Unseen Hands

Media Archaeology, Gendered Labour, Literary History, Technoculture

This project traces an alternate literary history in which the material labour of women—the secretaries, muses, and wives of important literary figures—has been as invisible as the labour and production of material technologies. A renewed critical focus on materiality and material histories allows us to look backwards at the forgotten stories of people, places, and things that were never culturally significant, but that can be recovered by examining their material contexts, conditions, and politics.

Drawing upon Matthew Kirschenbaum’s (2016) description of the “unseen hands” of female typists throughout the 20th century, this project adopts a material histories framework towards literary culture and text production in order to analyze:
i) the invisibility of technological labour, focusing on literary production technologies that include the typewriter, word processor, and networked online computer;
ii) gendered labour in this production system through the objectification and invisibility of women’s bodies—a phenomenon that I argue is a historiocultural antecedent to the exploitation of invisible labourers within the contemporary global technocultural market;
iii) the necessity for comparative approaches to studying artifacts and texts that can account for both digital and analogue forms, as well as their methods and politics of production.

As of January 2018, this project has secured a research grant of 50,000 HKD, as I develop it into my next monograph.