Lisa Gitelman is holds a joint appointment as associate professor in the Departments of English and MCC (Media, Culture, Communication) at New York University. She received her PhD in English from Columbia University in 1991. Her academic areas of interest are: Media history; American print culture; new media in historical context; techniques of inscription. Her first book is Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines.
Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture Edit
Always Already New sets out to examine "the ways that media--and particularly new media--are experienced and studied as historical subjects" (1). In culling "the historical" from history, Gitelman will buttress early phonographs against the World Wide Web, explores users vs. consumers, and consider how the anti-temporality of the web complicates efforts to create a history of language. 3/4 research, 1/4 meta-reflection on how literary history became historical, this books employs the research begun from Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines and expands its relevence into a set of present-day questions regarding the supposed "end of history". In some ways, this entire book is the manifestation of Gitelman's coda from Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines. She urges reflection against technological determinism (3), reading media as having inherent agency, the claims of eventual media dissolution that render media as "the disappearing subjects of the very history they motivate (3), and cries of world democratization via new media. She guards against authors like Kittler who presume the an "intrinsic technological logic" inherent in the phonograph the moment it was invented, ignored "detailsa bout why or how phonographs were invented because he already knows what phonographs are, and therefore he knows what (and particularly how) they mean" (10). In short, the book packs a curious range of punches, but like its predecessor seems to at time over-rely on the poignancy of comparison that Gitelman is able to wrest from the historical record. Lots of examples "bring to bear", "raise questions" and "point toward incongruities"; the declarative hesitancy may be well-served in a historian, and speaks to a careful hand. Gitelman is intensely interested in "meaning as such" or "the social experience of meaning as a material fact" (18) yet a definition of meaning remains elusive. However, the book dazzles, momentarily, when it raises media history as a method that can countervail aesthetics in the epilogue.
Gitelman's sense of history is self-conscious, describing history as that which "denotes both the thing we are doing to the past and the past we are doing to it" (4) and "a term that means both what happened in the past and varied practices of representing that past" (5). The function of history is not to tell history as it may be self-evident now, but to garner "a more nuanced sense of how the material features of media and the social circulation of matieral things help variously to shape both meaning and communication" (18). Again, representation and inscription are deeply important, as media are integral to "a sense of what representation itself is" and inscriptions provide that primary mode for historical research (4). Gitelamn defines media as "socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practices, a ritualized collocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation" (7). In dwelling on the protocol, Gitelman is taking a turn from science studies, probably drawn from Latour, and defines them as "a vast clutter of normative rules and default conditions, which gather and adhere like a nebulous array around a technological nucleus" (7). New media, she argues, are not points of severance from the past: "less points of epistemic rupture than they are socially embedded sites for the ongoing negotiation of meaning as such" (6). Media are located at intersections of authority and amnesia, in which the practices of authorizing them are based in the social practice of forgetting their protocols (6-7).
Gitelman and Media ArchaeologyEdit
Halfway into her introduction, Gitelman summons the spectre of media archaeology in order to distinguish her from it. She defines media archaeology via Geert Lovink, who writes: "Media archaeology is first and foremost a methodology, a hermeneutic reading of the 'new' against the grain of the past, rather than a telling of the histories of technologies from past to present" (11). This method reads digital media into history and not history into digital media, seeking "a built-in refusal of teleology, or narrative explanations that smack structurally of the impositions of metahistory" (11). Gitelman summarizes that the media archaeological perspective is designed to avoid, and therein critique, the story-telling impulse of history. Gitelman writes: "In short, the impulse to resist historical narrative redraws criticism as a form of 'aesthetic' or 'literary' undertaking at the same that it tends to impose a temporal asymmetry. The past is often represented discretely, formally, in isolation--as for by means of anecdote--white the present retains a highly nuanced of lived periodicity" (11). Gitelman, however, wants to distinguish her work from media archaeology and related cultural studies. Gitelman writes: "Media archaeology is rightly and productively mindful of historical narrative as a cultural production of the present [...] the two case studies [...] both describe--even, yes, narrate--moments when the future narratability of contemporary events was called into question by widely shared apprehensions of technological and social change as well as by varied engagements--tacit as well as knowing--with what I refer to as the 'data of culture: records and couments, the archivable bits or irredicible pieces of modern culture that seem archivable under prevailing and evolving knowledge structure, and that thus suggest, demand, or defy preservation. History in this sense is no less of a cultrual production of the past than it is in the present" (11-12). Gitelman employs the case studies to benefit from compare/contrast, not to do, as media archaeology often does, one analysis in order to refine another. Gitelman's desire to avoid a literary or aesthetic reading makes on richer context in relation to her epilogue.
Part I returns to the case of the phonograph, this time exploring "the public life of phonographs at a time when publics and public life were the incumbent structures of print media. Americans of the day thought of themselves as constituents of a nation and nationally constituent localities according in part to their ritualized collocation as readers of a shared press, as private subjects within the same vast, public, and caledrical circulatory system for printed matter [...] one of my points is that all new media emerge into and help to construct publics and public life, and that this in turn has broad implications to the operation of public memory, its mode and substance. The history of emergent media, in other words, is partly the history of history, or what (and who) gets preserved--written down, printed up, recorded, filmed, taped, or scanned--and why" (26). Gitelman demonstrates these claims deftly by positing two phonograph-in-public-life phenomenon side by side, and reflecting on their subsequent inclusion in the historical record. First she examines phonograph exhibition tours, in which phonographs were licensed to vendors who travelled and put on shows, allowing people to witness the phonograph record and play back. There was tremendous newspaper coverage of these events. In contrast, she examines "nickel-in-the-slot" phonographs that were in bars and other public spaces where people had privatized experiences with the media. Because of their diffusion and location, they were not heavily covered in the printed press. But because the history of the phonograph became one of private listening, the nickel-in-the-slot machines have been given much attention, which the phonograph exhibitions (and their tin foil give-aways)--which richly display the public and local character of the phonograph--have been largely ignored, despite that amount of data left behind (good summary exists on pg. 94).
