We take the fidelity of digital reproduction as a given. Yet the limits of bandwidth, storage capacity, and human perception all conspire to encourage data compression. As digital data moves from one file format to another—as it is compressed and transferred over a network—data is lost, both intentionally and through error. A critical inquiry into this phenomenon, known as lossyness, will force a reconsideration of human perception and network priorities in our digital moment. Lossyness, of course, occurs on the level of the data itself, but we can also expand our idea of lossyness to include changes in software and hardware that render the viewer's experience of certain old "new media" artifacts–a book, for instance–degraded or even impossible. This article poses the question of data compression in order to theorize a digital ekphrasis: the digital representation of analog representation. The concept of digital ekphrasis applied to the book object will reveal the materiality and corporality of transcoding in the literary realm, and allow a detailed consideration of two key critical questions: how is an analog object's fullness represented in the new digital medium? And: what is lost in such medium shifts?


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pp. 87-102
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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