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Seduced by the Gap: Writing (E-Lit) Criticism into Crisis

Critical Writing
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2018
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This paper invites the “dangerous vertige” once brought on by the “endless oscillation of an intersubjective demystification” at the heart of the crisis of literary criticism famously illuminated by Paul de Man in 1967. I investigate two conventions of writing e-lit criticism (and digital art criticism). The first utilizes the figure of the participating observer/reader in a phenomenological narrative that serves as a textual or formal analysis of the primary object. The conjuring of such a figure is often necessary to the articulation of e-lit’s capacity to deliver us from a finite and single text, in a way that hearkens back to critiques of the fallacy of a finite and single interpretation.

The second is seen in technical descriptions of how e-lit works in its mechanical, electronic, computational, or otherwise technological being, and this technical writing too serves in the place of a formal textual analysis. The anima of techne displaces both human subjectivity and technological instrumentality at the center of the poetics of e-lit. Even as the deconstruction of the sovereignty and authority of the subject opened up new worlds of textuality across the disciplines, especially within the social sciences, de Man cautioned that we might see in “demystification the most dangerous myth of all.” For de Man, the proximity of crisis to criticism is preferable (or less boring, as he puts it) in that it forces us to scrutinize the act of writing at its origin. 

In this context, I explore the possibilities of writing e-lit criticism back into crisis, as it were, through an analysis of the interactive XYZT exhibit by Adrian M and Claire B (including Letter Tree, Shifting Clouds, Discrete Collisions, and Anamorphosis in Space). I consider how the act of perception, which replaces the act of interpretation, plays with gaps in expectation, variable speeds in attention, gaps between proprioception and kinaesthesia, intentions and desires to move and to receive feedback form the screen and the space of projected light, and the rhythms of an individual body’s speed, slowness, and stillness, as well as the composition of multiple bodies and their aggregate over the duration of the installation. On the one hand, the space of interaction might be seen as a correlate to the gap once discovered within the text, leading us once again to a cultural writing of difference. On the other, such acts of interpretation may be superseded by other possibilities of reading and writing opened up by e-lit. In fact, we might easily imagine that e-lit criticism already exists more effectively and efficiently within e-lit itself, among powerful capacities to capture and analyze data. The best e-lit criticism may already be contained within e-lit itself.

At this point, it may be necessary to pursue a different line of questioning about the space of scholarship, the social significance of e-lit criticism, and the ongoing and often uninvestigated institution of literary criticism within whose auspices e-lit scholars continue to operate. In my own attraction to the “dangerous vertige,” I rediscover the joys of writing (e-lit) criticism, for without crisis, there ensues a certain boredom.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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I consider how the act of perception, which replaces the act of interpretation, plays with gaps in expectation, variable speeds in attention, gaps between proprioception and kinaesthesia, intentions and desires to move and to receive feedback form the screen and the space of projected light, and the rhythms of an individual body’s speed, slowness, and stillness, as well as the composition of multiple bodies and their aggregate over the duration of the installation.

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June Hovdenakk