In part two, Gitelman advances the time period of her analysis, coursing the early history of the World Wide Web by looking at the infrastructure of ARPANET in Chapter 3, then positing an array of questions regarding the Web and history in Chapter 4. Gitelman substantiates her pursuit: "I want to address digital networks as new media, both because they continue to dominate present thinking about media in general and newsness in particular, and because they proffer an important instance of--very broadly--bibliographic questions and entanglements" (94-5). Gitelman seeks to engage with out digital networks shape our relationship to digital texts, "construct[ing] a coincident yet contravening logic for digital texts, partly in response to material features of the new medium, and partly in response to the hugely varied contexts of their ongoing reception and development.
In chapter 3, Gitelman examines the electronic texts of ARPANET and hypothesizes on how they are "knowable partly through and by contrast to 'the social life of paper'" (97). Rather than engaging with the ontological question of what an electronic text is, Gitelman attempts to trace how the concept of an electronic text within digital networks ever formulated to begin with. Gitelman seeks to map out how knowledge of electronic texts is shaped, constituted and informed by print texts. The middle of the chapter traces J.C.R. Licklider's work with ARPANET, and the development of the word "document" as a new keyword of digital networks (106). The other substantial part of this chapter concernsGitelman's textual analysis of RFCs and their intesive metadata [Request for Comments]:
"Depiste formal properties at least as rigid as those that define a snoonet or a villanelle, the RFC has been celebrated as an inherently democratic form. Like e-mail in 1972 and Usenet groups in 1979, that is, the RFCs are part of an already often-told history of the Internet that emphasizes the network's grass roots, its community-based self-definition of the communication protocols that include multiple layers of technical specifications, but that extend as well to the conventions and popular accessibility of online discourse. While in one sense there is clearly something tendentious about describing any element of an insular, 'closed world,' Pentagon-sponsored, R&D project as 'democratic,' in another sense there is also something a little banal about it in this instance, since all genres, as genres, are socially derived" (110).
Like the tinfoil phonograph intended to be promoted as a business device but wound up an entertainment sensation, ARPANET misconstrued what people would find most useful about the network. Intensive resource sharing was not the primary attraction, and users founds it's R&D origins a cumbersome interface; it was not until email that it demonstrated success as a communication medium. The chapter then swings to Lewis Mumford's review of the Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his complaint regarding how the text was riddling with so many typographical markers that "Emerson" was impossible to capture. Here, Gitelman makes an implicit relationship between the markers and the metadata of an RFC to demonstrate that "traditional bibliography--in that old-fashioned sense--did play a role in both the self-imaginings of U.S. culture during [the 1960s-70s] and, more broadly, the contexts of mediation" (118). Gitelman writes: "Indeed, whether one picked up Emerson's journals in their six-volume incarnation of 1968 or picked out an RFC online in 1972, what once faced was a new material text, a new bibliographic body, insisting that its reproduction of documents was representational" (120).
Chapter 4 begins with an anecdote about using ProQuest database, and finding a mistaken citation of "Internet" in an 1854 ad (123-4). Gitelman uses this anecdote to pose the question of how "historic" the Web can be, as historical documents are offered within "context[s] that complicate the very grounds of its historicity" (126). The web, Gitelman notices, seems to defy a historical preservation of itself, as it is "antitemporal"--always in a state of going, even citation practices only allow us to document that date of access, not the date of origin of an electronic text, nor its last update. Since the web is made up of endless websites, there is little capacity for anyone to capture the consciousness of the web without falling prey to vast over-generalization (and myopia of one's gaze): "Selecting singular examples from the World Wide Web in order to support claims about the Web or digital culture as a whole is alot like manufactoring one's own evidence" (130). One method around this, Gitelman notes, is to focus on "tools, methods, and protocols" rather than the pages themselves. Rather than making history impossible, the internet can prompt history in new ways, much as the record did--although these nuances in the history of recording has been left unexplored by the very norms that produce the "intuitive facticity" of recording (131). This thus creates the imperative for digging up the information to begin with (131). Gitelman goes through Error 404, MLA citation practices, Wayback Machine web portals, and the William Black Archive. See 138; 141 for interrogations of real-time and timelessness. The Web operates in presentness and, "Far from denying the coeval, the World Wide Web produces coevalness according to the singularity, plenitude, and instantaneity of its interpretive space. In short, the Web offers a space for interpretation where interpretation is always already underway; the machine--a disciplinary machine proper to the humanities--is running, whether users acknowledge it or not" (146). While the web offers little to help up compile a history of the language of new media, emulation becomes a possible preservations strategy (147). Electronic documents "compel attention to themselves as differently--often dubiousl-- historical, where history always happens at the levels of--at least--data, meta data, program, and platform" (147).
In her epilogue, Gitelman argues that part of her project has been to "promote by example" how media history can grant partial access to the epistemes of the humanities. Gitelman distinctly defines media histiry as a "methodological detour around the aesthetic in order to make the multiple conditions of its cultuc status (that is, aesthetic value) more clear." (154).