CCR: Fixity, Preservation, and Circulation

Although a lot of the elements in the Eisenstein reading were interesting, for whatever reason, the opening sections on textual drift and preservation through multiplication–quantity of copies over quality–struck me, especially in regards to circulation.

As Eisenstein writes, “No manuscript, however useful as a reference guide, could be preserved for long without undergoing corruption by copyists, and even this sort of ‘preservation’ rested on the shifting demands of local élites and a fluctuating incidence of trained scribal labor” (113-14). Later on, she terms this corruption through copying “textual drift” and notes how “preservation could be achieved by using abundant supplies of paper rather than scarce and costly skin” (114). Here, then, the fixity of this preservation is not just its material longevity, which is achieved through multiple copies, but the precision of its copies. Each copy is more fixed and less idiosyncratic once the type gets set, reducing the “textual drift” of multiple hand copies.

I want to look at these ideas of drift and fixity.

As I wrote in a past post on the syllabary, the tension between the “Platonic” and “chronotopic” element of language is something that I have been thinking of, how latent or virtual potentialities of language appear in different contexts, materials, etc. Here, I come back to Laurie Gries’ work with Obama Hope and her image of the tumbleweed.

She describes how tumbleweeds outside her Santa Fe home would circulate, soaking up water, collecting plant pieces, snagging fences, impacting her memory and experience, doing their “job” wandering. Comparing this to circulating images, she writes, “Like a tumbleweed . . . an image faces an unforeseeable future as it circulates throughout and across various ecosystems and experiences rhetorical transformation as it induces various kinds of change” (72).

So when I think about the “preservation” or fixity of text in the way Eisenstein describes, I imagine a pristine, Platonic text that our differing versions are trying to get to. To use the tumbleweed  metaphor, it is the tumbleweed without any rainwater, dust, and weed tangles–the pure tumbleweed–or maybe the tumbleweed with the other elements more ancillary. I don’t think this Platonic purity is quite what Eisenstein means, and I think her discussion of the various circulation networks complicates any approach to a perfectly pristine version of a text, but something gets assumed under the notion of textual drift. In particular, preservation in this sense privileges the “original” versioning of something, that further variations may “corrupt” or stray from.

This pursuit of fixity interests me, as I see it in tension with the realities of context. Perhaps a more concrete example. Today, my students and I were playing an N64 game emulated on an X-Box One, so the controls were different. The original had one joystick; now I have two. The original had that awkward trigger in the back; this one has the two triggers on the top. The graphics were clearer. And–unlike the first time I was playing the game at my old babysitter’s house, in a part of the garage that had couches and rugs, with her and her brother–I was playing in a gaming lab with students, some years later.

This was the same game-as-text, in a sense, but a very different version of it and experience. By “version” here I am connecting it Annemarie Mol, recently taken up by Casey Boyle and Nathanial Rivers in A Version of Access” (2016). Essentially how the same text or work has layers of ontology wrapped up into it, expressing itself in various materialities and situations.  (Note: I may need to revisit this, so I apologize for errors). By experience I mean how that text or work gets received within a larger rhetorical situation.

The versioning of a game has prompted the storage of game consoles alongside games, so that one can still play the “original,” even though emulators are more secure way to preserve the game itself. Likewise, some places–like Strong–maintain an arcade that is coin-operated with a very 80s aesthetic, trying to get the gaming experience of visitors closer to the original experience than the games they have stored in their temperature-controlled collections.

This brings me back to Eisenstein and fixity, particularly what we are trying to fix and what that outlook precludes. We are trying to fix the language, and as she says, this fixity leads to author functions and questions of patents and ownership. Once the words get fixed, a hierarchy grows: critical editions v. “bad editions,” canonization of vernaculars–as she points out–the “right” version of a text. But these often do not point out the materialities of a text or the secio-economic ambience of experience, so in the view of videogames, many modern books are emulators of sorts.

I don’t think this is an issue, but I think it’s a different approach to textuality. Just as the sort of “rhetorical edition” of Quintillian that Boyle puts forth in “Low Fidelity in High Definition” (2015) is or Chris Forrester’s work here at SU. It’s exploding the versioning of a text in productive ways, shifting the role of fixity–or what we get when we are no longer concerned with fixity itself but still value precision.

Instead of focusing on this important work, however, I want to close on CreepyPasta. Often called the “campfire stories” of the Internet,  CreepyPasta includes creatures like Slenderman or The Rake. Different threads of these stories take root, like Marble Hornets’ Slenderman mythos. Communities read stories aloud, like CreepsMcPasta, or circulate on wikis or more curated forums. Certain stories, like 1999, become canon and inspire spinoffs. Some, like haunted games, are physical stories, experiences you play, yet are talked about or filmed in stories.

To me, this and fanfiction are a different form of fixity and drift. In a sense, this writing is about “drifting” the text enough to be original, without losing key elements. Re-authoring, yet original authoring.  Despite new language, something still transfers–Slenderman’s powers, Frodo’s mien–but the value of what should be fixed is completely different.


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