Rigorously speaking, an electronic text is a process rather than an object, although objects (like hardware and software) are required to produce it. Moreover, an algorithm is normally considered to be a procedure defined by explicit rules that can be specified precisely.
(80) Increasingly, writers working in electronic media exploit the word/code interplay by crafting a creole, visible on the screen, that comprises English and pseudopogramming expressions. MEZ (Mary Ann Breeze), for example, has formulated a pidgin she calls “mezangelle,” a bilingual practice that breaks the conventional link between phoneme and written mark, forging new connections between code and English.
(81) The the creator of an artist's book who manipulates an Exacto knife to make delicate cutouts in heavy white Italia paper and painstakingly sews the pages together, the writer of an electronic text is intensively aware of the entwining of intellectual, physical, and technological labor that creates the text as a material object.

Point Six: Electronic Hypertexts Are Mutable and Transformable

Point 6: electronic hypertexts are mutable and transformable.

Linguistic levers have equivalent ancient Greek rhetorical concept.

(81) The layered coding levels thus act like linguistic levers, giving a single keystroke the power to change the entire appearance of a textual image.
(81-82) Print books can simulate the mutability of electronic texts through a variety of strategies, from semitransparent pages that overlay onto other pages to more elaborate strategies.
(82) Although this book [
A Humument] is not dynamic in the same sense as Javascript, the hypertextual effects it achieves through mutation and transformation are complex and dynamically interactive.

Point Seven: Electronic Hypertexts Are Spaces to Navigate

Point 7: electronic hypertexts are navigable spaces.

Point Eight: Electronic Hypertexts Are Written and Read in Distributed Cognitive Environments

Point 8: electronic hypertexts are written and read in distributed cognitive environments.

(84) It is not longer a question of whether computers are intelligent. Any cognizer that can perform the acts of evaluation, judgment, synthesis, and analysis exhibited by expert systems and autonomous agent software programs should prima facie be considered intelligent. Books also create rich cognitive environments, but they passively embody the cognitions of writer, reader, and book designer rather than actively participate in cognition themselves.

Point Nine: Electronic Hypertexts Initiate and Demand Cyborg Reading Practices

Point 9: electronic hypertexts initiate and demand cyborg reading practices.

Resistance to electronic texts by rigidly enculturated students, and the ease by children of becoming cyborgs.

(85) Because electronic hypertexts are written and read in distributed cognitive environments, the read necessarily is constructed as a cyborg, spliced into an integrated circuit with one or more intelligent machines. . . . To be positioned as a cyborg is inevitably in some sense to become a cyborg, so electronic hypertexts, regardless of their content, tend toward cyborg subjectivity.
(86) Attention to material properties enhances our understanding of how some digital works are evolving along trajectories that increasingly diverge from books as they experiment with the new possibilities opened up by electronic environments. . . . the textual space is increasingly represented as a topographic area to explore, with layered strata, hidden openings, crosscutting pathways, links between different world levels, and other spatial and temporal unfoldings that merge the functionality of the artifact – its material and processual properties – with the representations of the imagined world we create when we read.
(87) digital media have given us an opportunity we have not had for the last several hundred years: the chance to see print with new eyes and, with that chance, the possibility of understanding how deeply literary theory and criticism have been imbued with assumptions specific to print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. "Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis." Poetics Today 25.1 (2004): 67-90. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <>.