EESE Strategy Statement No. 6

Information Society and the Text:
the Predicament of Literary Culture in the Age of Electronic Communication

Fritz-Wilhelm Neumann (Erfurt)

Communication is the foundation of a culture which has been built upon symbolic exchanges. The modern media created a society which is permeated and constantly reshaped by them. Obviously, as predicted in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), the individual mind has come under the influence of the image produced by the media, and even the text has changed in character. In our brains the speed of image processing has increased since the 1950s and early 60s, when camera movements were slow and a lot of text was spoken or performed on the screen. With the changing face of the media, semi-illiteracy has increased, too, and this paper is to argue that we should be concerned about it. Worse still: are the majority in western culture regressing towards a secondary narcissism, as Jochen Schulte-Sasse believes (1995), because they have become dependent on the continuous consumption of the electronic media? Some people suggest that we have to reverse the process of acceleration in information processing in order to think carefully again of human existence in history. While the nineteenth century was the climactic period of book culture, the twentieth century is dominated by the picture: photography, the movies, television, the Internet. If we take the example of the humanities and the typical attitude of the intellectuals involved, deconstructivism is a case in point. The stated intention of its disciples is to liberate man from hierarchies and wrongful dichotomies. But does not the concept of différance express the surfeit of (inter-)textual information and the intellectual's disgust of the failure in coming to terms with it in an endless process of re-reading the text? The 'Demannic' intellectual (McGann 1991: 5) is bound to become "fully aware of the aporias of reading and the instabilites of the interpreter's text" (McGann 1991: 6). But the text is an instrument in the wider context of society and institution, of power and survival rather than the reader's unverifiable playground. Therefore, apart from the pressure exerted by information technology, there is another matter for concern: the treason of the intellectual (la trahison des clercs). The practicability of the text is being undermined by both the pressure of media technology and by postmodern intellectuals propagating the emptiness of the room where language ever comes back as an echo - the human mind at the end of its tether?

The image as text (the text as script for a sequence of images) has become part of the control revolution (Beniger 1986). Vilém Flusser assumed that human thinking follows the conditions of its means of expression set down by the technical environment. Let us take the example of identity. Theorists define culture as the place where identity is established due to the individual participating in interactive communication (Grossberg 1994: 15; Krotz 1999: 125). Facing the immense progress in simulation and virtual reality which is generated by computers, identity is open to the manipulation by the media, which seems to confirm David Riesman's famous thesis of man's mind directed or controlled from the outside, be it by the ceremonies of state and church in a distant past (cf. Breuer 1989), be it by the peer group, or be it by contemporary media, as he argued in his classic study on The Lonely Crowd in the 1950's (Riesman 1989). Identity - emotional as well as structural - will become a central issue in our moral evolution that we should not try evading any longer. A similar question was raised by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World as early as in 1932, and, at the turn of the century, renewed by the Wachowski brothers in their stunning film Matrix (1999), which quite explicitly refers to Huxley. The evolution has reached the stage at which the dire prophecies on the enslavement of the human mind by technology seem to come true. If man is enclosed in a space of electronically simulated communication, his identity will in the end depend on the closed patterns of the algorithms working behind it, but more devastatingly even, the cybernetic revolution will replace the printed text by virtual-reality constructs, language will by and large be substituted by images which ultimately lead to an epidemic of secondary narcissism in Western culture. Prophecies by adherents to the liberal tradition may prove dangerously self-fulfilling, even if pronounced by a prominent scholar in the humanities and not by an expert on communication. According to Schulte-Sasse, such a cultural environment is run by a purposeful system which processes information at the sentimental level by synchronising the pictorial language in the human subconscious with the language of modern telecommunication which is equally dominated by images. The electronic control of human interaction which is being generally enforced in current society will replace subjects, who are aware of and able to reach decisions on their own, by those computer programs and feedback technology, which have made the control revolution possible (1995: 435).

Especially with regard to EESE research proposals and interdisciplinary work in literary history, this paper is to discuss the relationship between the (literary) text and its remediation on the cinema screen and on the electronic screen. If the movie is a novel remediated with the cinema's own means but keeping to the original plot and the dialogue, the re-appearance of the text on the Internet stands for a new cultural phenomenon and follows a different pattern, at least if it is the kind of text on which this paper is to focus. Readers of this strategy statement should not disregard the following caveat - namely that while scholars indulge in apocalyptic visions about robots and the failing education system, experts argue that people are resistant to media consumption, however mindless the tabloids and the electronic media become, which may not be a contradiction after all.

