Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#2/3 Bas Raijmakers 1 Jan 1995

Taylor, Saarinen

Mark Taylor & Esa Saarinen, Imagologies: Mediaphilosophy, Routledge, 1994

Now that the realisation is sinking in for more and more publishers that we are in a grey area between the printed book and electronic publications, conspicuous hybrids are appearing on the market.


Cover of "Imagologies: Mediaphilosophy" -

On the one hand we see completely linear novels being brought out in electronic form, such as a number of the Expanded Books from the Voyager Company. At the same time, nonlinear texts which beg for hypertext links and interactive search methods are being offered as printed books.

Imagologies by Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen is an example of this latter category Imagologies is an enormous stack of slogans, statements, oracles, confessionals, questions and ukases about the role of the (new, mostly) media. The bits of text are often only a few lines long and impossible to assemble into one narrative. Because the book is printed and bound, an order is imposed, but it is rather an arbitrary one. Today's reader, after all, is used to reading books in every way except from front to back, so one adjusts quite easily to Imagologies. Unfortunately there is no index, an instrument that somewhat eases criss-cross reading. I kept having the urge to click on a word to look up the other places where it appeared (a method of navigation which is possible with every word in the electronic Expanded Books).

As one reads, it becomes clear that the authors well realise they are in a grey area: It's too late for a book, but too early for e-texts, they state. They finally chose for a printed publication because they wanted to reach those people who are not (yet) familiar with electronic books and networks. Here they mean academics who have yet to poke their noses outside the Gutenberg Galaxy. And these academics will be startled when they pick up Imagologies, because the book reads like a cheerful valediction: by the time the last page is turned the Gutenberg Galaxy has gone up in smoke and we see only blips on a screen. The authors began with those blips. The book came about as an educational program which they developed in collaboration. In 1992 this program consisted of a work group on the influence of new communications technologies, held simultaneously in the us and Finland via video conferencing and e-mail. You can follow all the ups and downs of the preparations and the work group in Imagologies yourself, since a large part of the e-mail communication between Esa and Mark runs as a continuous thread through the book. And as it goes with e-mail, there is not only serious discussion but also chatter, philosophising and the odd brief announcement: Hi Mark, I have to be quick, I'm in my car... Highly personal texts also drift matter-of-factly through the messages, about the death of Mark's father and Esa's love for his wife Pipsa. Thus Imagologies has become a book which not only reflects critically on new media but also simply shows how these media are used in everyday life.

Somewhere in the stream of e-mail messages the two came upon the idea of writing a book. The problem that neither had the time to do it was bent round into an advantage. With the help of e-mail and the Net they developed a form of 'working apart together'. Along with the series of complete e-mail messages the book contains playful explorations of about twenty terms, including telewriting, videovisions, netropolis, speed, cyborgs and televangelism. It is thus proven that in this age a book can be made by people who have no time to write one. Esa Saarinen doesn't even read them: Personally, I seldom read books. In the midst of speedreading a book takes too much time. And he suspects that he is not the only one; so Imagologies was written for people who have no time to read. Reading has been replaced by scanning: quickly rushing over tables of contents, indexes and book reviews, in the hope that this amounts to having more or less read a book. Esa Saarinen suggests a somewhat different tactic: Shock-effect reading, that is what I would recommend. Hypertextual reading, in the sense in which you jump around at will in a given textmass, not necessarily intending to grasp the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, you just pump gas in your engine. He has also used this principle in his classes, with what he calls 'excellent results', because the students care as little for reading as he does himself. He works as follows: students are given a photocopy of a random page from a random book and must let the book inspire them to comment upon it. Through the limitation of that one photocopy it becomes possible to set aside the 'real' context of the text and to concentrate on one paragraph. Freed of the excess baggage formed by the complete book, it becomes much simpler to generate commentary as a reader; or, better yet, to write further.

Imagologies seems an advancement of this teaching method: each page is like a photocopy lying in a random stack. Unfortunately, the stack is bound into a book. But as you jump around for a while in the textmass of the book, the glue of the spine gives out and the book takes on a more appropriate form: a stack of loose pages. Pull a sheet from the stack and you will see a largely blank page with a couple of words in crazily styled lettering and a single paragraph of text. This white space, it turns out, is meant for the reader. We are urged to write the blanks full.

Nonlinear, fragmentary and jumpy though the book may be, a series of ideas are developed here into theoretical concepts and commentaries. The most important is 'imagologies', for which the book is named. The basis of this concept consists of the observation that since image has displaced print as the primary medium for discourse, the public use of reason can no longer be limited to print culture. To be effective, writing must become imagoscription that is available to everyone. Unfortunately this 'imagoscription' is not developed in detail in this book. Here and there indications and ideas are brought forward that clarify 'imagologies' somewhat, but these fragments cannot be strung together (it is even difficult to locate all the places where the word appears). One of the theses here is that every book is a also an image, and this is well supported by the unusual layout of the pages, but besides a few drawings and backgrounds, there are no images here. The authors limit themselves to writing about images, tv, video and home movies - while writing with images is precisely what needs to be further explored. Oh well; writing with images via e-mail might have been a bit difficult back in 1992.

translation Laura Martz