Cover of Plain Text by Dennis Tenen
Plain Text
The Poetics of Computation
Dennis Tenen


June 2017
280 pages.
from $24.95

Cloth ISBN: 9781503601802
Paper ISBN: 9781503602281



This book challenges the ways we read, write, store, and retrieve information in the digital age. Computers—from electronic books to smart phones—play an active role in our social lives. Our technological choices thus entail theoretical and political commitments. Dennis Tenen takes up today's strange enmeshing of humans, texts, and machines to argue that our most ingrained intuitions about texts are profoundly alienated from the physical contexts of their intellectual production. Drawing on a range of primary sources from both literary theory and software engineering, he makes a case for a more transparent practice of human–computer interaction. Plain Text is thus a rallying call, a frame of mind as much as a file format. It reminds us, ultimately, that our devices also encode specific modes of governance and control that must remain available to interpretation.

About the author

Dennis Tenen is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he is a Co-Founder of Columbia's Group for Experimental Research Methods in the Humanities.

"Plain Text stands out as a media study that attends to the historical roots of debates about form and format in language. Tenen's valuable connections between long-standing critical engagements with poetic composition and current digital writing practices emerge from precise and informed attention to his sources."

—Johanna Drucker, University of California, Los Angeles

"Plain Text shows us that text is anything but plain—this is a sharp and imaginative contribution to the debates around what it means to produce, read, and process texts in the era of digital culture."

—Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London

"An essential read for those interested in text in its many contemporary cultural contexts and points of impact—Tenen moves from strength to strength across (inter)disciplinary points of engagement with a welcome personal acuity."

—Ray Siemens, University of Victoria