INSCRIPTION PRACTICES AND MATERIALITIES OF COMMUNICATION


TIMOTHY LENOIR

Metaphors of inscription and writing figure prominently in all levels of discourse in and about science. The description of nature as a book written in the language of mathematics has been a common trope since at least the time of Galileo, a metaphor supplemented in our own day by the characterization of DNA sequences as code for the book of life, decipherable in terms of protein semantic units. An important recent direction in the fields of science and literature studies is to consider such descriptions as more than metaphoric, as revelatory of the processes of signification in science more generally. Two icons of this direction in science studies are Shapin and Shaffer's Leviathan and the Air Pump, which identifies a constitutive moment of early modern science with Boyle's efforts to construct a literary technology to facilitate the virtual witnessing of scientific facts,[1] and Woolgar and Latour's Laboratory Life, which describes the modern scientific laboratory as an organized site for persuasion through literary inscription.[2] Similar concerns are evident within the field of literature studies, the most recent bibliography on "Relations of Literature and Science, 1993" (Configurations 3 (number 2), 1995, spanning some 768 titles. Nearly everywhere we look, the "semiotic turn" is upon us.

Alongside this concern, recent science and technology studies have been characterized by a rich diversity of research directions, manifesting several trends apparently counter to one another. On the one hand stands the rich tradition of detailed microstudies of experiment, instruments, and scientific practice; on the other hand are grouped studies grander in scope aimed at examining science within the framework of cultural production. The motivation for the present volume grew out of the 1992 Rathenau Sommer Akademie of the Verbund für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin, which aimed to find common ground among these different approaches by juxtaposing work from historically focused science and literature studies with work inspired by poststructuralist philosophy and semiotics. A number of scholars from quite diverse fields--historical lab studies of protein biosynthesis, literary studies on science fiction and artificial life, history and philosophy of mathematics, historical work on psychophysics and linguistics --had all begun to find inspiration in the theoretical writings of Derrida. At the same time, from the side of literature studies, a number of scholars had begun to focus on the role of rhetorical practice and techniques of persuasion in scientific texts, on narrative structures and metaphor in the internal structure of scientific work, and on the semiosis among scientific narratives and grand cultural narratives represented in literature, museum exhibits, and popular culture as means for the construction and stabilization of scientific artifacts. Finally, relevant to our enterprise were studies of literature and media motivated by Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault but extending their work in interesting ways by emphasizing the materiality of literary and scientific inscriptions--graphic traces as well as the media for producing signs, such as standardized paint pigments, photographic equipment, and phonographs--as precondition for and constraints upon other forms of literal and literary sense-making. These different approaches from poststructuralist semiotics and literature studies may seem strange companions for science studies. In the remainder of this introduction I analyze their relationship to our purposes.

Despite its often forbidding language, Derrida's project in Grammatology poses important questions relevant to science studies. A central theme of Derrida's writings is his critique of Western logocentrism, a notion Derrida associates with Plato particularly but which is nearly everywhere present in western philosophy, of the possibility of unmediated presence of the truth/logos, and of a originary, unitary source of truth, a "transcendental signified." Within this tradition speech has always been privileged as a more primary (direct) form of communication than writing, speech being considered to directly symbolize "ideas," while the written sign itself since Plato has been regarded as a second-order sign, the sign that stands in for speech. Writing is thus the sign of a sign. This leads Derrida to formulate the deconstructionist project:

    The signatum always referred, as to its referent, to a res, to an entity created or at any rate first thought and spoken, thinkable and speakable in the eternal present of the divine logos and specifically in its breath. If it came to relate to the speech of a finite being (created or not; in any case of an intracosmic entity) through the intermediary of a signans, the signatum had an immediate relationship with the divine logos which thought it within presence and for which it was not a trace. And for modern linguistics, if the signifier is a trace, the signified is a meaning thinkable in principle within the full presence of an intuitive consciousness. The signified face, to the extent that it is still originarily distinguished from the signifying face, is not considered a trace; by rights it has no need of the signifier to be what it is. It is at the depth of this affirmation that the problem of relationships between linguistics and semantics must be posed. This reference to the meaning of a signified thinkable and possible outside of all signifiers remains dependent upon the onto-theo-teleology that I have just evoked. It is thus the idea of the sign that must be deconstructed through a meditation upon writing which would merge, as it must, with the undoing [sollicitation] of onto-theology, faithfully repeating it in its totality and making it insecure in its most assured evidences. One is necessarily led to this from the moment that the trace affects the totality of the sign in both its faces. That the signified is originarily and essentially (and not only for a finite and created spirit) trace, that it is always already in the position of the signifier, is the apparently innocent proposition within which the metaphysics of the logos, of presence and consciousness, must reflect upon writing as its death and its resource.[3]
For philosophers such as Aristotle, Hegel, Husserl and Saussure the written sign was considered a mere supplement, a storage medium to assist memory inessential to the meaning of language. But Derrida challenges the claim to priority of speech over writing and reverses the role of the written sign/supplement.Writing, embedded within an entire economy of signs, is constitutive of meaning rather than a passive medium for restoring the presence of language to thought.

Derrida's concern with essentialism and the metaphysics of presence parallels recent directions in science studies, particularly discussions of scientific practice and the role of instruments in scientific work, and discussions surrounding social constructivism which insist that truth not be considered as an objective, socially independent reality. Similar to Derrida's concerns about characterizations of writing as a second order signification and the metaphysics of presence, a central plank of science studies has been to critique all characterizations of the relation of theory to its object which regard the scientific instrument and experimental system as a passive and transparent medium through which the truth or presence of the object is to be achieved. The instrument is no longer regarded as simply an extension of theory, a mere supplement, useful for exteriorizing an ideal meaning contained within theory. When we treat the experimental system as a model of the theory, we no longer tend to regard it simply as an expression, an unproblematic translation of the ideal relations and entities of the theory into the representative hardware-language of the experimental system. For if we consider furthermore the web of instrumentalities that mediate and stabilize our interactions with nature,[4] then rather than treating knowledge as stabilized by reference to an independent, objective reality antecedent to scientific work, we are free to develop a pragmatic realism based on the representations of nature as articulated through the technologies of experiment and intervention. From this perspective, it is through our machines that practices and simultaneously a nature capable of being theorized are stabilized.

The relevance to our project of Derrida's philosophical critique goes beyond the coincidence of his concern to reject any claim to knowledge based on an originary, unmediated communication. No less relevant is Derrida's concern with foregrounding the constitutive power of inscription, a move that parallels our interest in mediating machines. Applied to the domain of science studies, Derrida's manner of proceeding suggests we attend to the empirical, material character of the experimental system as bound up with the production of a graphic trace, a grapheme as he terms it.[5] To appreciate the relevance of this strategy to our consideration of scientific inscription, we should consider Derrida's discussion of writing machines.

Derrida begins by calling attention to Saussure's frustrations with the graphic image and written signs, which have "always been considered by Western tradition as the body and matter external to the spirit, to breath, to speech, and to the logos."[6] In a chapter on the prestige of writing and the reasons for its ascendency over the spoken word, Saussure complained:

    A language and its written form constitute two separate systems of signs. The sole reason for the existence of the latter is to represent the former. The object of study in linguistics is not a combination of the written word and the spoken word. The spoken word alone constitutes that object. But the written word is so intimately connected with the spoken word it represents that it manages to usurp the principal role. As much or even more importance is given to this representation of the vocal sign as to the vocal sign itself. It is rather as if people believed that in order to find out what a person looks like it is better to study his photograph than his face.[7]
Saussure cites a number of reasons explaining how the written sign could usurp the power of the vocal sign. "The written form of a word strikes us as a permanent, solid object and hence more fitting than its sound to act as a linguistic unit persisting through time."[8] He also speculates that visual images are more lasting than auditory impressions, allowing writing to take over in the end. His third reason, however, brings Saussure to contemplate directly a social construction of the power of inscription. A literary language, he notes, can enhance the power of writing to control speech, for it has its dictionaries, grammar books and rules for spelling taught from books in schools:
    It is a language which appears to be governed by a code, and this code is itself a written rule, itself conforming to strict norms--those of orthography. That is what confers on writing its primordial importance. In the end, the fact that we learn to speak before learning to write is forgotten, and the natural relation between the two is reversed.[9]
Here we see the problem. The written sign is in fact an institution, backed up by other texts and embedded in a network of enforceable codes. The problem Saussure was left to ponder was that this artificial sign, this supplement of a natural connection between word and sound, could exercise a form of tyranny over nature:
    But the tyranny of the written form extends further yet. Its influence on the linguistic community may be strong enough to affect and modify the language itself. That happens only in highly literate communities, where written documents are of considerable importance. In these cases the written form may give rise to erroneous pronunciations.[10]
Whereas Saussure sees this usurpation by the written sign as unnatural, a literal sin against the primacy of meaning, Derrida celebrates it as crucial to his grammatological project, which seeks to erase discussions of meanings given prior to the act of inscription.

Derrida focuses on the exteriority of meaning, the materiality of the signifier. Accordingly this exterior materiality is not molded to the demands of either pre-given objective reality or already constituted meaning; it resists and imposes its own constraints on the production of meaning. As Derrida notes, "the outside of indication/indexicality does not come to affect in a merely accidental manner the inside of expression. Their interlacing . . . is originary."[11] In Derrida's terms, there is never a "mere" supplement; the supplement, the specific characteristics of material media (in the case of technoscience, the materiality of the experimental system), are necessary constituents of the representation. Like Derrida, laboratory studies observe the striking congruence between literary inscriptions and "facts": discussions about facts are inseparable from their inscriptions; the acceptance of a scientific fact is tied to the strength of its links to layers of texts; the ostensibly factual nature of a statement can be undermined by drawing attention to process of its inscription.[12] Equally central to recent laboratory studies is the dispersed character of inscription devices: what was once a piece of theory in the literature of one field is now reified as a technique or inscription device in another.[13] This too reflects a further dimension of Derrida's grammatological project: his insistence on the deferred/differed character of reference, the constitution of meaning through an unending process of slippage in a web of intertextuality, a process reminiscent of literary inscription in science.

At first glance, except for articulating an interesting philosophical conundrum, Derrida's insistence that we consider the materiality of the signifier and its implications for constructing meaning as an endless process of textual difference may not seem to translate easily into our interests with scientific inscriptions. Derrida seems more concerned with transforming linguistics into a generalized semiotics. Scientific practice, on the other hand, while bound up with the production of texts, claims to go beyond the "text." To grant Derrida's ideas wider applicability, we need to ask: Is science a textual system? How, for instance, might the contents of thought be molded by the supplement? How would such an apparently speculative notion as the supplement look in concrete writing practice?

Derrida's discussion of Freud and the scene of writing provides interesting direction in answering these questions.[14] In this essay Derrida examines Freud's use of writing metaphors in the evolution of his theories of memory, dream work, and the psychical apparatus from the "Project" (1895) to the "Note on the Wunderblock (Mystic Writing Pad)" (1925). As he refines his model of the psychic apparatus in the different versions of his work, Freud draws upon analogies to optical instruments (such as the microscope and telescope), inscription devices (e.g., photographic apparatus) and systems of writing (e.g., hieroglyphics). Although it is not a theme of Derrida's essay, Freud retraces most of the issues about signification found in Saussure: the arbitrariness of the sign; the sign consisting of a union of signified (latent dream content) and signifier (manifest dream), the articulation of the sign as a process of spatial difference rather than one-to-one reference to an "essence." For Derrida, the most important feature of Freud's treatment of the dream work is his insistence that the dream is not analogous to a kind of language, but rather to a system of writing, so that interpreting the dream resembles deciphering a pictographic script. Like Derrida himself, Freud treats the dream as a kind of writing in which speech is subordinated to graphic representation, including the treatment of logical connectives.[15] Freud, in short, was a grammatologist.

In"Freud and the Scene of Writing," Derrida points to the role of inscription devices and media technologies as metaphors and analogies useful to Freud's theorizing about psychic machinery rather than as constitutive of its content. At the end of the essay Derrida muses on where one might take this analysis if one were to pay closer attention to the implications of the materiality of the signifier. Among the directions he sees as fruitful are a history of writing and

    [a] becoming-literary of the literal. Here, despite several attempts made by Freud and certain of his successors, a psychoanalysis of literature respectful of the originality of the literary signifier has not yet begun, and this is surely not an accident. Until now, only the analysis of literary signifieds, that is, nonliterary signified meanings, has been undertaken. But such questions refer to the entire history of literary forms themselves, and to the history of everything within them which was destined precisely to authorize this disdain of the signifier.[16]
A study of literature that focused on the materiality of the signifier, on the technologies of inscription, and on the practices of writing would be profoundly different from one focused on "meaning" and hermeneutics. Derridean grammatology sees the very possibilities of an "intentional consciousness" as emerging from a particular order of inscription:
    Since "genetic inscription" and the "short programmatic chains" regulating the behavior of the amoeba or the annelid up to the passage beyond alphabetic writing to the orders of the logos and of a certain homo sapiens, the possibility of the grammè structures the movement of its history according to rigorously original levels, types, and rhythms. But one cannot think them without the most general concept of the grammè....[O]ne could speak...of an exteriorization always already begun but always larger than the trace which, beginning from the elementary programs of so-called "instinctive" behavior up to the constitution of electronic card-indexes and reading machines, enlarges differance and the possibility of putting in reserve: it at once and in the same movement constitutes and effaces so-called conscious subjectivity, its logos, and its theological attributes.[17]
Derrida proposes that the conditions of writing make history.

