Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era

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Stanford University Press, 1999 - Technology & Engineering - 282 pages
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This is a richly imaginative study of machines for writing and reading at the end of the nineteenth century in America. Its aim is to explore writing and reading as culturally contingent experiences, and at the same time to broaden our view of the relationship between technology and textuality.

At the book s heart is the proposition that technologies of inscription are materialized theories of language. Whether they failed (like Thomas Edison s "electric pen ) or succeeded (like typewriters), inscriptive technologies of the late nineteenth century were local, often competitive embodiments of the way people experienced writing and reading. Such a perspective cuts through the determinism of recent accounts while arguing for an interdisciplinary method for considering texts and textual production.

Starting with the cacophonous promotion of shorthand alphabets in postbellum America, the author investigates the assumptions--social, psychic, semiotic--that lie behind varying inscriptive practices. The "grooves in the book s title are the delicate lines recorded and played by phonographs, and readers will find in these pages a surprising and complex genealogy of the phonograph, along with new readings of the history of the typewriter and of the earliest silent films. Modern categories of authorship, representation, and readerly consumption emerge here amid the un- or sub-literary interests of patent attorneys, would-be inventors, and record producers. Modern subjectivities emerge both in ongoing social constructions of literacy and in the unruly and seemingly unrelated practices of American spiritualism, "Coon songs, and Rube Goldberg-type romanticism.

Just as digital networks and hypertext have today made us more aware of printed books as knowledge structures, the development and dissemination of the phonograph and typewriter coincided with a transformed awareness of oral and inscribed communication. It was an awareness at once influential in the development of consumer culture, literary and artistic experiences of modernity, and the disciplinary definition of the "human sciences, such as linguistics, anthropology, and psychology. Recorded sound, typescripts, silent films, and other inscriptive media are memory devices, and in today s terms the author offers a critical theory of ROM and RAM for the century before computers.

 

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User Review  - jaygheiser - LibraryThing

A social critics view of the significance of the phonograph, moving picture, and typewriter. Ultimately, I didn't find a lot of useful insight in this book, finding it instead to be somewhat typical of cultural theoreticians--when you look for something, Read full review

Contents

Contents
1
The phonograph invented
14
Making History
21
Edison and his machine
23
Page from Benn Pitmans manual of phonography
32
Imagining Language Machines
62
Postcard to Edison from Ike Isacson
80
Patent Instrument
97
One Touch of Harmony Makes the Whole World Kin
138
Victor Herbert on Edison Records
143
Paperwork and Performance
148
Annabelle Butterfly Dance
159
Edison cylinder record label
164
Criswells patent no 470477 and a related duck
174
Edison talking doll
178
5
184

Edisons first phonograph patent
102
Emile Berliners gramophone patent
106
Edisons film patent
115
The Little African and the Too Versatile Phonograph
122
Looking for the Band and His Masters Voice 124125
124
The upstrike Remington typewriter
205
BarLock typewriter advertised in the Psychological Review
207
Woman worker mediates between dictation phonograph and typewriter
210
Bibliography
257
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Wired Shut
Tarleton Gillespie
Limited preview - 2007
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About the author (1999)

Lisa Gitelman is Assistant Professor of English and Media Studies at the Catholic University of America.

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