Hayles 2021

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Hayles, N. Katherine. Postprint: Books and Becoming Computational. New York: Columbia UP, 2021.


“It is time — indeed, past time — to create a vocabulary and conceptual framework acknowledging the the sea change that occurred when computational media permeated the printing industry … The term I propose to designate this new state of affairs is post print” (2)

“The period from 1950 to 2000 represents a difference in scale so dramatic that it amounts to a qualitative, not merely quantitative transformation. It is not exaggeration to say it constitutes a rupture in the genealogy of printed books — the rupture denoted by the term postprint.” (2)

“The codes underlying digital texts position print in a profoundly different way than it was positioned in previous epochs, for in the posprint era hard copy becomes merely one kind of output among many possible displays.” (3)

“Th e diff erence is emphatically not between the materiality of print and the immateriality of digital forms, as is sometimes proclaimed, but rather between diff erent kinds of material instantiations and diverse kinds of textual bodies.” (3)

“My approach has been to scale up (and down) to what I see as the catalyst for all of postprint’s diverse aspects— namely, the emergence of cognition in artificial media.” (6)

Defines cognition as “the process of interpreting information in contexts that connect it with meaning” (6) — all lifeforms exhibit some kind of cognition, as does computational media

“interpretations and meaning- making practices circulate through transindividual collectivities created by fl uctuating and dynamic interconnections between humans and computational media, interconnections that I call cognitive assemblages” (8)

“The cognitive-assemblage framework enables to different kinds of discourses: one that focuses on the materialities of individual participants and another that focuses on the more abstract flows that bind entities together into a collectivity” (12-3)

“What kind of work can the cognitive- assemblage framework do in relation to postprint? It provides a way to conceptualize innovations in print technology as redistributions of cognitive capabilities between humans and machines.” (15)

2. Print into Postprint

"This chapter provides specific examples of cognitive assemblages in the history of printing technologies as the machines increasingly incorporated computational components and interacted in different ways with the humans who invented, implemented, operated, and oversaw them. As the machines’ cognitive capacities increased, so did their flexibility and their ability to take on tasks formerly done by humans. But the chapter also shows that the distribution of cognitive tasks between human and machine does not always mean that the more cognition the machine has, the more successful it will be. On the contrary, the Paige Compositor discussed here illustrates just the opposite; this case study indicates that if the cognitive load exceeds the technology’s ability to implement it, fragility rather than flexibility will be the likely result." (41)

5 nodal points:

  • "shift from human to machine cognition int he Paige Compositor"
  • invention of Lumitype phototypesetter -- rupture rather than shift
  • C/A/T (Computer Assisted Typesetter) of early 1970s -- digression; "opened possibilities that were cut short when phototypesetters gave way to more fully computerized devices such as laser printers and typesetters" (43)
  • merging of reprographic technologies with desktop publishing to make print-on-demand possible (43)
  • development of e-books and e-readers, making these earlier shifts/ruptures/transformations apparent to readers

"If we ask when text first became computational," would have to go back to Jacquard, example of woven book of prayers

Paige compositor

Linotype ultimately won out -- "By preserving the rendering system but scrapping the renditions, the Linotype instantiated in its “hot- metal” casting technique a new way to instrumentalize the traditional spatial distinction between type pieces set in forms and type pieces ready for distribution. Precisely because this new way reconceptualized how a manual technique could be mechanized, it simplified the cognitive load on the machine." (52)

"Paige sought to give the machine too much cognition at a time when cognition could only be implemented electromechanically and so ended up with a machine of such complexity and fragility that it could not be made commercially viable" (52-3)