The literary project envisioned by Derrida is one taken up in large measure by Friedrich Kittler in Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Kittler's premises are that literature is a form of data processing, storage, and transmission, and that writing is a channel of information transmitted through a discourse network of institutions, such as schools and universities, connecting books with people. In the discourse network of 1900, according to Kittler, writing in the alphabetic medium of the book was configured with gramophone, film and typewriter. The juxtaposition of media technologies, psychophysics, and literature produced a transformation of the realms of the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real. In the discourse network of 1800 novelists and playwrights had created worlds by stimulating psychic processes of association, recollection, attention, and hallucination through streams of words. In 1900 these processes were technically implemented in film through techniques of projection and cutting, flashback and closeup.[18] Fantasy was converted into reality, and the figures of the film could be presented in such detail that the realistic was raised to the realm of the fantastic. Film became the imaginary. The new media technologies were not without effect on the content of literature. The writer became a media specialist, a technologist of the letter.[19] Literature after 1900 began to define itself against technological media. When it became possible to transpose texts to other media, such as turning novels into filmscripts for example, the criterion for high literature became its inability to be filmed. Writers like Mallarmé renounced the visual imagination; Kafka rejected the idea that an illustrator for his Metamorphosis might draw Gregor as an insect. According to Kittler, "Literature thus occupies, with creatures or noncreatures that can only be found in words, the margin left to it by the other media. . . . the symbolic remained, autonomous and imageless as once only God had been."[20] Just as Freud mused on writing machines, writers in the discourse network of 1900 became the captives of media technologies: Henry James dictated to a secretary with a typewriter in order to present "free unanswered speech, diffusion or flight of ideas." Novelists like Joyce and Proust transposed the narrative techniques of film--the tracking shot, the zoom--into their own compositional strategies.

The approach to literature through the materialities of communication and media technologies exemplified by Kittler's work applies no less to the inscription technologies of science and mathematics. The relationship of this thesis to science was apparent to Derrida, although he did not pursue it. In a long footnote to his remark on linear writing and the end of the book, Derrida, quoting Leroi-Gourhan, observes:

    Linear writing has therefore indeed ["]constituted, during many millennia, independently of its role as conserver of the collective memory, by its unfolding in one dimension alone, the instrument of analysis out of which grew philosophic and scientific thought. The conservation of thought can now be conceived otherwise than in terms of books which will only for a short time keep the advantage of their rapid manageability. A vast 'tape library' with an electronic selection system will in the near future show preselected and instantaneously retrieved information. Reading will still retain its importance for some centuries to come in spite of its perceptible regression for most men, but writing [understood in the sense of linear inscription] seems likely to disappear rapidly, replaced by automatic dictaphones... As to the long term consequences in terms of the forms of reasoning, and a return to diffuse and multidimensional thought, they cannot be now foreseen. Scientific thought is rather hampered by the necessity of drawing itself out in typographical channels and it is certain that if some procedure would permit the presentation of books in such a way that the materials of the different chapters are presented simultaneously in all their aspects, authors and their users would find a considerable advantage. It is absolutely certain that if scientific reasoning has clearly nothing to lose with the disappearance of writing, philosophy and literature will definitely see their forms evolve. This is not particularly regrettable since printing will conserve the curiously archaic forms of thought that men will have used during the period of alphabetic graphism; as to the new forms, they will be to the old ones as steel to flint, not only a sharper but a more flexible instrument.["][21]
In science studies reactions to the work of Derrida have always focused around his notorious claim 'Il n'y a pas de hors-texte,'[22] a position that has conjured fears about a flight from the real world of nature and a neglect of the non-human actors.[23] But if we consider that science constructs its object through a process of differential marking, and it makes that object stable through public forms for the construction and dissemination of meaning, then consideration of communication technologies and technologies of representation becomes fundamental. They are "machines" which mediate and stabilize our representations. Furthermore, as extensions of the senses simultaneously affecting persons dispersed over numerous sites, they are powerful sources of mediation, multiplication, and stabilization of technoscientific practice. In their material form media do not just provide "representatives" of an object described by theory; rather they create the space within which the scientific object exists in a material form. Media are not a mere supplement enabling the extension of research into areas where theory is insufficient to tread. Rather, the stronger thesis explored by papers in Inscribing Science is that attention to the materiality of inscriptions themselves will demonstrate the extent to which inscription devices actually constitute the signifying scene in technoscience.

