Re-visiting “Text” and “Literature” and other forms of information


A text is a signification system that may be composed of simpler systems that are combined to create larger patterns of signification and meaning.

While our processing of text may be non-linear at times let’s use a linear, hierarchical model to depict this idea:
– textual bits system (e.g. sound, musical note, bit, “0” and “1”)
– text system (e.g. word)
– language system (e.g. collection of words with a lexicon, a sentence, a piece of music, action/expected feedback pattern)
– signification system (e.g. collection of entities with a pattern that may draw from any level of text or languages, from written to visual. From chemical (medicine) to olfactory (smell), from pressure to vibration, from waveform to cycle pattern.

An entity actively deciphering the patterns exhibited takes data/text/signifier and turns it into information, into meaning, signification.

Literate cultures
If we use this type of model can we really say that indigenous cultures in remote areas are “illiterate” cultures (in a generalized sense) ?

If a tracker can look at the ground and tell you animal “X” just walked by here and may be heading to location “Y” is this person “illiterate” even though s/he is “reading” the tracks?

If a member of a culture constructs a mask with an elaborate collection of symbols, colors, artifacts can we say that this individual has “written” or “composed” a piece of “text” ?

Remember, information takes on infinite forms. Text, language, patterns are types of information they may also be taking on multiple embodiments. I believe that the more types of information we are able to identify, the more type of “languages” and “texts” we will be able to recognize and over time learn to “read” them and even communicate with them.

Some indigenous cultures have over millenia constructed an elaborate collection of “languages”, “texts” and “literary” pieces – we just don’t consider them literate because they are not using our type of literary symbols.

Calling a culture “illiterate” has been considered almost the same as calling someone “ignorant”. The faster we learn to recognize different forms of “texts” the faster we can return the respect to those cultures that deserve to be acknowledged by their peers for their simple-looking but complex abilities to read, write and communicate.

(Forms of literatures are frameworks for thought formations.)

Text may take on the following forms:
• color
• movement
• texture
• pattern
• rhythm
• intensity
• pressure
• pitch
• any variable (e.g. length, width, size, angle, etc)
• any physical quality and non-physical quality (e.g. distributed variables)
(also, any indirect form of these and their combinations)

Literature may take on the following forms:
• Written
• Spoken word
• Narratives
• Performed
• Danced
• Music
• Song
• Poetry
• Art (photo, paint, video, audio)
• Film
• Tools (pottery, hunting tools etc)
• Games
• Nursery rhymes
• Jokes
• Etc. almost any form of cultural production.

Now, this is where information architects, and designers need to come in and help to:
– recognize previously disregarded texts and information
– find (several) ways to organize this information

A current definition of “Text”

“In literary theory a text is the object being studied, whether it be a novel, a poem, a film, an advertisement, or anything else with a semiotic component. The broad use of the term derives from the rise of semiotics in the 1960s and was solidified by the later cultural studies of the 1980s, which brought a corresponding broadening of what it was one could talk about when talking about literature;…” Source >>

Daniel Montano


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