Movable Text: Reconfiguring Gutenberg

Bronwin Patrickson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    During the early adoption of e-books, this unfamiliar digital format was made more palatable through analogy to the printed book. Texts were divided into ‘pages’ that could turn on screen, and e-book repositories were referred to as ‘libraries’. However, as digital texts have increasingly taken on characteristics of digital systems, the metaphor of the printed book has lost currency.

    Given the limitations of this conventional metaphor for the digital text, I propose an alternative conception, one that is as archaic in origin as the printed-book metaphor, yet surprisingly robust for describing the customizable texts of today’s Academy: the metaphor of movable text. The image derives from German printer Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th-century innovation for the mass
    production of books, a mechanical system that used paper, ink and the relatively cheap and reusable display of cubed, metal letters that could be arranged and rearranged into words on a tray ready to be pressed into print. This metaphor of book-as-movable text is useful in that it captures how the form of the academic textbook is now entangled with its process, as much as its context. But, how does this metaphor apply to the academic text in particular? If a movable academic book asks to be interpreted, does the mobility of meaning that it creates defy such interpretative engagement? In this article, I argue that when automated texts are effectively scaffolded by cultural critiques, they can support deep research processes. To become more effective, these searches demand focus as much as evaluation and thus drive towards the crafts of collation, synthesis and eventual reconfiguration.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)443-457
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2018


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