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Towards a tension-based definition of Digital Literature

01 Jan 2017-Vol. 2, Iss: 1, pp 6
TL;DR: A paper on digital (or electronic) literature, which aims at conceiving and realizing works which are specific to the computer and the digital medium by trying to exploit their characteristics: hypertext technology, multimedia dimension, interactivity...
Abstract: Why a paper on digital (or electronic) literature? Writers who are recognized as print writers, such as the French novelist François Bon,1 have been experimenting new literary forms on the Internet. In some respects, the Internet appears as an artistic laboratory or as a vast creative workshop.2 However, literary creation with and for the computer was not born with the Internet; it has been around for several decades. “Digital literature”, “electronic literature”, or even “cyberliterature”: the terminology is not fixed.3 Its authors aim at conceiving and realizing works which are specific to the computer and the digital medium by trying to exploit their characteristics: hypertext technology, multimedia dimension, interactivity... The productions of digital literature were of course not born ex nihilo. Genealogy lines can be traced which are acknowledged by the authors themselves: combinatorial writing and constrained writing, fragmentary writing, sound and visual writing.

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Towards a Tension-Based Denition of Digital Literature 1
Towards a Tension-Based Denition of Digital
Literature
Serge Bouchardon
Sorbonne University, Université de technologie de Compiègne, Costech Lab
serge.bouchardon@utc.fr

Why a paper on digital (or electronic) literature?
Writers who are recognized as print writers, such as the French novelist François Bon,
1
have been
experimenting new literary forms on the Internet. In some respects, the Internet appears as an artistic
laboratory or as a vast creative workshop.
2
However, literary creation with and for the computer was
not born with the Internet; it has been around for several decades. “Digital literature”, “electronic lit-
erature”, or even cyberliterature”: the terminology is not xed.
3
Its authors aim at conceiving and
realizing works which are specic to the computer and the digital medium by trying to exploit their
characteristics: hypertext technology, multimedia dimension, interactivity... The productions of digital
literature were of course not born ex nihilo. Genealogy lines can be traced which are acknowledged
by the authors themselves: combinatorial writing and constrained writing, fragmentary writing, sound
and visual writing.
Digital literature and print literature are closely linked. How do they position themselves in relation to
each other? Is it even relevant to distinguish one from the other?

We believe that this positioning attempt, which aims for a better understanding of digital literature
DIGITAL AND MULTIMODAL/MULTIMEDIA
1
François Bon (born in 1953) qualies his online work (http://www.tierslivre.net/) of “ction laboratory”
(“laboratoire ction”).
2
Cf. Bouchardon Serge (dir.), Broudoux Evelyne, Deseilligny Oriane and Ghitalla Franck, Un laboratoire
de litratures – Littérature numérique et Internet, Bibliothèque Publique d’Information, Editions du Centre Georges
Pompidou, Paris, 2007.
3
In this paper, I chose the expression “digital literature” insofar as it refers explicitly to the digital medium.
1
Bouchardon: Towards a Tension-Based Definition of Digital Literature
Published by RIT Scholar Works, 2017

Journal of Creative Writing Studies 2
and its specicities, rst requires a denition of digital literature. This attempt at a denition should
allow us to get a ner grasp of the objects, in order not to categorize, but to provide analytical insights.
Trying to give a restrictive denition of digital literature leads to the question of the specicities of the
dierent media.

This paper leans towards a tension-based denition of digital literature. The idea is indeed that digital
literature can be approached in terms of tension. The eld is not static but constantly changing. It
seems that the tensions that make this eld dynamic provide a good point of entry to approach the
objects and build them as research objects.
The word tensionis based on double liation. There is the liation of Derrida, who deconstructs
opposites. Compared to Plato who separates and organizes a hierarchy (e.g. sensitive / intelligible),
Derrida positions himself in between terms and deconstructs oppositions. There is also the liation of
the “bricolage” by Lévi-Strauss: the objective is to reconcile opposites, to negotiate them with thebri-
colage.” Between the deconstruction and the “bricolage”/reconciliation of opposites, there is space for
thought and practice to discuss the experimental eld of digital literature and to think its emergence
and dynamic in terms of creative tensions.
It appears that these creative tensions in digital literature reveal tensions that exist in print-based
reading environments, but are a central consideration in digital environments.
Why can it be relevant for creative writing?
To identify these tensions, I rely on my research activity, but also on my own experience as a creative
author.
4
Likewise, the borderline test case that I chose for this paper by Jerome Fletcher is also the
work of someone who is both a researcher and a creative author (and performer). This test case makes
it possible to observe how aesthetics is revealed through the readers performance. There is a form
of self-consciousness in Jerome Fletcher’s work that stems from his scholarship of performance and
creative writing.
The scholarship of creative writing could bridge gaps between digital/print and creative/scholarly
(Hergenrader, Clarke, M.D. & Rein, 2015). Building such bridges is likely to uncover new insights
about reading and writing that print-only or digital-only cannot. This horizon is also that of this paper.
4
Editor’s note: Serge Bouchardon modestly demurs from noting the extent of his creative writing achieve-
ment. His Loss of Grasp won the 2011 New Media Prize and has inspired international scholarly attention to the
playful ways the text invites human interaction with the machine as a form of reading. Loss of Grasp, the rst instal-
lation of a triptych, is a witty story of middle age angst told in six vignettes. http://lossofgrasp.com/. All of Bouchar-
dons creative writing playfully explores new frontiers.
2
Journal of Creative Writing Studies, Vol. 2 [2017], Iss. 1, Art. 6
http://scholarworks.rit.edu/jcws/vol2/iss1/6

