Mesopotamia
The Land of the Four River Banks

Websites

Version 1
Giorgio Buccellati – April 2021


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Three perspectives
1. The informational perspective
2. The epistemological perspective
     a. Data oriented websites
     b. Argument oriented websites
3. The literary analysis perspective
The notion of website
Nature and structure
Two types
References

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Three perspectives

     Websites have become fully entrenched in our practice, but little critical thought has gone into an analysis of what the nature of a website is. The question is interesting in itself, but is particularly important when considering websites as serving a scholarly purpose. To this end, we will look at a website from three perspectives, which are not mutually exclusive but, potentially at least, complementary. Only some os these perspectives apply to websites currently in use; the others are the ones I am here arguing for.



Fig. 1. The areas in white are the ones currently in use;
the areas in grey are the ones I am arguing for in this website.

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1. The informational perspective

     Websites are universally seen as informational in nature: they convey the most diverse variety of representations of facts and ideas. The gathering of these representations into a website is open-ended (hence the dotted line of the frame in Fig. 1), and the degree of authorial responsilbity and critical weight is extremely fluid and generally very limited.
     On aspect that is universally associated with most websites currently in use is a marked sense of urgency (urgency). It is, for the most part, a fabricated sense of urgency. While information does certainly convey knowledge, what seems to matter most, in current websites, is the rapidity with which that knowledge is made available and the size of the audience it reaches. Here lies the deeper (and mist threatening) meaning of McLuhan's ditto "the medium is the message."
     The emphasis is not on the content, on knowledge as such, but rather on the spread factor. The very term "information" implies that one is bent on shaping ("forming") the target, rather than on focusing on the intrinsic value of what is presented. In this regard, "information" can become antithetical to "communication," which implies sharing a value, something that stands by itself regardless of whom it reaches, or how rapidly.

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2. The epistemological perspective

     An epistemological construct/instrument is a channel for structuring and conveying knowledge. A website is an ideal vehicle to this end, first and foremost because it allows us to combine the two systems (data and narrative) into a unified argument, in ways that are not possible in a paper format. But this merging into what I call a digital discourse is not generally implemented in current websites, and here I will make a case for this understanding of the nature of a website.
     An epistemological perspective is symmetrically opposed to the informational perspective because it places the emphasis on the knowledge content knowledge, without any sense of urgency. Knowledge is presented for its own sake, not for the impact it may have on the audience. This sense of distance makes for a more objective and dispassionate representation of facts and arguments.
     The two epistemological subsystems impact directly on the character of websites, and so we have two parallel types, noe that is oriented towards dazta, and another that is oriented to the argument.

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     a. Data oriented websites

     Data oriented websites are in current common use, and they come in two major categories.
     They may be in the form of tabular databases
     Other data oriented websites are in the form of an ordered publication of data

epistemological value of data bases see data

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     b. Argument oriented websites

     

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3. The literary analysis perspective

     A literary construct is a linguistic entity that has a consistency of its own, with a formal and substantive coherence that holds the parts together. Websites are not generally considered in this category, because they are seen primarily as serving a utilitarian purpose, like a catalog or at best a dictionary. I will here make instead the case for their proper literary dimension.
     If epistemology places the emphasis on the knowledge content, it does not ignore the importance of how it is presented. In other words, it is not that, because of its neutrality vis-à-vis the audience it ignores it. The issue of communication is still very much in foreground, and must be considered on its own grounds. It is in this regard that a website becomes the object of a critical literary analysis, botn in termns of how it is to be construed and how it is to be accessed.
poetry, see under frame

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The notion of website

     I focus on the notion of the website seen as a literary construct and an epistemological instrument.
epistemological dimension is actually the one in current use, but limited to data
not the literary diension, i. e., no link to te argument
very meaning of the term IT; information syndrome
combining the three perspectives -- analogy with a bus tour of a city, with the option of getting off
invitation as parallel to information


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Nature and structure

     Websites are so ubiquitous nowadays that it may seem pointless ot inquire about their nature and structure. But such too facile an acceptance of what a website purports to be has led, in my view, to an underappreciation of its potential for scholarly communication. Going against the mainstream, the present discussion is intended to bear this out. As indicated, I aim to show how a website can be a literary construct and serve as an epistemological locus. Now, this task may be considered futile – on the grounds that there is not sufficient substance to warrant such an effort. Or else, where one concedes that there is some literary and epistemological depth to be seen in a website, the inquiry I am proposing may seem unnecessary – on the grounds that the nature and purpose of a website are obvious.
     To justify my view, we will look critically into a website's nature and structure. In principle, this analysis obtains for any and all websites. In fact, however, the major points raised here, concerning their literary and epistemological dimension, are present only potentially or, at best, embryonically in standard current websites. To illustrate this point, we should distinguish between two basic types of websites, which are to be seen as complementary.
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Two types

     A standard website is conceived as a container, i. e., as a receptacle that contains a variable number of items. It is open ended, without an overriding sense of the whole that constitutes the content. The items are related to each other on the basis of external criteria, much as the alphabetical sequence determines the assemblage of items in a dictionary; thus they do not constitute an organic sequence that derives its unity from within, they are juxtaposed on the basis of external criteria.
     In contrast, a website based on the notion of digital discourse is conceived as a whole from within. It, too, serves as a container, a receptacle that contains a variable number of items. But these have a coherence of their own, one that constitutes a self-contained and organic whole. Thus, while standard websites stop at the level of the container, the website I am proposing is one that goes beyond that level while at the same time including it in its own make-up.
     modalities
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References

Boerzsei, McLuhan, Carr about McLuhan
Fratelli tutti: networking vs. fraternity
CDLI, OpenAccess,ESTL

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