1. The new situation

These days it is easy to be swept along on the euphoria engendered by the pioneer spirit of American high tech innovators. After all, few in the West will heed the apocalyptic warnings coming from book-oriented minds such as that of Schulte-Sasse. The control revolution has continued to make progress, as the processing speed of the computers continuously increases, but the way of progress for culture as a community of human beings may unfortunately be neither swift nor easy. Cultural progress, so far, has mostly been by word of mouth. The first thing the prophets of information society do in order to wean us away from tradition is to call book culture into question, which is happening at the Philosophical Faculty of a recently re-founded university that has its roots in the late Middle Ages, the Reformation, Humanism, which is, of course, the origin of book culture. First-hand visual experience will form the inhabitants of the society of multi-sensual information - whatever that means beyond its polemic reference to the nineteenth century:

Es ist klar, dass die enormen Leistungen der Buch- und Industriekultur: [sic] Versprachlichung visueller Umwelterfahrungen, interaktionsfreie Parallelverarbeitung typographischer Informationen, Normierung und später Technisierung monosensueller Informationsgewinnung und -darstellung u.a. ihre Schattenseiten haben.

Die mystifizierten Visionen der Buchkultur erschweren - wie der zu eng gewordene Konfirmationsanzug - die Gestaltung der Informationsgesellschaft. *

The scholar familiar with the early eighteenth century will be reminded of Alexander Pope's attacks on the masses of printed materials produced for the rising middle-classes. If the Internet, i.e. the backbone of the information society, has been likened to a gigantic garbage dump, Pope did more or less the same when he wrote The Dunciad in the 1720's. The network does not only generate a deluge of data, but the computer seems to be a step ahead in the evolution of the human brain. The emergence of artificial intelligence, which is supposed to surpass all our expectations and fears, will do a good turn to the evolution of the human species, history comes to a halt, as it will do so when machines have taken over control - Huxley's static utopia was still reigned by an elite of enlightened pragmatic intellectuals. This is also the vision in Matrix (1999), which is strengthened by the gloomy predictions recently spread by a number of computer specialists, a vision which can only be defied by a messianic hero, or by the Huxleyan anti-hero: "But I don't want comfort. I want God. I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin" - instead of the high tech world of comfort. Huxley's Savage was quoted as the movie's unmistakable about the possibility of simulating human consciousness by computers. However, nowadays it is not hard to believe that soon the control revolution will change mankind for good and all, although some people still assume that computer facilities will save our declining education system from complete failure.

Is there really any hope in the face of decline? Let me take up the role of the devil's advocate and argue that there is none. These days the unique prestige that goes with the computer is conferred on schools ready to offer training in the skills of software handling. But it is hard to see whether our education system can live up to what is being expected from widely using computers. The German educator Peter Struck believes that computer kids will be able to think and to solve problems within a web of multiple causal connections, while traditional training has focussed on cause and effect at one level only (Struck 1998: 166-68). But the evidence so far collected that pupils in general will more easily reach a higher degree of competence in problem solving is hardly convincing. Struck's more or less unfounded optimism seems to derive from studies such as presented by Seymour Paperts in 1980, which was based on MIT research on computer-assisted learning. In Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas Paperts argued that self-directed learning which is assisted by intelligent software may help counteract the negative influence of social factors such as home and community background. But developing the software we need may take quite a time and require funds which will hardly be available.

We live in a period of a significant cultural change. Literacy and literature are receding. The departments of literature will survive if they adapt to the new environment and undertake research on movies and web sites which produce remediations of literature (the text becoming the script for movie-like events on the computer screen), for it would be both unwise and unnecessary to leave the field to the new communication scientists. There are two main categories to describe the process of change that reading is undergoing. Among our students we can distinguish between verbalisers and visualisers (Leutner 1997), which means that a number of student process information more lastingly when it is accompanied and supported by images. Other students achieve the same ends by working at the verbal level only. As the discussion of Radical Constructivism has shown, neurophysiologists are still unable to explain why exactly this is so and how the neuronal web really works (Roth 1991). However, the amount of differentiated verbal information is decreasing, which is the serious problem, whereas the share of images conveying information is constantly increasing. This belongs to the major features of the present cultural revolution. All one can say is that the brain's 'algorithms' for information processing are being re-written to cope with high-speed image processing. Verbalisers will have to adapt or they will suffer from an impoverished environment.

