How to Cite

Thomas, G., & Choi, J. (2005). Print. M/C Journal, 8(2).
Vol. 8 No. 2 (2005): 'print'
Published 2005-06-01

The call for papers for this volume of M/C Journal provoked an impressive number of responses. The bulk of those responses took issue with the implication within the call for papers that print culture is in some way under threat, or is in danger of being superseded by digital forms. It is axiomatic that the advent of any new technology is accompanied by obituary notices for an older, pre-existing technology. The radio was seen as a threat to books and literacy in the 1920s, and, similarly, in the 1950s the popularity of television in the home was expected to mean the end of cinemas and the movie business. These same debates were rehearsed in the 1980s, when it was the VCR’s turn to try to kill off the cinema, but twenty years later, the cinema still survives and makes more money than ever. The VCR did not kill the cinema, but it is apparent that the DVD will kill the VCR.

Is print destined to be supplanted by digital technology? The essays in this volume suggest not, although for different reasons. The dominant theme to come through this collection is that print and print culture are undergoing a process of change. Part of this process of change is attributable to the rise of digitisation, but this is not the whole reason. Some of the contributors here took issue with the meaning of the word print itself. Robert Watson, for instance, discusses the history of the word print and the different contexts in which it is used, such as the means by which knowledges are ‘imprinted’ in animal brains. Watson’s discussion then turns to the artifact of the cinema print of Muriel’s Wedding in the ways in which the various forms of print manifest themselves in the experience of watching that film.

The feature article for this issue, Bethany Turner’s analysis of the communication strategies of the Zapatistas, demonstrates the marriage of the romanticised vision of the Zapatistas as Internet guerrillas, holed up in inaccessible regions with no more than a laptop and a mobile phone, spreading their message of revolution in a ‘netwar’ against the Mexican regime. Turner argues, however, that underpinning this romantic notion is an old, narrative-based tradition, of story, allegory, and magic realism. Certainly, the Zapatistas’ communiqués do appear in digital form, but not before they have been transmitted through traditional oral and printed networks. The digital realm here is a supplement to the printed form, not its usurper.

Steven Maras investigates Waler Ong’s work on Ramus, specifically Ong’s thesis that the Ramus dialectic reconfigured the world (and thought itself) in terms of that which can be apprehended by sight in a set of spatial and geometric figures. Maras shows that Ramus remains with us in the format of the printed page, but at the same time never before has the technology to manipulate that page been so complex, yet paradoxically, so accessible. Pedagogy still inhabits Ramusian space, viewing the realm beyond the borders of the printed text as a “no-go” area, a forbidden zone into which only the boldest would venture.

Vicky Liu’s paper on Seal Culture tackles the question of authenticity in electronic commerce. Written signatures are, as Derrida demonstrates, at once unique and infinitely reproducible. Traditional seals derive their authenticity from the imprint of the sealer; the challenge for electronic commerce is to devise a similar system to validate digital information. Using the Chinese seal culture as an example, Liu describes the visualised digital signature scheme that simulates the physical form of the seal in electronic environments. This again is an instance of how the non-print world borrows from and adapts physical objects of print culture.

The nation of the unique producer of printed work is also a feature of Dougal Phillips and Oliver Watts’s paper on copyright. “Copyright” has its origins in interdictions against a work being re-printed without the approval of (and payment to) the author. Phillips and Watts contend that the current system of copyright operates within an inherently capitalist discourse, in which notions of ownership are tied to remuneration for intellection property. They argue that current efforts to protect copyright are motivated by the interests of large corporations that have vested interests in preventing file-sharing and hacking of the encryption codes on DVDs. What, they ask, would it mean to return to gift economy for cultural products that pre-dates copyright, one in which the author’s remuneration comes only in the form of celebrity or reputation for innovation?

Those last-ditch defenders of print culture are the subject of Juri Joensuu’s “Intimate Technology”. Joensuu examines the tropes that are used when defending print culture, particularly how reading is figured rhetorically. Joensuu rightly points out that cultural shifts are not discrete, but tend to overlap: oral culture is still with after 500 years of moveable type; print and digital forms currently exist side-by-side. Joensuu highlights the way in which the physicality of reading is an underlying feature of arguments that defend print culture: the book is a sensual object in a way that the digital object can never be; digital print draws attention to its means of its production in a manner that only the most elaborate, poorly produced, or eccentric books do.

The final two articles look forward to what Scott Lukas calls the ‘newprint’ era. Phillip Roe’s “Dimensions of Print” points out that the human subject is constructed as being “in front of” the object of study, whether that object is a physical book or a computer screen. Both are technologies for the reproduction of print. Roe speculates on the arrival of the post-print, a shift in the construction of human subjectivity that will pose difficulties for the print subject it will replace.

Finally, Scott Lukas reads contemporary print culture through his formulation of “newprint”. This formulation hearkens back to Phillips and Watts’s article, in that Lukas sees newprint as extending the state’s propaganda industry by changing the written word into what he calls “artifice”. Lukas argues that newprint can lead to the diluting of the voice of the writer as well as, on a wider level, the fracturing of community. He illustrates how communicative acts are changing with a personal example of his own, an example that is increasingly common, yet still surprising.

We hope that you will enjoy this issue of M/C Journal, and find much to consider within its articles. Like Scott Lukas, we are delighted to welcome you to (new) print!

Glen Thomas & Jaz Choi
‘print’ issue editors

Author Biographies

Glen Thomas


Jaz Choi