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EN9A6 Things, Media, Systems


Things, Media, Systems

MA module. Christina Lupton

This course will introduce three theoretical approaches currently being put to good use within the humanities and social sciences: Thing Theory, Media Archeology, and Systems Theory. All of these can be described as object-orientated ontologies: their methods encourage us to start with, and report on, material practices, networks, and objects rather than on the history of ideas or discourse. In some sense they represent the most recent chapter in the history of theory as a turning away from the subject. And yet, while twentieth-century theory was concerned primarily with language, and therefore securely located within the departments of literature, these new approaches have less to say about language than about material objects, information technology, and sociological practice. Thing Theorists, for instance, sometimes study texts but are just as often concerned with actual things, or human-object relationships. The versions of history that these theories support also grant agency to technologies and media more easily than to texts. Our main question in this course will therefore be: how do object-oriented ontologies apply to literary texts? In order to answer this question, we will read three novels that seem to co-operate with the idea that they are more about objects than language. Students will present on one of the fictional texts in relation to a medium (print, newspaper, telegraph, code, magazine, codex, etc) OR a “thing” (lace, virus, fossil, railway network, etc.)

Section One: Things

Week One

Marx, from Capital

Arjan Appadurai, “Introduction” in Appadurai, The Social Life of Things

Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001)

Bruno Latour, “Inter-Objectivity” in Mind, Culture, and Activity (3), 1996

Week Two

Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meanings in the Victorian Novel (Chicago, 2006)

Jonathan Lamb “Making Babies in the South Seas” in The Things Things Say (Princeton, 2010)

David Porter, “Gendered Utopias” in The Chinese Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2010)

Week Three

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

Adela Pinch, “Rubber Bands and Old Ladies,” in In Near Ruins: Cultural Theory at the End of the Century, ed. Nicholas B. Dirks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998)

Christina Lupton, “Surfaces and Depths in Gaskell’s Cranford” in Criticism 50:2, Spring 2008.

Selections from: Talia Schaffer, Novel Craft: Victorian Domestic Handiwork and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Oxford, 2011)

Section Two: Media

Week Four

John Guillory, “Genesis of the Media Concept” Critical Inquiry

Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New (MIT Press, 2009)

Huhtamo, Erikki and Jussi Parikka. Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. (Berkeley: U of California P, 2011).

Week Five

N. Katherine Hayles, Selections from: How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (Chicago, 2012)

Andrew Piper, Book Was There (Chicago, 2012)

Week Six

Bram Stoker, Dracula

Friedrich Kittler, “Dracula’s Legacy” in Kittler, Literature Media Information Systems (OPA: 1997)

Friedrich Kittler, “Typewriter” in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford, 1999)

Section Three: Systems

Week Seven

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: an Introduction to Actor Network Theory (Oxford, 2005)

Graham Harmon, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (2009)

Week Eight

Niklas Luhmann, Chapter One, Social Systems (Stanford, 1995)

Clarke and Hansen (eds), Emergence and Embodiment: New Essays on Second Order Systems Theory (Duke, 2009)

Week Nine

Niklas Luhmann, Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy (Stanford, 1998)

David Wellbery, “Contingency” in Neverending Stories: Toward a Critical Narratology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992)

Week Ten

Tom McCarthy, Remainder (2005)

Justus Nieman, “Dirty Media: Tom McCarthy and the Afterlife of Modernism,” Modern Fiction Studies 58:3, Fall 2012, 571-598

Mark Selzer, “Parlor Games: The Apriorization of the Media,” Critical Inquiry 36 (Autumn 2009)