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Women’s Contributions to Digital Literacy
April 15, 2021 │ 12:00 am - 1:30 pm
The Forgotten History of Operative Writing: Women’s Contributions to Digital Literacy
Sybille Krämer (Aesthetics and Culture of Digital Media, Leuphana University)
with respondent Hank Gerba (Art & Art History, Stanford)
What does writing mean, what does ‘script’ mean? Within the framework of the Western alphabetic form of literacy, the answer is usually: writing is fixed oral language. As a secondary medium related to language, writing overcomes the boundaries of space and time that apply to oral communication. The assumption that writing refers to spoken language as its reference object is called the >phonocentric doctrine<, which is an Eurocentric dogma too. My reflections want to decenter and overcome this dogma.
My argument is that there are language-independent scripts whose performative dimension consists in operatively producing that which they represent in written, visual form (written calculation for example). These scripts have an original pictorial dimension, they are graphic notations with a double function: being both, a medium for representing something and a tool for operating with what is represented. These operative scripts are symbolic artefacts and at the same time genuine technical devices.
I would like to explain the history of this language-neutral ‘operative writing’ by means of four stations: How the Muslim scholar Al Chwarizmi (around 800 pC.) transmitted the Indo-Arabic decimal digit system to the Europeans. How Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) wrote the first computer program and did so in the form of a table. How Grace Hopper (1906-1992) invented the compiler for translating texts into machine-readable databases and invented the first commercial programming language, and how Josephine Miles (1911-1985) realised the first concordance of a literary work with the help of a computer and thus created the first project of the Digital Humanities.
We see: It was often women who pioneered operative writing. Therefore, a techno-feminist movement should be mentioned here: It starts with Donna Haraway’s A CYBORG MANIFESTO in 1985 and continues 30 years later with the XENOFEMINIST MANIFESTO of the collective Laboria Cuboniks in 2015.