In Mechanisms, Matthew Kirschenbaum examines new media and electronic writing against the textual and technological primitives that govern writing, inscription, and textual transmission in all media: erasure, variability, repeatability, and survivability. Mechanisms is the first book in its field to devote significant attention to storage--the hard drive in particular--arguing that understanding the affordances of storage devices is essential to understanding new media. Drawing a distinction between “forensic materiality” and “formal materiality,” Kirschenbaum uses applied computer forensics techniques in his study of new media works. Just as the humanities discipline of textual studies examines books as physical objects and traces different variants of texts, computer forensics encourage us to perceive new media in terms of specific versions, platforms, systems, and devices. Kirschenbaum demonstrates these techniques in media-specific readings of three landmark works of new media and electronic literature, all from the formative era of personal computing: the interactive fiction game Mystery House, Michael Joyce’s Afternoon: A Story, and William Gibson’s electronic poem “Agrippa.”
About the Author
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor of English and Associate Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), University of Maryland. He was a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow.
“At last in Kirschenbaum's Mechanisms we have our tactical plan for thinking inside the black box of digital media, for moving past 'screen studies' to a new take on electronic media informed by deep understanding of technological practices of inscription and storage. Kirschenbaum introduces a fresh and enlightening dichotomy, that of the interplay of formal and forensic inscription. This dichotomy becomes the raw material for cutting the key to a new critical apparatus for unlocking studies of digital media.”
—Henry Lowood, Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections, Germanic Collections, and Film & Media Collections, Stanford University Libraries
“Kirschenbaum's book is the most rigorous, cohesive, historically-informed, materially grounded, and theoretically interesting treatment of the nature of text in the age of digital mutation that I have yet encountered. The book introduces completely new materials and unique archival and site-specific research within an innovative methodological framework blending the new textual scholarship with the equally new discipline of digital forensics. In essence, Kirschenbaum argues that digital texts may be strange things, but they are assuredly things soliciting the same level of material and theoretical inquiry that has driven the recent burst of interest in the history of the book and media archaeology. Mechanisms is destined to be a landmark work for the field of digital textual studies in the same way that Lev Manovitch's Language of New Media was for the digital arts and new media fields.”
—Alan Liu, Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara