The Twitter University
A few years ago, and for only a short while, The Swedish Twitter University (SvTwuni), invited scholars (especially in the field of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Philosophy), to deliver a presentation in twenty-five tweets, followed by a twitter seminar1. Unfortunately the experiment ran dry, simply due to lack of time and financing – the founder organized the Twitter University entirely on a voluntary basis. But it made an impact, at least on me, and although Twitter itself is not in focus in what follows, I was inspired by the challenge to submit my paper for the 2013 ELO Conference Chercher le Texte into tweets. The restructuring of language forced by the Twitter restrictions is indeed an offspring of what I here will call "digital epistemology".
My initial plan in Paris 2013 was to tweet my presentation to the conference hashtag, throughout the event. But when my presentation ended up in more than forty-five tweets, I thought that maybe this would be plainly annoying, and it also would be difficult for the receivers to maintain a line of thought. So, the text below could be read as the story of the lost tweets.
Recently, professor Alan Liu (Dep, of English, UC Santa Barbara) posted a comment –"an advice" – on the notion of "Digital Epistemology", as a result from a planning consultation at "The Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge2", held in the Spring of 2014. Liu identifies a few important fields where the digital environment could or should influence the academic curriculum in general and the Humanities in particular. Liu’s short text offers challenging perspectives on how to adapt a digital perspective in academic learning and research. The point – as I see it – of Liu’s text is that digital knowledge is not a concern only related to digital objects and electronic culture, big data, the digitalization of the cultural heritage and new positivist trends in its wake – no, digital knowledge should announce an epistemic shift for the academic practice as such. The aim of Liu’s "provocation more than a prescription" is to challenge the basic structures of knowledge distribution and production within the academic field.
My contribution here will be to narrow down these challenges to a few more concrete aspects of how to take this digital epistemology into account in the analyses of literature and cultural artifacts. Let me first and foremost state that the appropriation of the concept of digital epistemology brought forward here not primarily "explains" anything: rather it is a construction set out to relate different cultural artifacts to each other, or to other structures. Digital epistemology in this mode functions as a multifocal lens by which we zoom in and explore the digital not only as technology, object or network, but as a critical concept and historical facticity in the reflection upon our cultural environments3.
For a long time there seemed to exist two different stands in relation to digital culture in general and electronic texts in particular. One side claimed that these artistic expressions were nothing new, since they only fulfilled premises and promises inherent in modernist and postmodernist art: It’s DaDa poetry without the scissors – or the multimodal art of the 1960’s converted to digital interfaces. The other side claimed that the materiality of media so fundamentally changed with the advent of digital technology, that everything produced and reproduced within its domains must be regarded as something entirely new. As these early waves of luddite resistance or romantic embrace has somewhat (but not entirely) declined, we now know better. I would say that both these propositions are uttered from a Gutenbergian central perspective, with history itself as the vanishing point. The fear of the digital – as something that should replace analog culture, or render it obsolete – is in fact an expression of that same blind faith in evolution, and an acceptance of history's banal linearity, as is expressed by those techno-optimists who happily proclaimed this obsolescence of print culture or traditional novels4.
Today, both electronic texts and print novels display these issues in complex and thought-provoking ways. In this essay, then, in order to address this complexity, I intend to propose three intersecting – and heuristic – approaches to Digital Epistemology (these approaches by no means constitute a final statement, but are open to adjustments and additions):
1) Reading history in the light of digital culture.
That is: Are there certain relations that could be established if we look at history from a digital point of view? And does history have a digital materiality that affects how we look at happenings in the past?
2) Relating literary texts and artworks to digital history.
That is: What does it mean to relate cultural artifacts to the communicational and organizational logic that has been put forward – in different ways – by digital technology since the 1950’s?
3) Reading analogue literature and art as if they were electronic texts
That is: What happens if we analyze for example a print novel in terms of embodiment, processes, performativity, materiality and even "software", or other "buzz concepts" in the analytic tradition of cybertexts and digital culture? Will this encourage a focus not on what an artwork mean but what it does?
