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'I stole most of that last paragraph from the internet':

How is the contemporary novel caught up in processes of remediation?

Submitted by Justin Pickard (33172420)

in partial requirement for the degree of

MA Digital Media: Technology and Cultural Form

in the Programme in Contemporary Cultural Processes,

Goldsmiths College, University of London, September 2010

Supervised by Dr. Sarah Kember,

Reader in New Technologies of Communications


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This dissertation is the culmination of a full twelve months of reading, note-

taking, contemplation, and keyboard molestation. Though my clumsy grasp of

time management provided a workload that occasionally bordered on the

sadistic, I have relished the opportunity to study the strange and compelling mix

of topics included in this Masters degree.

My heartfelt thanks go to the course convenors;

Dr. Sarah Kember and Dr. Joanna Zylinska

~ the Goldsmiths Skunkworks;

Mihaela Brebnel, Carmen Campeanu, Alyssa Ueno, and Steven Fortune

~ the Invisible College, that 'spooky, post-geographical' institution;

Catt Avery, Tom Henderson, Chris Doody, Jonathan D. Polk, and Hilary Dixon

~ the bookfuturists, journalists, and media archaeologists;

Tim Maly, Mary Hamilton, Jussi Parrika, Steen Christiansen, and Tim Carmody

~ the fictioneers, who ignited my passion for science fiction;

Neil Beynon, Shaun Green, Paul Graham Raven, and Gareth Lyn Powell

~ and the cheerleaders, without whom, I wouldn't have made it this far.

Karen Hancock, Harriet Eade, Ciara Brien, Ornella Greco, and various Pickards
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1 Introduction: Doing Literature as New Media 1

Chapter 2 Fictions of Mediation and Remediation, 1759-2000 5

Chapter 3 Gibson's Typewriter: New Media and Science Fiction 19

Chapter 4 Methodology: Textual Analysis in the Twenty-First Century 26


.

Chapter 5 Earth Sandwich: Affect, Mediacy, and the Global Village 32

Chapter 6 Tôkyô Dekameron: Diegesis and Distributed Cognition 36

Chapter 7 'Grind the Molten Bucket': Paratextuality and Digital Noise .40

Chapter 8 Conclusion: Remediation and the Contemporary Novel 42


CHAPTER 1

Introduction: Doing Literature as (New) Media

What does it mean for a fictional character to admit that they 'stole most of that last paragraph from

the internet'? The first clause of this dissertation's title is taken from the early pages of Douglas Coupland's

2009 novel, Generation A. In this extract, Iowan farmer Zack interrupts his stream-of-consciousness to

directly address the reader:

'By the way, welcome to Oskaloosa and all the many features that make Oskaloosa a terrific place to
visit. There's something for everyone here, from the historic city square with its bandstand to the
George Daily Auditorium, the award-winning Oskaloosa Public Library, William Penn University
and three golf courses.
I stole most of that last paragraph from the internet. What the town's home page forgot to
mention was my father's meth distillery, which got busted by the DEA a few years back. Dad and the
DEA never got along too well.'
(Coupland, 2009a: 4; emphasis mine)

Zack's juxtaposition of the official description from the town's website with his oral history creates a form of

verbal irony; the 'sophisticated or resigned awareness of contrast between what is and what ought to be'

(Merriam-Webster, 1995: 589). But where irony may be a long-established literary device, Coupland deploys

it in a way that is peculiar to the twenty-first century. The impact of this passage comes not from the second

paragraph's undermining of the first, but from Zack's disclosure that he had misrepresented information

from the town's website as part of his narration. Thus the excerpt stands as an example of Bolter and

Grusin's notion of remediation, even while its specific details gesture at a structure far more complex than

the simple 'representation of one medium in another' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 45).

Elsewhere in the novel, Coupland's use of first-person perspective and past tense combine in an

attempt to simulate the orality of the human voice. This is first-order remediation, as the author 'buries

himself completely in the text (…) [and] disappears beneath the voices of his characters.' (Ong, 2002 [1982]:

145) For the purposes of this dissertation, however, my focus extends to other, potentially higher-order, acts

of remediation. In the excerpt above, not only does Zack remediate the text from Oskaloosa's website in his

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oral narrative, but Coupland then remediates that narrative; representing the affordances of orality in print.

Thus, remediation collides with notions of temporality, as Generation A enters into a relationship

with both the oldest and newest of media. This Janus-faced remediation is a challenge to the narratives of

progress and technological determinism, in which new mediums necessarily consign their predecessors to

the dustbin of history. Bolter comments on the temptation 'to ask whether “this will destroy that.”' (Bolter,

2001: 2) He suggests that the question lacks a definite answer, and that what is most significant is that the

question is being asked. In Fitzpatrick's investigations, this line of questioning manifests as 'repeated

proclamations of the novel's untimely demise' (Fitzpatrick, 2006: 2); an anxious discourse which – in its

regular recurrence – highlights the cultural tenacity of such teleologies. In this context, Bolter and Grusin's

work on remediation provides a welcome alternative; a 'genealogy of affiliations (…) [in which] older media

can also remediate newer ones' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 55).

My primary concern is the novel's status as an 'old' medium 'in new times' (Mackay and O'Sullivan,

1999: 4-5) – continuing to propagate, even as '[d]igital technologies, together with neoliberal economic

relations, have given birth to radically new ways of manufacturing and articulating lived experience'

(Shaviro, 2010: 2, emphasis mine). In this characterisation, Shaviro falls back on notions of technological

determinism. While keen to highlight the co-constitution of new media and political economy, he continues

to read digitality as a radical break in media history. Shaviro's 'post-cinema' is framed in terms of the

remediation of an 'old' medium by a revolutionary and phenomenologically-distinct novelty. There was then,

and then there is now.

Though I, like Shaviro, am focusing on the contemporary (after)life of an 'old' medium, it is

important to remember that even 'old' media were once new. With a simple reframing, Shaviro's 'radically

new ways of manufacturing and articulating lived experience' (Shaviro, 2010: ibid) could just as easily be

applied to the novel in the eighteenth-century. A gestalt of technology (the printed book) and cultural form

(literary realism), constructed as a typically transparent medium, this – the novel – was a phenomenon

named for its very newness. As with perspectival painting or virtual reality, much of the modern literary

canon 'promise[s] to disappear and leave us in contact with the unmediated world, [even as this] is a promise

that [it] can never entirely fulfil.' (Bolter, 2001: 25-26)

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Though the dominant mode of the novel seems to have been a realism predicated on transparent

immediacy, this is not to suggest that it is the only thing of which the medium is capable. Indeed, in the

context of this dissertation, I am far more concerned with a realism rooted in hypermediacy – an aesthetic

logic which, in contrast to immediacy, 'acknowledges [the] multiple acts of representation and makes them

visible' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 32). Bolter and Grusin invoke the example of the graphical user interface:

'[W]indows multiply on the screen: it is not unusual for sophisticated users to have ten or more
overlapping or nested windows open at one time. The multiple representations inside the windows
(text, graphics, video) create a heterogeneous space, as they compete for the viewer's attention.
Icons, menus, and toolbars add further layers of visual and verbal meaning.'
(Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 32)

Though certainly illustrative, this example is problematic; tightly hitching the logic of hypermediacy to

notions of digitality and new media. Focusing on dynamics of remediation in the contemporary novel, it

would certainly be easy for me to follow suit – reading an aesthetic of (digital) hypermediacy as the sole

factor in the successful communication of 'what it feels like to live in the early twenty-first century.' (Shaviro,

2010: 2)

The reality, of course, is far more nuanced. In this dissertation, I suggest that mediacy – in all its

forms – is so integral to our understanding of the world we inhabit, that any work of realist literature that

seeks to grapple with human experience on a meaningful level must now also, necessarily, engage our

relationship with media and technology. This entails a recognition of media's tendency both toward

hypermediacy and immediacy, as framed in the context of an increasingly intensive, global, and digital media

environment. We must 'explore digital technologies (…) as hybrids of technical, material, social, and

economic facets' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 77-78); as part of a media ecology, where the relationships

'between different media are as diverse and complex as those between different organisms coexisting within

the same ecotone' (Hayles, 2002b: 5). Remediation is simply one part of medial dynamics; a framework to

understand how different media 'imitat[e] each other, incorporating aspects of competing media into

themselves while simultaneously flaunting the advantages their own forms of mediation offer.' (Hayles,

2002b: 30) Admitting these theoretical observations, and understanding that literature should be taken as

simply another medium, this dissertation seeks to interrogate the extent to which '[d]igital media are

refashioning the printed book.' (Bolter, 2001: 3)

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Structure

In telecommunications, interleaving refers to the non-contiguous arrangement of data – increasing

the redundancy rate of the transmitted message, but allowing for error-correction once it is received. The

second and third chapters of this dissertation present an interleaving of different elements and scales –

combining analyses of the mediatic and affective qualities of a selection of novels; brief examinations of their

historical and technological contexts; and discussion of the conceptual frameworks supporting my argument.

To discover what is ontologically and phenomenologically unique about the role of remediation in

contemporary fiction, it makes sense to begin with a historical survey. As such, these chapters stand as an

early attempt at 'doing' literature as (new) media. Pitched somewhere between counter-canon and genealogy,

they emphasise affinity over linear notions of progress, providing a bulwark against the noise of the

teleological – from both literary and media history.

As part of a larger attempt to 'do' literature as (new) media, chapter four asks what it might mean

to undertake this project now; in the autumn of 2010. Beginning with Richard Grusin's 2010 reappraisal of

the dual logics of remediation, this chapter examines the case for using Coupland's JPod (2006) and

Generation A (2009) as exemplar texts, before focusing in on appropriate research methodologies for the

final stages of textual analysis. Having investigated the epistemological and phenomenological dimensions of

the research question, chapters five, six and seven focus on three specific extracts and case studies from

Coupland's novels. Using these studies as lenses through which to investigate broader questions, I focus on

the representational challenges of globalisation, Ong's notion of 'secondary orality', and the move from a

presence/absence ontology to an informational ecology comprised of signal and noise.

Finally, the eighth chapter stands as a conclusion; tracing a path through the various other

segments of this dissertation in an attempt to answer the initial question, as to how the contemporary novel,

taken both as medium and cultural form, is caught up in processes of remediation. The answer offered

springs from an evaluation of the novel-as-medium, drawing on Grusin's writings about mediacy and affect,

and considering both Hayles' 'remediated narrator' and the figure of the cyborg as potential sites of

theoretical productivity.

