Repetition and Recombination: Reading Network Fiction

Critical Writing
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2005
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Repetition and Recombination: Reading Network Fiction is the first full-length study devoted to network fiction. Network fictions are narrative texts in digitallynetworked environments that make use of hypertext technology in order to create emergent and recombinatory narratives (unlike interactive, or "arborescent," fictions that employ mutually exclusive plotlines). They represent a coalescence of works that predate and postdate the World Wide Web but share an aesthetic drive that exploits the networking potential of digital composition and foregrounds a distinctive quality of narrative recurrence and return. The thesis consists of (1) a critical and theoretical component that returns to printbased narratology in light of digital literature; (2) analyses of network fictions from the first-wave of digital literature published as stand-alone software applications; and (3) analyses of second-wave network fictions published on the World Wide Web. The analyses each focus on the interplay of the material, formal, and semantic elements of network narrative, an jnterplay that is framed by the dynamics of repetition. Furthermore, the thesis illustrates how concepts of orientation, immersion, constraint, and mobility, which have long informed the experience of reading narrative fiction, take on new meaning in digital environments. The primary contribution of the thesis is to an aesthetic and narratological understanding of this nascent form of digital literature. However, cybertext theory, systems theory, postfeminist theory, and post-structuralist and deconstructionist theory (when dissociated from early hypertext theory that claimed to literalize, embody, or fulfill it) all inform its critical understanding. The movement in the arts away from representation and toward simulation, away from the dynamics of reading and interpretation and toward the dynamics of interaction and play has led to exaggerated or alarmist claims for the endangerment of the literary arts. At the same time, some have simply doubted that the conceptual and discursive intricacy of print fiction can migrate to the screen, where performativity and immediacy are privileged. Against these claims, the thesis attests to the verbal complexity and conceptual depth of a body of writing created for the surface of the screen.

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Scott Rettberg