Rhematics and the Literariness of Electronic Literature

Abstract (in English): 

In Gerard Genette’s (1993; 1997) narratology, “rheme” is contrasted with “theme.” While themes are symbolic indications of what texts mean, rhemes are super-formal indications of texts themselves. The title of this article is highly thematic because it indicates much of that what is being discussed; a title like “Only an Article” would be highly rhematic due to its lack of indication of the subject matter at the expense of non-reflective form.

Veli-Matti Karhulahti has recently argued that the aesthetics of the videogame phenomenon are better understood through “rhematics” than the rhetoric of “meaning” that has so far dominated the analysis of cultural products, especially within literary studies:

While [videogame play] is essentially meaningless – there is no decipherable message to be understood – it is not senseless: there is a sensation to be understood. What exchanges (or more correctly, comes into being) is data that cannot be made known by signs. This sensible nonsense gives shape to an aporetic rhematic [that] cannot be understood by means of any conventional interpretative discipline, a new discipline is needed; a rhematic discipline. (Karhulahti 2013)

This paper introduces rhematics as an analytic tool that facilitates comprehending the multiplicity of aesthetic ends in electronic literature. It is suggested that the rhematics of electronic literature operate on two levels, the conceptual and the material. As the former has already been mapped out extensively by literary theorists through “poetic” functions (e.g. Burke 1941; Jakobson 1960; Eco 1989), the present focus is on the latter and its “configurative” functions (see Aarseth 1997; Eskelinen 2012). The material manipulation of electronic literary works is thus examined as an intrinsically rewarding mode of interaction that is not guided solely by hermeneutic methods of interpretation but also by cybernetic engagement (see Iser 2003).

The configurative competency of the e-reader, it is argued, must hence be taken as a serious contextual factor in electronic literary analysis. This also calls for an ontological problematization: if reading and literature are identified as noematic or hermeneutic entities, do extranoematic configurative aspects not conflict with the ‘literariness’ (cf. Randall 1988) of electronic literature?

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans