Media Theory and History
The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005, Cornell UP, 2007.
From the jacket copy:
The Iron Whim is an intelligent, irreverent, and humorous history of writing culture and technology. It covers the early history and evolution of the typewriter as well as the various attempts over the years to change the keyboard configuration, but it is primarily about the role played by this marvel in the writer’s life. Darren Wershler-Henry populates his book with figures as disparate as Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, Franz Kafka, Norman Mailer, Alger Hiss, William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Northrop Frye, David Cronenberg, and David Letterman; the soundtrack ranges from the industrial clatter of a newsroom full of Underwoods to the more muted tapping and hum of the Selectric.
Wershler-Henry casts a bemused eye on the odd history of early writing machines, important and unusual typewritten texts, the creation of On the Road, and the exploits of a typewriting cockroach named Archy, numerous monkeys, poets, and even a couple of vampires. He gathers into his narrative typewriter-related rumors and anecdotes (Henry James became so accustomed to dictating his novels to a typist that he required the sound of a randomly operated typewriter even to begin to compose). And by broadening his focus to look at typewriting as a social system as well as the typewriter as a technological form, he examines the fascinating way that the tool has actually shaped the creative process.
With engaging subject matter that ranges over two hundred years of literature and culture in English, The Iron Whim builds on recent interest in books about familiar objects and taps into our nostalgia for a method of communication and composition that has all but vanished.
“The Iron Whim should delight all who love typewriters and who appreciate the long, if somewhat rattly, contribution they have made to literacy and general culture.” — Larry McMurtry
“The Iron Whim is a pure delight. This ‘fragmented history of typewriting’ provides fascinating glimpses into the history, culture, and poetics of the typewriter, that instrument that controlled our writing for so many decades and for which nostalgia is currently at a high point. Himself a poet and critic, Wershler-Henry recounts, with great panache, how the typewriter works of such writers as Henry James and Charles Olson were actually produced. The role of the amanuensis, the dictation process, the production and reception of typed text: all these topics, clearly and vividly detailed, ensure the wide reception The Iron Whim is sure to get. I cannot imagine a reader who would not find this book intriguing and compelling.” — Marjorie Perloff
“I have been waiting years for just such a book on the cultural imagination of the typewriter, and Darren Wershler-Henry makes the wait well worthwhile. The Iron Whim combines historical rigor, theoretical sophistication, and an amazing breadth of literary knowledge from the canonical to the avant-garde—not to mention a palpable sense of mischievous fun. Wershler-Henry, one of today’s most provocative scholars and poets, undertakes this medial archaeology with unerring precision: revealing the most surprising arcana to be central to our cultural history and making the most familiar facts of the modern writing machine seem suddenly new and strange and extravagantly unlikely. This book is necessary, intelligent, and fun.” — Craig Dworkin
“Who connects the typewriter with vampires, ghosts, sex, drugs, and money? Poet, theorist, and culture critic Wershler-Henry, has produced a surprising book that is nothing short of a cultural history of the complex writing machine. Richly researched, the text is composed with élan and wit. A must-read for students of contemporary literature, media studies, and anyone interested in the interconnections of modern life and technology.” — Johanna Drucker
FREE as in speech and beer: open source, peer-to-peer and the economics of the online revolution. Toronto: Financial Times, 2002.
From the jacket copy:
The rapid-fire, uncontrollable exchange of digital information — text files (including books), software, full-length feature films, pornography, video games — is quickly eroding copyright laws, licensing systems, distribution systems, pricing schemes and the other trappings of intellectual property management that our society has carefully tended for the last two centuries. Simultaneously, our ideas about ownership, authorship and the creative process are changing dramatically.
But this “crisis” in the handling of intellectual property isn’t the whole story. Increasingly, people are coming to the conclusion that the death of intellectual property as we know it is a good and laudable turn of events, that software and other types of intellectual property should be free – free as in “speech,” free as in “beer,” and sometimes free as in speech and beer.
In this groundbreaking exploration of how technology is transforming our core economic beliefs, poet, editor and cultural critic Darren Wershler-Henry draws together all of the elements of this fascinating story: the history, the philosophy and the present reality of data-sharing technology.
A brilliant and provocative look at the current intellectual property debate, FREE as in speech and beer is essential reading for anyone driven by the power and potential of the Internet.
“Between the two extremes of everything for free and everything for profit, Darren Wershler-Henry’s book provides a searching analysis and a balanced view of the real new economy. A richly rewarding read.” — Derrick de Kerckhove
“The essential primer on the looming struggle between copyright and community, this book is as fun as free beer and as necessary as free speech.” — Hal Niedzviecki
PDF of full text of FREE as in speech and beer
CommonSpace: Beyond Virtual Community. Toronto: Financial Times FT.COM, 2000. With Mark Surman.
From the jacket copy:
Commonspace is the collective mind of the Internet, a synergy built from the space between the bits and fueled entirely by people power. As the Internet grows, commonspace is changing the way we live, think, play and do business. Surman and Wershler-Henry provide a detailed cognitive map of the emerging virtual landscape, and a set of tools that will help readers draw on the power of the collective.
On the Internet, traditional business logic has turned upside down … with spectacular results:
- New economy companies are building multi-billion-dollar market caps not by consolidating power, but by giving it away.
- The open source movement is changing the way we create software and formulate new ideas. As Microsoft shakes in its boots, our beliefs about economic value and work are turning inside out.
- Online communities are becoming essential components in the creation of political movements, the organization of ideas and the overall success of businesses.
- Smart, ethical dot-coms are collaborating with their customers-and even their competitors-to create services that could never have been imagined 10 years ago.
When personal need and passion mix with the benefits of community and cooperation, unparalleled momentum, new kinds of information and mind-blowing new social worlds are the result. This is commonspace.
“Forget the marketing chatter and the media pundits-Surman and Wershler-Henry tell you what’s really going on theNet. Insight, laughs and irreverent opinions … this book sounds just like the Internet.” — David Weinberger
“Commonspace is the new commonplace, the new common sense.” — Derrick de Kerckhove
PDF of full text of CommonSpace
Poetry and Conceptual Writing
apostrophe. Toronto: ECW Press, 2006. With Bill Kennedy.
From the jacket copy:
you are entirely happy with your poem / you are not happy then there is no charge and your deposit is returned / you are totally satisfied with the outcome / you are a man / you are a little confused / you are entirely happy with your poem / you are not happy then there is no charge and your deposit is returned / you are totally satisfied with the outcome …
- a figure of speech in which a person, an abstract quality or a nonexistent entity is addressed as though present
- a poem written in 1993 in which every sentence is an apostrophe
- a program — apostropheengine.ca — based on the 1993 poem that hijacks search engines in order to extend the poem infinitely
- a book of poetry written using the website
The answer: all of the above.
Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry’s apostrophe contains all of these things, except the search engine (but you can visit that any time you like). Each line from the original poem has become the title of a new poem generated by the program’s metonymic romp through the World Wide Web. Phrases rub against each other promiscuously; poems and readers alike come to their own conclusions. The results are by turns poignant, banal, offensive and hilarious, but always surprising and always unaffected. In other words, everything a book of contemporary poetry should be, and then some.
Poet and scholar Charles Bernstein has suggested that apostrophe may be related to Freud’s notion of the uncanny, a somnambulistic drift that appears aimless yet somehow always returns to “you.” apostrophe is an entirely new kind of poetry: neither stable nor unstable, sections come and go, but the overall shape of the poem remains vaguely familiar, like a trick of memory.
“apostrophe is where the mathematics of beauty becomes a living poem, an organic poem that is actually organic. Or is it a hyper-meditation? Or is it a new version of epic, Odysseus at once questing and homeward-bound, all this on a computer? You are about to investigate what you are about. Wear a helmet while reading.” — Robert Kroetsch
“D reader U R in 4 an A – maze – ing trip on a search engine. Incredible invention begets incredible invention.” — Michael Snow
the tapeworm foundry andor the dangerous prevalence of imagination. Toronto: House of Anansi, 2000. Digital edition New York: /ubu Editions, 2002. Shortlisted for the 2001 Trillium Award.
From the jacket copy:
A brilliant list of book proposals, Wershler-Henry’s the tapeworm foundry challenges the current poetic rules of form and subject matter and turns a seemingly utilitarian handbook for writers into a powerful artistic expression of defiance.
Both a recipe book for poets and a critical examination of the recipes we’ve inherited, this is an eloquent and absurdist long poem on the parasitic nature of all expression and the anxiety of influence.
