This is a fascinating perspective. I studied the Talmud years ago in my
youth, and indeed, the visible commentaries on the same page as the main
article is strongly reminiscent of modern-day hypertext or wikipedia.
Regarding McLuhan's observation of the linearity of books: Some decry
the shortening attention span afforded and perhaps even encouraged by
hypertext, but McLuhan points out that there is a possible advantage to
Perhaps it is not a question of better or worse, just different.
On 10/09/2011 04:41 AM, Mel Alexenberg wrote:
> Yasminers will be interested in my dialogue with Marshall McLuhan in the 1970's when I was art professor at Columbia U. Below is an excerpt from my new book "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age" (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, 2011).
> When I was teaching at Columbia University, technoprophet Marshall McLuhan
> down from Toronto to lecture there. He talked about how the linear pattern of information
> resulting from print technology limited the thought patterns of people who learned from
> printed books. Word follows word, line follows line, paragraph follows paragraph, page
> follows page, chapter follows chapter, in a single necessary order from the first page to last.
> Learning through a medium that is a one-way street prevented creative, flexible, associative,
> open-ended, multidirectional, and multidimensional thought. Instead of just being
> authoritative, books became authoritarian, demanding thinking in straight lines from a fixed
> point of view. The book medium became a stronger message than its content. Designed to be
> read in privacy, in seclusion from others, the book ended dialogue. It conferred the values of
> isolation, detachment, passivity, and non-involvement.
> I invited McLuhan to my office to show him how the Hebraic dialogic mindset, which
> could not tolerate unidirectional thought, used print technology to design multilinear books.
> I took a volume of the Talmud off my shelf and showed him non-linear pages designed in
> 16th century Venice. I opened it to page 2 (there is no page 1) and pointed to the patch
> of text in the center of the page that starts with the
> by the
> font than the central text. On the other side is a column of Tosafot followed by references
> to Rashi in Tosafot. In a narrow fourth column next to Tosafot, stacked vertically, are four
> different commentaries on commentaries that span centuries of dialogue over time and
> space. Sometimes, explanatory diagrams are printed on the side. In the margins around the
> page are numerous references to biblical passages and to other books spanning centuries. In
> new editions of the Talmud, commentaries and references extend into our postdigital age.
> In the words of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: "The Talmud is thus the recorded dialogue of
> generations of scholars. It has all the characteristics of a living dialogue. Freshness, vivid
> spontaneity, and acute awareness of every subject permeate every argument and discussion.
> The spirit of life breathes on every single page."
> solitude. We give life and continuity to the dialogue that began millennia ago by engaging the
> hundreds of voices talking across the folio pages in active dialogue with a learning partner.
> The two learners, a
> each other and calling for support from all the scholars before them. They can begin their
> learning on any of its 5,894 pages. The multivolume Talmud has no beginning and no end.
> tractates, look into the Bible, kabbalistic texts, or any other sources. A study hall in a yeshiva
> filled with many learning teams is a busy, dynamic, noisy environment, quite different from
> the eerie silence of a library for linear books.26 cameMishnah, written in Hebrew, followedGemara, in Aramaic. On one side is a column of Rashi's commentary in a different27 It is not a set of books to be read in quiethevrutah, enter a page and move around within it while arguing withhevrutah can jump around within a page, between pages, between different Talmud
> Professor Mel Alexenberg, Head of the School of the Arts, Emuna College, Jerusalem, Israel, former art professor, Columbia University, head of the art department, Pratt Institute, and research fellow, MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies
> Author of The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness and Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) and in Hebrew: Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass House)
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