May 312015

My roundtable panel on “Objects of Global Media” has been accepted for MLA 2016 in Austin! I’m really excited for what I think will be a great conversation with some really interesting presenters, and particularly for the session’s pecha kucha format as well.

I posted the initial cfp earlier; the full accepted proposal is below, and I’ll post scheduling information when it’s out later this summer. Join us in Austin this January!

Image: Chris Jordan, Cell Phone Chargers, Atlanta, 2004

Our culture often imagines global media as immaterial, defined by the placelessness of mobile technology and the intangibility of the cloud. Yet these rhetorics serve to conceal the physicality of the web and its contexts: as recent work in media studies has shown, the digital consists not of air and vapor but rather of a wide range of specifically situated objects, each with its own historical, discursive, economic, and geopolitical dimensions. Taking as its focus the importance of such material objects for media studies, this special session builds on recent research in media archaeology by scholars including Matthew Kirschenbaum, Lisa Gitelman, Jonathan Sterne, and Nicole Starosielski and on recent conversations at the MLA convention, including 2015 panels on “Artifactual Interpretation” and “Media for the Anthropocene,” to offer a context for critical consideration of the technologies of global capital at a local scale. Each speaker will deliver a pecha kucha presentation on a single technological object, situating that object as a synecdochal artifact within the larger global media landscape.

Grant Wythoff begins our discussion with a consideration of a cryptic object from the predigital moment. Wythoff traces a history beginning in 1915, when a wireless telegraph station on Long Island was caught sending covert commands to German U­Boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean. Among the objects confiscated from this station was an artifact that has since come to be known as “Mystery Object 40.9.11,” a light­tight wooden box containing a neon yellow, paper tape reel. Offering a methodological framework for the rest of the panel, Wythoff traces the ongoing efforts at the Columbia Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities to understand the provenance and function of this mystery object through archaeology, ethnography, and archival research.

Brian Thill explores the touchscreen as an omnipresent space where flesh and technology come into contact. Thill suggests that we have entered a period of media engagement where the contact point for our enmeshment in media forms is understood as a radically dematerialized and oleophobic zone. The unavoidable residues of secreting human bodies constantly smudge the touchscreen’s surface, tainting its pristine, “proper” state and threatening to dirty the interfaces between human and machine. Tracing our cultural anxieties about the dematerialized sleekness of these new and savvy surfaces and the ways in which those surfaces work to erase their own equally dirty and organic labor histories, Thill imagines the touchscreen as part of a smudgeological field, placing it in conversation with a longer history of grimy, handworn media objects.

Jaime Lee Kirtz offers a media archaeology of the image scanner in order to understand how it engages with shifting forms of authority and archival practices in the global community. Approaching scanning as a form of archive fever that reveals larger fears about ephemerality in the face of globalization, Kirtz considers the scanner’s global condition as an object built from multinational parts and capable of circulating documents in a way that is impossible in the case of paper textuality. Through a thick material archaeology of the scanner—disassembling product units, comparing file resolutions, and analyzing manufacturing documents—she considers how its global parts alter authority and how different types of scanners and methods connote alterity in a global archival context.

Keegan Cook Finberg considers the selfie stick, a ubiquitous and permanent part of many global tourist sites. Finberg argues that this object has much to show us about patriarchy, neoliberalism, and the possibility of community within digital culture. The selfie stick figures an image whose value is premised on the idea that one is present at the site with someone who snaps one’s photo. This global community, like many others, is reliant on a technological extension of the self. Yet unlike other objects of global community, the selfie stick serves to literalize this extension unabashedly, publically, and in physical proximity to others. Tracing how the selfie stick illuminates cultures of global capital through visual materiality, Finberg considers the possibilities this object presents for sustainable and sustaining global community.

Paul Benzon reads the airline flight data recorder—the device commonly referred to as the black box—as an archival and historiographic crucible of global media culture. In a moment in which global air travel is increasingly marked by disappearance, crisis, and irretrievability, the black box occupies an uncanny position as both relic and record. Existing anachronistically outside of satellite coverage and wireless networking, it mirrors the contemporary circulation of digital information, yet diverges from that circulation in its most traumatic and crucial moments. Discussing the device’s early history as well as recent debates about its integration within satellite systems, Benzon suggests the black box as a textual aporia within global media culture, an object whose materiality illuminates both its own forensic limitations and the gaps and blank spaces in the network that surrounds it.

