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Literary Programming (In the Age of Digital Transliteration)

Critical Writing
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1999
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Abstract (in English): 

This paper is proposed as the second part of an essay, the first part of which was presented at DAC'98, having the overall title 'Performances of Writing in the Age of Digital Transliteration'. Part one of this essay raised questions -- contextualized by reference to Walter Benjamin and Friedrich Kittler, amongst others -- concerning the intrinsically digital characteristics of text, along with certain implications of these characteristics (and what they have entailed, specifically and especially: the Net) for traditional literary culture, for the latter's critique, and for textual, especially artistic textual practices.

Whereas the first part engaged digital characteristics of textuality, this second is more concerned with practices themselves and theories of those practices. The first part argued that although inscribed textuality provides a, perhaps 'the,' paradigm of 'the digital,' it has, in traditional literary culture, been less susceptible to the varieties of (algorithmic) programming which works in digital media invite (because of their very structure). Despite this, 'programming' is proposed as both a more comprehensive and more accurate term, compared with, for example, 'authorship' or 'composition,' when setting out to indicate and characterize existing, potential and even traditional textual practices.

'Programming' operates here in the sense of an intrinsically provisional practice of inscription, prior to publication in whatever media; it is the detailed announcement of a performance which may soon take place (on the screen, in the mind); it is an indication of what to read and how. This sense of programming is poised to reconfigure the process of writing and *incorporate* programming in its technical sense, making it an inalienable part of textual practice. In fact, programming has subsumed writing *progressively*, as the paratextual features of textual art have become increasingly programmable by writers:- from the arrangement of programmatological atoms (letters) in syntactic sequences, to their layout (as in generalized page design), to more specialized spatial arrangements (as in visual poetry); through hypertextual orderings; algorithmic text generation; and kinetic textual performance. Writers are always already programmers.

(Source: DAC 1999 Author's abstract)

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Scott Rettberg