Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Literature. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 18 August 2022

Technologylocked

Technologylocked

  • Eleonora LimaEleonora LimaSchool of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Trinity College Dublin

Summary

The history of literature has always been influenced by technological progress, as a transformative cultural power—threatening destruction or promising a luminous future—as a theme inspiring new narrative forms and plots, or as a force influencing the way authors conceive textuality and perform their creative work. The entanglement between literary and technological inventions is even recorded in the etymology of the word, which comes from the Greek “techne,” a term referring to arts as well as crafts. The way writers conceive this relationship, however, varies greatly: although some consider the work of technicians to be congenial to artistic creation, as they both demonstrate human creativity and ingenuity, others believe technology to be a dehumanizing and unnatural force, not only alien to literature but in competition with its own ethos. Therefore, depending on their position, the writer comes to embody the mythical figure of Prometheus, the first technician and defiant creator, or that of Orpheus, symbolizing the marriage between poetry and nature compared to any artificial creation. However, the opposition between nature and technology, with literature positioning itself either in one realm or the other, is only one of many possible critical perspectives. Indeed, when moving beyond the idea of technology as merely a kind of artifact, the affinities between texts and machines clearly emerge. A mutual relation connects technology and textuality, and this has to do with the complex nature of material and cultural objects, each shaped by social use, aesthetic norms, and power structures. This bond between discursivity and materiality is impossible to disentangle, as is the contextual relationship between literature and technology: Texts prescribe meanings to machines just as much as the latter shape their textuality. To recognize literature and technology as two different systems of meanings and sets of practices which are nevertheless always in conversation with each other is also to understand literature as technology. This stance has nothing to do with the likeness of the poet and the technician as creative minds but rather with the idea of literary texts functioning like technologies and, ultimately, offering a meta-reflexive analysis of their own textuality. According to this critical perspective, literature performatively enacts the changes in textuality brought about by technological progress, from the printing press to digital writing tools.

Subjects

  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
  • Literary Theory
  • Western European Literatures

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription