The Aesthetics of Material Textuality

By Nathan Jung.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic Free Download

My home library contains physical books ranging from contemporary paperback bestsellers to rare, hardcover library-sale finds; electronic texts accessed via the web, or saved as image files, and viewed on computer, Kindle, and/or tablet; and finally, periodicals including newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. My point in detailing the breadth of this collection, aside from a certain collector’s vanity, is to ask what this diversity of reading material means for the reading experience. What qualities do I look for when I pick up a book, or any kind of “readable” object? What experience do I expect from the object in question, and similarly, can different objects produce different experiences? Answering these questions requires treatment of the relationship between literary aesthetics and textual materiality. This paper asserts that literature’s aesthetic qualities are not produced by literary form or referential content alone, and asks how this assertion might impact our understanding of aesthetic experiences: how they are prompted, felt, and made interpretable by certain practices of reading. In pursuing this line of thought, I appropriate vocabularies developed in bibliography and platform studies to argue that literary aesthetics should be theorized as an emergent product of the interaction between elements of textual hardware and software. The paper thus analyzes shifts in aesthetics from internalist to externalist models, which invite discussion of the ways in which aesthetic experiences are mediated by aesthetic categories, here understood as the product of physical “framing.” It argues for extending formalist readings to include textual materiality, and finally pursues the significance of this argument for disciplinary boundaries, articulating a “return to aesthetics” approach in literary analysis that pushes back on tendencies to use aesthetics as a boundary marker between the concerns of literary formalism and those of cultural studies, book history, and textual criticism.

Keywords: Bibliography, Platform Studies, Aesthetics, Literature, History of the Book, Digital Humanities

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp.1-17. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 10.111MB).

Dr. Nathan Jung

Graduate Student, English Department, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

I am a doctoral student studying English Literature at Loyola University Chicago. My research interests include contemporary Americanist literature, diaspora studies, media theory, textual scholarship, digital humanities, and globalization theory. My dissertation examines representations of diasporic communities through comparative media theory, and pursues the ways and means diasporas inscribe, store, and transmit their cultural identities in the absence of bounded national space.

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