Platform-based Rules of (Un)Notice

Abstract (in English): 

William James famously defined attention in terms of focused concentration: an act of zooming in on one out of many possible objects. In our current hypermediated moment, such acts of focused attention have become more difficult, to the point where we have come to rely on multiple sources of input in order to be able to concentrate. How to decide what to attend to and what to disregard becomes a pressing aesthetic, ethical, and even political issue (if it hadn’t always been).

Traditionally, literary studies have celebrated the close reading of texts in a mode of ‘deep’, focused attention, as a core skill. Yet in our present attention economy, where we are bombarded with texts and images from multiple sources and channels on a daily basis, attentional flexibility and modulation become sought-after skills as well. There is simply too much to read, and we do not always know beforehand what might turn out to be of importance.

In this paper, I examine a range of works in electronic and digital literature to go beyond the juxtaposition of close or deep literary reading on the one hand, and hyperreading as modality of the information age on the other. I argue that this binary fails to grasp the different rhythms and modalities of literary reading. This becomes especially clear in the case of electronic works that incite us to combine a whole range of attentional stances and foci from broad to narrow, vigilant to absorbed to distracted, and deep to hyper. How do contemporary and older works of electronic literature both reflect and anticipate different modes of reading and attention? How does the design of the text and its utilization of platform affordances incite us to modulate our reading rhythm and attention?

I examine such diverse works as Stuart Moulthrop’s hegirascope (1995); Jim Andrews’ Stir Fry Texts (1999-); the serial flash texts of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries; With those We Love Alive by Porpentine Charity Heartscape (Twine, 2014); Pry (Tender Claws, 2014); The Ice-Bound Concordance (Reid & Jacob Garb 2014), and the novella and ‘meditative story app’ Lotus (‘t Hooft & Freeke 2019). I make an inventory of devices that structure attention, including alterations of speed, expanding and contracting text, foregrounding and backgrounding devices, maximalist and minimalist forms, ‘useless’ text, pop ups, and time outs. Thus, I map out the ‘rules of un/notice’ (Rabinowitz 1987) for multimodal, digital works of literature, with attention to their platform- and media specific affordances. In my conclusion, I reflect on possible uses of electronic literature to inspire strategies of attending in increasingly information-rich environments.


ELO 2021: Platforms & Software 4, May 27

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Daniel Johannes...