The other main category derives from David Riesman's distinction between inner-direction and other-direction: "Of course, it matters very much who these 'others' are: whether they are the individual's immediate circle or a 'higher' circle or the anonymous voices of the mass media" (Riesman 1989: 22). Riesman's 1953 definition, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy, can be applied on the individual who has, after the control revolution, become totally dependent on the mass media. Man is obviously malleable to images produced by the media; after de Saussure, Wittgenstein and Derrida, language is no longer a God-given or evolutionary tool inherent in the genes of the human race. For many purposes, high-speed pictorial communication may be more efficient than language, which is the tool serving to differentiation, to self-reflection, and to doubt.

In the following I would like to argue that the declining culture of writing (Goetsch 1991), paradoxically, goes hand in hand with a deluge of information so that, for reasons of speed (apart from reading being no more the most prominent cultural competence) only, the human brain is driven to image processing. At this crucial moment in history, acceleration is the way in which we experience the full impact of new technology, and we have become only too well aware that the preservation of the text and the underlying achievements of rhetoric and systematic thought is a very wide task. It is scarcely believable that the presence of writing on the screen will rehabilitate the writing culture of the past (Sandbothe 1997: 70).

2. The Text

The image of the digital text and its format on the screen may mislead the user into thinking that the continuity of the printed medium is unbroken. Formats such as SGML (Standard General Mark-up Language) or HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language tend to create an analogy to the printed page. But this is not the underlying notion of machine-readability, which, principally, means that the text can be submitted to sophisticated programs of pattern matching. Large corpora can thus be filtered by specialists for a preliminary survey of its semantic fields or contents and general topics. On the Net, the electronic text has found a new environment, which reminds one of Vilém Flusser's argument that thinking, which is expressed by the text, depends on the technical environment in which the message is being produced. This means that the material context of communication will change the character of the text and even of the image (Hirner 1997: 10; 38). At the basis of communication technology the screen will replace the book and we must assume that the challenge generated by these technologies to Western culture is more serious than anything so far experienced.

The text is a viable construct formed according to a set of cultural rules. It is 'viable' because it 'functions' in its cultural environment. By definition, the text is neither to be considered 'écriture' as seen by deconstructionists or 'Demannic' readers nor will there be any distinction between the poetical text with its specific material mode and the purely 'informational' text (McGann 1991: 11). Although the present obsession with re-reading the text and with its supposed resistance to any telos has devalued the medium, while we take the efficiency of algorithms in electronic data processing for granted, which is the lasting delusion of our age, the text remains the unique tool for the self-reflection of the human and for the construction of his world, whatever the achievements of the sister arts such as painting and music. The text as it is now understood is a holistic complex entity of self-referential form and constructed mimesis. According to systems theory, the primary function of the text is to establish 'sense' by 'selection' (Schwanitz 1995) instead of artificially increasing the amount of 'noise'. 'Noise', if ever, has been produced by the deluge of unverifiable readings. Unfortunately, little has been done yet to quell the tide of postmodern scepticism inherent in Derrida's dissémination (Menke 1997: 259 n.29). It is a matter of heuristic choice to end up in arbitrariness with any desired result, which is a contradiction in terms to the established principles of a critical hermeneutics. As a rule, the extension of contingency cannot be the purpose of scholarship (Schwanitz 1995: 116).

To underline the process of cultural change I would like to follow the definition of the text which was suggested by Wellek and Warren in their famous Theory of Literature: "the original written or printed words and form of a literary work". We are reminded of the etymological fact that literature is 'made of letters' and signifies written or printed matter as the most lasting intellectual achievement of modern civilisation. To Wellek and Warren, literature appears to be the most satisfactorily defined when restricted to the form of art (Wellek 1953: 19). Accordingly, the text stands for thought in written form clarified by aesthetic and rhetoric rules. The construct thus achieved in a specifically historical and societal field of discourse is nevertheless open in its meaning and must be constantly actualised by the reader who will reach the degree of consciousness requisite for coping with reality. Ideally, this level is reached by the text as work of art and cultural achievement, which cannot be exchanged by any other bundle of signs.