These three lines of digital epistemology do have one thing in common: the digital is seen as a mode of thought, rather than a set of gadgets, machines or electronic networks. However, without these technical and material devices, the expressions I am to discuss would never have appeared. To further elaborate on these different approaches, the following will put forward some rather disparate examples, from bombs and viruses, via Swedish avant-garde literature of the 1960s and 2010s, to the glossary of electronic texts.
Reading history in the light of digital culture: From Monsters to Mites
My first approach to digital epistemology concerns history itself – and taking the risk to immediately stumble upon the pitfall of "progression", I will suggest that there has been a change in the cultural discourse of digital technology, from big machines and stationary installations, to networks and ubiquitous computing. This is hardly a controversial statement, but by reading history through the lens of digital epistemology we can make an interesting connection between this change and the technologies of death. Let us go back to the turn of the new millennium, or rather the last shivering seconds of the old one. These seconds vibrated with a certain intensity, and these vibrations hade a formula: Y2K – "Year 2000" – the digital bug that would end all functions, everything would just stop, as the zeroes and ones wouldn’t be able to make the transition from 99 to 00, creating chaos and mayhem in the civilized world.
Despite the fact that practically nothing happened, Y2K taught us that the digital technology had moved away from the calculators and computers, from the laboratories and office spaces, from the distinct materiality so visible in Science Fiction and Agent movies – to the entire culture. For a decade or so we had been familiar with personal computers, but it was Y2K that came to symbolize a shift in our digital awareness: the zeroes and ones had moved from the Machine to the Network. No coincidence, then, that our threat scenarios changed as well: from the Machine, the State and the Bomb, to Networks, Cells – and Viruses.
Y2K as a digital disaster is for example very different from the apocalyptic scenario depicted a couple of decades earlier in the movie War Games5, when the omnipotent computer W.O.P.R. converts a young boy’s gaming to a real nightmare, and a possible World War 3. The film is an excellent example of the close relation between "The Machine" and "The Bomb", that was so prominent in the post-war scenarios6.
Another – and we must say substantial – example of the post-war relation to The Bomb is Anselm Kiefer’s monumental lead library Zweistromsland7. Kiefer’s library, also known as The High Priestess, is an almost eight meters wide and four meters high construction, making its very size to a "bigger than life" (…or "death"…) experience. It contains some 200 large books with covers and pages in lead, standing in two accompanying bookcases constructed in steel, decorated with wires and glass. The bookcases are named "Eufrat" and "Tigris" respectively, and the German title of the artwork also addresses the Garden of Eden – the Biblical origin of life on Earth.
However it is not Life, but rather the Apocalypse that is at stake here. The library was built at the end of the 1980s, in the heydays of computational bureaucratization and the early days of the personal computer – and in that context those lead books signal a celebration of the codex medium, in the flux of deterministic or pessimistic media philosophies of the time which prophesized the end of the book and the end of reading in the age of television and digitalization8. So there is a message in the medium of lead books. In the final destruction to come (the 1980’s also marked the peak of the Cold War) everything solid would melt, but lead, of course, was regarded as an armor against radiation. The very mass of this work of art – and the bare thought that this library will survive us all – tells the story of the enormous impact of the technologies that proposed the threat in the first place: The Bomb. The Machine.
It is far from these machine monsters to the threat of the Y2K and what we might call the digital mites (those invisible creatures that eat your skin and live and shit in your pillows). Nano technology – and that is exactly what Y2K was about – has provided us with a new community, connected by, or forming, what we might call a digital subconscious. What has happened the last couple of decades is a shift in the carriers – or metaphors (from Greek, " transfer ") – of digital technology: a shift from Monsters to Mites, that is: from Machines to Networks; from State to Cells; and from the Bomb to the Virus.
The W.O.P.R. machine in the movie War Games, and Kiefer’s High Priestess are intimately inscribed in the discourse of the Cold War; and the Bomb with a capital B (or A or H, what you prefer) is connected to the system of the Machine with a capital M. Visually, the popular culture from the 1950’s to the early 1990s is full of examples of technologies, spectacular and singular but never abstract or randomly distributed (cf. N. Katherine Hayles9 paradigm of presence-absence in the print-based regime, as opposed to pattern/randomness in the digital age). Computers were safe in the mad professor’s cave or in the office space of the Queen’s agents; the nukes were securely stored in their nefarious owner's underground vaults, waiting to be sent to their final destination. As long as the balance of terror ruled international affairs these icons persisted. Mighty Machines. Big Bombs.
What happened in the 1990s and afterwards, was that the nuclear weapons – or the nuclear know-how – were distributed to more or less reliable powers around the globe. And in a parallel move – and this is important – new information technologies were distributed as well. When the computer was no longer thought to be a controlling device, but rather a personal assistant, the Mighty Machine got out of sight together with the Big Bomb. No one really cared if the machine could learn to play chess – or if a mad professor in an isolated island had a nuke and was assisted by a huge computer that threatened to become self-conscious and take control over the planet. The machines were still there, though, only more distributed, from the office space and laboratories to private homes, or in the laps of visitors of seminars and coffee houses.
Today, more a decade and a half after the Y2K scare, file sharing, digital networks and the concept of ubiquitous computing have changed our distribution of physical artifacts, to the distribution of patterns, unstable formations, rhizomes, cells – and viruses. The point here is that the technologies that distribute information, mirrors the technologies and metaphors for our extinction – the Y2K signaled that the virus had replaced the bomb, and that mass destruction had been replaced by epidemics. The doomsday sirens do not cry when obscure liberation fronts in Asia or the rednecks in Georgia get hold on nuclear warheads – even though, arguably, the threat of an attack somewhere from an atomic bomb is far greater today than during the terror balance and high diplomacy of the Cold War era10. No, the sirens cry when birds and pigs seem to have caused new kinds of flus that might plague the Western World. From an actor-network theory perspective, this means a radical change in the cast.
So: the unique Bomb has been replaced by the ubique Virus. The insight from the Y2K bug was – as is the concept of ubiquitous computing – that from now on the digital is not bound to certain gadgets but indeed is present all over (and inside) the place. Moreover, the alleged threat to our open society, and thus to world peace, is organized, not in totalitarian or imperialistic states with bombs, but in networks, and cells. Terror is a virus.
I will end this first (heuristic) observation here, just to conclude that this is one example of reading history from the viewpoint of digital culture and, consequently, also an expression of the digital epistemology put forward in this essay. The examples of bombs and viruses also reveal that this epistemology is not static – there is not a digital epistemology – but something that need to be analyzed as historically dependent upon the materiality of communication in specific historical moments.
Relating literary texts and artworks to digital history #1: Torsten Ekbom 1965
What does it mean to relate cultural artifacts to the communicational and organizational logic that has been put forward – in different ways – by digital technology since the 1950’s? To investigate this we will turn to the Swedish literary avant-garde, and two works of literature separated by almost half a century.
The Swedish author-critic Torsten Ekbom (1938-2014) produced a handful of radical prose experiments during the 1960s, from variations on the concepts of the French nouveau roman, to cut-up exercises and ambitious collage experiments. Alongside this production, Ekbom, as a literary critic and avant-garde theorist, introduced concrete poetry, game theory, cybernetics, William S. Burroughs, Susan Sontag and Marshall McLuhan, as well as European authors such as Lawrence Durrell, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Uwe Johnson and Witold Gombrowitz to a Swedish public.
Ekbom’s third fiction book, Signalspelet11, declares itself not to be a novel but a "Prose Machine ". The book starts with five blank pages (only the page numbers at the bottom indicate any progress), followed by a page with the single line "Fem minuter gick" ("Five minutes passed"). This line is repeated with increased intensity the following pages:
Five minutes passed.
Five minutes passed.
Five minutes passed.
Five minutes passed.
… and after a few pages this statement is interrupted by the line "Han tände en cigarett":
Five minutes passed.
Five minutes passed.
He lit a cigarette.
However, the actual "Prose Machine" is never mentioned or described in the text, and thus we could conclude that "the book" itself constitutes the machine (and, after all, that is what it says on the title page: "The Signal Game: a Prose Machine"). If so, the text could be seen as a statement echoing Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés and symbolist machine aesthetics in its wake12. It also could be seen as a critical remark upon the novel genre itself, regarded at the time by Ekbom himself as "dead" and "petrified"13. Even so, it is more likely that what we read is a representation of a real time tentative output of a computer, a machine for making prose narratives. And this machine slowly spits out, fragment followed by fragment, a not very coherent story, including a hotel, and a bunch of agents (conveniently named A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H) communicating with each other by knocking signals in the walls. Somehow "Room number 17" plays an important role. As does Chapter 17, that appears several times in the book (as a translator and introducer of William S Burroughs in Sweden, Ekbom of course was no stranger to the literary cut-up and collage technique).
Unlike many electronic texts today, The Machine in Ekbom’s book is obviously not subject to interactive processes – no more than the commonplace interactivity that any reader of any book is entangled in. No, the machine has (on a fictional level) been programmed, and what we read is its tentative output, and the reader just has to accept its more or less literary result. Sometimes the computer malfunctions, and the output, then, will only be dots and commas. This functions as a reminder of the vulnerability of the Machine in those days, and of course is also a reminder of the dangers lurking in letting the Machine control our everyday lives. "The State Machine" was at the time a popular metaphor for the bureaucracy that was the flip side of the emerging welfare states in postwar Scandinavia. Ekbom’s Machine, though, is programmed to create literature. And sometimes, somehow, it does.
Even though the diminutive plot describes a bunch of agents, Ekbom’s prose experiment, both on a fictional and factual level set up a structure actually devoid of human agents, or agency. The text "is produced" by a computer. And the actual text fragments are not written, but just chosen and assembled, by the author. As a result, the author is absent in a double meaning: both on the level of fiction (the machine that produces the text fragments) and on the actual level of conception (the cut-up process performed by Ekbom). The actual "story" that emerges, with the agents knocking in walls, desperately trying to find something out, paints a – sometimes funny but – absurd and claustrophobic vision of a futile mission. The absurdity of the text echoes the bureaucratic angst of Kafka, but technologically updated. The Signal Game, then, clearly establishes an opposition between the Machine and Human agency in 1965.
Relating literary texts and artworks to digital history #2: Johannes Heldén 2010
The Man/Machine confrontation of the 1960s differs quite radically from the positions taken in many electronic texts from the new millennium, and this can be illustrated with another Swedish example. Johannes Heldén’s14 digital flash-installation Entropy Edition in 2010, published alongside the poetry book Entropi) is de facto programmed with text fragments but – as opposed to the bulk of Ekbom’s scattered prose – these fragments are (seemingly) written by the author himself15.
The interface of Heldén’s work reminds us of classic arcade games, those with falling stars or shells to be shot down by the player. In Entropy Edition, though, what happens when you " chase " the dots, is that poetic fragments show at the top and the bottom, lines like: "the consciousness is searching", "a smoky edge", etc. The reader thus has to engage in several bodily processes to make the text readable. This, of course, is an almost commonsensical notion when describing electronic literature (and ought to be commonsensical when describing book reading, and page turning as well), but the point here is that the programming and the machine in Heldén’s case – in contrast to Ekbom’s text – actually encourages agency16.
Apart from scattered lines such as
the books are machines
a new presence confirmed real
the text itself doesn’t explicitly deal with "electronic" or "posthuman" themes. Rather the actual text fragments in Heldéns poetic construction are biased towards impressions from nature. Projected against a slowly shifting background depicting abstract post-industrial and almost Escher-like landscapes, the text flashes phrases like "the vegetation – watches over you"; "roadside, riverbank, star" and "the trees defoliated". Entropy Edition, thus positions the reader in different oscillations: from medium to "the text", from technology to body, from book to screen, and (especially in Heldéns case) from "culture" to "nature" (in fact deconstructing these binairies: "a new presence confirmed real", "the books are machines"). This assembly of texts, impressions and activities encourages the reader to reconsider not only how she approaches digital artifacts but how to approach cultural history and codex texts as well17.
Ekbom and Heldén in their respective works – and almost half a century apart – capture significant historical aspects of a digital epistemology; or rather point out that there is not one digital epistemology but a multitude, depending on the relation to digital culture in specific historical moments.
Reading analogue literature and art as if they were electronic texts: To be continued…
Many analyses of electronic literature have been engaged in how the works perform, rather than what they perform. This is called for, of course, since the phenomenon is quite new, and it can also be a productive approach. Some critics though (like for example Robert Simanovski) have, not without reason, coupled this tendency to an ongoing devaluation of hermeneutics the last decades, in favor of studies on discourses and materiality. However, I would claim that a skeptical approach to hermeneutics is not the same as not reading – the skepticism concerns ideological positions (that is: why we read and interpret this text) rather than practical matters (the very act of reading, analyzing texts); and also concerns a methodological preference for relating rather than explaining works of art.
This is the point where many electronic texts can really teach us something – since the storyline or text fragments in electronic literature often (if not always) show what we might call a technical resistance vis-à-vis the reader, or what Espen Aarseth18, famously, once called a non-trivial effort in the reading experience. As a consequence, the very act of reading, browsing, grasping and linking the text – rather than interpret it – becomes central in many of these works. As a statement about contemporary culture, this is perhaps somewhat trivial: scholars, critics and artists in the field of digital culture, multimodal art and electronic literature almost always discuss different meta-aspects of their work. But this focus on the materiality and functionality of digital media could also generate historical insights: the consuming of oral, textual or visual media in earlier times, from rhetoric, rituals, and church decorations, to emblems, curiosity chambers, and salon culture, have always been bound to the material conditions of the expressions themselves. There is a lot to learn by juxtaposing digital culture with print and oral culture19
. And this is also what brings us to the final example of digital epistemology: "Reading analogue literature and art as if they were electronic texts". Although this may sound somewhat counterintuitive, the point for departure here is that we seem to have developed a certain terminology for the study of electronic texts, and which includes buzzwords such as the ones below. Just to put these words in some perspective, I did a Web search for each of them (paired with phrases like "electronic literature", "hypertext", "e-text" etc.), and quite randomly chose one hyperlink to each word.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Another – perhaps even better – way to construct a similar, yet different, list is to browse the keywords set up by ELO for their vol. 120 and vol. 221 collections of electronic literature. The point, though, is that the theoretical frameworks and insights from the field of digital humanities and the reading of electronic texts should, in a more concrete way, be able to inform the field of traditional comparative literature and the Humanities as such. We tend to look at functionality and media-specific aspects in electronic texts, but what if we took these concepts to the study of, say, Balzac and Austen, or Heinrich Böll and Elizabeth Bowen (just to pick some novelists)? What if we asked not what these texts mean – but what they do? How they perform? What they observe? How they relate? What kind of embodiments they address? What kind of actions they set in motion? What kind of (non-human) actors they stage? Which paths of non-linear understanding they might stake out, despite being for example "realist novels"? It is my firm belief that the apparatus put forth in electronic textual criticism could be very helpful in this regard. And though I leave this suggestion for now, I am sure that this definitely is a path to follow.
Digital epistemology: final remarks
This bumpy ride, through political history, Swedish avant-garde, and digital criticism, has aimed at one thing: showing the digital as a perspective – or a lens22 – rather than a collection of machines, gadgets, networks and databases. That is what digital epistemology, in my opinion, is all about. The fact that "the digital", by its "ubiquitousness", permeates all aspects of our daily lives, of course affects our very perception of this reality; and this in turn ought to strongly affect the questions we as academic scholars ask in our analytic operations.
By relating literary works, printed as well as electronic texts, to digital history we can read these works as expressions of different states in the history of computing machines; and by relating to a more general history, as with the example of bombs and viruses, digital epistemology makes even more sense. Finally, by flipping the perspective and use a glossary and a set of methods developed for analyzing electronic texts in the study of "traditional" analogue literature, we will see another way for a digital epistemology to make an influential mark in the Humanities to come.
1. https://svtwuni.wordpress.com/ (accessed Oct 2015).back
2. Liu, Alan. "Theses on the Epistemology of the Digital: Advice For the Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge". 2014.http://liu.english.ucsb.edu/theses-on-the-epistemology-of-the-digital-page/ (accessed Oct 2015).back
3. This could also be seen as an exploration of that part of digital humanities that is not primarily concerned with the scanning of texts and the building of databases (and theorizing around them); or construct word clouds, topic models and other distant reading techniques practiced by (among others) Franco Moretti (2013) and Matthew Jockers (2013). Although their pioneering work is of great value for – and probably will have a major impact on – the future of the humanities, my concern here lies not in databases and big data, but rather in the epistemological consequences of digital culture for the humanities.
Moretti, Franco. Distant Reading. London and New York: Verso. 2013.
Jockers, Matthew. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press. 2013. back
4. The "gutenbergian central perspective" is a metaphor derived from Marshall McLuhan’s explorations (1962) into the changes brought forward by the invention of movable type printing. According to McLuhan, Gutenberg’s invention coincides with – and gives rise to – among other things the invention of the central perspective, the formation of the national state, general legislation and the reformation. Print technology also, according to McLuhan, gave rise to the modern novel, since it encouraged a fixed point of view, a central perspective in the medium of the narrative. By extrapolating McLuhan’s genealogies and juxtapositions is it easy to see history itself – "history" as in the great narrative of the Western World – as a "vanishing point", in relation to which we tend to judge aesthetic expressions as either new or not new. It is also easy to see how McLuhan’s own history of the media is told from the same central perspective
McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. back
5. War Games. Director John Badham. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1983.back
6. For a thorough account of the Bomb (at least from a U.S. perspective), and the dangers lurking in its wake, see Schlosser (2013).
Schlosser, Eric. 2013. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. New York: The Penguin Press. back
7. Kiefer, Anselm.. Zweistromsland (The High Priestess). Oslo: The Astrup Fearnley Museet. 1985-1989back
8. Sven Birkerts (1994) lamented in The Gutenberg Elegies the loss of reading "real literature" in the coming electronic age of monitors, hypertexts and audio books. German media philosopher Norbert Bolz (1993) claimed in the early 90’s that the medium of the book no more (then) was capable of representing the complexities of the social systems, and he also argued for the disappearance of the traditional author/reader contract as a consequence of the emergence of hypertexts.
Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc. 1994.
Bolz, Norbert. Am Ende der Gutenberg-Galaxis: die neuen Kommunikationsverhältnisse. München: Fink. 1993. back
9. Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press. 1999. p. 25-30.back
10. Brill, Kenneth C., & Luongo, Kenneth N. "Nuclear Terrorism: A Clear Danger": http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/16/opinion/nuclear-terrorism-a-clear-danger.html?_r=0 (accessed Oct 2015).back
11. Ekbom, Torsten. Signalspelet: en prosamaskin [The Signal Game: A Prose Machine]. Stockholm: Bonnier. 1965. For a digitized Flash-version of an extract from the novel, see: http://www.afsnitp.dk/galleri/konkretpoesi/ekbom/vaerker/3.html (accessed Oct 2015).back
12. Hansen, Mark. Embodying Technesis: Technology Beyond Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2000. p. 82-86.
