Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Hardback)Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (author)
The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that littered the floor of Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine. During the period of the pivotal growth and widespread adoption of word processing as a writing technology, some authors embraced it as a marvel while others decried it as the death of literature. The product of years of archival research and numerous interviews conducted by the author, Track Changes is the first literary history of word processing.
Matthew Kirschenbaum examines how the interests and ideals of creative authorship came to coexist with the computer revolution. Who were the first adopters? What kind of anxieties did they share? Was word processing perceived as just a better typewriter or something more? How did it change our understanding of writing?
Track Changes balances the stories of individual writers with a consideration of how the seemingly ineffable act of writing is always grounded in particular instruments and media, from quills to keyboards. Along the way, we discover the candidates for the first novel written on a word processor, explore the surprisingly varied reasons why writers of both popular and serious literature adopted the technology, trace the spread of new metaphors and ideas from word processing in fiction and poetry, and consider the fate of literary scholarship and memory in an era when the final remnants of authorship may consist of folders on a hard drive or documents in the cloud.
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Number of pages: 368
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm
Culling from specialized publications, mainstream journalism, and author interviews, Kirschenbaum recaptures the excitement and optimism writers often felt in the face of this magical new technology. To many, word processing seemed to promise a new possibility for aesthetic perfection. - Dylan Hicks, Los Angeles Review of Books
Word processors have become so popular that they can seem simultaneously essential and mundane… Kirschenbaum shows that word processing was once considered radical, empowering, even frightening and strange. - Craig Fehrman, Boston Globe
As Kirschenbaum’s history reminds us, the story of personal computers supplanting older systems dedicated to word processing…was hardly the fait accompli that we sometimes think it was. His book attempts a full literary history of this shift. To do so, he ranges across a number of phenomena. - Eric Banks, Bookforum
A learned and lively study of the sometimes‐uneasy fit between writing on a computer and writing generally…As Kirschenbaum rightly notes, literature is ‘different after word processing,’ and so is literary history. He makes a solid start in showing how. - Kirkus Reviews
Kirschenbaum aligns literary art with information processing machines (computers) to create a history of word processing…For readers interested in the history of the production of writing as well as those who appreciate the finer tech‐related facts that have fallen out of popular memory. - Jesse A. Lambertson, Library Journal
A well-researched, scholarly history of how early electronic typewriters, word processors, and microprocessor-based computers affected literary writers, the act of writing, and writers’ plots, characters, literary devices, and stories from 1964 to 1984. The book includes numerous examples of how specific authors thought about, wrote about, experimented with, and used early word-processing machines. - Publishers Weekly
Track Changes is delightful, magisterial, and instantly essential. Kirschenbaum unimpeachably delivers on his promise to give an account of word processing in all its wonderful messiness and complication. In his lively attention to storytelling, Kirschenbaum offers an account that brims over with interest and surprise. - Matthew Battles, author of The Library: An Unquiet History and Palimpsest: A History of the Written Word
Track Changes is a revelation. Through careful documentation of the relationships between dozens of popular writers and their respective hardware and software, Kirschenbaum brings the materiality of contemporary writing into sudden, startling focus. After reading this book, you will never be able to ignore your keyboard again. - Darren Wershler, author of The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting
Key to the success of Track Changes is Kirschenbaum’s knack of drawing out the relationship between writers and how they adopted, and adapted to, the new tools…In many respects this book is an engaging, extended love letter to the word processor—but it is much more than that. It is an impressively researched record of a radical, perhaps uniquely creative, chapter in the often turbulent relationship between technology and the written word. - John Gilbey, Times Higher Education
[An] unexpectedly engaging history of word processing. - Brian Dillon, The Guardian
Eye-opening…I found the book enlarged my sense of what had occurred during the course of my adult literary career. - Lucy Ferriss, Chronicle of Higher Education
In this outstanding book, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum decodes the relationship writers have had with word processing technology since the literary world began to shift from typewriters to the personal computer. If this subject matter sounds dry, happily it is anything but in the pages of Track Changes…There is much here to excite the literary-minded. - Andrew McMillen, The Australian
Track Changes is as much a mediation on how history (and media history more specifically) is written as it is a history of writing with word-processing technologies… This is a material history and materialist study that illuminates the cultural contexts for digital tools…Track Changes opens up new focal points for exploring histories of literature, media, and more…It explores some of the tracks left to us from the recent history of using computers to write. Reading these traces through Kirschenbaum’s astute media archaeology, we see how this book inspires us to look differently at computer history as a rich site for understanding the contemporary literary moment. - Jessica Pressman, American Literary History
It’s always an unsettling and amazing feeling to read the history of a series of events you watched unfold in real time in your own life, and that’s a part of what makes Matthew Kirschenbaum’s history of relatively short lifetime of word processing so fascinating: if you’re online right now, the chances are very good that you’ve experienced many of the changes detailed in this book personally, and Kirschenbaum writes it all with an infectious flair. - Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
The sustained attention [the book] pays to the social and material bases of writing reveals a usually hidden network of contemporary writing practices and opens up new possibilities for thinking about the relationship between (word) process and product. - Tim Groenland, Dublin Review of Books
One of Kirschenbaum’s strengths is his ability to draw out the extent to which computerized writing technologies have embedded themselves into our very being, as we can only imagine other writing revolutions once did. - Thomas Hale, Financial Times
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