For many critics the aesthetic function stands for the "specific material mode of existence" - namely "resistance" (McGann 1991: 11), meaning the holistic and teleological character of the text which creates sense and alternately, 'error' (de Man 1979). The aesthetic function of the text emphasises the rhetoric based act of information and cognition within the euro-centric tradition of writing. When it produces its image of reality the text imposes a construct of difference and order and hierarchy upon a universe of floating signifiers. The text of our understanding follows a linear-holistic 'algorithm' the purpose of which is unity and differentiation to the highest possible level of complexity. In spite of the openness to interpretation, the most significant feature of the algorithm is its tendency to eliminate, or at least to repress, contradiction and discrepancy (Welsch 1996), which has become the hunting ground of deconstructivists. In the new medium, the text as understood above seems to a vanishing cultural species.

But to which degree is the text as a means to represent reality really dependent on technology? In respect to rhetoric and logic, which are the principal rules of text production in order to cope with the problems of linearity and differentiation, this must be specifically a question of culture and not just of technology such as printing vs. screen. According to text science, constructs of text and image may 'function' (van Dijk 1980: 266) in the same efficient way as the text which was described above. Text science is obviously designed to better cope with the new phenomenon than philology in order to "analyse the general cognitive qualities which permit to produce and to understand textual pieces of complex information" (ib.). The advocates of education in a culture of writing quarrel with sociologists who ask the question whether, for the majority of jobs, proficiency in writing and reading at the most complex level is really a requisite qualification given the fact that nowadays most of the employees just have to press or click a button. Similarly, the advocates of education have to defend themselves against ethnographers arguing that cultures without a tradition of writing and printing are equally valid or even more so than the decadent Western nations. The technology argument based on the ever increasing speed of information processing, however, is a tempting alternative to the quality of thoughtful differentiation, but it is hardly a viable one.

Perhaps it is a romantic fallacy to take the complex literary text as the representative of a lasting culture based on writing and printing, while the age of book culture is drawing towards an end. Book culture worked on "mutually agreed-on rules of logic and organization" (Burns 1989: 296). But new rules of information processing seem to have into force by now. We all have become experienced zappers in front of the television set. Zapping re-directs or re-focuses our attention, when a certain amount of pictorial information has been dealt with and all the rest of the action does not provide any new stimuli. This is the healthy reaction of an idling engine (Rötzer 1998). But, on the other hand, should one not be concerned about diminishing attention spans, which, of course, are the principal reason for the decline of the 'text'? Anyone who watches a movie which was produced in the 1950's or 1960's will feel his right hand itch for the remote control. Obviously, our habits of processing textual and pictorial information have changed, while the speed with which we process pictorial information, has incredibly increased. From the physiological point of view, the neural web has adapted to the images, and we should be concerned about losing the capacity for self-reflection, analysis, conceptualising and abstraction at the most complex level, which are tied to the text and to precise definition, although the use of images may be helpful in supporting problem-solving strategies. However, images create "new neural pathways supporting new linguistic and cognitive abilities" (Burns 304). This is the point we know too little about yet, as the discussion of Radical Constructivism so far has shown (Reinfried 2000).

3. Hypertext

Due to a system of links which connect numberless servers all over the world, the electronic text participates in the global unification of knowledge: the textual representation of reality is accumulated to the most comprehensive encyclopaedia of universal knowledge, which was envisaged by the founding fathers of hypertext. In the late eighties hypertext was mystically celebrated as the solution to present and future problems of spreading knowledge. Ten years later, the amount of data available on the Net via the hypertext system has grown explosively - but we have to distinguish information from the individual act of cognition, which has become a matter of considerable concern. When the novel concept of hypertext was brought to fruition at global level, it lost its structure: the first French encyclopaedia was a masterpiece of the enlightenment, whereas the universal store of knowledge holds the most promiscuous heap of matter.

