Digital Reading and the Post-Forensic Imagination
New media theory and criticism remain deeply entangled in what Matthew Kirschenbaum has called the medial ideology: the assumption that the digital age knows neither of material forms of inscription nor of forensic traces left beyond the ephemeral, infinitely malleable, and endlessly fungible flickering of signs on screens. Much of this thinking also informs ongoing debates about e-books and e-reading. Reading in the digital age, it is argued, as it presumably ushers readers into an unlimited realm of non-material bits and free-floating screen ciphers, unmoors traditional acts of reading. It either liberates the reader from the confines of space and time and thereby helps them adjust to the mobility of our age; or it—as Evgeny Morozov argued in a widely noted speech at this year’s book fair in Frankfurt am Main–subjects highly distracted readers to the follies of technological solutionism, i.e., the belief that in the age of non-material big and small data no problem, riddle, or challenge will remain without a (commercial) fix.
This talk will probe current debates about electronic reading in Germany in the hope of moving them beyond the limitations of medial ideologies and screen essentialisms. It will emphasize the material qualities of e-reading and digital practice, and precisely in doing so it will seek to develop a more nuanced account of whether and how digital texts produce new kinds of readers and recalibrate former structures of attention. Jonathan Crary’s recent 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep will inform this effort as much as a closer reading of Martin Schäuble / Robert M. Sonntag’s 2013 young-adult thriller Die Scanner.