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Paperback | $24.00 Short | £16.95 | ISBN: 9780262517409 | 320 pp. | 6.875 x 9 in | 33 b&w illus.| January 2012


New Media and the Forensic Imagination


In Mechanisms, Matthew Kirschenbaum examines new media and electronic writing against the textual and technological primitives that govern writing, inscription, and textual transmission in all media: erasure, variability, repeatability, and survivability. Mechanisms is the first book in its field to devote significant attention to storage--the hard drive in particular--arguing that understanding the affordances of storage devices is essential to understanding new media. Drawing a distinction between “forensic materiality” and “formal materiality,” Kirschenbaum uses applied computer forensics techniques in his study of new media works. Just as the humanities discipline of textual studies examines books as physical objects and traces different variants of texts, computer forensics encourage us to perceive new media in terms of specific versions, platforms, systems, and devices. Kirschenbaum demonstrates these techniques in media-specific readings of three landmark works of new media and electronic literature, all from the formative era of personal computing: the interactive fiction game Mystery House, Michael Joyce’s Afternoon: A Story, and William Gibson’s electronic poem “Agrippa.”

About the Author

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor of English and Associate Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), University of Maryland. He was a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow.


"Mechanisms is at the cutting edge of second generation scholarship on digital media and electronic literature. After the first generation's inflated claims and broad generalities, Mechanisms leads the way with precise, rigorous analysis both of the nature of digital media and of important works created in networked and programmable platforms. An essential work for anyone interested in the electronic literature, digital arts, and culture in the digital age."
N. Katherine Hayles, Department of English, University of California, Los Angeles

"Very few scholars have a precise understanding of the symmetries and asymmetries that define the relation of paper-based and digital technologies. Now when we need that kind of understanding, we are weathering a perfect storm raised by the long neglect of philological discipline, on one hand, and avoidance of any practical understanding of computerized resources on the other. Kirschenbaum's lucid book engages trenchantly with these important and pressing matters. It will wake its neighbors up."
Jerome McGann, University of Virginia

"At last in Kirschenbaum's Mechanisms we have our tactical plan for thinking inside the black box of digital media, for moving past 'screen studies' to a new take on electronic media informed by deep understanding of technological practices of inscription and storage. Kirschenbaum introduces a fresh and enlightening dichotomy, that of the interplay of formal and forensic inscription. This dichotomy becomes the raw material for cutting the key to a new critical apparatus for unlocking studies of digital media."
Henry Lowood, Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections, Germanic Collections, and Film & Media Collections, Stanford University Libraries

"Kirschenbaum's book is the most rigorous, cohesive, historically informed,materially grounded, and theoretically interesting treatment of textualartifacts in the age of digital mutation that I have yet encountered. Thebook introduces completely new materials and unique archival andsite-specific research within an innovative methodological frameworkblending the new textual scholarship with the equally new discipline ofdigital forensics. Mechanisms is destined to be a landmark work for thefield of digital textual studies in the same way that Lev Manovich'sLanguage of New Media was for the digital arts and new media fields."
Alan Liu, Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara