New Media: Its Utility and Liability for Literature and for Life

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Joseph Tabbi

Artist’s Statement


This essay is also out of touch with the times because here I am trying for once to see as a contemporary disgrace, infirmity, and defect something of which our age is justifiably proud, its new media culture. For I believe, in fact, that we are all suffering from a consumptive historical fever and at the very least should recognize that we are afflicted with it. If Goethe with good reason said that with our virtues we simultaneously cultivate our faults and if, as everyone knows, a hypertrophic virtue (as the worldwide transactional mediation of our age appears to me to be) can serve to destroy a people just as well as a hypertrophic vice, then people may make allowance for me this once. Insofar as I am a student of print literature, particularly those works of the 1960s and 70s in the United States that already, collectively, deconstructed the Western literary canon, I am not a child of new media practices who can pretend to know nothing of its antecedents. But I need to ascribe this much to myself on account of my profession as a print-era literary scholar, for I have no idea what the significance of print criticism would be in our age, if not to have an untimely effect – that is, to work against the time and thereby have an effect upon it, hopefully for the benefit of a future time.


Joseph Tabbi is the author of Cognitive Fictions (University of Minnesota Press: 2002) and Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk (Cornell University Press: 1995). He edits the electronic book review and has edited and introduced William Gaddis’s last fiction and collected non-fiction (Viking/Penguin). His essay on Mark Amerika appeared at the Walker Art Center’s phon:e:me site, a 2000 Webby Award nominee.

Joe Tabbi’s Home Page at University of Illinois at Chicago