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CHAPTER 2

Fictions of Mediation and Remediation, 1759-2000

Working from a quantitative analysis of early publishing data, Moretti approaches the emergence of

the novel as an incremental process, marked by periods of growth and stagnation. Tracing the graph of newly

published works as it leaps from 5-10 new titles published annually (1720) to a new novel each week (1770),

he reflects on the medium's slow march to ubiquity:

'As long as only a handful of texts are published each year, (...) the novel is an unreliable
commodity: it (...) cannot really command the loyalty of the reading public; it resembles a fashion,
more than a literary genre. With a new text every week, however, the novel becomes that great
modern oxymoron of the regular novelty: the unexpected that consumers expect so often and
eagerly that they can no longer do without it. (…) [T]he jeremiads that immediately multiply around
it – novels make readers lazy, dissolute, insane, insubordinate: just like films two centuries later –
are the sign of its symbolic triumph.'
(Moretti, 2003: 70)

After this initial mushrooming of titles, Moretti argues that a second period of rapid growth (1770-1820)

ensured a 'reorientation of audiences towards the present' (Moretti, 2003: 71) with enough new books being

published to satisfy readers' desires for the new. In this reading, 'the novel does not develop as a single

[discrete] entity (…) [and as] all great theories of the novel have (…) reduced the novel to one basic form

only; and if the reduction has given [these theories] their elegance and power, it has also erased nine tenths

of literary history.' (Ibid: 90)

This chapter, then, represents an attempt to recover some of this missing history. Concentrating on

three texts which eschew the immediacy of conventional realism, this exploration – a partial genealogy –

locates the seeds of a counter-canon in Lawrence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,

Gentleman (1759-67), Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (1979), and Mark Z. Danielewski's

House of Leaves (2000). Taken together, these books mark various points in 'a long line of antimimetic

novels' (Hansen, 2004: 607); their concern with their own technicity and materiality prefiguring much of my

later discussion of the post-millennial work of Douglas Coupland and his peers.

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The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Serialised in nine volumes, Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,

Gentleman (1759-67) presents the supposed autobiography of its protagonist, Tristram. This is a highly

circuitous narrative, with much of the text's humour arising from Tristram's struggle – and ultimately, his

inability – to pen an exhaustive account of his life. It is not until the third volume that Tristram reaches the

moment of his birth, with the preceding volumes given over to various explanatory asides; lengthy discourses

on philosophy and eighteenth-century gynaecology; and potted biographies of his father, uncle, parson, and

obstetrician.

Folding external sources such as Tristram's mother's marriage settlement (Sterne, 1759 [1980]: 27-

29) into the body of the narrative, the novel is constructed as a heterogeneous assemblage. These sources sit

alongside Sterne's own graphological play – a black page standing for the pastor's death (Ibid: 23-24); a

precis of the novel in graphic notation (Ibid: 333) – as a performance of 'nostalgia for the manual production

of manuscript culture' (Fanning, 2009: 133). At the same time, however, Tristram is portrayed as acutely

conscious of the technicity of his authorship. He speaks of his 'book as a machine' (Sterne, 1980 [1765]: 335;

emphasis mine), addressing the means and circumstances of textual production:

'[A]ll this will be more exactly delineated and explain'd in a map, now in the hands of the engraver,
which, with many other pieces and developments to this work, will be added to the end of the
twentieth volume, – not to swell the work, – I detest the thought of such a thing; – but by way of
commentary …'
(Sterne, 1980 [1759]: 25)

Though these admissions undercut the immediacy of the novel, they take nothing from its immersive

capacity or its claim to realism. Tristram is firmly embedded in the networks and technics of eighteenth-

century print culture and, as such, any discussion of the publishing process is taken as typical of his

character; simply another digression – detail-laden, but ultimately incidental. Much like Coupland's Iowan

farmer, then, Tristram bears a strong resemblance to what Hayles describes as the remediated narrator.

Where the unreliable narrators of Christie and Hitchcock highlighted 'the role of consciousness in

constructing reality,' (Hayles, 2002b: 116) the remediated narrator is:

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'a literary invention foregrounding a proliferation of inscription technologies that evacuate
consciousness as the source of production and recover in its place a mediated subjectivity that
cannot be conceived as an independent entity.'
(Hayles, 2002b: 116-117)

In Sterne's novel, this 'proliferation of inscription technologies' is pervasive. Though the text of Life and

Opinions is most strongly implicated in the technicity of moveable type, Tristram also makes 'explicit

references to (…) pen, ink and paper, pencil and paintbrush, the pentagraph, coin stamping, marbling and

engraving' (Fanning, 2009: 134). No longer the sole site of narrative production, Tristram's consciousness is

part of a larger assemblage. Thus, the remediated narrator is also a cyborg narrator – his subjectivity

extended and mediated by technological prostheses.

Lacking the language of cybernetics, Sterne instead approaches this mediated subjectivity through

the contemporary figure of the hobbyhorse (Illustration 1). Originally derived from the name of the wooden

childhood toy, the term had also come to stand for a favoured pastime or pursuit – two meanings linked by

the absence of a destination or end product. In the novel, Sterne combines the significance of the hobby with

the material form of the original toy, such that 'a character's hobbyhorse literally manifests itself or is figured

metaphorically as a tool or machinery' (Mottolese, 2007: 680). Tristram's hobbyhorse is his writing; his Life

and Opinions – a pursuit cast in relation to that of his Uncle Toby, whom, having incurred an injury in the

Siege of Namur (1695), begins with a desire to reconstruct the specifics of the battle:

'He was (…) lying upon his back in his bed, the anguish and nature of the wound upon his groin
suffering him to lie in no other position, when a thought came into his head, that if he could
purchase such a thing, and have it pasted down upon a board, as a large map of the fortifications of
the town and citadel of Namur, with its environs, it might be a means of giving him ease.'
(Sterne, 1980 [1759]: 59-60)

Framed in therapeutic terms, Toby's hobbyhorse constitutes a 'continually expanding array of tools,

weapons, machines, and fortifications' (Mottolese, 2007: 692), which act both as salve and prosthesis.

Though his recovery is 'gradual and perhaps never total' (Mottolese, 2007: 696), Mottolese argues that

Toby's 'hobbyhorsical tools and machinery help bridge th[e] large gap (…) between an active and productive

mind and a limited body' (Mottolese, 2007: 680); excising much of the trauma of his injury.

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Illustration 1. 'My Uncle Toby on his Hobby-horse,' George Cruikshank,

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

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Like Tristram's pen, Toby's hobbyhorse is also a machine of inscription and representation. Moving

the battle's re-enactment to the bowling green, 'tool use (…) becomes [Toby's] language, overshadowing or

replacing words (…) [as] he writes his text with tools upon the earth.' (Mottolese, 2007: 692) For Sterne,

such 'inscription is (...) a confirmation of agency and, as such, a means of self-knowledge in the existential

sense: a moment of conscious self-identity.' (Fanning, 2009: 136) Thus, though the Shandean hobbyhorse is

defined by the near-pathological obsession of its rider, both Tristram's writing and Toby's war games can be

read as productive 'technologies of the self': practices which, according to Foucault, 'permit individuals to

effect (…) operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being (Foucault, 1990

[1988]: 18). This, then, is Hayles' 'mediated subjectivity' – an early modern assemblage of print media, pen,

and the human body.

With Tristram providing an early example of Hayles' remediated narrator, Sterne's novel is a

convenient bookend for my survey of remediation; decoupling remediation from the specifics of our digital

media ecology. For although the configuration of media and technology has changed immeasurably in the

past 250 years, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman continues to resonate. The fountain

pen, printing press and battle re-enactment may have been eclipsed as modes of communication, but the

novel persists, and – with it – the phenomenon of remediation.

If on a winters night a traveler

'You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax.
Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the
TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don't want to watch TV!” Raise
your voice – they won't hear you otherwise - “I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!” Maybe
they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's
new novel!” Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.'
(Calvino, 1981 [1979]: 3)

This is the first paragraph from Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (1979), a fiction of

mediation, if not necessarily of remediation. Unlike the novels of Sterne and Danielewski, this novel is not an

obvious precursor of the media-conscious novels addressed in the second half of this dissertation. Instead, I

include it as a peripheral case; an unashamedly self-conscious work which identifies useful questions about

the distinction between literary postmodernism and textual remediation.

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For McHale, postmodernism is to be approached as a term 'signif[ying] a poetics which is the

successor of, or possibly a reaction against, the poetics of early twentieth-century modernism' (McHale,

1987: 5). Where modernist fiction was primarily epistemological in its orientation – concerned with

questions of knowledge – he suggests that we can identify postmodernist literature through its

preoccupation with the ontological:

'[T]ypical postmodernist questions bear either on the ontology of the literary text itself or on the
ontology of the world which it projects, for instance: What is a world?; What kinds of world are
there, how are they constituted, and how do they differ?; (…) What is the mode of existence of a
text, and what is the mode of existence of the world (or worlds) it projects?; How is a projected
world structured? And so on.'
(McHale, 1987: 10)

In this much, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, and Danielewski's House

of Leaves each display the characteristics of postmodern fiction. That said, it is important to note that, just

because a novel may be caught up in processes of remediation, or even aware of its position in the context of

a wider media ecology, this does not necessarily make it a postmodern novel. The relationship between the

postmodernist fiction and fictions of (re)mediation is far more complex; one cannot simply be mapped onto

the other.

Read as a work of postmodernism, Calvino's novel is notable for the looping structures and self-

consciousness of its narrative. If we return to the opening sentence, with which I began this analysis, we can

see how the novel begins by explaining that you, the reader, 'are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new

novel, If on a winter's night a traveler.' (Calvino, 1981 [1979]: 3) From the beginning, our status as readers

is incorporated into the workings of the text. If Tristram Shandy took writing as its subject, Calvino's novel

can be seen as a meditation on the act of reading. Lacking anything that might resemble a conventional plot

or characters, at least initially, Calvino's novel instead derives its momentum from a media-technical failure

– or glitch – in the materiality of the book:

'Wait a minute! Look at the page number. Damn! From page 32 you've gone back to page 17! What
you thought was a stylistic subtlety on the author's part is simply a printers' mistake: they have
inserted the same pages twice. The mistake occurred as they were binding the volume (…) it's the
sort of accident that occurs every now and then.'
(Calvino, 1981 [1979]: 25)

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Writing in the context of audio, Sangild offers a definition of the glitch as 'a minor malfunction or spurious

signal, often related to a system or electronic device (…) not a collapse of the machinery (…) [though] the

performance is poor – either annoying, problematic or downright useless.' (Sangild, 2004: 258) Here, in

printed prose, the glitch takes the form of a binding error; though not quite the hypermediacy of Bolter and

Grusin, it nevertheless manifests as a rupture in the novel's immediacy, creating a space to comment on the

materialities and political economy of print publishing.

At each stage of Calvino's narrative, the Reader is confronted with a seemingly endless proliferation

of first chapters – each one new; disconnected from those already seen. Operating within a pathology of

narrative deferral, the Reader first returns to the bookseller, who reads a letter from the novel's publishing

house that expands on the nature of the glitch:

'Through an error of the bindery, the printed signatures of that book became mixed with those of
another new publication, the Polish novel Outside the town of Malbork by Tazio Bazakbal. With
profound apologies for the unfortunate incident, the publisher will replace the spoiled copies at the
earliest possible moment, et cetera.'
(Calvino, 1981 [1979]: 28)

From here, the Reader traces the error back to the publishing house, where he is met by Cavedagna the

publisher. Through this character, Calvino confronts our conception of the book as a self-contained,

authored work. Revealing the inner workings of the publishing industry, he describes how:

'Cavedagna has followed books as they are made, bit by bit, he sees books be born and die every day,
and yet the true books for him remain others, those of the time when for him they were like
messages from other worlds.'
(Calvino, 1981 [1979]: 102-103)

The publisher's world is a utilitarian work environment, in which 'books are considered a raw material, spare

parts, gears to be dismantled and reassembled.' (Calvino, 1981 [1979]: 115) These words echo Benjamin's

descriptions of the Dadaists as those who 'attempted to produce with the means of painting (and literature)

the effects which the public [by the 1930s] seeks in film.' (Benjamin, 2008 [1935]: 38) In this context, '[t]he

function of film [was] to train human beings in the apperceptions and reactions needed to deal with a vast

apparatus whose role in their lives is expanding almost daily.' (Ibid: 26) These sentiments of Benjamin

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resonate strongly with Shaviro's intent to use contemporary film texts 'to look at developments that are so

new and unfamiliar that we scarcely have the vocabulary to describe them, and yet that have become so

common, and so ubiquitous, that we tend not even notice them any longer.' (Shaviro, 2010: 2) Much as the

artists and writers of Dada subjugated the commercial utility of their work 'to the uselessness of those works

as objects of contemplative immersion' (Benjamin, 2008 [1935]: 39), perhaps we can cast Calvino as an early

precursor of Shaviro, with If on a winter's night a traveler standing as his attempt to develop an account of

what it feels like to live in Benjamin's age of technological reproducibility.

Ultimately, however, my decision to approach Calvino's novel from this perspective risks overplaying

its similarities with the other texts in the genealogy; effacing its deep-seated, structural differences from

those fictions of mediation by which it is flanked. To combat this tendency, we must return to the Bolter and

Grusin's original explanation of the twin dynamics of remediation, in which immediacy and hypermediacy:

'are opposite manifestations of the same desire: the desire to get past the limits of representation
and to achieve the real (…) [as] defined in terms of the [reader's] experience; it is that which would
evoke an immediate (and therefore authentic) emotional response.'
(Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 53)

Calvino's rupture of immediacy of the novel may suggest an aesthetic that satisfies the requirements of the

hypermediatic, but – as ever – it makes little sense to cast the two dynamics in opposition. The remedial

logic of immediacy is not coterminous with the transparent narratives of modern fiction, and, whatever the

poetics of the postmodern, they alone are insufficient to support an aesthetic of hypermediacy.

Instead of multiplication, If on a winter's night a traveler is best read as an intensification of

mediation. If remediation is the 'representation of one medium in another' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 45),

Calvino's novel offers a representation of one medium – print fiction – in that same medium. Much like

Sterne's Tristram Shandy, it fulfils the criteria of Hayles' notion of the technotext; 'interrogates the

inscription technology that produces it, [mobilizing] reflexive loops between its imaginative world and the

material apparatus embodying that creation' (Hayles, 2002b: 25). However, although it offers a novel and

interesting account of the affective dimensions of print publishing and the novel as a textual artefact, If on a

winter's night a traveler falls short as a description of the extensive media ecology in which we currently

find ourselves. Compared with a text such as Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, it is clear that Calvino's

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is a media ecology of a single channel: print publishing.

House of Leaves

Thus, if Tristram Shandy can be seen to provide an eighteenth-century bookend for this partial

genealogy, House of Leaves (2000) stands as its millennial counterpart. Noted for its experimentalism

and layered narrative, at the novel's core is the story of Will Navidson, a famed photojournalist – and

specifically, his project to:

'create a record of how Karen [his wife] and I bought a small house in the country and moved into it
with our children. Sort of see how everything turns out. No gunfire, famine, or flies. Just lots of
toothpaste, gardening and people stuff.'
(Danielewski, 2000: 8)

At its simplest, House of Leaves follows Navidson's documentary film, scene-by-scene, as it splices footage

from 'a number of Hi 8s [mounted] around the house' (Danielewski, 2000: 10) with hand-held camera-work,

interviews, and personal video journals. The film's early scenes are grounded in an optimistic domesticity,

with Will and Karen approaching the move as a fresh start, 'replete with promise and hope.' (Danielewski,

2000: 10) Returning from a trip roughly a month after moving in, the family find an unexpected addition to

the house. In the master bedroom, 'a plain, white door with a glass knob (…) [opens onto] a space resembling

a walk-in closet' (Ibid: 28) – a door which Navidson's video footage proves was not there when they left. The

walls of this mysterious space as described as 'perfectly smooth and almost pure black (…) [with] a second

door, identical to the first (…) [that] opens up into the children's bedroom.' (Ibid: 28) Comparing this newly

revealed space with the house's architectural blueprints, Will discovers a disturbing incongruity – the

interior of the corridor is too long: the house is bigger on the inside. As Will and a shifting cast of allies

investigate the abject space of the corridor, its dimensions vary, before finally opening onto a labyrinth that

resists both explanation and exploration.

House of Leaves does not, however, begin with the Navidson family. It begins with Johnny Truant, a

twenty-something tattooist hunting for a new apartment. Johnny's friend Lude alerts him to the death of

Zampanò, an old man in Lude's building. Investigating the newly vacated apartment, the duo discover a

manuscript – seemingly the work of the old man:

13
'Endless snarls of words, sometimes twisting into meaning, sometimes into nothing at all,
frequently breaking apart, always branching off into other pieces I'd come across later – on old
napkins, the tattered edges of an envelope, once even on the back of a postage stamp; everything
and anything but empty; each fragment completely covered with the creep of years and years of ink
pronouncements; (…) some bits crisp and clean, others faded, burnt or folded and refolded so many
times the creases have obliterated whole passages of god knows what – sense? truth? deceit? a
legacy of prophecy or lunacy or nothing of the kind?'
(Danielewski, 2000: xvii)

The subject of Zampanò's sprawling, partial text is The Navidson Record – a film assembled from Will's

video footage, documenting the investigation of the Navidson family's impossible house. In Zampanò's

analysis, even the 'skeptics (…) grudgingly admit The Navidson Record is a hoax of exceptional quality'

(Danielewski, 2000: 3), but Truant can find no evidence of the film having ever existed: 'You can look, I have,

but no matter how long you search you will never find [it] in theatres or video stores.' (Danielewski, 2000:

xix-xx)

Standing in stark contrast to the continuous narratives of literary realism, House of Leaves 'creates

spatially distinct narratives with multiple cross connections, as if multiple voices were speaking

simultaneously (…) us[ing] spatial discontinuity to indicate temporal simultaneity.' (Hayles, 2002a: 794-795)

An overt interpenetration (folding) of narrative and ontic layers serves to destabilise received notions of

subjectivity, imbuing the novel with a sense of precariousness which – intensifying over the course of the

novel – is the source of some of the more overtly horrific elements that follow. This folding of media,

'screened through a complex temporality of remediation' (Hayles, 2002b: 115), echoes my original point of

departure; in which Coupland's narrator, Zack, mocks his town's homepage by attempting to pass its text as

his own words, only to disclose the nature of his deception with a personal counter-narrative. This notion of

the parallel or counter-narrative is echoed in House of Leaves, as, in in his attempt to compile Zampanò's

manuscript, Truant 'supplies footnotes, which (…) [rapidly] balloon into a competing but complementary

narrative of their own.' (Hayles, 2002a: 780) It is in these footnotes that Truant first highlights his agency

within the narrative. He does this by demonstrating his ability – and, more importantly, his willingness – to

interfere with the main body of Zampanò's text:

'Zampanò only wrote “heater.” The word “water” back there – I added that.
Now there's an admission, eh?
Hey, not fair, you cry.

14
Hey, hey, fuck you, I say.'
(Danielewski, 2000: 16)

Truant projects his subjectivity into another textual entity, the unexpected interpenetration of the text's

various ontic levels serving to undermine the reader's assumptions about the functioning of the novel.

Whether in Truant's inability to locate a copy of the The Navidson Record; his rewriting of Zampanò's text;

or Zampanò's referencing of texts both real and imagined, Danielewski's novel 'insistently stages the futility

of any effort to anchor the events it recounts in a stable recorded form.' (Hansen, 2004: 602) In Sterne's

novel, the various textual artefacts could conceivably have laid claim to an independent existence outside the

narrative – but, for House of Leaves, Truant's admission renders such an interpretation moot. As an example

of the novel's postmodernist tendencies, we can see how 'the primary diegesis is interrupted so often, by

nested representations in such diverse media that the fiction’s ontological “horizon” is effectively lost.'

