Text Technologies
A History
Elaine Treharne and Claude Willan




THE FIELD OF TEXT TECHNOLOGIES is a capacious analytical and interpretive framework that focuses on all textual records from the earliest periods of traceable human communication (perhaps as early as 70,000 BCE) to the present. These records can take the form of images, writing, sound, or action, as long as these are meaningful and produced with intentionality by a human agent. Text technologies seeks to discover why, by whom, when, how, for whom, and in what contexts those textual artifacts were produced and to uncover the long history of instantiations of each technology. An investigation of these core components of a textual artifact (any meaningful form of communication that is recorded) demonstrates underlying systems and a unifying structure. It is possible, then, to determine specific trends and concepts emerging through successive cycles of text technological facture the better to understand how communication has operated historically and might operate in the future.


TEXT comprises signs, symbols, or sounds of any kind that intentionally convey meaning.1 It is a conceptual category with a vast demesne that encompasses all forms of human communication. The signs or symbols that convey and display meaning are by definition physical, perceptible phenomena ranging from systematic markings on rocks to radar blips. This is the crux and the friction at the heart of this book: the idea of text is abstract, but our means of perceiving it is always physical and concrete—what we call technological, rooted in praxis and technē. The conveyance of meaning happens through a technological, nontextual form and necessitates know-how, tools, and a medium or substrate.

TEXT can take many different forms. It could be a chair or a government building (its design, architecture, decorations, or the sum of the subordinate texts into a whole text), as well as more conventional vectors of meaning like advertisements, cartoons, bitcoin, posters, songs, magazines, newspapers, YouTube videos, and books. The technologies involved in making a chair can include joinery, carving, welding, molding, weaving, or upholstering, but in order to read it as TEXT, it must have been produced with the intention of communicating a meaningful message that an audience could usually interpret. As we will see with different texts throughout this book, the most complex chairs are multitechnological hybrids—component technologies working together to form a powerful and multivalent whole. A good example of a distinctive text in this case is a throne or an Eames lounger.

This section introduces and explains our working definition, and taxonomy, of TEXT as a concept, providing multiple examples so that you can recognize which kinds of objects fit into this overarching field and which do not. We then introduce a way to analyze objects that are texts.

Finding and Defining text

Since the meanings of texts are conveyed perceptibly, through physical means, we can refine the definition of TEXT that we just offered to the following: TEXT (or, indeed, a text) is a voluntarily and intentionally human-created phenomenon that contains and imparts an interpretable and meaningful message, accessible to a community of receivers (even if that community is just one person talking to himself or herself).2 We will go through this definition term by term to provide a working sense of what TEXT can and cannot be.

Voluntariness is an important component of this definition. Emanations of the involuntary physical consequences of having a body in the world, for example, are not TEXT. A sneeze, a shiver, a bruise: these somatic reactions are perceptible phenomena, but they are not TEXT. By the same token, the unintentional side effects of intentional acts are not ordinarily TEXT: the cloud of dust thrown up by a pneumatic drill, the squeak of a door’s hinges, the erosion of a riverbank over time. All of these phenomena, if unintended or if without human agency, cannot be TEXT.

This brings us to the next term in the definition: intentionality. Intentionality has the ability to frame, or reframe, phenomena into TEXT. Phenomena produced or interpreted under the circumstances of active and directed intentionality can be argued to be TEXT. Stars simply existing in the sky are natural phenomena, for example. When humans understand stars to represent astrological signs or read a star’s positioning to detect direction, those stars become TEXT because the human mediator intentionally seeks and interprets meaning.

The presence of the word intentionality in the definition thus reflects our anthropocentric approach to TEXT. We do not consider naturally occurring phenomena, in situ, to be TEXT. Under normal circumstances, phenomena that occur without active or conscious human intervention—the shaping of driftwood, weather events, a rock—are not TEXT. Even if human actions affect our perception of these phenomena (e.g., altered tidal patterns, global warming, mining), they are not TEXT. And even when these phenomena are used as component parts of a text (driftwood as art in a home, depiction of storms or twisters in a news broadcast or a film, use of rocks in garden displays), the underlying natural physical objects are not in themselves TEXT, even though they are component parts of TEXT.

