From: Budapest Review of Books, Autumn 1996 (vol.6, no.3), pp.110-116. Slightly abridged English translation of a talk delivered in honor of Bernhard Fabian, the distinguished historian of books, held at the University of Münster on April 26, 1996, on the occasion of Professor Fabian's retirement. The full German text, with extensive notes, is now published in Bernhard Fabian, ed., Zukunftsaspekte der Geisteswissenschaften: vier Vorträge, Hildesheim-Zürich-New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1996. A Hungarian translation has appeared in Világosság 1996/6 .

 J. C. Nyíri:

 The Humanities in the Age of Post-Literacy


An assessment of the future perspectives of the humanities might most appropriately take its lead from Bernhard Fabian's central contention in his Book, Library, and Humanities Research (1983). As Fabian writes: "the subject field of the humanities is in the first place, or even exclusively, constituted by texts in the widest sense of the term."1 Let us add that the subject field, and at the same time the precondition, of the conventional humanities is the written, the fixed text. The emergence and development of the humanities were initially bound up with the spread of alphabetic writing, and, subsequently, with the development of printing; the original task of the nascent humanities disciplines was a thoroughly practical one: to build up our knowledge about the characteristics of the new media with the aim of exploiting this knowledge in everyday life - for economic, educational, or political benefits. However, in the last few decades the printed word has largely lost its position as the dominant medium of communication. As John Updike recently had Bill Gates say to Gutenberg: "Already, a generation or two has come along that can't be bothered to read; it absorbs all its information from television and musical tapes."2 The Crisis in the Humanities was the title of the oft-cited collection edited by J. H. Plumb in 1964. As at least one of the authors, Ernest Gellner, at the time already realized, it referred to a crisis of literacy as such. The crisis will dissolve as the humanities themselves gradually turn to the new media and investigate hitherto unknown and unanalyzed modes of communication such as digitally mediated electronic sound and moving images, fluid non-linear text, multimedial-interactive networks. Such investigations at first rely on the instruments of the old medium: events in the flux of multimedia communication are described in printed language. Gradually, however, the new multimedia tools will come into use. This will give rise to a kind of enquiry directed, once again, at the problems of tha t enquiry's very own medium: the aim will be to improve one's capacity to operate within the world of communication. The original role of the humanities is revived, though in a modified and radically broadened medium. A continuity obtains, since the linear, fixed text fulfils functions which still need to be fulfilled even in a culture of multimedia, interactive networking. The change occurs spontaneously. The new generation grows up with the new media but will not be able to do without some forms of the old literacy. In this way the new humanities disciplines become heirs to the old ones, they will play a mediatory role between the dynamics of the new multimedia and the statics of the fixed text. 

For let us stress once again that the precondition of the conventional humanistic disciplines was the fixed text - the written language, language become visible. The first records of the Homeric poems constituted the beginnings of Western scholarship. Grammar came into being as a sys tematization of written language. The language of pre-literal orality is entirely situation-bound, inextricably woven into extra-linguistic reality; primary oral cultures (in Walter J. Ong's sense of the term) are certainly familiar with the concept of a name, not, however, with that of a word. Plato's distinctions between nouns and verbs, or between parts of speech on the one hand and sentences on the other, can refer only to a language articulated through writing. The study of history, too, presupposes texts - written documents. But history, to the extent that it is based on documents copied and re-copied manually, that is on documents which become increasingly corrupted, still has the tendency to merge fact and legend. Only with the age of printing does modern historical consciousness emerge,3 and especially the idea of historical progress. Art history and archeology are only conceivable against the background of this historical consciousness. It is obvi ous that classical scholarship in the modern sense of the term could only develop on the basis of printed editions; and no scientific study of literature is possible as long as the identities of works and authors are submerged in manually copied - that is, increasingly unreliable - texts and images. Lastly, the beginnings of philosophy again lead us back to the times of the first emergence of alphabetic writing. There is no philosophy in a purely oral culture; Western philosophy is in the first insta nce, and remains down to the twentieth century, reflection on conceptual relations whose very emergence is a function of written language. The Pre-Socratics were not philosophers in today's sense of the term; they did not meditate on cosmological questions; they were - as Eric Havelock has so brilliantly shown - singers striving to find their way between the conflicting conceptual suggestions of the old oral code, on the one hand, and the new written syntax, on the other.


