Notes on Heim, Electric Language


Heim is writing in 1986-7, a time when word processing is becoming mainstream in writing over using typewriters, and handwriting. Those times when we're moving from one technology to another are significant moments for historians, philosophers, writers because we can see the old technology from the perspective of the new, and the new from the perspective of the old. Heim writes in time analogous to the movement from orality as a dominant media for doing culture to literacy as a dominant media, a time analogous to shifting from papyrus scroll to codex book.

Heim Chap 1

Heim important because the understanding of the relationship of mind and word is typically oversimplified. Simplistic. Lang is separted from thought, and the condition of wp simply easier. Tends to ignore the differences and connections between oral language and the written form.

To open up the ideas, we have to move towards philosophy, placing a consideration of the electronic word in a philosophical tradition.

Chap 1 is important because he's viewing lang and writing not as usually seen, as tools, but as a condition in which we live, and language as an element.
> And this means that concrete conditions are intrinsic to the appearance of verbal symbols. The meaning of symbols is affected by the horizon of significance in which they appear. This horizon of significance in which they appear. This horizon, or set of conditions, constitutes what I will call the element of writing, which I will later distinguish from the medium of written symbols.

The world exists as boundless potentialities that can be architected. Language is the means by which we identify things.
> Language, then, does not describe a pregiven, fixed world. Language instead is a world, a limited order out of total chaos. The world is continually emergent in words; reality is the world we bespeak. We see the entities we can identify with words originating out of the confrontation with boundless experience. What enables humans to see definite realities at the same time holds infinity at bay. For Anaximander, language, or logoso is the emergence of identity out of the chaos of an infinite matrix of possibilities.

And
> Language transcends things and capacities by constituting the conditions under which things or capacities can be identified in the first place. A philosophy of word processing, then, encompasses more than the work habits we can identify and restrict to certain times, circumstances, and people. Language, as Anaximander's principle suggests, is fundamentally a response to the infinite and as such manifests the human encounter with the openness m which realities first obtain presence and identity.

So we trace influence not to wp but to language. On an empirical level writing w wp is better. As personal experience, it facilitates.

But its not a tool. Language via wp becomes a condition under which we live.

In similar way, we typically split thought and language. We have a thought which is then put into language. Heraclitus says no, language is transcendental.
> Instead, the thought-in-language of Heraclitus exhibits the way in which thinking moves from one thing to another while always preserving continuities through homonyms...
> [Heraclitus] leads us toward a renewed sense of participation as we reflect on language. Contrary to the usual assumptions about thinking, Heraclitus suggests that lan- guage deepens thought in its operation; it does not remove the thinker from what is being said. Far from being a tool of thought, language, or logos, is the element of thought. Heraclitus insists: What we think about language is implicated in how we think in language; and, alternatively, the manner in which we think in and through language entails a certain stage or degree in our under- standing of language.
> Far from being a tool for the expression of the individual mind, logos, as thought through and uttered by Heraclitus, is the articulated element of public existence we hold in common--that is, before public existence gets severed from private thought. The participatory conception of language peculiar to the genius of archaic

Element and medium

> This horizon or background, which is not identical with the meaning of the symbols themselves, may be called the element in which symbols have their meaning. An element is not to be confused with a medium. Medium, or media, appears or exists as essentially transparent to something else, namely, to information. Transparency, at least, is the aim of the media. Media present themselves as means for the communication and exchange of ideas; media are either primarily audio or visual; some media bring communication through images and some through sound; media are based on communication, on the exchange between humans of some pre- given material.

The center
> The element of language is the concretely historical way in which symbolized thought achieves placelessness, or, alternatively, in which thought achieves, through the transcendental nature of language, different modes of inhabiting place.
> There is also the element in which symbols survive or persist. The element in which the Parthenon persists does not directly pertain to the way the Parthenon communicates.


Heim Chap 6: the book and the classical model of the mind

> The book, as it has been known in scribal and printed form, will never be the same once linguistic symbols are routinely encoded as digital information. But the characteristics of the book, in terms of its essential psychic framework, provide a contrasting background on which I can begin to assess the impact of computerized writing on human thought processes. The trade-offs through historical drift will be all that much more apparent once I have established a clear philosophical Counterpoint. 191

Need some glossing of psyche, psychic life, and psychic framework.

FORM and FORMulation as the mental emergence of form

> The genuine formulation of an idea is always one's own, no one else's; it is a child of the psyche: the very words may belong to a commonly shared and umversally viewed idea, but the words themselves, their specific formulation, is my own.

Formulation closes he gap between contemplation from which ideas arise and the act of symbolization in writing. 188
> Plato insists on a distinction between the silence of the idea gazed upon by the mind and the verbalization through which the idea is formulated.22 This distinct gap protects the transcendent distance of the idea; it prevents the symbolization of language from degenerating into a state of trivialized and overly worn tokens of communication.

