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Hieroglyphic Modernisms

Writing and New Media in the Twentieth Century

Jesse Schotter

Paperback (Forthcoming)
eBook (ePub) i
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Explores hieroglyphs as a metaphor for the relationship between new media and writing in British modernism

In the British Museum, one object attracts more tourists than any other: the Rosetta Stone. The decipherment of the Stone by Jean-François Champollion and the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 contributed to creating a worldwide vogue for all things Egyptian. This fascination was shared by early-twentieth-century authors who invoked Egyptian writing to paint a more complicated picture of European interest in non-Western languages. Hieroglyphs can be found everywhere in modernist novels and in discussions of silent film, appearing at moments when writers and theorists seek to understand the similarities or differences between writing and new recording technologies. Hieroglyphic Modernisms explores this conjunction of hieroglyphs and modernist fiction and film, revealing how the challenge of new media spurred a fertile interplay among practitioners of old and new media forms. Showing how novelists and film theorists in the modernist period defined their respective media in relation to each other, the book shifts the focus in modernism from China, poetry, and the avant-garde to Egypt, narrative, and film.

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Introduction: A Hieroglyphic Civilization

Part I:
1. Misreading Egypt
2. The Hieroglyphics of Character
3. Sound Enclosures

Part II:
4. The ‘Essence’ of Egypt
5. Solving the Problem of Babel
6. Matrices and Metaverses

Coda: The Rosetta Stone

About the Author

Jesse Schotter is Assistant Professor of English at The Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale in 2011.


Jesse Schotter’s illuminating study convincingly shows how the idea and fact of the hieroglyph enabled twentieth-century writers and filmmakers to imagine new potentialities for language, photography and sound. In chapters connecting Joyce, Woolf and Pynchon to Eisenstein and Orson Welles to the post-Ottoman politics of Egypt, Schotter carves out exciting new zones of inquiry.

- Nico Israel, CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College

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