Towards a digital poetics

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This thesis extrapolates electronic literature’s différance, proposing an ontology of the form through critical inspection of its traits and peculiarities. Rather than offering a prescriptive definition of electronic literature, this thesis takes an ontological approach through descriptive exploration. In essence, my approach is anti-essentialist, in that I dismiss the view that electronic literature has a specific set of attributes. As will be explored throughout, there are aesthetic properties which frequently emerge, but the implication of their presence remains transient, to the point where electronic literature cannot be one thing, for to be so, it could not be literary. Computational aesthetics resist stable definition, so if we are to achieve an understanding of what separates electronic literature – if it is indeed, separate – from its non-digital counterparts, then we must do so through an articulation of those differences which may, at first, be less apparent. It is an impossibility to state what electronic literature is, as in doing so, one is oblivious to what it might become. The heightened relationship between form and content encountered in this field means that electronic literature is continuously in flux. Literature, while equally resistant to definition, is at least recognisable to our faculties. As readers, we have long possessed the sensibilities necessary to discern the literary from the communicative. Non-digital literary content is open to evolution and experimentation, but predominantly, with a few exceptions, its paratextual form remains consistent. Electronic literature’s content is open to the same artistic manipulation as the physical, but its form too, symbiotically attached to the exponential rate of technological change, gives rise to phenomenological disruption. As multimodal aesthetics challenge our ability to perceive the literary, we should abandon our attempts at defining the relevant works, and instead, seek understanding through analyses of the means by which they differ, and of how they defer, from the literatures that have both preceded and characterised the digital age. This thesis does not seek to resolve the aporetic, but rather, demonstrates how we must extract our theories of the digital out of observation and analysis, as opposed to speculation. This is not to say that my peers are necessarily wrong; I will be in agreement with many of them on a number of matters. My purpose, rather, is to offer some synthesis to a field comprised of a multiplicity of divergent views. Throughout the process of presenting this notion of a new modernity, and offering synthesis to the theories that have emerged from this epoch, I will offer fresh insights and novel approaches to the literary practices of the digital age. In doing so, my purpose will be to contribute to the progression of a consistent and legitimate digital poetics by showing that it cannot be one thing, but a balance of forces – a poetics of equipoise.


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Martin Li