Jinying Li closes our panel with a presentation on The Great Firewall of China. The Wall is one of the world’s most sophisticated and effective instruments for state censorship and geoblocking, a practice that restricts access to selected media content based on a user’s location. As both a metaphor and a technique, the Wall is a symptomatic object of the global media network, shattering the myth of borderless global access and foregrounding the regulatory power of nation­state. Yet what makes the Wall more meaningful, Li argues, is the practice of “wall­crossing,” by which both Chinese users and those outside the Wall bypass restrictions in media distribution in order to access otherwise unavailable media content. Tracing both sides of this complex interchange, Li shows how the battle around the Wall becomes the lived experience of (dis)connected global media flow, marked by the constant struggle between restriction and access.

Composed of short, highly visual presentations, this panel offers a formally appropriate exploration of the material dimensions of global media, and allows ample time for open­ended conversation driven by the interests of both speakers and audience members. Bringing together a range of approaches, it will appeal to MLA members interested in media studies, material culture, and global culture.

May 192015

Earlier this spring, I had the chance to participate in a panel on “Volatile Materials: The Politics of Media Archaeology” at the 2015 conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Montreal. The panel, organized by Matthew Stoddard and featuring talks by Matthew, Catherine Russell, and myself, with a response by Will Straw, brought together some really interesting resonances around found material, old media, and the politics of the archive, and the conversation afterwards was really useful and challenging (I’m imagining a partial sequel panel for SCMS 2016, but more on that another time…).

A few folks have expressed interest in my talk since the conference, and since it’s not (yet) part of any larger project, I’m posting it here for anyone interested — I realize this is well after the fact, but given that the talk itself is on anachrony as an artistic and political force, I’m figuring that’s ok. The full text and slides are below, virtually unchanged as yet from my original format for verbal delivery. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments or via email or Twitter!

Afrofuturist Anachrony: Rammellzee Excavates the Alphabet

In the beginning of Postmodernism, Fredric Jameson famously describes postmodern cultural experience as “dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time, as in the preceding period of high modernism.” As much as I value Jameson’s project within Postmodernity as a whole—in one way or another, directly or indirectly, he’s a large part of the reason that many of us are sitting here today—I’ve nonetheless always felt that there are two problems with this specific formulation: on one hand, the binary sense of this rift, or break, from one epoch to another. But also, more specifically, the particular emphasis on space itself. Jameson’s discussion of space is valuable and valid, but postmodernity has for me always been embodied by, even perhaps synonymous with, hiphop, and hiphop has always been fundamentally about time.

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Media-N Is Out!

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May 122015

I’m very excited to announce that “The Aesthetics of Erasure,” the special issue of Media-N, the journal of the New Media Caucus of the College Art Association, that I co-guest-edited with Sarah Sweeneyis now out and available in digital and print-on-demand formats!

We were lucky to be able to work with a fantastic lineup of artists, writers, and critics across a range of different media to put together this collection—Joshua Craze; Seth Ellis; Kaja Marczewska; Justin Berry; David Gyscek; Derek Beaulieu; Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul, and Nick Montfort; Torsa Ghosal; William Basinski; Ella Klik and Diana Kamin; and Matthew Schilleman—and we’re grateful for the thoughtful and provocative work they all brought to the conversation. And huge thanks to Media-N editors Pat Badani and Stephanie Tripp, whose interest in the project and fantastic, diligent editorial support made it possible.

I’m including the official publication announcement below — please read, enjoy, and share with others who might be interested!

Announcement-spring Edition 2015-Aesthetics-of-Erasure copy

Apr 072015

I’m excited to be teaching a new course this coming fall, crosslisted in American Studies and English — Reading Culture: Digital America. This should be a great chance to explore some current cultural and technological issues in the classroom, and to play with some digital tools as part of our work! I’ll post more as the fall gets closer — in the meantime, here’s a flyer with the course description and information. Any interested students are welcome to sign up or contact me with questions at pbenzon at temple dot edu!

AMST 2098 Sign f15

Feb 262015

Image: Chris Jordan, Cell phones #2, Atlanta 2005

What are the symptomatic objects of global media? Where are they? What characterizes the networks they circulate through, and what do their circulations (or lack thereof) tell us about questions of power, embodiment, law, temporality? What histories do they exist within, and how might they help us reimagine those histories more critically and productively? How might we see the stakes of global media culture differently if we rethink them around an object such as the earbud, the undersea cable, the SIM card, or the server rack?

In order to raise these and other questions, this proposed special session builds on recent scholarly work in media archaeology and recent conversations at MLA about the materiality of media to offer a context for critical consideration of the technologies of global capital at a granular scale. Following a pecha kucha format (20 slides shown for 20 seconds each, for a total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds), proposed talks should focus on a single—and indeed perhaps also singular—key object within the global media landscape, whether small or large, and should offer a materially inflected critical reading of that object as a way of raising larger issues including globalization, media change, capital, and ecopolitics. Speakers might focus on infrastructure, ephemera, waste, circulation, labor and supply chains, or any number of other possible areas of inquiry. Please send 250-word abstracts and CVs to pbenzon at temple dot edu by March 15 (general inquiries are also welcome at this address).

Sep 022014

I’m excited to share news of a new interdisciplinary project: I’m co-editing the Spring 2015 volume of Media-N, the journal of the New Media Caucus of the College Art Association, on the topic of The Aesthetics of Erasure. The topic for this issue dovetails closely with my current work on my book project Deletions, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can learn from artists, critics, and other scholars who might be interested in contributing to this conversation.

The official CFP and timeline are pasted below, and you can also view them on the Media-N website or  download them here as a PDF. We’d love to receive queries or submissions from anyone interested!

Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus, is pleased to announce a Call for Proposals for the spring 2015 edition: Vol. 11 – 01


The Aesthetics of Erasure


Paul Benzon, Temple University

Sarah Sweeney, Skidmore College

Pat Badani



In an era in which state surveillance is capable of capturing, storing, and analyzing all personal communications, and in which even the much-heralded ephemerality of photographic sharing applications such as Snapchat is revealed to be just another instance of deferred, secreted permanence, erasure seems all but impossible. Yet this is precisely what makes erasure a vitally necessary artistic, technological, and social practice. Erasure provides a point of departure from network culture, from the constraints of big data, the archive, and the cloud; through erasure, forgetting and disappearance become radical, profoundly productive acts.

This special issue of Media-N seeks to describe the aesthetics of erasure across various media, platforms, and contexts in the digital era. What does it mean to consider erasure as an artist’s mark, and how does it reshape the relations between making and unmaking? How do acts of erasure allow artists to harness and resist the possibilities and problems of the archive, of (self-) surveillance, of public and private, and of datafication? What are the aesthetic and political relations between erasure and analogous processes such as anonymization and redaction? What antecedents of digital erasure might we see in earlier moments of media history, and how might they help us to see digital erasure in new ways? What do practices of digital erasure, and the absences they produce, tell us about the materiality of digital activity? What relations do they reveal among artistry, audience, memory, temporality, and the market? How might erasure help us to see questions of reproduction, remix, appropriation, and intellectual property in new ways?

The editors invite submissions in all formats and media, and from all disciplines, including but not limited to artwork, artist’s statements, manifestos, interviews, and historical, critical, and theoretical essays.


Please send your proposal adhering to the following:

Written Materials:

– Abstracts should be 300-500 words, submitted as Microsoft Word documents (.doc or .docx).

– Include a proposal title, your email address, and your title/affiliation (the institution/organization you work with if applicable, or independent scholar/practitioner).

– On a separate document, send a Resume or CV (no longer than 3 pages).


– Send 3-5 jpeg images (1200pixels maximum width).  Each image should be labeled following the convention Name_Title.jpeg

– On a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx) include a project title, your email address, and your title/affiliation (the institution/organization you work with if applicable, or independent scholar/practitioner) and a project description.

– On a separate document, send a Resume or CV (no longer than 3 pages).



email to:

Subject line: ‘Media-N Submission” and your name(s).


November 15, 2014: Deadline for submission of abstracts/proposals.
December 15, 2014: Notification of acceptance.

February 15, 2015: Deadline for submission of final papers/artworks.


If you have questions about Media-N, please feel free to contact:
Pat Badani, Editor-in-Chief Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus

Media-N was established in 2005 to provide a forum for New Media Caucus
members and non-members alike, featuring their scholarly research, artworks and projects. The New Media Caucus is a nonprofit, international membership organization that advances the conceptual and artistic use of digital media. Additionally, theNMC is a College Art Association Affiliate Society.


