naming things

“Text and textus? Text, of course, comes from the Latin textus, which means ‘web.’ In modern printing, the “web” is that great ribbon of paper which, in many presses, takes upwards of an hour to thread from roller to roller throughout the huge machine that embeds ranked rows of inked graphemes upon the ‘web,’ rendering it a text. All the uses of the words ‘web,’ ‘weave,’ ‘net,’ ‘matrix’ and more, by this circular ‘etymology’ become entrance points into a textus, which is ordered from all language and language-functions, and upon which the text itself is embedded.

The technological innovations in printing at the beginning of the Sixties, which produced the present ‘paperback revolution,’ are probably the single most important factor contouring the modern science-fiction text. But the name ‘science fiction’ in its various avatars – s-f, speculative fiction, sci-fi, scientifiction – goes back to those earlier technological advances in printing that resulted in the proliferation of ‘pulp magazines’ during the Teens and Twenties.

Naming is always a metonymic process. Sometimes it is the pure metonymy of associating an abstract group of letters (or numbers) with a person (or thing), so that it can be recalled (or listed in a metonymic order with other entity names). Frequently, however, it is a more complicated metonymy: Old words are drawn from the cultural lexicon to name the new entity (or to rename an old one), as well as to render it (whether old or new) part of the present culture. The relations between entities so named are woven together in patterns far more complicated than any alphabetic or numeric listing can suggest: and the encounter between objects-that-are-words (e.g., the name ‘science fiction,’ a critical text on science fiction, a science-fiction text) and processes-made-manifest-by-words (another science-fiction text, another critical text, another name) is as complex as the constantly dissolving interface between culture and language itself. . . .”

(Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton: an ambiguous heterotopia, pp. 282–283)

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