It took me a bit to get started, but here we go...
If, as Derrida suggests, writing threatens language, then digital technology extends this threatening, by engaging so many more people in the “play.” As the actors gather, as the stage widens, the stakes increase. In 1968 Derrida suggested:
The advent of writing is the advent of this play; today such a play is coming into its own, effacing the limit starting from which one had thought to regulate the circulation of signs, drawing along with it all the reassuring signifieds, reducing all the strongholds, all the out-of-bound shelters that watched over the field of language. (7)
Forty years later, what better sign of this coming (change for Derrida is always a specter of the future) do we have than wikipedia? Wikipedia realizes much of what Derrida refers to as the death of the book, “the death of the civilization of the book, of which so much is said and which manifests itself particularly through a convulsive proliferation of libraries” (8). Rather than further replicate the logocentrism of language through a further proliferation of libraries, we are witnessing a transformation- a transformation incited by digital writing. Writing not as a noun, not as objects proliferated across places, but writing as an action "collected" in placeless spaces. We have a proliferation of writers, many of whom are alien to the traditional strong-holds of language and Thought. There work appears, but it does not multiply or collect arithmetically. It appears and disappears. It transforms. Dynamically authored and edited, texts transform. It is these new movements- especially the disappearance, that so differs from the culture of print, presence, and permanence. Rhetoric has long been the art of shifty wordsmiths; it is ready for a digital word in which words actually shift in real time. Digital writing, especially wikipedia, is a celebration of “the human and laborious, finite and artificial inscription” (15). Web 2.0’s open opposition to “expertise” is a rejection of a logocentric divinity that positions truth as external to humanity, especially to the masses. Rather than libraries, we have librarying (and, of course, LibraryThing).
A task that I will face: is librarying logocentric? This is not a question I as of yet feel qualified to answer. But my initial suspicions are yes... and no. Digital technologies are not an absolute break from print/literate culture. They are a transformation. Just as with the transitions from orality to literacy and then from literacy to print, the transition from print to digitality will retain much of what has come before: especially the desire to know, to learn, and to exchange. What will be different, I suggest, is that our knowing, learning, and exchanging will transpire with a stronger exposure to the Face of others. Our contact will knowledge (and others) will be tempered by the ethical encounter with the Face of the Other. Words will not be dead, but uncomfortably living.