Apr 092014


Our panel is scheduled for Sunday, January 11, from 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., in Room West 208, VCC West —  join us!

I organized and participated in a special session at this past year’s MLA on “Deletion, Erasure, and Cancellation” — it was a fantastic experience with a great, interdisciplinary group of scholars and artists,  and I’m excited to have the potential opportunity to revisit some of the questions we raised there through a proposed special session for MLA 2015. Michael Nicholson and Amy Wong, both of UCLA, have organized a proposed session on the Transhistorical Poetics of Erasure, and have done me the honor of asking me to serve as a respondent. The panel includes Janet HolmesToby Altman, and Carlos Abreu Mendoza, a fantastic collection of thinkers and writers who will have a lot to say on this provocative topic, and I’m eager to have the chance to hear their work and participate in their conversation.

Amy and Michael have kindly allowed me to post the session proposal here — read on for more details, and we hope to see you in Vancouver!

The Transhistorical Poetics of Erasure

This panel reflects specifically on the emergent field of the “poetics of erasure,” with a broader view towards exploring how erasure may point us in new aesthetic directions and provide alternative political futures for literary studies. While literary critics of poetry have produced abundant work on the structures of influence, nostalgia, and tradition that verse enables, they have less often attended to the value of systematic forgetting and erasure. Our panel—with full appreciation for the irony that underwrites its aims—seeks to make erasure visible as a robust and viable poetic tradition of its own.

Ever since Robert Rauschenberg famously erased a Willem de Kooning drawing in 1953, postmodern theorists and writers have been captivated by the practices and provocations of erasure. While the landmark works of visual artists such as Rauschenberg produced a renewed cultural interest in the creative power of “erasure” in their moment, their influence on present-day poets continues to be particularly strong: for several twenty-first century writers, including Jen Bervin and Janet Holmes (one of our panelists), “erasure poetics” has provided an exceptionally potent way of negotiating sites of literary historical memory. Travis Macdonald argues that contemporary erasure poetry, which concerns “itself with the deliberate removal (or covering over) of words on the page” rather than their arrangement on it, protests the seemingly infinite accumulation of digital data in the “Global Information Age.” Yet, according to Macdonald, erasure poetry also forms an inevitable part of our ephemeral modern media landscape of “paste-layered billboards and graffiti-laden walls.”[1]

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Sep 252013

Exciting news —  digital poet and artist Dan Waber will be visiting Temple as part of my fall Special Topics course on Electronic Literature. I’ve been working with Laura Zaylea in Temple’s Media Studies and Production Department to bring him to campus, and we’re both very excited to have him. Waber will be reading from and discussing a wide range of his work, and we hope it will be a rich conversation on authorship, artistry, language, image, new media, publishing, process, and Processing (and he’s promised to bring plenty of his many sestinas to share!). Details are below, and the event is open to all — please circulate widely and come join us!


Aug 052013

I’m thrilled to be participating in an exciting project on In Media Res for the second time — last fall I was part of a week on “Media Nostalgia,” and this time around I’m kicking off a week on “The Politics of Media Archaeology.” This week is organized by Matthew Stoddard from the University of Minnesota, who was also involved in “Media Nostalgia.” My  piece, “Burn, Baby, Burn,” looks at the 1979 Chicago Disco Demolition as a point of departure for thinking about the materiality of media history in terms of destruction and disappearance — another piece from my current project Deletions. Take a look and comment, and check back daily for more great posts all this week!

May 312013

A second piece of good MLA news for the day: I’ll also be participating on a roundtable on the new Thomas Pynchon novel, Bleeding Edge, scheduled to be published this fall.  Also on the panel are our organizer Cornelius CollinsSamuel Cohen, David Cowart, Amy Elias, Jeffrey Severs, and Alison Shonkwiler. We’ll be a large and diverse group, and I’m excited to get together with both old friends and new collaborators to see what we as a group can do with what is sure to be an exciting novel and publishing event — the roundtable model of brief comments and broad conversation should give us a lot of room for rich engagement.

