Less Metaphorical: Medium Neutrality and Contemporary Poetry
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This dissertation proposes the term medium neutrality to synthesize two divergent strands in contemporary literary media theory—the media archaeology of material inscriptions and the systems view of media ecology, which considers media as complex nodes of exchange. Medium neutrality emphasizes the speculative, non-prosthetic quality of media: the anthrodecentric perspective that media do not simply extend human senses, but consist of properties that exceed human apprehension. In this dissertation, I build on Eve Kosofky Sedgwick’s theory of reparative reading, contemporary media theory, and Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, which are united in their skepticism regarding the paranoid “unveiling” gesture of institutional critique, their emphasis on methodology rather than theoretical ideology, and their insistence on assembling rather than deconstructing. In response to these three trends, medium neutrality begins by attending to what Jerome McGann calls the bibliographic code (material forms), while simultaneously expanding this medium-specific perspective by situating written works within their broader media ecosystems, tracing interactions among media, humans, and nonhumans. Thus, “reading” (typically regarded as the interpretation of linguistic content) is reconceptualized as the process of showing how material-specific written utterances emerge from—rather than preexist—their broader material networks. Looking at the contemporary innovative poetry that I present as case-studies—Susan Howe’s Frolic Architecture (2010), Yedda Morrison’s Darkness (2012), Stephanie Strickland’s The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot (1999), and Tan Lin’s Heath: Plagiarism/Outsource (2007), I show how these works both perform medium neutrality in their manner of composition and simulate medium neutrality as textual environments by inviting readers to participate in the tracing of media ecosystems from which each work arises.