However, as I sug gested by way of introduction, the interest in texts which is the basis of humanities scholarship had at first thoroughly practical motivations. In his History of Classical Scholarship, Rudolf Pfeiffer repeatedly makes the point that the conceptually articulated treatment of Homeric texts was initially a concern of poets in the Homeric tradition, who were eager to master the newly emerging technical devices as possible aids to their craft. The learning of the Sophists, too, was marked by a prox imity to life and to the concerns of life. "The very existence of scholarship," as Pfeiffer writes, "depends on the book, and books seem to have come into common use in the course of the fifth century, particularly as the medium for Sophistic writings. ... The Sophists ex plained epic and archaic poetry, combining their interpretations with linguistic observations, definitions, and classifications... but their interest in Homeric or lyric poetry as well as in language always had a practical purpose, 't o educate man'... Their aim was not to interpret poetry for its own sake or to find out grammatical rules in order to understand the structure of language. They aimed at correctness of diction and at the correct pronunciation of the right form of the right word... Sophists con cerned themselves not with the values that imbue man's conduct with 'humanitas', but with the usefulness of their doctrine or technique for the individual man, especially in political life."4 Looking at the s o-called logographers, who in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. recorded the genealogies, chronologies, cosmologies, and local histories which had been handed down orally from the past, Goody and Watt emphasize that it was being concretely and repeatedly confronted by contradicto ry traditions - in the course of their practical activities - that led them to embrace a new sort of text-critical attitude. The Socratic-Platonic doctrine of concepts was designed as an answer to those practical confusions arisi ng from the overwhelming presence of newly coined abstract terms created by the syntax of written language. In Havelock's reconstruction, the historical Socrates is someone who has not yet quite interiorized the logic of literacy: Socrates has difficulties with the new linguistic h abits of his literally more educated contemporaries, those with better reading and writing skills; again and again he wants to know what certain words really mean - because he actually does not understand them.


Th e scholarship of the Early Middle Ages is entirely practical. It amounts to no more than the mere exercise of the (still rare) ability to write; for centuries the aim is simply the conservation of texts by laborious copying; the learning conveyed by the University of Paris a round the 12th century culminates in the skill required for composing legal documents. The curriculum at the artium facultas, which constituted by far the largest segment of the University, began with Latin - that is, with g rammatical studies, even with the teaching of writing, and concluded with instruction aiming at a practical proficiency in law under the title of rhetoric. Only later did theology and philosophy become important, and here, too, it is easy to see the originally practical and polit ical motivation of the relevant studies and discussions. The usual learned genre is the commentary; this style is forced on the scholar by practical circumstances: he cannot refer to passages in the works of others unless he ac tually quotes - that is, copies - them. Quite evident is the practical attitude of the studia humanitatis, the re-appropriation of the classical heritage in the Italian Renaissance. With respect to Petrarch, too, Pfeiffer underlines that his philological interests were dedicat ed to poetic aims. Salutati is Petrarch's follower, chancellor of the Florentine state; in his view the classical heritage can contribute to a better understanding of civic existence - the Trecento does not yet perceive a historical distance between itself and Antiquity, the humanists see themselves as participating in a living dialogue with the classical authors. Salutati is instrumental in inviting the first Greek scholar to Florence. Leonardo Bruni, Salutati's successor as Florentine chancellor, already translates from the Greek into Latin, Aristotle's Politics among other works. The more articulate understanding of the classical texts which his translations aim for is meant to enhance the perfection, the cult ure, and the heightened communal consciousness of his fellow citizens. Florence is, of course, the town in which by the 14th century the middle class is almost universally literate. Beyond the basic skills of reading and writing, many are also instructed in grammar and logic - that is, in Lati n.5 After the invention of printing, the later humanists take an active part in the technical production of classical editions; and it is printing which subsequently leads to new developments in the domains of grammar and letters - such as the emergence of unified standards in orthography, in syntax and vocabulary, and the possibilities of new literary careers for writer and critic. Literacy creates specific types of self-reflections; practice gives rise to theory - which, however, need not be far removed from life as long as the practice itself is a living one.




