Review: Literature in the First Media Age, by David Trotter

Gary Day on an exploration of new technologies’ effects on artists’ representation of the world: THE

literature_in_the_first_media_age_review_david_trotterIf Hugh Kenner were alive, he might be a little aggrieved not to have received at least a mention in David Trotter’s Literature in the First Media Age. Kenner could be said to have pioneered the study of the relationship between Modernism and technology, Trotter’s theme. For example, in The Mechanic Muse (1987), Kenner showed the role the typewriter played in the poetry of Ezra Pound. True, Trotter’s focus is late rather than early Modernism and he might also claim, with some justice, that his interest is in how canonical and non-canonical writers resisted as well as registered “the technological mediation of experience”. All the same, he is not boldly going where no man has gone before. At the very least, Kenner anticipated his discussion of the way the telephone reconfigured personal relations. This is not to detract from Trotter’s achievement, and of course you can’t read everything, but Kenner’s book was such a landmark that it’s hard to see how it can have been overlooked.

Trotter’s claim is that various technologies of travel and communication as well as the development of a variety of synthetic substances had a profound effect on how artists represented the world. Formal experimentation was no longer an adequate response to this new situation, and a return to realism was not the answer either. What was needed was a form of representation that registered the impact of these new phenomena on the understanding of the social. Trotter finds it in what he calls “unimportant passages”.

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