Remediating the Magic Kingdom: Notes Toward a Poetics of Technology

  1. No one would argue that literature has been unaffected by the technologies used in its production, distribution, and consumption. Movable type, the printing press, and more recently, word processors and hypertext, are well-known influences. While technology has mediated the ways we access and create text since the days of the stylus and clay tablet, no literary genre has a more complex association with technology than science fiction (sci-fi). Sci-fi literature has provided inspiration and caution to the most significant and perilous human endeavors, particularly those endeavors located on our "socioeconomic-technological horizons" (Freedman 197).
  2. In this essay, I will address the imagined technologies within and the existing technologies surrounding Cory Doctorow's sci-fi novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (DOMK ). DOMK takes place at a Disney theme park in a future where capitalism has been replaced by a reputation economy, death has been rendered obsolete by cloning technologies, and civic decisions are made by amorphous "ad-hocracies." These themes are neither new to sci-fi literature nor central to my discussion, however. By looking at DOMK 's technological context and its articulation of what Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin have termed the "double logic of remediation," I hope to suggest ways in which a critical awareness of literature and of technology can be collectively pursued to further what might be called a poetics of technology .
  3. Long before robots and cyberpunks became mainstream figures, an atomic weapon detonated in Robert Cromie's novel The Crack of Doom.Cromie's novel was published in 1895, fifty years before advances in technology led to the development of the first real atomic bomb. Jules Verne, sometimes referred to as "the man who invented the future," sent men to the moon in his book From Earth to the Moon over 100 years before the first Apollo lunar landing (Born 36). Marleen S. Barr uses the work of Jules Verne and other sci-fi writers to connect the development of technology and sci-fi literature explicitly in her preface to Envisioning the Future:
    Reality, as we are aware, does emerge from science fiction. We have the submarines Jules Verne imagined. We have the communication satellites Arthur C. Clarke imagined. We are on the verge of having the human clones myriad science fiction writers imagined. We are on the verge of [George W.] Bush initiating the need for the space soldiers he imagines. Presidents can institute adolescent male power fantasies. (xviii)
    The strongest form of this argument for the emergence of reality from science fiction is the least likely to matter.1 In fact, the subtitle of Barr's preface--"What happened to the flying cars?"--further undercuts this argument by drawing attention to one of the many technologies common in sci-fi literature that remain fictional. But what is of interest here is how easily Barr moves from her observation about the relationship between sci-fi literature and technology to her statement about President Bush's plan to develop "space soldiers." Discussion of sci-fi literature's predictive power serves here as pretext for a political prediction (Bush will make space soldiers seem needed), but also as a critique of the discourses attached to technology in American politics.
  4. To be fair, this passage follows three pages of Barr's discussion of President Bush's 2001 plan to develop a space laser that would protect the United States from ballistic missile attacks, but her point throughout this discussion is not that science fiction has predicted the missile shield, but that the "missile shield program, itself an example of technological mythology, is rooted in the American mythology characterizing science fiction" (xv). In other words, sci-fi literature does not simply plant ideas for technology in the heads of developers, developers turn to sci-fi literature for the myths through which to justify their technologies. More than simply providing inspiration or adding to the "hyperbole of predictions" about the future, sci-fi literature participates in an ongoing conversation regarding the political, social, and ethical issues of imminent and imagined technologies and the humans who would wield them (Baron 15). And since sci-fi authors typically imagine technologies beyond contemporary possibility, older sci-fi literature can still be tapped to allow reflection on current technologies (witness the many recent movies, such as Minority Report and I, Robot that are based on classic sci-fi texts yet remain timely). For this reason, science fiction is an ideal genre through which to explore the relationship between technology and literature in ways that forefront the technological materiality of the text and the social and political significance of literary work. Sci-fi literature is especially relevant to discussions of current issues such as intellectual property, biometrics, civil liberties, e-voting, and corporate governance.
  5. The claim that sci-fi literature and technology share such a significant (and dialectical) relationship attempts to go beyond merely identifying binaries in sci-fi literature such as "human versus machine," and to go beyond merely noting the superabundance in sci-fi literature of technologically-enabled travel across time and space. Technology is not simply a theme of sci-fi literature. Granted, sci-fi authors have often imagined technologies with which to colonize new galaxies and to build extra-planetary utopias. This "escape from terrestrial history" even has its own scholarly term: "astrofuturism" (Kilgore 1). But the study of sci-fi literature also provides an opportunity to address what I call the technologicity of texts and the textuality of technology. This phrase is an appropriation and remixing of Louis Montrose's well-known statement of one of the central tenets of New Historicism--"the historicity of texts and the textuality of history" (20).
  6. By the technologicity of texts, I draw attention to the technological embedment of all modes of writing within specific cultural and social contexts that include not just the technologies of literary production (pencils, word processors, etc.), but the technologies of distribution and consumption as well. By the textuality of technology, I suggest that we have no total and transparent access to technology, that this access is primarily constructed through texts, and that technology does not simply mediate other objects or content but is itself subject to mediations inseparable from and in fact enabled by the texts that are consubstantial with these technologies. These mediations will always entail "struggles among . . . multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings," struggles that cultural theorist Stuart Hall refers to as "articulations" (Johnson-Eilola 45). Such inquiry, by making the articulations between literature and technology available for critique, allows us to understand better how "Technologies, as objects articulating and being articulated . . . are powerful methods for constructing subjects at least partially into specific positions" (Johnson-Eilola 44). A poetics of technology recognizes the way in which literature participates in the articulation of technology to the lived experience of individuals who are neither totally determined by the technologies they inhabit nor totally in control of the technologies they invent.
  7. Networks in Context

