Modernist Informatics: Literature, Information, and the State

Hardcover | December 15, 2015

byJames Purdon

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Between steam and cybernetics lies a missing phase in the history of information culture. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, national governments and writers of fiction alike began to take an interest in information not simply as fact, nor yet as effortlessly transmissible data, but asan unusual and destabilizing new phenomenon. Modernist Informatics mines this burgeoning bureaucracy and marshals an array of archival evidence to detail the varied reactions of writers struggling in their lives and works to make sense of this strange new age of information. As James Purdon recounts in this fascinating study, many people, including Joseph Conrad and Walter Benjamin, felt the presence of information as an interruption rather than an enhancement of meaningful communication. Its intrusion provoked strong reactions from novelists such as Arnold Bennett,Ford Madox Ford, and Graham Greene. Each regarded the prying eyes of information society with increasing unease, as they struggled to overcome the division of daily existence between a fixed entity on a ledger and the imaginative possibility of everyday life. For others, such as Elizabeth Bowen, thenascent information age offered new opportunities for transforming experience into prose. Relating these varied, complex reactions and how they found their way into fiction, Purdon shows how historical changes shaped the narratives at his study's core and gave birth to a range of new informaticphenomena: passports and identity papers; the dossiers of the Mass-Observation movement; the literal and figurative blackout procedures of the Blitz; and the government-sponsored "information films" of John Grierson. Modernist Informatics ingeniously traces how information culture seeped into everyday lives, forging a relationship of entanglement as well as antagonism-a tension that was central to the shaping of modernity.

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From the Publisher

Between steam and cybernetics lies a missing phase in the history of information culture. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, national governments and writers of fiction alike began to take an interest in information not simply as fact, nor yet as effortlessly transmissible data, but asan unusual and destabilizing new phenomenon....

James Purdon is a Research Fellow in English Literature at Cambridge University.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 9.29 × 6.3 × 0.98 inPublished:December 15, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190211695

ISBN - 13:9780190211691

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"James Purdon's luminous, searching study shows how the information age had its beginning not in our digital world but in the historical interval between steam and cybernetics. He seems to have read everything written in this period, and Modernist Informatics deftly shows how information movedpervasively but often undetected between public and private domains. Tenaciously charting the intimate, intricate media ecology of official documents and weaving together themes of secrecy, ciphering, sorting, copying, monitoring, interception, and forgery, Purdon shows brilliantly how informaticprocesses coalesce with the formal and narrative devices of several canonical authors, the auto-anthropology of Mass-Observation, and the documentary cinema of John Grierson. An arrestingly new understanding of modernism emerges from alert and supple analyses provided in Modernist Informatics." --Steven Connor, author of Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism