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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  18 representation and the experience of reception. The second is that such discontinuity is designed to be overcome systemically (hence the importance of interactive links) via the choices of the individual user, who thereby makes the narrative that she or he experiences. ‘History’, the linearity of narrative and the experience of temporal duration, becomes a button on a browser. The individual user – not the visionary artist of romantic aesthetics, nor the cultural community associated with ritual and myth, nor even the media organization that deploys standardized formats – appears to become the primary author and guarantor of temporal continuity in cultural forms. How can this move from narrative to database, dialectical and nascent as it is, feed back into practices and metaphors that act as cultural models which help structure social organization? How can we understand in Innisian terms the increasing dominance of (temporal) discontinuity and (spatial) individualization on the micro-scale of representational modes? We can begin to trace this through the movement between two other related terms, knowledge and information. Knowledge-Information: As I have said, Innis seems to derive the character of knowledge in a given culture from the space-time biases of dominant communication media and the monopolies of knowledge which they support. Here I want briefly to reverse this derivation, asking what we can learn about space-time biases from the ways in which knowledge is pre-eminently characterized. In particular, the ubiquity of the term ‘information’ in the last half century or so demands our attention. In an important essay on the subject, Geoffrey Nunberg argues that ‘information’, in the general abstract meaning which it is given in such phrases as ‘the information age’, is being used in a relatively new sense which refers ‘to a kind of intentional substance that is present in the world, a sense that is no longer closely connected to the use of the verb ‘inform,’ anchored in particular speech acts.’ (1996: 110). This intentional substance has a number of important qualities: it is indifferent to the medium

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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18
representation and the experience of reception. The second is that such discontinuity is
designed to be overcome systemically (hence the importance of interactive links) via the
choices of the individual user, who thereby makes the narrative that she or he experiences.
‘History’, the linearity of narrative and the experience of temporal duration, becomes a button
on a browser. The individual user – not the visionary artist of romantic aesthetics, nor the
cultural community associated with ritual and myth, nor even the media organization that
deploys standardized formats – appears to become the primary author and guarantor of
temporal continuity in cultural forms.
How can this move from narrative to database, dialectical and nascent as it is, feed back
into practices and metaphors that act as cultural models which help structure social
organization? How can we understand in Innisian terms the increasing dominance of
(temporal) discontinuity and (spatial) individualization on the micro-scale of representational
modes? We can begin to trace this through the movement between two other related terms,
knowledge and information.
Knowledge-Information: As I have said, Innis seems to derive the character of
knowledge in a given culture from the space-time biases of dominant communication media
and the monopolies of knowledge which they support. Here I want briefly to reverse this
derivation, asking what we can learn about space-time biases from the ways in which
knowledge is pre-eminently characterized. In particular, the ubiquity of the term ‘information’
in the last half century or so demands our attention. In an important essay on the subject,
Geoffrey Nunberg argues that ‘information’, in the general abstract meaning which it is given
in such phrases as ‘the information age’, is being used in a relatively new sense which refers
‘to a kind of intentional substance that is present in the world, a sense that is no longer closely
connected to the use of the verb ‘inform,’ anchored in particular speech acts.’ (1996: 110).
This intentional substance has a number of important qualities: it is indifferent to the medium


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