A central thesis of several papers in this volume is that serious consideration of the implications of Derridean deconstruction does not lead to a flight from "reality" into a discourse that is speaking all by itself, a play of signifiers without signifieds, a reduction of subatomic particles to text.[24] On the contrary, Brian Rotman sees in Derrida a resource for critiquing a disembodied Platonism in mathematics; and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger has provided an explicitly Derridean account of experimental practice in molecular biology.

Brian Rotman's proposal for a semiotics of mathematics draws upon Derridean notions consonant with recent directions in science studies.[25] In Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero Rotman offers an archaelogy--in Foucault's sense--of zero, the vanishing point and imaginary money. Rotman studies transformations in different sign systems--arithmetical signs, picture signs, and money signs--showing in each the same pattern of signification, its destabilization and deconstruction through the introduction of a new sign, and finally the "naturalization" of the new sign. Operative in each of these systems is the assumption of an independent reality of objects providing a pre-existing field of referents for signs assigned to them. Zero, vanishing point, and imginary money function in a dual fashion: they are signs within the system of signs (zero as a number; the vanishing point as an element in a picture; imaginary money--a bank note--as a currency capable of being exchanged for goods), but they are simultaneously meta-signs external to the system (zero as the origin of the numbers for the one who counts, the vanishing point as the organizing point for perspective viewing for the one who depicts a scene, the bank note as currency exchangable for a certain amount of gold) money originates the medium of exchange which allows money to become a commodity. Like Derrida's supplement, the introduction of a meta-sign deconstructs the anterior reality supposedly grounding the system of signs. Once the system is accepted as referring to some external reality, it will continue to claim this role however far removed its signs are from this putative reality--numerals can be written for instance which are impossible to achieve through any possible actual counting, impossible scenes can be depicted, transactions can be drawn up that bear no relation to achievable relationships between goods. The result is a reversal of the original relation and a subsequent naturalization of the meta-sign according to Rotman:

    The signs of the system become creative and autonomous. The things that are ultimately 'real', that is numbers, visual scenes, and goods, are precisely what the system allows to be presented as such. The system becomes both the source of reality, it articulates what is real, and provides the means of 'describing' this reality as if it were some domain external and prior to itself; as if, that is, there were a timeless, 'objective' difference, a transcendental opposition, between presentation and representation.[26]
The deconstructive move leads Rotman to examine more closely how these fictions of origin are maintained. He focuses especially on the operations in the new system of meta-signs. The "for-the-one-counting" (and its analogs in the sign systems for vision and money) of the system of numbers (namely a human bean--person--manipulating physical objects like an abbacus or marks on a page) has a correlate in the meta-sign system, in what Rotman calls the meta-Subject. The meta-Subject, according to Rotman, is the addressee of all those mystifying commands like "Integrate the function f," "Take the tangent to the curve f(x)." This subject is an idealized, truncated simulacrum, which Rotman calls the Agent, analagous to what Peirce in his discussion of thought experiment called a "skeleton diagram of the self," that is dispatched to perform these activities. For Rotman mathematics is an immanently embodied form of semiotic practice.

Like Brian Rotman, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger's Derridean account of experiment breaks with the notion of a pre-existent referent grounding scientific representations. In fact, he finds the notion of representation insufficient to capture the interesting features of what goes on in the early molecular biology labs he examines for his paper in this volume. According to Rheinberger the game of lab science is aimed at generating robust experimental systems for the production of what he calls "epistemic things," materialized interpretations that form the components of models. The referent of scientific work is the model according to Rheinberger, comparison never being made to nature but always to other models, a process Rheinberger analogizes to the operation of Derrida's supplement and Brian Rotman's xenotext. In Rheinberger's case study of the molecular biology of protein synthesis, for example, different cellular components are defined by centrifugation, sedimentation properties, radioactive tracers, chromatograms using a DNA sequencing gel. The scientific object is gradually configured from the juxtaposition, displacement, and layering of these traces.

The experimental systems molecular biologists design are "future generating machines," configurations of experimental apparatus, techniques, and inscription devices for creating semi-stable environments--little pockets of controlled chaos--just sufficient to engender unprecedented, surprising events. When an experimental system is working, it operates as a difference generating system governed by an oscillatory movement--stabilization-destabilization-re-stabilization--what Derrida calls the "jeu des possibles." At the heart of the laboratory/labyrinth are experimental arrangements for transforming one form of matter into another and inscription devices for transforming matter into written traces. The products of this complex of experimental arrangements and insciption devices are trace-articulations, which Rheinberger calls graphemes. They represent certain aspects of the scientific object in a form that is manipulable in the laboratory. Graphemes in turn are the elements for construcing models. They are the manipulable signs scientists use in "writing" their models.

In addition to the (misplaced) critique that Derrida's approach eliminates the real, the body, and reduces everything to "text,"[27] a second concern is that Derridean deconstruction harbors a kind of technology of the letter.[28] In our discussions at the Berlin Sommer Akademie these concerns were translated into the undesirable possibility that deconstruction, linked with the materialities of communication, reinstates a form of technological determinism. Thus, there are resistances in Rheinberger's world of experimental systems, but, since science never has access to the real except through trace-articulations, they are the resistances of graphemes to being assembled in certain ways. If there are "agents"or "actants" in Rheiberger's lab, they come in the form of technologically embedded graphemes. A parallel concern is that Friedrich Kittler's approach to writing is sympathetic to a kind of technological determinism. Kittler encourages such interpretations through his positioning of his work with respect to other schools of literature studies and through provocative statements and titles like "There is No Software." Although Kittler's writing embraces rich historical detail, use of archival materials, and historical contextualization of literature within fields such as psychophysics, experimental physiology, and the engineering of technical media, Kittler explicitly rejects any characterization of his work as "new historicism" or sociology of literature--in other words anything that would look outside media for the meaning and content of literature. Kittler's framing descriptions of his project frequently invoke McLuhan's deterministic media theories, for example claims that the content of a medium is always another medium and that while we are engaged by media we are numbed to their transformation of our senses.[29] To be sure Kittler, like McLuhan, considers man the shaper of technology, but once technology exists, it shapes man: "Man becomes as it were, the sex organs of the machine world...enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms."[30] In a similar vein Kittler argues that "methodological distinctions of modern psychoanalysis and technical distinctions of the modern media landscape coalesce very clearly. Each theory has its historical a priori. And structuralism as a theory only spells out what has been coming over the information channels since the beginning of this century."[31] Thus for Kittler even Lacan's theories of the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic, which are so central to Kittler's own literary criticism, are historical effects of the surrogate sensory modalities offered by gramophone, film and typewriter in the discourse network of 1900.

In Inscribing Science, an alternative to these decontructivist-inspired approaches is represented by studies emphasizing the historically situated character of scientific representation, its multivalent and contested nature, and the investment of scientific argument in narrative structures, vocabularies, grammars, patterns of analogy and metaphor both internal and external to the scientific text. In recent years, Gillian Beer has offered a number of pathbreaking studies on the cultural codes embedded in the scientific text, and her paper in this volume on Darwin's experience of "the insular condition" continues and expands this work. Her studies of Darwin's use of language in constructing the argument of the Origin of Species have revealed the manner in which Darwin's familiarity with literary resources of Shakespeare, Milton, and other authors provided habits of imagination that affected, for example, his reading of Malthus and his reception of the implications of Malthus' ideas.[32] In Darwin's Plots, Beer shows how, for example, the history plays of Shakespeare, which emphasize stable succession through blood relationship, provided Darwin with one genetic pattern of succession and change with accommodation. At the same time Darwin's use of language in the Origin resonated with authors such as Milton and Shakespeare, enabling him to fashion a receptive audience for his ideas. In Beer's view, metaphor and narrative, by tapping into cultural presuppositions and activities of association just below the level of attention, were very much a part of Darwin's construction of theory. Darwin was writing for a general audience as well as for a group of scientific peers. Beer notes that in the first edition of the Origin Darwin's choice of language was multivocal, using the tendency of words to dilate and contract across related senses, or to oscillate between significations. This served his rhetorical purposes and enabled him, while working within a tradition of natural history by and large subservient to natural theology, to write against the grain; indeed it enabled him to include man in the interstices of his text through language expressing kinship, descent, and genealogy. As Beer shows, howver, in later edtions of the Origin Darwin struggled to make his key terms mean one thing only.[33] Beer's point is that readers no less than authors constitute the meanings of the text: "Not what is said, but the agreement as to constraints on its reception, will stabilize scientific discourse...The enclosing within a community is a necessary condition for assuring stable signification."[34]

The example of Darwin's struggles to master language and reign in the play of signifiers speaks directly to the issue concerning Simon Schaffer, Alex Pang and Phillip Prodger in this volume. In contrast to Latour and Woolgar's suggestion that scientific inscription devices and the laboratory create obligatory passage points constraining interpretation and assigning authority, Schaffer explores the multiple zones between the laboratory and popular representations. He argues that power and authority over the representation of the Orion nebula in the mid-nineteenth century did not reside with the authors of scientific texts, the astronomers, whose personal authority as observers was supposedly sufficient in early Victorian England to guarantee the truth of what they saw. Multiple authorities competed for rights to be the representatives of the nebulae, including journalists, natural philosophers, priests, critics, popular lecturers, and political radicals. This contest was not between high versus low science or different professional cultures, but was rather a matter of different audiences and the different aesthetic standards associated with them.[35] Schaffer emphasizes that astronomers and other commentators all deployed both literary and pictorial technologies with the same terms occurring in a variety of forums, but the different intended audiences exercised control over the most intimate details of the representations.

