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Comparative Textual Media

Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
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    Comparative Textual Media
    Book Description:

    For the past few hundred years, Western cultures have relied on print. When writing was accomplished by a quill pen, inkpot, and paper, it was easy to imagine that writing was nothing more than a means by which writers could transfer their thoughts to readers. The proliferation of technical media in the latter half of the twentieth century has revealed that the relationship between writer and reader is not so simple. From telegraphs and typewriters to wire recorders and a sweeping array of digital computing devices, the complexities of communications technology have made mediality a central concern of the twenty-first century.

    Despite the attention given to the development of the media landscape, relatively little is being done in our academic institutions to adjust. InComparative Textual Media, editors N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman bring together an impressive range of essays from leading scholars to address the issue, among them Matthew Kirschenbaum on archiving in the digital era, Patricia Crain on the connection between a child's formation of self and the possession of a book, and Mark Marino exploring how to read a digital text not for content but for traces of its underlying code.

    Primarily arguing for seeing print as a medium along with the scroll, electronic literature, and computer games, this volume examines the potential transformations if academic departments embraced a media framework. Ultimately,Comparative Textual Mediaoffers new insights that allow us to understand more deeply the implications of the choices we, and our institutions, are making.

    Contributors: Stephanie Boluk, Vassar College; Jessica Brantley, Yale U; Patricia Crain, NYU; Adriana de Souza e Silva, North Carolina State U; Johanna Drucker, UCLA; Thomas Fulton, Rutgers U; Lisa Gitelman, New York U; William A. Johnson, Duke U; Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, U of Maryland; Patrick LeMieux; Mark C. Marino, U of Southern California; Rita Raley, U of California, Santa Barbara; John David Zuern, U of Hawai'i at Mānoa.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4057-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction. Making, Critique: A Media Framework
    (pp. vii-xxxiv)
    N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman

    As traditional print-based humanities move into the digital era, many strategies are emerging to support and retrofit academic departments. Some universities have established freestanding centers for digital humanities, including the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, and the University of Nebraska. Others are hiring one or more faculty members in the area of digital humanities and incorporating them into an existing department and curriculum. Some are fiercely resisting change and remaining resolutely in the print era. Whatever the case, few have attempted to rethink categories, courses, and faculty hiring in ways that take more than a superficial account of...


    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 1-4)

      New mediais an unfortunate term for at least three reasons: it is a temporal rather than a technical designation, and what is new now will soon become old (and do we then say “old new media”?); it is very imprecise as to what constitutes “new media”; and most troublesome, it implies through back-formation that there exist “old media,” evoking cultural prejudices that equate “old” with “uninteresting,” “obsolete,” “already known and therefore incapable of innovation,” and so on. Carolyn Marvin (1990), Lisa Gitelman (2008), and others have fought against this tendency, reminding us that all media were once new. What...

    • 1 TXTual Practice
      (pp. 5-32)
      Rita Raley

      Are text messages displayed on large video screens or mobile variable message signs, or projected on building facades or on open ground in public squares, meaningful or not meaningful? And what is the structural form or logic of these scenes of reading and writing that would command critical attention? Would a laudatory or skeptical tone predominate in an analysis of interactive text installations, the expressive heights of which at times run the gamut from “u r gorgeous” to “This wall is way more popular than me”? Were one to approach these works by focusing on linguistic content alone, regarding, or...

    • 2 Mobile Narratives: Reading and Writing Urban Space with Location-Based Technologies
      (pp. 33-52)
      Adriana de Souza e Silva

      In his bookConsumers and Citizens, Néstor García Canclini (2001) points to the fragmentation of the contemporary urban landscape, arguing that it refuses narrative form. The eclectic architecture of megacities, their multiple outdoor advertisements and their diversity of sounds and stimuli, contributes to the perception of a fragmented and deconstructed urban space, one composed of disconnected places. Increasingly, however, formerly dissociated places are linked to each other through the use of location-aware mobile technologies, such as smart phones¹ and GPS devices. These technologies enable users to inscribe locations with digital information, such as texts, images, and videos, and find other...

    • 3 The .txtual Condition
      (pp. 53-70)
      Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

      In april 2011, scholars were buzzing with the news of Ken Price’s discovery of thousands of new papers written in Walt Whitman’s own hand at the National Archives of the United States. Price, a distinguished University of Nebraska literature professor and founding coeditor of the digital Walt Whitman Archive, had followed a hunch and gone to the Archives II campus in College Park looking for federal government documents—red tape, essentially—that might have been produced by the Good Gray Poet during Whitman’s tenure in Washington, D.C., as one of those much-maligned federal bureaucrats during the tumultuous years 1863–73....

    • 4 From A to Screen
      (pp. 71-96)
      Johanna Drucker

      How do letters appear on our screens, these exquisite expressions of design, our Baskerville so clearly differentiated from the Caslon and Comic Sans that we recognize instantly what font families we are inviting into view? Do they come, like pasta letters in a can of alphabet soup, intact and already formed, down the pipeline of network connections, so many obedient foot soldiers in the ranks of our textual forces? Are they conjured to their tasks through the sorcery of application apprentices calling the infinite stream of glyphic figures into service for maneuvers as written rows and ranks? Arguably among the...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 97-100)

      Focusing on practice tends to cut through ideological baggage by encouraging close observation of what is actually happening on the ground. A case in point is science studies, which went through what might be called the “practice revolution” starting with Latour and Woolgar’s (1986) seminalLaboratory Life. Burdened with decades of pontifications about the “scientific method,” science studies took on new life with Latour and Woolgar’s seemingly simple agenda: they would go into the laboratory and observe everything that went on, keeping at bay as best they could their preconceptions, as if they were anthropologists dropped from Mars. What they...

    • 5 Bookrolls as Media
      (pp. 101-124)
      William A. Johnson

      When the Greeks adapted the “Phoenician letters”¹ to create their alphabet in the early first millennium, they no doubt used whatever materials were at hand to write their alphas and betas and gammas. They would have used charcoal on pottery shards or stone, sharp metal on stone or wax, and paint on bark or leather. From an early point, however, the Greeks adapted the papyrus roll from Egyptian contexts, with a concomitant concentration on papyrus as the medium of support and carbon black ink as the vehicle for the writing. With adaptation came innovation. The Greeks rarely made use of...

    • 6 Dwarven Epitaphs: Procedural Histories in Dwarf Fortress
      (pp. 125-154)
      Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux

      With the rise of digital inscription technologies, the history of the twenty-first century will not be written by human hands alone. From surveillance systems to medical databases to networked computers, automated processes of information and exchange are already encoding an alternative history of humanity and coauthoring the stories of the next century. Smart phones log global position, online advertisements count clicks per capita, search engines index content (and “personalize” results) in real time, and automatic backup applications record the state of your hard drive so you can “revisit your [computer] as it appeared in the past” (Apple 2012). Nowhere are...

    • 7 Reading Childishly? A Codicology of the Modern Self
      (pp. 155-182)
      Patricia Crain

      “Mybookandheart/ shall never part” goes the alphabet rhyme for the letterHinThe New England Primer, a crucial late-seventeenth-century literacy manual, in print in the United States through much of the nineteenth century and an object of conservative nostalgia to this day (Figure 7.1).¹ By “book,” the primer rhyme means the Bible, of course, as it exhorts the reader to bind it to her heart. This “book” is a synecdoche for the Bible’s important words, but the book (the Book) as an object has an equal presence in the rhyme and its accompanying image.² In...

    • 8 Print Culture (Other Than Codex): Job Printing and Its Importance
      (pp. 183-198)
      Lisa Gitelman

      The title of this chapter deserves explanation. Like others in the volume, it is meant to refer to a form of textual media, yet it is doing a lot of other work besides. It is inclusive, appealing to the category “print culture,” as well as exclusionary, excepting anything “codex.” Both categories warrant scrutiny, whilecodexappears simpler to define. A codex is a text in the shape of a book: groups of pages gathered and sewn together to open along their fore edge. So the termcodexdesignates a material format. One might say that a text can be a...


    • [PART III. Introduction]
      (pp. 199-200)

      Why would a media framework tend to encourage recursive strategies? But we are getting ahead of ourselves; first it would be useful to define recursive strategies.Recursioncan be understood as folding a work’s logic back on itself. The mousetrap play inHamletis recursive on several different levels, from the play-within-a-play form to the repetition of actions from the main plot interpolated into the mousetrap play. Wherever they occur, recursive strategies have similar effects. They are associated with a quantum leap in complexity, and they open a work to paradoxes of the kind represented in M. C. Escher’sDrawing...

    • 9 Medieval Remediations
      (pp. 201-220)
      Jessica Brantley

      A deep assumption underlying the field of media studies is that media consciousness is necessarily modern, or even postmodern. The institutionalization of the field along these lines perpetuates the view, leading to the belief in many quarters that media studies is necessarily the study of “new media” and that its most comfortable institutional home is schools of film and TV.¹ But, as John Guillory has recently shown, the media concept was alive long before the emergence of nineteenth-century technologies (such as the telegraph and the phonograph) would demand the creation of a term. Tracing a growing awareness of the “different...

    • 10 Gilded Monuments: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Donne’s Letters, and the Mediated Text
      (pp. 221-254)
      Thomas Fulton

      Tom stoppard and marc norman’s screenplayShakespeare in Loveoffers a splendid, though necessarily imaginary, contextualization of Shakespearean sonnetteering. On the stage of Philip Henslowe’s Rose Theatre, in the year 1593, Shakespeare directs a rehearsal of an unfinished play that would becomeRomeo and Juliet. The part of Romeo is played by Thomas Kent, who, unbeknownst to Will Shakespeare, is actually the gentlewoman he had fallen for in disguise. Women were, of course, barred from acting on the Elizabethan stage, but Viola de Lesseps has found herself irresistibly smitten with the poetry of the theater, and soon with its greatest...

    • 11 Reading Screens: Comparative Perspectives on Computational Poetics
      (pp. 255-282)
      John David Zuern

      On july 27, 1929,Lindbergh’s Flight,a cantata for radio written by Bertolt Brecht (2003), with a score by Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill, premiered as a live performance at the Festival for German Chamber Music in Baden-Baden. At once celebrating and commenting critically on Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo crossing of the Atlantic two years earlier, the piece also advances Brecht’s famous appeal for an application of the relatively new technology of the radio that would go beyond the function of a few-to-many broadcasting system in the grip of a capitalist media elite to become a means of many-to-many communication...

    • 12 Reading exquisite_code: Critical Code Studies of Literature
      (pp. 283-310)
      Mark C. Marino

      For over a decade, since Lev Manovich’s (2002) call for “software studies” and N. Katherine Hayles’s call for media specific analysis (Hayles and Burdick 2002), critics have been turning to examine the computational artifacts used to create these works of art, examining the platforms, the broader networks, and, of course, the software. Critical code studies (CCS) emerged in 2006 as a set of methodologies that sought to apply humanities-style hermeneutics to the interpretation of the extrafunctional significance of computer source code (Marino 2006). Since that definition first appeared inelectronic book review,the field of CCS has emerged through online...

    (pp. 311-314)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 315-331)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 332-334)