Towards a Tension-Based Denition of Digital Literature 3

How can digital literature
5
be dened? The rst criterion for dening digital literature, which the
majority of researchers agree on, is that of digital born literature (Hayles, 2008). A piece of digital
literature is created with and for the digital medium. It is intended to be read/acted on a digital medium
and it could not be printed. This criterion distinguishes digitized and digital literature: the former
refers to creations that could also be printed, the latter features works that would stop making sense on
paper (due to their multimedia, animated or interactive dimension).
Nevertheless the line is not always as clear at it seems. Thus tablets or e-readers make it possible to
empower the reader of a text of traditional literature, not only by oering a digital version, but by
oering reading/writing functionalities (hyperlinks, full text search, collaborative annotations...) that
are not possible on paper. However, this instrumentation of reading does not constitute the raison
d’être of the work, to quote Jean Clément (Clement, 2007: 14). A novel by Victor Hugo, digitized and
instrumented on an e-reader, can still be printed without losing its “raison dêtre,but a generative
novel by Jean-Pierre Balpe cannot (the computation of the digital medium can generate other pages of
the novel ad libitum, whereas the print medium would fail to generate these pages).
6
We can retain the idea that the mere fact of being produced on a computer is not enough to character-
ize digital literature. Digital literature uses the aordances of the computer to dynamically render the
story. If an e-reader simply displays text in the way a printed book displays text – the only dierence
being that to advance the text one scrolls rather than turns a page this is not digital literature. It
is printed work digitized for optimal display in a portable computational environment. Digital litera-
ture is algorithmic. It changes as the reader engages it. The concept of digital computation is empha-
sized in Reading Moving Letters. Noah Wardrip-Fruin denes a work of digital literature as “a literary
work that requires the digital computation performed by [...] computers” (Wardrip-Fruin, 2010). Robert
Simanowski states that the condition of digital computationis not fullled by the banal way of being
created on a computer” (Simanowski, 2010).
So, to dene digital literature, we often rely on this distinction between digital-born literature and digi-
tized literature, although the line is not always clear. But how can we go further in dening the features
of digital literature?
Digital literature is based on tensions that contribute to establishing its specicity: tension on the
media, on the semiotic forms, on the programmed writing and on the aesthetic experience. The word
5
In this paper, we use the expression “digital literature” rather than “electronic literature,” because it
emphasizes the role of the digital medium.
6
In Un roman inache by Jean-Pierre Balpe (1995 for the rst version on disks, 2015 for the web version,
http://www.balpe.name/Un-Roman-Inacheve), the button “Une autre page d’Un Roman inachevé” allows the reader
to generate as many pages as he/she wants.
3
Bouchardon: Towards a Tension-Based Definition of Digital Literature
Published by RIT Scholar Works, 2017

Journal of Creative Writing Studies 4
tension does not necessarily mean conict, but rather suggests the deconstruction of the obvious; it can
in fact be a creative tension.
Insofar as I aim to dene digital literature by problematizing it, let us focus on an example that is a bor-
derline case in order to identify some tensions which underlie and fertilize digital literature.