In sum, intentionality is the deliberateness or agency behind a text’s creation, inspiring its production. An author’s intentionality is her willful bringing into being of meaningful communication. A scribe’s intentionality might be his wish to create a regulated, calligraphically expert piece of writing. Bing Crosby’s crooning, developed through careful use of sound recording in the 1940s, intentionally attempted to create an intense closeness to a distant, unknown, and unknowable audience.

Interpretable is the corollary term to created in this definition: if a human agent must make the text, then that agent must also perceive it. Here we capture the essentially communicative function of TEXT. Even intentionally created phenomena that leave no physical or mental trace for others to discover cannot be, for the purposes of text technologies, TEXT. Thoughts that pass through one’s head that are never expressed are, in effect, self-perceptible, but in order to be called TEXT, the phenomena usually need to be perceptible and interpretable to some communicatee. This is a tricky area, though. If I speak to myself and have an entire interior conversation, this is, to all intents and purposes, TEXT. However, if I then leave no record or make no summary of this interior conversation, it is as if it never happened and the functionality or potential interpretability of that silent utterance is voided.

Our use of the word phenomenon reflects our belief that texts are first and foremost experiential in their nature. TEXT can generally be studied by others only because in its broadest and most capacious sense, it can be experienced by others; metaphysical, noumenal objects are beyond the scope of this discipline.3 An abstract concept such as justice, for example, could never, in and of itself, be TEXT, however much other texts might address it.

Describing TEXT

To accurately describe TEXT, we have developed a core triad of concepts that might be thought of as the structure of all text technologies. Any text can be taxonomized using this triad:


Each of these concepts is addressed in this part. But a shortcut to understand how the triad applies to a text is to ask yourself:

1. What was this text intended to do? [intentionality]
2. What is this text made of? What does it look like? What are its component parts? What is it composed of, and what objects were used to make it? [materiality]
3. What does this text actually do? How does it perform in the real world? What is its biography or long history? [functionality]

With this rubric in hand, describing a text seems simpler than deciding whether something is or is not TEXT in the first place. Like all neat distinctions, however, the truth is more complex. In practice, each of these components will interfere with the pure working of the other two. A text’s materiality will inevitably have an impact on how we understand its functionality (and here, we are talking about individual texts, so we move from the semantic, and abstract, field of TEXT). Its intentionality will skew our perception even of its materiality, and while the intentionality behind the creation of a text might remain stable, the materiality of a text can alter dramatically (in the printing of a poem, for example, and its oral delivery to a live audience). To this triad, we have added the concept of cultural value, an inescapable component that evades easy definition but is at work in all cases with varying degrees of predominance: a paper napkin with a child’s drawing may have a minuscule degree of cultural value (in this case, sentimental value for the child’s parents perhaps), but when John Lennon scribbles lyrics for a new Beatles song on a napkin, that textual object has immense cultural and financial value.

Thus, every individual text and individual text technology in this book can be anatomized with the triad plus or minus cultural value to reveal internal tensions and compromises, suggest how each of those factors enhances and undermines the text’s effectiveness, and elucidate the significance of one factor over the others.

TEXT = intentionality + materiality + functionality +/− cultural value

One can consider this full interpretation of a text, or text in its widest sense, to be plenitextual.4


Students who are new to text technological studies might be wondering at this point how this approach is distinguishable from disciplines that might be more familiar to them, such as literary studies or history. First, we’ll offer two rough thumbnail sketches of those disciplines and then show how and where text technologies differs.

History is the search for an ever more inclusive set of reconstructions of past actions, decisions, and motivations. Historians weigh evidence with a view to creating an ideally even-handed, accurate account of precisely what a now-disappeared version of the world looked like and (sometimes) how that particular moment emerged from, or led to, other now-past moments. The focus of traditional history has been on conjecturing the most plausible version of people and events possible given the evidence available from a variety of records and sources.

