In Urban Jungles: Literature and Locative Media

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Starting with Homer’’s Odyssey through R. Larsen’’s The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet literature describes journeys, wanderings and world-explorations in which spatial realms provide the basic dispositives for the series of narrated events. While theories of literature from G. E. Lessing’’s Laocoon to K. Hamburger’’s Logic of Literature had conceived of literature as a particular way of perceiving time, M. M. Bakhtin’’s theory of the ““chronotope”” made space into a central constituent affecting the perception of the models in literary scholarship.

In recent years, current electronic media have prompted wide-ranging considerations on the importance of space for socio-cultural processes (the ““spatial turn””). With the application of mobile media devices such as mobile phones, GPS and PDAs and the development of mixed reality environments in museums, galleries or research labs, new combinations of physical, virtual and symbolic spaces have been realized. Metaphorically, we might even say that literature, after having passed through the needle’’s eye of book culture, seems to be reverting back to the multimodal patterns of action and the forms of antiquity, of the Middle Ages, or of the Renaissance. This, however, is taking place on a completely changed media-technological level: texts, objects, bodies and spaces combine in a largely uncharted way; electronic media take ““body language”” to a new level since more and more often the whole body is involved in the media activity. Increasingly complex sensors (integrated into vehicles, clothes and environments) ““realize””——in other words: measure——the movements of the body, its mimics and gestures. This ““multimodal”” body itself then also exchanges information with the ““products”” of this kind of technology. Such medial couplings and framings enable the cooperation of non-symbolic activities, natural language activities and algorithmic processes of computer systems.

Of special interest for the analysis of literary developments today are environmental, exterior or urban projects, the so-called ““Locative Narratives”” using the previously-mentioned locative media such as GPS-tools, PDAs or others, aestheticizing each of them in a quite unexpected turn that inverts the traditional processes of literarization from the ““head”” back to the ““feet;”” they adapt literary patterns like travel-, adventure-, love-, or detective narratives, returning their imaginary movements into real ones again. Among these are projects like Jean-Pierre Balpe’’s Fictions d’’Issy, Stefan Schemat’’s Wasser, Gabe Sawhney’’s [murmur], works of the collaborative artists’’ group ““34 North, 118 West,”” narrative online journals like the Madison Avenue Journal (, and also projects like Worldwatchers by Susanne Berkenheger and Gisela Müller ( that study the growing intensification of social control via electronic systems of observation. This contribution attempts to outline an initial overview theoretically situating these projects.

(Source: Authors' abstract for ELO_AI).

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Audun Andreassen