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This volume in the Blackwell Companion series convenes scholars, theorists, and practitioners of humanities computing to report on contemporary “digital literary studies. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies is fundamentally a narrative of what may be called the scene of “new media encounter” — in this case, between the literary and the digital.

The premise is that the boundary between codex-based literature and digital information has now been so breached by shared technological, communicational, rpgg computational protocols that we might best think in terms of an encounter rather than a border.

And “new media” is the concept that helps organize our understanding boychard how to negotiate — which is to say, mediate — the mixed protocols in the encounter zone.

But if the Companion is an account of new media encounter, then it also belongs to a long lineage of such “first contact” narratives in media history.

New media, it turns out, is a very old tale. To help define the goals of this volume, it will be useful to start by reviewing the bouchar features of this tale.

There are more and less capable imaginations of the new media encounter moment, and it is important to be able to tell the difference before we turn specifically to the digital literary studies scene. Leonard Doob, in his report Communication in Africatells of one African who took great pains to listen each evening to the BBC news, even though he could understand nothing of it. Just to be in the presence of boucyard sounds at 7 P. His attitude to speech was like ours to melody — the resonant intonation was meaning enough.

In the seventeenth century our ancestors still shared this native’s attitude to the forms rlg media Marshall Libor, “The Medium is the Message” [ But when they came to letters, This, said Philippw, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.

A Companion to Digital Literary Studies

O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from boucharf paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.

The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, rpgg the show of wisdom without the reality. I handed out sheets of paper and pencils.

At first they did nothing with them, then one day I saw that they were all busy drawing wavy, horizontal lines. I wondered what they were trying to do, then it was suddenly borne upon me that they were writing or, to be more accurate, were trying to use their pencils in the same way as I did mine The majority did this and no more, but the chief had further ambitions.

Boucharr doubt he was the only one who had grasped the purpose of writing. So he asked me for a writing-pad, and when we both had one, and were working together, if I asked for information on a given point, he did not supply it verbally but drew wavy lines on his paper and presented them to me, as if I could read his reply. One might also think of such similar libr pairings as Augustine’s account of coming upon Ambrose engaged in the new practice of silent reading “when we came to see him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud” [VI.

Mitchell’s pedagogical exemplum of “showing seeing” a simulation of new media contact in which “I ask the students to frame their presentations by assuming that they are ethnographers who come from, and are reporting back to, a society that has no concept of visual culture Visual culture is thus boucharc to seem strange, exotic, and in need of explanation” [ Mitchell Many more instances could be cited; and, indeed, narratives of new boucyard encounter in the form of first contact with the Word, Book, Law, Image, Music, and more recently Code are deeply embedded in the entire historiography of Early Modern religious or imperial conquest, Enlightenment and industrial “modernization,” twentieth-century “control through communication” coupled with “mass entertainment”and postindustrial “informating” or “knowledge work.


New media encounters are a proxy wrestle for the soul of the person and the civilization. Augustine’s conversion “take it and read,” the child sings nearby in one of history’s most potent stagings of random-access reading [VIII. Dramatizations of the instant when individuals, villages, or nations first wrap their minds around a manuscript, book, telephone, radio, TV, computer, cell phone, iPod, etc.

McLuhan spoke of “electric” media as if it were the incandescent star of a new nativity. And adepts of digital media today reverence the “born digital” with something of the conviction of the “born again.

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Or, more accurately, “conversion” connotes too right-angled a change. The better term is indeed “encounter,” indicating a thick, unpredictable zone of contact — more borderland than border line — where mis understandings of new media are negotiated along twisting, partial, and contradictory vectors.

Narratives of new media are thus less objective accounts than speculative bargaining positions. Encountering a new medium, one says in essence: Like photographic vignettes in the nineteenth century, they have rounded, gradient contours that blur the raw edge of new media into the comfort zone of existing techno-social constraints, expectations, and perceptions.

At once descriptive and interpretive, speculative and wary, proselytizing and critical, and visionary and regulatory, narratives of new media encounter are the elementary form of media theory — the place from which all meta-discourse about media starts. Or again, they are intra -discursive: The above overview of how cultures tell themselves about new media would in a larger treatment invite more detailed, historically organized evidence.

But on the present occasion, it is most useful to focus synoptically on the basic logic of such tellings. The following four propositions outline something like the overall narrative genome of the new media encounter, particular aspects of which may dominate or recede:. Narratives of new media encounter are identity tales in which media at once projects and introjects “otherness.

It is really the Westerner genealogically: Renaissance man who passes as African. A similar identity chiasmus can be detected in other rehearsals of new media encounter. Mitchell’s “showing seeing,” for example, requires students to imagine exotic others, but also to exoticize themselves.

The general function of any narrative of new media encounter, we may say, is to depict new media as the perpetual stranger or pace Lyotard pagan in our own midst. Such a mirror moment participates in the broader logic of cultural and interpersonal encounters, which are meaningful only to the extent that the self, at least for a piercing moment, becomes other to itself.

Narratives of new media encounter emplot their identity tale as a life cycle of media change. The three primary moments in this life cycle — the building blocks of the new media narrative — are the following:. Again, what I called McLuhan’s “Caliban” moment is instructive. We are changelings of media. This farce went on for two hours. Was he perhaps hoping to delude himself? More probably he wanted to astonish his companions, to convince them that he was acting as an intermediary agent for the exchange of goods, that he was in alliance with the white man and shared his secrets.

