The Digital Ecology of Canadian Experimental Writing

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

In the conclusion of *Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English* (1965), Northrop Frye asserts that there “is no Canadian writer of whom we can say what we can say of the world’s major writers, that their readers can grow up inside their work without ever being aware of a circumference” (821). This paper will partly push against this tendency in Canadian literary criticism and will consider a select instance of Canadian electronic literature. In Frye’s terms, “Canadian sensibility” is “profoundly disturbed” not only by “our famous problem of identity,” which can be, in part, summarized by the question of “[w]ho am I?,” but by the question of “[w]here is here?” (826). I claim that *here* in the question of “where is here?” has become digital; i.e., “we” (as in Canadian writers and critics) are now online and not in the prairies or the lakes or the cityscapes and we live lives in which our identities (along with the potentiality of a national identity) have been outsourced to an indefinite electronic space. Identity is experienced through the mirrors of technological avatars and doubles in a mise en abyme of electronic spacelessness. I call it “spacelessness” because the ontology of this “space”—the space of the digital—is indiscrete and indefinite; it remains, to put it in the terms of Alan Liu (when applying Derrida’s notion of the transcendental signified to “data pours” [“59]), “transcendent” (62). Extrapolating from Liu, the space of electronic literature should be conceived as being “transcendent” as opposed to “immanent”—to use a Deleuzoguattarian term—but this notion of transcendence is unique in that a materiality of space is nonetheless configured through the complicated interplay of technological and subjective doubling, which renders materiality in very new terms and in a very new place. To put this argument differently, I would say that the emergence of Canadian electronic literature is still concerned with the question of “where is here,” but now the orientation of here is situated in a very different notion of “environment.” This new notion of environment is no longer a directly “Canadian” environment—an environment of mountains, trees, fields, prairies, lakes, and rivers that is inhabited by moose, geese, humans, and various other non-humans—but rather an environment that features an extreme plurality and a profound lack of both subjectivity and space. The electronic environment that is presented by Canadian electronic literature is not a void-space of subjective inexistence, but a material space of sociocultural heterogeneity; in other words, it is a space that is constituted as a vague, expansive, and indefinite commons. 
This argument will be primarily grounded in an in-depth analysis of Darren Wershler’s *NICHOLODEON* and *NICHOLODEONLINE* (but many other examples will be considered as well). *NICHOLODEONLINE* is akin to an archaeological locale that requires nonlinear apprehension: the text does not progress in a linear fashion (as it does in the print version for example), but rather proceeds through the nonlinear processes of clicking through the various pathways of what could be called its “ganglion” (a term that is very important for bpNichol).

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Miriam Takvam