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Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume II, Issue 3
February 2006   

“Print is dead; Long live print!” Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar looks at the contemporary novel

 “The Changing Form of the Print Novel” was the topic explored by Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar N. Katherine Hayles, professor of English and design/media arts at the University of California, Los Angeles, on December 1 in a forum held in the library first floor lounge, co-hosted by Falvey Memorial Library and Phi Beta Kappa

     Katherine Hayles

Stating that the heritage of the novel is to be “continually innovative,” Hayles noted the often “recursive dynamic” of contemporary novelists who, on one hand, imitate digital stylistics, but then actually intensify print traditions within their texts.

Hayles examined three novels, People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, exploring in each case the “interpenetration of digital into print literature.” For example, Danielewski creates paratexts, inserting Braille and disordered typography, and sets up the page as a labyrinth. Later, cut-outs on the page presume to let the reader see through one page to the next, but in fact this technique underscores the opacity of the page.     

Joe Lucia, University librarian, observed how Hayles’s topic reflects elemental concerns of the academic library, as information has been reshaped over the last fifteen years, resulting in the inherent tension between the print heritage and the emerging digital world. According to Lucia, Hayles is “one of the best people in the world” to discuss the impact of digital culture.  

Dr. Douglas Norton, secretary-treasurer of the University’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter and associate professor and chair, department of mathematical sciences, introduced Hayles, indicating that her residency on campus also involved meeting with individual classes. 

Hayles’s books include Writing Machines (MIT Pr., 2002) and How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1999).

Contributed by Judy Olsen, librarian liaison to the English department; photograph by Natalie Tomasco