Hypertext systems may be used for supplying footnotes which would otherwise delay the reading process. The hypertext system evolved on this line, as some among the readers may have been familiar with a word processor such as Hyperwriter! just for this purpose. In the early years, hypertext appeared extremely useful for teaching purposes. The student was offered a core text which he could supplement or extend by additional units of information. The advanced student would do with the survey text, while the beginner was navigating in an organically structured hypertext environment. According to George Landow, the efficiency of instruction rose by some 30 percent especially in first-year courses (Landow 1989). Landow himself presented award-winning software on 19th-century literature and culture. But the thing worked because Landow is an excellent teacher and expert on Victorianism, not just a good writer of software. However, although the accuracy of these figures is material, the problem is that the intelligent users make easy progress, while the less efficient students are lagging behind and are often getting lost in hyperspace. In 1991, with regard to the main disadvantages of the system, Kuhlen thought it very difficult to give an estimate of the possible usefulness of non-linear learning materials for the purpose of education. Units of information in different areas of hyperspace should be related to each other "by clearly definable traceable patterns" (Kuhlen 1991: 195), which is the essential requirement of any hypertext system.

One may well have to concede that hypertext systems improve first-year university teaching. A one-yard shelf of introductory books may easily be reduced to core passages. Superfluous information, endless repetition and variation of information can thus be eliminated and reduced to the essential. In this way learning is made easy and efficient, but is it not a major intellectual achievement, for which our students have to be trained, to cope with the curse of redundant information which casts its shadow on the inhabitants of the information society? On the other hand, any German university which has been chronically under-financed will gladly take up any virtual teaching scheme to save funds.

Furthermore, chunking, which is inherent in the new technology and which is its most visible consequence, severely disadvantages any hypertext system compared with the book shelf. Chunking means textual entities split up to screen size. Chunking leads to high-speed input of information, but it equally results in a loss of the cohesion in the larger textual unit (Kuhlen 1991: 87) and it caters for reduced reading skills and shorter attention spans. Only recently has Mihail Nadin thus diagnosed the "end of literacy" by recognising the following symptoms: the impoverishment of writing and reading, the increase of what he calls "packaged language", the substitution of written messages by graphic elements in television and video, and, lastly, the experience of 'immediacy' which overrides any sense of continuity in life. Nadin comes to the result that "we give life to images, sounds, textures, to multimedia and virtual reality involving ourselves in new interactions" (Nadin 1997: vii). In the present situation of our culture we do not suffer from decadence, which, however, cannot be excluded, although the mysticism involved is obvious, but we have come under the pressure from technology. The notion of the control revolution as it is seen by many contemporary critics means that man is subject to a life dominated by machines. High technology evolves towards a "world of efficiency and interconnected activities that take place at a speed and at a variety of levels for which literacy is not appropriate" (ib. 25).

Post-industrial society no longer depends on an elaborate code of writing and, as it appears, on the sophisticated form of self-representation and self-reflection in literature. Middle-class ideology was predominantly based on book culture and book knowledge. As Walter Ong has announced the rise of orality (1982), we are probably experiencing the end of the logocratic model of society and the rise not only of orality, but of the imagocratic model of society with which the new orality naturally goes together. When a couple of years ago, Bolter assessed the evolution of hypertext systems, which had once been heralded as the utopia of postmodern intellect, he came to the conclusion that "usually the graphics and photographs tend to muscle the words out of the way" (quoted in Sandbothe 1999: 154).

In the present crisis of text, the universe of hypertext does not produce an solution at all. Hypertext has been hailed as an alternative to the traditional hierarchy and linearity, as association-directed thinking appeared to be better suited to a complex universe. But association which moves within the hypertext network and which is to operate as the major cognitive principle easily leads to a form of knowledge that can be likened to a 'rhizome' (Deleuze/Guattari 1977), i.e. a root-like, more or less unstructured cluster of mostly redundant information. There is still another inconvenience in any hypertext system. Heuristically, once the links have been fixed, the user is forced to keep within one and the same paradigm of knowledge. From this point of view, the invaluable asset of hypertext can be efficiency in instruction. If this point illustrates the limits of the system, there is still another central weakness in it, for hypertext, and simulation likewise, form a relatively narrow closed system, although moving within them may appear disconnected and arbitrary (Sandbothe 1999: 152). However, history and thus human existence ought to be open, which should be the humanist's major concern with regard to high technology and the control revolution.

Are there really good reasons to found a text-oriented university in an attempt to stem the rising tide of information culture? When the University of Erfurt was re-opened, the most important argument for establishing a new university in an environment which is replete with universities (whatever the poor overall performance of the German education system especially in sciences and technology), was that in a high-tech world the humanities are quite indispensable. However flattering this argument may appear to scholars - the true reasons for Erfurt University were firstly a muddy compromise designed to keep up the status of the capital of Thuringia, secondly regional policy (for the equal distribution of state employment), and thirdly, as the special reason for its focus on the humanities, the fact that a 'book' university is the cheapest possible solution. Facing the constant progress of artificial intelligence the manager of the word may help culture survive, but is there really a demand of qualified scholars on the job market? Foreign language skills are required, but the language itself is receding and the student in the humanities is taught how to deconstruct himself.

4. The corpus text - the electronic universe of texts

In the old reading room of the British Library, Migné's forbidding 408 volumes of the Patrologiae Cursus Completus would have scared off any serious student of Chaucer and of medieval culture. The comprehensiveness of this corpus induced the publishers of Chadwyck-Healey to produce a machine-readable version of this unique collection of medieval intellectual history. The text has become part of the universe of texts, which, potentially, it has always been as soon as it was accessible on the shelf. But the electronic corpus gives simultaneous access to all texts within a second, which, in a traditional library, could have exceeded a whole life span. Machine reading realises the idea that the text is part of a corpus, and only by doing so the respective properties of the text such as intertextuality and, in Derrida's sense, "différance", become visible at the fullest extent. The problem, however, is that corpus reading can hardly be achieved by Boolean search, but, more inconveniently, complex filter routines must be programmed by the humanities scholar himself.

Machine reading takes a short cut through the levels of synchronicity and diachronicity. Normally the scholar takes notice of twenty different sources, while the computer would supply him with two hundred more. This may not change the final result of his or her work, but, in the tradition of positivism, it would make his research more objective, if ever it depends on quantity, but quantity changes into quality as soon as the scholar becomes aware of the fact that any text is embedded in a universe which largely determines its existence and that individual achievement must be related to this discourse environment. Generally, the corpus is an image of the universe of information we are beginning to live in. Vilém Flusser issued a warning against travelling in the space of the textual universe by search engines and filter routines. He believes that any notion of linearity in history will vanish, which is a point indeed, because in any corpus, be it on a hard disk or be it spread on servers all over the world, the presence of texts of different periods of history will make appear the evolutionary dimension insignificant. According to Flusser, the reader will be directed "from the world of the single line of the text" into a web which is formed by numberless points" in space (1992: 152). This again takes us back to the "rhizome" which is not "obliged to any structural or generative model" (Deleuze 1977: 20). Obviously, the cognitive pattern of the rhizome and the abundance of information go hand in hand. The stringency of thought is threatened by the chaotic structures of the Internet, and the rhizome cannot be considered an improvement either.

5. Text - event - identity

The MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle once remarked that the presentation on the Net is "the real estate metaphor of the self" (1996: 257). Identity is established by communication, i.e. a construct to be confirmed by or negotiated with the societal environment of the self. But the new medium is going to change the character of communication, or, to take up and to modify McLuhan's axiom (1994), the medium will exert a major influence on the sense of identity. As a communicative construct of the 21st century, in the age of the new "other-directed self" (Riesman 1989), identity is beginning to be made up of strong elements of simulation. However virtual the identity of the self so far has been apart from its social definition, nowadays identity is staged on the web as an event that is shaped by its technical means. The media-oriented sense of identity, which has its forerunners in the chat rooms and the virtual communities ("Nobody knows I'm a dog!"), depends on the conformity required by high-tech culture.

Identity simulation works to the following formula: virtual identity confirmed by being visible on the Net and by being authenticated in the immediacy of online performance (Nadin 1997), plus the prestige of the computer with its global network, plus the potential of graphic design, plus text chunking. However complex this formula may appear, it obviously does not resist simplification. Let us take the example of an Oscar-Wilde impersonator on the Web. The author of the Web page immerses himself in Wilde's writings and personality and produces "a subjective visual and textual biography" ( ). Instead of Wilde's masterpieces, Jonno re-experiences Wild's suffering in late Victorian society, which, in a way, resembles contemporary Puritan America. While in George Landow's project Wilde's character and writings are part of Victorian literary history, Jonno creates an artistic ensemble consisting of Wildean extroversion, significant bits and pieces drawn from Wilde's works photographs and graphic design. Furthermore, Jonno's page serves as an switchboard in an electronic universe connecting the visitor with other sites such as Bourbon Street establishments or the famous New Orleans cemetery or congenial home pages in the Southern United States, and, lastly, to web pages related to Wilde scholarship. The electronic impersonator defies classic scholarship by his naive way of re-reading Wilde, which is the conclusion I want to draw. In the playfulness of the Web site, everything is permitted provided it is performed online. The new dichotomy upon which the new event-directed society is based is established by the question of whether or not being onlinet, of the machine being switched on or not. One could argue with Derrida that dichotomies are the illusion created by those in power, that everything to be experienced in literature is just "différance", but, more importantly however, the new category is the "immediacy" of the event and the fear which seizes the user that he will miss any fun provided by the electronic entertainment machinery (Schulze 1998). The new form of identity rests on the fact of being visible and thus of potentially communicating on the Net.

