This article asks what it means to consider a twenty-first-century novel as a machine able to talk about its own materiality. Is it a series of keystrokes or digital files or marks on a page? If, as Friedrich Kittler presumes, digital technology has boosted the autopoietic qualities of the media system, in what sense do paper books remain active components of this system and in what sense do they appear within it as old media, spoken for by the electronically mediated texts that represent them? Or have novels become comments on this in-between state of being no longer quite materially decipherable as paper sequences, portable objects, material containers of letters arranged on a page and yet not being fully free of this image of the book? Focusing on Tom McCarthy's Remainder (2005) and Ali Smith's The Accidental (2005) as novels that speak from what Jacques Derrida calls the “future anterior” of the page, it argues for the view of the book that opens up once a technology is no longer in use as a primary medium. By this logic, if novels like Remainder and The Accidental perform the space of new media, it is not because they describe or actively cede a role to electronic text but because they deploy a nonnative capacity to look at narrative in its incarnation as paper and print. This also means that they engage with medial form without being strictly self-referential.

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