PhD Student, Committee on Social Thought
“The Cybernetic Writing Pad: Computer Science and Chinese Script Reforms”
Friday, November 1st, 3-5 p.m.
Location: Center for East Asian Studies 319 (1155 E. 60th St.)
Discussant: Yueling Ji (PhD Student, EALC)
Next Friday from 3-5pm, the Art and Politics of East Asia (APEA) workshop is proud to host Jue Hou (PhD Student, Committee on Social Thought), who will present his paper “The Cybernetic Writing Pad: Computer Science and Chinese Script Reforms.” He summarizes the paper as follows:
In an era where the experience of Chinese writing is lived through such technologies as the Sogou cloud input, word prediction, and abundant choices of artistic fonts, Chinese scripts seems to have attained harmony with the world of machines. Yet as recently as the late 1970s and early 1980s, when all this was yet unforeseen, the Chinese character faced an impending doom of being abolished against the backdrop of the reopening of conversations on script reform previously interrupted by the Cultural Revolution and the various new demands instigated by technological advancements—the latest of the many crises in the troubled history of China’s entanglement with its script system and a century-long enterprise of national revival. This study is intended as an archaeology of how this crisis (re)emerged in the late 1970s and culminated in the first few years of the 1980s, how the old ideology of phonocentrism and the new wave of computer science informed and contested with each other, and how the series of dialogues between script reformists and engineers renegotiated the understanding of writing at the dawn of the Information Age. In particular, I seek to show that, following a shift from an ideologically informed anti-illiteracy movement to a scientifically driven campaign toward establishing new human-machine interfaces, ci [word] took over zi [character] as the major concern of scriptal modernization, during which the computer emerged as an actant that demands a retheorization of writing. I argue that, while the series of debates over scriptal modernization in this period were carried out in the familiar vocabulary of phonocentrism, Chinese scripts’ encounter with computer science in effect gave rise to a new ideology, characterized by what I shall call “phoneticization without phonè.”