In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream. . . . All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of Books.
—Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History
As long as the book was responsible for all serial data flows, words quivered with sensuality and memory. It was the passion of all reading to hallucinate meaning between lines and letters. . . . Electricity put an end to this. Once memories and dreams, the dead and ghosts, become technically reproducible, readers and writers no longer need the powers of hallucination. Our realm of the dead has withdrawn from the books in which it resided for so long.
—Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
In a 1927 review, D. H. Lawrence described John Dos Passos’s experimental novel Manhattan Transfer as a multimodal information storage system: “if you set a blank record revolving to receive all the sounds, and a film-camera going to photograph all the motions of a scattered group of individuals, at the points where they meet and touch in New York, you would more or less get Mr. Dos Passos’ method.” If art holds a mirror up to nature, Lawrence’s review suggests, then the novel holds up audio and visual recorders. For him, the end result of Dos Passos’s process is perfectly mimetic representation, where “the book becomes what life is, a stream of different things and different faces rushing along in the consciousness.” 1 What might we make of this medial vision of literary representation, where a novel records the world around it like an automated machine? And how might Lawrence’s characterization of a novel as an information medium hold up nearly a century later, when storage media have evolved from cameras and gramophones to multi-terabyte hard drives?
To begin unpacking Lawrence’s review, we should note that his guiding assumption is a familiar one: that a novel can record the real world. The conceit that literary texts act as cultural archives is longstanding. The dream at the heart of literary representation is preservative: to store a subject in words with absolute fidelity. This literary archival drive has been evident in the novel throughout the genre’s history. Walter Scott claimed that his historical novels preserved the fading culture of the Scottish highlands; James Joyce boasted that he wrote Ulysses in order to create a record of the city of Dublin. As Ian Watt writes in his seminal account of the novel, “the majority of readers in the last two hundred years have found in the novel the literary form which most closely satisfies their wishes for a close correspondence between life and art.” 2 Novelists, scholars, and readers alike have conceived of the novel as an inherently informational genre since its inception. To quote E. M. Forster: “what a lot we learn from Tom Jones about the west countryside.” 3
What critical studies of the novel have yet to sufficiently account for, however, is the degree to which this informational drive has been shaped by the media format most closely connected with the novel: the print book. Lawrence’s review, for instance, situates Manhattan Transfer within a network of other information media, imagining that novels might compete with cameras and gramophones in their ability to record the world. Lawrence figures this novel as an archive whose full range of recording encompasses the capabilities of multiple new media. Yet Dos Passos’s novel is also a product of its own medial form. Manhattan Transfer creates its jarring effect of “scenes [that] whirl past like snowflakes” and the “breathless confusion of isolated moments,” as Lawrence describes it, partly through its unusual typographical layout.4 Alternating among standard text, the capital letters of newspaper headlines, and italicized phrases, the page becomes a visual field, evoking other information media as it demonstrates the flexibility of the print book to simulate them. If the principal trope in Lawrence’s review is relatively common—the novel records the chaotic, fleeting impressions of life in the modern city—the review also provides a subtler insight: that experiments with the textual materiality of the page may reveal how the novel’s informational dimensions are conditioned by the print book. It is the book that gives form to narrative, to the novel as a genre, to the printed page, and to the information that is incorporated into the text. It is “the book” that “becomes what life is.”
The material and conceptual connections between the novel and the book, although never absolute or essential, have been remarkably persistent.5 These connections have become fraught in the twenty-first century, as the sheer scale of digital media, combined with algorithmic computation’s purported ability to explain the world through data analysis, threatens to render both books and novels obsolete. In this volume, I argue that the form of the book, in its complex co-evolution with media and information forms, has had a substantial impact on the novel’s role as an information medium—and that the novel, in turn, offers crucial insights into the consequences of the book’s marginalization in information management. What is lost in today’s era of information scale, given that people must rely on automated systems and mediating interfaces to navigate data, is knowledge of the ways in which information is organized and embodied by media. I trace the roots of this contemporary obscuration of form to the early decades of the twentieth century, studying how the print book fared as the burgeoning profession of information science grappled with unprecedented quantities of data. Pairing close readings of novels that emphasize their informational qualities with case studies from information history, I argue that, for novelists and the reading public as well as for information professionals, the print book has served as a counterpoint to conceptualizations of information as immaterial, ineffable, and formless. As the novels I study demonstrate, if the phrase “out of print” signals the possible obsolescence of the book, it also indicates the medium’s aesthetic potential—what can be created and formed out of print.
Out of Print makes three important interventions in debates about how books and novels mediate information. First, I analyze the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries as parallel moments of media transition, studying how, in both of these periods, explosions in the scale of information resulted in the marginalization of the print book. I argue that the development of systematic information management was predicated on a shift from the book to newer, interface-based media and that this shift created a model of mediation premised on obscuring the aesthetics of information—the forms that make it meaningful. Put another way, this transparent model of meditation, in which users need not be aware of how information is organized or processed within larger systems, holds a central place in what I will refer to as modern information management.6 This model is the cause and the consequence of a programmatic movement away from the book. Examining these changes, I chart how the book has functioned as a touchstone for conversations about information scale and its management during two of the past century’s most intense media transitions.
The print book has become a residual medium. Raymond Williams defines the residual, which he distinguishes from the dominant and the emergent, as that which “has been effectively formed in the past, but is still active in the cultural process” and “which may have an alternative or even oppositional relation to the dominant culture.” 7 Residual media are not entirely displaced; they persist, albeit in a diminished or altered capacity. One reason the book persists is its ability to communicate information’s formal structures with an immediate apprehensibility. Whereas the designers of algorithms and search interfaces adopt the metaphors of the inscrutable black box and the opaque cloud, many of the book’s metaphors instead invoke legibility: an open book, reading someone like a book, and so on. I use Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s term hypermediacy to describe how the book’s formal elements (including its materiality, tactility, aesthetics, and organization), history of use, and other qualities have meant that it has tended to “remind the viewer of the medium.” 8 Laying bare its own processes of mediation, the book’s affordance of hypermediacy contrasts with the ideal of transparent mediation.9 The book’s hypermediacy has become a more salient feature in comparison to newer media over the course of the past century. “The book” is not a monolithic subject, of course; it encompasses many registers, from the structures of page, print, and codex to its cultural cachet. My research shows how, in all of these registers, the book has contributed to information’s imaginary.
My second intervention moves from medium to genre, establishing the novel as a key site for understanding the book’s impact on the representation and mediation of information at scale. I argue that information management’s pivot away from the book has had a profound effect on the novel. Since the modernist period, I contend, the novel’s archival project has taken a critical turn, from realism to an investigation of the structures, affordances, and ideologies of information media—an investigation channeled through experiments with the form of the print book. Influenced by N. Katherine Hayles’s foundational approach, much work in what we might call literary media studies has examined literary texts’ self-conscious mobilization of the media that embody them.10 While novels have routinely served as case studies, this critical literature has rarely focused on formal play with print and page as an issue of genre. I analyze why emphasis on the book’s form becomes prominent in novels during the modernist and contemporary eras, a pairing I will unpack momentarily. I examine a range of experimental novels, each of which foregrounds its textual materiality and incorporates the aesthetics of other information media in order to address questions about information scale and its mediation.11 Some of these, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions, use encyclopedic form to consider how the arrangement and contextualization of information produce its meaning; some, such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, highlight print’s tactile properties to explore the implications of information’s embodiment in different media. As these novels contemplate the ways in which books limit, organize, and embody text, they insist that data only become meaningful information insofar as they are given form. These novels challenge and critique modern information management’s prevailing ethos of transparent mediation.
