Two New Perspectives on Electronic Literature: Hybrid Writing Forms and Lexical Automata

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

To date, all formal, technical, and typological analyses of electronic literature (and poetry) that I am aware of have approached the domain from both obvious angles: theory-led and from-the-text. The former has yielded traditional literary analyses such as (Aarseth 1997) and (Hayles 2007) while the latter more recently has yielded analyses such as (Di Rosario 2011) and (O’Sullivan 2016). Taking our cue from informatics we could if we so wished analyse works of electronic literature using the theoretical foundation of computer science: finite automata. What is being suggested here is not the theoretical analysis of the electronic arts through the lens of Turing Machines or alternately the lambda calculus/type theory. Rather, what is being suggested is replacing the symbol with the lexeme thus alighting on the idea of lexical automata. Semiotically speaking, finite automata operate on sets of unrestricted symbols whereas surely it must be agreed that literary works are lexically constrained therefore electronic literary works must be in the final analysis characterised by lexical automata. This work is an attempt to show how the analysis of electronic literary works so understood and explored yields fruitful results. What is meant by hybrid writing forms? Precisely this; the blending of unstructured and structured data. A word of caution: unstructured here does not mean devoid of all structure, it means yet-to-structured – this may appear to be a pedantic stipulation but it is one that will serve us well. Natural language here is taken to be unstructured. This is in contrast to the linked records and fields of structured data – what we know to be true, digitally represented. Not all literary works are works of fiction, thus at some level we will need to understand what it means to blend unstructured and structured data. Surprisingly little work has been carried out in this regard, notwithstanding the exemplar studies of (Eriksson 2007) and (Nešić 2010). The core idea here is to somehow combine Semantic Web technologies with the text. Each of these studies (and others) examines a variant of that. Building atop the base layer of Peircean semiotics is the most natural way for carrying out this task I propose. The resultant mixture is called semetext, it can be viewed if one wants as an extension of hypertext; indeed, explicit in the wider literature, though not acted upon, is the recommendation that if we replace the hyperlink with something that carries typed information something like what is being suggested here would emerge. Aarseth, Espen J. 1997.

Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Di Rosario, Giovanna. 2011. Electronic Poetry: Understanding Poetry in the Digital Environment. University of Jyväskylä. Eriksson, Henrik. 2007. “The Semantic-Document Approach to Combining Documents and Ontologies.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Knowledge representation with ontologies: Present challenges - Future possibilities, 65 (7): 624–39. Hayles, N. Katherine. 2007. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” January 2, 2007. Nešić, Saša. 2010. “Semantic Document Architecture for Desktop Data Integration and Management.” Università della Svizzera italiana. O’Sullivan, James. 2016. “Towards a Digital Poetics.”

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Vian Rasheed