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Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era Paperback – January 1, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0804738729 ISBN-10: 0804738726 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804738726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804738729
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,216,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A signal contribution to the exploding historiography of the phonograph."—Isis


"The range of Gitelman's evidence is impressive: deep research in the Edison archives, labels, patent documents, and literary sources. Historians will gain the most from the early chapters about the prehistory of phonography and the ways Americans perceived Edison's phonograph."—The Historian

From the Inside Flap

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This extraordinary book makes startling, illuminating, and elegant connections between what seem to be unrelated events and objects, and thereby shifts how we can understand changes in media from the mid nineteenth century into the present. It is beautifully written, and witty and erudite besides.
Gitelman has a great ability to synthesize without reducing complexity. Instead she encompasses disregarded aspects of a situation to open up unexpected connections. I loved the way connections she makes open up whole different ways of seeing things. So her examination of shorthand as a precursor to the phonograph allows us to understand the phonograph as Edison did, as a machine for writing and reading. Then she goes on to convincingly links this shorthand/phonograph discussion to larger and still current issues of standardization, both of technical devices and operating systems, and of spelling.
Other connections go further. The final section of the book, "Coda: The (Hyper)textualization of Everyday Life," for example, critiques the dominant accounts of hypertext and reading and writing associated with computing for ignoring a "prehistory of computing" beyond calculating devices. She suggests including the elaborate search and retrieval architecture of the New York Public Library or the "integrated structure and semiotics of Grand Central Station...with its routes and signals for trains, its routes and signals for passengers, and the tiny spiral staircase that connects an information booth on one level (suburban transit) with an information booth on the other (interurban)." Gitelman thinks both largely and in meticulously informed detail about important issues that are embedded in our everyday lives, the media we use, and in history. This book is an eyeopener and a lively read.
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