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Text, Medium and Meaning

Thursday-Friday, May 6-7, 1999 Konferencelokale II, Studenternes Hus
Organiser: Niels Ole Finnemann

The conference will be concerned with concepts of printed and electronic texts. A dominant figure of the 90s has been the opposition of the »modern«, printed text, described as linearised, hierarchical, centralised, rationalistic and closed, and the »post-modern«, electronic hypertext described as non-linear or multilinear, decentralised, associative and open network systems of interlinked nodes, favouring free choices and allowing the integration of both images and sounds and the establishment of new interconnections.

Though there is no reason to doubt that the computer provides a new »writing space«, it seems reasonable to ask whether the experiences still fit into the binary opposition of printed and electronic texts, and to consider more closely the various propositions inherent in the predominant scheme, and possibly bring new considerations into the understanding of the relation between medium, text, and meaning. The speakers are invited to (re-)consider the relation between text, medium and meaning in the light of the development of new representational techniques and new means of narration within the last ten to fifteen years, an/or in theoretical, historical and philosophical perspectives.


Thursday, May 6, 1999

09.00-09.15 Niels Ole Finnemann: Introduction
09.15-10.45 Jay D. Bolter: Remediation: Understanding New Media
11.15-12.45 Andrew Morrison: NOW ONLY 19.99: Bargaining with participatory design in Zimbabwe
12.45-14.00 Lunch
14.00-15.30 Mette Birkedahl Christensen: Superhighways and Kitchen Doors - in the Territory of the Museum
15.30-16.00 Coffee Break
6.00-15.30 George P. Landow: Hypertext with and without links
Friday, May 7, 1999
09.00-10.30 George P. Landow: New Kinds of Text, New Kinds of Selves: Examples from Hyper Fiction
10.30-11.00 Coffee break
11.00-12.30 Espen Aarseth: What is Hypertext and Why Are They Saying Such Wonderful Things about It?
12.30-14.00 Lunch
14.00-15.30 Niels Ole Finnemann: The Representational Capacities of the Binary Alphabet [manuscript]
15.30-16.00 Coffee break
16.00-17.30 Panel discussion - conclusions


Professor (Language, Communication and Culture), Georgia Institute of Technology; and acting Director for Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center, USA. Prof. Bolter has made original and valuable contributions to putting computer technology into perspective in the history of civilisation, and is a leading scholar of hypertext-systems. His publications include Remediation: Understand New Media, (with Richard Grusin) MIT Press (1998), Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing, Erlbaum (1991) Bolter is also a co-author of the software system for hypertext writing: Storyspace (1994). Web: alt="Main page"

Cand.mag. (Etnography and Social Anthropology, and Eastasia Area Study) PH.D. Student at Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus, Financed by the The Danish National Centre for IT Research (CIT). Ph.D. study: Social Anthropological and Culture Theoretical Perspectives in Multimedia Design. Field of study: Museums and the WWW/Internet. Inspiration website: Smithsonian without walls

Dr.phil., Director, Centre for Cultural research, University of Aarhus. Finnemanís publications include Tanke, Sprog og Maskine - en teoretisk analyse af computerens symbolske egenskaber (1994) (An English translation: Thought Sign and Machine - the Computer Reconsidered is available on Recent publication (in Danish): Computeren - et medie for en skriftteknologisk revolution. In J.F. Jensen: Multimedier, Hypermedier, Interaktive Medier, Aalborg (1998). Web:

Professor of English and Art History at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA. A leading scholar of Ruskin and Victorian literature and culture, Professor Landow is also internationally recognised as a theorist of hypertext. His publications include: Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, Johns Hopkins University Press (1991), reissued in much revised form as Hypertext 2.0 (1997). Hyper/Text/Theory, Johns Hopkins University Press (1994), and numerous articles. Web:

Lecturer in Linguistics Department University of Zimbabwe since 1986. Secretary General of Association of University Teachers of Literature and Language (ATOLL) in SADC region 1987-1992. Ph.D. research fellow at Institute for Media and Communication University of Oslo since 1994. Web:

ESPEN AARSETH, Assoc. Professor, Dept. of Humanistic Informatics, University of Bergen. Aarseth has established himself internationally with the publication of the book: Cypertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press (1997). Forthcoming (in Norwegian): Datahåndbok for Humanister. Oslo: Ad Notam/Gyldendal (1999). Director of "Språkpedagogikk-prosjektet CALLMOO" Web: and


JAY DAVID BOLTER: Remediation: Understanding New Media

The new digital media today are characterized by the ways in which they pay homage to, borrow from, rival, and refashion both their predecessors and one another; I call this process "remediation." The World Wide Web, for example, remediates print, graphic design, film, and television: in each case, web designers are trying both to appropriate the cultural status of the earlier medium and to surpass that earlier medium by providing more information and a more compelling experience. Older, established media can remediate newer ones too. For example, both printed newspapers and television news programs are now borrowing from the visual design of the World Wide Web; animated and live-action films are remediating computer animation; and so on. Remediation is at work throughout our media-saturated environment. We can identify two, apparently contradictory strategies for remediation. On the one hand, our culture wants to believe that its media can become transparent and provide us with "immediate" experience. Each medium claims to be better than its rivals at achieving immediacy. "Live" point-of-view television programs show us what it is like to accompany a policeman on a dangerous raid. Filmmakers spend tens of millions of dollars to film on location in order to make their viewers feel as if they were "really" there. Internet sites promise us stories, images, and now video that is up to the minute--all in the name of immediacy. On the other hand, these same media are often anything but transparent. Web sites become riots of diverse media forms. Hollywood films self-consciously mix media forms and styles. Televised news programs feature split screens, multiple video streams, computer graphics and text on the screen--a welter of media that is nevertheless meant to make the news more perspicuous. Our culture seems equally committed to its desire for immediacy and its fascination with media. What is remarkable is that these contradictory logics of remediation not only coexist, but are mutually dependent. Our culture wants both to multiply its media and at the same time to erase the traces of mediation.

