Future Writing

One of the reasons I’m so concerned about the relationship between this site and my current scholarly work (or lack thereof) is that my new project (or, as I’m beginning to think about it, my Imaginary New Project [INP]) focuses on the relationship between computer technologies and literary production. There’s been a tremendous amount of work done in this field from the computers-and-composition or computer-mediated-communication angle (see, only most obviously among possible links, Kairos, a journal of rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy), and with the publication of Katherine Hayles’s Writing Machines, there’s beginning to be interest in such connections in more mainstream lit-crit circles.

What I’m interested in, however, is less what that relationship between writer and computer (or, for that matter, reader and computer) actually is than what we imagine it to be. How we envision, culturally speaking, the future of literature in the era of the Internet. In that fashion, the project is exploring (will explore) the mythologies, in the Roland Barthes sense, of the computer age.

There’s a connection to this here blog, though, that I haven’t quite unearthed*: the network — or so runs one of the most common commonplaces — makes possible new “spaces” for writing, new modes of publishing, new kinds of conversation. I certainly don’t dispute that (except for the usage of “space” to describe the virtual, which is an issue I’ll take up at another time). What I’m curious about is the relationship between those kinds of writing made possible in such spaces and the things we currently think of as “literary.” Is literature possible in the blogosphere? Does it currently exist? How will we know it when we see it?

I’m in the bibliography-building phases of this project, you see, so any suggestions (including disagreements, arguments, contradictions) would be much appreciated.

*I’d apologize for the mixed metaphor, except that it seems more apt to suggest that I meant that connection to be a rhizome anyway.

5 thoughts on “Future Writing

  1. Your emphasis on what we imagine the relationship between writer and computer to be (rather than what it actually is) is welcome. In a key chapter (titled “What is New Media?” perhaps — don’t have it in front of me) of _The Language of New Media_, Manovich argues against certain definitions of “New Media” by pointing out that many technologies we think of as new existed decades ago. His mistake (or omission), I think, is to miss the difference between the existence of a technology, and that technology’s prevalence, popularity, or conception in the cultural imagination.

  2. Kathleen, thank you for this latest run of posts, they’re really making me think (though I am, how shall I put it, ‘considering my response’ ;). Best of luck with the INP.

  3. Thanks for the responses, George and Rory. I agree that Manovich errs in overlooking the cultural perception of technologies in favor of their literal existences — I hadn’t made that connection, but it’s an apt one. I’m also interested in the ways that critics such as Manovich, who is really good in many respects, nonetheless too often miss that any description of a technology is of necessity an interpretation, which suggests that no description can ever really be “authoritative,” so to speak. Or, rather, which suggests that all descriptions are mythological, in the Barthesian sense.

    Or am I being reductive and dismissive in this move to discourse/ideology?

  4. You’re not being reductive or dismissive. Rhetorically, you will need to be sure that you define and defend this move in the intro to your INP, but in my estimation the move is something new and interesting.

    On re-reading your initial post, these questions caught my eye: “Is literature possible in the blogosphere? Does it currently exist? How will we know it when we see it?”

    Because of my training, questions like these make me want to ride my hobby horse back to the 17th and 18th centuries in England when “poesy” was being transformed into “literature” as commercial print culture supplanted manuscript practices and new genres such as the novel emerged. Authorship changed, readership changed, the concept of “literature” was invented/developed.

    In the late age of print, perhaps the concept of “literature” is on the decline, to be replaced by something we cannot yet name.

    Recommendations of related scholarship from this literary period:

    Adrian Johns’ _The Nature of the Book_ takes a similar stance to what you’re proposing in that he takes issue with Elizabeth Eisenstein’s assertions about the reliability/stability of the printed word by focusing instead on the cultural construction of the printed word as reliable and stable.

    Harold Love’s _The Culture and Commerce of Texts_ is an admirable history and analysis of scribal publication in seventeenth-century England, writing technologies, and the idea of literature.

    Clifford Siskin’s _The Work of Writing_ might also prove useful.

  5. Thanks so much for the references, George — they’re just what I need. My field is late twentieth/early twenty-first century, and so I find myself often painfully presentist in my thinking; it’s useful to be reminded of the historical.

    The questions you raise are in fact exactly the questions I’ve been thinking about for some time — the manuscript I finished a while back (on the relationship of the postmodern novel and television) ends with a conclusion that suggests that the novel itself was a cultural upstart not terribly long ago, and thus that suggestions that television has “killed” reading entirely miss the point about the ways cultural production evolves from genre to genre and medium to medium. I knew there was a reason why I ended with those concerns — good to be reminded of it. Thanks!

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