A Response to “Network Realism”

The near-ubiquity of the web makes it difficult to conceive of contemporary cultural material that exists wholly outside of the network. In the blogpost “Network Realism,” however, James Bridle suggests that there is a subset of literature that is so much more networked than other fiction that it deserves the eponym of his post title. Bridle considers William Gibson’s novel Zero History (2010) as a prime example of the Network Realism genre, defined as “writing that is of and about the network” (n.p.). He argues that Zero History requires this distinction because it is timely, realistic, and media-saturated. Bridle situates the novel in the media stream of Google and Twitter, and claims that this necessitates a different genre appellation. The definition of Network Realism encompasses a rather large swath of books: anything realistic that is self-conscious about the Internet and current technology. Bridle suggests a networked novel “lives in a place that’s enabled by, and only recently made possible by, our technological connectedness” (n.p.). But what established piece of fiction is not networked, in this sense? I would counter that most contemporary, published fiction is researched via the web, commented on over social media or online news outlets, and indexed and made available through Internet booksellers, as well as some libraries and archives. As such it is difficult to gauge the uniqueness of Network Realism as a literary genre.

Regarding method, Bridle offers a quick review of Zero History for his readers, although he does not provide a plot synopsis per se. Bridle focuses on elements of the novel relevant to his concept of Network Realism, like “just-in-time futurism” (n.p.), as well as an interview with Amazon.com where Gibson acknowledges how much Googling he does when writing a novel, for research and fact-checking purposes. Bridle also provides a few other examples of Network Realism, although, again, their uniqueness is not obvious. He implicitly suggests that all cultural material is interconnected via the web, regardless of whether it is in an electronic format or not, which is interesting from a conceptual standpoint. However, the relevance of this blogpost to my own research on how digital materials contribute to, facilitate, or counteract open scholarship is not immediately obvious.

Works cited

Gibson, William. 2010. Zero History. London: Viking.

Bridle, James. 2010. “Network Realism.” BookTwo. http://booktwo.org/notebook/network-realism/