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Friending the PastThe Sense of History in the Digital Age$
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Alan Liu

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226451817

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226452005.001.0001

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When Was Linearity?

When Was Linearity?

(p.59) 3 When Was Linearity?
Friending the Past

Alan Liu

University of Chicago Press

Linearists, as they might be called, have staked deep claims of cultural and other value on the linear exposition of history, narrative, argument, and other forms of thought. Theorists of networks, hypertext, and other domains of today's digital era stake equally significant claims on the nonlinear, often represented in network-style or other postlinear graphical visualizations. Indeed, they often elevate the importance of graphical knowledge in general. Informed by media history extending from oral culture and the history of the book to digital new media, this chapter asks the simplifying question: what if there never was any linearity to defend or to contest? What if the idea of linearity has always been an ideology deployed through graphical knowledge systems that are realized in graphics as the visualization of any era's idea of authoritative linearity—for example, who gets to go to the front of a line and why—and ultimately of its sense of history? The chapter makes Wallace Stevens's "The Idea of Order at Key West" (with its invocation of "meaningless plungings" yet also visualization of seas "portioned" into fixed "emblazoned zones") a recurrent touchstone of its argument—in part by using digital humanities text analysis methods to render the poem as visualizations.

Keywords:   digital humanities, graphics, history of the book, ideology, linearity, media history, networks, oral culture, Wallace Stevens, visualization

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