‘Grasp All, Lose All’: Raising Awareness Through Loss of Grasp in Seemingly Functional Interfaces

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

From baroque proto-cybertexts to countercultural gestures by historical avant-gardes, there is a longstanding tradition of disruptive strategies used by artists at the interstices of societies’ demands for order, control, and functionalism. For the avant-gardes and their multiple artistic inf(l)ections, radical changes to the way sensory perception had come to be depicted since Modernism became a central part of their strategy. By placing an emphasis on the confluence between various arts and media, the innovative character of their proposals had much to do with the ways in which they were able to embrace notions that represented modernity, including concepts such as simultaneity, dynamics, motion, and the symbiosis between human and machine. In this manner, they sought to induce estrangement and defamiliarization by using seemingly functional mechanisms to raise awareness through the loss of grasp.

Drawing on this idea of raising awareness through what appear to be functional mechanisms, I argue that non-functional/dysfunctional digital interfaces that are part of contemporary artworks that deal with digitally based haptic reading processes (expressly, digital literature) are largely influenced by early avant-garde artistic proposals. Thus, through its metamedial aesthetic and poetic critique of digital media, digital literature reinvents inherited strategies of subversion and disruption previously explored by Modernism, drawing attention to artworks’ processes of signification and affect. As a variation of a rich heritage of experimentation with seemingly functional mechanisms in the arts, such strategies reenact age-old tensions between tradition and innovation while laying the foundation for (re)new(ed) ways of reading and writing in digital multimodal environments.

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Jill Walker Rettberg