(McHale, 1987: 113-114) Thus, Johnny Truant provides another example of remediated narrator, navigating a

layered landscape of inscription technologies, which 'include film, video, photography, tattoos, typewriters,

telegraphy, handwriting, and digital computers.' (Hayles, 2002a: 780)

In academic commentary on House of Leaves, the predominant focus has been on the ways in which

Truant's status as a remediated narrator manifests through the manuscript, particularly in Danielewski's

manipulation of spacing, formatting and layout (Illustration 2). As a counterpart to our earlier examination

of the cyborg narrator in Sterne's writing, these typographical peculiarities of House of Leaves offers the

possibility of a cyborg reader. Approaching the book as a textual machine, allowing it to reshape our

subjectivity in the same way as might a computer or mobile phone, it is important to remain conscious of our

affective response to the resulting human-machine relationship. Focusing specifically on the temporal

characteristics of the resulting hybrid subjectivity, Hayles comments on how – in literature – 'the time it

takes to read a page functions as a remediation of [a novel's] narrative action in the life-world of the reader,

linking real-time decoding with the intensity and pacing of the represented events' (Hayles, 2002a: 797).

Entangled with the opacity of paper – 'a physical property that defines the page as having two sides whose

relationship is linear and sequential' (Hayles, 2002b: 23) – this point of contact between the reader's affects

and the materiality of the page provide the germ of a cyborg relationship. Here, we witness a 'cybernetic loop

that runs from the page through the reader’s body and back to the page, a process that links the temporality

of reading with the emotional pacing of the narrative.' (Hayles, 2002a: 797). In the context of House of

Leaves, Danielewski is clearly willing to exploit this loop for literary effect. Take the example provided by

15
Hayles, in which the paranoid gun-toting actions of Navidson's former comrade, Holloway, are interrupted

with:

'a seven-page digression (…) on how digital technology has eroded the sense of the real in
photography, a crucial rewriting of the Minotaur myth by Zampanò (…) with overstrikes that
continue in all the text associated with the Minotaur, and an account of a mutiny against Magellan
carried out by Quesada with the help of his servant Molino.'
(Hayles, 2002a: 796-797)

Over these pages, the digressions proliferate wildly. Metastasising both Zampanò's commentary and Truant's

annotations – they puncture the original remediation of the film, setting the reader adrift.

A second example of such temporal engineering can be found in Danielewlski's attempts to represent

the affordances and materiality of celluloid in printed text – simulating the film reel running out, just as the

characters are rescued from an uncertain doom. In contrast to the frustration of deferral outlined above, this

is a more sophisticated, layered remediation. Danielewski begins with diegesis:

'The film runs out here, leaving nothing else behind but an unremarkable white screen.'
(Danielewski, 2000: 307-311)

Here, however, my quotation proves inadequate; a failed remediation of its own, lacking the affective

nuances inculcated through the author's manipulation of spacing and layout. Borrowing an orthography

from the analysis of Hansen, 'with slashes indicating page breaks' (Hansen, 2004: 616), and recognising that

the words of this phrase are spread over several pages and 'located at various heights on the page' (Ibid: 616),

the phrase becomes:

'The film runs out here, / leaving nothing else behind but an unremarkable / white // screen.'
(Danielewski, 2000: 307-311)

For Hansen, 'the blank page [between 'white' and 'screen'] functions as a material analog of the blank screen

(…) giving a sensory correlate to the abrupt cessation of visual information that occurs when a film runs out'

(Hansen, 2004: 616). The page after 'screen' is also blank, but for a small black circle – standing in

opposition to the diegesis of the novel's textuality.

16
Illustration 2. 'Page 134', House of Leaves

17
With similar acts of remediation permeating the novel, Hansen is quick to highlight their 'prevailing

media-technical function' (Hansen, 2004: 617). For although Danielewski's engagement with the digital is

only ever oblique, both Hansen and Hayles seem limited to a reading of the novel's textual distortions as 'so

many symptoms of the impossibility of representing the digital, of its resistance to orthographic capture'

(Hansen, 2004: 618) – an interpretation which conflates the means of authorship with thematic focus.

Certainly, House of Leaves satisfies the key criteria of ergodic literature, in which 'nontrivial effort is

required to allow the reader to traverse the text' (Aarseth, 1997: 1), but this is not to cast it as a contemporary

manifestation of the electronic literature so eagerly embraced by cyberculture in the 1990s. Though this is a

novel could only have been written with an eye to the inscription technologies of contemporary publishing,

Danielewski's engagement with the digital is cryptic – unlike, say, the recent novels of Coupland, whose

digital subjects provide a focus for the second half of this dissertation. Danielewski's text may allude to

digitality, and it certainly engages the multiple remediations of the contemporary media ecology, but this is

insufficient. His focus is always the house of the title, with the various media only afforded importance to the

extent that they aid in its representation; as 'the resistance of the house to orthographic capture yields an

ever more complex deployment of technical mediation' (Hansen, 2004: 614)

18
CHAPTER 3

Gibson's Typewriter: New Media and Science Fiction

Where the fictions of mediation and remediation outlined above begin to suggest a framework for an

analysis of the novel in relation to remediation, they lack any substantive engagement with the digitality and

global reach of our contemporary media ecology. For The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a book

which pre-dates the so-called 'digital revolution' by over 300 years, the media-technical relevance of this text

is derived from Laurence Sterne's unique position at the heart of England's burgeoning print ecology – an

environment coextensive with the tail end of Moretti's first wave of literary popularisation. If on a winter's

night a traveler sustains a near-total fixation on the technical affordances of print. Though written in an

environment dominated by 'hot media,' each 'extend[ing] one single sense in “high definition” (…) the state

of being well filled with data' (McLuhan,1964: 24), Calvino's attention is focused on the act of reading, and –

as such - the novel lacks any sense of its position within a wider ecology. Published at the dawn of the twenty-

first century, House of Leaves is more explicitly implicated in the temporal and aesthetic dynamics of

contemporary remediation, but – as previously discussed – the connotative nature of Danielewski's text

precludes any direct engagement with the digital. His is not the hypermediacy of the graphical user interface.

To address this gap, I turn to science fiction – a genre defined by its engagement with science and

technology. Hollinger notes how science fiction 'has come to refer (...) not only to a popular narrative genre,

but also to a kind of popular cultural discourse, a way of thinking about a sociopolitical present defined by

radical and incessant technological transformation.' (Hollinger, 2006: 453) Where the novels of the previous

chapter were defined by their engagement with technologies of mediation and inscription, the texts

examined here combine the same medial disposition with a sense of technical novelty; potentially the same

'newness' as that of new media.

Initially emerging from American pulp magazines of the late 1920s, in which 'the artwork, the

scientific articles, the almost interchangeable stories and even the advertising (...) represented a single

continuous flow of information about the technological future' (Atteberry, 2003: 36), the early history of

19
science fiction was dominated by teleological visions of unfettered technological progress; a modernist

manifest destiny. Ultimately, however, this supposed 'golden age' of science fiction was notable for its

relative homogeneity, with 'all the stories published in the magazines of the 1920s and 1930s (…) [standing

as] thought variants: jazz-like improvisations on familiar themes.' (Ibid: 37) This continued until the 1960s,

when – as a result of publishing pressures – short form science fiction began to give way to novel-length

works.

However, where the science fiction of pre-war America had toppled into the ravine of technological

determinism, the writers of the 1960s began pushing back against what Broderick reads as 'genre exhaustion'

(Broderick, 2003: 49). Inspired by the cinematic existentialism of France's Nouvelle Vague, these authors

and editors appropriated the notion of a 'New Wave', applying it to a science fiction 'almost equally

disruptive, existentially fraught and formally daring' (Ibid: 49) as its cinematic progenitor. However stylised,

this was science fiction as a literature of ideas; eager to engage with the phenomenological dimensions of

then contemporary human experience – which necessarily included an recognition of the psychic impact of

mass media. Speaking in a BBC interview from 1989, the British author J. G Ballard described the

experiential novelty of:

'a media landscape dominated by television, the international press, by film and radio, which
saturates our environment and creates a two-tier world in which we all live (…) above us, there's
this global umbrella, which has now sealed itself around the planet, and virtually created a
secondary reality – and there's constant leakage between the two.'
(Face to Face: J. G. Ballard, 1989)

In this, Ballard is almost paraphrasing Jean Baudrillard, that herald of the hyperreal. Earlier, Baudrillard

had argued that the multiplication of media obliterated the indexicality of representation; severing the tie

between representations and their referent. In its place, we enter a world in which:

'[w]hen the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a plethora of
myths of origin and signs of reality – a plethora of truth, of secondary objectivity, and authenticity.
Escalation of the true, of lived experience, resurrection of the figurative where the object and the
subject have disappeared. Panic-stricken production of the real (…) this is how simulation appears
in the phase that concerns us.'
(Baudrillard, 1994 [1981]: 6-7)

20
Once again, we can return to Bolter and Grusin's description of remediation. Baudrillard's description of the

escalation and exultation of lived experience under hyperreality certainly chimes with the notion of

hypermediacy as an aesthetic governed by the desire for reality; 'multiplying mediation so as to create a

feeling of fullness, a satiety of experience, which can be taken as reality.' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 53)

Prefiguring the hypermediacy of the digital interface, John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (1968) is

a 'New Wave' text with particular relevance for this study of literary remediation. Influenced by the writings

of US futurist Alvin Toffler, Brunner documents a Malthusian nightmare of population growth and

information overload. As a vision of the Baudrillardian hyperreal; a world governed by a regime of intensive

and extensive mediation, Murphy reads Stand on Zanzibar as a 'polyphonic' novel – a text characterised by

'a variety of “alien languages,” including [in this example] social dialects of the future, and by their

relativization of the authorial voice' (Murphy, 1987: 21). Where Tristram Shandy is ultimately a novel of a

single voice, Stand on Zanzibar presents a cacophony of viewpoints; as seen in this extract from an early

chapter:

'“Number the other: dichromatism is what's commonly called colourblindness, and it is sure as
sidereal time a congenital disability. Thank you, participant, thank you.”

Stal (short for Stallion) Lucas is a yonderboy, weighed, measured, and freeflying all the way.

(IMPOSSIBLE Means: 1. I wouldn't like it and when it happens I won't approve; 2. I can't be
bothered; 3. God can't be bothered. Meaning 3 may perhaps be valid but the others are 101%
whaledreck.
– The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan)

Philip Peterson is twenty years old.

