A threefold quest into digital literature.
What we expect from digital literature is not connected to mere technology.
Take me on for a ride into one of the last undiscovered parts of the world beside the deep sea: the digital world. Or so it was said. And so I have to say here: I have severe doubts about “what” digital literature actually is. Last year the organizers of ELO conference (“Electronic Literature Organization”), an event created and held by experts for digital literature, proclaimed the end of digital literature. Obviously the experts on digital literature tune in smoothly, in a song of the dead. Apart from this always being a dramaturgical move to subsequently resurrect the once believed dead, I strongly suggest that we should take into account that “electronic literature” is a medium-based category – and as that it cannot die as long as the medium is in use. The hype may be over but that is only connected to trends and fashion. Insofar as it does not seem to go any further in this genre at the moment, or so they say, it is true that computer-based products have lost their initial enigma which ruled from the eighties to the noughties.
A few weeks ago I went to a talk about digital poetry. Digital literature was in academical terms to be defined as the literature that depends in production and reception on computer-based technology (Jörgen Schäfer). What Schäfer said there actually identifies conceptual literature as being computer-based technology. The latter is interchangeable.
What if digitally produced literature is not only bound to be high-quality literature but instantenous, visual and performative? I would rather like to dive into the possibilities that come from digital means. The term “digital literature” is broad and it is sometimes sticky. In this threefold hopping on and off the intersections of the internet and following the dead links into nirvana and coming back, I will focus though on how digital literature is actually produced in apps and software, on websites and in networks, on- and offline (Here is what I leave out). I will present some mainly randomly chosen works that I came across and address them with the questions: What are the conditions and how does it work? To finally answer the question: What kinds of digital literatures are there? And is digital literature just a term to summarize technology-driven literature?
That may be a strange way to start out but let me show you some examples of what digital literature is NOT. David Bowie, for example, used cut-up techniques on a computer that cut his phrases randomly into bits to inspire him, to write his lyrics. Nobody would even think of connecting that to digital literature. Andy Warhols demonization of the Amiga was staged publicly on TV in the eighties when he created his works instantly and publicly. And now Kenneth Goldsmith is making money as an approbation poet – or is he still an installation artist? Who knows.
These are all examples that use computational software to do age-old methods such as permutation or copying.
But anyway, does that not already sound out-dated enough?
Yeah, of course the digital revolution has changed the way we produce and perceive literature greatly. But it not only has changed us but reverses around itself so rapidly and with such a high magnitude that keeping up has indeed become impossible. Who will read all the instabooks, twitblogs, platphones, gardening games and get to watch all the artistic output? And anyway, who wants to keep up? There is still a fascination at work, I guess, with the internet as a democratized medium. Or is it the internet and tech community which stylized himself (for example something you could use against coded poetry)?
Even though the internet is not the space for freedom of speech, or that of identity but quite strictly regulated, even though new technology and programmers are so very expensive that it can even broaden the wealth gap and even though other services like geo-location helps to rudely harm common decency/privacy laws it is still intriguing which kinds of phenomena arise from there. I am not readdressing a fascination of the cruel and creative but I want to say that these political issues are equally important and intrinsic parts of digital literature.
Digital. What can that mean?
Continue reading: part 2