Writing Documentarity

Arthur Perret

Université Bordeaux Montaigne

DOCAM — June 13th, 2019


I propose these four aspects—functionality, historicity, complexity, and agency—as the principal characteristics of the concept of documentality (Frohmann, 2012).

Documentality is prescriptive, documentation is descriptive (Day, 2018, p. 8).


Material things themselves (objects) can be considered as documents when they are taken as discernible elements, directly from studies, or as evidence in a demonstration. This is “objective documentation” or “automatic documentation” (Otlet, 1934, p. 217).

An anonymous Egyptian mummy, a gorilla in a cage, a piece of Spath . . . in this case the document transmits information about itself. It is an « auto-document » (Pagès, 1948, sec. 46).

Shifting the focus to interpretation.

What is it that causes something to « seem documentary »? (Gaudreault & Marion, 1994, p. 13)


An image always presents a greater or lesser degree of resemblance with the object which it is modeled on, and thus can always claim to « seem documentary ». This claim to a greater or lesser « documentarity » is dependent on the medium . . . Photography has, ontologically, a high degree of documentarity . . . The dedree of documentarity of a medium depends on its ability to show a greater or lesser number of indices of reality (Gaudreault & Marion, 1994, pp. 17–19).

Documentarity as quality / property / characteristics (Eigenschaft) on the basis of which we judge information:

Documentarity is a measure of what a content enables through a writing contract based on its documentary properties (Crozat, 2016).


A specific unifying principle for the document and the computer is the presence of writing (Warner, 1990).


W. Tunnicliffe & S. Rice (GCA GenCode Committee) imagine a generic computer implementation of editorial codes*.

*e.g. “Body” = “Times 12pt justified”.


Goldfarb, Mosher & Lorie (IBM) invent the Generalized Markup Language (GML) (ancestor of SGML, HTML and XML).

Markup is made of scripturation

This is the generic term I propose to designate all marks of enunciation, handwritten and typographical . . . Non-punctuation scripturation is intra- and supraphrastic: it refers to the most general divisions of documents, such as parts or chapters, in the table, paragraph, bracket, hyphen, bracket, italics (Laufer, 1986).

Markup is used in architexture

Architexture is meant, in brief, to stand for the building of the text as it is seen and is formed with the reader’s collaboration, special attention being given to the surface of the building material, its texturality (Caws, 1981, p. 10).

Markup functions as an architext

A technology of the intellect (Goody, 1977) which organizes enunciation. Une écriture de l’écriture.*

*Reinterpretation of Jeanneret & Souchier (1999) based on Collomb (2017) and Goyet (2017).

Humans and machines read and write architext.

Digital products of document acts and knowledge organization are architextual.


Documentarity as a “philosophy of evidence” interested in “technologies of judgement” (Day, 2019).

Part of it: studying the technological mediations of read/write processes.

Writing documentarity

  • Acknowledgements ANR HyperOtlet
  • Special thanks S. Crozat, R. Day
  • Fonts EB Garamond


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