The subject of my analysis is thus neither solely the novel nor solely the book, but both. This doubled focus is necessary because the novel and the book are interconnected in deep and complex ways, particularly in the realm of information. I take a medium-specific approach to the novel, writing the genre’s medial history into its theorization as a genre.12 I also take a genre-specific approach to the medium, documenting the novel’s influence on ideas about the book. Novels combine long-standing generic investments in information, books, and mediation. (I suspect this is why they have proven compelling to media theorists.) Kate Marshall writes of modernist novels: “Observation machines otherwise known as novels have an affinity for testing and staging their own mediality.” 13 The novel’s archival drive lends it a special propensity for assimilating other informational genres, and the novels I examine all position novelistic narrative as explicitly informational—as conveying information about the world and as adopting the forms of information media. The novel’s centuries-old association with the print book, in turn, has shaped its narrative form.14 Novelists therefore may confront mediation on several fronts: the book’s storing of information, the book’s organization of literary text, and narrative’s incorporation of information. A novel may seem like an archive or a medium, as Lawrence suggests; but novels are also meta-archives and meta-media, forcing readers to rethink the nature of information and form.
In Out of Print, I work not only to illuminate undertheorized aspects of the history of the novel, the cultural impact of the book, and the consequences of modern information management but also to demonstrate that issues of form go to the heart of all three. My third intervention is to track these issues across time. I argue that the logical foundations of contemporary information management originated in the early twentieth century, as did the novelistic response of mobilizing the book’s form to expose unexamined assumptions about information’s mediation. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the rapid expansion of information media sparked a crisis of scale. To address these conditions, modern information management was founded on the principle that information should be managed through interfaces. These interfaces, both physical and processural, made information at once highly structured and highly mediated. Information managed in this manner appeared to be neutral. These changes explain why novelistic emphasis on the book’s form, which dates back at least as far as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, intensified during the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Such experimentation may be found in novels before and between these two eras, but it is a dominant feature in modernist and contemporary novels. I argue that these moments of concerted novelistic engagement with print textuality have occurred in response to similar discussions about the management of new magnitudes of information—discussions that have frequently invoked the death of the book. The twenty-first century may be the post-print era, but the modernist period was already becoming post-book.
My aim in what follows is not to compile an exhaustive history of novelistic experimentation, information mediation, or debates about the book’s future. Nor do I intend to write a defense of (or nostalgic elegy for) the novel or the book. I employ a comparative framework in order to construct one genealogy of twenty-first-century information culture, a strategic account that recontextualizes current understandings of the print book’s role in mediation and invites a reconsideration of the ways in which terms such as information, novel, book, and form have been used in the past century. Scholars affiliated with the new formalism have investigated why forms obsolesce or reactivate at different points in history—what Caroline Levine refers to as “the longue durées of different forms, their portability across time and space.” 15 My research offers a model for how this inquiry might proceed when focused on the mutual imbrication of genre and medium. Ultimately, Out of Print explores the ways the novel and the book may provide insight into modern information mediation by calling attention to form. Information is emergent, becoming; it is produced when data are made meaningful by the forms they take as they are recorded, stored, and circulated. Too often, awareness of these forms becomes a casualty of modern information management’s efficient mediation, with far-reaching social consequences. By studying print books—and the novels that emphasize them—we can read form back into information.
Fictional Archive: The Novel as Information
As my opening remarks on the novel’s archival impulse indicate, writers as well as literary theorists have consistently regarded the novel as a genre with a special stake in information. In this view, the novel’s expansive and detailed accounting of the world produces not just a representation but a record. The notion that the novel acts as an archive, even a reference book, recording information about the time and place it describes, has been persistent enough that critics identify subgenres such as “archival novels” and “encyclopedic novels.” 16 Seen in this light, novels like Ulysses may be unusual in the degree to which they highlight their archival and medial dimensions, but they are symptomatic of a much broader generic investment in information.
There are several related but distinct reasons why the novel has garnered its reputation an informational genre. First, because novels are typically written in prose, they occupy a discursive middle space between writing that is overtly marked as literary and writing that is not. How to define the literary is a question I take up in chapter 2; for now, I note the critical tendency to define it as writing that has qualities beyond the “merely” communicative or informational—writing that, as Arthur Bahr puts it, is defined by its “excess,” its “refusal to submit to the denotative.” 17 Although novels use literary techniques and devices that would be lost in a summary of the plot, paraphrasing a novel seems to be a lesser transgression than paraphrasing poetry is. (Tellingly, Cleanth Brooks’s examples of the heresy of paraphrase are all poems.) If “the fundamental aspect of the novel is its story-telling aspect,” as Forster argues, it follows that novels would be less invested in emphasizing their materiality because “informational texts seek to minimize their perceptual features in the belief that texts calling attention to their vehicular forms interfere with the transmission of their ideas.” 18 The convention (however problematic or reductive) that novels are read primarily for their content aligns them as much with informational texts as with literary ones.
The claim that novels contain information is most often derived from the truism that they capture something real despite the fictional status of their narratives. The novel functions like an archive, this argument goes, because its narrative content bears a close relationship to real life. Watt’s view on this matter has been foundational: “There are important differences in the degree to which different literary forms imitate reality; and the formal realism of the novel allows a more immediate imitation of individual experience set in its temporal and spatial environment than do other literary forms. Consequently the novel’s conventions make much smaller demands on the audience than do most literary conventions.” 19 While realism is far from the only mode in which the novel operates, it has been fundamental to critical definitions of the genre. J. Paul Hunter writes that “realism is a relative matter, but in discussions of the novel, the term has tended to become normative, so that novels tend to be judged qualitatively on the degree or amount of realism to be found in each, as if more is better.” 20 The novel’s realism has taken many forms, from historical realism (the accumulation of details registering the habits of daily life in a certain time and location) to cognitive realism (the realistic representation of thought).21 Scholarship on the novel consistently characterizes it as the genre of the nation, or of modern subjectivity; whether one views a particular novel as realistically capturing the workings of one mind or the quotidian details of life in a particular place, the assumption is that there is a stable referent that the novel represents. This is the paradox of the novel’s archival nature: even when describing a fictional referent—the mind of Leopold Bloom; the social milieu of Casterbridge, Wessex—a novel nonetheless records some real-world truth that this fictional subject models.
A focus on realism, however, does little to explain why novelists began to move away from this style at the same time that information proliferation and its management became major issues. Although we might say that the novel has always incorporated information in some manner, novelists since the modernist era have undertaken an archival agenda more indebted to the forms and genres of information media than to those of realism. Where an early novel reader might have encountered information about the world (in the guise of “the real”) via a set of fictional letters or journal entries, readers of modernist and contemporary novels discover narrative texts that mimic paper file layouts or computer code. The chief questions for the novel in the age of modern information management become: What is information? What are the discursive norms that shape its articulation? How might the novel compare to other information media in recording and preserving information? This last question is pressing because many critical accounts of modern information media cast them as antagonists to literary representation, rehearsing the Kittlerian argument (encapsulated in the epigraph to this chapter) that literature’s once-unique ability to store sensory data was imperiled by the introduction of recording technologies.22 Yet the capacity for direct representation is not the only vector by which literary works may compete with information media. Modernist and contemporary novelists have made the case for the genre’s relevance by grounding their engagement with these questions in an investigation of the forms and affordances of the print book.
Before we proceed further, a few definitions are in order. What is information, and how does it differ from data or knowledge? The smallest, most discrete entity of the three is data, which we might think of as “units or morsels of information.” 23 Where a fact is self-evident and true, a datum is a given, a measurement or a rhetorical statement: “data are representations of observations, objects, or other entities used as evidence of phenomena for the purposes of research or scholarship.” 24 Used in the aggregate, data’s explanatory force accrues collectively. On the other end of the spectrum lies knowledge. From the partial to the total: if data are “units or morsels,” knowledge is “the sum of what is known.” 25 Of data, information, and knowledge, knowledge is the closest to what we would categorize as wisdom or truth. It is also the most subjective category, to the extent that knowledge requires “an individual knower.” 26
Between data and knowledge lies information, a notoriously difficult word to pin down. Its meaning is often taken as self-evident. Definitions vary from the broad (“any given [datum] of our cognitive experience that can be materially encoded for the purpose of transmission or storage”), to the technical (“a mathematically defined quantity . . . which represents the degree of choice exercised in the selection or formation of one particular symbol . . . out of a number of possible ones, and which is defined logarithmically in terms of the statistical probabilities of occurrence of the symbol”), to the cryptic (“a difference which makes a difference”).27 Here I settle on a working definition: information is data made meaningful by their contextualization. Information, in other words, is meaningful because it takes individual data points and organizes them or otherwise gives them form, setting them in relation to one another. Form lies at the heart of information. This act of giving form to data is what allows for information’s interpretive power. Whereas data are abstract, information is necessarily formed and articulated. There is still an autonomy to this formal organization; while knowledge requires a knower, information does not.28
As a result, information is the term that hews most neatly to the category of fiction. A novel is a fictional work; its epistemological status differs from that of discourses such as scientific writing that purport to objectively describe the factual state of the world. Yet a novel may integrate information about the world, processing this information by embedding it within its narrative. Some novels even include lists of facts or other data structures. For the most part, however, a novel is less likely to contain facts—declarative statements about the true state of reality—than that fuzzier, more interpretive and rhetorical category of information. “The novel,” wrote Forster, “whatever else it may be, is partly a notice board”; he characterized it also as the genre in which “information abounds.” 29 This statement implies not only that novels are archives of the cultures that produce them but also that the novel’s archival drive is specifically informational. It is not simply that a novel contains an impression or representation of reality but that it contains specific details, meaningfully arranged, in forms that are similar to nonfictional, nonliterary informational texts.
This explains why critical descriptions of novelistic form have been so vexed. The genre’s theorists consistently disagree on its defining formal characteristics—or whether it even has any. To cite a few canonical voices: Watt describes “what is often felt as the formlessness of the novel, as compared, say, with tragedy or the ode.” Erich Auerbach speaks of “the broad and elastic form of the novel,” and, for Mikhail Bakhtin, the novel is “plasticity itself,” always “subjecting its established forms for review.” Woolf describes the novel as the “most pliable of all forms.” More recent theorizations make similar claims. To Terry Eagleton, the novel is “the most hybrid of literary forms”; in Michael McKeon’s view, the novel “self-consciously incorporat[es], as part of its form, the problem of its own categorical status.” 30 If theorists of the novel agree on any point, it is that this genre is definable only through its lack of stable formal attributes.
Rather than an absence of form, however, the issue is an overabundance of forms. If the novel is difficult to define, this is a consequence of its expansiveness. Since its inception, it has habitually drawn on a range of genres and discourses, including informational ones. Early novels appropriated different styles of writing, especially nonfictional genres such as travelogue (Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels) and epistolary correspondence (Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa). It was commonplace to use the word history in titles (as in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling). Early novelists and readers defined the novel in comparison to other discourses that blurred the line between fact and fiction, including journalism.31 Given the practice of imitating and incorporating nonfictional genres, it is not a great stretch for a novel to imitate explicitly informational texts such as encyclopedias or Internet news feeds (examples I discuss in chapters 1 and 2). Formal flexibility is one reason the genre was named for novelty: its push for newness has consistently come through stylistic experimentation with the conventions of other discourses.
At the macro level, then, the novel’s integration of informational discourses is part of its tradition of formal flexibility. At the micro level—the level of the individual page, sentence, and word—novels have incorporated content and textual structures we would not ordinarily consider literary. A double-entry bookkeeping log, a long list of items sitting on a kitchen shelf: such examples go beyond extending the verisimilitude of the narrative world.32 They interrupt the narration with a glut of information, momentarily turning the novel into a reference book. To examine the novel’s informational qualities is to address questions about the genre as a whole: how it is defined (and defies definitions), how it does or does not employ literary language, and how it engages with information as content and as form.
Mediating Scale: Information and the Novel in the Digital Age
In Out of Print, I analyze novels that explore the medial underpinnings of this long-standing generic investment in information. These texts consider how their subjects are doubly mediated, first as narrative representations and second as text embedded in books. While their narratives contend with the task of representing information about places, objects, and people, their unconventional uses of the print book reveal the book’s storage capacities and limitations. This strategy emerged as a literary response to a paradigm shift in information culture. The reason that self-reflexively “bookish” novels (to use Jessica Pressman’s terminology) flourished during the early twentieth century, I am arguing, and the reason they are flourishing again today, is that these are threshold moments in which the scale and mediation of information reached a critical juncture.33 The novelists I study resist modern regimes of mediation, from the systematic management of the modernist period to the corporatization of information under Big Data.
Information abundance is a defining feature of contemporary information culture. (I will discuss information proliferation during the modernist era at the end of this chapter.) In the twenty-first century, human communication creates 5 billion gigabytes of information every two days.34 Digital devices capable of producing and storing historically unprecedented volumes of information are omnipresent, and information overload is enough of a cliché to have spawned its own Internet vernacular—“TMI,” “TL;DR.” Contemporary information culture is also distinguished by the mediation of scale through technological management. Whether through a command line, a graphical user interface, or one of the so-called invisible interfaces of ubiquitous computing, the user always interacts with a mediating system.35
More recently, information mediation encompasses the algorithmic analysis of large data sets. This capacity underlies Big Data, the phenomenon that exemplifies how thoroughly scale and its mediation have transformed people’s relationship to information. Although the term entered common usage only in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Big Data quickly became credited with changing the nature of what could be investigated and known.36 “At scale,” writes Christine Borgman, “big data make new questions possible and thinkable. For the first time, scholars can ask questions of datasets where n = all.” 37 According to danah boyd and Kate Crawford, “the widespread belief that large data sets offer a higher form of intelligence and knowledge that can generate insights that were previously impossible” has become akin to “mythology.” 38
Big Data is best understood as a matter of relative rather than absolute scale—“data of a very large size, typically to the extent that its manipulation and management present significant logistical challenges.” 39 Big Data is too much data to be able to manage or use without the intervention of sophisticated systems. Even standard software falls short of the task. Big Data is mediated: without algorithms, sophisticated processing software, and other management systems, the data cannot be usefully analyzed. Big Data, then, is not a set quantity of data so much as a set of attributes or assumptions about what can be done with large, complex data sets. It encompasses the physical forms that data take and the technologies used to analyze them as well as ideas about data: the implications of scale; the ways in which technology mediates our perception of data; the distinction between raw data and meaningful information; and the explanatory power of Big Data. If overload is one side of the information abundance coin, Big Data is the other, for it promises that otherwise-excessive collections of data may be managed. As information is managed by complex systems, however, users cannot directly view either its organizational form or its material form. Information abundance dictates that when we attempt to encounter information at scale, we do so without trying to actually comprehend that scale, without grasping what all of the data mean as a gestalt. If we access individual pieces of a data set, we access them as fragments with no meaningful relation to the whole; more likely, we allow search, analysis, navigation, or visualization programs to analyze the sum of the data and return results and conclusions. This is a useful process, but it is distinct from understanding the information in and of itself.
The conditions I am describing—information scale, the dominance of digital media, and technological mediation—would seem to make obsolete the novel’s ability to record information. Indeed, the idea that the contemporary information ecology is antagonistic to the novel surfaces frequently in discussions regarding the transition from print to digital media. Digital media, one argument goes, alter human cognition by privileging hyper attention over deep attention—the latter being necessary for novels, whose length and complexity necessitate prolonged, intensive reading.40 Without wishing to reify this view, I note how commonly scholarship on the attentional impact of digital media has used the novel as a reference point. Nicholas Carr and Sven Birkerts cite novels by authors including Charles Dickens and Henry James as exemplars of texts that require the sustained, contemplative reading they fear the Internet is destroying. Hayles similarly associates deep attention with this genre: her examples of activities that require deep attention include reading “a novel by Dickens” and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.41 While accounts of digital media’s effects on cognition range from measured to alarmist, such concerns speak to a belief that the novel is linked to a print-centric reading culture and that it is at odds with digital media as a result.42
Another line of argument views the novel as inherently opposed to digital information. The most obvious contrast is one of scale. The novel is the literary genre known for, and typically defined by, size. In Forster’s formulation, for example, a novel is “any fictitious prose work over 50,000 words.” Naomi Baron notes that “the novel as a literary genre entered English with a weighty presence”; she cites Penguin Classics editions of Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa as being 544 pages and 1,536 pages, respectively.43 The tendency to conflate the novel with the print book likely has to do with the fact that the former could not have flourished without the latter because of the genre’s noticeable length. As Walter Benjamin wrote, the novel is “distinguishe[d] . . . from the story (and from the epic . . .) in its essential dependence on the book” because “the dissemination of the novel became possible only with the invention of printing.” 44 To produce and circulate numerous copies of a long text, a publisher needed the mass-production technology of movable type and preferably the codex format to organize the pages. But a single novel that is very long—or even serialized, such as Danielewski’s multivolume The Familiar (whose first five of twenty-seven planned volumes run to more than 4,000 pages)—is dwarfed in scale by digital information storage. The amount of data needed for Big Data analysis is at an even greater degree of remove. When novels attempt to integrate information into their narratives, that information must necessarily be of a far lesser quantity than can be stored by newer media.
Other theorists have argued that the novel is (or appears to be) obsolete in the age of digital information because computational methods of storing and processing information differ profoundly from literary narrative in their ability to represent and make sense of the world. Lev Manovich has described narrative and database as opposing cultural forms, arguing that database has usurped narrative’s cultural position. While his characterization of these two forms as antithetical (as “natural enemies”) has detractors, even accounts that characterize narrative and database as “natural symbionts” confirm their vastly different modes of operation.45 Manovich’s argument is symptomatic of the view that the culture of digital information is at odds with the novel because of how each approaches explaining the world. Michael Wutz writes that “the novel . . . can yet insist on a notion of information, and on the processes of commuting such information into such . . . terms as knowledge, insight, and wisdom, that are qualitatively different from the binary bits of computer processing,” so that novels can “offer a system of information and knowledge self-consciously different from the computable databases of mainframes and networks.” 46 In contrast, the logic of Big Data—and of the information scale and mediation practices for which it often stands as synecdoche—insists that data analysis explains the world by finding patterns not previously discernable. This is not knowledge or insight but pattern recognition through statistical analysis. If narrative used to be the dominant system for making sense of the world, Big Data, rather than database, is now its clearest challenger. In all of these critical narratives, scholars invoke the novel’s tie to the print book, implicitly or directly: they assume that, as the book becomes a residual medium, the novel, in turn, becomes a residual form.
Metamedia: The Novel and the Print Book
The novels I study contest these intertwined crises of modern mediation: the obscuration of information’s meaningful forms and the apparent displacement of novels and books. As we have seen with the example of Manhattan Transfer, these texts theorize mediation via their own materiality, disrupting the conventions of page and print. Medially engaged literary experimentation—described variously as “technotext,” “multimodal,” and “metamedial”—has become a prevalent feature of the contemporary novel (although I argue later in this chapter that its origins lie in the modernist period).47 The best-known example is Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), a novel whose innovative typographical layouts mimic the disorienting architecture of the eponymous house. Other examples include novels featuring blacked-out sections of text, typographical collages culminating in a flipbook, and the simulation of an old, annotated library book.48 These novels could not be translated to a digital screen without losing significant aspects of their composition. “If,” writes Leah Price, “the book has been invisible (or intangible) to most twentieth-century literary critics, it isn’t simply because we aren’t trained to analyze material culture; it’s also because a commonsense Cartesianism teaches us to filter out the look, the feel, the smell of the printed page.” Novels that foreground their textual materiality push back against this invisibility, asserting what Kiene Brillenburg Wurth calls “book presence.” Wurth defines book presence as “the effect of an ongoing process of the becoming obsolescent of the book,” wherein “the book precisely materialized when it became immaterial as an information medium.” 49 Such novels highlight how books function as information media and as literary media.
To refer to this subset of novels, I follow Alexander Starre in using the term metamedial. In the tradition of metafiction, metamedial novels self-reflexively call attention to the artifice of narrative, representation, and literary language. The distinction is this: in metamedial novels, linguistic artificiality is conditioned and compounded by the artifactuality of the print book. Drawing on Patricia Waugh’s definition of metafiction, Starre describes metamediality as “a form of artistic self-reference that systematically mirrors, addresses, or interrogates the material properties of its medium. Literary metamediality therefore draws attention to the status of texts as medial artefacts and examines the relationship between text and book.” 50 Metamedial works constitute a specific subcategory of metafiction, in which play with the work’s material properties forces the reader to consider the work’s fictionality. Studies of metafiction have long been concerned with literary representation. The metamedial novels I examine in Out of Print continue this interrogation into the nature of what, exactly, fiction may describe and encode, but they do so by considering how the novel’s representative qualities dovetail with or diverge from other methods of recording information, as well as how such recording is shaped by media. My use of the term metamedial also evokes the desire evident in these novels to turn books into multimedia meta-media—media capable of subsuming all other media.
Metamedial novels reveal what mediation obscures. We might think of novels as alternative media, leveraging the print book to critique information management’s dominant assumptions about form and mediation.51 In contrast to storage media such as microfilm and computer hard drives, books contain text that is humanly readable. In technological terms, print books operate very differently from interface-based media. At its broadest level of meaning, an interface is any “surface lying between two portions of matter or space, and forming their common boundary.” My use of the term aligns most closely to the concept of a user interface.52 I am particularly concerned with interfaces—whether physical objects or processes—that intercede between users seeking information and the information as it is inscribed in the storage medium. Reading screens fall in this category; so do the protocols that govern information retrieval from complex systems, whether these be algorithms or guidelines for information professionals.
Such interfaces are what chiefly distinguish what I am calling modern information mediation from earlier systems of information management. Like the messenger god Hermes, a medium is both an information vessel and an emissary: it carries its content across space (radio, telephone), time (writing, phonography), or both. Mediation entails a rupture between the creation of the message and the moment or place of its reception. Modern information culture is marked by an even greater degree of removal because of the expectation that information has reached a threshold of scale that can only be managed indirectly. The Internet seems nearly infinite, so we locate what we need through search interfaces; a century ago, when there seemed to be too many books, information professionals began to store data on microform media, which they accessed with reading screens. During the past century, the use of such interfaces has encouraged the perception that information is immaterial and formless, an idea to be consumed rather than data instantiated in a medium.
Viewed in this light, descriptions of the page (or book, or narrative) as an interface gloss over the major differences between words printed on a page and bound in a codex and words stored on a hard drive and read on a screen.53 The former are immediately accessible, combining the site of storage with the site of inscription. The latter, as Lori Emerson describes, by design involve “an interface that recedes from view, ideally to the point of invisibility.” 54 Additionally, the volumetric space of the book, like the two-dimensional space of the page, becomes a framework for understanding the organization of its contents. In these ways, the affordances of the print book work against the principles of transparent mediation so integral to modern information management. My research shows that the value and function of media that feature interfaces has consistently been articulated in direct opposition to that of the book.