The critical intellectual will withdraw from modern society to experience authenticity in another field of being. The rise of what was called 'event society' by the German sociologist Gerhard Schulz also reminds one of Vilém Flusser's prophecy that Western culture, which had been defined by commandments, values, ideals, and the teleology of progress, has had its day:

In nach logischer Analyse aufgestellten Computerprogrammen gibt es kein Symbol für «sollen». Demnach stellt sich heraus, daß die Tendenz der Vorschriften (und der westlichen Geschichte überhaupt) auf ein völliges Entpolitisieren alles Verhaltens hinzielt, und daß, wenn dieses Ziel erreicht ist, der Mensch und die Gesellschaft wie ein kybernetisches System automatisch sich selbst steuert. **

Weber's notion of a rationalised society thus will only be realised after the control revolution.

6. Continued research

To conclude: Huxley's Brave New World is not yet implemented, and the Internet has not yet replaced television and the tabloids as the predominant factors in mass communication. But one day its grip on the minds of the mass will be similar. Any prophecy on the evolution of virtual-reality techniques has to be matched with our experience that a technique will not be consumed as such (which is the tendency of McLuhan's axiom) but it will first become a social institution and thus be 'domesticated' (Krotz 1999: 110). While literature and the movies create a myth of how we shall experience information technology, history will submit it to a complex network of shaping influences, which may make it work differently in reality. In a similar mood, Jerome McGann concluded: "What is textually possible cannot be theoretically established. What can be done is to sketch, through close and highly particular case studies, the general framework within which textuality is constrained to exhibit its transformations" (1991: 16).

After all, there is no doubt that central cultural phenomena such as texts and reading habits and reading 'inability' (shorter attention spans) are changing, which is an evolution humanities scholar should be aware of. Control revolution not only means that you book a seat on a high-speed train but that the new media will shape human consciousness more comprehensively than ever. In this context, David Riesman's time-honoured concept of other-directedness will regain vivid actuality with regard to new media technology. More importantly, however, interdisciplinary research on the workings of the human brain will connect the humanities scholar with neurophysiology and cognitive psychology. Constructivism may help to understand how information is processed in the impoverished and image-ridden human mind. From this point of view, there is no wide range of options the humanities scholar has to choose from: after a period of meticulous self-deconstruction, meta-theory and pseudo-science, the philologist can either become warden of a fossilised museum or he or she starts screen-based research on the remediation of literature (meaning the remains of literature, of course). In postmodern event society, the screen presents the most arbitrary subject matter in its most flimsy status of existence appropriate to ever shorter attention spans. The most disturbing aspect of the cybernetic revolution, however, is the affinity between the closed circuit of the machine and, as constructivists are arguing, the closed cuircuit of the brain machine, which turns flimsiness into stability. The stability of the human mind was the message of Huxley's Brave New World and of the current technological myth of the matrix. Maybe it is the third option of the scholar to write a part of the matrix software.


* This is, roughly, the translation of this piece polemic: "It is becoming clear that the enormous achievements of book culture and industry have their shady sides, namely the rendering of visually experiencing the environment in language, the paralallel processing of typographical information without any interaction at all, the standardisation and later on the technically oriented mono-sensual way of collecting and producing information.
Like the outgrown suit worn on the occasion of the confirmation the mystified visions of book culture have made difficult the creation of the information society.

** "In computer programs which have been written according to logical analysis there is no symbol for 'to ought to'. Therefore it finally emerges that the tendency of regulations (and of Western history in general) aims at the de-politicisation of behaviour and that, after this aim has been reached, man and society will automatically be ruled like a cybernetic system."


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