Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic RecordingMain MenuAboutAbstract for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PIntroductionIntroduction to Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic RecordingNotesNotes for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PMediaMedia for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PAcknowledgmentsAcknowledgments for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PTechnical InformationTechnical Information for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PReferencesReferences for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PJentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339This essay is part of the “New Media” special issue of American Literature (volume 85, number 4, December 2013). See http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230. Version 1 of the site is (c) 2013 by Duke University Press.
Mystifying the Technical Particulars
12013-10-14T18:17:11-07:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca53392496Popular representations of science and technology often not only give the impression that scientists work alone but also mask the particulars of how technology actual worksplain2013-12-19T16:00:16-08:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339Consider the 1851 Crystal Palace Exposition in London, the ephemeral lavishness of which fascinated Walter Benjamin, namely due to correlations between such lavishness and free trade. There are also Thomas Edison’s demonstrations of electric light at the 1881 Paris Exhibition and the phonograph at the 1889 Paris Centennial of the French Revolution. The list goes on, and one persuasive interpretation of these demonstrations is that they foster myths of the lone inventor, often a textbook hero of some entrepreneurial class in US culture. Such myths reduce a set of complex activities (e.g., the labors of production, research, and advertising) to a single product borne by a genius scientist or engineer. They also bolster bootstrap narratives of upward mobility not unlike a Horatio Alger story. Moreover, the mystification of a technology enables what Matthew Kirschenbaum (2008) calls a “medial ideology,” or mass attention to the formal qualities of a given medium at the expense of a technology’s material particulars. In the case of the telegraphone, the aesthetic appeal of magnetic wire’s perfect record overshadowed the physical limitations of the technology’s hardware and the labor involved in creating it. In many ways, the telegraphone was vaporware at the turn of the century.
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1media/background.png2013-10-30T16:19:36-07:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339AboutJentery Sayers41Abstract, Acknowledgements, and Technical Information for Making the Perfect Record, American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U Pplain83862013-12-26T08:46:06-08:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339
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12013-10-14T11:27:59-07:00Borne by a Genius Scientist or Engineer11The History of Technology Is Frequently Embedded in a Male-Birth Narrativeplain2013-12-30T08:35:11-08:00Sterne (2003, 181) directly addresses the “male-birth model of technological history,” noting how it naturalizes reproduction while also mystifying the conditions of reproduction. Of course, one of the most well-known male-birth narratives in the histories of technology and literature is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
12013-10-14T11:17:07-07:00Fascinated Walter Benjamin9Benjamin, in The Arcades Project, on the Crystal Palace Exhibitionplain2013-12-30T08:26:29-08:00At several moments in The Arcades Project, Benjamin mentions the Crystal Palace Exhibition (or the Great Exhibition). Of most interest to him is the colossal character of the event, the ephemeral architecture (a palace made of glass) built for it, and the relationship of both with free trade and commodity culture.
12013-10-14T11:32:14-07:00Medial Ideology8Kirschenbaum Describes a Medial Ideologyplain2013-12-30T08:36:46-08:00In Mechanisms, Kirschenbaum (2008, 36) contextualizes and defines medial ideology in the following way: “Jerome McGann has used the phrase ‘Romantic ideology’ to describe the manner in which modern literary criticism of the Romantic poets has been characterized by ‘an uncritical absorption in Romanticism’s own self-representations.’ I believe electronic textual theory has labored under similar uncritical absorptions of the medium’s self- or seemingly self-evident representations. While often precisely Romantic in their celebration of the fragile half-life of the digital, the ‘ideology’ I want to delineate below is perhaps better thought of as medial—that is, one that substitutes popular representations of a medium, socially constructed and culturally activated to perform specific kinds of work, for a more comprehensive treatment of the material particulars of a given technology.”
12013-10-14T11:19:23-07:00Myths of the Lone Inventor7Marx on the Social and Collective Character of Technological Developmentplain2013-12-30T08:30:35-08:00Or as Marx (1976, 493 n4) poignantly writes in Capital: “A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the eighteenth century are the work of a single individual. As yet such a book does not exist.”
(This note comments on the page titled, “Mystifying the Technical Particulars.”)
12013-10-14T11:24:29-07:00Textbook Hero6Textbook Iterations of Technological Development Often Privilege the Lone Inventorplain2013-12-30T08:33:59-08:00For more on the textbook hero, see Hounshell (1975, 1), who argues: “Most professional historians of technology recognize . . . textbook accounts as myths and discount their simplistic treatment of what is really a complex story of invention, development, and innovation. They wish the history of technology to be given more prominence in general textbooks, but first to be freed of old myths.”
12013-10-14T11:37:40-07:00Vaporware4The Definition of Vaporwareplain2013-12-30T08:37:22-08:00Vaporware is a product that is announced or even publicly demonstrated but never actually released to consumers.
12013-10-14T11:17:07-07:00Fascinated Walter Benjamin7Benjamin, in The Arcades Project, on the Crystal Palace Exhibitionplain2013-12-19T16:05:43-08:00
12013-10-14T11:24:29-07:00Textbook Hero5Textbook iterations of technological development often privilege the lone inventorplain2013-12-19T16:06:55-08:00
12013-10-14T11:19:23-07:00Myths of the Lone Inventor5Marx on the social and collective nature of technological developmentplain2013-12-19T16:06:22-08:00
12013-10-14T11:37:40-07:00Vaporware3The definition of vaporwareplain2013-12-19T16:01:48-08:00
12013-12-13T17:16:38-08:00Edison's Display at the Paris Exhibition, 18892From: The Paris universal exhibition album, 1889 = Exposition universelle de Paris = la Exposicion universal de Paris / published under the patronage of the American Commissionmedia/edisonparisdisplay.jpgplain2013-12-13T17:23:41-08:00