Archiving Electronic Literature and Poetry: Problems, Tendencies, Perspectives

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Electronic literature and E-Poetry is updated, interactive, subjective and well networked. But how durable is it? How long do texts published on web pages remain readable? It seems ironic that the transient character of the internet is attached to a medium that seems to be very suitable for documentation and archiving. All information is automatically digitally recorded and processed. This enables digital storage and retrieval as well as mirroring on different servers. There already exist a number of (often private) archive platforms that should be systematically supplemented by extensive archiving by national libraries. And still each website only remains available on the internet at its original address for less than 100 days on average. Afterwards it moves or is erased completely. This is of course also the case for Net literature. Projects can furthermore no longer be playable because their contents required plugins that are outdated; or they are only optimized for certain, old browser versions and no longer work on newer browsers. Finally, Net literature may have only been designed for a certain hardware platform and does not play as intended on subsequent processor models. This way the literature ‘expires,’ the user can at some point no longer access it or play it. Furthermore, there are no sensible ideas about how digital art can really be reliably and properly stored for the future. For this reason internet art is often accused of being transient without really being aware of this. However, some genres turn the tables. Their conceptions don’t deal with the problems of archiving and musealization, but explicitly exclude them. For example, concept artists on the web explicitly turn against traditional art conceptions that aim at permanence. Therefore they don’t continue the idea of constancy in their art. The internet is instead used as a transient medium where the user can barely trust in the contents persisting. Works are deliberately designed for transience so that they only work at the moment or during the performance period. The temporary and transience becomes the topic of literature. Still national libraries have begun to preserve these and other kinds of Internet literature. There are many different national and international institutions and initiatives that are devoted to the archiving of Electronic literature and E-Poetry. However, it is still unclear how exactly this archiving, particularly of texts that are designed to be transient and short-lived, will work. The paper will examine the problems regarding the archiving of Electronic literature, describe the recent solutions of national libraries and will discuss further challenges regarding these issues. It presents findings from an edited book on “Archiving Electronic Literature and Poetry” which will be published in spring 2010. There theoretical positions on this topic’s specific problems are combined with the views of Net authors, Electronic literature authors, E-poets and institutes engaged in or familiar with archiving. The theoretical points of view aretherefore supplemented, questioned and maybe even attacked by practical positions.

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Audun Andreassen