“‘The canonic works of western art as a series of roadsign glyphs’: here is one of many ‘recipes for poems’ Darren Wershler-Henry proposes in his manic, gargantuan, brilliant ‘pataphysical long poem — a book-length run-on sentence that takes in just about every possibility for poetry you’ve ever thought of ‘andor’ all of those you haven’t. Rush headlong through the tapeworm foundry — this is the commonplace book par excellence for the new millennium.” — Marjorie Perloff
“Wershler-Henry divines a remarkable sequence of performance commands, proper nouns, propositions, and productions. Linking them together, a funky new conjunction: one that reimagines bissett’s ‘am/or’ to suggest a variable state of inclusion and choice or exclusion. His cultural reference range rivals that of contemporaries Judith Goldman and Brian Kim Stefans for breadth. An intelligent ‘andor’ powerful work.” — Michael Turner
NICHOLODEON: a book of lowerglyphs. Toronto: Coach House Books, 1997.
From the jacket copy:
NICHOLODEON is a book of lowerglyphs: traffic signs from a parallel world that limn the expressway from now/here to nowhere. Relentlessly "pataphysical, these poems take the clinamen or minimal swerve as their trope of choice, rendering questions of origin and destination moot through the use of found text, cut-ups, and translation.
NICHOLODEON insists that desire dwells in the spaces between where its readers expect to go and where the poems eventually take them; misreading is mandatory because there are only detours.
“multi tasking manee fastid xploraysyuns xplosyuns
celebraysuns uv langwage mystereez clariteez global
sound konkreet vizual writing arts homages 2 bpNichol
n othrs redundanseez n opsyunal meenings uv langwage
playing working with 2 say sumthing crisp a nu way can
happn out uv nu stinging endlesslee great leeps uv lettrs
philosopheez epistemologikul unuttrabul brillyans uv th
pix inside th lettrs lettrs inside th piz no piz no lettrs
lettrs inside lettrs letting graphika leding s fading n re
apeering storeez uv laminated n deepr thn disapeering
‘the magnetic poetry suit’ soars great breething gasp
with th ineluktabul lava flow hot loving no purpose n
biting ‘at the clear spot’ put th sun on the wall th frame
dissolvs shows treasyur brillyant book 4 allwayze” — bill bissett
“Darren Wershler-Henry’s work presents a new synthesis of conceptual and visual poetics. Quoting, extending, and reinventing the work of bpNichol, Wershler-Henry has his own unique voice, eye, and point of view. Deft, wry, and intelligent, his mode of innovation is as comfortable with vernacular sources as it is with the varied traditions so self-consciously acknowledged in the creative recycling of poetic precedents. Wershler-Henry’s poetry is very much of his — our — time in its combination of the abstract referent and cybernetic rhythms, its formal tropes which play through circuits of association, and the interlocking of the codes of visual and verbal information. Best of all, it points up all the spaces between these modes — the place where thought is made — and in this work, made manifest.” — Johanna Drucker
“If this book was a bicycle, a tour-de-force would be the winner of
the Tour de France, and we would have happily waited for Godot.” — Steve McCaffery
“Responding to Majakovskij’s achievements and death, Roman Jakobson wrote his moving and strident essay ‘On a Generation that Squandered its Poets’ — a text that serves as a call to revive the social and aesthetic role of poetry to ‘shatter the boundaries of the present’; rather than to ‘reflect the spirit of the times.’ Today, as late capitalism creeps toward the fin de siècle fomenting the resurgence of the sovereign consumer/taxpayer with its transparent gospel of facts, the last thing one would hope poetry would do is reflect the spirit of the times.” — Craig Dworkin
Darren Wershler-Henry’s NICHOLODEON employs two important tactics in the face of such social and cultural backsliding. In its dialogue with the poetics of bpNichol, NICHOLODEON asks what has been squandered from the oppositional aesthetics that Nichol and many other poets defined, promoted and defended from, say, 1973 until now. Poetic archaeology to foreground the boundaries of the present meets with a centrifugal referentiality that’s a blues explosion with geoeconomic bootleg smokes and felix and oscar who smell like teen spirit.
That’s the other tactic — to refute the comfortable phenomenological positioning of the poet with a poem by taking referentiality to be, well, not a given. To make opaque this referentiality, NICHOLODEON both overloads references without ‘respect’; to their cultural positioning (‘anais nin and her nine inch nails,’ ‘the manitoban book of the dead’) and shifts down to query the assuredness of meaning (‘subtle sublet,’; ‘lakebed’s abandon’). Not lost, however, is the awareness that meaning, although seemingly arbitrary, is enforced, is ideological. NICHOLODEON is generative not generational in its arguments, timely disrespects, pointed homages, and refreshing zine approach to audience. — Jeff Derksen
Internet Directory 2001. Toronto: Prentice Hall Canada, 2000. With Scott Mitchell.
