Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media (Dissertation)

Critical Writing
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2007
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Abstract (in English): 

What happens to literature, the literary, and the cultural value of both when text moves from page to screen? What can these shifts teach us about the traditions, practices, and discourses that shape the ways in which we read, study, and engage with print and electronic literature? Digital Modernism reads digital literature within a modernist tradition of making it new, a history that is both experimental and canonical. Across literary genres and programming platforms, I examine a shared strategy in some of the most innovative works of electronic literature online. These works adopt, adapt, and allude to the seminal aesthetic practices, principles, and texts of literary modernism. Digital Modernism analyzes these consciously crafted ties to modernism as part of a larger strategy and cultural situation. These works challenge common assumptions about digital literature, such as associations with hypertext and expectations of reader-controlled interactivity. They use modernism to construct immanent critiques about a culture that privileges images, navigation, and interactivity over narrative, reading, and textuality. The results are works of web-based literature that are text-based, aesthetically difficult, and ambivalent in their relationship to mass media and popular readership. Digital Modernism examines how and why contemporary works of online literature employ this modernist modus operandi and what this trend exposes about the role of the "literary" in our digital culture and reading practices. Reading electronic literature through modernism also provides an opportunity to reread modernism through perspectives made visible and vital because of contemporary media and culture. Digital Modernism thus pursues a dual perspective: it illuminates the role of modernism in contemporary literature and, in so doing, reflects back on modernist literature. Addressing the question "What is new about new media?," Digital Modernism reads works of electronic literature that follow Ezra Pound's mantra and "MAKE IT NEW" by renovating a literary past.

(Source: Author's abstract)

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Scott Rettberg