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 second book is Always Already New.
Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era Edit
In this first book publication, Gitelman delivers a readable and sophisticated rendering of the historical constellations surrounding media developments at the turn of the century. Gitelman looks at a specific technological medium of inscription, the Edison's phonograph, and explores its textuality over the course of her chapters. Her claim for media textuality is based in the observation that the phonograph (and other technologies of inscription) are represented by other texts (patents, copyrights, fan mail, titles) and reproduce texts (disks and cylinders, film). Her analysis is based in a rhetorical study of all this "paperwork", in the notion that technologies are discursively constructed by numerous parties, including inventors, judges, consumers, legislators, patent officers, lawyers, sellers, manufactorers. Here, she opposes technological determinism in history and media studies, and any attempt in literary analysis to render technology as a stable surface, or somehow seperate from practices of reading and writing. Gitelman seeks a history of technology through a history of man, and does so through "a cultural history of experience" rather than what she considers to be the poststructuralist, anti-interpretive, posthermeneutic work of Kittler and Virlio, for whom technology appears to take a mostly symbolic function, decorated with forcefull chosen historical vignettes. Technological developments cannot explain the significance of an object, for as Gitelman notes, "an invention succeeds not because 'it works,' but rather it is described as "working
" because it succeeds amid prevailing and possibly competitive expectations" (8).
Gitelman divides her book into 5 chapters, together describes "a genealogy for phonographs and other inscriptive technologies as machines for writing and reading". As she writes, Chapter 1 background (shorthand), Chapter 2 imagines (Edison letters), Chapter 3 authorizes (patents, copyrights), Chapter 4 labels (labeling and packaging) and Chapter 5 supplements (typewriters, noise and the "medium").
Significant parts of Gitelman's text include issues of racial visibility/invisibility in recorded black performance (Chapter 3), technology transfer and how advertising evinces an ontology of the technology (Chapter 4), and duality of the female medium and the female typewriter as produces of visible/invisible noise (Chapter 5).
Machines Can ReadEdit
One of Gitelman's most impressive moments is when she claims that, legislatively, it was decided that machines can read. Tracking the conflicts of copyright law surrounding music scores transfered to records and cylinders, Gitelman explains how Congress ruled that records comprised a nonwritten, but readable copy. Composers wanted royalties on each record sold, but Edison's lawyers claimed that because the transfer of music was not legible as language, it did not comprise a copy. However, the courts ceded to a hieroglyphic standard--that something could be legible without being readable, but therefore deserving of copyright.
Coda: The (Hyper)Textuality of Everyday LifeEdit
Gitelman's Coda comprises a brief but well executed refutation of the democratizing rhetoric that has sprung up around hypertext and new media. Gitelman argues that, firstly, networks for viewing multiple streams of information and executing multiple decisions are not necessarily underheard of, but more importantly, seeks to "question and elaborate the parameters of novelty that recent accounts of hypertext seem to posit as the foundations of a new democratic future" (222). The rhetoric of media democratization seems to overlook the very fact that these media have very real, and even more invisible limts (an insight pursued in Galloway's Protocol). It serves as a curious but empassionate close to the book.