Are you undermined by an old-style autoshout unit, one that needs constant reprogramming by
hand if it's not to call you for items that were descheduled last week?
GT's revolutionary new autoshout reprograms itself!'
(Brunner, 1968: 5-6)

Taken from one of the chapters categorised as 'the happening world', Murphy suggests that this excerpt

represents a 'written equivalent of video jumpcuts, splicing together a variety of pictures, ads, remarks and

dialogues – many without context – in order to build toward a single reader reaction' (Murphy, 1987: 24).

Experienced as information overload, this could be read as the 'existential vertigo (…) key to New Wave

21
textuality (…) an obsession with entropy [and] the tendency of all organized matter and energy to degrade

towards meaningless noise' (Broderick, 2003: 56), but – equally – it could also be seen as inculcating Bolter

and Grusin's 'satiety of experience' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 53). Either way, it is closer to the

hypermediacy of the digital interface than anything presented by Sterne or Calvino – and where Danielewski

tackled the technical affordances of specific media forms, Brunner engages far more explicitly with their

political and economic underpinnings.

Where Brunner and Ballard can be said to have pre-empted much of the new media ecology, there is

space to argue that the next wave of science fiction might have created it, as the 'New Wave' hardened into

cyberpunk. This new generation of science fiction authors began to write 'about the information explosion of

the 1980s, most of them picturing a dense, urban, confusing new world in which most of us will find that we

have been disenfranchised from any real power.' (Clute, 2003: 67) If the energy of 'New Wave' was powered

by an anxiety about information's collapse into noise, cyberpunk embraced this tendency – combining the

technoscientific logic of cybernetics with a punk sensibility, it could 'be regarded as the deconstruction of

science fiction tradition “with as much attendant noise as possible.”' (Heuser, 2003: 30) In the context of

new media, the genre also prefigured 'a different kind of communications assemblage looming on the

technological horizon (…) in which familiar media – and the differences that separate media make –

disappear or assume completely new forms.' (Johnston, 1998: 6-7)

This prefiguration of new media was most explicit in William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), since

positioned as the defining text of the subgenre. Gibson's text gave us the first description of cyberspace:

The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games (…) in early graphics programs and military
experimentation with cranial jacks. (…) Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily
by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical
concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the
human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters
and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...'
(Gibson, 1984: 69)

However unwise it may be for a genealogical analysis to hail a single point of origin, this must be admitted as

the Ur-text of new media, allowing for a '[c]yberspace constructed from representations of information.'

(Heuser, 2003: 28) The fact that Gibson's novel was originally composed on a manual typewriter serves to

22
reinforce the notion of cyberspace as a primarily narrative device, a medium of spatialised information which

resisted representation in all but the most general terms. As Clute comments:

'Gibson was notoriously ignorant of computer technology, and [as such] (...) his sorting of a
storyable version of the inside of the world of information was essentially a literary coup:
cyberspace is a literary metaphor of very considerable brilliance, and if the world (…) in some ways
resembles the world he created (…) then it is because the world, and the writers who articulate the
world, have imitated Gibson.'
(Clute, 2003: 70-71)

Heuser suggests that although Gibson 'subsequently lost control over the meaning of cyberspace, (…) the

richness of its associations and commentaries (…) remains a distinct measure of its value.' (Heuser, 2003:

39) As such, this chapter is named both for Gibson's typewriter – in its capacity as a figuration of new

media's literary origins – and for an article of the same name by Bukatman, in which he unpacks the

anecdote; seeking to deconstruct its significance for literature and cultural studies. For Bukatman, the detail

of Gibson's Hermes 2000 typewriter serves to assuage the anxieties of obsolescence outlined earlier by

Fitzpatrick – creating the space for two possible readings of Neuromancer. In the first reading, the novel's

typewritten origins enable it to be 'reinserted into canonical understandings of literature, as the terrors of the

electronic age are displaced to a safe distance.' (Bukatman, 2003 [1993]: 33) From the perspective of the

technically-literate, on the other hand, the existence of Gibson's typewriter reinforced their affective

investment in the text; 'construct[ing] them as cyberspace cowboys with abilities superior to even those of

cyberspace's architect.' (Ibid: 33) In Clute's analysis, it was this latter group of readers who set out to realise

Gibson's vision – transforming cyberpunk from literary genre to subculture; specifically, a 'cyber-culture

[that] became firmly entrenched in Californian culture' (Heuser, 2003: 17), where it spawned innumerable

Silicon Valley start-ups, the world wide web, and Wired Magazine.

After Neuromancer, Gibson wrote two more novels in the same continuity, and then – in the 1990s –

a second trilogy, set in a near-future California. In the first years of the twenty-first century, however, he

began to recognise the experiential and affective distinctness of the decade; grappling with the challenges of

writing science fiction for 'a present infused with futurity, no longer like itself, no longer like the present'

(Hollinger, 2006: 457) Here, Gibson's first novel of the 2000s, Pattern Recognition (2003) represents a

break with his earlier work. It is set in the present, marking 'the culmination of a process in Gibson's novels

whereby the future has come ever closer.' (Poole, 2003) As Gibson himself comments in 2003 interview; 'we

23
are living in a world that resembles nothing so much as (…) dozens of overlapping (…) science-fiction

scenarios [where] attempt at literary naturalism (…) will bring the author into direct contact with material

that 20 years ago would have been barely publishable as science fiction.' (Ibid)

In this text, 'coolhunter' Cayce Pollard is hired by a Belgian business magnate to hunt down the artist

or maker behind 'The Footage': 'a mysterious collection of film clips circulating on the Internet and attracting

obsessive attention from an increasing number followers (…) [whose] attempts to link up the segments into

some sort of coherent whole [are] about 'pattern recognition'.' (Skeates, 2004: 137) Outside of this digital

MacGuffin1, the world described is recognisable as our own – a world of spam email, Google, and internet

message boards:

'Hotmail downloads four messages, none of which she feels like opening. Her mother, three spam.
The penis enlarger is still after her, twice, and Increase Your Breast Size Dramatically.'
(Gibson, 2003: 5)

'“I Google you, I get … ?”


“Sound of relatively high-profile start-up, tanking loudly. Certain amount of 'white-hat
hacker' coverage, before that, but that's the media.”'
(Ibid: 103)

'She's spoken with Parkaboy twice before, and both times it's been odd, In the way that initial
telephone conversations with people you've gotten to know well on the Net, yet have never met, are
odd.'
(Ibid: 139)

For much of the novel, action is sparse, 'envelop[ing] the reader in an atmosphere of murky apprehension,

searching for the pattern amidst a welter of precisely drawn details that do not quite cohere into plot.'

(Hayles, 2006: 144) In this, Hayles suggests that the novel mirrors the Footage, 'creating a narrative about

creating a narrative about code' (Ibid: 147), with Gibson sacrificing the energy and drive of narrative in order

to communicate the affective character of the contemporary.

1 A term coined by Hitchcock to describe 'something that starts or drives the action of the plot but later
turns out to be unimportant' (Bloomsbury, 2001: 863), the provenance of Pattern Recognition's footage is
important to Cayce and Parkaboy, but, once revealed, has little real impact.

24
Although Pattern Recognition was originally intended as a stand-alone novel, Gibson followed it

with Spook Country (2007) – a sequel of sorts, using a similarly near-contemporaneous setting. With one

of the plot strands of this second novel focusing on the practice of locative art, Gibson took the opportunity to

reflect on his original vision of cyberspace. In this extract, he seems to be hailing the transparent immediacy

of virtual reality as a model of media that was hindered, and ultimately eclipsed, by real-world technology:

''What's here, Alberto? What are we here to see?' Hollis demanded, as they reached the corner. He
knelt and opened the case. The interior was padded with blocks of foam. He extracted something
that she at first mistook for a welder's protective mask. 'Put this on.' He handed it to her.

A padded headband, with a sort of visor. 'Virtual reality?' She hadn't heard that term spoken aloud
in years, she thought as she pronounced it.

'The hardware lags behind,' he said. 'At least the kind I can afford.'
(Gibson, 2007: 7)

The irony of this disconnect between representational promise and reality leads smoothly into the next

chapter, in which I seek to embed Gibson's post-millennial novels in a broader theoretical context. Building

on the analyses of medial fiction and science fiction outlined in the previous two chapters, I will also begin

assembling a methodological framework with which to examine the dynamics of remediation in the

contemporary novel.

25
CHAPTER 4

Methodology: Textual Analysis in the Twenty-First Century

Having explored what it might mean to 'do' literature as (new) media, it is also important to ask what

is entailed in starting this project now; at 'the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century' (Grusin,

2010: 2). If Shaviro is right, and '[d]igital technologies (...) have given birth to radically new ways of

manufacturing and articulating lived experience' (Shaviro, 2010: 2), what combination of methodological

and analytical tools can prepare us for the challenges of contemporary remediation? With Hayles

commenting that 'literary and cultural critics steeped in the print tradition cannot simply continue with

business as usual' (Hayles, 2005: 11), how can we hope to progress?

To effectively answer these questions we must first update our understanding of remediation.

Returning to the topic in his 2010 book Premediation, Grusin offers a reappraisal of his and Bolter's original

analysis. Where their version of remediation was originally predicated on a 'belief in some necessary contact

point between the medium and what it represents' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 25), Grusin's reappraisal serves

to complicate this relationship. With the events of 9/11 providing a point of inflection, he takes the fervid

mediation of the attacks (and their aftermath) as a point of departure for his examination of a media ecology

presented as both 'new' in character and global in reach. Though it is tempting to decry the fixation on 9/11

as an arbitrary temporal marker, Stepinska explains that '[s]ince the whole world saw the same images at the

same time, real time, the attacks became a common mass-mediated experience' (Stepinska, 2009: 211); with

Skeates hailing 9/11 as 'instant history supplied by a media which completes the experience with a

commentary which enables all of us to feel in some way present, involved even, in the global event matrix.'

(Skeates, 2004: 139) In the post-9/11 context, as per Baudrillard, mediation and reality are no longer simply

coterminous but fundamentally co-constitutive: 'The real is no longer that which is free from mediation, but

that which is thoroughly enmeshed with networks of social, technical, aesthetic, political, cultural, or

economic mediation.' (Grusin, 2010: 3) Here, claims Grusin, reality is 'defined not in terms of

representational accuracy, but in terms of liquidity or mobility.' (Ibid: 3) When the burgeoning capabilities of

digital media allow a photograph to be doctored with the click of a mouse, a media artefact's claim on

26
indexicality can no longer be derived from the technical affordances of the medium, but must be deduced

from its context vis-à-vis the network – to what extent is this text supported by context; by other accounts of

the same reality?

