Welcome Tom McEnaney

17 Oct, 2017

Welcome Tom McEnaney

Please welcome our new Executive Committee member Tom McEnaney! His home departments are the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Department of Comparative Literature. McEnaney works at the intersections of the history of media and technology, Argentine, Cuban, and U.S. literature, sound studies, and computational (digital) humanities.

BCNM sat down with Tom to discuss his background in New Media, what he expects from the future and what he’s thinking about right now.

Tom became involved in New Media in the early 2000s while a UCLA undergrad, where he was connected to the work of Katherine Hales and Mark Danielewski. Danielewski at this time was working on his ergodic debut novel, House of Leaves, which features an unusual page layout and style that integrates interlocking layers of footnotes, references to fictional sources, and multiple narrators. Tom began thinking about literature as a changing media, both in terms of its literary experimentation and the physical history of the book. This interest informed his graduate research at UC Berkeley.

Tom first came to Berkeley to pursue his PhD in Comparative Literature. While at UCB, he received a Designated Emphasis in New Media and conducted research on the archive in Cuba, Argentina, and France. Before returning to Berkeley, Tom developed these ideas as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. At Cornell, he codeveloped the Media Studies Initiative — loosely based on our very own Berkeley Center for New Media, and now funded through the College of Arts and Sciences — taught classes on punk rock, and co-curated Anarchy in the Archives. He also founded the Latin America Journals project dedicated to digitizing versions of Latin American Literature journals.

The book he wrote in this period, Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas, investigates the co-evolution of radio and the novel in Argentina, Cuba, and the United States between 1932 and 1982. The book charts the rise and fall of populism and state socialism, and how authors in these countries began to re-conceive novel writing as an act of listening in order to shape the creation and understanding of the vox populi.

His specific interest in the radio started with his dissertation here at Berkeley, which was originally on the wireless technologies of the early cloud. However it quickly dove into the prehistory of wireless culture, particularly the legality of this new technology. Interestingly, early debates about the legality of the radio are startlingly similar to current debates about the internet. “The net neutrality argument,” Tom argues, “really started in the 1920s with the question of the radio.”

Tom’s current research continues to develop the relationship between the history of sound technology and literature in the Americas, particularly the degree to which politicians, artists, and other cultural producers struggle to define who counts as “the people.”

He is also interested in the proliferation of platforms and how each unique platform both transforms cultural experience and the reception of content. As technology rapidly transforms, leaving politics, law, and regulatory frameworks surrounding these new applications in their wake, Tom’s work is particularly timely. “Activist groups, in particular,” Tom notes from his research, “will have to find new platforms for communication.”

Given his work, we sees a particular threat in technology arising out of our uncritical acceptance of surveillance. He believes we need to critically engage with technology. These critiques, he suggests, must be familiar with the construction and engineering of the new technologies, while being attuned to the ways that people are advantaged and exploited by technology.

We at BCNM are so excited to bring Tom onboard to our executive committee! And look out for his recently published article about the particularities of voices on This American Life!