The Politics of Web Materiality: Making Electronic Literature in the Capitalocene

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

We are on the brink of planetary catastrophe. Environmental, political, health and humanitarian crises have infused the zeitgeist of the Anthropocene with a sense of urgency (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000). Human activity has been placed in opposition (or as an add-on) to Nature, participating in a dialectical discourse that, like the binaries of sexism, racism, or even Eurocentrism, points directly to the violence, inequality and oppression of the modern world (Moore 2016). As these relate to climate and political change, the Anthropocene argument presents the exploitation and accumulation of capital as conterminous to human nature and progress.

Accumulation, however, is not only productive, but necrotic (McBrien 2016), in the sense that it unfolds a slow violence sustained by reduction or, perhaps, extinction: the reduction of cultures, languages and peoples; as well as the extinction of the Earth through depletion of resources. If accumulation is natural to us, then so are reduction and extinction.

This talk looks at how certain works of digital literary art (also known as “electronic literature” or “e-lit”) place digital production within a web of material accountability that rejects the binaries implicit in capitalist logic in pursuit of a new type of poetic materiality I am calling “web materiality.” Although it may sound counterintuitive, the destruction of natural resources and human life is directly related to the evolution of digital technologies that project a perverse sense of immaterial existence.

To expose this, I analyze five examples of online e-lit that exploit the affordances and limitations of the digital web: Eugenio Tisselli’s (Mexico-Spain) El 27/The 27 (2014) and Amazon (2019); Joana Moll’s (Germany-Spain) CO2GLE (2014) and The Hidden Life of an Amazon User (2019); and my own (Alex Saum, Spain-U.S.A) The Offline Website Project (2019). Rethinking digital materiality calls for a double framework of interpretation; one that looks both at the place of the works within the web of life (Moore), as well as a new methodological approach that is based on a multi-directional relational logic.

This requires not only a new framework to understand a new historical context (the Capitalocene) or new politics to frame digital objects (Haraway’s ontological politics) but also a different type of methodology and language such as Braidotti’s posthuman theory and politics, where new relationships of knowledge emerge from epistemic accountability and transversal ethics.

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Cecilie Klingenberg