Certainly, older forms of remediation persist under the new regime, but the dual logics of immediacy

and hypermediacy have found new life in the networked protocols of contemporaneity. With a greater

emphasis on the entwined, hybrid relationship of mediation and reality, immediacy is no longer the self-

effacing transparency of Gibsonian cyberspace. Instead, this remedial dynamic of immediacy is expressed as

seamlessness; manifesting as 'an unconstrained connectivity so that one can access with no restrictions one's

socially networked mediated life at any time or anywhere through any of one's media devices.' (Grusin, 2010:

2) Contrast this with Jenkins' notion of 'convergence culture', a term he uses to describe:

'the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media
industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of
the kinds of entertainment experiences they want.'
(Jenkins, 2006: 2)

The lived reality of immediacy is less about the experience of media as if unfiltered or unframed, and more

about a continuous, unbroken flow of mediation. Where immediacy would once have been manifest in the

perceptual immersion engendered by, say, the early films of the Lumière brothers2, its contemporary form

proved rather different. From Gibson's Spook Country; technologist Bobby Chombo:

'We're all doing [virtual reality], every time we look at a screen. We have been for decades now. We
just do it. We didn't need the goggles, the gloves. It just happened. VR was an even more specific
way we had of telling us of where we were going. Without scaring us too much, right?'
(Gibson, 2007: 65)

Taking the place of the VR rig, today, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook Connect offer the closest thing

to Bolter and Grusin's original vision of immediacy – 'mak[ing] seamless one's multiple interactions with

commercial and social networking, (…) shopping and entertainment preferences.' (Grusin, 2010: 2)

2 Interestingly, the Lumière Brothers get a name-check in Pattern Recognition, as part of Cayce's encounter
with Damien's home cinema system: 'It is as if she participates in the very birth of cinema, that Lumière
moment, the steam locomotive about to emerge from the screen, sending the audience fleeing, out into
the Parisian night.' (Gibson, 2003: 23)

27
If immediacy was originally about the transparency of media, hypermediacy was a dynamic of

opacity. With media consumption treated as analogous to the passage of light, hypermediacy impedes the

capability of content to pass for unfiltered reality. By distancing the viewer from the action, it engineered a

space for critical reflection, 'mak[ing] us aware of the medium or media and (in sometimes subtle and

sometimes obvious ways) remind[ing] us of our desire for immediacy.' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 34)

Hypermediacy entailed a recognition that 'knowledge of the world comes to us through media' (Ibid: 70),

but, in an environment where media and reality are increasingly enmeshed, it is no longer enough for an

audience to be aware of their experience 'in and of the presence of media' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 71).

Consider the 'formation and evolution of social groups among “digital youth,” [in which] affectivity is

distributed among an amorous assemblage of humans and nonhumans, in a kind of group or open

relationship including social networking software, cellphone, email, YouTube videos, music sharing,

videogames, and so forth.' (Grusin, 2010: 118) For Grusin, then, today's hypermediacy is 'the hypermediacy

of network connectivities, of affective participation in and distribution of one's networked identity across

multiple sociotechnical and medial networks.' (Ibid: 2)

The challenge here, then, is in identifying the analytical tools that will enable an accurate and multi-

dimensional analysis of these remedial tendencies in literature that is attempting to describe and chronicle

the world of its writing. This, for Gonzalez, is a time of 'disillusion and crisis, catastrophe and ongoing

apocalypse, artificially enhanced but also trivialized by incessant mediation' (Gonzalez, 2008: 113), and for

Sterling, ours is 'a cyberneticized, globalized, liberal capitalism in financial collapse' (Sterling, 2009: 24). In a

paragraph reminiscent of the deconstruction of a daily newspaper with which French anthropologist Bruno

Latour opened We Have Never Been Modern (1993 [1991]), Csicsery-Romay, Jr., urges us to

contemplate the increasingly science fictional sensibility of the news media:

'Consider the daily news: the postmodern hecatomb of the World Trade Center; Chernobyl’s lost
villages and mutant flora; CGI pop stars; genocide under surveillance satellites; the cloning of farm
animals; Internet pornography raining down in microwaves; helicopter gunships deployed against
stone-throwing crowds; GM pollen drifting toward the calyces of natural plants; Artificial Life;
global social movements (and even nations) without territories; the ability to alter one’s physical
gender; the evaporation of the North Pole.'
(Csicsery-Romay, Jr., 2008: 2-3)

For Csicsery-Romay, Jr., as for Bolter and Grusin, the 'events of our mediated culture are constituted by

28
combinations of subject, media, and objects, which do not exist in their segregated forms (…) [and, as such]

there is nothing prior to or outside the act of mediation.' (Bolter and Grusin, 2000: 58) In each of these

descriptions, the media-technical apparatus prove integral to our everyday experience of an increasingly

complex and chaotic world. This is the world of Pattern Recognition and Spook Country; our world, more or

less, and the same world Douglas Coupland presents in JPod and Generation A. It is a world of:

'hi-technologies and hi-tech commodities, and all the science fictional elements in it-the hi-speed
travel and instant global communications, the esoteric and labyrinthine practices of multinational
businesses, the virtual computer-mediated relationships through which much of the action
develops-are increasingly familiar features of the contemporary landscape.'
(Hollinger, 2006: 464)

In seeking to apprehend this contemporary landscape through the lens of literature, our question mirrors

that of Tate, who asks how 'a novelist [might] represent contemporary, globalized reality if that world and its

citizens have become plotless' (Tate, 2007: 38). In seeking an answer to this question, my earlier attempts at

'doing' literature as (new) media have laid the groundwork for a close reading of Douglas Coupland's novels

JPod (2006) and Generation A (2009). This will be a textual analysis grounded in Bolter and Grusin's

theories of remediation, and necessarily informed by Hayles' model of media-specific analysis – which

entails a recognition of literature's status as 'the interplay between content, form and medium (…) [and an]

insist[ance] that texts must always be embodied to exist in the world.' (Hayles, 2002b: 31)

Both novels are difficult to summarize, steeped – as is typical for Coupland's work – so heavily in the

pop-cultural detritus which fuels the motor of our contemporary media ecology. For JPod, Itzkoff provides a

useful precis – distilling the lengthy text to a matter of paragraphs:

'Ethan Jarlewski, the novel's narrator, is a disenchanted video-game programmer saddled with
parents less mature than he is: his mother runs a "grow-op" (which is a nice way of saying she sells
pot), while his father works as a movie extra, (…) But the true source of Ethan's suffering — as well
as his only island of stability — is jPod, the work space where he and his young colleagues are
supposed to be redesigning a skateboarding game to include an edgy new turtle character, but
instead spend their days flash-freezing their office detritus with liquid nitrogen, pretending to
auction themselves on eBay, and imagining that their miniature acts of protest are anything but
attempts to stave off adulthood.'
(Itzkoff, 2006)

29
Where JPod charts a path broadly continuous with Coupland's earlier work – revisting certain themes and

character archetypes – Generation A is an altogether more complex and nuanced text. Though likely

intended as a counterpart to Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture (1991), Generation A sees

Coupland moving in an opposite direction to Gibson – abandoning his usual contemporary settings for an

unspecified, if at least nominally science fictional, near future. From Coupland's own synopsis:

'In the near future bees are extinct – until one autumn when five unconnected individuals, in Iowa,
New Zealand, Paris, Ontario, and Sri Lanka, are stung. Immediately snatched up by ominous
figures in hazmat suits, interrogated separately in neutral Ikea-like chambers, and then released as
15-minute-celebrities into a world driven almost entirely by the internet, these five unforgettable
people endure a barrage of unusual and highly 21st-century circumstances.'
(Coupland, 2009b)

By describing his characters as enduring 'a barrage of unusual and highly 21st-century circumstances,'

Coupland seems to be acknowledging the distinctiveness of the twenty-first century. In Generation A,

Coupland grapples with this peculiar phenomenology by projecting it forward – envisaging a world of even

more intensive mediation as it might be, say, ten years from now. In doing so, this novel, perhaps above all

others, captures Shaviro's original grail: an account of what it feels like to live in a world where '[d]igital

technologies, together with neoliberal economic relations, have given birth to radically new ways of

manufacturing and articulating lived experience' (Shaviro, 2010: 2).

In limiting the final stage of research to a close reading of the works of a single author, however,

there is an implicit tendency toward typological thinking – wherever we 'choose a 'representative individual,'

and through it define the genre as a whole (…) [believing] it counts as an analysis of the entire genre, because

(...) there is really no gap between the real object and the object of knowledge.' (Moretti, 2004: 52). The map

becomes the territory. As such, it it is important to state that, in my choice of JPod and Generation A, I am

not making the claim that they are necessarily typical examples of the twenty-first century novel as a

category of analysis. In the words of Veel:

'in a world globally linked by media that provide us with continuous information (…) literary fiction
[can] either reinforce the difference between fictional storytelling and the flow of information (…)
[or] it can aim to incorporate the overload of information (…) creating stories that respond to what
seems to be the current cultural conditions of information processing.’
(Veel, 2009: 9-10)

30
In this context, JPod and Generation A represent exemplary examples of the latter. In the following analysis,

they should be read as outliers; occupying an extreme on the continuum of contemporary literature's

remedial tendencies.