From the jacket copy:
This is your next Internet book. Whether you’re looking to maximize the power of your browser, find those gotta-have plug-ins, get the most out of MP3, or just plain firewall your DSL, the bestselling Internet Directory 2001 is the newest, coolest, tool for you.
“Smart, and to the point, with no padding or unnecessary calories.” — Douglas Coupland
“Clever and cool — the perfect thing for those who want to take their online experience to the next level.” — Clive Thompson
“Scott Mitchell and Darren Wershler-Henry’s Internet Directory 2001 is the perfect companion for surfing the Web: smart, helpful, insightful and fun – a wonderfully useful guide to cyberspace.” — Mark Evans
“There’s a wealth of information here. I especially like the ‘insider’s guide’ to browsers — authors Mitchell and Wershler-Henry dismantle these powerful interfaces to the Internet in a way that ensures your browsing will be pleasurable, safer, and more informative.” — Mark Schneider
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Shopping for Canadians. Toronto: Alpha Books/Prentice Hall/Que, 1999. With Preston Gralla.
From the jacket copy:
When it comes to shopping, you’re definitely no idiot! In fact, you probably pride yourself on your bargain-hunting progress. You arm yourself with plenty of research before shaking the hand of any car salesman and you always check the dates on milk cartons. So, now that you’re fully wired, you’re ready and eager to try some shopping in your bathrobe and slippers. But, the number of destinations — and your concerns about privacy – are daunting. What’s more, because you’re Canadian, and many of the sites aren’t, how do you do the cash conversion? Can you return the item if you’re not satisfied with it? And do they even deliver to Canada?
Well, now you can sit back and start clicking that mouse: those questions, and much more, are answered in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Shopping for Canadians.
“No more waiting in line! Read this book for valuable tips on where to buy anything in cyberspace.” — Kelly Peters
Internet Directory 2000. Toronto: Prentice Hall Canada, 1999. With Scott Mitchell.
From the jacket copy:
Internet Directory 2000: A Canadian Guide to the Best Web Sites and Tools is your next Internet book. What it isn’t is your average roadmap for cruising the information Superhighway. Forget about pedantic directions for getting connected and pedestrian descriptions of mundane sites – digital denizens Scott Mitchell and Darren Wershler-Henry bypass the boring stuff and give you the goods on how to keep your hook-up humming with the newest, coolest, and most cutting edge techno eye candy in the wired world.
Irreverent and engaging, Scott and Darren will get you past the hype and show you exactly what’s out there and what isn’t; what works and what doesn’t. And with over 2000 of the best Canadian web sites to check out right in the back of the book, you’re sure to find some fabulous stuff. So buckle up – it’s going to be a wild ride.
The Original Canadian City Dweller’s Almanac. Toronto: Viking Penguin, 2002. With Hal Niedzviecki.
From the jacket copy:
In the collective perception of the global village, Canada has long been considered a nation of tiny towns, pristine forests, jagged mountains, clear lakes, vast farms and arctic wilderness. Times have changed: within the next decade, nearly eighty per cent of Canadians will be living in cities. We’ve become a country of urbanites, believe it or not.
In this groundbreaking miscellany of facts and unsupported assertions, the authors use the format of a traditional almanac as a vehicle for their irreverent take on Canuck folk wisdom. From the habits of urban landscape painters working in the tradition of the Group of Seven (read “graffiti artists”) to the plight of city-slicker subsistence farmers (a.k.a. panhandlers and squeegee kids) to the latest fancy steps down at the square dance (er, rave), The Original Canadian City Dweller’s Almanac provides readers with an insider’s guide to Canadian urban life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
In the Almanac, you’ll find A-Z Survival Tips gleaned from frostbitten, transit-weary city dwellers across the nation; an Urban Zodiac with plenty of superfluous information; ruminations on such urban delicacies as bubble tea, bone-in goat roti and Italian ices; and handy tips on how to gracefully exit a poetry reading, where to get the best Chinese delivery on Christmas Eve, and what to do when a McDonald’s, Starbucks or Home Depot threatens your neighborhood.
“A superior Canadian primer from two city-culture savants, for the wide-eyed newcomer and the alienated hipster alike.” — Winona McMurrow
“The Original Canadian City Dweller’s Almanac is one of those wise inventions that become oddly indispensable. An immensely entertaining multi-tool for city living.” — John K. Sampson
“I love this book! It’s like a creation full of goods things! I’ve been in the business 33 years and I’ll keep going as long as people love my breakfasts!” — Tony, Cosmos Diner