Context Collapse is a seven-chapter critical essay in verse by Ryan Ruby examining the history of poetry as a function of developments in communications technologies and patronage systems. Playfully importing the discourses of media studies, cybersemiotics, literary sociology, and heterodox political economy, Context Collapse argues that the delicate dance between poets, publishers, censors, and audiences set the coordinates within which the expressive modes of poetry become intelligible — or fail to do so.

Chapter 4 covers the poetics of early twentieth-century avantgarde movements like Dadaism, Italian and Russian Futurism, and Anglophone Modernism and is concerned with the ways that new media technologies (gramophone, film, typewriter—but also telegraphy and radio) and the imperative to distinguish one’s literary production in an increasingly crowded cultural commodities market drove these avantgarde movements to see poetry no longer as a formalized communicative act but as the fashioning and exchange of niche linguistic objects.

If, as Shelley wrote in A Defense of Poetry, poets are the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts on the present, in the texts of Pound, Tzara, Marinetti, and, above all, Gertrude Stein we can already begin to catch glimpses of the fragmented, information-overloaded Umgebung of contemporary digital media. What literary theorist Sianne Ngai calls the ‘relentlessly materialist environment of words’ was first processed in high modernist poetics but has only become more pronounced since.

The event will begin with a short commentary by Daniel Liu on the history of telegraphy as a technology and metaphor, followed by introductory remarks by Ryan Ruby about Context Collapse, after which Ryan and Daniel will read chapter 4.

Ryan Ruby is the author of The Zero and the One: A Novel (2017). His short fiction and poetry have appeared in Conjunctions, The Decadent Review, Statorec, and elsewhere, while his writing on contemporary politics and modernist literature have appeared in such venues as The Paris Review Daily, n+1, Freeman’s, Dissent, and The Baffler. He has translated two novellas from the French for Readux Books. In 2019, he received an Albert Einstein Fellowship from the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, and was an affiliated fellow at the ICI Berlin. Formerly a lecturer in history and philosophy at York College, CUNY, he now teaches creative writing at the Berlin Writers’ Workshop. For more, please visit:

Daniel Liu is a historian of the life and physical sciences, who writes about cell theory, scientific materialism, colloids, and the uses of images in scientific exploration. He is a fellow at the ICI Berlin, and he has been a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Biohumanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MBL McDonnell Scholar at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole. His most recent article, ‘The Artificial Cell, the Semipermeable Membrane, and the Life That Never Was, 1864–1901’, on the history of the discovery of the cell membrane and the law of dilute solutions, was published in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (open access:

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Ryan Ruby
Daniel Liu

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Daniel Liu

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