A position paper by Dene Grigar,
Texas Woman's University
Front of webbed version
Kairos , a Greek concept, denotes time. But unlike the word chronos , which suggests a specific point in time like a week or a year, kairos implies both an exact point in time, as well as time's changing nature and its effects upon the world around us: the seasons, the weather, even language and communications.
The existing, yet ever-changing, aspect of language and communications suggested in the word kairos corresponds to the way we view hypertextual writing--evolving, open-ended texts that lend themselves to multiple readings and recollections.
Yet while multiple readings of a text pose little problem for audiences comfortable with modernity and post-modern theories like reader-response and hypertext theory, multiple recollections of material do. Scholarship, as well as tenure and promotion, relies on the careful documentation, or recalling, of text held in a reclaimable format located in some place where both scholars and their audiences can find it--what we generally call an archive. However, this need to reclaim text in a static, documentable format seems at first to run counter to the notion of Kairos constantly changing, evolving hypertextuality.
What we seek to do here is to reconcile this notion of the static and the changing nature of kairos with that of archiving hypertextual writing. In particular, we want to present Kairos' position on the preservation of its text in various formats, such as print and CD-ROMs, in addition to its present webbed iteration.
Philosophical discussions about time for the Greeks, most notably Plato and Aristotle, involve questions of changing reality, that is questions relating to being and becoming. Deeply-rooted implications found in the word kairos infer that language and communications evolve, that they do not remain static. However, they do exist simultaneously in a state of becoming as well as a state of being--because while they become, they both have to be.
I should say right off that the Greek mind viewed the universe hierarchically and categorically--a way of thinking that underpinned their leaps of brilliance in matters philosophical and, at the same time, gave impetus to their ethnocentrism. In general, the Greeks had little understanding of how they themselves fit into the wide expanse of passing time.
In fact, the Egyptians referred to the Greeks as children because the Greeks could not seem to accept the relative minuteness of their historical moment in context of eternity. Despite this or perhaps because of it, they nonetheless devised strategies to make sense of time in a larger, philosophical sense.
In the Republic for instance, Plato sets up a hierarchy that places a universe of constancy over one of flux. Although he recognized that the state of becoming existed, Plato believed it to be far less preferable to that of being.
Aristotle, always the pragmatist, deviated slightly from Plato's view of being and becoming. For Aristotle, becoming implied potentiality. He saw a more positive connection than Plato did between the potentiality implied in becoming and the actuality of the state of being, mainly because he had far more faith in our ability to perfect ourselves and our world. Thus for Aristotle, change and constancy are interconnected: One doesn't exist outside of the other.
We find this preference for writing in the Latin expression, verba volant, scripta manent --which literally means "spoken words fly away, written words remain."
Looking at writing within the context of Plato's schema, we see how it comes to be associated with the intelligences: Like the ideal forms, it appears to be eternal and constant, qualities connected to Plato's ideas about truth, goodness, beauty. Its words can be viewed as fixed indicators of knowledge, the product of one genius, possessed only by those who have achieved enlightenment.
On the other hand, oral texts, which change over time, seem to exist in the world of appearances and opinion--a place of shadows, mirror images, and material objects that have little value in the universe since they mislead us with their falseness. Their words change, they can be constructed and reconstructed by many, and it takes little learning to comprehend them. In this light, preserving knowledge in written format makes sense. It ensures the continuation of Truth by a select and enlightened few.
On the other hand, applying Aristotle's notion of being and becoming to written language suggests that a word cannot become if it isn't already is and--not to complicate matters--once it is, it can still continue to become. Think of it this way: At any given time we speak or write, we are, in effect, capturing a word and its meaning at that particular point in time--what we could call its being or actual self-- and then interpreting it, making meaning out of it, thus pushing it beyond its limits into a new context--its becoming or potential self.
Texts written for hypertextual environments, like Kairos , make the dual states of being and becoming of a text more readily apparent than perhaps those that are not. At any given time we access a webtext to read, we are, in effect, capturing words represented by a reclaimable stream of binary coding produced at a particular point in time, capturing words to read at that moment and perhaps to recollect later in our writing for others in the future to read.
Thus at that point in time Kairos is a static text. And at the same time, the way we follow the threads of the hypertext and the way we process the information contained in its multiple threads, pushes the words beyond their static state into a new contexts of meaning in an evolving iteration. The nature of hypertextual environments--its open-endedness, dynamicism, and flexibility--facilitates change and resists stabilization in a very obvious and natural way.
While this view is a reasonable one, it does not address the text's actuality, its inherent static form that is always present, but subsumed in its potentiality. Aristotle's philosophical views toward being and becoming seem to allow for preserving knowledge in any format, whether it be a static text like a print journal or CD-ROM or an evolving one like a hypertextual piece of writing.
The plan we are suggesting for archiving the information and ideas found in Kairos is derived from a suggestion made by John Barber, Assistant Professor of English at Northwestern State University and a frequent contributor to Kairos .
Barber's idea is that we continue to offer our journal online in the same evolving, hypertextual format as we currently do and, at the same time, preserve all articles and information found in the main text and bridge pages of Kairos simultaneously in static iterations like print and CD-ROMs. Authors who submit work to the journal will also be advised to provide an annotation of each external link found in their hypertextual iteration--links that lead outside the article outside the immediate Kairos webspace out to places that may disappear or change in the future-- the original URL addresses where the information in the external links were originally found, and a Links Cited Page.
Similarly, we will maintain electronic archives of the back issues of Kairos on the World Wide Web for as long as there is space and a web to do so.
The version that will be archived in print and on CD-ROM is the same one that appears as the issue's first release, similar to a book's first edition. Preserving these static versions of the text offers Kairos authors a method for documenting hard copy iterations of their work for tenure and promotion purposes. In addition, researchers of webbed environments will have access to Kairos in multiple formats, thus allowing them a vast array of sources for securing material for their writing. Static versions of Kairos , published at the same time as hypertextual versions, can be sold or donated to libraries, researchers, and others interested in Kairos .
Indeed this plan preserves the integrity of Kairos hypertextual form and, at the same time, may meet the needs of future researchers who wish to study early iterations of hypertextual journals or look at articles dealing with ancient webbed environments.
It is not far-fetched to imagine at some late date that without tools for translating the WWW on a non-PC or Mac computer platform some distant researcher may ponder over the HTML codes for Kairos websites as Napoleon's soldiers wondered at the Rosetta Stone. As we all know, French translators cracked the code of the Rosetta stone by connecting the Greek language also printed on the tablet to the pictures that comprise Egyptian hieroglyphics.
A far-thinking scribe, perhaps, understood the folly of placing too much faith on one iteration of language and allowed us many possibilities for accessing the information left behind. No matter what the purpose of the various languages printed on the stone was, the result remains the same: The information gained about ancient Egypt from the multiple iterations of language inscribed on this tablet opened our eyes to that great culture that lay beneath the sands of Africa.
While we are not suggesting that the knowledge we find in Kairos equals that of the Egyptian culture, we are implying that information about the way we view technology and writing today as presented in our publication may be key to scholars in the not-so-distant future trying to understand themselves and their relationship to technology.
It is for this reason that we propose to begin an active campaign to archive the webbed text of Kairos in various more static forms, thus capturing the actual and yet continue with our push for the potential inherent in the word we have chosen as the title of our journal.
Note: the works cited referred to in this essay, and accompanying webtext are:
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing. Lawrence Elrbaum Associcates: Hillsdale, NJ, 1991.
Landow, George. Hypertext: the Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
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