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Presentation Details


Covers and Enclosures: From Medieval Bookmaking to (Post)modern Computer Designs

Kemal Silay.

My paper attempts to contribute to the rapidly growing and changing discussions of text(uality) as developments in computer technology affect the way readers/users/owners interact with the “text” and object. The paper begins with a general historical review of textual production, dissemination and consumption in Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, predominantly dealing with medieval manuscript traditions. Then focuses on some of the implications of the introduction of printing in the East and West. With the invention and proliferation of personal computers, the relationship of the individual to the text and its CPU-housing enclosures and monitors is undergoing rapid and drastic transformations and is inspiring new avenues of discussion for literary criticism and theory. I will be contrasting modes of representation from the ink on paper to pixels on monitor, from the medieval art of cover-making to (post)modern computer cases. Much has been said about the democratizing aspects of the printing technology which brought the modern Book. Medieval manuscripts were exclusive and expensive. And much has been said about “digital democracy.” How wonderful it was/and still is to be able have easy and almost free access to information. Digital text depends on a machine which can represent it, just like the relationship between paper, ink and alphabet. Personal computer producers have already made the digital text travel easily, rapidly, and inexpensively all around the world. Once this initial step of “information transfer” has been made commonplace and inexpensive, then the personal computer companies began to focus on the fetish aspect of their hardware. When the Apple CEO Steve Jobs was introducing his new iMac line of computers (accompanied by the song “she comes in colors...!”), he had made very clear to the industry analysts that today people don’t care about MHz! They care about form factor. As Mick Lockey put it: “If Apple’s looks could kill, we’d all be dead. Just about everything the company designs turns into techno-fetish.” My paper will not only analyze Apple but other personal computer companies and their so-called “form factor” principles. We are now at a time that the pure power of CPU, graphics card, and monitor is not enough reason for many customers to purchase them. Indeed, many companies and their hardware designers do not seem to sell the “computer,” but rather the plastic case which houses it. My work will not only deal with the corporate practices of design but more importantly their effect on the reader/owner of the new machine. The paper will draw upon hundreds of visual materials and benefit from other data which I have collected over the past seven years for my ongoing book project “The Gendered Computer: Design + Technofetishism in Postmodern Hyperspace.”


Kemal Silay  (United States)
Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies Chair Professor; Director, Turkish Studies Program
Department of Central Eurasian Studies
Indiana University - Bloomington

  • Medieval Book
  • Printing
  • Postmodernism
  • Techno-fetishism
  • Gender and Form Factor

(60 min Workshop, English)