Brian Tibbetts

September 9, 2015

The Argument for Metamedia


Publishing & Technology: The Argument for Metamedia

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about the prematurely forecasted death of the codex and the emergence of “metamedia” and the “bibliographic” writer. I recently was afforded the opportunity to peruse an advance copy of Alexander Starre’s forthcoming title Metamedia: American Book Fictions and Literary Print Culture after Digitization due out this fall from the University of Iowa Press.

In the book Starre examines a new phenomena in contemporary American literature, a rediscovering of the print book as an artistic medium in and of itself. Starre argues that this trend, as exemplified by a fusing of design and text, is a direct reaction to the proliferation of e-book readers and the ongoing conversation surrounding the digitization of reading.

He looks at Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and other works, Jonathan Safran Foer’s books, and a variety of offerings from McSweeney’s, attempting to establish these works as metamedia for the way in which they challenge traditional notions of the way in which books (and authors) communicate with readers. He argues that these works are expanding on our ideas of the book, or the text, as a flat communicative device.

Unfortunately, while Metamedia provides readers with an excellent investigation of what is at play (and in some ways at stake) in these works, it does little to advance its assertion that what is happening is truly a new development in the world of publishing. Except for the fact that these works may represent initial forays into metamedia territory for “serious” literature, they are no more revolutionary (or reactionary to the digital delivery of text) than the pop-up books you may have read as a child.

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