The Presumed Literariness of Digital

Abstract (in English): 

This presentation will challenge the current, too quickly determined relationship between
the ‘literary’ and digital media. The presumed literariness of digital art--these days, anything
from performance art to virtual sculpture work--muddles the already confused and meandering
genre of electronic literature, leading away from acts of reading and remarking on text and its location in new media. Electronic literature began as a study of literary writing produced and
meant to be read on a computer screen, opening up new possibilities for interactive and dynamic
storytelling, utilizing the new medium’s ability for linking lexias. The literariness of this work
is manifest: the work was primarily textual, the centrality of reading paramount. Textuality was
at the heart of the work, thus the term electronic literature was appropriate and uncontested.
Lately, ‘electronic literature’ is an umbrella-term for all things digital. A spectrum of genres
and forms are included, among them video games, interactive fiction, digital art, and (virtual)
performance art. Yet the search for the literary continues in all forms of digital art, regardless of
whether or not the literary should even be looked for.

Digital media, particularly digital art, unquestionably has merit. But this does not mean that
digital art need subsume the literary. Electronic literature is still a nascent field, and if it is to
build a corpus of literary works sufficient to sustain a field, these questions need to be addressed
now rather than later (or never). Instead of celebrating the blurring of borders, I hope to draw
certain distinctions that will help the field see the uniquely literary accomplishment of some key
authors working in the e-lit field.

This paper will explore how literariness need be driven by reading and writing, and how the
literary is being lost by the overly general application of the term ‘electronic literature.’ The
search for the literary in the digital is, for the most part, a way for the Humanities to stake a
claim for its own position in the new media ecology. What is needed is an identification by
critics and archivists, not of an e-lit canon, but a corpus of born digital literary works that both
extend and break from the print tradition - as genuine literary works within that tradition have
always done.

(Source: Author's abstract, 2012 ELO Conference site)

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Eric Dean Rasmussen