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Reading Writing Interfaces

From the Digital to the Bookbound

Lori Emerson

Publication Year: 2014

Lori Emerson examines how interfaces—from today’s multitouch devices to yesterday’s desktops, from typewriters to Emily Dickinson’s self-bound fascicle volumes—mediate between writer and text as well as between writer and reader. Following the threads of experimental writing from the present into the past, she shows how writers have long tested and transgressed technological boundaries.

Reading the means of production as well as the creative works they produce, Emerson demonstrates that technologies are more than mere tools and that the interface is not a neutral border between writer and machine but is in fact a collaborative creative space. Reading Writing Interfaces begins with digital literature’s defiance of the alleged invisibility of ubiquitous computing and multitouch in the early twenty-first century and then looks back at the ideology of the user-friendly graphical user interface that emerged along with the Apple Macintosh computer of the 1980s. She considers poetic experiments with and against the strictures of the typewriter in the 1960s and 1970s and takes a fresh look at Emily Dickinson’s self-printing projects as a challenge to the coherence of the book.

Through archival research, Emerson offers examples of how literary engagements with screen-based and print-based technologies have transformed reading and writing. She reveals the ways in which writers—from Emily Dickinson to Jason Nelson and Judd Morrissey—work with and against media interfaces to undermine the assumed transparency of conventional literary practice.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Electronic Mediations


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Opening Closings

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pp. ix-xxii

This book begins and ends with magic—sleights of hand that disguise how closed our devices are by cleverly diverting our attention to seemingly breathtaking technological feats. From the stylized, David Copperfield–inspired Apple launch for the iPad, which is touted as a “truly magical and revolutionary...

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1. Indistinguishable from Magic: Invisible Interfaces and Digital Literature as Demystifier

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pp. 1-46

If the twenty-first century does not have, as Siegfried Zielinski writes in the chapter epigraph, a craving for media, it is because media, by way of interface, are steadily making their way toward invisibility, imperceptibility, and inoperability. We cannot crave whatever is ubiquitous. As I describe in this section,...

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2. From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly

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pp. 47-86

The second cut into the ground of our technological past in this study of reading/writing interfaces is into the era of the GUIbased personal computer that was preceded by Douglas Engelbart, Alan Kay, and Seymour Papert’s experiments with computing and interface design from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s....

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3. Typewriter Concrete Poetry as Activist Media Poetics

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pp. 87-128

The third archaeological cut I make into reading/writing interfaces is the era from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s in which poets, working heavily under the influence of Marshall McLuhan, sought to create (especially, so-called dirty) concrete poetry as a way to experiment with the limits and the possibilities of the...

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4. The Fascicle as Process and Product

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pp. 129-162

Throughout this book I try to produce a friction from reading new media interfaces with, into, and against old media interfaces—a friction that not only troubles the distinction between new and old but also follows in the steps of instances of (activist) media poetics throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries...

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Postscript: The Googlization of Literature

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pp. 163-184

Throughout this book I have attempted to create a friction between new and old writing interfaces while describing the media poetics of writers themselves reading, through writing, writing interfaces. Now that we are all constantly connected to networks, driven by invisible, formidable algorithms, the role ...


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pp. 185-218


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pp. 219-222

About the Author, Series Pages

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pp. 223-225

E-ISBN-13: 9781452942186
E-ISBN-10: 1452942188
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816691265

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Electronic Mediations
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OCLC Number: 878922810
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reading Writing Interfaces