[These notes are unfinished; come back around to this book later on b/c it’s really difficult to parse.]


  • Liu’s project: what happens to “literary culture”—the conditions that make the possible literature as an aesthetic category—in the age of knowledge work? What is the relationship of knowledge work to the contemporary university?
  • “The vital task for both literature and literary study in the age of advanced creative destruction, I believe, is to inquire into the aesthetic value—let us simply call it the literary—once managed by “creative” literature but now busily seeking new management amid the ceaseless creation and re-creation of the forms, styles, media, and institutions of postindustrial knowledge work” (2–3).


  • knowledge work
  • cool



  • “What is the relation between the now predominantly academic and other knowledge workers (even “creative writers”) who manage literary value in “cultural context” and the broader realm of professional, managerial, and technical knowledge workers who manage information value in “systems”?” (3).
  • The turn toward cultural criticism in the 80’s was in fact working hand-in-hand with the rise of the information economy: the turn toward literature as another vector of commodifiable information (4). General congruence of methods (formalism) b/t cultural criticism and knowledge-work business.
  • Note in “Wherever the academy looks in the new millennium, it sees the prospect of a world given over to one knowledge—a single, dominant mode of knowledge associated with the information economy and apparently destined to make all other knowledges, especially all historical knowledges, obsolete” a similar formation of “knowledge” as Gleick’s “information” (7).
  • This is highly media archaeological: “Where once the job of literature and the arts was creativity, now, in an age of total innovation, I think it must be history. That is to say, it must be a special, dark kind of history. The creative arts as cultural criticism (and vice versa) must be the history not of things created—the great, auratic artifacts treasured by a conservative or curatorial history—but of things destroyed in the name of creation” (8).

Part 1: The New Enlightenment

  • The turn toward knowledge work (toward “lean” and “nimble” business practices) entails a turn away from history (17).
  • What the academy has been missing is the extent to which the business world has cultivated an intellectual force of their own through the rubric of knowledge work (20). “The academy can no longer claim supreme jurisdiction over knowledge”—witness the rise of the New Age business guru (21).
  • So what is knowledge work. Liu offers three explanations:
  • Subject work

Part 2: Ice Ages

  • “But the friendship of the Web, and everything it represents in the long history of work leading up to current knwoledge work, is also strangely cold. It is from this coldness—remoteness, distatiation, impersonality—that cool emerges as the cultural dominant of our time” (76). Why do knowledge workers think they’re so cool? (Is it just the money?)

Part 3: The Laws of Cool

Part IV: Humanities and Arts in the Age of Knowledge Work

Archive and Impact

  • Liu began his career as a Romanticist and self-professedly “staked his career on joining literary studies at the hip to cultural studies” (3). Laws of Cool is part of a career drift into the digital humanities and foreshadows his current work as a structural advocate for the humanities (which dovetails with his current work on infrastructure).
  • Note that Laws of Cool predates the DH boom by about five years and the appearance of Liu’s own “Cultural Criticism in DH” article by almost a full decade.
  • Connect Liu’s interest in the changing material landscape of the university in its merger with knowledge work to Innis’ own anxieties about similar subjects.
  • Liu’s proposed method for re-asserting the value of the humanities in the age of knowledge work is basically cultural criticism Directorate S (8); note parallels to Hayles’ later call in Unthought for humanists mastering the language of finance capital.
  • I find this book frustratingly difficult to follow. What is its subject? At times it seems to be knowledge work and its representations in media—at others yet another salvo in the culture wars of the value of the humanities.