Materialities of Writing
Prof. Annette Vee
EngLit 2570
Weds 2-4:50, 512 CL

Course Description

What difference does it make whether we write with pencils, stone tablets, quills, parchment, hyperlinks, computer code, scrolls or codices? Does our thinking or our society change with the styluses and surfaces we use to record it? How much of modern bureaucracy can be chalked up to the permanence and flexibility of paper and the organizational innovations of filing systems? How do computer databases enable government surveillance as well as sophisticated literary narratives?  First explored by scholars such as Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, questions about the materialities of writing have again become central to research on electronic texts, the history of the book, and the ways that software and objects accompany our compositional practices.

In this seminar, we will focus on writing and materiality, paying attention to historical technologies as well as contemporary, computational contexts of writing. We will move, roughly, from scenes of writing to surfaces, symbols, sendings, storage, and social situations of writing. We will avoid following a linear historical trajectory in order to focus on larger themes of materiality. We will read a lot. Each week, we will have two “deep readers” on the topic–students who have read the texts and thoughts about the ideas extra-carefully (each person will sign up for two weeks to be a “deep reader”). We will look at samples of writing that highlight each week’s topic. To draw attention to the materialities of writing, assignments — signments — will ask you to compose not in traditional, written academic genres but in text, code, online spaces and physical objects. The course blog will be a shared space for weekly writing about these signments and readings. The final project for the course will be an extension of your choice of one of these smaller signments.

25% participation in class discussion (including “deep reading” days)
25% course blog writings
25% signments
25% final project

Because this is a grad course, this breakdown should be considered a rough guide rather than a mathematical certainty. Talk with me if you have questions or concerns.

Books to buy
Hayles and Pressman, Comparative Textual Media (CTM)
Lupton, Thinking with Type

from scenes of writing, to surfaces, symbols, sendings, storage, and social situations

There is more reading here than we can attend to in class. This problem will be partially remedied by the expertise contributed by our deep readers, and by designating some of these readings as optional.

1. Jan 8: writing bodies and technologies
Flusser, Vilem: “The Gesture of Writing”
Baron, Dennis: “From Pencils to Pixels,” Promises and Perils
Drucker, Joanna: “Diagrammatic Writing” New Formations

“Text from an illiterate child”

Come to class with a material essential to your writing and a definition of writing. Be prepared to talk about both.

as a follow-up to class on Jan 8, please write a short observation and question on the blog.

2. Jan 15: materialisms
McLuhan, Marshall: Understanding Media “The Media is the Message,” 7-34.
Hayles and Pressman: Intro, CTM.
Shipka, Jody: Intro, Toward a Composition Made Whole
Haas, Christina: Preface, Chaps 1-2, Writing Technology, preface & 3-47
Bogost, Ian: “Carpentry,” Alien Phenomenology, 85-111
….all of the readings for this week can be found on courseweb.

further reading:
Baudrillard, “Requiuum for the Media,” New Media Reader
Bolter and Grusin: Remediation (especially first 2 chaps, available on PittCat)
Kittler, “There is no software,” CTheory

attention to materiality:
how I’m writing my thesis:
Marshall McLuhan kinetic typography: &

What are your materials of writing (see MIT sample). What is material? Blog.

3. Jan 22:  inscriptions and surfaces
Holsinger, Bruce: “Of Pigs and Parchment,” PMLA, 616-623
Kirschenbaum, Matthew: Mechanisms, Intro and Chap 2 (chap 1 is optional)
Gitelman, Lisa: Scripts, Grooves, Writing Machines (Intro & Chap 1)
Galey, Alan: “The Enkindling Reciter: Ebooks in the Bibliographic Imagination” Book History, 2012. (pdf)
….all of the readings for this week can be found on courseweb.

Further reading:
Introduction to Manuscript Studies (medieval manuscript book), chapters 1 & 2: “Writing Supports” and “Text and Decoration”
Kittler, “Gramophone” in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
Chun: The Future is a Memory (memex, storage, genetics, vonNeumann) pdf

e-book reader

Find a precious sheet of paper and compose something on it. Write a *brief* blog post about the process, and bring the paper in to class on Jan 22.

4. Jan 29: the “Book” meet in Hillman Rm 363, Special Collections.
Johns, Adrian: Intro, The Nature of the Book, 50pages (scan)
Eisenstein, Elizabeth: “Some Features of Print Culture,” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, p 46-101.
Stallybrass,Peter: “Books and Scrolls,” in Books and Readers of Early Modern England, 2002.
….all of the readings for this week can be found on courseweb.

Further reading
Striphas, Ted: “E-books and the digital future,” Chapter 1 of The Late Age of Print (available on ebook through Pittcat)
Introduction to Manuscript Studies (medieval manuscript book), chapter 4: “Assembling, Binding and Storing the Completed Manuscript” 49-64
Baca, Damien: “The Chicano Codex,” College English, 2009. (on courseweb)
Drucker, Joanna: “The Book as Call and Conditional Texts

trip to special collections, Hillman rm. 363.
Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, a book of Amazon reviews

Construct a piece of writing that highlights its materials. Blog.

5. Feb 5: minor printing
Gitelman, Lisa: “Job Printing,” CTM
Isaac, Jessica: “Youthful Enterprises,” American Periodicals
Levy, David: “Meditation on a Receipt,” Scrolling Forward
Laquintano, Tim: “The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions” Journal of Electronic Publishing

further reading:
Gilmore, William: “Print Communications” (gov print etc), Reading Becomes a Necessity for Life: 189-224.

QR codes // receipt
Letterhead: Letters of note

Find a piece of minor printing (contemporary or historical, physical or digital), meditate on it on the blog.

6. Feb 12: letterforms
Lupton, Ellen: Thinking with Type
Drucker, Joanna: “A to screen” (CTM)
Thornton, Tamara Plakins: “The Lost World of Colonial Handwriting,” Literacy Sourcebook

Further reading:
Drucker, The Visible Word

Foer, Jonathan Safran: two short stories
font games
Lori Emerson’s scans & comments on Typescapes by Robert Zend & Bob Neill’s Typewriter Art

Design a font: by hand with graph paper, or digitally using Fontstruct, or physically/digitally with My Script Font, or some other way you devise yourself. Write something in your font and post an image of this writing on the blog. Tell us where your font might be used and/or who might use it.

7. Feb 19: CLASS CANCELED (Annette is out of the country at Writing Research Across Borders)

8. Feb 26: marginalia
Canagarajah, Suresh: Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in the Teaching of English  (excerpt on marginalia, “Ideological tensions in the ESL classroom,” 85-99)
Brunton, Finn: Intro and “Poisoning: The Reinvention of spam” through “The Botnets,” 143-175, in Spam: The Shadow History of the Internet
Sherman, “What did Renaissance Readers Write in their Books?” Books and Readers in Early Modern England, eds. Anderson and Sauer, 119-137.
Austin, Joe: Taking the Trains (Prologue, and either Chapter 2 “Taking the trains” on NYC grafitti in early 1970s or Chapter 3 “Writing ‘grafitti’ in the public sphere: The Construction of writing as an urban problem.” You’re welcome the read both, of course!)

Foer’s Tree of Codes
Art of Google Books NY Times article and tumblr.
Medieval kids’ doodles
Magna Carta with large margins
Bansky and other graffiti writers

Examine a piece of unwanted or reworked writing. Or make one yourself. blog.

9. Mar 5: writing algorithms
Hayles, Katherine: “Technogenesis in Action: Telegraph Code Books and the Place of the Human,” Chap 5, 123-170, in How We Think (available on courseweb soon…)
Alt, Casey: “Objects of our affection,” 278-301, in Media Archaeology (Eds. Huhtamo & Parikka, available as ebook on pittcat)
Wardrip-Fruin, Noah: on Strachey’s love letter generator.
Helmond, Anne: “The Algorithmization of the Hyperlink” Computational Culture. Or  pdf.