As metamedial novels reflect on the print book as an object—material, aesthetic, tactile, structured—they expose and challenge the practices and ideas that have underpinned modern mediation. They also prompt a reexamination of the long-standing relationship between the novel and the book. These texts are thus useful for addressing the interoperation of genre and medium. When scholars have discussed media from the perspective of genre theory, they have tended to view the novel in very general media terms (“writing,” “written narrative”) or to passingly mention that novels are a “print genre” in the sense of being artifacts of predigital or post-oral culture. Even monographs in this field that study the novel’s relationship to media rarely discuss metamedial novels or the print book’s influence on novelistic form.55 Conversely, scholars who take a media studies approach to literature have tended to frame their analysis in broad terms—“book fictions” or “experimental literature,” to give two examples—treating genre as largely incidental to the works’ textual strategies.56 As a result, while Marshall, Wutz, John Lurz, and others have advanced the theorization of the impact that print and the book have had on the novel, this area remains understudied.57
Because metamedial novels foreground this impact, they reveal the usefulness of format as a critical category for the study of the novel and the study of the book. As Jonathan Sterne describes, the category of format is complementary to but distinct from that of medium: “format denotes a whole range of decisions that affect the look, feel, experience, and workings of a medium. It also names a set of rules according to which a technology can operate.” 58 The format Sterne focuses on, the MP3, is a much more compact field of study than is the print book; the former is tightly delimited, technologically and historically. Moreover, we might devote attention to different formats of print books—hardcover, mass-market paperback, trade paperback, and so on. Yet the category of the print book already offers a strategic condensation and combination of media: for instance, print, type, paper, codex, text. A print book is a mini-media ecology. Its format encompasses physical characteristics (its tactile and bound form), organizational systems (the arrangement of pages within a codex and text within those pages), and phenomenological registers (including aesthetics, sensory attributes, and perceptions of aura). Metamedial novels emphasize these aspects, which are attributes of all print novels and which contribute to the processes by which novels make visible the forms of information.
Format is also significant in its semantic adjacency to genre. Both “novel” and “print book” suggest defaults and norms. Formats provide a valuable framework for theorizing defaults because they are not reducible to either their nondiscursive technical properties or the phenomenological domain of their perception. As Amaranth Borsuk writes, “the thing we picture when someone says ‘book’ is an idea as much as an object.” 59 A print book codifies a series of default forms, arrangements, and uses, but its affordances also entail potentiality. Defaults are less interesting in and of themselves than as the standards from which works may deviate. So, too, in the case of novels. Novels, more than poetry, correspond to Johanna Drucker’s definition of the “unmarked” text, “the single grey block of undisturbed text” that allows readers to read words on the page without seeing them as visual or material artifacts: “Literary works . . . essentially adopted the unmarked mode of Gutenberg’s biblical setting as their norm. . . . The aspirations of typographers serving the literary muse are to make the text as uniform, as neutral, as accessible and seamless as possible.” 60 Metamedial novels work against this default aesthetic, disrupting expectations for genre and format alike as they adopt the forms of information and information management. Through these novels, we better understand the aesthetics of information scale.
The issue of defaults and deviations brings me to a final note regarding my rationale for focusing on metamedial novels. To what degree can one generalize about the genre from these idiosyncratic texts? Because metamedial novels are highly experimental, they are necessarily limit cases that test the boundaries of the genre. Yet this very quality makes them exemplars of a genre that has been formed through limit-case experiments. The novel is always already a genre of exception. I will have more to say about exemplarity and novelty in later chapters; here, I propose that, while the self-conscious bookishness of metamedial novels is unusual, it is indicative of the ways in which the novel’s encounters with information have been shaped by the book throughout its history. Metamedial novels not only reveal the conventions of novels and of books; they also remind us that the relationship between the two constitutes its own default.
The novel has never been entirely bound to the book. Historically, many novels were serialized in periodicals, and the connection between novel and book is tenuous in the age of digital e-readers. Novelists are adapting their genre for new platforms such as smartphones, and even print novels are never really “born print” in the manner that digital works are born digital. Today, novels are likely to be born as digital documents.61 In the past, they would have been born as manuscript or typescript. The relationship between the novel and the media forms it takes is not reducible to a print-digital dichotomy. Yet the association between novels and books persists. This association is present in the slippage when a colleague says, “I just read a new book on my Kindle.” It is present in Robert Coover’s argument in his 1992 essay “The End of Books” that hypertext literature would kill the novel by killing the book.62 It is present when we perform a Google Image search for “novel” and the algorithm returns pictures of books. The connection between novel and book may not be absolute, but it is a tenacious and important convention. I map a range of literary responses to information and its mediation, from canonically informational novels such as Ulysses to novels whose investment in modern information culture is less obvious. This analysis explores a wide range of potentiality—what the book may do for the novel and for information storage, rather than what it must do or what it habitually does.
Information Culture Circa 1900: Modern Mediation and Metamedial Modernism
The preceding sections have primarily discussed the media conditions and literary responses of the twenty-first century: algorithmic analysis, digital information storage, recent novelistic experimentation, and so forth. In this volume, I put these twenty-first-century literary and informational landscapes into dialogue with those of the modernist era. Contemporary information mediation did not spring fully formed from digital media. It represents one stage in a history of ideas about how information should be managed and what role the book should play in that management. The excavation of digital media’s predigital roots is a widespread practice within media studies, exemplified by work such as Sterne’s and Lisa Gitelman’s, and many media theorists have identified aspects of pre-1900 media culture that anticipate digital culture. I focus on the modernist period because the first decades of the twentieth century ushered in information management techniques, and novelistic responses to the assumptions entailed by those techniques, that remain active a century later. Information mediation and the future of the book were central issues for both modernism and modernity.
The information culture and media-centered literary experiments of the modernist period share commonalities with those of the twenty-first century that make their comparison especially fruitful. That media were essential to modernism is by now well established. Scholars in modernist studies have examined everything from telegraphs and phonographs to corridors and vulcanized rubber under the rubric of media.63 Media theorists, too, have cited the importance of the decades circa 1900, building on Kittler’s description of the epistemic break ushered in with the discourse network of 1900.64 (That this media transition was intertwined with modernist literature is evident in Kittler’s inclusion of Gertrude Stein as an emblematic figure of that discourse network.) The new modernist studies have asserted that aspects of modernity and modernism extended beyond the temporal and geographical boundaries traditionally associated with these terms.65 Although I do not claim the contemporary period as precisely modernist, my research contributes to the vertical expansion of modernist studies in its discussion of how and why elements of modernism’s information culture have been remobilized a century later.
Additionally, the idea that the links between the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries are worthy of critical attention has been gaining momentum. Manovich, for instance, describes new media’s formal and logical indebtedness to the avant-garde cinema of the 1920s. Alan Liu cites Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management as an origin point for the structured and encoded discourse that Liu argues is integral to “discourse network 2000.” Paul Stephens’s history of poetic interventions into the cultural conditions of information overload moves from Stein to contemporary conceptual writing. Jessica Pressman has made the most sustained analysis of the connections between these periods: she argues that the modernist imperative to “make it new” was influenced by media and that it provided a model of experimentation taken up a century later by writers of electronic literature.66 I uncover further significant connections by demonstrating how, in both eras, concerns about the scale of information, and consequent uncertainty about the print book’s future, have been met by renewed novelistic interest in textual materiality as a way of rethinking emerging practices of mediation.