31
CHAPTER 5

Earth Sandwich: Affect, Mediacy, and the Global Village

In grappling with the affordances of the post-millennial media ecology, Generation A, perhaps more

than any of Coupland's other recent novels, is informed the techno-utopian writings of Canadian media

theorist Marshall McLuhan. In the 1960s, McLuhan heralded the capacity of new communication

technologies to 'recreate the world in the image of a global village' (McLuhan, 1962: 43), in which real-time

communication would transcend the impediments of physical distance. Writing with Fiore in War and Peace

in the Global Village (1968), McLuhan describes how:

'[o]urs is a brand-new world of allatonceness. 'Time' has ceased, 'space' has vanished. We now live
in a global village (…) a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun
again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy
divorced us.'
(McLuhan and Fiore, 1967: 63)

Compare this characterisation of the 'global village' as a 'cosmic membrane (…) snapped around the world by

the dilation of our various senses.' (McLuhan, 1962: 32) with the following extract – taken from the narration

of Samantha, another of Generation A's remediated protagonists. Here, she describes how, at the time of the

bee sting, she was:

'standing up to photograph [a] slice of bread using my mobile phone. Why would you have been
doing this? I hear you wonder. Excellent question. I was making an “Earth sandwich.” What is an
Earth sandwich? Fair enough. It's when you use online maps to locate the exact opposite place on
the planet from you, and then you hook up with someone close to that place. Then, after you
mathematically figure out exact opposite GPS coordinates to within a thumbnail's radius, you put a
slice of bread of that spot, then connect via cellphone and simultaneously snap photos: two slices of
bread with a planet between them. It's an Internet thing. You make the sandwich, you post it, and
maybe someone somewhere will see it, and once they've seen it, you've created art. Bingo.'
(Coupland, 2009a: 9; emphasis mine)

It is tempting to read this as a an illustrative example of the global cultural practice of the amateur or

32
hobbyist under a condition of intensive global and digital mediation. If the 'earth sandwich' stands as a

figuration of the creative promise in McLuhan's 'global village,' it also represents a form of geolocative media

art intimately engaged with the 'everted cyberspace' of Gibson's Spook Country; virtual reality after the

headset. It's an Internet thing, both here and in the 'real' world, where the 'Earth Sandwich' had its origins

in a challenge issued by internet comedian Ze Frank in May 2006, in which he set the viewers of his video

podcast the task of organising and assembling their own 'earth sandwich' before anyone else. 3 As a figure of

the social promise of electronic media and globalisation, it can be seen as a textual equivalent of NASA's

'Blue Marble' photograph; an artifact of the emerging global culture.

In the context of this technologically-mediated hobbyist practice, Samantha's reliance on her mobile

phone camera demonstrates the ways in which the 'seeming omnipresence of mobile networked media

devices [has] change[d] the nature of physical embodiment and identity.' (Grusin, 2010: 91) Not only is it an

example of the mobile device as media-technical prosthesis, but it illustrates how, now, 'immediacy and

presence (…) seem to be associated as much with one's mediated relationships with absent others as with

one's (albeit equally mediated) relationships with people sharing the same physical space or embodied

environment.' (Ibid: 91) McLuhan's 'global village' may have been criticised as utopianism, but, through

these kind of computer-mediated practices, the early promise of electronic communication appears to have

been realised. Later in the novel, emerging from a period of solitary confinement after the bee sting,

Samantha returns to the site of her half of the 'earth sandwich'. By this point, it is:

'surrounded by a square cyclone fence topped with razor wire – maybe a hundred meters by a
hundred meters. Stuck in the fence's links were poems and letters and photos and drawings of bees.
It reminded me of New York after 9-11, except nobody had died – instead, some form of hope had
been reborn. I got choked up as it dawned on me that what was to me an annoyance was a ray of
hope for a hope-starved world.
We parked the car and walked among a crowd of a hundred or so hard-cores. I was
delighted to see, mounted on two poles within the sting enclosure, a beautiful photo of Madrid,
Spain – the other half of my Earth sandwich – the corner of Calle Gutenberg and Calle Poeta
Esteban de Villegas, where a group of people in bumblebee costumes were waving at the
photographer.'
(Coupland, 2009a: 117)

3 As in Coupland's novel, the first successful earth sandwich saw '[a] baguette (...) placed in Spain, near
Madrid at the same time that another baguette was placed in New Zealand outside of Aukland' (Frank,
2006). For more information, see: <http://www.zefrank.com/sandwich/>

33
In this extract, Coupland uses '9-11' as shorthand for a certain type of collective social reaction – an affective

totality inherently resistant to representation – circumventing the need to unpack the variety of affective

responses that such a description might otherwise have required. His reference to the 'photo of Madrid, (…)

where a group of people in bumblebee costumes were waving at the photographer' (Coupland, 2009a: 117)

provides an effective description both of the likely response from a transnational community of practice, and

of the performativity of major events after 9/11, which, according to Grusin, only now exist 'insofar as they

mobilize and are mobilized by a network of complementary and overlapping media forms and practices.'

(Grusin, 2010: 90)

In his portrayal of both the 'earth sandwich' and the news 'event' of the bee sting as products of

intensive mediation, then, Coupland invites us to consider the role of narrative and mediacy in the

contemporary world – a theme which pervades Generation A. In the next chapter, I will extend this analysis

to the later chapters of the novel, focusing on his representations of oral culture after digital media.

34
CHAPTER 6

Tôkyô Dekameron: Diegesis and Distributed Cognition

As presented, the media ecology of Generation A is dominated the communicative logic and technical

affordances subsumed under that which Ong defines as 'secondary orality'. Standing distinct from the

'primary orality' of pre-literature culture, this is a resurgent, post-literate orality, as 'sustained by (…)

electronic devices that depend for their existence and functioning on writing and print.' (Ong, 2002 [1982]:

10-11) Samantha's fictional 'earth sandwich' may have relied on photography, but the completion of its real-

world antecedent was recorded in the secondary orality of the YouTube video. In the context of the

'secondary orality' of Coupland's five remediated narrators, it is even more surprising when – roughly half-

way through – the novel's tone and structure shifts abruptly. From the narrators' early experience of being

stung by the (supposedly) extinct bees, through their time in solitary confinement, and their reactions to the

media storm that accompanies their release, Generation A's narrative emphasises immediacy; pursuing the

story from a rotating first-person perspective.

At Generation A's approximate midpoint, the five protagonists are lifted from their everyday lives

and taken to Haida Gwaii, a remote island off the coast of Canada. Here, they are made to tell each other

stories by a man named Serge, for reasons that – initially, at least – remain opaque. In this extract, a nervous

Samantha expresses her initial reluctance to participate:

'''Serge said, “Your turn, Samantha.”


Bloody hell. “Serge, I'm not creative that way.”
“If you relax, you might surprise yourself, Samantha. The brain uses stories to organize its
perceptions of the world. Every moment of your life it's doing things for you that you can barely
imagine.”
I went silent from nerves. Serge smiled and said, “Is your PDA working? Go online and
look up The Decameron.”
“Spell that for me.”
He did.
I read aloud: “The Decameron is a collection of short stories written from 1350 to 1353 by
an Italian writer, Giovanni Boccaccio. The collection begins with a description of the Black Death.
Then we meet a group of seven young men and women who flee from plague-ridden Florence to a

35
villa in the countryside. To pass the time, each member of the party tells stories about lust, the
nobility and the clergy.
“The Decameron was made into an Italian movie in 1972. A Japanese version, Tôkyô
Dekameron, made in 1996, featured lesbian torture chambers.”
We sat there digesting this piece of information. Diana dropped a log on the fire, saying,
“Well, I guess we'd better update our notions of lust, the nobility and the clergy. Zack is totally on
the right track. Let's tell stories about stalking, superheros and cults.”
The room became warmer and more intimate. I felt like a child again.'
(Coupland, 2009a: 165)

A cursory web search proves that, as with the previous chapter's 'earth sandwich', Tôkyô Dekameron is an

all-too-real part of today's media environment. In many ways, Samantha's actions are emblematic of the

functioning of this new literature, where, 'if some item baffles you, rush on or rejoice in the confusion; or, if

you are an obsessive, Google on it.' (Broderick, 2009: 88) With a new understanding of the increasingly

liquid character of reality, the gestalt eyes of Wikipedia and the algorithmic triangulations of Google are

recognised to be capable of producing authoritative knowledge.

Outside of Generation A, Google – read as a glyph for the internet, that 'inexhaustible anthology of

every possible thing recorded at every conceivable location in any given time' (Oxman, 2010) – is having a

profound impact on the form of fiction. Gibson, in particular, has referenced the emerging 'Google aura' of

his contemporary novels; as in this extract from a 2007 interview with the New York Times:

“It’s curious. When I published ‘Pattern Recognition’ ” — his previous book, which was also set in
the recent past and achieved mainstream success — “within a few months there was someone who
started a Web site. People were compiling Googled references to every term and every place in the
book. It has photographs of just about every locale in the book — a massive site that was compiled
by volunteer effort.'
(Garreau, 2007)

As with the ergodic structure of Danielewski's House of Leaves, the implied hypertextuality of this 'Google

aura' falls far short of the cybercultural promise of 1990s electronic literature. Though Gonzalez argues that

'[e]very text is no longer just a text, but a hypertext projecting its reader beyond conventional fictional limits'

(Gonzalez, 2008: 124), the Google queries and Wikipedia pages must still be recognised as external to the

text, even as they inform our reading. By representing the remediated narrator's distributed cognition in a

manner recognisable to the reader, Coupland mobilises his novel's status as a 'technotext', producing

'reflexive loops between [his] imaginative world and the material apparatus' (Hayles, 2002: 25) of the

36
distributed reader.

This popular discourse about the distribution of cognition and attention mimics the anxieties about

the future of the book noted earlier by Fitzpatrick; re-inscribing the old/new binary as necessarily good/bad,

while mimicking Biblical notions of humanity's 'fall from grace'. In this discourse, technology is portrayed as

a wellspring of alienation, reducing its users to automatons; fundamentally dehumanized. Here, however,

Coupland's McLuhanite tendencies preclude a purely pessimistic reading of the social and societal effects of

technology. Instead, in Generation A, he materialises all the charges laid against digital media and new

technologies in the form of Solon, a synthetic drug 'designed to alter a person's sense of time' (Coupland,

2009: 255), but which, as a side effect, also:

'gave its users a sense of calm individualism almost identical to that achieved while reading a novel.
(…) [Here,] science had created an antidote to the daily barrage of electronic information so common
to the era! (…) It removed from its users the burden of over-thinking the future, which is, of course, a
well-known cause of anxiety. Most magically of all, the drug's users stopped feeling lonely.'
(Coupland, 2009: 255-256)

Naturally, Solon proves highly addictive, with 'quitting [proving] impossible, physically and emotionally (…)

[as the] drug scarred users' brains, rendering them permanently in need of more' (Coupland, 2009: 257).

