Material Digital

The assertion that digital text is material, and not some ethereal, non-existent disembodied thing is a challenging concept for those of us still emotionally attached to the physicality and aesthetics of the print book, along with all the lofty associations that accompany the thought of “book” to each of us personally. N. Catherine Hales, in her article, ‘Print is Flat, Code is Deep’, asserts that the literary world has somewhat negligently ignored the digital, which has resulted in an inflexible approach to analysis of texts in digital form (Hayles, 2004). The argument here posits that all text has the potential to be material, whatever the format, and that through that understanding texts have the possibility of becoming “embodied entities” (Hayles, 2004).

The argument for the reality-status of the digital is a philosophically interesting one. Text in digital form can easily be “lost”. Yes, it is easier to recover a lost digital text now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, but they can still be lost to the cyber ether. The move away from the connection to the physical book requires an acceptance and embracing of the notion that writing digitally is the same, even if it does call into question our perception of what is real and what is not. Equating real with physical is a Cartesian notion, and not one many find it easy to peer around in the search for understanding our experience of reality. The digital text challenges our perception of finite reality by becoming fluid and ever-changeable.


Hayles, N.K., 2004. Print is flat, code is deep: The importance of media-specific analysis. Poetics Today 25, 67–90.


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