There were initially hopes of producing something as delightful as Amanda’s response, but after toying with what I had available it became clear that whatever I produced would appear only on Fail Blog.  So a more conventional response follows:

As a child I remember fixing my stare on the blades of a fan as they whirled around in a blur.  I could from time to time “catch” a blade, “slow down” the whirling, and follow it around for seconds at a time, but then my attention would break and the blur would reassert itself.  I was reminded of the fan blades as I used Dr. Saper’s simulation of Bob Brown’s reading machine.  The initial speed at which the words go by is manageable; a bit taxing, but not exasperating.  But as I increased the speed to the second and especially the third setting, it became increasingly difficult to follow – except for split seconds at a time in which I could “slow” the words as I would “slow” the fan blades.

At the horizon beyond which the words became impossible to track visually there was yet a possibility for reading that involved the abandoning of internal vocalization.  As speed readers have always known, and I am not among their number, our silent vocalization is mostly what keeps us from reading as rapidly as our eyes would allow.  The Readie as Bob Brown imagines it and as Dr. Saper has simulated it encourages just this kind of un-vocalized reading.  In order to speed up and keep up one must learn to lose the inner voice.  And this to me seems to be the point.  It is seeing the word not as a representation of a phonetic reality, but as an image whose meaning we would immediately perceive.  It is an impressionistic reading.

Consider in this context the abandonment of traditional punctuation marks.  As Dr. Saper notes in his Afterword to The Readies, “In Brown’s Readie, punctuation marks become visual analogies.”  Saper goes on to explain that punctuation is used by Brown “as a visual score rather than cues for reading aloud ….”  (2)  Where punctuation once served the auditory, it now serves the visual.  Another clue that the auditory is being surpassed lies in the visual puns – “Louis quinze” as “Louis quince” (from an untitled micro-poem) which as Saper points out, this time in his After “Words,” “works visually but not homophonically.”  (4)  You see the pun, you don’t hear it.

In light of this, it may be helpful to see Brown not so much as the herald of a coming age of digital media and electronic literature, but as the last prophet of print and its reductive focus on the visual.  Marshall McLuhan, with characteristic pithiness, captures the distinction when he claims that the phonetic alphabet gives its user “an eye for an ear.” (UM, 120)  Walter Ong likewise explains that “print replaced the lingering hearing dominance in the world of thought and expression with the sight-dominance which had its beginnings with writing but could not flourish with the support of writing alone.”  (O&L, 121)  For some time after the spread of literacy reading continued to be oral, but increasingly it became a silent act.  But even in silence, the orality was not yet altogether lost, for in the silence one could yet hear the inner voice vocalizing the words.  As I write this and as you read it, we do not imagine images in our mind’s eye, but rather we hear sounds in our mind’s ear.  The Readie, however, challenges that last vestige of orality.  In this way it seems to take the visual logic of print to its conclusion.

As radio, film, and television created a culture of renewed orality, or secondary orality as Ong would have it, the balance between the visual and auditory was reconfigured.  This renewal of orality led me to question the degree to which we could rightly take Brown as a forerunner of digital media practices.  Electronic media reasserts the auditory, while Brown is further heightening and isolating the visual.  In addition, electronic media has tended to emphasize user agency.  While it is true that the user can stop, rewind, forward, and change the speed of the text with the Readie, this is arguably less agency than that afforded by a codex.

So with these thoughts and Bob Brown in mind, I look forward to revisiting Hayle’s Electronic Literature.