Among the humanities, the discipline of philosophy fulfils a special role. Philosophy deals directly with an array of conceptual tensions which in the other humanistic disciplines are most of the time simply taken for granted.

 For instance, it is characteristic of the humanities that they strive to interpret texts - to establish the correct meaning of passages and wor ds. Philosophy, too, is obviously concerned with correct meanings - but it is, or at least was, also concerned to find out what kind of entities meanings are. The standard classical approach, whose validity remained e ssentially unquestioned until Nietzsche, comes from Plato. According to this, the meaning of a word like, for instance, "beautiful" cannot be explained by referring to various beautiful items; the explanation should point to the beautiful, the beautiful itself; not to a djectival applications, but to the meaning of the substantive form. In the Platonic tradition one spoke of "proper," of "literal" meanings, the kind that are listed in a dictionary. The idea of such meanings arises through the workings of written language, the language which creates a markedly substantival, nominalizing syntax, and in fact makes words appear as self-contained entities, independent of linguistic contexts and extra-linguistic situations. That the Platonic approach c ould remain uncontested until Nietzsche's times, with arguments in Wittgenstein's later philosophy first rendering possible its lasting refutation is, of course, due to the fact that well into the 20th century written language preserved its dom inant position within Western culture. A particularly strong Platonistic impact came from Latin during the centuries when it was the exclusive or predominant written language. Here, word meanings, severed from living linguistic usage, appeared to have some quite spec ial fixity and objectivity. The role of Latin was drastically reduced by the end of the 18th century, and the idea of literal word meanings began to fade away under the criticism of Romantic philosophies of language. And by the second half of the last century, one can already speak of an actual crisis of literacy.


The crisis consisted in the increasingly boundless proliferation of existing literature followed by an inevitable loss of overall perspective. In the 17th and early 18th cen turies, the belief in the possibility of a coherent, unified body of knowledge, ordered by unambiguous perspectives, was still quite common. This belief arose on the basis of the uniform categorial, chronological, and taxonomic framework made possible by the printing press. It began to crumble in the course of the 19th century, with the world of printed texts becoming truly vast and simply impossible to comprehend, and was further eroded by the dissolution of all unified perspectives in the newspaper, by th en a motley collection of telegraph reports. As Rolf Engelsing puts it in an oft-quoted essay: "At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries scientific production still had - or at least still appeared to have - a limited extension such th at leading specialists believed to possess a rough overview of their fields, and to be informed about new publications. ... In the 19th century the earlier confidence of scholars in their professional universality was rendered questionable by the extension of scientifi c production."6 Non-scientific readers, too, were faced with a task they could no longer master. And, simultaneously, with the increase in the number of publications came a change in the way people read. According to Engelsing, from the Middle Ages until sometime after 1750, people read "intensively." They had only a few books, and they read them over and over again, usually aloud. By 1800, people were reading "extensively." They read all kinds of material, espe cially periodicals and newspapers, and read items only once before racing on to the next.7




