When Digital Literature goes Multimedia: Three German Examples

Critical Writing
Journal volume and issue: 
24 August
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Abstract (in English): 

In February 2000 Robert Coover noticed the "constant threat of hypermedia: to suck the substance out of a work of lettered art, reduce it to surface spectacle". Coover's message seems to be: When literature goes multimedia, when hypertext turns into hypermedia a shift takes place from serious aesthetics to superficial entertainment. What Coover points out is indeed a problem of hypermedia. If the risk of hyperfiction is to link without meaning, the risk of hypermedia is to employ effects that only flex the technical muscles. Can there be substance behind spectacle? In this paper I discuss three examples of German digital literature which combine the attraction of technical aesthetics with the attraction of deeper meaning.

The first example, "Das Epos der Maschine" (The Epic of the Machine) by Urs Schreiber, presents a visual image consisting only of words, since the words themselves represent pictures by moving in a predetermined way. For example, words that put technology into question form a question mark with the word 'Truth' as a period. If one clicks on the question mark, the words disappear behind the 'Truth' as if it had swallowed them. However, the question can be 'eaten' in this way, it cannot be erased, because if one moves the mouse the word 'Truth' moves and is followed by those other words as if they stick on the truth until the cursor stops and those words disappear again.

"Trost der Bilder" ("Consolation of Images") by J├╝rgen Daibers and Jochen Metzgers, tells the story of a man who falls in love with a mannequin and locks himself overnight in a store in order to gaze upon it. The manequin's face can half be seen in the background of the text and is shown at the end of the story without the accompanying text, but only for a moment. This combination of image and time setting leads to the deeper meaning, because the readers who hit the return button in order to see the mannequin's face testify to their attraction to the mannequin. To be sure, they do not thereby become like the man in the story; nevertheless, their action re-enacts the reading process in general, which is also a materialization of life in our imagination.

The third example, "Digital Troja" (Digital Troy) by Fevci Konuk, uses words, sound and animated images, to discuss war both past and present time. One interesting effect here is the image of Paris, who obviously wants to run away from Troy but is instead caught in an endless loop. There are two breaks within the loop. In the language of animation breaks are supposed to stress something. I see these breaks as allusions to the famous sequence in Hitchcock's movie "North by Northwest" where Roger Thornhill, alias Cary Grant, realizes the danger of an approaching airplane, and to Discobulus, the ancient discus-thrower. While Discobulus is associated with the Olympic ideal, Thornhill evokes the Cold War. Both bring important issues in the story. Thus breaks itselfes serve as text and add meaning to the written text.

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Jill Walker Rettberg