Rethinking Textuality

  • Jerome McGann


As we have seen over and over again, complex problems emerge when you try to think about digital media through our inherited codex paradigms or vice versa. ‘The collision of these two marking systems—for that is ultimately what they are—came up repeatedly in our conversations about one of Johanna Druckers central concerns—what she calls “The Metalogics of the Book.”1 That subject shifted into useful focus when Drucker and I undertook a simple experiment with an OCR scanner. The point of the experiment was to use computer hardware to demonstrate what our thought experiments kept suggesting to us: that the rationale of a textualized document is an ordered ambivalence and that this ambivalence can be seen functioning at the document’s fundamental graphic levels. By “rationale” we mean the dynamic structure of a document as it is realized in determinate (artisanal) and determinable (reflective) ways. By “ordered ambivalence” we mean the signifying differentials set in play when a rhetoric of intention is applied to a document. Textual differentials at any level are a function of the effort to control or even eliminate them.2


Optical Character Recognition Language Game Digital Tool Digital Environment Textual Scene 
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  1. 7.
    See Ascher and Ascher, Code of the Quipu; Joyce Marcus, Mesoamerican Writing Systems. Propaganda, Myth, and History in Four Ancient Civilizations (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992)Google Scholar
  2. Elizabeth Hill Boone and Walter D. Mignolo, eds., Writing Without Words. Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes (Durham: Duke UP, 1994).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Don D. Roberts, The Existential Graphs of Charles S. Peirce (The Hague, Paris: Mouton, 1973).Google Scholar

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© Jerome McGann 2001

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  • Jerome McGann

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