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Literature Mods

Critical Writing
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2018
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Abstract (in English): 

This paper presents a critical framework about literature mods—modifications of source code and surface of literary works—and a set of new empirical methods—modifying deformances—as a way of reading and analyzing the behavior of digital kinetic poems, since they move in time and space. How to simply read poems behaving as changing events? How to read poems that display at extremely high speed? How to critically analyze surfaces of inscription that may be impossible to be read? What methods of criticism can be set in practice in order to read kinetic poems? The problem of how to read digital poems, how to interpret them, and how to write criticism about them is closely tied to what kind of methods the reader and scholar use. Some of these methods can, and should require practical engagement with the creative works, a point that C. T. Funkhouser (2014) highlights. In fact, that is the type of “computational poetics” methodology that, in “operating” the code and interface, Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort (2013) call for. Thus, this paper contributes to an analysis of digital kinetic poems with an exploratory reading and modding of their code and display. Its key finding is the development of a method that blends critical inquiry with experiments of modifications of the poems’ output in terms of spatiotemporal transitions. These modifications of time-based parameters are built within a framework of open source software, remix culture, and draw from intervening practices of altering video games as mods. In addition, they are discussed against the backdrop of Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann’s (1999) notion of “deformative criticism.” Samuels and McGann’s “deformance” approach employs analyses through alteration of creative works, but at the print textual level, in order to isolate and alter content that expands the practices of reading and interpretation. Contrarily, modification and versioning is a set of methods used in software development that can be adapted to reading kinetic poetry. Reading kinetic text and kinetic poetry presents a challenge because it demands interdisciplinary approaches and critical openness to engage with artifacts that are complex and difficult to be read. In addition to analyzing the different components of a literary work by using traditional humanities models, literary criticism at the level of praxis with programming languages and processes must develop new methods. Because spatiotemporal dimensions such as onscreen speed and textual behavior are topical concerns that affect the reading experience, this paper presents modifications of kinetic poems in order to discuss them. What I call a modifying deformance is no less than a method that emerges out of modding practice and theory of literature. The main achievement is the awareness of how coding affects display, process, and event, rather than modifying works for purposes of development, improvement, conversion, remake, technical support, or artistic creation. Finally, I argue that literature mods can pave the way to resituate assumptions in the field of digital literature, regarding literary and aesthetic criticism.

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Li Yi