Within literary studies, the subdiscipline that most resembles text technologies is book history, a critical practice predicated on the insight that the material forms of a text influence how that text was read and how later texts were written. In a sense, text technologies simply extends this insight to its logical conclusion: it is the long history of the use of technē to encode or mediate signs. But our approach to the study of meaning differs substantially from that undertaken in most literary courses. For example, one considerable difference is that the notion of intention, or intentionality, is central to our understanding of text. Since at least the 1960s, literary scholarship (from Barthes, Derrida, I. A. Richards, and many others) has insisted—for its own purposes, quite rightly—that the literary text is discrete and isolated from its creator. This phenomenon is known loosely as “the death of the author.” In the history of text technologies, however, the creator of the text as an agent, whether as an author or copyist or film producer, is a central figure, but the materiality and subsequent history and reception of the text are equally important. In this book, we are concerned with the different methods agents have used to communicate meanings over time and the different ways in which those communications have been received, understood, and valued. Any object that intentionally conveys meaningful and potentially interpretable information is a text technology to be studied.

Whereas literary studies concerns itself first and foremost with the structure, meaning, definitions, and use of communicating objects and history with agents, their actions, and their interactions, text technologies treads a thoroughly hybrid middle ground. In short, text technologies addresses the material history of communications among human agents over the longue durée.


This book is divided into four parts. Each part takes a different tack in its exploration of the conceptual, historical, and material history of text technologies. This book is not designed to be read straight through, but for you to flip backward and forward from section to section. The argument of the book is revealed throughout the book and builds over the successive parts, during which you will encounter new concepts, new objects, and new terms, such as the “chemise” (from the French for “shirt”) that might cover a nineteenth-century book like the cloth version of a modern dust jacket, for example. If there are terms that are unclear to you, look them up in the Oxford English Dictionary (our preferred dictionary) or online.

Undergraduate students who were using this book while it was in preparation found it helpful to write in the book itself, responding to the questions that follow many of the sections, particularly in Part 2. These questions, together with the specifically selected Further Reading lists, are designed to help you think about each section in the wider context of text technologies, as well as stimulate ideas for examples of text technologies that you know fit into the various categories we have offered here.


All of the four parts of this book are interdependent, and no one part of the book would give a full and fair representation of text technologies without the other three. The part that you are now reading treats the conceptual framework underpinning text technologies. This framework deals both with first-order concepts crucial to understanding the approach, like the core triad, and with second-order concepts that work to give a finer-grained account of the myriad uses and lives of TEXT as a concept.

Part 2 gives an overview of the history of text technologies, running from cave paintings to Snapchat. As we move through that history, we refer to concepts we articulated in Part 1 while also rooting our text technological examples in specific cases.

We offer a range of case studies in Part 3 to move us out of the laboratory and show TEXT in the wild, as it were, in all its variety, hybridity, and heterogeneity. We believe that the case studies are an important corrective to the technological overview of Part 2, which might on its own suggest not only a uniform progression of technologies over time but that texts are simple, monotechnological phenomena.

We close in Part 4 with a few instances of text technological transformation as a way of teasing out the inertia and impetus that hold back and drive innovation and change: What social forces, in particular, stimulate text technological innovation, and what social transformations are affected by technological innovation? By looking at significant transformations from history, we outline the two mutually exclusive explanations for those transformations: social constructivism and technological determinism.

We hope that this book offers departure points for many different discussions on text technologies and related approaches to the history of the cultural record. We have provided too much material here for any one class to cover, but by breaking the book up into parts covering the conceptual, historical, practical, and transformational facets of text technologies, we offer a fertile and varied source for many different approaches to TEXT.



The first term in the structure of intentionality, materiality, functionality, and (plus or minus) cultural value relates to two qualities of TEXT. The first is a yes/no question that is, as we have seen, crucial to determining whether an object is a text. Does it have textual intentionality? Was the object created with the intention of communicating something to someone? The very baseline for determining intentionality is assuring the intervention of a human agent in constructing or mediating a phenomenon.

Once this condition has been satisfied, intentionality can have a more nuanced application. Somewhat akin to a historically bound determination of functionality, it consists in posing the question: What was the specific intention of the creator(s) of this text when it was made? What state of affairs in the world did the creator of this text hope to rectify or preserve, celebrate, or mourn? In other words, why did the person create it?

Although intentions are historically determined, they are not historically fluid. The intention of Darius I’s self-glorifying inscription at Behistun, for example, is quite unchanged by the subsequent use of the inscription, carved into the side of a mountain, as a site for artillery target practice in World War II. That intentionality will always have been determined by Darius, his architects, and his masons. Similarly, while texts frequently undergo adaptive reuse, there is only one intentional mode in play at any given time: an author will write a literary manuscript in order to state a message or make a contribution to contemporary culture; the publisher will produce a printed version with the intention of transmitting the text to a larger audience. The literary work will be similar in both manifestations, but the producers are different and their intentions, while related, refer specifically to their material productions.

To say that intentionality is a more straightforward component of the triad than functionality is not to say, however, that motivations are ever simple or single. This complexity is often ramified by the collaborative nature of much text. Consider the intentions of only two people involved in the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Pope Julius II wanted to glorify God and signify the sheer scale of papal power in renovating the Vatican to compensate for his reputation as a warrior pope and to have a comparable reputation to his predecessors as a patron of the visual arts. Michelangelo Buonarroti, for his part, wanted to glorify God, make enough money to survive, create a comprehensive and cohesive visual sourcebook for Old Testament figures and allegories, and testify to his own extraordinary powers as a painter even while he considered sculpture his true calling. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the product of all of these vectors of intention, and many more.

As an analyst of any text, you will often find it helpful to decide in advance precisely whose intentionality you want to determine.


Materiality is the part of the triad that corresponds most closely to the “technology” component of text technology. It is the part that concerns itself with transmission of the text: how it is made in terms of the physical components of the textual object, the tools employed for production, and the know-how involved in using the tools in relation to the materials.

One of the things that we always notice about a text, even if we don’t know that we notice it, is what it is, what it is made of. A text’s materiality is often almost invisible to us precisely because it seems so obvious to us. To say that a book is made of paper is, to us, unnecessary. This book is made of paper. But what of the material and technological differences between hard- and softcover books? What about books with a higher paper weight (for more heft to the page), rough-cut edges on literary fiction, or large- versus small-format printings? What about books that come with dust jackets, or slipcovers? What about differences in the finish given to paper: photography books have a high-gloss finish on their pages, and literary fiction softcovers often have a matte finish. What about color printing or black and white?

Behind each one of these different options is a long history of technological innovation, all the way from the invention of paper itself, to the development of movable type, the bound codex, durable glue, detailed and high-quality image reproduction, and the methods of mass-producing high-quality glossy color images.

To bring order to the great array of material conditions that a text can have, we employ a distinction between substrate and tool. Both offer fertile grounds for innovation, and each comes with particular mediating qualities. The substrate is the matter or surface or support on which the text is created. In a modern codex, the principal substrate (by mass) is paper. Other materials in the production of a codex include (as above) thread and glue, uniting the gatherings and fixing them to the spine. On a jumbotron, by contrast, the substrate is the complex mesh of electricity, wiring, plastic, metal, and LED lights that display words and numbers.

The tool describes whatever is used to inscribe, stamp, manipulate, stimulate, modify, or otherwise interact with the substrate in order to create a text. Without a tool, the substrate is inert; without a substrate, the tool is inarticulate. On the scoreboard, the tool is the program that sequences the illumination of the lights; on paper, it could be a pen and ink, a pencil, a brush and paint; against stone, it is a mallet and chisel.

Tools and substrates can come in pairs since often they are tailored to one another’s distinct properties. For example, a fountain pen has been designed to release predictable and even quantities of ink within a certain bandwidth of speeds of writing on a flexible, somewhat absorbent substrate. So too has pure high-grade cotton writing paper been designed to hold certain amounts of ink in a way that precisely reflects where the metal of the fountain pen touched it, and no further. Try using a fountain pen on greaseproof paper, and the substrate will not hold the ink deposited by the tool. If you used a fountain pen on a tissue, the substrate would be maladapted to the tool in the opposite way: it would hold too much ink. In both cases, the tracks of the fountain pen would be illegible. This goes some way toward explaining the great popularity and longevity of certain ideally matched tools and substrates: the ballpoint pen is a technological innovation that performs acceptably on a great range of substrates. Common printer paper (24 pound bond, 92 brightness, 8.5 by 11 inches) is a substrate that has been scrupulously adapted to be suitable for multiple ink-jet or laser tools.

