‘Digital literature is not digitized literature’. So what is it then exactly? To find out, the CROWD Network gathered various experts and for the INTRE:FACE conference, held at the Lettrétage in Berlin from the 6th– 7th February. Among them you had poetic programmers, e-book publishers and conceptual artists, all of whom had one thing in common: their work was inextricable from the digital world. Yet the extent of this entanglement is still not easily qualified. Where and how does literature cross over the threshold of the analog into the digital with no prospect of return?
The e-book, for example, is often seen as a digitized representation of a regular book. But what happens when you manipulate the book’s text on the screen, transform it into something not possible on paper, as seen on the Antikythera app and Jörg Piringer’s improved e-book? Our physical relationship with physical text undergoes a dramatic transformation. And what of the conception of the texts themselves?
E-book publisher mikrotext often publishes texts which are first created on blogs, Twitter, or Facebook, and these reflect their online origins: they are often episodic, fragmented and resonate with the online audiences that brought them to life.
Indeed, as also demonstrated by the multiple writing projects run by the Electronic Literature Organization, the Internet opens up a whole new space for collaboration within the vast yet immediate ‘online community’, a hive of human activity constantly producing and sharing information.
This pool of ever changing content is not only there to be dipped or dived into as we please, but is also a source of literary impetus, the ephemeral nature of which was captured, if just for the instant, in Jazra Khaleed’s experimental performance ‘Poetry is just words in the wrong order’.
People have always gathered and shared information, but the ability to do so on this scale is surely only possible through the digital medium and the networking possibilities have exciting potential for literary scenes.
This technology is not just a means, however: the medium itself has an art of its own, at the core of which resides language. When programmers and writers come together therefore, they test the boundaries of each of their worlds. Hannes Bajohr presented poems which exemplified this principle: Susan Scratched, for example, an existing poem run through a Python script, made us reflect upon the aesthetic qualities produced by a seemingly unfeeling editor of the text. Questions of authorial intentionality ensue – for which author do we address, the man or machine? Surely such work shows us that the distinction between the two is restrictive, if not miscalculated altogether. We are the authors of machines, and our biological poetry echoes within their artificial chambers – how loudly and clearly exactly may just be what digital literature reveals.
You can find out more about all participants at the conference, as well as the program on the CROWD website.
Presentations and discussions from the conference can also be followed in depth in articles published on the CROWD blog.