October 26, 1998 – Mark Poster: “Digital and Print Authors”

Monday, October 26 | 4:00 pm | Kresge 159

What are the material conditions of authors and readers today? In this exploration of cultural theory and new media, Mark Poster examines alterations in authorship and readership brought about by new material conditions of textuality. Print, broadcast electronics, and digital networks, he argues, each construct authors and readers in different ways. Drawing on Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault, Poster frames the question of the author/reader in relation to new technologies.

He writes, “I contrast the analogue and the digital, the printed book with the hypertext, the classroom lecture and distance learning of the Internet, the TV image with the multi-media hypertext of the World Wide Web. In each case I explore the changed configuration of the subject. I conclude with questions about the nature of the subject in new fields of authoring/reading and connect these with implications for political theorizing.”

Mark Poster is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. Poster’s incisive work on the history and uses of critical theory has been read widely across the disciplines. His most recent book, Cultural History and Postmodernity (Columbia, 1997), charts the move from social to cultural history, posing an important challenge to cultural historians:

…as long as historians presuppose that their task is to discover or investigate agents or victims, to resurrect for the present age fully formed agents in the past bearing and resisting burdens of oppression, there can never be a historiography that is critical of modernity simply because a world of agents and victims is its chief cultural figure, its great ideological myth. Historians may contribute to the delineation of the limits of the modern only by studying how such a cultural figure (the individual or group as agent/victim) was constituted…. The truly historical task is not to find in the past suffering workers and victimized women so that all may recognize the evils of the system. Instead the problem is to describe the mechanisms through which such people were constituted as subjects in relation to the measure of stable, centered autonomy; to show how the discursive figure of the universal, free individual was paradoxically able to designate these groups and others as outside the universal and as unfree, to show that modern freedom has always only been possible through its exclusions (Cultural History and Postmodernity, 10-11).

Poster’s current work on digital and print authors brings this concern with the constitution of the subject to bear on the study of electronically mediated communities. “These technologies,” he observes, “are drastically altering the conditions under which the subject is constituted, indeed even the subject who writes history” (12). Poster’s other books include The Second Media Age (Blackwell, 1995), The Mode of Information (Blackwell and U. of Chicago, 1990), Critical Theory and Poststructuralism (Cornell, 1989), and Foucault, Marxism and History: Mode of Production vs. Mode of Information (Blackwell, 1984). His work has been translated into Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Turkish, and Bulgarian.