A Humument app by Tom Phillips as a work of liberature: between text and embodiment

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

In my paper I would like to propose reconfiguration of “literariness” through the concept of liberature formulated by Zenon Fajfer and Katarzyna Bazarnik (Bazarnik, 2005), updated to some extent with the theory of affordances (Norman, 1990, 2004). The term which according to Bazarnik (2005) denotes a transgenre where content (text) and its medium form a whole, seems to offer rich theoretical possibilities – especially if “literariness” is to be conceived also as a media-specific, embodied yet emergent and contigent phenomenon (Hayles, 2002). However, the concept of liberature - set from the ouset as both a theoretical tool against a form/content dualism and means to study multimodality of a literary text – still offers an interesting proposition when it comes to instances of e-literature developed for touch screen devices. A particularly interesting example to illustrate such interrogations is The Humument App by Tom Phillips. It is a part of the ongoing project coming from the artist known, among others, from his cooperation with Peter Greenaway on TV Dante. In 1966, inspired by Burrough's cut-up technique, Phillips started working on the print of a late Victorian novel, A Human Document by W.H. Mallock. Graphically enhanced, collaged and reconfigured, the artwork has been published in 1970 by Tetrad Press as The Humument Book: A Treated Victorian Novel with subsequent editions from Thames & Hudson in 1980, 1986, 1998 and 2004, each of which modified the precedent versions. This part of a project has already been interpreted by N. Katherine Hayles (Hayles, 2002). However, in 2010 The Humument has been released as a tablet application, enhanced with a few interactive features: “the oracle” seems to be the most interesting as the case of remediation of oral communication mode. Apart from questions that had already been asked (eg. about word/image interplay, the book as artefact and the narrative as the case of “interiorized subjectivity”) this particular instance of the Phillips' project inspires as well to pose a set of new inquiries. What constitutes “literariness” of touch screen device application? How – if ever - does it differ from its print (or remixed multimodal for that matter) incarnation? Does the notion of “literariness” exist independent from media into which it is inscribed? Could the protagnist of The Humument App – considering the common social media plug-ins included within it - be seen as an instance of networked subjectivity?

K. Bazarnik (2005), What is liberature. [in]: Bartkowiak’s Forum Book Art. Compendium of Contemporary Fine Prints, Artists’ Books, Broadsides, Portfolios and Book Objects. Yearbook no 23. Hamburg: H.S. Bartkowiak, pp. 465-468K.

N. Hayles (2002), Writing Machines, Cambridge and London: MIT Press

D.A. Norman (1990), The Design of Everyday Things, New York: Doubleday(2004), Design as Communication, http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/design_as_comun.htmlaccessed 19.12.2012

(Source: Author's abstract at ELO 2013 site: http://conference.eliterature.org/critical-writing/humument-app-tom-phil... )

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Rebecca Lundal