> Cultures survive by means of the different ways they cultivate the capacities of the psyche. Psyche is used deliberately w/ because the Greek word avoids the likely misconceptions accompanying more modem terms like mind, intellect, and thought. The word psyche does not enforce divisions between the mind and the senses and the emotions, as do some other terms, and, as I will detail in a later chapter, it connotes something like a disposition to a certain kind of awareness.~

> There are subliminal but faintly perceptible psychic changes as the technology for apprehending: time undergoes a shift. The most recent evident change has been from the mechanical to the digital timepiece. The digital clock is a new symbolic element for symbols of time though it is not, of course, interactive like the word processor; and, unlike the word processor, it is not embedded in the ontological intimacy of thought and language. The digital display of time effects a different atmosphere in the apprehension of time. The element of time in which the symbols are suspended develops certain dispositions to respond to experience and, over time, develops certain dynamics of thought.

Writing as an element, a symbolic element


> on a deeper ontological level, the reading and writing of books has significance beyond the merely instrumental. The book defines a certain way in which access to the things in the world is fostered, a certain modeling of the way things are held up to attention.

The book is not reducible to processing. It partakes in the symbolic element.

> Milton is attaching to the book and to the notion of intellect psychic qualities not reducible to information, communication, or merely logical argument

> Rather, my approach is postmodern inasmuch as classical metaphysics serves to provide an alternate model or counterpoint through which I can begin a contrasting assessment of word processing, The psychic transcendence fostered by the book cultivates three facets of psychic life corresponding to the manipulation, formulation, and linkage found in the psychic framework of word processing.

> The tradition of the book is, accordingly, constituted by three facets: the scribal hand, contemplative transcendence through the formulation of ideas, and the integrity of the private mind. 172.

The idea of the mind Heim works with is that language forms the basis of calculation and argumentation. Contemplation, not info processing. Books ground linear thinking that provide element for claim-evidence. This, then that. Argument itself is based on a more fundamental element of self-evidence. ?? 171

Scribal hand

Literacy is considered even now as closer to a higher realm of thought than orality and visual. Writing - even as a record of someone else’s thoughts - seen as transcending activity. Writing itself is seen as contemplative.
> Someone who possessed the skills was deemed to be closer to a higher realm of thought than was found in everyday existence--even if the person was of low social standing and even if the scribal hand was primarily in the service of another.

The scribe becomes a medium - merely because he can record what is said.

> intermediary between psyche and the symbolic element.

> Writing by hand did not belong to the banausic type of labor the ancients associated with tools, useful handwork, and machines. The scribe was not regarded even as an artisan or laborer but partook of the fine arts of the Muses.

And it's a small move to xtianity and the scacred word. The written word was already partaking in the sacred when xtianity invented the codex.


> The conception of the sacred book (Bible itself meaning ta biblia, or group of books) connected literacy with a special entry to revealed truths through contact with the sacred book.

Contemplation and the monastic understanding of reading manuscripts

> the cult of the book was at the same time the cultivation of a transcending state of mind, of a distanced and composed contemplative attitude. The book was a psychic framework for personal transcendence. 175

Reading was a practice, a discipline, a way of life.

Inscription is a keyword. Writing inscribed on parchment is analogous to the words inscribed in the mind and heart.
> inscription of the book, held in the hands and read aloud with the lips, was meant to inscribe thoughts in the mind and heart:

If reading aloud was the standard, it was to benefit inscription. Reading is praying.
> discipline for practicing heavenly states of mind.

This sense of reading as praying explains calligraphic embellishment and illustration of ms codex.

We can consider: To what extent did your reinvention of the codex support inscription, contemplation, intermediation?

All this is in reference to scribal culture, not print. Print came in in stages, not all in a swoop. 177

Transcendence in ideas when we move from sacred to profane

> The book supports the cultivation of intellectual forms in the formulation of ideas. 180

It acts as "the psychic framework of thought."

This is a move from sacred to profane. The idea is that writing for print as a permanent artifact invokes the same kimd of deliberate care as sacred reading.

Formulation of ideas is a matter of thinking with symbols. 181

For Heim, its still a matter of resistance of materials, which aligns permanence of idea with permanence of material with permanence of word.

> recalcitrance of the materials becomes, through craftsman's labor, the stable basis of relative permanence and durability.

The book becomes an intermediary aligned with Eros.

> In the book, both for the author and for the reader, the psyche can find a locus for symbols that offer occasions for the contemplation of clear, stable ideas and that nurture the love of ideas. 182.

This turns the way we consider Socrates’s consideration of writing in the Phaedrus. 183ff

Plato rethought argues this:

> The book supports the contemplative formulation of ideas. It serves to aid the mind in finding a steady focus in the psychic flow. The book aids in the transformation of experience by raising attention from the mundane level in order to transcend to an encompassing wholeness

Ideas are central. They give a continuity and focus to psychic life. The book holds the framework for ideas so we might focus on them, concentrate, contemplate. Get beneath the tangle of mundane concerns. 184.

