Revolution Lullabye

March 18, 2009

Kirschenbaum, The Word as Image in an Age of Digital Reproduction

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “The Word as Image in an Age of Digital Reproduction.” In Eloquent Images. Eds. Hocks and Kendrick. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 137-156.

Kirschenbaum, writing from the perspective of applied humanities computing, contests the argument that digital media has allowed texts and images to be easily integrated with each other. He looks at the history of printing and how images are being made searchable through computer algorithms to show that texts and images are still treated differently in digital media because they have different material constraints and limitations. Some include the long upload time for images versus text and how images are still invisible (in many ways) and dense for search engines to navigate, explore, and use effectively. Mark-up language (SGML, XML) has helped some, but these tags force the designer to transform the image into formal elements and named categories. He shows that even applications like Flash (vector applications) do not truly integrate word and image into a usable form because they are designed from scratch, are time-consuming, and again, invisible to searching engines.

Quotable Quotes

“The notion that digital texts and images are infinitely fluid and malleable is an aesthetic conceit divorced from technical practice” (154).

“There are significant ontological continuities with analog media that are not adequately accounted for by casual assertions about the blurred boundaries between word and image” (153).

“The lesson in all this is that the material truths of digital reproduction exist in constant tension wiht the Web’s siren song of the visual” (140)

Notable Notes

images are costly problems in printed texts; they are often separated from the text (see Tufte for an exception) and this historic separation of text and image began in the days of the movable type press – images were etched, engraved, or photos that were designed separate from the text.

material limitations of printing led to design choices that last after the limitations end (Macintosh fonts as an example, pixelated)

applied humanities computing – digitizing archives, William Blake’s poetry and designs, art work

data becomes textual, not graphical (with mark-up language) (150)

uses his Flash/vector example of Lucid Mapping

If the text isn’t searchable, how interactive is it?

the material constraints of computing

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