Oulipo, One hundred thousand million poems
Poetry Machine
Annette Vee’s conference paper title generator
Mark Sample’s twitterbots, such as: to save the humanities bot; because bot; William Carlos Williams botdepends on bot; NSA Prism bot.
NaNoWiMo Novel generator

create an algorithm for a kind of writing. Bonus if you implement it in code, e.g., a Twitterbot. (See Zach Whalen’s explanation for making a Twitterbot using Google Spreadsheets). Share your algorithm on the blog. THEN: choose another student’s algorithm for writing and engage with it in some way (implementing it, forking it, reverse-engineering it, etc.) and comment on that engagement. Ideally, you will post a bit earlier this week (before Tues midnight) so that you can also allot time for the comment/engagement part of the signment.

further reading:
Vee, Text, speech, machine
Aarseth, Espen: Cybertext
Hayles, excerpt: My mother was a computer (especially Regime of computation) or Writing machines
Berry, David: on Code (esp chapter 3, on creative aspects of code)
Bogost: on procedural rhetoric from Persuasive Games
Kirschenbaum: .txtual condition
Simanowski, “Text Machines” in Digital Art and Meaning (on Facade, Strachey, etc)
Wardrip-Fruin, Noah: Chapter on Strachey in Media Archaeology collection (available through Pittcat)
Anything about Strachey/Dadism/Oulipo

Mar 12: ****spring break****

10. Mar 19:  files & arrangement (CCCC, class held online instead; check email for link)
Kafka, Ben: The Demon of Writing (chapter 2), on courseweb.
Mattern, Shannon: on files
Vismann, Cornelia: Files, Preface and Chapter 5: available on Pittcat
Bush, Vannevar: “As we may think,” Atlantic Monthly, 1945.
Nelson, Theodore: “File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate,” New Media Reader (orig: ACM, 1965). pdf available online here.
Haas, Angela: “Wampum as Hypertext” Studies in American Indian Literatures, 2007. on courseweb.

further reading:
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media.
Eichorn, Kate: The Archival Turn in Feminism

Prelinger archives and, the library as map.
The reanimation library.

construct a collection/file/archive/arrangement of writings. blog.

11. Mar 26: networks
Banks, Digital Griots: “Mix: Roles, Relationships and Rhetorical Strategies in Community Engagement” 35-85.
Suber, Peter. Open access, Chapter 1. (whole book here.) Skim.
Vincent, David. Introduction, The Rise of Mass Literacy. (Connects mass literacy to postal system.)
Gilmore, William: “The Communication System and the Book Trade in Rural New England: The Upper Valley, 1778-1835” in Reading Becomes a Necessity for Life, 157-188.
Sharma, Sanjay: Black Twitter? Racial hashtags, Networks, and Contagion. New Formations 78, 2012.

….all of the readings for this week can be found on courseweb (except Suber, linked above).

LiCS journal policies on open publishing and archives.
mail art 
Telegraph codes

send a piece of writing. blog.

12. Apr 2: identities
Vieira, Kate: “American by paper,” College English
Lepore, Jill: Webster and Sequoyah (Intro, Chaps 1 & 3 of A is for American)
Cushman, Ellen: “The Cherokee Syllabary: A Writing System in its own right,” Written Communication, 2011.
Kalmar, Tomas: Illegal Alphabets and Adult Biliteracy (“The Cobden Glossaries”)

Burt, “Paperless persons” New Formations 2012.

documents of our (and others’) lives

work on your writing. do not blog about it.

13. Apr 9: the labor of writing
Downey, Greg: Closed Captioning: Subtitling, Stenography, and the Digital Convergence of Text with Television, Intro + Conc + One chapter in Part one (Film, Deaf, Courts) available through PittCat online
Ohmann, Richard: “Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital” College English, 1985.
Hensley Owens and van Ittersum: “Writing with Pain,” Computers & Composition, Jun 2013.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly / Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (description and review):

work on your writing. do not blog about it.

