Matthew G. Kirschenbaum – Bitstreams, The Future Of Digital Literary Heritage


University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 978-0812253412, English, 140 pages, 2021, USA

A bitstream is any “contiguous sequence of bits for storage or transmission”, like a file or an entire hard disc image. This expression, used as early as the 1990s (see Clock Dva’s 1992 piece and video of the same name), is a reminder of the information cached in the memory of old computers. This book can easily be linked to the previous book Mechanisms, in which Kirschenbaum analysed the fragile and “forensic” materiality of the digital memory of electronic literature. Three different perspectives/chapters are unfolded here, each relating to the respective redrafted lectures. In the first, the drafts of Tony Morrison’s 1987 Beloved are no longer comprehensively accessible on their partially flawed floppy discs (but neither are their partially burnt typewriter versions), while, in the second, he shows how Apple Macintosh technology was essential to the HyperCard poetry of W. H. Dickey and the typeset-driven layout of K. Brathwaite’s poetry, both symbolic of this historical period and tied to now obsolete techniques. The third chapter is about S., a novel by D. Dorst and J. J. Abrams, a “book-within-a-book” that plays with the conventions of printed form. The author has the rare gift of delving into the meaning of technical mechanisms and interpreting them through relevant literary works, as he does extensively in this book.