Focusing on mid- to late nineteenth century texts about the telegraph, this essay traces a US literary discourse around this groundbreaking technological innovation that sees writers move from a sense of euphoria over seemingly having overcome the confines of time, space, and embodiedness to the gothic gloom of war and surveillance, finding its end in a subgenre of regressive telegraphic romances. Discussing short journal pieces from periodicals such as the Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s as well as more canonical texts (from Walt Whitman to Emily Dickinson), “Tapping the Wire” analyses this cultural evolution in light of poststructuralist media-theoretical paradigms to come to a closer understanding of the epistemological issues these fictions brought to bear on telegraphy as the first truly digital means of communication—and arguably the founding technology of our current technosocial landscape(s).

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