Reading Digital Poetry. Interface, Interaction, and Interpretation

Critical Writing
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2017
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This study concentrates on reading digital poetry. Reading entails the act of reading, strategies of analysis, and the means of understanding. Specifically, this study constructs a model of reading and interpreting poetry in digital form by close analysis of three complex case studies. Broadly, this study concerns the aesthetic means and meanings of poetry in the contemporary moment, where new and old media are in visible negotiation with each other. In digital poetry artistic expression, digital media, technology and cultural practices clash and combine to produce new poetic forms. With new forms of poetry come new challenges to reading, analysis, and interpretation. Digital poetry presents new material, literary, technical, and rhetorical strategies and techniques that offer novel possibilities – and restrictions – for reading. Thus, my broad question is: How do we read digital poetry? This broad question is broken down to a subset of research questions. These deal with the material medium, readerly action, and the processes of the poem, which are all to be seen as constituent of its effects and meanings. In answering these questions, I construct a new model for reading digital poetry. The model is distilled from my close readings of the case studies. The readings are literary, cultural, media-historical and media-specific. The background methodology for the investigation comes from the notion of close reading (sensu Culler 2010; Simanowski 2011; Pressman 2014). My reading model consists of three main elements: interface, interaction, and interpretation. I further divide the interface into elements of data (e.g. text, music, images), processes (e.g. temporal control, text generation), and medium (as material and conceptual). Interaction consists of logic, performance, and effect, which designate the mode of engagement with the work, the joint performance of the poem and the reader, and the effects these produce. Interpretation includes the articulation of effects and meanings. Whereas the effects are created in interaction with the work, articulating them is seen as part of interpretation. Interpretation includes the articulation of the meanings and connections the poem invites. In other words, the poem’s interface guides the concrete act of reading, interaction guides the reader’s mode of engagement with the interface, and interpretation guides the means of understanding what is read. The case studies renegotiate the interrelated and overlapping arenas of print and digital poetry, old and new media, and traditional and digital literary criticism. The first includes Cia Rinne’s zaroum (2001), archives zaroum (2008; with Christian Yde Frostholm) and notes for soloists (2009). The second is Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Dakota (2002). And the third is Stephanie Strickland’s “V-project”, which includes two print books (V:WaveSon.nets /Losing L’Una 2002; V: WaveTercets /Losing L’Una 2014) two web applications (V:Vniverse Shockwave application 2002 with Cynthia Lawson-Jaramillo; Errand Upon Which We Came 2001; with M. D. Coverley), and an iPad application (Vniverse 2014; with Ian Hatcher). The emphasis in the case studies is on examining strategies of reading and interpretation as well as producing new readings and interpretations of the poetry in question. I investigate the interdependence of traditional print-based and emerging digital strategies of reading poetry, and combine print-based scholarly approaches with digital-based scholarship.

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Jill Walker Rettberg