Abandoned and Recycled Electronic Literature: Jean-Pierre Balpe’s La Disparition du Général Proust

Abstract (in English): 

his presentation addresses the fate of 1990s pioneering programs of electronic literature during the 2000s. What happened to 1990s electronic literature aesthetic theories and programs once its distribution shifted from floppy disks and CD-ROMs to the Internet? How did early authors of electronic literature revisit their work in light of the ubiquity of the Internet as a form of writing?

Jean-Pierre Balpe’s pioneering work in text generation (1985–2000) makes him a “canonic” author of electronic literature. His work was distributed through the main French venues for electronic literature (exhibits by the Alamo, publications in alire and DOC(K)S), and he directed one of the first academic departments of hypermedia in France. Yet, the majority of his early work in text generation has disappeared from the literary scene as its data storage deteriorated and is now in the hands of a few media archivists. More importantly, his works took a spectacular turn when he started the creation of La Disparition du Général Proust (2005–2014), a seemingly endless production of narrations written under various alter egos, and dispersed on many different blogs. One of the many perplexing aspects of this ongoing work is the presence of generated texts recycled from Balpe’s early text generators. Balpe’s text generators were distributed in the 1990s as computer programs, entrusting readers with an exploratory and configurative function, and promising the advent of a new form of literature reinvigorated by a computerized analog to speech. In contrast, the generated texts found in La Disparition du Général Proust are inert pieces of writing, dispersed wastes of obsolete generators, ruins of a former aesthetic dream. The idealistic prospect of literary text generation seems to have made room to a different form of generation made possible by blogs: the recycling of literary waste. A new understanding of the electronic in literature emerges from Balpe’s late work, one that recycles early electronic literature into an aesthetic of ruins, unoriginality, and obsessive hoarding, illustrating the paradoxical power of literature to repurpose failure into poetry.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Hannah Ackermans