As a general principle, the more successful a text technology is, the more perfectly adapted tool and substrate are to one another. A successful technology can be fitting for either a great variety of messages or only a few. The codex has enjoyed such tremendous popularity over the past two thousand years because of its flexibility and adaptability; in fact, the term book is so capacious that its very polyvalence creates longevity for all text technologies that fall under its name (an e-book, for instance, is highly variable in form; a checkbook is specific, involving key elements designed to reinforce authenticity and collective trust in the efficacy of the textual object). The generic form of the jumbotron is nearly ubiquitous in sports arenas and public spaces because it too is a carefully tailored technology capable of conveying many different messages very effectively.

Successive generations of textual production often happen by substrate and tool leapfrogging each other and driving one another forward. Think about just one focused arc of development of textual production: stone, clay, papyrus, parchment or vellum, paper, xylography, printing, typing, xerography, and digital reproduction. Consider the following questions.

1. What links of tool and substrate do you see between these stages?
2. Look at the time line at the beginning of Part 2. What social structures are implied by each stage of production?
3. Do any of the means of production imply the same social structures?
4. What is the overall trend of these changes?


On its face, the question of functionality is a simple one: What does a text do? How does it function in the world? These are in some respects questions that bear on what we might call the content of a text. Questions about content boil down to asking, “What does it say?” or “What does it mean?” This is the place, in other words, to include in your evaluation of a text the words, sentences, and paragraphs on the page; the actions and the figures in the painting; and so on. But the problem with this question is that there are almost as many answers as there are answerers, because the evaluation is subjective. Determining what a text says, means, or does has been the goal of much of the entire history of literary criticism, for example.

In fact, functionality is the most complex and shifting of the components of the triad. It depends in part on intention and materials, but it is also contingent on a myriad of other factors: For what context is the text made? For what constructed audience is the text intended? Is it being consumed in the context for which it was made? Reconstructing the historical context of a text can be crucial to understanding part of its functionality, even when that context is now irrecoverably lost. We can make conjectures about the context surrounding the inscriptions at Behistun, for example, but we cannot enter into, or ever fully conceive of, the world of Persia in 522 BCE.

A text’s function is not, however, entirely bound by the historical moment of its creation. One can ask how the form of the text affects its reception. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a multitude of different textual experiences, depending, for example, on its reception as live performance in a theater, in a movie theater, or by a reader of an edition (or a digital reproduction of the First Folio). Since these historical moments are so often beyond full reconstruction, it can be just as pertinent to evaluate the current functions—new functions—to which historical texts can be put. For example, the Behistun inscription’s original function was to establish and reinforce, in various ways, the authority of Darius I. But as the importance of emphasizing Darius’s lineage and martial prowess waned, other factors emerged as significant. Now the inscription has been largely repurposed to support the tourist trade of the city of Kermanshah in western Iran.

Functionality is a concept with considerable fluidity; determinations of materiality can be made with relative certainty, those of intentionality can occasionally be made with some certainty, and functionality is in some ways an emergent property of the combination of the first two components in the structure of text technologies. We say “in some ways” because the way that we understand an object is shaped by a constant tension between what it says and the way it is said. The total effect, “what the text does,” is the result of an ever-shifting negotiation between the former, the apparent content of the text, and the latter, which is the result of materials and intention.

The fact that functionality is the always-esoteric product of a variable matrix of factors means that it is often the last item that you can determine when analyzing text.

Cultural Value / Aura

In every taxonomy, there are outlying cases—the miscellaneous section of a filing system, the box marked “other” on a survey. The success of a taxonomy is in making those exceptions cohere as a category with a strong internal logic. In our case, the core equation, the structure, of text technological investigation is enhanced by what we, borrowing a term from Walter Benjamin, call “aura” or, more broadly perhaps, cultural value. In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin writes,

One might subsume the eliminated element in the term aura and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying that the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.5

The aura, then, is something that, according to Benjamin, exists “beyond the realm of art.” Aura is not necessarily a predominant part of a text, but it is inextricable from it. Benjamin’s essay argues in part that our society is so defined by the mass production of objects and the mass reproduction of images and messages that we have come to fetishize something that we call authenticity. When you go to the National Portrait Gallery in London and look at the famous Chandos painting of William Shakespeare, your experience of that text is overwhelmed by your awareness that you are in the physical presence of that endlessly reproduced original. The object that all those reproductions referred back to is now here, in the room, with you. This frisson of having contact with “the real thing” overrides our ability to look at or enjoy the painting on its own terms and entraps us instead in an exciting feeling of having in some way transcended our ordinary lives. When you go to see the Chandos Shakespeare, all you will usually see is its aura—its value to our culture as one of a long line of cultures that have appreciated the painting.