Key features of information proliferation and management that have reached their apotheosis in the digital age originated in the early twentieth century. As chapter 1 describes in detail, while anxiety about information overload predates the early twentieth century, what was new were the forms information took as it proliferated across new media and as it was managed with new techniques. The volume of printed matter exploded. Book production quadrupled in the United Kingdom between the 1840s and 1916. In the United States, the number of new titles being published in 1910 was six times greater than it had been three decades earlier.67 The claim that “readers [were being] overwhelmed with the avalanche of books,” as the Athenaeum declared in 1912, became a common enough trope for a columnist in the Literary Digest to wearily write in 1923, “There is ‘an avalanche of books,’ of course.” 68 Similar complaints surfaced about other media, as periodical circulation increased dramatically, alongside advertisements, documents, and files. Benjamin worried that children were so besieged by “locust swarms of print” from newspapers, advertisements, and other texts that they lacked the ability to focus on a print book: “Before a child of our time finds his way clear to opening a book, his eyes have been exposed to such a blizzard of changing, colorful, conflicting letters that the chances of his penetrating the archaic stillness of the book are slight.” 69 Concerns about information proliferation, and the perception that its scale was historically unprecedented, led to the development of systematic management. The growing cadre of information professionals devised standardized processes for storing and accessing information, positioning organizational systems as interfaces that mediated between users and data. Some information professionals also advocated for the use of microform, which necessitated magnification screens or other reading interfaces. As information became more heavily mediated in these ways, the print book seemed a less efficient storage medium by comparison. Ideologically if not technologically, the information culture of the early twentieth century set into motion practices and assumptions about information and its mediation that continue to operate in the age of Big Data.
Wrestling with the question of whether the novel could meaningfully act as an archive for societies whose informational output had reached watershed levels, novelists looked to the book as a microcosm of information management. Most literary criticism treats metamedial experimentation as a product of the digital era. Hayles and others have noted that this experimentation has intensified in the contemporary novel partly in reaction to the perceived obsolescence of the book in the age of digital information and e-readers and partly because its creation is enabled by the use of digital platforms that allow novelists to more easily design visually complex works.70 Roughly a century ago, however, metamedial experimentation in the novel also emerged as a trend, in a similar effort to reevaluate the genre’s relevance. Marshall has documented the novel’s awareness of its function as a medium during this period: arguing that novels like Manhattan Transfer and Native Son figure corridors as a metaphor for the novel’s mediating role in the representation of modern interiority, she studies how they represent technologies of “corridoricity” such as “ducts, pipes, [and] urban infrastructures” as a way to “refer explicitly to the inscription technologies of the book” and to “thematiz[e] the network of relations between the material printed artifact and its fictionality.” 71 Marshall’s attention to the book is unusual: while modernist studies has benefited from a wealth of critical attention to print culture, the book has tended to be eclipsed by newspapers, little magazines, and other periodicals. The major exception is Lurz’s The Death of the Book, which argues for the importance of the book as an object to the modernist novel. As modernist studies begins to contend with the embeddedness of novels in books, I want to suggest that metamedial novels’ emphasis on this embeddedness resulted from a merger of modernist writers’ preoccupation with form and their awareness of the shift from books to modern information media.
The modernist period was a time when visual artists turned their attention to their media and when poets felt, to quote William Carlos Williams, that “all the world was going crazy about typographical form.” 72 We should add the book to the list of media on which modernist writers focused their formal investigations. Literary experimentation with the visual and tactile dimensions of media during the modernist era tends to be discussed with reference to poetry—the disorienting typographical layouts of the Vorticists, for instance. But novelists, too, played with the printed page. Ulysses disrupts conventional textual arrangement with devices such as question-and-answer sets and mock newspaper headlines. William Faulkner attempted to publish The Sound and the Fury using several colors of ink to mark narrative temporalities. Photographs became more commonplace; we see them in novels such as André Breton’s Nadja and Woolf’s Orlando. Novelists were also more involved in the production of their novels as physical artifacts. Like the artists’ books that also commenced as a practice in the early twentieth century, these novels are “self-referential and self-aware objects” that “interrogate the codex, calling into question how books communicate and how we read, using every aspect of their structure, form, and content to make meaning.” 73 This novelistic experimentation was not limited to exploring form for its own sake; it also reimagined and revised the relationship between the novel’s representative abilities and its medium. As writers reflected on the novel’s place in a society dominated by information, their works showed the novel’s representation of information culture to be predicated on the book’s mediation of information.
From the Modernist Era to the Twenty-First Century: Information as the Formation of Data
I put the modernist and contemporary periods into dialogue to draw out the rich connections between them. I also do so in order to think broadly about the comparative work of media history. To establish my reading of the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries as parallel moments of media transition, the next four chapters alternate between these eras, with the final chapter serving as a synthesis. A productive alchemy arises from the juxtaposition. This parallax reading brings to light how modernist ideas about literary form chime with ideas about form from information culture, and it clarifies how the novel’s archival project has been reimagined through the ways in which books and other information media have been theorized in critical and popular accounts. When we view the contemporary moment as continuing the legacy of modernism’s engagement with information, mediation, and form, we better understand our own information culture. Out of Print models how we may take into account the way in which one era’s media “anticipates” another’s (the word is frequently used to locate similarities), without either reinstating a teleological view of history or simply describing the two as uncannily alike without delineating any trajectory between them. It is not quite that modernist information culture gave rise directly to today’s information culture, nor is it quite as fuzzy as the statement that the one merely anticipated the other. To identify continuities as well as divergences between these periods is to formulate a more robust theorization of novelists’ responses to the scale of information, tracking the persistence of forms across time.
The chapters that follow consider several related but distinct aspects of form central to information, the novel, and the book: form as organization; form as embodiment; and form’s role in innovation, preservation, and obsolescence. Taken together, these chapters develop a concept I call the formation of data. As I have stated, I define information as data made meaningful by the ways in which it is contextualized and situated. Information is constituted by the forms it takes. The formation of data encompasses how data are organized when they are collected and stored, how they are embodied in media, and how these ways of giving form to data create meaning. Metamedial novels highlight all these facets of the formation of data.
The first two chapters focus on information’s arrangement—its organizational form. Chapter 1 describes information shock, modernism’s version of information overload, a condition produced by textual proliferation too vast and disorganized to manage. I argue that modernist novelists contributed to debates about information shock by representing the cognitive experiences it created and merging an informational aesthetic with a renewed attention to the form of the book. Focusing on Ulysses, I argue that Joyce highlights the novel’s textual materiality in order to critique mediation, which I show to be central to the emerging field of information management. I take Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum archive as a paradigmatic case study, documenting how the systematic management of information, as it moved away from the book to meet new economies of information scale, entailed methods of organization, processing, and navigation whose details could be hidden from lay users. Against such mediation, Ulysses demonstrates how the metamedial novel could reestablish form’s centrality to information.
Chapter 2 moves from early twentieth-century information management’s use of classification systems to the algorithmic analysis and search systems that dominate mediation in the era of Big Data. In my reading, contemporary novelists’ response has been not to represent this scale in and of itself but to explore how data are made meaningful through the limits that contain them. I show how, in texts including Danielewski’s Only Revolutions and Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc, narrative, book, and page all become systems that impose a comprehensible order on information. These works challenge conventional definitions of the literary by producing literary text through the distillation of large quantities of information. The value of the book as a novelistic medium, these texts suggest, is its ability to make conceptual and spatial limits visible as frameworks, as the novel itself becomes a meaningful framework for contextualizing information.
