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Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination

Critical Writing
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Year: 
2008
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ISBN: 
978-0-262-11311-3
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All Rights reserved
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Abstract (in English): 

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."

Drawing on newly available archival resources for these works, Kirschenbaum uses a hex editor and disk image of Mystery House to conduct a "forensic walkthrough" to explore critical reading strategies linked to technical praxis; examines the multiple versions and revisions of Afternoon in order to address the diachronic dimension of electronic textuality; and documents the volatile publication and transmission history of "Agrippa" as an illustration of the social aspect of transmission and preservation.

(Source: MIT Press catalog copy)

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Eric Dean Rasmussen