"Literature," Progress, and Monsters: What is Electronic Literature?

Critical Writing
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2017
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Abstract (in English): 

Jacques Derrida famously asserts, “The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality” (Of Grammatology 5). When writing of the ‘future’ here, Derrida points to a way of thinking “beyond the closure of knowledge,” which is to say an absolute danger inasmuch as it betrays all that is by welcoming an unknown and as yet unthought is not. N. Katherine Hayles proclaims electronic literature the future of literature on the strength of its capacity to keep pace with a ‘new’ digital normality, to anchor a new structural center for 21st century literature and safeguard against an otherwise imposing and dangerous future for study in the humanities—a very different ‘danger’ than one to which Derrida alludes. The overarching purpose of this project is to engage the question, “What is electronic literature?” and while readily conceding the force of advancing technologies bring to bear broadly on the production, distribution, and consumption of literature, the thrust of the argument resists conflating “literature” with its medium or delivery technology. Chapter one reorients the question of electronic literature by focusing first on the more anterior question, “What is literature?”—remembering Derrida’s caution in pursuing any ontological delimitation and drawing on the work of Peggy Kamuf among others to assist in parsing a response. Chapter two considers what is essentially new in electronic literature and argues against Hayles’s accounting of media specificity as it underwrites new configurations of literarity. Chapter three attends the question of literarity in the form of ‘monsters’ and reads James Joyce’s Ulysses alongside The Unknown (Scott Rettberg et al. 1999), asking if and in what ways linguistic practices marking Ulysses a definitive act of “literature” can be found at play in electronic literature as well.

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Cecilie Klingenberg