Engelsing remarks that Nietzsche strongly preferred intensive, repeated reading to the extensive variety.8 Let us add that he also preferred the old-fashioned way of reading aloud to the silent reading characteristic of the age of the printed book. "The German does not read aloud," runs a familiar passage by Nietzsche , "he does not read for the ear, but only with his eyes... In antiquity when a man read - which was seldom enough - he read something to himself, and in a loud voice... In a loud voice: that is to say, with all the swellings, inflections, and variations of key and changes in temp o, in which the ancient public world took delight. The laws of the written style were then the same as those of the spoken style."9 In his Basle lectures Nietzsche had already developed the untimely n otion of a non-literary culture or education. As he said, introducing his course on the "History of Greek Literature" in the winter term of 1874/75: "The word 'literature' is dubious, and contains a bias. Just as it was an age-old mistake of grammar to start from letters and not from spoken sounds, similarly it is the old mistake of literary history to concern itself first with the writings of a people, and not with its spoken linguistic art, that is, to look at the matter against the backgro und assumptions of an age in which the literary work of art is enjoyed by the reader only." How we take in a work of art, Nietzsche insists, is different when reading and when listening. A literature which is exclusively for readers amounts to a kind of degeneration. "Now however," writ es Nietzsche, "we live in such an age of degeneration, and thus apply many false standards and presuppositions to Greek history, from which alas only the works for readers have come down to us.&quo t;10 Nietzsche, who had very weak eyes, and later became almost blind, inevitably developed a certain keenness of hearing when it came to the pitfalls of written language. His short-sightedness soon drove him to limit himself to jotting down short aphorisms, which he thought up by reciting to himself during long walks and then tried to memorize. He curses this imposed telegraphic style, and turns against the objektive Schriftsprache, "objective written language," propo unding a philosophy which, significantly, detects in grammar and language the source of metaphysics, of that "prejudice of reason" which forces us to assume "unity, identity, permanence, substance"; and he argues against the "old conceptual fiction that posited a 'pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject'."< a href="m11.htm">11 Nietzsche senses that the rise of the telegraph-based daily newspaper is the beginning of the end of the age of the book. Thi s perception is bound up with his recognition that the idea of fixed word meanings and the Platonist view of concepts and of knowledge proceeding from that idea emerge as a consequence of the one-sided allure of written language. But the same perception is also bound up with the programme of a new science of history and literature which would no longer be guided by what are, in effect, dead languages.


Nietzsche's programme, in fact, gradually became realized. An important stage in the process - a significant syndrome of the dissolution of the conventional humanities - is Robert Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities, in which allusions to Nietzsche's philosophy, of course, abound. Musil had contemplated a career as a philosopher - he gained a doctorate in philosophy with a dissertation on Mach - but he was originally trained as an engineer and had a particularly keen sense of the relevance of the facts of communications technologies for a philosophical interpretation of history. We should consider, for example, his 1925 review of Béla Balázs's Der sichtbare Mensch (The Visible Man), a book dealing with the aesthetics of film; or the lines from his famous critique of Spengler's The Decline of the West: "The negative sides of civilization in the main hang together with the fact that the volume of the so cial body has become too immense; thus its susceptibility to influences no longer survives. No initiative is able to penetrate the body of society ac ross broad fronts, and to receive feedback from its totality. ... The social organization does not keep pace with the increase in numbers."12 Musil eventually found that he could not formulate his philosophy in the framework of a treatise; he had to resort to the indirect means of narration and dialogue, exploiting all the potentials of relativization and retraction. He died without finishing the novel. The immense number of draft chapters he left behind are laden with cross-refer ences, forming a complicated network. The Musil papers have recently been published - on CD-ROM, accompanied by software that allows the user to do justice to the complexities of a text for which the medium of print was, obviously, no longer adequate.