Against this background, the reader slowly comes to realise that:

'[al]though they live in different culture, [Coupland's protagonists] are linked by a recurring theme:
isolation. The world has broken up into sealed-off individual stories; [where] unconnected
individuals seek refuge in the food, drink and addictive drugs that a consumerist society offers.'
(Adiga, 2009)

In the extract from Samantha, the reader can detect how the prospect of group storytelling triggers a shift in

her affective reactions to the situation and her peers: 'The room became warmer and more intimate. I felt

like a child again.' (Coupland, 2009: 165)

Here, we stand witness to the utopian promise of a secondary orality which, like McLuhan's 'global

village', is capable of 'generat[ing] a strong group sense, [as] listening to spoken words forms hearers into a

group, a true audience, just as reading written or printed texts [or taking Solon] turns individuals in on

themselves.' (Ong, 2002 [1982]: 133) Where secondary orality differs is in its reach and its relationship to

37
the written word. Ong recognises that 'secondary orality generates a sense for groups immeasurably larger

than those of primary oral culture' (Ong, 2002 [1982: 133]), while Coupland's protagonists 'update [their]

notions of lust, the nobility and the clergy (…) tell[ing] stories about stalking, superheros and cults.'

(Coupland, 2009: 165) Their stories are informed by popular culture; remediating the detritus of mass

media, lifting elements from the established narratives of The Simpsons, TV news, and World of Warcraft.

As Serge explains:

'Stories come from a part of you that only gets visited rarely – sometimes never at all. I think that
most people spend so much time trying to convince themselves that their lives are stories that the
actual story-creating part of their brains hardens and dies. People forget that there are other ways of
ordering the world.'
(Coupland, 2009: 169)

Regardless of their origins in popular culture, Coupland portrays the practice of oral narrative with affection,

casting it as ultimately capable of 'fixing' the absence at the heart of technological modernity. Through a

cumulative process of storytelling, the truth is discovered; the villain unmasked.

38
CHAPTER 7

'Grind the Molten Bucket': Paratextuality and Digital Noise

Further to the sectional intertitles that signify shifts in time and setting, JPod includes 100 pages

which – lacking page numbers – exist outside the core narrative. At some level, these are part of the novel's

paratext; described by Genette as the productions which surround and extend the text - 'such as an author's

name, a title, a preface, illustrations.' (Genette, 1997: 1) In his review of the novel for Slate, Agger picks up on

this atypical paratext; describing how JPod 'abounds with the odds and ends of contemporary culture.'

(Agger, 2006) With the bulk of its narrative taking place on the fringes of a Vancouver-based games design

company, the paratext initially appears as a remediation of games culture, beginning the novel with an

instruction to '[c]lick here' (Coupland, 2006: 13). This is a strand picked up on later in the novel, where two

pages in the middle of the book bear the phrases '… pause' and '… waiting to respawn' (Coupland, 2006: 545-

546), with the novel concluding by asking the reader if they want to '[p]lay again? Y/N' (Coupland, 2006:

555).

On its own, this remediation of video game media could be seen as a relatively simple act of

remediation, with the form of the novel mimicking the specifics of its subject. This reading, however, would

have to ignore the three spam emails, reproduced in full; seven consecutive pages bearing the Chinese

characters for 'Shopping', 'Boredom', 'Pornography', 'Cosmetic surgery', 'Tourism', 'Internet browsing' and

'TV' (Coupland, 2006: 326-332); lists of three-letter acronyms and television networks; the ingredients from

a pack of 'Bite-Size Tortilla Snacks' (Coupland, 2006: 170); the copy from an advert for Star Wars action

figures (Coupland, 2006: 228); and several more pages of what can only be described as 'digital noise'. The

title of this chapter is taken from one of these pages of paratext; blank but for the words 'Grind the molten

bucket' in small italics – an instruction Agger recognises from the 'Foundry' level of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

(1999) for the Sony PlayStation.

Where in conventional texts, the paratext would provide 'a threshold (…) that offers the world at

large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back' (Gentette, 1997: 1-2), JPod's paratextual

39
elements share more with 'The Happening World' segments from Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, in providing

a cacophony of information about the world and setting. Instead of a traditional, pre-digital ontology built on

the absence/presence binary, JPod is a fundamentally informational novel, governed by the logics of signal

and static. As such, the digital and pop cultural detritus of the paratext not only reflects the preoccupations of

the novel's protagonists, but stands as background noise to the signal of Coupland's primary narrative.

Although the bulk of this 'digital noise' comes before the intertitles that mark significant shifts in

setting or time, the relationship between the paratext and the narrative is ultimately less clear-cut than the

'threshold' definition offered by Genette. Instead, we witness an interpenetration of noise and narrative, with

the precise content and form of the 'noise' varying to echo or resonate with the content of the narrative.

Furthermore, there are remediations of the protagonists' displacement activities – attempts to identify the

only prime number in a list that occupies multiple pages of the novel; the characters written up as items on

eBay; and letters to corporate spokesclown Ronald McDonald – which, though they would have been

reproduced as external texts in, say, Tristram Shandy or the recent novels of William Gibson, which here

straddle narrative and paratext, seemingly at random.

If, as I have suggested, JPod's paratext comprises the detritus of our 'happening world,' it could be

argued that – much like If on a winter's night a traveler – this new type of remediated literature embraces

the pathologies of information overload as background colour; seeking to to simulate the deluge of glitches,

unsolicited email, and digital trivialities which springs from new media in a seemingly unending torrent of

noise. To see it remediated in the interstices of the novel is a sure symptom of the changing status and

modalities of contemporary fiction.

40
CHAPTER 8

Conclusion: Remediation and the Contemporary Novel

At the end of Gibson's Pattern Recognition, the 'garage Kubrick' behind the enigmatic footage is

revealed as Nora Volkova, 'a young Russian artist (…) injured by a T-shaped fragment of an American-made

bomb that has lodged in her brain' (Skeates, 2004: 137). For Nora, the act of video-editing provides a

palliative for her physical trauma; while for Cayce, Nora is cast as:

'the splendid source, the headwaters of the digital Nile she and her friends had sought. It is here, in
the languid yet precise moves of a woman's pale hand. In the faint click of image-capture. In the
eyes only truly present when focused on this screen.
Only the wound, speaking wordlessly in the dark.'
(Gibson, 2003: 305)

Consider the parallels between the wounded Nora and Uncle Toby from The Life and Opinions of Tristram

Shandy, Gentleman. In both examples, technologies of representation enable the characters to compensate

for trauma. In Pattern Recognition, Nora's distillation of 'the Footage' from surveillance video returned her

from the brink of death, while in Tristram Shandy, Toby's battle re-enactments trigger a measurable

improvement in his bodily health. With her video editing suite as a technological prosthesis, Nora can also be

read as a cyborg – a technical assemblage of frail human body, the technologies of visual media, and a

traumatised subjectivity.

Here, Grusin's Premediation seems to be suggesting that – after 9/11 – we have all been remade in

the image of Nora and Tristram's Uncle Toby. Traumatised by the complexity and chaos of information

overload, we rely on our artificial ecology of media-technics in order to make sense of the world. From

Coupland's Generation A, consider Zack, lifting entire paragraphs of his narration from the internet; or the

French student Julien, giving a 'Shameless and Cheesy Wikipedia Dump' (Coupland, 2009a: 83) when

confronted with the limits of his own knowledge. More than ever, we are the 'human-technology symbionts'

(Clark, 2003: 3) described by Clark. In this context, faced with the challenge of 'mimetically representing the

ceaseless transformations of the future-present' (Hollinger, 2006: 455), one answer is that the dual logics of

41
remediation provide the only representational strategy capable of communicating the plural and hybrid

subjectivities of the contemporary media-technical cyborg.

Then again, is this anything necessarily new? The earlier examination of mechanical technicity in

Tristram Shandy would suggest proceeding with caution. Certainly, Clark argues that humans have long

been defined by ‘their ability to enter into deep and complex relationships with nonbiological constructs,

props, and aids’ (Clark, 2003: 5). Indeed, Foucault applies his theory of 'technologies of the self' to a variety

of technical interventions, focusing specifically on writing practices in 'Greco-Roman philosophy in the first

two centuries A.D. of the early Roman Empire and (…) [in] Christian spirituality (…) in the fourth and fifth

centuries' (Foucault, 1990 [1988]: 19). For Evans, who cites a variety of medieval memory systems as proof of

our cyborg past, the recognition and resurfacing of such a cyborg history – however partial – is 'one way of

countering some of the more outlandish claims that have been made about the posthuman as an apocalyptic

break with what has gone before.' (Evans, 2010: 70)

If there has been a qualitative break in subjectivity, says Evans, it runs parallel to a broader

ontological shift whereby 'the previous model of the human as characterized by absence/presence is being

replaced by that of a pattern/randomness dialectic.' (Evans, 2010: 69) Evans' argument is reinforced by

Grusin's comments on the liquid intimacies of mobile networked media – for if, '[i]n our media relations we

establish (…) cybernetic loops that distribute our affect across various media forms, technologies, and

practices' (Grusin, 2010: 99), an embodied presence is no longer necessary in order to effect action.

Thus, if the contemporary novel is caught up in processes of remediation, it is to better represent the

various forms of media that 'help to construct and maintain assemblages of human, technologies, and nature,

at the same time [as] they emerge from and are part of the assemblages they maintain and construct'

(Grusin, 2010: 90). A cyborg theory of literature is not just desirable, but necessary. With the contemporary

novel ever-more-willing to engage with the technological dimensions of the world it seeks to represent, only

by taking fiction as a constituent part of the wider media ecology can one hope to appraise such remediations

of the 'cyberneticized, globalized, liberal capitalism in financial collapse' (Sterling, 2009: 24) in which we

find ourselves. Also, in the singular moment moment of the absolute present, the novel's material form is

shifting in ways which mirror the changes in the world it seeks to communicate, be it through the 'digital

noise' of Coupland's paratext; the ergodic typesetting of Danielewski; or the wholesale reproduction of other

42
textual artefacts in the body of the novel. In these post-millennial writings of Danielewski, Coupland, and

others, we begin to see the seeds of a novel form that is as much a hybrid as the technologically-mediated

subjects it seeks to represent.

For if writing is a technology, the book is a machine; the reader a cyborg.

43
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