The book as machine is echoed also in much later notions expressed for example by Jerome McGann (2001: 54-57), and even more explicit in Johannes Heldén’s Entropy: Edition (see below), that simply states: "Books are machines".
McGann, Jerome. Radiant Textuality: Literature After the World Wide Web. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2001.back
13. Ingvarsson, Jonas. En heldag i simulatorn – om den aktiva realismen i Torsten Ekboms En galakväll på operan [A Day in the Simulator – on the Active Realism in Torsten Ekbom’s A Night at the Opera]. Gothenburg: Litteraturvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet. 1994. back
14. Heldén, Johannes. Entropy Edition. 2010a. http://www.oei.nu/e/entropi_edition.html. (Accessed Nov. 2015).
Heldén, Johannes. Entropi and Entropi Edition. Stockholm: OEI Editör. 2010b.back
15. Entropy Edition is an online work (in both Swedish and English versions) by Johannes Heldén (2010a). The work is also included as a CD-ROM along with the poetry book Entropi (2010b). In the performance (and book) Evolution (2014) Heldén and collaborator Håkan Jonsson claim that the author have stopped writing. The performance extrapolates the notion of the Turing test, and Jonsson/Heldén have also programmed an online poetry machine that creates new poems out of Heldéns earlier poetry. The N.K. Hayles award-winning book Evolution – along with a preface, some chosen poetry from the online version and a couple of essays – contains the entire programming code for the online poetry machine. Once again human agency is put in question.
Heldén, Johannes, & Jonsson, Håkan, et al. Evolution. Stockholm: OEI Editör. 2014.back
16. For a thorough – although somewhat polemic – analysis of different positions between electronic texts, games, reader and players, see Markku Eskelinen (2012). Elaborating and expanding Espen Aarseth’s concept of cybertext, Eskelinen is primarily interested in the relation between ludology and narratology, whereas my concern is more of an epistemological nature.
Eskelinen, Markku. Cybertext Poetics: the Critical Landscape of New Media Literary Theory. New York: Continuum. 2012. back
17. Jessica Pressman (2014) makes a similar claim while close reading works of digital literature in search for their modernist roots. Her analyses are mostly insightful and revealing, but I do not share her (quite traditional) urge to define literature as either modernist or (rather not) postmodernist. There is also a qualitative judgment lurking in the assertion that the analyzed works are more interesting since they point in the direction of highbrow modernists as Joyce and Pound. This could be seen in comparison with Markku Eskelinen’s approach:
"Thus, while applying McHale’s theories of postmodernism […], we are not interested in being stuck with the all too familiar problems of how to discern postmodernism from modernism or how to maintain (if one so wishes) or draw a clearcut [sic] or inviolable boundary between them (Eskelinen, 2012: 3)".
Pressman, Jessica. Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media. New York: Oxford University Press. 2014. back
18. Aarseth, Espen. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1997. p. 1. back
19. This is perfectly in line with Jessica Pressman’s claim: "I contend that literary scholars need to pay more attention to the media aspects of literature and that media critics need to pay more attention to the literariness of electronic literature" (Pressman, 2014: 18). The following sentence, however, reads: "I close read digital literature because the works deserve it" (ibid.) – thus suggesting that close reading is an "honor" offered only to selected works of particular quality (in Pressman’s case rendered by the above-mentioned allusions to authors as Pound and Joyce). This "quality branding" is, of course, what close reading has been all about since the dawn of New Criticism.back
20. ELO, "Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1." http://collection.eliterature.org/1/aux/keywords.htmlback
21. ELO, "Electronic Literature Collection Volume 2." http://collection.eliterature.org/2/extra/keywords.htmlback
22. Lindhé, Cecilia. 2013.back