ENGL 582 A1: Reading Media

M. Litwack

The title of this seminar stages an encounter between a critical practice—indeed, the critical practice historically central to the pursuits of literary and cultural study—and a now much-heralded, if still ambiguous, object. In this seminar, we will take this collision as our point of departure to investigate what media are, what media do, and how the concept of media interfaces with practices of reading and analysis in the humanities. Three distinct but related questions will oversee our project: How does one read various media? What modes of reading do media and mediation—as objects and categories of analysis—make available? And how have media figured in critical conversations (in English departments and beyond) regarding the nature of language, communication, subjectivity, representation, knowledge, and power, as well as within recent debates concerning the futures of reading, the humanities, and even the category of the human itself?

Taking up these queries, the practical objective of this seminar is to familiarize graduate students working in literary and cultural studies with critical and theoretical approaches to the study of media. To this end, we will engage multiple genealogies of media theory (including its deconstructive, marxist, archaeological, systems-theoretical, and cultural studies variants) and give some consideration to histories of institutionalization and issues of disciplinary difference, while also asking how literary and cultural theories have proposed their own conceptions—and critiques—of the idea of media. Seminar participants will identity and evaluate the potential points of contact and divergence between media, literary, and cultural studies in relation to key problematics that inform recent work in the interdisciplinary humanities (e.g., interpretation and information, digitality and division, transmission and translation, inscription and ideology, communication and community, apparatus and infrastructure, representation and the unrepresentable).  

By attending to a range of media formations—from postal networks to social networks, from TV to cybernetics, from the analog to the digital—we will collectively construct a conceptual genealogy of media in relation to broader theoretical, interpretive, and sociopolitical practices.

Readings may include Roland Barthes, Lauren Berlant, Jodi Byrd, Rey Chow, Jacques Derrida, Alexander Galloway, Stuart Hall, Katherine Hayles, Martin Heidegger, Kara Keeling, Friedrich Kittler, Lydia Liu, Brian Massumi, Rosalind C. Morris, Fred Moten, Antonio Negri, Julius S. Scott, Kaja Silverman, Bernard Stiegler, Neferti Tadiar, Tiziana Terranova, Amy Villarejo, Cornelia Vismann, Norbert Wiener.

In preparation for the first seminar, participants will be asked to read selections from Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), Kenneth Burke’s “Medium as ‘Message’” (1966), and Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature (1977).