14. Apr 16: Project presentations / wrap-up

Apr 18: due on the blog, a final short reflection on blogging and this class. 



Due 4/23 midnight: A Project the Weight of a Seminar Paper

Which is an extension of one of the signments and deals critically with questions of materiality and writing. If your project is a creative object (e.g., a map, a system of files), then it should be accompanied by a critical textual essay. Your project could also be a purely textual essay. Altogether, the essay or essay + object should be the equivalent heft of a traditional seminar project (e.g., a 20p paper).

The project should be accompanied by a 300-500 word cover letter describing which signment you’re extending, and answers some of the following questions: Where did this project come from? How did you do it? What did you accomplish in it? What did you fail to accomplish that you wanted to? Where might a project like this go next?

If it makes sense for your project, you can combine the cover letter and essay.

You should turn your project in via email to me at my pitt address (adv17), unless it cannot be emailed. In that case, please bring it to my office or campus mailbox by 4/23 and email me to let me know it’s there. Do NOT leave it outside my office, lest it be tragically stolen or recycled.

Due Apr 16, in class: Presentation

Which includes an interactable, material artifact of the project,

And a 3 minute taste of the project and/or its composition process, formally rehearsed and presented in person. You can have digital-visuals (e.g., slides) but please send them to me by midnight the day before so I can cue them up. If you make a video for this presentation, please send it (or a link) to me ahead of time.

An uncomprehensive and possibly incomprehensible list of potentially relevant material that got cut from the syllabus:
Aarseth, Espen: Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature
Bolter, Jay David: Writing Space
Brandt and Clinton, “The Limits of the Local”
Brown, James. “Essjay’s ethos,” CCC.
Chartier, Roger: “Languages, Books, and Reading from the Printed Word to the Digital Text” (also his work on book history)
Derrida, Archive fever, Of Grammatology
Dilger & Rice, Eds. From A to <A> (on hypertext /HTML reading)
Dougherty, Jack and Kristen Nawrotzki, Eds.: Writing History in the Digital Age. 
Drucker, Joanna: anything she writes, including this on Russian avant garde and The Visible Word.
Dworkin, Craig: No Medium (on blankness, with sample from Tristram Shandy)
Emerson, Lori: Reading Writing Interfaces
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen: Planned Obsolescence.
Gitelman, Lisa: anything she writes, like Paper Knowledge coming out with Duke March 2014.
Goody, Jack: The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society.
Harris, Elizabeth: Personal Impressions: The Small Printing Press in 19th c. America
Hayles, Katherine: anything she writes, like Writing Machines
Hull, Matthew: Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan
Innis, Harold. Bias of Communication or Empire and Communications
Johns, Adrian: Piracy
Kafka, Ben. The Demon of Writing (whole book).
Kittler, Fredrick: Gramophone, Film, Typewriter or Discourse Networks
Miller, Ruth: Turkey’s Alphabet Revolution
New Formations Journal, 78, 2012, Sp Iss on “Materialities of Text” 
Radway, Janice: Reading the Romance
Ramsey, Stephen: Reading Machines
Rice, Jeff: Rhetoric of Cool
Sayers, et al: Standards in the making (on metadata)
Siegert: Relays: literature as an epoch of the postal system
Stefans, Brian Kim: on Electronic Literature, review here.
Stiegler, Bernard: Technics of Time or this lecture. More here.
Olson, David. The World on Paper.
Ong, Walter: Orality and Literacy
Witmore, Michael: “Text as a massively addressable object
Wright, Alex: Glut. (especially chapter on Ott as a precursor to Vannevar Bush)
Wysocki, Anne: Monitoring order, Kairos 1998 (about arrangement and materiality)
Zook, Matthew: The Geography of the Internet.

Other courses with good bibliographies for further reference:
Ryan Cordell’s Technology of Texts 
Collin Brooke’s Rhetoric, Composition, and the Digital Humanities
Lori Emerson’s Media Archaeology/Media Poetics

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