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Michael Wutz. Enduring Words: Literary Narrative in a Changing Media Ecology. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2009. ix + 279 pp.

Michael Wutz's Enduring Words provides an important and timely assessment of print narrative's value and positionality vis-à-vis an ever-expanding media ecology. For scholars who wonder about the future of the book, Enduring Words reminds us of the specific and often critically underdetermined qualities of literary representation as a print-based medium that cannot be remediated by other means. Wutz distinguishes between "ambitious" literature that is able to reflect on [End Page 187] and strategically integrate other media forms and the print narrative's traditional function as Platonic hypomnesis (artificial memory and data storage). He privileges the former as a self-reinventing art form whose alphabetic apparatus helps to bring us closer to the "faint" platonic literary shadow of the brain's "cognitive brilliance" that is otherwise lost in re-mediatic translation. Literature's metaphorical capacities as well as "its semantic density and temporal elasticity make it an ideal vehicle for the infinitude of thought that resists reduction into flattening ones and zeroes" (45). Separating logocentric, straw-man fears of technological contamination of purely literary works from the constitutive actuality of encroaching media disciplines is but one of the important topoi that Wutz's book addresses. Paradoxically, the very forces of technological change that push the print narrative to the margins, Wutz predicts, are what will ultimately allow narrative to realize its potentiality as a unique medium. He posits that as storage functions have migrated and print has been permanently surpassed by the digital archives, narrative can be free to imagine new horizons through thinking and representing the ever-complex relationships of individuals in their mediatic ecologies; hence his title, Enduring Words.

In a highly original set of readings, Wutz examines several authors' attempts to absorb changing media reproductions and literary narrative from phonography and cinema (Frank Norris), mass media and television (Malcolm Lowry), and narrative and cognition (E. L. Doctorow) to neuroscience and networks (Richard Powers). As he suggests in chapter 1, the common thread through these authors' writing is that they "variously use the materialities of writing and print to ground their authorial agency in the face of writing technologies severing the writing body from its work" (26). Most share the consensus that nonprint media are an alienating prosthesis that interrupts the writer's ability to represent Truth. Montage, collage, bricolage, and narrative machines are just a few of the narrative strategies of assimilation and resistance that Wutz identifies to highlight the changing forms and contents of literary narratives measured against an increasing multimodal mainstream culture. In stating his case, Wutz orchestrates his own hermeneutical collage, impressively teasing out insights from postmodern literary critics such as Linda Hutcheon and Frederic Jameson, media theorists such as Fridreich Kittler (typewriter), N. Katherine Hayles (autopoeises), Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (remediation), cinematographers and media practitioners such as Sergei Eisenstein, and a host of authors and philosophers from Baudelaire to Heidegger to develop his arguments. While Wutz is quick to caution that his readings are not "media-theoretical" but "media-oriented," scholars will certainly find much that suggests the importance of the former (10). [End Page 188]

Chapters 2 and 3 detail Norris's relationship to photography and film. Working from both biographical and personal writings and fictional representations, Wutz locates multiple converging strains in Norris's attempt to validate the materiality of print narratives against increasingly popular media forms. He notes an opposition between truth as an expression of writing and accuracy, which "is a 'mere machine-made thing,' and a technological replica emphasizing factual verisimilitude, not literary verity" (31). Intriguingly, Wutz suggests that Norris's paranoia is, in part, due to gendered fantasies of interference with the masculine act of literary production. "Norris tended to see the typewriter as an engine of effeminacy and reproduction not production" (51), due to his reliance on a predominantly female labor force to reproduce his written work.

If Norris feared the loss of self in the technological prosthesis of the typewriter, Wutz says that Lowry similarly seeks to incorporate the gap between techne as artistic...


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pp. 187-190
Launched on MUSE
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