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April 20th, 2011 at 9:26 am

Mark Goble’s Beautiful Circuits

“Modernism as we knew it is not going to return. But the digital technologies that are the future also look a lot like history.”—Mark Goble

The Townsend Humanities Lab recently featured Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life, by Mark Goble.

The article considers how Goble’s book presents a new view of American modernism by focusing on the crucial role that new technologies like the telephone, telegraph, phonograph, and cinema had on such writers as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ralph Ellison. These new technologies, Goble argues, created fantasies of connection that remain with us in our present-day digital culture. Goble writes, “Modernism as we knew it is not going to return. But the digital technologies that are the future also look a lot like history.”

In addition to the article, Goble also recommends nine titles that shaped his thinking while working on Beautiful Circuits. The varied list includes works by Alan Liu, John Durham Peters, Hugh Kenner, Leo Marx, William Gibson, Stanley Cavell, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, and Henry James. In describing the relevance of James’s works The Turn of the Screw and In the Cage, Goble writes:

These were both among the first works James completed after he began writing by dictating to a ‘typewriter,’ or secretary—a small but crucial experience of a new technology that marked a new phase in his long career. ‘The Turn of the Screw’ has long been famous, but takes on new meanings when read alongside ‘In the Cage,’ which describes the vicarious pleasures that a London telegrapher takes in the communications of her wealthy clientele.

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