Materialities of Writing

CRN 29396 / We 2:00PM - 4:50PM / 527 Cathedral of Learning
What difference does it make whether we write with pencils, stone tablets, quills, parchment, hyperlinks, computer code, scrolls or codices? Do 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, avoiding following a linear historical trajectory in order to focus on larger themes of materiality. Authors will include Drucker, Hayles, Barthes, Flusser, Shipka, Kirschenbaum, Gitelman, McLuhan, T. Gillespie, A. Banks. To draw attention to the materialities of writing, assignments — signments — will ask you to compose not necessarily 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. For an earlier iteration of this course, see here:

Number of Credits


Annette Vee

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Course Category

Category A: Text and Theory

Course Year