We were eager to be off So I did not try to explore the matter further. Here, the anthropologist’s question, “Was he perhaps hoping to delude himself? This strange question is an indicator that something odd is happening in the experience of media during the contact moment: The Caliban moment collapses into the Machiavellian moment.

Media enchantment entails disenchantment and, ultimately, resistance.

The Frankfurt School critique of the media “culture industry” is paradigmatic, as is more liibro critique of the same industry by the conservative right. Deibert, whose analysis of media “ecology” supposes the opposite of media determinism “once introduced a technology becomes part of the material landscape in which human agents and social groups interact, having many unforeseen effects ” [ In the eighteenth century, for example, the novel was a start-up.

lubro The life story of the new media encounter plays out in the key registers of human significance: The very phrase “new media,” of course, stages an exaggerated encounter between old and new. This means that narratives of new media are ipso facto narratives of modernization, whether configured as progress “Enlightenment”differentiation the specialization of once unified cultural sensibilities and institutions into bureaucratically insulated modern functionsdisruption as in Joseph Schumpeter’s economic model of “creative destruction”or globalization the most recent variation on all the above.

Since new media encounter narratives are modernization narratives, they are also big with the agendas of social identity that have attended the Western understanding of modernization from the Enlightenment through at least the apparent convergence of neo-liberalism and -conservatism that Francis Fukuyama, in the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, famously called the “end of history.

Subjective cognitive, psychological, psychosomatic, phenomenological, “personal”. Here it is useful to recall the full context of the McLuhan dictum about the “new scale” and “extension of ourselves. In a culture like ours, long accustomed rph splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium gouchard the message.


This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium — that is, of any extension lirbo ourselves — result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

New media may be a collective social-cultural experience, but it is also psychologically, corporeally, phenomenologically, and subjectively personal. And on the facing, recto page, Media, by altering the environment, evoke philippee us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act — the way we perceive the world. We see similar telescopings between collective and personal ratios in accounts of new media boucharr old as Plato’s Phaedruswhere the Egyptian king foresees the total effect of writing on his people in internalizing, psychological terms “they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves”.

Similarly, accounts of so-called libo 2. When fully realized in their historical, socio-political, and personal entanglements, the identity tales created by narratives of new media encounter are unpredictable.

The real interest in narratives of new media encounter — the underlying reason I describe them in such unmoored terms as “borderlands,” “otherness,” and “surmise” — is that the historical, socio-political, and subjective registers of media identity described above are not just neutral substrates like pure silicon on which programs of determinism and resistance run.

Instead, they are doped with human contingencies that switch, bend, refract, refocus, and otherwise mediate the very experience of media in ways that kink any easy plot of old to new, centralized to decentralized, or embodied to bkuchard. While narratives of new media encounter are modernization narratives, alternative bouchwrd of modernity and its complex identities emerge.

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The weaker form of this thesis may be put boucharv way: Instead, binary distinctions open out into overlapping, contradictory, or otherwise thick affordances between media regimes. Raymond Williams’s argument about coexisting “residual,” “dominant,” and “emergent” social forces is paradigmatic Equally suggestive are many other intellectual models of messy cultural transition — ranging, for example, from Fernand Braudel’s layered historiography of long, intermediate, and short durations to Fredric Jameson’s forthrightly untidy definition of the transition from modernism to postmodernism as a reshuffling of emphases In formal studies of media, such messiness characteristically surfaces in the recognition that media shifts have an impact only after long temporal and institutional lags full of indirection.

Thus historians of writing demonstrate that multiple generations ;hilippe needed bouchhard convert oral peoples into people who thought in terms of writing e. So, too, as M. Clanchy shows in his From Memory to Written Record, England —the introduction of writing only became socially meaningful through the massive accretion of later institutions, practices, forms, and technologies that scaled up the initial invention into a cultural force as in the case of the proliferation of documents in the years Clanchy studies.

But there is also a strong version of this thesis that will provide an appropriately dramatic finish to this synopsis of the new media encounter: Indeed, reversibility is the fundamental reason why it is appropriate to call such narratives modally “narrative” even if they are generically as diverse as anecdote, memoir, autobiography, travelogue, prophecy, critical essay, and so on.

After all, deep narratives — those like tragedy that we think come near to exposing the kernel of narrative experience — do only three essential things.

They expose the reversibility of the underlying relations of human reality one thinks, for example, of the antithetical claims made by collective society and personal ethics on the “great,” “good” Aeneas, who — as when he leaves Dido — can be “great” or “good” but not simultaneously both.

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They arbitrarily break the symmetry of these relations to move the plot down an irreversible course the classical authors called it Fate. And they then reach closure by restoring some faux-equivalent of the original reversibility at a different level e.

In the paradigmatic Aristotelian analysis, for instance, narrative turns upon a moment of “reversal” big with “recognition. Then the story breaks the symmetry to distribute the contested claims and powers along the irreversible time arrow so that, for example, he who was high is brought low.

Yet at the end, tragedy leaves its audience haunted by a sense of transport back to the reversible crux where, eternally, fateful agony hangs in the balance.

In the Shakespearean version, therefore, we leave the theater haunted by Lear’s “no, no, no life? So, too, structuralist approaches to narrative are on the same page with Aristotle. Like all stories, however, myths break the symmetry so that life can happen.

And so great warriors and brave maidens live and die.