The second set of chapters examines the implications of information’s embodiment in media—its material form. Chapter 3 argues that the book’s tactility and consequent ability to preserve the physical traces of readers took on a new significance during the modernist period. This emphasis on what I call haptic storage occurred in response to new regimes of personal information collection that sought to quantify people via data and to the rise of microform as a competitor to the print book for information storage. In this pivotal moment, the use of microform reading interfaces encouraged the rhetorical stance that medial embodiment was inconsequential to information, a principle epitomized by Bob Brown’s microfilm-inspired Readies project. I read Woolf’s Orlando as a critique of this disregard of embodiment and material form. Orlando problematizes the idea that any quantity of information could substitute for the presence of a living subject. Instead, it suggests that Woolf’s project of capturing the life of her estranged lover becomes realized only when narrative descriptions and the accumulation of biographical detail are combined with the haptic “information” created when readers interact with books.
Chapter 4 analyzes how novelists have used the book’s hypermediacy and affordance of haptic storage to challenge the posthumanist principle that a sufficiently large amount of digital data can represent or replace a living subject. I examine this principle in the context of several digital immortality projects, arguing that the shift from print books to digital media has influenced the metaphors and ideologies of digital immortality, in addition to making this research possible. In response to the hope that people could live forever as informational representations, transcending their mortal human bodies, I study several works of contemporary literature that dramatize the potential horror of such existence. I analyze two novels and a memoir-elegy—Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts, Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Anne Carson’s Nox, respectively—arguing that they demonstrate how an emphasis on the book’s materiality can be useful to the work of mourning. My analysis of these works clarifies how books and digital media have inspired distinct rhetorical positions regarding representation and death because of how they mediate information.
Chapter 5 synthesizes the preceding chapters, turning from the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries to the future. I examine the close links between discourse on the death of the novel and discourse on the death of the book, particularly as both have been influenced by media transition and issues of platform stability. I argue that the book, in its fragility and its persistence, has served as a model for thinking through futurity. I read the novel as a literary form especially suited to theorizing media transition, and I contrast the celebration of innovation in the technology industry with skepticism about innovation with literary form. The chapter analyzes three visions of how the relationships among print books, digital media, and literary reading may manifest in the future: Katie Paterson’s Future Library Project, Stephen King’s Kindle novella UR, and Sebastian Schmieg and Silvio Lorusso’s artist’s book 56 Broken Kindle Screens. I conclude by discussing the ongoing relevance of modernist literature and modernist studies for thinking about media, temporality, and futurity.
The novel has been transformed over the last century, and this transformation has intensified with the growing scale of information. Novelists have explored the porous boundaries between what constitutes literary narrative and what constitutes information, and they have leveraged the book’s hypermediacy to incorporate the aesthetics of information and critique the assumptions that underlie mediation. Novelists’ experiments with the book and literary form reassert form’s importance to information, even if the dominant conditions of contemporary information culture work against a conscious awareness of, or interaction with, these forms. To construct a medium-specific approach to the novel is thus not only to consider how the print book has impacted the novel but also to consider how the novel circulates within, and interacts with, its media ecology. The print novel is not a nostalgic form. It continues to shape popular understandings of information even as it adapts to engage with new media, new practices of mediating information, and new ideas about the book.
1. D. H. Lawrence, “Review [of Manhattan Transfer, by John Dos Passos]” (1927), in John Dos Passos, ed. Barry Maine (New York: Routledge, 1988), 71–72, 71.
2. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 32–33.
3. E. M. Forster, “Anonymity: An Enquiry,” Calendar of Modern Letters 2, no. 9 (1925): 148.
4. Lawrence, “Review,” 71.
5. By “book” I mean print codex. While medium is the term commonly used to discuss books, strictly speaking a book is not a medium so much as a format, entailing medium (print or other textual inscription), support (paper), and platform (codex). I will have more to say about these distinctions over the course of this book.
6. I am drawing on Jay David Bolter and Richard A. Grusin’s definition of transparent media in Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). Bolter and Grusin define a transparent interface as “one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium” (24).
7. Raymond Williams, “Dominant, Residual, and Emergent,” in Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 122.
8. Bolter and Grusin, Remediation, 272. The subject of Bolter and Grusin’s analysis is the history of visual representation in western culture, and they describe hypermediacy as “a style of visual representation,” one that “multiplies the signs of mediation” by containing multiple media within the same visual field, as in a computer desktop interface or a newspaper’s “patchwork layout” (272, 32, 41). My use of their term does not entail this multimedia visual aesthetic—although several of the novels I analyze do adopt this visual style—but rather its effect: “In every manifestation, hypermediacy makes us aware of the medium” (34).
9. Affordance is a term from design theory; widely used in media studies, it has gained traction in literary studies via Caroline Levine’s groundbreaking monograph Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015). As she writes, the term is “used to describe the potential uses or actions latent in material and designs” (6). The language of affordance usefully moves away from strictly determinist accounts of media to discussion of conventions, defaults, and potentiality.
10. See, for example, N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).
11. Although such novels exist in languages other than English, I focus on Anglophone texts from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States. While my analysis is attentive to the differences in the media and information cultures of each national context, part of the work of Out of Print is to establish the many factors they have had in common, creating a transnational framework for the study of information and media history as they pertain to the novel.
12. N. Katherine Hayles defines media-specific analysis as a mode that “attends both to the specificity of the form” of a text as it is embodied in a medium “and to citations and imitations of one medium in another” (“Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep,” Poetics Today 25, no. 1 : 69). Media-specific analysis is concerned both with the particularity of individual media and with the positioning of these media within media ecologies.
13. Kate Marshall, Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 16.
14. For example, J. Paul Hunter argues that “the fact that novels are conceived within the expectations and possibilities of the print medium is . . . crucial . . . because any discourse can more readily expand in a printed version, move in more directions, stay longer, go on less predictable tangents, and become a focus of attention for long periods of time without endangering the narrative center” (Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century Fiction [New York: Norton, 1990], 53).
15. Levine, Forms, 13.
16. Marco Codebò defines the archival novel as “a fictional genre where the narrative stores records, bureaucratic writing informs language, and the archive functions as a semiotic frame” for the narrative (Narrating from the Archive: Novels, Records, and Bureaucrats in the Modern Age [Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010], 13). On the encyclopedic, see Edward Mendelson, “Encyclopedic Narrative, from Dante to Pynchon,” MLN 91, no. 6 (1976): 1267–75.
17. Arthur Bahr, Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 218.
18. E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (London: Harcourt Brace, 1927), 25; Jerome McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 178.
19. Watt, Rise of the Novel, 32–33.
20. Hunter, Before Novels, 32.
21. In her work on literature and the theory of mind, Lisa Zunshine describes the novel “as a sustained representation of numerous interacting minds” and thus the best genre for studying how fictional minds accord with real cognitive processes (Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel [Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006], 10).
22. See Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
23. Lisa Gitelman and Virginia Jackson, “Introduction,” in “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron, ed. Lisa Gitelman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 1. Definitions of data vary greatly by field. As Christine L. Borgman puts it, “the only agreement on definitions [of data] is that no single definition will suffice. . . . The value of data varies widely over place, time, and context. . . . Data have no value or meaning in isolation” (Big Data, Little Data, No Data: Scholarship in the Networked World [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015], 4). For a history of the word data, see Daniel Rosenberg’s “Data before the Fact” (in Gitelman, “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron, 15–40). For a thorough overview of different definitions of data, see chapter 2 of Borgman’s Big Data, Little Data, No Data.
24. Borgman, Big Data, Little Data, No Data, 28.
25. “Knowledge,” Oxford English Dictionary Online.
26. Ann M. Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 2.
27. John Guillory, “The Memo and Modernity,” Critical Inquiry 31, no. 1 (2004): 110; “information,” Oxford English Dictionary Online (this is the sense used by Claude Shannon in his development of information theory); Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 315.
