“While making my way through the book,” Cunningham writes, “I found myself copying out Shields’ most interesting fragments into a separate notebook; when I want to “reread” Reality Hunger, I simply look at my own, private version instead”
Here Cunningham is discussing the fragmentary nature of writing and memory. At first I dismissed some of his assertions. While I agreed that when we recall texts we tend to remember parts, and not every single line or word in order, I maintained that I didn’t make notes while reading, certainly not for narrative texts. A moment later I realized my hypocrisy–I’d been highlighting various parts of the text with an app, one that gave me the option to see only the text I had highlighted.
Not only had I reduced a linear text into fragments, some of the fragments were out of chronological order, because the app lists the sections in the order I highlighted them, resulting the exact kind of fragmentary digital text that Cunningham discusses.
Another particular finding also caught my eye:
studies that indicate 'people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.'Essentially, hypertext distracts the reader enough to change the reading experience — even a long, linear text becomes fragmented with the addition of links, because the unconscious mind is forced to devote energy determining the value of the link (and whether or not to click on it). In Carr’s telling, the Internet creates not fragmentary but fragmented reading, where the mind is so distracted that it is difficult to become fully immersed in a given text.
What I want to add is that fragmentation is necessary for (my) learning. Not regarding fiction narratives, reading long-form is a challenge for me. I don’t know whether its a matter of interest in topic, screen-reading irritation, or short attention due to familiarity with fragmented digital text (i.e. twitter, text messages). I either prefer something short and fragmented (i.e. point form) or I must go through a process of committing aspects of a long text to memory or notes if I wish to retain any of that text in a particular way.
Likely, this is in line with Cunningham’s assertion that memory is fragmented. If our memory is fragmented, then it serves that fragments will be best remembered. So if learning and memory need fragmentation, where does that place the finding that “people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links” ?
It seems to be in line with the differentiation between “fragmentary” and “fragmented” reading. Fragmented, as I gathered from the essay, is a broken up kind of reading, having to do with distractions of the internet. Fragmentary reading I am a little more unsure still how to define beyond the reading of a fragmentary piece.
There seem to be some significant differences between analogue fragmentary works and digital ones.
Franz Kafka — another writer given to fragments, whose work served as a key influence on Beckett’s — Albert Camus declared, “The whole art in Kafka consists in forcing the reader to reread.”
What strikes me about this assessment of non-digital fragmentary writing is that its not aspect of writing that is valued on the web. Unless we are talking about some kind of verbal joke, writing that ‘forces the reader to re-read’ seems to signal a kind of writing not immediately accessible or understandable. In the attention economy of the web, you need to transmit as fast and as efficiently as possible, your point. To be fair the exact kind of reading you want from a viewer depends on what your intent is (do you want them to see your ad? A news article? An essay?). But in general, readers do not have the ‘luxury’ or of re-reading, because of the numerous distractions inviting their attention elsewhere, let alone to the same text again. In this way the fragmentary writing on the web differs from the analogue fragmentary writing of Beckett or Kafta: the first aims for simplicity (theoretically) and digestibility, and the second for layered, multifaceted expression that requires extended thought and analysis for understanding.
You’ll perhaps notice that some of the spacing in the grey text boxes is messed up. I hesitate to fix it, since its an example of the fragmentation possible in text (I think?). EDIT: The grey boxes show up as boxes in the editor and as horizontal-scrolling boxes on the blog. I did not know. WordPress is full of surprises.
IMLTHO, I dislike it, since it impedes smooth reading. Is the horizontal line break then also an example of fragmentation? Are chapters or paragraphs also such? At what point (or zone) then is something fragmented or not fragmented?
The grey text box spacing also reminds me of the last text discussed in this essay, Masha Tupitsyn’s (print) book Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film. I don’t get it, frankly.
For example, tweets 782 and 783 (each tweet in the book is numbered and time-stamped) appear this way: Our feelings and emotions about our lives and our faces are in other people’s faces. Changing movie faces are our feelings and emotions about our feelings and emotions. It would be very easy to recast these tweets in a way that keeps both sentences whole: Our feelings and emotions about our lives and our faces are in other people’s faces. Changing movie faces are our feelings and emotions about our feelings and emotions.
What then, was the point of using twitter, if you didn’t want to adhere to the character limit that forces you to construct your thoughts in short, whole or near-whole ideas? How is this text different than simply writing up your thoughts in a linear program and then copying/pasting into twitter (and then screenshoting them all to be printed in a book)? While it highlights the “digital origin” of the text, it just seems to be an unnecessary misuse of a writing platform. After all, if you have a plethora of writing programs to choose from, why would you willingly use one that doesn’t reflect the writing style you wish to perform (aside from artsy advante-gardism)?