Reading Digitally

Incanabulum by effekt!

To follow up the previous post, and demonstrate that I am taking a short break from the day of Yhwh in Amos by reading the publishing and digital culture blogs I subscribe to, here’s another post about a post.

Books and Publishing, after a faltering start when it seemed they were doomed to merely fetishise the print codex, have begun recently to point to some interesting material that takes new media seriously. As an example toiday they pointed me to a really interesting essay on First Monday “Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper” by Terje Hillesund.[1] The essay provides a good review of research on reading and a neat guide to thinking about the interplay of technology and reading, though in the essay will be familiar to readers here (see e.g. [3]).

Those really interesdted in the differences digital makes to reading (and so to writing?) will probably want to read the wholke thing, so for the rest of you, I’ll pick out quote:

Stallybrass demonstrated that printed Bibles in sixteenth century England were designed to support discontinuous reading, with indices and concordance lists supporting Protestant interpretations of the scriptures. Through studies of contemporary book annotations and diaries, Stallybrass documented that the Bible was in fact read discontinuously. That reading at a later stage, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was to be dominated by silent and continuous reading, especially of novels, can, according to Stallybrass, be seen as a return to an earlier form of reading: “To imagine continuous reading as the norm in reading a book is radically reactionary: it is to read the book as if it was a scroll.” [2]

Screenshot from iPad Alice video

Here we are reminded, and given (if we look behind the summary at Stallybrass’ actual work) evidence that digital hypertext preserves features familiar from codex text. Readers of the Bible, are well aware of this. (As I have said before, especially readers familiar with of the tradition of Rabbinic Bibles with features that many modern Study Bibles offer in pale and probably unconscious imitation.) But perhaps the ground to which this statement figure is also true: features of text are enhanced in hypertext, what was difficult becomes easy, what was an “extra” becomes basic, and as a result we do read – even the Bible – diffgerently!

1. The title is difficult to find, being printed at the bottom of the essay (go figure!).
2. Stallybrass, 2002, p. 48.

3. Articles: Tim Bulkeley, ‘Commentary beyond the Codex: Hypertext and the Art of Biblical Commentary’ in Johann Cook (ed.) Bible and Computer Leiden: Brill, 2002, 641-651 or “Form, Medium and Function: The Rhetorics and Poetics of Text and Hypertext in Humanities Publishing”, International Journal of the Book 1, 2003, 317-327
Blog Posts: 2008: The Rhetoric of Hypertext, Writing differently 2007: Blogging: text, hypertext and writer-text etc…

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