A fascinating parallel to Musil is his fellow Austrian and younger contempor ary Ludwig Wittgenstein. Although Wittgenstein was an obsessive writer, he had a problematic relation to written language, especially to written language in its fully developed form: the printed book. In the Preface to his Wörterbuch für Volksschulen, Wittgenstein had already complained about the distorting effects of typography; and his reluctance to publish his writings is, of course, notorious. His poor orthography also comes to mind; his anachronistic predilection for having peop le read texts out loud to him; the common observation that he really knew his favourite passages by heart; the aphorism and the dialogue as conspicuous stylistic features of his writing; and his inability or reluctance to put together what one would call a treatise in the modern sense. The genesis of Wittgenstein's manuscripts is a story of a continuous struggle with the logic of fixed textual order; a history of never ending re-editing. "It was my intention at first," he writes in the Preface to his < i>Philosophical Investigations, "to bring all this together in a book" with the aim "that the thoughts should pr oceed from one subject to another in a natural order and without breaks." But he had to realize, he continues, that he would never be able "to weld [the] results together into such a whole," that even the best he could write "would never be more than philosophical remarks" and that "this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation. For this compels us to travel ov er a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction." In an earlier version of t he Preface, dated August 1938, this "field of thought" is indeed characterized as one in which thoughts form a complicated network of relations. If the word processor had already existed then, Wittgenstein could have made good use of it. Appropriately, there is now an electronic edition of Wittgenstein's published writings, with accompanying software, and an electronic edition of his huge unpublished Nachla&s zlig; is in preparation. Of course the significance of Wittgenstein's l ater philosophy for the humanities of today and tomorrow consists not so much in the difficulties he had with the medium of writing, but rather in the philosophical insights which enabled him to detach himself from the suggestions of literacy - from the Platonistic stance in philosophy. As we have said, it is Plato's experience of written language which forms the background of those of his arguments which became so central to s ubsequent ontology, and it is these same arguments which Wittgenstein confronts repeatedly in those remarks where he arrives at his own specific theory of meaning. The point to which Wittgenstein wanted to return is the point at which, he believed, Plato had taken the wrong turn. This remark, jotted down on July 15, 1931, is characteristic: "I do not find in Plato the preliminary answer to a question like 'what is knowledge': Let us try and see how this word is used." Wittgenstein's "use theory of mea ning" stands under the impact of spoken, as opposed to written, l anguage. In the light of this theory, language appears as an activity, as something living. Wittgenstein's question - "Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life?"13 - does not arise in relation to spoken language, but only in relation to written language. As he puts it in his so-called Zettel (135): "Conversation flows on, the application and interpretation of words, and only in its cou rse do words have their meaning." Now, it is prec isely the differences in application that are veiled by writing. Wittgenstein speaks of "the power language has to make everything look the same, which is most glaringly evident in the dictionary..."; that is, of the power of written language - which leads to the Platonist perspective. "Led astray by the substantive," he says, "we assume a substance. Indeed, if we leave the rein to language & not to life, then there arise the philosophical p roblems. 'What is time?' - in the question already there lies the error" (MS 113, p. 554). These words, "leave the rein to language, not to life" can only mean: to dead language, to language committed to writing.


It is quite striking how some of the central passages in Wittgenstein parallel, and run counter to, some of the central passages in Plato. Here is one from the Euthyphro and one from the Philosophical Investigations. "[M]y friend, you did not give me sufficie nt in formation before, when I asked what holiness was, but you told me that this was holy which you are now doing, prosecuting your father for murder. - Euthyphro: Well, what I said was true, Socrates. - Socrates: Perhaps. But, Euthyphro, you say that many other things are holy, do you not? - Euthyphro: Why, so they are. - Socrates: Now call to mind that this is not what I asked you, to tell me one or two of the many holy acts, but to tell the essential aspect, by which all holy acts are holy..."14 - " You talk about all sorts of language games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language game, and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language. - And this is true. - Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, - but that they are related to one another in many different way s."15 And, as Wittgenstein explains in the next paragraph of Philosophical Investigations, the same holds with the word "game": "I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic-games, and so on. What is common to them all? - Don't say: 'There must be something common, or they would not be called games' - but look and see whether there is anything common to all. - For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that."


