ENGL 146DR: Literature of Technology: Distracted Reading (Instructor: Rita Raley)
It is a cliché universally acknowledged that we (where “we” means, variously, the Twitter generation, the Millennial generation, participants in the Network Society) no longer read, or if we do read, we read poorly, with insufficient attention and affect. Reading, by which is meant literary reading, is said to be a “lost art” and certainly “at risk.” We multitask and thus cannot sustain the kind of focus and attention required for a long, complex narrative. Our primary source of information, education, and entertainment is the screen. The evidence for these claims is often anecdotal but at times calculated: our daily information consumption in print is .6 hours (UC San Diego); there has been a 10% decline in literary reading and a 28% decline in the 18-24 age group (NEA), etc. The task for our seminar will be to consider a set of large but pressing questions that both emerge from and engage this general account of technological transformation: What are the different modes of reading and what is their relationship to different media environments? How do contemporary works of print and electronic literature both reflect and anticipate different modes of reading? What is the place of “close reading” – still the most important basic skill taught to English majors – in a complex media ecology that encourages skimming, browsing and watching? How can we meaningfully situate our own reading practices within that same media ecology? Is all reading now distracted reading and, if so, can we still speak of rigor? With Henry James at one pole and Talan Memmott’s Lexia to Perplexia at another, we will be reading a range of texts that help us to think through these questions. Written assignments are likely to include a close reading, an exercise in distant reading, a personal log of information consumption, and a short position paper. Note: This will be an updated version of a course taught in Winter 2011: Distracted Reading Course Website.
ENGL 147AB: Media History and Theory: Audio Books (Instructor: Josh Epstein)
This course will focus on the written literary text in relation to recent work in “sound studies” examinations of the individual and cultural
effects of new sound technologies. We will focus in particular on the gramophone and the radio, studying their histories and thinking about
their implications for 20th-century literature and culture. Media history and theory readings will not only give us insight into the historical
significance of these technologies, but will help us think about literature itself as a kind of medium (sonic and otherwise), in
conversation with all the other ones. Literary texts will include some (not all!) of the following: Bram Stoker’s DRACULA; avant-garde works by
Hugo Ball, Luigi Russolo, F.T. Marinetti, or Gertrude Stein; radio plays by Bertolt Brecht, Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett, or Henry
Reed. We may do some work also with UCSB’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project (http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu), which has much
to teach us about the history, the practices, and the implications of sound storage (and is massively entertaining in its own right). Please do not be fooled by the course title: the course will involve a quite substantial amount of conventional reading and writing. The trend of the “audio book” may, however, merit consideration as we discuss how literature mediates, and is mediated by, sound technologies and listening practices.
ENGL 147VP: Media History and Theory: The Voice and the Page (Instructor: Carol Braun Pasternack)
Printed editions of medieval texts give only the barest suggestions of what these texts might have meant to their contemporaries because they experienced them either in oral performance, possibly with music and even movement, or in manuscript, sometimes highly decorated and with commentary in the margins or between the lines, always unique. In this class, we will examine medieval texts with the goal of figuring out how they were meaningful at the time of their production and/or performances. In addition to edited texts, we will look at manuscript facsimiles (digital and print) and a few actual medieval manuscripts in order to see the traces of oral composition and performance and see how the texts were written and read. And we will consider the impacts of distinctive information technologies on ‘literature’ and ‘information.’ Among the literary texts we will study are Beowulf, psalms, Middle English lyrics, Sir Orfeo, and parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Webpage authoring will be part of the work.