  8. The release of DOMK was accompanied by praise from publishers and authors (many of whom, such as Howard Rheingold, often write on our relationship to emerging technologies; see, for example, Smart Mobs). Praise also came from technology developers and activists such as Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus, Inc. and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit group dedicated to protecting users' (as opposed to corporations') digital rights. Kapor contributed this blurb:

    Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" tells a gripping, fast-paced story that hinges on thought-provoking extrapolation from today's technical realities. This is the sort of book that captures and defines the spirit of a turning point in human history when our tools remake ourselves and our world. (DOMK 2) 2
    This blurb reverses Barr's claim that technology emerges from science fiction. Rather, it suggests that literature emerges from "today's technical realities" in which tools are responsible for remaking "ourselves and our world." If only one of these two claims--"technology begets literature" and "literature begets technology"--could be true, we would be left with an unending chicken-and-egg enigma. The likelihood of a more interesting dialectical relationship between technology and literature should not be surprising. Even Jules Verne, the "man who invented the future," did not write outside of technological and literary contexts. His tale of lunar discovery, From Earth to the Moon, was published contemporaneously with at least five other tales of interplanetary travel.3 More importantly, it emerged alongside scientific texts such as the work of French astronomer Camille Flammarion, who wrote a series of popular texts dealing with astronomy, interplanetary travel and communications, and planetary habitation, one of which appeared the same year as Verne's work (Costello 87). The often agonistic dialogue among multiple literary and popular discourses that constituted the context from which From Earth to the Moon emerged ensured that it would evince both "predictions and revisions" (Costello 16). Literary texts anticipate as much as they amend their technological contexts.
  9. The dialogue of Verne's work with preceding and contemporary literary and technical texts represented above is part of the textuality of technology. According to the textuality of technology, texts continually mediate our access to technology, technologies that we might first encounter in fiction, in news stories, in ads, or even as rough sketches drawn on the proverbial napkin by the person imagining the technology. Technology must be imagined and built, but textual processes do not end once technology is imagined. The work of Charles Bazerman offers excellent insight into the textual processes that mediate the development of technology. His book The Languages of Edison's Light brings us inside the "social matrix" of Menlo Park, where the "laboratory and the shop floor are socially bound through diagrams, instructions, plans, reports, questions, orders, confirmations, and records" (Bazerman 2-3). Bazerman focuses on the documents that mediate the discussions in the many spheres in which electric light and power were invented, financed, challenged, and marketed. For Bazerman, paper documents constitute the "actual media of social action" through which electric power entered the popular imagination and ultimately, home electrical outlets.
  10. In a chapter titled "Boasts, Deceptions, and Promises," Bazerman describes how reporters were tricked by Edison's tightly controlled private demonstrations of early incandescent lamps into writing news stories that announced the perfection of Edison's lights. These fictive texts had significant material outcomes, including a drop in the price of gas stocks on the New York and London stock exchange and a large influx of finance capital into the Edison Electric Light Company (Bazerman 164). The textuality of Edison's technology also involved legal documents such as patents, a genre that Bazerman considers a "speech act" that transforms ideas into intellectual property through a process consisting "entirely of words and symbols" (90). This observation is not meant to amplify the difference between written texts and technology, but to emphasize the inseparability of written texts and technology. As Denis Baron writes in "From Pencils to Pixels": "writing itself is always first and foremost a technology" (16).
  11. Doctorow's novel was significant to many exactly because of how it worked against the conventional logic of intellectual property while still achieving financial success. Intellectual property law exists primarily to protect the profitability of creative work. The reigning technologicity of texts found in intellectual property law assumes that the most profit is to be gained by managing technology in order to aggressively protect the author's (or publisher's) sole right to copy and distribute content, just as Edison's patents gave his company the sole right to profit from electric light technologies. This model of control embodies what Paul Baran described in 1964, when considering possible structures for the Internet, as a "centralized network" (Barabási 145). The technologicity of a centralized network is the same as that of intellectual property. In both, a central node controls all access. Baran rejected this model, declaring it unsuitable for the Internet (his ideas were at first defeated by industry and military interests before being adopted years later). Baran's ideal model for the structure of the Internet was what he called a "distributed" network, a network "redundant enough so that even if some nodes went down, alternative paths maintained the connection between the rest of the nodes" (quoted in Barabási 144).
  12. Baran warned that a centralized network was vulnerable because communication could easily be severed by the destruction of a single node. The "centralized" structure of copyright law has led to a similar destruction--the loss of innumerable creative works from the public consciousness because copyright holders find it unprofitable to promote or publish these works. Or, as in a case recently publicized in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the distribution of a professor's book is suspended when a copyright owner (in this case, a steward of the unpublished work of a deceased musician) feels the professor's book violates copyright. Even though the copyright owner had previously given permission for the professor to use unpublished materials in other contexts and the professor feels her book falls within the limits of fair use, the professor's university is unlikely to challenge the copyright owner in court due to the high cost of litigation (Byrne A14). In the traditionally centralized network of intellectual property, text-based technologies of copyright ownership and fair use mediate (which often means "restrict") the social life of creative works and the scholarly commentary focused on them.  
  13. Doctorow's distribution model for DOMK subverted the centralized network of copyright law. DOMK was freely available in full on the Internet before it was picked up by a publisher and made available in print form. Even after the book was available for sale in print, the entire book continued to be available online for free. The technologicity of texts inherent in Doctorow's decision is that of the distributed network. Even if the traditional "central node" of the publisher is destroyed, DOMK' s distributed support network will not allow the text to disappear. In an interview with Creative Commons, a non-profit corporation that has released a set of diverse copyright licenses free for public use, Doctorow explicitly connects his novel with other popular applications that take advantage of digital networks:
    . . . in some ways, this novel is a parable about Napster, and about the reputation economies that projects like Ringo, Firefly, Epinions and Amazon hint at. In a world where information is nonscarce, the problem isn't finding generic information--it's finding useful information. (Interview)
    Under the Creative Commons license the book was originally released under ("Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0"), individuals could freely redistribute DOMK in full without permission as long as they did so non-commercially. Doctorow later re-released DOMK under a less restrictive Creative Commons license ("Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0") that, in addition to distribution rights, allowed users to create non-commercial derivative works as long as credit for the original work was given to Doctorow and the derivative work was released under the same Creative Commons license. Thus, any future derivative works would be released non-commercially and would include credit to all previous authors.4 In many ways, such a licensing system mirrors the reputation economy found within Doctorow's novel. In DOMK, the only currency is "whuffie," a virtual currency based on the respect you command from others and which constantly fluctuates to reflect the public reception of one's actions. By requiring that credit be given prominently to previous authors, but also allowing for free distribution and derivative works, Creative Commons licenses increase the circulation of creative works while drawing attention away from profitability.
  14. Readers responded to Doctorow's release of DOMK by voluntarily increasing Doctorow's readership by hyping (and distributing) the novel via listservs, online chat, blogs, and other media. Bloggers were especially involved in the promotion of DOMK , which is unsurprising considering Doctorow's co-authorship of the highly popular blog, "Boing Boing" (online at These promotional networks echo the highly effective "viral marketing" made famous by successes such as Hotmail's free email service, which boasted a million users in the first six months (Barabási 213-214). Groups such as Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation promoted and praised Doctorow's novel as well, partially because its success would help support their own fight against the continued tightening of copyright restrictions. Readers also voluntarily produced most of the alternative electronic formats that allow readers to access the novel on numerous hand-held electronic devices. Readers with expertise in existing technologies thus played a large part in the success of DOMK, in which imagined technologies predominate. In part, this success was due to the text's Creative Commons license and its method of distribution (the Internet) sharing a common technologicity: the distributed network.
  15. Immediacy and Hypermediacy in the Magic Kingdom

  16. So far, I have not focused much on the narrative content of DOMK, except to suggest that it embraces several of the classic tropes of sci-fi literature such as overpopulation, distributed governance, cybernetic enhancement, and alternative economic and social structures.6 For instance, Doctorow's solution to overpopulation (and boredom) is a combination of "jaunting," which is a form of space tourism, and "deadheading," in which a person's consciousness is turned "off" and placed in storage in order to be reactivated days, years, or even millennia later (one character's desire is to be brought back just in time for the "heat death of the universe") (DOMK 66). Issues such as overpopulation are not simply literary themes, however, but are discursively related to digital technologies. Consider one character's description of the overpopulated future:

    I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard anyone on-world talk about personal space. With the mortality rate at zero and the birth-rate at non-zero, the world was inexorably accreting a dense carpet of people, even with the migratory and deadhead drains on the population. (DOMK 8, emphasis added)
    The logic of accretion and loss of personal space are hallmarks of the Internet. As Doug Hesse claims, the "Web evolves by accretion, not substitution or critique" (40). Doctorow's solution also highlights the very techno-centric response to narrative complications in DOMK (complications such as the death of the main character, Julius, between Chapter 2 and 3). I would like to focus, however, on the central struggle in the novel between the ad-hocracies that operate and maintain two main attractions in the theme park: the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion.
  17. These two ad-hocracies primarily diverge in their approach to the technologies animating the two attractions. Both attractions begin the novel with rides depending heavily on animatronic displays. The death of Julius, who is part of the ad-hocracy running the Haunted Mansion, immediately precedes a proposal to renovate the Hall of Presidents (a proposal Julius would have challenged). This proposal entails the removal of the animatronic showcase and the introduction of a technology known as "flash-baking." One character describes the proposed changes thusly:
    We're replacing the whole thing with broadband uplinks of gestalts from each of the Presidents' lives: newspaper headlines, speeches, distilled biographies, personal papers. It'll be like having each President inside you, core-dumped in a few seconds. Debra said we're going to flash-bake the Presidents on your mind! ( DOMK 22)
    This description of the process of flash-baking reveals the textuality of technology because the experience of the Presidents' lives that the technology delivers is achieved specifically through texts such as "newspaper headlines, speeches, distilled biographies, personal papers." The technologicity of texts that this description constructs is one that downplays the specific technological context of these textual genres (i.e. attempts to obscure their specific technologicities). The techno-logic of "gestalts" presented above suggests as well that the experience of a technology is irrelevant to its content--that you can place content from newspapers and biographies into the technology of flash-baking without any loss or change. Such a technologicity of texts works to undermine the specificity of a text's technological context and the lived experience of technology. Conversely, a responsible poetics of technology refuses to ignore and refuses to obscure the irreducible differences of technologies, arguing that a text and the technology used to create and consume it are consubstantial elements that can be articulated but never transcended.
  18. The flash-baking process also favors what Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin term "immediacy." Immediacy is one part of the "double logic of remediation" in which "Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them" (5). Bolter and Grusin call the two elements of remediation "immediacy" (where all traces of mediation are erased, emphasizing the present time and the "presence of the thing represented") and "hypermediacy" (where attention is drawn to the multiplication of media, emphasizing distance and the composite nature of the work) (6). The Hall of Presidents proposal aspires to immediacy when it promises that it will be like "having each President inside you," that it will take "a few seconds," and that the experience will be imprinted directly "on your mind" (DOMK 22). Flash-baking promises to bring the user into direct and immediate contact with the thing represented, bypassing even the senses to create an experience "without recourse to the stupid, blind eyes; the thick, deaf ears" (DOMK 24). Access to unfiltered emotion and the transcendence of materiality are also aspects of immediacy, as well as an inability to admit any degree of simulation, since this implies mediation. The following exchange between members of the Hall of Presidents ad-hocracy exemplifies the struggle even between various degrees of immediacy (this is especially significant since the idea of "degrees" of immediacy is itself antithetical to the ideology of immediacy):
    I [Julius] sensed deep political shoals and was composing my reply when Debra said: "Tim keeps trying to make it all more impressionistic, less computery. He's wrong, of course. We don't want to simulate the experience of watching the show--we want to transcend it ."
    Tim nodded reluctantly. "Sure, transcend it. But the way we do that is by making the experience human , a mile in the presidents' shoes. Empathy driven. What's the point of flash-baking a bunch of dry facts on someone's brain?" (DOMK 23)
    Debra rejects Tim's desire to make the Halls of President show "less computery." This isn't an argument for increased hypermediacy, however, since her goal is to transcend the medium totally, not to admit its unavoidable mediation. Tim defends his approach to flash-baking by appealing to the immediacy of the emotional impact generated by "empathy driven" impressions. Bolter and Grusin claim that the linkage of emotions with immediacy is similarly common in media such as TV that seek "to evoke a set of rapid and predictable emotional responses" that construct "authentic emotion, as exemplified most plainly in the 'heartwarming' drama" (Bolter and Grusin 187).
  19. As can be surmised, immediacy is generally opposed to the goals of a poetics of technology that seeks to generate critical awareness of the materiality of technology rather than the transcendence of materiality. But immediacy cannot exist independently of hypermediacy. As Bolter and Grusin note, these two "contradictory logics not only coexist in digital media today but are mutually dependent" (6). In DOMK, this dependence results in a narrative tension between the ad-hocracies maintaining the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion (a narrative tension that one might say is constitutive of the novel itself). Consider the difference between Tim and Debra's descriptions above and the following praise of the Haunted Mansion from Julius:
    The mark of a great ride is that it gets better the second time around, as the detail and flourishes start to impinge on your consciousness. The Mansion was full of little gimcracks and sly nods that snuck into your experience on each successive ride. (DOMK 24)

    This description reverses the desire for immediate and complete sensory experience, valuing instead the piecemeal yet progressively richer awareness that sneaks into one's consciousness, therefore embracing the mediatory value of multiple rides through the Haunted Mansion. This "multiplication" of experience and the attention to the many "little gimcracks and sly nods" that constitute the composite experience of the Haunted Mansion ride are both hallmarks of hypermediacy. Julius clearly sides with hypermediacy in his impassioned argument to the Haunted Mansion ad-hocracy to resist flash-baking technology:

    You don't want to be a post-person. You want to stay human. The rides are human. We each mediate them through our own experience. We're physically inside of them, and they talk to us through our senses. What Debra's people are building--it's hive-mind shit. Directly implanting thoughts! Jesus! It's not an experience, it's brainwashing! (DOMK 25)

    The resistance of Julius and the Haunted Mansion ad-hocracy to flash-baking technology should not be understood as nostalgia for unmediated human experience (which is just an alternate version of the desire for immediacy), nor should it be understood as a fear of technology or of change in general. In fact, the Haunted Mansion ad-hocracy initiates its own technologically-saturated renovations. But the nature of these renovations is quite different. Tim of the Hall of Presidents ad-hocracy claimed he was "making the experience human" even as he removed individual people and animatronic humans from the show (DOMK 23). But the Haunted Mansion ad-hocracy responds to their loss of whuffie to the innovative and charismatic Hall of Presidents ad-hocracy (and to the anxiety caused by the suspicion that the Hall of Presidents ad-hocracy was responsible for Julius' murder) by humanizing the experience of the Haunted Mansion in a different way. They replace animatronic humans with "telepresence rigs"--robotic avatars that are controlled remotely by human fans of the Haunted Mansion (DOMK 33). Julius tells Disney "imagineers" that he plans to use technology to let dedicated fans

    . . . interact with the guests, talk with them, scare them . . . We'll get rid of the existing animatronics, replace 'em with full-mobility robots, then cast the parts over the Net. Think of the Whuffie! You could put, say, a thousand operators online at once, ten shifts per day, each of them caught up in our Mansion. . . . In effect, we'll be adding another ten thousand guests to the Mansion's throughput every day, only these guests will be honorary castmembers. (DOMK 31-32)
    This proposal adheres to the logic of hypermediacy in which mediation is not devalued for supposedly separating the viewer from some reified object, humans are not considered impediments to experience, and technology is not offered as a way to sidestep embodied perspectives. This proposal also calls for the creation of a distributed network through which the management of the Haunted Mansion is decentralized. Hypermediate environments embrace the technologicity of texts by valuing the technological contexts of textual production, distribution, and consumption, as well as valuing the individual mediated experiences provided via these technologies.
  20. Julius' plan to renovate the Haunted Mansion emerges from his appreciation of what makes a repetitive ride like the Jungleboat Cruise attractive to guests. Julius claims the ability of the castmembers to "improvise" and therefore provide a "slightly different show every time" is what makes the Jungleboat Cruise "worth seeing." Castmembers contribute "their own patter, their own jokes, and even though the animatronics aren't so hot," guests enjoy multiple rides (DOMK 31). Julius' proposal invokes a poetics of technology that allows him to renovate the Haunted Mansion with imagined technologies without contradicting his belief that "The rides are human" (DOMK 25).
  21. Beyond the text of the novel, immediacy and hypermediacy are visible on the Internet download site for DOMK ( Doctorow's opening sentences on this page state: "The entire text of my novel is available as a free download in a variety of standards-defined formats. No crappy DRM [Digital Rights Management], no teasers, just the whole damned book."   This opening pulls the reader in two directions. First, it invokes hypermediacy in its promise that the text has been multiplied into a variety of formats (twenty-three in all) so that users of various operating systems and devices can experience the novel. Next, it invokes immediacy in its promise of direct access to the "whole damned book" unmediated by the typical copyright warnings and acceptance of licenses, or the dissatisfying mediation of an incomplete "teaser." Immediacy and hypermediacy thus structure our experience of the novel in several contexts. A poetics of technology seeks to recognize these multiple contexts and place them in productive dialogue, dialogue made possible by the intertextuality of literature and technology.
  22. Conclusion