My own contributions to the panel are best prefigured by the paragraph on media and technology in the abstract below — inspired by the multi-leveled historical questions of the novel and the other speakers, and by Mark Sample’s imaginary DH history of Don DeLillo, I’m thinking about how the online runup to the novel might speak to whatever Pynchon has to say about the culture and economy of technology in the early 21st century — but who knows what the novel itself might actually hold…

If reports are to be believed, September 2013 will see the publication of a new novel by Thomas Pynchon, marking the third in seven years–a rate of productivity formerly unprecedented in this author’s closely watched, illustrious, and, by this point, quite long writing career. The book is sure to be advanced with a good deal of hype from his publishers, received with enthusiasm by his many fans in and outside the academy, and–if the recent pattern of reception holds–reviewed with a mixture of appreciation and skepticism by literary journalists. Pynchon’s canonical status is perhaps unique among contemporary authors in being so long established that each new publication not only presents fresh material for literary analysis, but also inevitably serves as a productive occasion for re-evaluating the writer’s career and public reputation.

Thus after the buzz wanes, January 2014 will be an opportune moment for scholars of contemporary literature to present and share early reactions, impressions, and suggestions for interpreting this new text. For indeed, aside from the intrinsic interest that surrounds any new work by an author of Pynchon’s standing, several aspects of the text as reported suggest that this novel will have special relevance to current issues not only in Pynchon studies, but in the study of contemporary American literature more generally. Our conversation will be an attempt both to situate this new work within the author’s larger career and to begin to imagine how a range of critical frameworks might variously illuminate its place within a larger literary conversation.

Bleeding Edge is evidently set in New York City in the period between the crash of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the attacks of September 11 in 2001. As such it will be the most immediate chronological setting yet undertaken by Pynchon, whose last four novels have been at the remove of at least several decades. And while 1990’s Vineland turned the clock back only to the early Reagan years, this new work might speak directly to the present in a way that Pynchon has avoided since the ‘60s, for it can be argued–but also contested–that the events of 2001 mark the inauguration of an era that the US has not yet left behind. Thus the new novel may propel a shift in the critical interpretation, emerging over the past decade, of Pynchon as primarily a historical novelist rather than a strictly postmodern one.

The narrative’s temporal proximity to September 11 raises further questions about how, or whether, Pynchon intends to engage with that theme at virtually the moment when “the 9/11 novel” is being established as a genre in contemporary American fiction. Pynchon’s evident politics–that is, what appears to be his religiously inflected radical anarchism and his consistent targeting of the corporate-financial elite as enemy forces in a perennial world-historical conflict–suggest a potentially explosive treatment, or at least one that forces assumptions about the 9/11-novel genre to be reconsidered. Additionally, in light of recent studies that show Pynchon’s narrative method since the 1970s to depend essentially on meticulously researched genre parody, one wonders how this approach will serve the author with such sensitive material, or if he will be led thereby to make major changes to his signature style.

The advertised subject matter–the tech-sector start-up scene of Manhattan’s still thriving “Silicon Alley”–also suggests that in Bleeding Edge, Pynchon will continue his deep examination of the historicity of media and technology. These issues have been recurring concerns in his work, from the underground postal network of The Crying of Lot 49 and the cinematic framing of Gravity’s Rainbow to Vineland’s satire of televisual culture and the cameo appearance by the ARPAnet in his most recent novel, Inherent Vice. Likewise, Pynchon has been a central figure for literary scholars working to interpret technology’s role as a shaping force in the contemporary world. Given this longstanding concern, how might he approach such a charged moment in the emergent history of global digital culture? What lines of relation might he trace between the hypercapitalism of Silicon Alley and the global webs of surveillance that–by many accounts–both anticipated and allowed the attacks of September 11? With the politics of information so urgently at stake in this context, Pynchon’s representation of early twenty-first-century technological forces has the potential to significantly develop this thread in his work and may best attest to his continuing relevance to contemporary literature.

Given the far-ranging possibilities of responding to such a new and important literary text, the roundtable structure for “Pynchon at the Bleeding Edge” will emphasize discussion: prompted by a set of framing questions sent to the group by the session organizer in December, opening comments of no more than six minutes from each participant will begin the panel’s critical reflection on Bleeding Edge. The better part, then, of the session time (as kept by the session organizer) will be reserved for open-ended conversation, driven by the interests of both speakers and audience members. Bringing together a range of approaches toward a major event in contemporary fiction, this roundtable session will appeal to MLA members interested in modern and contemporary literature as well as those more broadly interested in the novel, or simply curious about one of American literature’s most eminent, enduring, and intriguing living authors.