IRC17, Bengaluru, March 03-05, 2017


15. #MaterializingWriting
Materializing Writing / Writing Materialities

Last updated on Mar 04, 2017.


Notes from the Session


Description of the Session

Bhurjapatra (birch bark) and CD-ROMs, tamra-patra (copper plates) and online blogs: acts of materializing writing have always already been contingent on the materialities through which writing is made. As Haas (1996) observed, “whether it is the stylus of the ancients, the pen and ink of the medieval scribe, a toddler's fat crayons, or a new Powerbook...writing is technology” (p. xi) and indeed material. However, current debates about the “becoming-digital” of writing often elide the contingence of postcolonial digital writing on materiality; largely due to the growth and development of disciplines such as Digital Humanities (DH), new media theory and multimodal writing scholarship in Eurocentric epistemic settings. Such scholarship ignores how any written artifact is deeply embedded within materiality and embodiment, which are themselves mired within complicated belief systems and locational limitations. Not surprisingly conversations about the multilayered technological and media landscape in India—also in a state of transition from the analogue to digital—provide several instances of discursive slippages that occur as new materialities engender unique writing practices. Within the Indian context accessibility to specific writing technologies/sites — be it tala-patra (palm-leaves) or Twitter — have and continue to influence the content produced within such media. DH Theorists Ray Murray and Hand note that “much humanities work in Indic languages has been impeded by the lack of optimized character recognition software,”: one of the many obstacles in creating conversations between Indic writing materialities, techniques and traditions with contemporary digital artifacts. Therefore, tracing the materialities of writing in Indic languages, especially Sanskrit and Pali, can potentially offer vital insights into how digital cultures and objects can contribute to meaning-making within the sphere of postcolonial digital humanities.

This session transgresses beyond the “modern and archaic” dispute and allows us to examine and identify challenges, obstacles, cul-de-sacs, possibilities and overlaps, which lie at the intersection of Indic language materialities and its digital writing counterparts. In creating conversations between scholars from various fields including Indic languages and paleography, digital activism, urban theory, communication, cultural studies, literary theory, digital humanities, and book history this panel questions assumptions that perceive written artifacts merely as vehicles to mediate authorial intentions. Instead by interrogating structures that prioritize authorship over materiality, this session will discuss whether new digital writing practices can challenge this tendency of privileging one over the other.

Session Plan

This session will be structured in the form of a discussion, with each speaker presenting some key observations/provocations on different aspects of the topic. These include the following:

  1. How do we chart the intersections between writing and materiality? How are questions about digital writing practices inseparable from those about access and agency? Do artifacts that have been produced in Indic languages allow us any special insights into this relationship? Indeed, how does studying, annotating, analyzing, and digitally archiving Indic language artifacts contribute to questions about the movement from analogue to digital?
  2. Does the emerging discourse around digital objects inform ideas/concerns about materiality and new forms of writing? Whether in archives, software, social media or Wikipedia, the challenges of writing are several and multifaceted. Changes in the nature of textuality, and methods of meaning making are related to the process of making digital objects itself, which are often obfuscated in the discourse around them. The exploration of these processes itself, and the understanding of digital objects, as tactile, material and embodied may present another entry point into understanding the materialities of new digital forms of writing.

Documentation Plan

A combined report/essay on the panel discussion, outlining key questions and observations. Notes and presentation slides, including images, screenshots and visualisations could also be included to make the essay more comprehensive.

Paper Abstracts

Not applicable.

Details of the Team

Dr. Dibyadyuti Roy is a faculty member in the Department of Communication at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore. Dr. Roy’s wide range of research and teaching interests include cultural studies, theories of gender and postcolonial masculinity, communication and critical management studies, video game studies and speculative fiction. In conjunction with the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), he is currently involved in a project titled “Mapping E-Lit in India (MELI): A Survey and Analysis of New Media and Digital Writing Practices.”

Dr. Indrani Roy is a government professional by trade and a scholar by choice. With a PhD in Sanskrit, Palaeography and Ancient History from Jadavpur University, she is deeply invested in exploring the nuances of Indology and its current implications. Dr. Roy recently published her book Land grants: Documenting ancient India and has previously translated the Vayu Purana from Sanskrit to Bengali.

Dr. Padmini Ray Murray runs the programme in Digital Humanities at the Srishti Institute for Art, Design and Technology. Her research interests and publications encompass comics and games studies, feminism and feminist protest, the history of the book as well as the role of cultural specificity in the digital world.

Puthiya Purayil Sneha is a Programme Officer at Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore where she handles research, programme development and documentation as part of the RAW programme at CIS. Sneha has previously been associated with the Higher Education Innovation and Research Applications (formerly Higher Education Cell), Centre for the Study of Culture and Society Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.