Alex Pang's paper nicely amplifies this thesis. Schaffer notes that one crucial element enabling the play of interpretations of observations made at the Leviathan of Parsonstown was that the technologies of print and of picturing were highly malleable. In cases such as the Orion nebula, in which the issue is whether there is a condensing gas or a cluster of individual stars too small to be resolved optically, one might assume that the problems of interpretation would be resolved with astrophotography. But as Pang shows, matters of interpretation and artifactuality persisted even when photography was introduced into the observatory. Even when explicitly in pursuit of mechanically reproduced images untainted by human hand, the realities of the printing process forced astronomers to rely on skilled labor and required procedures for restoring lost information and correcting the content of pictures to match the "truth" observed by astronomers. Aesthetic standards had to be negotiated for the proper signalling of an "objective" photograph.[36] Once again we find matters of control and authority surfacing, this time between observatory and print shop, forcing astronomers and engravers to come to agreement about the criteria for judging a good picture and the definitions of "intervention" versus "alteration."

The notion that objectivity is an aesthetic standard constructed within a semiotic field of representations--not manufactured by an inscription device alone--highlights the paper by Phillip Prodger on Darwin's use of photography. Prodger shows beautifully how Darwin's evolutionary narrative informed the selection and placement of photographs as illustrations in his text, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. According to Prodger, Darwin was the first scientist to make use of the heliotype method for illustrating a text; his photographs were carefully situated in his text together with traditional engravings to take advantage of the striking appearance and novelty of these images in light of the tradition of scientific illustration dating back to the seventeenth century. With the contemporary popularity of photographs as documentary records, Darwin used them to add mechanical objectivity to his claims, even though the images were actually staged and Darwin himself participated in removing props and other evidence of human intervention.

Schaffer argues--and the papers by Pang and Prodger beautifully support the thesis--that every literary form of fact-making is linked to local complexes of technical and social practice and that stabilizing any representation is always at the same time a problem of political order and moral discipline. We cannot understand these processes by focusing attention on the character of inscription devices themselves or on the elusive chain of signifiers they produce; rather we must investigate the labor of controversy that ties signifiers to specific interpretations.

Are these two approaches--Derridean deconstruction and historical-constructivism-- at all compatible? At the end of the opening section of Grammatology Derrida suggests that inscription devices and media technology be understood as linked to the contents of science, literature and philosophy on the one hand, but simultaneously to particular social, economic and political orders on the other:

    The enigmatic model of the line is thus the very thing that philosophy could not see when it had its eyes open on the interior of its own history. This night begins to lighten a little at the moment when linearity--which is not loss or absence but the repression of pluri-dimensional symbolic thought--relaxes its oppression because it begins to sterilize the technical and scientific economy that it has long favored. In fact for a long time its possiblity has been structurally bound up with that of economy, of technics and of ideology. This solidarity appears in the process of thesaurization, capitalization, sedentarization, hierachization, of the formation of ideology by the class that writes or rather commands the scribes....

    The end of linear writing is indeed the end of the book.[37]

Derrida's project is focused on "writing in the broadest sense" rather than on specific historical episodes of the material practice of writing; and although he merely gestures toward history in the ordinary sense in the passage above, he nonetheless recognizes that the questions forming his grammatology are also relevant to a deconstructive history focused on the material practices of inscription and the social, political, and economic institutions that they sustain. That these two approaches can shed interesting light on scientific practice is the premise we explore in Inscribing Science.


ENDNOTES

[1]Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985, pp. 55-59.

[2]Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. p. 88.

[3]Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974. p. 73.

[4]M. Norton Wise, "Mediating Machines." Science in Context 2.Spring (1988): pp. 77-113.

[5]Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

[6]Jacques Derrida, Grammatology, p. 35.

[7]Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics. Trans. Roy Harris. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1986., pp. 24-25.

[8]Ibid. p. 26.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid., pp. 31.

[11]Jacques Derrida, La voix et le phénomène. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967. pp. 89-90;Wellbery, David E. "The Exteriority of Writing." Stanford Literature Review 9 (1992): 11-23. especially p. 16

[12]Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. p. 76. Lynch, Michael. Art And Artifact In Laboratory Science. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985.

[13]Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life, p. 66.

[14]Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Reprinted 1990 by Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1978. 196-231.

[15]Ibid., pp. 217-220.

[16]Ibid., p. 230. Italics in the original.

[17]Derrida, Grammatology, p. 84.

[18]Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks: 1800/1900. Trans. Michael Metteer with Chris Cullens. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, p. 246.

[19]David Wellbery, "Foreward." Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. vii-xxxiii, especially p. xxxi.

[20]Kittler, Discourse Networks, p. 250.

[21]Derrida, Grammatology, n. 35, pp. 332-33.

[22]Ibid., p. 158.

[23]Bruno Latour repents from his earlier use of Derridean models of inscription and differrence in We Have Never Been Modern. Tr. Catherine Porter, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 5-6; pp. 62-65. Donna Haraway also seeks to introduce agency into her account. See Donna Haraway, "The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others," eds. Lawrence Grosberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler, Cultural Studies. London/New York: Routledge, 1992, pp. 295-227.

[24]Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p. 64.

[25]Brian Rotman. "Towards a Semiotics of Mathematics." Semiotica 72 (1988): 1-35; Brian Rotman. Ad Infinitum...The Ghost in Turing's Machine. Taking God Out of Mathematics and Putting the Body Back In. An Essay in Corporeal Semiotics. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.

[26]Brian Rotman. Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987. (Reprint Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 28.

[27]For Derrida's rejoinder to this point see Jacques Derrida. Limited Inc. Trans. Samuel Weber. Evanston, Il.: Northwestern University Press, 1988, especially pp. 136-137:

What is called "objectivity," scientific for instance (in which I firmly believe, in a given situation), imposes itself only within a context which is extremely vast, old, powerfully established, stabilized or rooted in a network of conventions (for instance those of language) and yet which still remains a context. And the emergence of the value of objectivity (and hence of so many others) also belongs to a context. We can call "context" the entire "real-history-of-the-world," if you like, in which this value of objectivity and, even more broadly, that of truth (etc.) have taken on meaning and imposed themselves. That does not in the slightest discredit them. In the name of what, of which other "truth," moreover, would it? One of the definitions of what is called deconstruction would be the effort to take this limitless context into account, to pay the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context, and thus to an incessant movement of recontextualization. The phrase which for some has become a sort of slogan, in general so badly understood, of deconstruction ("there is nothing outside the text" [il n'y a pas de hors-texte]) means nothing else: there is nothing outside context. In this form, which says exactly the same thing, the formula would doubtless have been less shocking. I am not certain that it would have provided more to think about. (p. 136)

...A few moments ago, I insisted on writing, at least in quotation marks, the strange and trivial formula, "real-history-of-the-world," in order to mark clearly that the concept of text or of context which guides me embraces and does not exclude the world, reality, history....[A]s I understand it...the text is not the book, it is not confined in a volume itself confined to the library. It does not suspend reference--to history, to the world, to reality, to being, and especially not to the other, since to say of history, of the world, of reality, that they always appear in an experience, hence in a movement of interpretation which contextualizes them according to a network of differences and hence of referral to the other, is surely to recall that alterity (difference) is irreducible. Différance is a reference and vice versa. (p. 137)

[28]Christopher Norris. "Limited Think: How Not to Read Derrida." What's Wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. 134-163.

[29]Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994 (first ed. 1964), p. 18.

[30]Ibid., p. 46.

[31] Friedrich Kittler, "Gramophone, Film, Typewriter." October pp. 101-118, especially p. 115.

[32]Beer, Gillian. Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, pp. 29-48.

[33]Ibid., p. 38. Also see Moore, James. "Deconstructing Darwinism: The Politics of Evolution in the 1860s." Journal of the History of Biology 24 (1991): 353-408. Moore notes that when it suited his purposes Darwin allowed great latitude in the meanings of key propositions in his evolutionary to propagate even among his most intimate circle of supporters, permitting suggestions, for instance, that his theory was compatible with natural theology.

[34]Gillian Beer, "Problems of Description in the Language of Discovery."in One Culture. Ed. George Levine. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. pp. 35-58, especially pp. 44-45.

[35]Michael Lynch and Samuel Edgerton. "Aesthetics and Digital Image Processing." Picturing Power. Eds. Gordon Fyfe and John Law. London: Routledge, 1988. 184-220.

[36]On mechanical objectivity see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison. "The Image of Objectivity." Representations 50.Fall (1992): 81-128.

[37]Derrida, Grammatology, p. 86.