In this episode of High Theory, Matthew Kirschenbaum talks about txt, or text. Not texting, or textbooks, but text as a form of data that is feeding large language models. Will the world end in fire, flood, or text?

In the full interview, Matthew recommended Tim Maughan’s novel Infinite Detail(Macmillan, 2019) as an excellent example of writing about the end of the internet, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven(Knopf, 2014) as a positive example of a post-internet apocalypse. In the episode he references a paper by Beder et al., “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?” FAccT ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (March 2021): 610–623. And several apocalyptic scenarios, including the dead internet theory and the gray goo hypothesis

Matthew Kirschenbaum is Distinguished University Professor of English and Digital Studies at the University of Maryland and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies. His books include Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard UP 2016) and Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008). With Kari Kraus, he co-founded and co-directs BookLab, a makerspace, studio, library, and press devoted to what is surely our discipline’s most iconic artifact, the codex book. See mkirschenbaum.net or follow him on Twitter (or X?) as @mkirschenbaum for more.

Because we are hoping to encourage the text apocalypse, we made today’s image using generative AI. Specifically Saronik made it using the prompt “Text” in Canva’s AI interface. 

Tagged : / / / / /


Mark McGurl talks about disintermediation, a key term for internet commerce, and his new book about fiction in the age of digital self-publication. The fantasy of disintermediation lies at the heart of utopian dreams of the internet, but it turns out that not only is the internet actually a medium, and a vast economic engine, but self-publishing is a lot of work!

Mark McGurl is a professor of English at Stanford University. If you want to learn more about the effects of Amazon’s self-publishing mechanism on literature, check out his new book, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon (Verso, 2021). His earlier book The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Harvard UP, 2011) takes a similarly materialist perspective on literary production, and it was sort of a thing. His first book The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James (Princeton UP, 2001), blames Henry James for making American novels into art. In a good way of course.

This week’s image is a photograph of a printing press held in the collections of the Fort Nonquai Eshowe museum in South Africa, posted on Wikimedia commons.

Music used in promotional material: ‘Internet, the day when all humans will disappear’ by Monplaisir

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / /