Iconic Digital Texts: How Ritual Makes 'Virtual' Texts Material
James W Watts [+]
In contrast to the increasing interest in bodies and materials in humanistic research, digital culture celebrates the fantasy that people (as avatars in virtual reality) and texts (as e-books) can escape their material constraints. Ritual, however, by drawing sustained attention to practices with texts, inevitably draws attention to their material forms. In doing so, it destroys the illusion that digital texts are “virtual.” The more a digital text is ritualized, the more physical and less virtual it appears. I demonstrate this thesis by examining two kinds of ritualized digital texts: those whose digitization has been used to expand or restrict the ritual uses of digitized texts and those whose digitization has permitted new ways of seeing and manipulating their original material form. These examples draw attention either to the physical nature and location of digital devices or to the physical form of the material texts that digital images reproduce.