The divine - take that that as truth, form, or self-identy and enlightenment - is enabled by writing, the permanence of forms, that allow us to focus.
> The divine is the stable, "immortal," serene existence. The psyche becomes like the divine, stable order it contemplates:

And ff 185
> So the formulation nurtured by the book is also the formation of the mind through expressions based on intellectual form. Literacy in its bibliocentric element is, then, not constituted primarily by the skills of information handling. The activity of forming, of ideational focus, belongs to the kind of insight fostered by the book, Information handling, the management of pregiven data that is already essentially formed, is a fundamentally different psychic activity. The value of literacy, in the Platonic tradition, resides inthe fact that literacy produces literate minds. Far from tautological, the notion of a literate mind includes psychic qualities such as wholeness of attention, contemplative presence of mind,

Mental privacy 186

Formulation by reading is personal and contemplative - so private and solitary.
> The genuine formulation of an idea is always one's own, no one else's; it is a child of the psyche: the very words may belong to a commonly shared and umversally viewed idea, but the words themselves, their specific formulatiDn, is my own.

Heim calls for purity especially in an age of distraction

> This intimacy of thought with itself, this personal privacy is something that appears in the "one pure act" of the budding writer described in a novel by miller 187

Formulation

Formulation closes he gap between contemplation from which ideas arise and the act of symbolization in writing. 188
> Plato insists on a distinction between the silence of the idea gazed upon by the mind and the verbalization through which the idea is formulated.22 This distinct gap protects the transcendent distance of the idea; it prevents the symbolization of language from degenerating into a state of trivialized and overly worn tokens of communication. Such a gap is experienced especially during the formulation of ideas as one undergoes a period of gestation.

Authorship and readership
From chap 6


> digital writing supplants the framework of the book: it replaces the craftsman's care for resistant materials with automated manipulation; deflects attention from personal expression toward the more general logic of algorithmic procedures; shifts the steadiness of the contemplative formulation of ideas into an overabundance of dynamic possibilities; and turns the private solitude of reflective reading and writing into a public network where the personal symbolic framework needed for original authorship is threatened by linkage with the total textual- ity of human expressions.

with this we enter the 21st century. Written in 1987 or so - nearly 30 years ago.

Start with handwriting
> Computerized writing combines the subjective immediacy of the private thought process with the public, typified look of written text.

So the formulation is still there in the private immediate contemplation. But lack of handwriting threatens to break the bond between hand and mind which is mediated by eye. Heim: this is off the mark

> The electronic element shifts the personal quality of action onto another level. Formulation can establish impersonality while achieving a directness undreamt of with the typewriter.

Handwriting, letters, and the development of thought by personal correspondence has waned. But

> This criticism [of wp] is more than sentimental reaction, for it acknowledges the intimacy of thought and language and symbolic element and it recognizes the psychic framework of symbols in the transformation of human beings.

We can consider some years after this what has become of the personal - the tweet, the dm, the text, the email and its forms. the weblog post and weblog over time.

In 1987, the emphasis is that things need to be managed. Ontology has shifted. Total Management creates technostress. It’s not the computer but what the computer is capable of that management has extended into our existence.

> Not a mere tool to pick up or set down, the computer interface is, moreover, an instrument on which we express ourselves, just as the practiced musician becomes the viola or violincello, the sounds produced being as much inhabitants of the psyche as "results" of certain technical operations of hands, fingers, and muscles applied to an exterior arrangement of wires and wood. It is our mind and will which express themselves in the computer, and the gap experienced between mechanical response and electric impulse is less a personal impatience, an unwillingness to suffer, than the current limits of the technological implementation of complete control. [20] If word processing fosters an algorithmic perspective on physical

contemplative formulation Where WP touches knowledge Linked to the Network of Texts Publishing
> Computerized word processing opens up powers of self-publishing in a print format which imitates mechanical print but does so without the complex specialization and capital investment necessary for mechanical print. … But the general linkage of digital text, aside from imitating mechanical print, occasions a different psychic atmosphere.

That looks good, but not from the perspective of integrity
> our concern here is with the psychic framework. The authorial voice will deteriorate as a model of mental integrity … And there is ontological import to the network of word processing. Symbols can be used to bring things to awareness, but they can also, through trivialization and inflation, blend things out of awareness. Just as you can use speech to bring things into awareness, so too some things can be talked out of awareness.

Some elaboration

> possibilities of expression that challenge the hegemony of the established channels that connect private thought with public mind. The marketing of publications based on scarcity, hierarchical peer selection, and the cost of scarce materials may lose place to the greater abundance of computer accessible material. On-demand publication may come to mean that everything is available--which in turn places the burden of selection on everyone.

Shirky: Publish first - filter later.
> The process of choosing texts to be printed did serve a similar function in print culture [as a landmark or beacon] Through a process of selection, a central model in typified form is presented so as to channel the creation of symbolized language.

Private solitude
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