The formation of the field of electronic literature in Poland

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Polish electronic literature developed in parallel to similar work in Western Europe and the United States. The difference was context – the first Polish digital literary experiments appeared during the heyday of communism in the 1970s. The Polish author Robert Szczerbowski came up with his untitled hypertext about the same time Michael Joyce wrote afternoon. a story – just a few years after the end of martial law in Poland. As the first literary works on floppy discs appeared at the beginning of the 1990s, Polish society was in the midst of a profound political transformation which began in 1989. These political events coincided with the development of technology, which influenced the fields of literature and art. Because of the Iron Curtain, the country’s isolation and its artists lack of deeper contacts with their Western counterparts, the status of literature was constructed differently, with its impact and obligations defined by ethics rather than aesthetics. On one hand, the model of involved literature gave birth to new genres, like silva rerum, or sylwa in Polish, what poet Czesław Miłosz called “a more spacious form” and these new genres would in turn influence digital works. On the other hand, the corner stone of the new field was experiments supposedly removed from the context of the totalitarian reality of the time. This includes also digital projects stemming from the Workshop of Film Form. These constitute the works that paved the way for the development of the field of electronic literature as a setting for artistic practice and scientific reflection.

Pierre Bourdieu defines a field as a segment of the social structure governed by a set of rules, with actors, who work towards goals specific to the given field. In this article, the author will analyze the field of electronic literature in Poland from this point of view. When describing the most important actors (institutions, publishers, curators, authors) the author shall focus on the dominant logic within the social structure in Poland and the relations between fields (especially the economic field, media, education and administration).The author will also examine the formation of hierarchies, the establishment of canons and the appearance of innovations and avant-garde phenomena by applying sociological tools to analyze pre-existing materials (interviews, documents, manifestos). A sociological perspective coupled with a distant reading approach will be used to determine whether the use of the same media and technologies in different socio-political conditions led to the formation of literary phenomena characterized by different aims, esthetics, values and tendencies than those present and already well described in the contemporary literature of Western Europe or America.

Paper is a part of the "Post-1989 Polish Literature in Light of Pierre Bourdieu`s Theory”
research grant number 2011/01/D/HS2/05129 founded by the National Science Center in Poland.

(Source: Authors abstract.)

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Scott Rettberg