Reading Machines in the Modernist Transatlantic

Avant-Gardes, Technology and the Everyday

Eric B White

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A revisionist account of technology’s role in the aesthetics, spaces and politics of transatlantic avant-gardes
  • Explores of a range of key avant-garde formations in the modernist transatlantic period, from the Italian futurists and English Vorticists to the Dada-surrealist and post-Harlem Renaissance African American experimentalists
  • Explores writers’ and artists’ inventions as well as their texts, and involves them directly in the messy transductions of technology in culture
  • Draws on previously unknown photos, manuscripts and other evidence that reveals the untold story of Bob and Rose Brown’s ‘reading machine’ – a cross-disciplinary, meta-formational, and transnational project that proposed to transform the everyday act of reading
    • Reading Machines in the Modernist Transatlantic provides a new account of aesthetic and technological innovation, from the Machine Age to the Information Age. Drawing on a wealth of archival discoveries, it argues that modernist avant-gardes used technology not only as a means of analysing culture, but as a way of feeding back into it. As well as uncovering a new invention by Mina Loy, the untold story of Bob Brown’s ‘reading machine’ and the radical technicities of African American experimentalists including Gwendolyn Bennett and Ralph Ellison, the book places avant-gardes at the centre of innovation across a variety of fields. From dazzle camouflage to microfilm, and from rail networks to broadcast systems, White explores how vanguardists harnessed socio-technics to provoke social change.

List of IllustrationsAcknowledgementsAbbreviationsIntroduction1. Dazzling Technologies: Avant-Gardes and Sensory Augmentation in the First World War2. Re-Reading the Machine Age: the ‘Audacious Modernity’ of the Techno-Bathetic Avant-Gardes3. Excavating the ‘Readies’: The Revolution of the Word, Revised4. Ghosts in the Machine Age: Rose and Bob Brown’s Reading Machines and the Socio-Technics of Social Change5. ‘Our Technology Was Vernacular’: Radical Technicities in African American Experimental Writing6. Afterword: The Robot Does (Not) Exist

Just when we might think we’ve got the twentieth-century figured out, along comes a book like Reading Machines to reveal a lost continent of esoterica just below the surface. Eric White plunges intrepidly into a swirl of technical manuals, legal documents and all manner of memorabilia in this lavish exposition of the material substrate of high-flying ideas like Bob Brown’s Readies, Mina Loy’s "verrovoile," and the "dazzle ship" camouflages of the Great War. Altogether an astonishing spectrum, at once scholarly study and funhouse mirror reordering the visage of modernism.
Jed Rasula, University of Georgia
Eric White continues his outstanding work on the transatlantic avant-gardes in this brilliant, deeply researched exploration of the relationship between avant-garde creative practices and technological innovation. Ranging from art and technology in the contexts of WW1 to African-American experimental writing and the railroads, and opening up the fascinating history of the 'reading-machines', or 'readies', of Bob and Rose Brown, this compelling and important study offers new terms for an understanding of the role of technology in modern culture and its broad and far-reaching impact.
Laura Marcus, University of Oxford
In Eric White's acutely-observed study, it is the modernists who first understand that the machines are us, intrinsic to our culture, perceptions and potential, and capable of transforming both our textual experience and social relations.
Tim Armstrong, Royal Holloway, University of London
Eric White is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Oxford Brookes University. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, he has taught at the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Edinburgh, and has held fellowships at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Oxford. Eric is PI and co-founder of the Avant-Gardes and Speculative Technology Project, which re-imagines modernists’ inventions using Augmented Reality.

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