The ironies of this are many; most prominent, by experiencing aura or cultural value above the other three components of a text, you are contained once again within the ordinary life that you feel you have transcended. After all, the sensation of aura is about you and your bodily presence, not about an act of textual communication. Second, using many online art repositories, you can now examine a text like the Shakespeare portrait with far more attention to its functionality, intentionality, and materiality than you ever could in person; it can be seen in much greater detail than would be possible within its actual physical setting

Aura or cultural value is an inescapable fact of our encounters with TEXT. And Benjamin’s definition of aura as a predicament that we were saddled with by the culture industry is not the only definition. Some technologies were developed entirely to cater to the projection of aura—saints’ reliquaries, for example, which hold fragmented or whole physical remnants of those deemed to be holy by the Catholic Church. Other kinds of aura and cultural prioritization are possible wherever the perceiving agent finds or ascribes a noumenal quality such as value, beauty, the aesthetic, authenticity, and so on in a text that they consider key to its operation but cannot account for without recourse to something beyond the triad of function, intention, and materiality. Indeed, you could argue that the presence of aura/cultural value of some kind is what makes a text worth analyzing in the first place. The question that aura prompts us to ask ourselves is this: How much of a text can we attribute to the intentionality, materiality, and functionality, and how much must we consent simply never to understand?


Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” In Image, Music, Text, translated by S. Heath, 142–48. London: Fontana, 1977.

Culler, Jonathan. The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Hayles, Katherine N. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgment, translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

        . Critique of Pure Reason, edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Olson, David. The World on Paper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Tettegah, Sharon Y., and Safiya Umoja Noble, eds. Emotions, Technology, and Design. Amsterdam: Elsevier Academic Press, 2016.


1. A note on typography: throughout this book, you will often see the word TEXT written in small capitals. This is a technique taken from semantics, where capitals are used to denote a specific high-level term with a subset of subordinate terms (e.g., FURNITURE = chair, table, wardrobe, bed), rather than an ordinary lexical or syntactic unit (i.e., “text”), whose meanings are context dependent. That is, we are treating TEXT as representing the superordinate of the semantic field of all textual production, all text technologies, all writing systems, and all forms of meaningful communication. It is thus the abstraction of all individual instantiations of textual production or TEXT.

2. To an extent we are following Immanuel Kant, who writes in the Critique of Judgment that art “is a way of presenting that is purposive on its own and that furthers, even though without a purpose, the culture of our mental powers to [facilitate] social communication.” Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 173. Kant’s use of the word communication is key, since it implies the transmission of information from one agent to one or more others. It follows from our definition of TEXT that we are distinctly anthropocentric in our treatment of text technologies. Our definition of meaning therefore excludes nonhuman or theological sources as being beyond our purview. To an extent, this is an arbitrary hard stop. There are many kinds of nonhuman text. The pheromone trails left by ants to indicate the existence of food and also encode its distance and direction are only one example. Bowerbirds construct elaborate nests according to a set of aesthetic principles; these nests are part of a highly developed set of courtship rituals. It would be utterly fruitless to deny that the pheromonal trails left by ants, the nests of bowerbirds, the dances of birds of paradise, the howls of wolves, or the struts of peacocks were text. And this is to say nothing of the capacity of gorillas to fashion texts legible across species boundaries. The nonhuman animals we have listed voluntarily and intentionally create perceptible phenomena in order to convey meaning to another agent. Many animals, bees and elephants, for example, use text not only for communication but also (leveraging authority) for social organization. A complete taxonomy of all uses of TEXT across all human and nonhuman agents requires more space than we can afford it here. For the purposes of the taxonomy that this book will establish, therefore, we limit ourselves solely to human-created TEXT.

3. This distinction we also draw from Kant, from his Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

4. Earlier investigations of plenitext can be found in Elaine Treharne, “The Architextuality Editing of Old English,” Poetica 71 (2008): 1–13, and “Fleshing Out the Text: The Transcendent Manuscript in the Digital Age,” Postmedieval 4 (2013): 465–78.

5. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken / Random House, 2007), 221 (emphasis added).