Wittgenstein's exhortation, "look and see whether there is anything common to all," indicates a novel employment of visual metaphors in philosophy. Looking is not directed, any more, at the image or form of words, but at the phenomena of the everyday environment and, among other things, at images in the sense of illustrations. Wittgenstein's writings display an extensive use of illustrations - in his manuscripts there are altogether some 1300 to 1400 pictures and diagrams he drew to explain and represent his arguments. In conventional philosophy, and, more generally, in the conventional humanistic disciplines, illustrations were relatively seldom employed. This is understandable since pictures accompanying text could not be reliably reproduced before the introduction of the technology of printing and, even within that technology, they were a burden for the author and, especially, for the typesetter. As a consequenc e of the technological developments from the 19th century on these burdens, of course, became less heavy and in fact during the last hundred years there occurred a kind of "iconic turn," to use a phrase of Gottfried Boehm's.16 However, only with the rise of digitalization did this turn become radical. Once the manipulation of texts and of images became basically identical processes, the technologically-based dominance of texts over pictures was at an end. The iconic turn is an even t of post-literacy.


Can one ascribe to pictures a logic of their own - a logic independent of that of word-languages? And if one can: What kind of pictures might have claim to such a logic - and to what extent? The conventional view is one which denies an independent logic of pictures. But is that view still tenable when it comes to, say, moving pictures; or indeed when the relationship between intellect and picture becomes an interactive one? The book by Béla Bal&aacut e;zs reviewed by Musil on the aesthetics of film rejects the conventional view. The new medium, Balázs believes, will bring back "the happy times," in contrast to the times "since the spread of the printing press ... when the word came to be the main bridge between human beings"; the times "when it was still allowed for pictures to have a 'theme', an 'idea', because ideas did not always first appear in concepts and words, so that painters would only subsequently provide illus trations for them with their pict ures."17




In my opinion, this example of open problems with respect to the relation between text and image convincingly shows that the question whether the humanities have a new future can only be answered in the affirmative. This future began by the 1950s at the latest - with the activities of the working group at Toronto University which published the periodical Explorations. Many insights of this group, though certainly not all, have become fa miliar through the writings of its most famous and most eccentric member, Marshall McLuhan. Loosely connected to the group were David Riesman, Robert Graves, Eric Havelock,18 H. J. Chaytor, and even the Hungarian-born economic historian, Karl Polányi, who contributed a paper on the semantics of money. Two other Hungarians also had a formative influence on the group: the historian István Hajnal, and Béla Bal&aa cute;zs. As Edmund Carpenter puts it in a retrospe ctive summary written in 1960: "Explorations explored the grammars of such languages as print, the newspaper format and television. ... It ... argued that we are largely ignorant of literacy's role in shaping Western man, and equally unaware of the role of electronic media in shaping modern values. Literacy's vested interests were so deep that literacy itself was never examined. And the current electronic revolution is already so pervasive that we have difficulty in stepping outside of it and scrutini zing it objectively. But it can be done, and a fruitful approach is to examine one medium through another: print seen from the perspective of electronic media, or television analyzed through print."19 To examine one medium through another: this, then, should be the task of the new humanistic disciplines. And, to return now to what I said by way of introduction, this task should be conceived as a thoroughly practical one. Ou r aim should not be to conserve conventional human ities, but to contribute to the building of a new form of life. Multimedia networking has not emerged in order to give an impetus to the conventional humanities. Networking allows for a functional explanation from a global-political point of view. As Michael Heim writes: "The information infrastructure comes just in time. ... The network fosters ongoing discussion in which interaction runs at high speed and one person can connect to many, bypassing the established hierarchies."20 But networking must be accepted first of all here and now, as something given, determined by commercial interests and already irresistibly and fundamentally changing our lives.


We cannot overlook that from the point of view of the conventional humanities, much will be lost on the way. The library will probably become a museum; immersing oneself in a text regarded as a bad habit; and historical consciousness a deviant mental attit ude. As Sven Birkerts so eloquently writes: "As the circuit s upplants the printed page, and as more and more of our communications involve us in network processes - which of their nature plant us in a perpetual present - our perception of history will inevitably alter. Changes in information storage and access are bound to impinge on our historical memory. The depth of field that is our sense of the past is not only a linguistic construct, but is in some essential way represented by the book and the p hysical accumulation of books in library spaces. In the contemp lation of the single volume, or mass of volumes, we form a picture of time past as a growing deposit of sediment; we capture a sense of its depth and dimensionality."21 Or as Herbert Hrachovec, analysing the effects of e-mail, puts it: "Electronic mail is on its way ... with lightning speed, and this tempo does have an effect on the writers. They cannot wait to send off the 'message'. Innumerable typing mistakes - not to mention thoughtlessness - demonstrate that getting on quick ly is experienced as more important than takings one's time for corrections. And the moment the thing is sent away, it is already archived, that is, has become past. ... The permanent topicality of the medium implies an incessant antiquation of content."22 With that, history in the modern sense of the term, the consciousness of which emerged from the logic of the world of printed documents, becomes a mere theoret ical construct, as for example the heliocentric world view. One will still know that there is such a thing as historical distance; but one will not experience it as real.


In his book of 1983, Bernhard Fabian underlined that since "propositions in the humanities" are "discursive," with an "essentially argumentative and interpretative character," texts in humanistic disciplines typically do not allow for abbreviation, "condensation." 23 But this means that in the medium of networking the humanities, as we know them, will not survive. To quote from another essay by Hrachovec: "The loss becomes apparent with the fact that communication on the net does not allow for carefully elaborated, multi-stage, arguments. Such modes do surface as relics of an earlier practice, they do not, however, determine resarch as conducted under conditions of digital interdependency."24 As an example Hrachov ec refers to the disturbing experiences he and I have had in the course of a joint experiment which is still in progress. The Monist Interactive Issue Project is an attempt to compile a special issue of this venerable American philosophical periodical by using discussions initiated and conducted on the Internet. I myself planned to direct a discussion under the title "The Concept of Knowledge in the Context of Electronic Networking" and have, in the course of the last few months, sent out i nto the great wide world an extensive discursive list of questions to be considered, as well as a number of lengthy document s to accompany that list. I have not received a single reply. At first, I was bewildered; today I think I understand why. There is no such thing as a concept of knowledge in the context of electronic networking. All there is are procedures which one knows or does not know, or is not informed about; or locations in the global hypertext one finds or one does not find. The humanit ies of the future will not have a Platonistic outlook; rather, a Wittgensteinian one, asking not for the meaning but fo r the use; or even a Heraclitean one - it is no accident that Wittgenstein, in the 1930s,25 was so intensely interested in the Heraclitean question. It is the multimedia flux of communication the humanities of the future will be striving to understand - to understand and, perhaps, to even bring to a halt, if, as I believe, the conventional text retains a measur e of functionality. This, however, is a mere supposition. "What is really being asked of course," wrote Edmund Carp enter, "is: can books' monopoly of knowledge survive the challenge of new languages? The answer is: no. What should be asked is: what can print do better than any other medium and is that worth doing?"26


However, I am convinced that the multimedia will be the main medium of the new humanities. Obviously, we can have no clear noti on as to what these humanistic disciplines will actually look like. But neither do we need such notions. Towards the end of the 1960s, Marga ret Mead made a distinction between three categories of culture: "postfigurative, when the future repeats the past, cofigurative, in which the present is guide to future expectations, and prefigurative for the kind of culture in which the elders have to learn from the children about experiences which they have never had. ... We are now enterin g a period," Mead wrote, "new in history, in which the young are taking on new authority in their prefigurative apprehension of the still un known future."27 The future of the humanities will emerge from the life of future generations.




1 Bernhard Fabian, Buch, Bibliothek und geisteswissenschaftliche Forschung: Zu Problemen der Literaturversorgung und der Literaturproduktion in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, G&ou ml;ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983, p. 26.


2 John Updike, "Dialogue in Cyberspace", Lufthansa Bordbuch 5/95, p.52. "Literacy", as McLuha n's friend and colleague Edmund Carpenter wrote already in the mid-fifties, "lost its main prop in the social structure of our time." ("Introduction", in: Marshall McLuhan-Edmund Carpenter, eds., Explorations in Communication: An Anthology [1960], London: Jonathan Cape, 1970.)

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3 Cf. J.C. Nyíri, "Historical Consciousness in the Computer Age", in: Nyíri, Tradition and Individuality. Essays. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992.


4 Rudolf Pfeiffer, History of Clas sical Scholarship: From the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968, pp. 16f. 

5 Cf. the pioneering essay by the Hungarian historian Etienne (István) Hajnal, "Le rôle social de l'écriture et l'évolution européenne," Revue de l'Institut de Sociologie Solvay, Bruxelles, 1934.


6 Rolf Engelsing, "Die Perioden in der Lesergeschichte der Neuzeit: Das statistische Ausmaß und die soziokulturelle Bede utung der Lektüre," Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 10 (1969), col. 954f.


7 Ibid., col. 959.


8 Ibid., col. 970.


9 Friedrich Nietzsche, < I>Beyond Good and Evil, Chicago: The Great Books Foundation, 1947, p. 181.


10 Nietzsche's Werke, Leipzig: Alfred Kröner. Vol. XVIII: Philologica. Second volume. Unveröffentlichtes zur Litteraturgeschichte, Rhetorik und Rhythmik, 1912, p. 3.


11 Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, dtv-de Gruyter, 1980, vol.7, p. 48 (Nachgelassene Fragmente: Winter 1869-Frühjahr 1870), vol. 6, p. 77 (Götzen-Dämmerung) and vol. 5, p. 365 (Zur Genealogie der Moral).


12 Robert Musil, "Geist und Erfahrung. Anmerkungen für Leser, welche dem Untergang des Abendlandes entronnen sind", Gesammelte Werke in neun Bänden, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1978, vol . 8, p. 1058.


13 Philosophical Investigations, Part I, 432.


14 6d. Transl. by Harold North Fowler. Plato with an English Tr anslation, vol.I, Loeb Library, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914.


15 Philosophical Investigations, Part I, 65.


16 Gottfried Boehm (ed.), Was ist ein Bild? München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1994, second edition 1995, p. 13.


17 Béla Balázs, Schriften zum Film I- II, vol. I: Der sichtbare Mensch. Kritiken und Aufsätze 1922-1926, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1982, p. 52.


18 Havelock's role is controversial. See, e.g., Edmund Carpenter, "Remembering Explorations," Canadian Notes & Queries, No 46 (1992), p. 4 and p. 9.


19 Edmund Carpenter, "Introduction", in: Explorations in Communication, p. ix.


20 Michael Heim, The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, New York: Oxford Universit y Press, 1993, p. xii.


21 Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg El egies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, Boston: Faber & Faber, 1994, p. 129. 

22 Herbert Hrachovec, "Intimität in der Mailbox", in: U.M. Ernst, Ch. Annerl und W. Ernst (eds.), Rationalität, Gefühl und Liebe im Geschlechterverhältnis, Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus, 1995, p. 44.


23 Bernhard Fabian, op. cit., p. 232.


24 Herbert Hrachovec, "Zweimal f&uu ml;nf Prognosen zur Forschung in Com puternetzen" (to appear). However, as Hrachovec underlines, as contrasted with the impoverishment of verbal argumentation there arises the multimedia richness of representation.


25 Cf. David G. Stern, "Heraclitus' and Wittgenstein's River Images: Stepping Twice into the Same River", The Monist 74/3 (Oct. 1991).


26 Edmund Carpenter, "The New Languages" in: Explorations in Communication, p. 179.


27 Marg aret Mead, Cu lture and Commitment, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1970, p. 13.