e-Lit Resource
Locating the Literary in New Media

In “Locating the Literary in New Media,” published in both Contemporary Literature and on the online literary journal Electronic Book Review, Joseph Tabbi reviews works of recent literary criticism, which actually reflect more of a cultural studies approach to literature than that of a specifically literary approach. This essay reviews Thomas Foster’s The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory, N. Katherine Hayles’ My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, Martin Kevorkian’s Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America, and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Each of these texts react differently to technology and the changing face of literature, from race to gender to class. The trouble, as Tabbi observes, is that “the fascination with technoculture seems to have distanced humanities scholars from even our former object of interest - not the book, nor its successor media, but the literary imagination as it is constrained and enabled by technology.”

Tabbi’s essay speaks to greater issues at play in the world of digital textuality: namely, the dilution of the literary as it subsumed by different subgenres of digital art. Tabbi remarks that today, “[w]e might find ‘literariness’ circulating through the mediasphere, but rarely references to literature; ‘fictionality,’ but not fictions; ‘autopoiesis,’ but not poetry.” Literature, in contemporary screen culture, is observed ubiquitously on the World Wide Web; it may not resemble the literature of old, but it is there. It is imperative that “scholars can, and ought to, devote the kind of close attention to what’s stable and continuous in computing that we give to the formation of tendencies, periods, and canons in literary and cultural fields.”

Of primary concern for Tabbi in this essay is the “specifically counterimage” that print authors can provide. This “literary response to the new liberal technoculture” continues the long and robust history of American literature of “self fashioning,” “consistent with the modernization of cities and communication infrastructures worldwide.” Tabbi aims to trace the literary trajectory as it is found in the changing technological development. What Tabbi wishes to see in contemporary technocriticism is a “distinctly literary tendency that would be less a critique of the world or a celebration of technology than an extension of technological exploration using textual and narrative means.”

Tabbi’s review is much more than a review, though. As any good work of scholarly criticism, the essay uses the works it reviews as a springboard into discussing much greater issues at the heart of electronic literature.

More from Joseph Tabbi on ebr can be found here: