Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Technology and Literacy: Elective Affinities?

The University of Pennsylvania, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature describes a conference they held in September 2005 like so:

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? What is the role of words in a culture saturated with images? This international conference will explore the relations between word and image from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives. Our title has been borrowed from Goethe's 1809 novel Elective Affinities . In the novel, the chemical term “elective affinities” extends to human relationships, both intimate and political. Like the alkalis and acids of which Goethe's characters speak, words and images, though apparently opposed, may have a remarkable affinity for one another. At the same time, as one of the characters in the book objects, such affinities are problematic, and “are only really interesting when they bring about separations.”

How words and images represent and whether they enjoy a harmonious kinship, engage in border skirmishes, or seek to annihilate one another, are not merely formal matters. The history of iconoclasm tells us about the ideological stakes of the debate. Contemporary discussions of memorialisation seem to demand multi-media expression, and urban inscriptions such as graffiti and mural arts express political positions. New technologies for meshing words and images – such as medical imaging, virtual archives, the Internet – will also be discussed. Among the themes of the conference are: the arts of the book; early correspondences; political inscriptions; sacred words, sacred images; scientific imaging; spaces, places; photographic texts.

See http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/affinities/

Sounds interesting. I wish I could have attended. It makes me wonder if they had conversations at this conference on how technology and literacy might have "elective affinities." Might they, like alkalis and acids, be opposed to one another and at the same time have a remarkable affinity for one another? Has there ever been a tool so adept at helping us create, manipulate and distribute text as technology (computers and networks)? Has there ever been a tool that so threatens text as technology appears to?

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