18 Pages


The relationship between writing and the material world is both inextricable and profound. Indeed, writing is language made material. Through writing, the physical, time-and-space world of tools and artifacts is joined to the symbolic world of language. The materiality of writing is both the central fact of literacy and its central puzzle. This materiality is the central fact of literacy because writing gains its power-as a cognitive process, as a cultural practice, and even as a metaphor-by linking these two powerful systems: the material realm of time and space with the quintessentially human act of language. The materiality of literacy is also a central puzzle, and I call this puzzle "The Technology Question:" What does it mean for language to become material? That is, what is the effect of writing and other material literacy technologies on human thinking and human culture? By naming this question one of technology, I underscore what I see as the inexplicable relationship between technology and materiality: Writing is made material through the use of technologies, and writing is technological in the sense and to the extent that it is material. Human beings have used and continue to use technologies (e.g., sticks on sand, pen and ink on parchment, #2 pencil on legal pad, cursor on monitor) to bring language to material life. Writing technologies are material not only in and of themselves, but also because they allow for the creation of the material artifacts that are named by the noun writing.