Closer again!

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

A semiotic appoach of animated figures in The Dreamlife of letters by Brian Kim Stefans. In many research works of these last years (for example in my book Matières textuelles sur support numérique, 2007), I tried to circumscribe the stylistic features of digital literature. More specifically, I aimed to identify the processes by which “figures of animation” and “figures of manipulation” in e-literature defamiliarize the conventions of digital discourse. In a recent article (“Digital literature - a question of style”, Reading moving letters, ed. Simanowski/Schäfer/Gendolla, 2009), I have already presented a close reading of The Dreamlife of Letters by Brian Kim Stefans; in order to characterize the textual animations in this work, I had recourse to traditional figures of speech (apocope, metathesis, etc.). The result was a large catalogue of figures - a “taxonomic explosion”. In this paper, I will present an innovative semiotic model developed in a research program at University Paris 81; it will help us to characterize the “figures of animation” in digital literature with more precision while reducing the number of terms and taking more account of the temporal characteristics of digital discourse. The starting point: a certain number of animations differ from a purely visual point of view, but they are perceived similarly by the reader because of a resembling temporal behaviour. They can be described as “temporal semiotic unit”"2 (so far I have identified ten), to which we can associate a certain number of possible “signifying traits”. These semiotic units with their signifying traits therefore constitute a first significant part of the figures of animation. The media contents (e.g. texts) constitute the second part. The “figures of animation” are thus based on a meaningful relationship between the movement and the media contents. This relationship is based on a tensive process that combines signifying traits associated to the media contents and the movement according to the surrounding context ("isotopy") and according to the reader’s habits and knowledge. If the field of intersection (containing the common elements between the signifying traits of the movement and the media contents) is sufficiently large, and if the addition of the signifying traits meets the reader’s expectations shaped by the immediate media context (the isotopy) and by her reading habits and cultural context, the semiosis is based on a relationship I propose to call a « conventional junction ». The movement mainly confirms or accentuates the signifying traits already mobilized by the media contents (e.g. the word “sales” flashing on a commercial website). The “movie-gram” is a special case of an animated conventional junction: the signifying traits mobilized by the media and the movement converge almost completely; a sort of synonymy is created between the signification of the movement and the media contents (e.g. the word “heart” flashing in a love story). If a certain number of signifying traits of the movement and the media enter in an additional relationship whereas some other traits, excluded from the field of intersection, continue to influence the semiosis so that the reader’s expectations are troubled, I propose to call it an “unconventional junction”. The more the intersection field of signifying traits is reduced, and the more an element diverges from standardized usage, the more a reader may perceive an animation as unfamiliar ou even "incoherent"; the animation runs the risk of being considered as a malfunction, as a “bug”. For a “figure” to exist, there must be a process of mediation between the element perceived as incongruous and the context (eg. the word “brain” flashing in a love story). By presenting a very close reading of some scenes of The Dreamlife of Letters, I will discuss examples of these three categories of figures and the processes of mediation. Although a certain number of conventional junctions will be identified in the work, the focus will be on non-conventional junctions and movie-grams; these figures will not only be analyzed as parts of a specific rhetoric of digital discourse, but as important factors of the literariness of Brian Kim Stefan’s work (which, for this reason, can still be considered as “innovative”)

(Source: Author's abstract for ELO_AI).

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Audun Andreassen