28. For instance, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid write that “knowledge usually entails a knower. That is, where people treat information as independent and more-or-less self-sufficient, they seem more inclined to associate knowledge with someone” (The Social Life of Information [Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2000], 119).
29. Forster, “Anonymity,” 148.
30. Watt, Rise of the Novel, 13; Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953), 49; Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (1981), ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), 39; Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), in Selected Works of Virginia Woolf (London: Wordsworth Editions, 2012), 611; Terry Eagleton, The English Novel: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 5–6; Michael McKeon, “Genre Theory,” in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, ed. Michael McKeon (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 4.
31. For a history of how the novel arose among genres such as the romance, the ballad, and the news pamphlet, which also complicated the fact-fiction distinction, see Lennard J. Davis, Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996).
32. The bookkeeping log is from B. S. Johnson’s novel Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry. I discuss the kitchen-shelf items and other lists in Ulysses in chapter 1.
33. Jessica Pressman, “The Aesthetic of Bookishness in Twenty-First-Century Literature,” Michigan Quarterly Review 48, no. 4 (2009): 465–82.
34. Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You (New York: Penguin, 2011), 11.
35. On ubiquitous computing and recent interface ideologies, see Lori Emerson, Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), especially chapter 1.
36. The origins of the phrase are obscure. Invoking something like its current connotations, the phrase “big data” began to be used in conversations in the tech community in the mid-1990s, and it appeared in the title of a paper at least as early as 1997. It had begun to appear in published academic works by 2003; in 2008, Wired magazine popularized the term. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the term’s popularity and usage increased exponentially. By 2013, Big Data had an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
37. Borgman, Big Data, Little Data, No Data, 4.
38. danah boyd and Kate Crawford, “Critical Questions for Big Data: Provocations for a Cultural, Technological, and Scholarly Phenomenon,” Information, Communication, and Society 15, no. 5 (2012), 663. I follow boyd’s preferred convention for writing her name.
39. “Big data,” Oxford English Dictionary Online, emphasis added.
40. Whereas deep attention “is characterized by concentrating on a single object for long periods,” hyper attention “is characterized by switching focus rapidly among different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom” (N. Katherine Hayles, “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Shift in Cognitive Modes,” Profession : 187).
41. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (London: Norton, 2011), 103; Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, rev. ed. (New York: Faber and Faber, 2006), 18; Hayles, “Hyper and Deep Attention,” 187–88.
42. Pace Carr and Birkerts, mobile media contribute to the dissemination of literary texts, and dedicated e-book readers show that digital platforms, too, may be designed to encourage deep attention. On the rise of deep reading, see David Dowling, “Escaping the Shallows: Deep Reading’s Revival in the Digital Age,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 8, no. 2 (2014): n.p.
43. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 6; Naomi S. Baron, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 48.
44. Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller” (1936), in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1968), 87.
45. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 225. Natural symbionts is N. Katherine Hayles’s term; she contends that, “because database can construct relational juxtapositions but is helpless to interpret or explain them, it needs narrative to make its results meaningful. Narrative, for its part, needs database in the computationally intensive culture of the new millennium to enhance its cultural authority and test the generality of its insights” (“Narrative and Database: Natural Symbionts,” PMLA 122, no. 5 (2007): 1603).
46. Michael Wutz, Enduring Words: Literary Narrative in a Changing Media Ecology (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009), 24. For Wutz, this difference is the reason for the novel’s continued relevance rather than a factor hastening its obsolescence.
47. See Hayles, Writing Machines; Alison Gibbons, Multimodality, Cognition, and Experimental Literature (New York: Routledge, 2012); and Alexander Starre, Metamedia: American Book Fictions and Literary Print Culture after Digitization (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2015).
48. I refer to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2005), Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2007), and J. J. Abrams’s and Doug Dorst’s S. (New York: Mulholland, 2013).
49. Leah Price, “Introduction: Reading Matter,” PMLA 121, no. 1 (2006): 12; Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, “Book Presence: An Introductory Exploration,” in Book Presence in a Digital Age, ed. Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, Kári Driscoll, and Jessica Pressman (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 8.
50. Alexander Starre, “ ‘Little Heavy Papery Beautiful Things’: McSweeney’s, Metamediality, and the Rejuvenation of the Book in the US,” Writing Technologies, vol. 3 (2010): 32. See also his Metamedia.
51. My thanks to Kelley Kreitz for suggesting the idea of novels as alternative media.
52. “Interface,” Oxford English Dictionary Online. For a typology of computational interfaces, see Florian Cramer and Matthew Fuller, “Interface,” in Software Studies: A Lexicon, ed. Sean Cubitt and Roger F. Malina (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 149–52.
53. Bonnie Mak, for instance, describes a page as “an interface, standing at the centre of the complicated dynamic of intention and reception” (How the Page Matters [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011], 21). Compare McGann: “A page of printed or scripted text should . . . be understood as a certain kind of graphic interface” (Radiant Textuality, 199).
54. Emerson, Reading Writing Interfaces, 6. My work joins Emerson’s in thinking about the way in which literature can expose how “the glossy surface of the interface . . . alienates the user from having access to the underlying workings of the device” (xi). Emerson focuses on works that demystify the involvement of interfaces in writing.
55. For instance, Daniel Punday’s Writing at the Limit: The Novel in the New Media Ecology focuses on contemporary novels that contain “references to other media (rather than the use of those other media),” purposefully excluding metamedial works ([Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012], 26). While his monograph provides a comprehensive study of the ways in which “written narrative” differs from other media such as film, painting, and music, there is only passing consideration of how either print or the book influences written narrative (37). In a similar vein, Tony E. Jackson’s The Technology of the Novel: Writing and Narrative in British Fiction describes the novel as “a literary form that has been primarily associated with the technology of print” but does not distinguish print from writing in the subsequent analysis ([Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009], 2).
56. These terms come from Starre, Metamedia, and Gibbons, Multimodality.
57. Marshall, Corridor; John Lurz, The Death of the Book: Modernist Novels and the Time of Reading (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016); Wutz, Enduring Words.
58. Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 7.
59. Amaranth Borsuk, The Book (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018), 111.
60. Johanna Drucker, The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909–1923 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 95.
61. For this reason, Hayles describes “print as a particular form of output for electronic text” (My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005], 117).
62. Robert Coover, “The End of Books,” New York Times, June 21, 1992.
63. For these examples, see Timothy C. Campbell, Wireless Writing in the Age of Marconi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006); Mark Goble, Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Marshall, Corridor; and David Trotter, Literature in the First Media Age: Britain between the Wars (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).
64. Friedrich A. Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer with Chris Cullens (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992).
65. The “new” modernist studies are by now well established, dating roughly to the founding of the Modernist Studies Association (1998) and the journal Modernism/modernity (1994). See Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” PMLA 123, no. 3 (2008): 737–48.
66. See Manovich, The Language of New Media; Alan Liu, “Transcendental Data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse,” in Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 210; Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); and Jessica Pressman, Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
67. Alexis Weedon, Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market, 1836–1916 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003), 57. Janice Radway, “Research Universities, Periodical Publication, and the Circulation of Professional Expertise: On the Significance of Middlebrow Authority,” Critical Inquiry 31, no. 1 (2004): 216.
68. “Literary Gossip,” Athenaeum, December 14, 1912, 731; Clifford Smyth, “The Fiction Famine,” Literary Digest International Book Review 1 (October 1923): 22.
69. Walter Benjamin, “One-Way Street” (1928), in One-Way Street and Other Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Kinglsey Shorter (London: NLB, 1979), 61–62.
70. See Hayles, My Mother Was a Computer, 31–32, 117–18.
71. Marshall, Corridor, 28.
72. William Carlos Williams, Imaginations (New York: New Directions, 1970), 85.
73. Borsuk, The Book, 112, 113; the quotations describe artists’ books.