Becoming Beside Ourselves

The Alphabet, Ghosts, and Distributed Human Being

Becoming Beside Ourselves
Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: July 2008

Author: Brian Rotman

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Digital Media, Science and Technology Studies

Becoming Beside Ourselves continues the investigation that the renowned cultural theorist and mathematician Brian Rotman began in his previous books Signifying Nothing and Ad Infinitum...The Ghost in Turing’s Machine: exploring certain signs and the conceptual innovations and subjectivities that they facilitate or foreclose. In Becoming Beside Ourselves, Rotman turns his attention to alphabetic writing or the inscription of spoken language. Contending that all media configure what they mediate, he maintains that alphabetic writing has long served as the West’s dominant cognitive technology. Its logic and limitations have shaped thought and affect from its inception until the present. Now its grip on Western consciousness is giving way to virtual technologies and networked media, which are reconfiguring human subjectivity just as alphabetic texts have done for millennia.

Alphabetic texts do not convey the bodily gestures of human speech: the hesitations, silences, and changes of pitch that infuse spoken language with affect. Rotman suggests that by removing the body from communication, alphabetic texts enable belief in singular, disembodied, authoritative forms of being such as God and the psyche. He argues that while disembodied agencies are credible and real to “lettered selves,” they are increasingly incompatible with selves and subjectivities formed in relation to new virtual technologies and networked media. Digital motion-capture technologies are restoring gesture and even touch to a prominent role in communication. Parallel computing is challenging the linear thought patterns and ideas of singularity facilitated by alphabetic language. Barriers between self and other are breaking down as the networked self is traversed by other selves to become multiple and distributed, formed through many actions and perceptions at once. The digital self is going plural, becoming beside itself.


Becoming Beside Ourselves has all the brilliance we have come to expect from Brian Rotman, and the introductory preface by Tim Lenoir provides a superb overview. The book is bold, imaginative, and deeply original—as provocative as it is evocative; it clearly deserves to be read by many.” — Evelyn Fox Keller, Isis,

“Rotman puts forward an exciting, original argument beginning with alphabetic writing existing as a tool to inscribe thoughts and ideas, and that the very nature of this tool has in turn, placed its own limitations and influences on the form these insights have taken. He boldly proposes that the headlock alphabetic texts had on cognitive consciousness in Western cultures is now transforming into a new consciousness, a new relationship with the nature of being through the emergence of new virtual technologies and new media networks.” — Maree Boyce, M/C Reviews

“Rotman’s book [is] a valuable essay on human subjectivity. . . .” — Camelia Elias, Parallax

Becoming Beside Ourselves is a bold, provocative, and highly original argument about the relation between medial effects and changing manifestations of subjectivity. It traces a sweeping trajectory from what Brian Rotman calls the ‘lettered self,’ associated with alphabetic inscription and the codex printed book, to the subject as distributed assemblage associated with network culture. While others have made parts of this kind of argument before, Rotman’s analysis is unique in placing special emphasis on gesture and revealing its traces in orality and print. In a brilliant synthesis, he mixes evolutionary theory with a Deleuzian view of agent-as-assemblage, arguing that computational media both reveal and perform distributed cognition as a crucial aspect of human being-in-the-world. Essential reading for anyone interested in the interrelations between computational media, contemporary subjectivity, and human evolution.” — Katherine Hayles, University of California, Los Angeles

“Brian Rotman’s exciting new text not only adds to his previous work on signifying technology (zero, infinity), it expands his study of abstraction to encompass the construction of subjectivity itself. Becoming Beside Ourselves will open up all kinds of unexplored terrains, from grammatology to psychoanalysis, from the history of technology to the study of culture and religion.” — Fredric Jameson, Duke University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brian Rotman is Distinguished Humanities Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. He is the author of several books, including Mathematics as Sign: Writing, Imagining, Counting; Ad Infinitum...The Ghost in Turing’s Machine: Taking God out of Mathematics and Putting the Body Back In; and Signifying Nothing: the Semiotics of Zero. Rotman has a doctorate in mathematics. Timothy Lenoir is the Kimberly J. Jenkins Chair of New Technologies and Society at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword: Machine Bodies, Ghosts, and Para-Selves: Confronting the Singularity with Brian Rotman / Timothy Lenoir ix

Preface xxxi

Acknowledgments xxxv

Aura xxxvii

Introduction: Lettered Selves and Beyond 1

Part I

1. The Alphabetic Body 13

2. Gesture and Non-Alphabetic Writing 33


3. Technological Mathematics 57

Part II

4. Parallel Selves 81

5. Ghost Effects 107

Notes 139

References 151

Index 163
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4200-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4183-3
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