GEORGE P. LANDOW: New Kinds of Text, New Kinds of Selves: Examples from HyperFiction

Digital information technology transforms writing from physical marks on physical surfaces to a virtual text composed of layers of codes upon codes. As a result, our notions of the relation of text to a range of issues - such as self, ownership, dissemination, limit, and limitation - change radically. Combining digital writing with networked computer technology creates new textual conditions which blur our long-conventional assumptions about the beginnings, ending, and edges (or borders) of literary texts. Since each information regime, or age of information technology, has provided models for the self, what then occurs to the way human beings write and narrative selves in e-space? Looking at various hyperfictions, including Joyce's Afternoon and Jackson's Patchwork Girl, we shall examine the way some pioneering writers explore - and reconstruct ó our notions of self an identity.

Weblinks: George P. Landows homesite: The hypertext section of the Cyberspace, Hypertext, and Critical Theory site, which consists of dozens ofelaborate student projects in prof Landows courses on these subjects:. Those interested in educational and scholarly applications should look at the better known Postcolonial and Victorian sites:

ESPEN AARSETH: What Is Hypertext And Why Are They Saying Such Wonderful Things About It?

Hypertext has caught on in the Humanities like no other computer-related phenomenon. Even in literary studies (where loathing used to be the default attitude to anything computerized, cf. the stylistics debate and Stanley Fish's essay alluded to in the title), hypertext was relatively quickly received with interest and optimism, even before the WWW. The hypertext movement seems to convey an ideological perspective that is attractive and persuasive, and yet unclear. What is hypertext? By asking this seemingly unnecessary question, we may gain a better understanding of the practices and politics of the hypertext field. Is Hypertext an existing technology, concrete and definable, a set of features that everyone agrees on?

  • Is it a soon-but-yet-to-come vision of a solution to all (or most of) ourinformation problems?
  • Is it a more "natural" way of writing (and of communicating - not to mention "thinking" - in general)?
  • Why is it so successful in the Humanities?
  • Does it represent a complete break with "paper technology"?
  • Or is hypertext just a word, one (dominant) name for the highly contested and diverse field of digital textual communication?
  • Where does hypertext end, and other modes of textuality/computer communication begin?

To sum up these questions with a final one: Is hypertext a scientific, analytical concept, or an ideological, polysemantic term used as a rhetorical device by workers in the field?

ANDREW MORRISON: NOW ONLY 199.99: Bargaining with participatory design in Zimbabwe

In countries on the `electronic periphery`, the ongoing development ofmultimedia literacies and the building of web-based resources depends on collaborative engagement between a range of participants motivated to invest in innovation rather than fixed returns. Bargaining with participatory design in computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) in `higher education` in Zimbabwe inludes learning how to communicate within new electronic environments while access to global networks is slow and often interrupted. However, this bargaining has also needed to trade off the claims of collaboration and participatory design for new media with the pragmatics of developmental learning on the part of teachers and students already burderned with other structural restrictions common to `developing countries`. Learning how to use multimedia in higher education has also required that the processes and products of learning are shared within a small group of motivated participants so that they these may in turn be negotiated with other participants and users. A group of student per tutors and trainers has thus needed to introduce a wider audience tothe potential of new media in meeting ongoing needs in possibly different ways. Problem and production based learning have been used to build multimedia resources. Achieving consensus about these resources has required iterative display of multimedia content and methods so as to generate interest and subsequently enable greater participation. The lecture/paper illustrates these arguments and processes via, 1) Web presentations of participatory visual design and workshop based sessions with post-graduate Media Studies students, and 2) examples from four case studies in CD-ROM from the HyperLand project on multimedia pedagogies in academic communication support and development.

METTE BIRKEDAHL CHRISTENSEN: Superhighways and Kitchen Doors - in the Territory of the Museum

The lecture describes some results from an ongoing historical research and ethnographic field study at the Women´s Museum in Denmark (situated in Aarhus). The results will be used for developing prototype exhibitions for the World Wide Web. In the paper presented the focus is on the special skills of presentation developed in the museum setting and the different presentation paradigms, especially the various gender perspectives communicated.

Since it´s start in 1982, The Women´s Museum in Denmark has distinguished itself from more traditional museums by developing new presentations paradigms. Their gender discourse has eroded the institutionel tone and attitude that pervades most museums, giving it a greater degree of individual expression. The museum staff use oral, non-linear and theatric installations, and experiment with moveable displays and exhibitions in tents, letting visitors touch, open drawers and sneak looks into the private lives of some women. These forms of presentation applied to the World Wide Web might provide webusers withÇ kitchen doorsÇ into subject areas and provoke a general reflection on the more stereotype presentation of institutions on the web.

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Updated 21 November 2000 by smc. Please mail comments to the web editor at Centre for Cultural Research.