Endless Text: New Media Technologies in The Raw Shark Texts

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Since the digital revolution of the 1990’s, the ‘end’ of literature has been often proclaimed from both a utopian and apocalyptic perspective. While the former has imagined a release of the literary from the constraints of paper and print, in the animation of letters and words, the latter has lamented the end of reading and writing as ‘we’ know it. However, as clear as the opposition between the hopeful visions of theorists such as George Landow and the nostalgic lament of critics like Steven Birkerts may be, their respective stances are easily disclosed as two sides of the same coin: both the positive and negative presentations of the end of literature build on the subtext that literature ‘is’ something; an inside (a space, or a practice) that is either creatively challenged or threatened from the outside – as if it were a backward country or a country under threat, to be opened up and developed or protected respectively. This paper challenges such a distinction between inside and outside by reading ‘literature’ as an interface of other media technologies. As I have shown elsewhere, literature – a practice so diverse that it resists a logic of identity – may have always functioned as such an interface: not a place of itself, within itself, with its own durable, static essence, but rather a point of intersection where different media and media technologies converge, and where new media technologies are imagined, projected, or (p)remediated. In this view, literature is not a precedent to but the constant effect of intermedial encounters: what scholars have perceived to be its ‘inside’, its essence, is in my view always already contaminated by its ‘outside’ – the difference between the two is artificial and should rather be seen in terms of interaction. In this view, electronic literature does not simply come ‘after’ print- and paper-based writing but is in certain crucial ways always already part of it (as scholars like Noah Wardrip-Fruin have already pointed out with respect to the cut-up & fold-in techniques of Gysin and Burroughs, or the practices of concrete poetry). Likewise, the incorporated practices of electronic literature have, in a typical feedback loop, in turn impacted recent paper-based writing. Thus, Katherine Hayles and Mark Hansen have already pointed to the remediation of digital procedures in Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000). In this paper, I will analyse the feedback loop between recent paper-based writing and media technologies by taking Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts (2007) as my starting point and showing how it functions as a meeting point and processor of ‘old’ and ‘new’ media. Typically, like House of Leaves, The Raw Shark Texts is an assembly text, assembling different cultural texts (from Orpheus to Jaws and the postmodern canon) and modes of presentation. Not simply through its intertextual links, but through its performative foregrounding of its own intermedial activity, The Raw Shark Texts becomes an endless text – a text without borders, of infinite medial as well as cultural regress, that reaches into the experimental potential of the electronic to question the conditions of possibility of ‘literature’. Centrally, this concerns a play with the idea of simultaneity. The questions that I pose on the basis of this analysis centre on the issue of media knowledge, and more specifically the ways in which an ‘old’ medium like literature (old in so far as it refers to paper-based writing) projects knowledge of other media (be they digital, filmic, or auditive). By knowledge I here mean: media technologies and techniques, modes of presentation, modes of production and modes of perception (seeing, hearing, reading) as instated or at least instigated by the introduction of ‘new’ media technologies. What do we learn about these other media while reading literature? I am thus concerned with a particular form of information technology in The Raw Shark Texts. Interestingly, in The Raw Shark Texts as well as House of Leaves and other experimental fictions the intermedial impetus is not exclusively digital: they rather point back to film and the cinematic practices of montage. Through this cinematic connection, these novels perform a modernist heritage in a supposedly post-postmodern universe.

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Eric Dean Rasmussen