Knowledge Ecology blogged earlier today about the difference between blogging and publishing books, which has become an issue of contention within “the speculative realist movement,” so called, since Ray Brassier’s disparaging comment in an interview last year. Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Levi Bryant all chimed in with responses. Below is my response:
In light of McLuhan’s theory of how new media technologies develop by swallowing prior mediums (similar to Hegel’s Aufheben, no?), perhaps we 20-somethings, whose capacity to think and to communicate can hardly be understood in isolation from electronic media like the Internet, have a unique perspective on the matter.
Were we ever, strictly speaking, literate? I don’t think so. My consciousness may still have been forged by text, but not the printed word of prior generations. Electronic texts are hyper-texts that defy the logic of linear, rational consciousness characteristic of 18th and 19th century literacy. The word has been etherealized by the electronic medium of the blog and is no longer bound to the stubborn materiality of books, nor to the ideological conservatism of the publishing industry.
Hyper-text gives the word greater freedom in time and space, linking it to an increasingly planet-wide network of contexts whose informational resources are available for consumption at the speed of light.
It’s important to recognize, however, the way the Internet represents a sort of culmination of capitalism. On a trivial level, without capitalism and the military-industrial complex, the technological infrastructure that provides the material conditions for our ethereal exchanges would not exist; but on a deeper level, the blogosphere has made truth something to be competed for within a free market (at least free to those who can afford Internet access).
Of course, academic publishing may still provide the necessary hierarchy of expertise protecting well-researched truth claims from the laissez-faire democratization that can occur online. Like the blogosphere, however, these hierarchies are still only justified by the strength of their networks and alliances.
In the end, I prefer to feel the weight of the written word in my hand. Books may not be quite as ethereal a mode of expression as blogs, but their imposing permanence sometimes makes the former seem ephemeral.