The Challenge of Visuality for Electronic Literature

Abstract (in English): 

Whilst there may be aesthetic tropes within digital media, there is no universally accepted authority within contemporary culture nor is there an easy mutual acceptance of what is “right and proper” or indeed legitimate outside the now virtue of being popular and well followed. Indeed the now bodily distanced and disinhibited digital citizen frequently demonstrates a palpable distain for the elite and pretentious (1). Considering this, any community with Literature in its name may have an identity problem; literariness still pertains to an elevated quality of artistic or intellectual merit and is thus counter to popular cultural production. In addition, mainstream culture has successfully commoditized many counter-cultural communities (2). Electronic Literature has arguably not been through such commodification processes, and the question of interest is why not? To that extent this paper seeks to explore possible answers. Investigating the broader shifts towards increased visuality within modern culture (3) the paper will discuss and revisit the discourses on the power structures of the gaze, consider spectatorship’s dominance over readership and interaction and co-creation and the function of the image within contemporary narrative forms inside and outwith Electronic Literature (4). The paper will also consider the politics implied in the move to open access, the fluid distribution of often context-less “images”, how this relates to prior notions of literary publishing, and whether this manifests as an opportunity or a challenge to Electronic Literature’s dissemination. Lastly and toward a conclusion, the paper will propose that if we consider the tradition of literature as one that is driven by the expression of human experience, where in today’s context literary “traditions” are not longer built around specific commonalities of form (i.e. predominately verbal language) but rather subject matter, themes and worldviews then the questions of identity and of “literariness” can evaporate to make space for fuller participation in the ocular freedoms in contemporary culture.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans