An Institutional Approach to Building a Platform of Digital Literary Works: The Case(s) of Dutch and Flemish Digital Literature

Abstract (in English): 

The recently formed Dutch Digital Literature Consortium – a partnership of researchers from Tilburg University, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Royal Library of the Netherlands and local libraries – aims to develop and launch an online catalogue of digital literature, created in the Netherlands and Flanders, and turn this collection into a publicly accessible digital catalogue. The project draws inspiration from comparable databases, such as the Electronic Literature Collection 1-3, NT2, Hermaneia, and Literatura Electrónica Hispánica. Whereas these databases bring together digital literary projects from a variety of traditions – often with a particular focus –, the project at hand focuses exclusively on works from a specific geographical location (much like collections such as the Brazilian Electronic Literature Collection).
The development of such a database gives rise to several theoretical and methodological questions that are central to the study of e-lit: which works and genres are eligible to be included in the database, and on what grounds is this selection made? Practical decisions critically hinge on the fundamental question what digital literature is. This question has been answered – explicitly and implicitly – by different actors and institutions involved with e-lit, such as funding institutions, libraries, and other ‘gatekeepers’. Such institutions are significant because they are responsible for the material and the symbolic production of digital literature. As Yra van Dijk points out, digital works are ‘not autonomous, in the sense that they are in fact funded and sometimes initiated by some institution, mostly in the end by the government itself’ (2012, 2). If, as Florian Cramer claims, ‘electronic literature ha[s] established itself as a field in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense, i.e. as an area of production and discourse with intrinsic distinctions and authorities’ (2012, 1), then we need to consider how these authorities push digital literature in specific directions.
While acknowledging that digital literature is also a transnational phenomenon, this paper analyses the ways in which institutions shape digital literature in specific techno-cultural contexts. The Low Countries share a language and – to a great extent – a literary tradition, while they also differ significantly culturally and institutionally. When one pays attention to the institutional frameworks, the specificity of the Dutch versus Flemish digital literature tradition is brought into focus. The institutional approach that I advocate thus does not only do justice to the multidimensional and changing nature of digital literature, it also takes into account the differences across linguistic areas and nation states.
The question what counts as ‘literature’ is answered differently over time and in specific geographic contexts. The same holds true for the question what belongs to the realm of the ‘digital’. Therefore, this institutional approach is twofold, 1) I examine which digital genres and individual works are considered literary, and 2) I examine what is considered digital within these specific contexts. The theoretical overview of the institutional framework of digital literature in the Low Countries offers a solid starting point for the Consortium’s position on the practical, methodological questions raised above.

(Source: The author's abstract)

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Lene Tøftestuen