Posthumanism and Electronic Literature

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Posthumanism, according to Cary Wolfe, "names a historical moment in which the decentering of the human by its imbrication in technical, medical, informatic, and economic networks is increasingly impossible to ignore" (xv-xvi). This conference paper brings the framework of posthumanist philosophy to bear on the field of electronic literature, at a critical moment in time wherein our conception of the human, and of literature, are fundamentally questioned through digital technology. I argue that humanist philosophy is explicitly tied to the rise of print literature, via Elizabeth Eisenstein (1979), while posthumanism is linked with digital media (Wolfe 2010) and, by extension, electronic literature. Furthermore, posthumanism interrogates assumptions of autonomy and subjectivity inherited from humanism, and via cybernetics articulates an image of the human as another information-processing machine. Electronic literature's reliance and amalgamation of natural and artificial languages (most noticeable in “codework”) reflects the posthumanist critique of the supposed binaries between human and machine. To this end, my presentation provides close-readings of electronic literature in order to determine whether authors of electronic literature work with either a humanist or posthumanist understanding of human subjectivity and literature (which is often itself a framing device for subjectivity).

To adequately address this issue of writing and language in relation to Being, I turn to codework. This term originated with Alan Sondheim, and refers to work which feature a mixture of language and code, in what Katherine Hayles has deemed a ‘creole’ language. I will be providing a detailed reading Mez Breeze’s, _the data][h!][bleeding texts_ (2001), which even from the title suggests the incursion of programming language onto natural language. In order to explore the humanist or posthumanist lens offered by works of electronic literature, I turn to the work of Jason Nelson, Stephanie Strickland, and Steve Tomasula. The former is discussed as one of the most unique and prolific writers in e-lit, and the latter two are discussed for their unique position as working in both print and digital media.

Of course, I will also address the issue of codework as literary object. As John Cayley remarks in an essay on electronicbookreview, “the code is not the text (unless it is the text).” It is clear that codework is a term for literature which addresses code in some way, and Cayley suggests that most codework simply illustrates a potentially subversive act of transparency. Again, I explore codework under a posthumanist lens to interrogate how media technologies frame and construct our understanding of the human.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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Thor Baukhol Madsen