  23. The original impulse of this essay was the impression that Doctorow's debut novel challenged the techno-logic of copyright and won, receiving numerous awards and achieving financial success in the process. The technologicity of texts forwarded by the distributed network does not thrive, however, in the absence of works such as DOMK that flout the received wisdom of corporate centralization. Technology-enabled ambivalence toward corporate mastery has been conspicuous in sci-fi literature at least since William Gibson's gritty vision of cybernetic abandon in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer. But such ambivalence does not lead necessarily to changes in the underlying ideologies that structure the contexts of literature and technology. In Critical Theory and Science Fiction, Carl Freedman writes that cyberpunk   (a sub-genre of science fiction, of which Neuromancer is the germinal text) has enjoyed success with audiences beyond the "normal readership of science fiction" because it "imaginatively registers perhaps the two most prominent features of late-capitalist society today: the multinationalization of both finance and industrial capital, and the growing technological importance of the computer" (197). The concept of a reputation economy based on whuffie has even made its way into at least one Stanford University "Information Systems" course curriculum.7 But are the popular appeal of cyberpunk and the mobility of concepts such as "whuffie" indications of a changing relationship between literature and technology?
  24. While recognizing the historical relationship between sci-fi literature and technology, it is important to understand that the confluence of these does not necessarily lead to a change in the poetics of technology. There is nothing deterministic within the "synchronic text of a cultural system" that should lead us to underestimate the agency of distributed networks working within specific "social matrices" (Montrose 17). The not-necessarily-repeatable success of DOMK is a successful articulation of technological networks--including computers, Internet applications, and Creative Commons licenses--and social networks--including those of readers, of bloggers, and of copyright activists. A poetics of technology seeks to understand how the technologicity of texts and the textuality of technology contribute to the emergence and success of artifacts such as DOMK both despite of and in response to social and material constraints.
  25. If immediacy is represented best by the "'real life' programs" on TV that provide transparent access to everyday life, then sci-fi literature, conventionally located outside the present temporal moment and focusing instead on possible futures and alternate pasts, is the literature of hypermediacy (Bolter and Grusin 187). Doctorow's sci-fi novel participates in the struggle to articulate relationships between literature and technology, both in its use of distributed networks for promotion, and in its narrativization of the mutually-constitutive struggle between the logics of hypermediacy and immediacy. Similar to Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of centripetal and centrifugal forces, the double logic of remediation pulls the characters of DOMK into contradictory relationships with technology, as exemplified by the opposing ad-hocracies of the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion. A poetics of technology makes visible these immaterial forces and their interaction with material and social realities that constitute the struggle of articulation. As a character named Keep-A-Movin' Dan tells Julius, "without struggle, there is no real victory" (DOMK 10). For the sake of continued critical interest in literature and in technology, let's hope he's right.


1. Stanley Fish, in Professional Correctness, makes a similar argument against the strong form of the argument for social construction: "Since, for example, history and literary studies are both social constructions, the fact of social constructedness (which they share) will not be a way of distinguishing between them. . . . the larger the asserted scope of social constructedness, the less it matters" (ix).

2. For ease of access, all page references to Doctorow's novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, will refer to the Adobe PDF version available for free at The novel is also available in print and at the site above in twenty-two other electronic formats.  

3. The novels of interplanetary travel contemporary with Verne's From Earth to the Moon ( De la Terre à la Lune ) include Achille Eyraud's Voyage à Venus, Alexandre Dumas Pere's Voyage à la Lune, Henri de Parville's Un Habitant de la planète Mars, and two anonymous works, Voyage à la Lune and The History of a Voyage to the Moon (Costello 87).

4. For an explanation of the many different Creative Common licenses available for public use, visit

5. The range of blogs responding to Doctorow's work is diverse. One interesting example is the "Whuffie" blog archived at <> that was set up in order to discuss Doctorow's conception of a "reputation economy."

6. While I never intended to do otherwise, I hope that by not revealing much about the plot of the novel that this might have the effect of encouraging you to read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Consider it my small contribution as part of DOMK 's distributed network of supporters.

7. The online curriculum for this "Information Systems" course is available at Although whuffie was referenced as of 20 July 2004, the page has been recently revised to make reference to "reputation systems" more generally, including those used by such groups as HITS, Ebay, Kazaa, and Bizrate .