Thoughts on the textual and literary, & on text technologies from Babylonian cuneiform to Twitter, with an eye on the medieval
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Text beyond price
An examination of heterotextuality proves that not all texts are born equal. Looking at all manner of texts--from 'Exit' signs to chalk graffiti, a sorority house to a bulletin board--it's clear that what links these texts is the intention to communicate; other attributes are variable. The building, the sorority house with its colonial architecture and Greek identifier, is replete with institutional authority, its academic credentials emblazoned across its facade; but it also shares a larger, national and ideological function, allied to all other sorority houses of its type (and, every sorority house, of course). The bulletin board, outside a room housing a writing centre, is also institutionally authorised, both reflecting and contributing to the university's identity and purpose. It also shares an important feature in common with the chalk graffiti (wittily and exclusively referencing the BBC Sherlock Holmes series); namely, its transience and ephemeral nature. In this, even though the bulletin board functions as an institutional sign like the 'Exit' notice screwed into the ceiling, the latter is made different through its permanence and legal mandate. All of these texts can be examined through their intentionality, materiality and functionality (as I've just done), but it's the extra (literally 'outside') variable--their value, 'aura', authenticity--that adds the essential feature of Text. How are these examples to be valued? Clearly very different values come into play: the financial (real estate prices), the legal (how to get out of the building in the case of a fire), the aesthetic (the graffiti, the sorority house. For some, the aesthetic appeal of graffiti is non-existent.). What about the ineffability of value, though? So-called 'sentimental value'? The visceral response to a worn-out old notebook? This becomes Text-beyond-price. This is the core of Text that can never be reproduced in any other medium.