In 2009, Jerome Fletcher created a piece entitled …Ha perdut la veu. In a rst phase, this creation
took the form of an installation in a museum in Barcelona (in the frame of the e-poetry confer-
ence and festival), then it took the form of a transmittable object released on DVD, and at the end
the form of an online creation.
7
The principle of this creation is as follows. The reader, while leaving the mouse button pressed and
moving the mouse, can make a text appear gradually. An interface is provided to the reader, which
allows him/her to choose another “layernext layer in the interface corresponding to another text.
The text is in fact organized in layers and the user may at any time choose to make the text of
an upper layer appear above the previous one (in the manner of a palimpsest). The author Jerome
Fletcher uses the term overlaying to describe the process. In fact, when the user moves the mouse,
the reading experience can be both the erasure (giving the reader the impression of revealing the
contents of a lower layer) and the overlay.
Figure1. …Ha perdut la veu, by Jerome Fletcher (2009).
7
Video capture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUaAxiKJ8Mk.
4
Journal of Creative Writing Studies, Vol. 2 [2017], Iss. 1, Art. 6
http://scholarworks.rit.edu/jcws/vol2/iss1/6

Towards a Tension-Based Denition of Digital Literature 5
The textual fragments that appear address the issues of voice and loss of voice, language and
identity. These fragments are alternatively in Catalan and in English. The Catalan fragments
come from a childrens story written by Fletcher and translated into Catalan, in which animals
lose their voices (hence the title of the creation, which means in Catalan “has lost his voice”). This
story has a political dimension, referring to the attempts by the dictator Franco to erase Catalan, to
replace Catalan by Castilian (Spanish), particularly in the context of education. Texts in English
come from a translation of a text by Deleuze and Guattari called “Kafka: toward a minor litera-
ture.” The language alternation corresponds also to an alternation between narrative and theoreti-
cal text.
Without going into detail, the author draws a parallel between three situations of minorities: chil-
drens literature compared to adult literature, Catalan compared to Castilian, and digital literature
in relation to the printed literature. The author summarizes these issues in a theoretical article that
explains his approach based on the table below.
Although this very brief description of the principle of the creation does not fully give account of
the reading experience, I would like to emphasize that this creation reveals certain tensions. This
creation is indeed emblematic of certain tensions that feed digital literature, even though by itself
it is not representative of the diversity of digital literature creations.

The piece by Jerome Fletcher is based on a tension between the printed medium and the digital
medium. Clearly, Jerome Fletcher’s creation cannot be printed without losing its raison d’être.
It is indeed digital and not digitized literature. But is it that simple? In this creation, unlike other
creations of digital literature, text fragments are not generated but are pre-written; they exist as
image les (.jpg). We could imagine printing all the image les and superimposing them, thus
accounting for all the texts, even if it doesnt render the experience of gestural reading.
This creation stresses the tension between the cultural, literary and artistic forms inherited from
the printed world (here including palimpsest and collage). The forms born with digital, such as
the particular mode of appearance on screen depending on the gesture of the reader, are unique to
Figure2. Table from “…Ha perdut la veu - Some Reections on the Composition of E-literature as a
Minor Literature” by Jerome Fletcher.
5
Bouchardon: Towards a Tension-Based Definition of Digital Literature
Published by RIT Scholar Works, 2017

Citations
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Journal ArticleDOI
01 Jun 2020
TL;DR: This article explore works of digital fiction that favor fragmentation over immersion as a way toward a cognitively expansive narrative unity, drawing on the montage theories of Eisenstein, Benjamin, and Kluge.
Abstract: What is a montage theory and practice for the post-digital age? The modernist technique of montage– the creation of composite wholes from fragments–is at the heart of much of digital writing. In tweets, blogs, hypertext, multimedia fiction and recombinant poetry, the juxtapositions and constellations of distinct elements (text, image and sound) are the norm. Cinematic montage is usually opposed to Hollywood continuity or “invisible” editing, because in the latter the cut is masked. There is no gap to ponder, no room for the viewer. In popular movies, comics and commercials, montage has become normalized into a more fragmented continuity. Making space, more cohesive narrative worlds, through montage proved to be a faster method for conveying story and capturing attention. Digital expression has inherited both tendencies of montage: the making and breaking of space, but the dilemma for digital writers and artists is that the montage effects have been weakened by their ubiquity. If montage is the foundation of all digital expression, how can its affective powers still be used as a counterpractice to the more homogenizing montage of corporate media? What is the role of montage when there are no dominant narrative flows to disrupt? This paper will look to both cinema artists and authors of digital fiction whose approaches to montage offer possible ways out of this montage dilemma. Rethinking montage in digital writing means pursuing new methods to make and break spaces through bifurcation, juxtaposition, multiplicity, and indeterminate processes. Drawing on the montage theories of Eisenstein, Benjamin, and Kluge, I explore works of digital fiction that favor fragmentation over immersion as a way toward a cognitively expansive narrative unity.

4 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: In this paper, an extended version of a paper I gave at Kingston University as an invited speaker at the 'From Page to Screen to Augmented Reality' Conference in July 2010 is presented.
Abstract: This article is an extended version of a paper I gave at Kingston University as an invited speaker at the 'From Page to Screen to Augmented Reality' Conference in July 2010. The paper begins from a discussion of a digital text work of my own, entitled …ha perdut la veu. This is a bilingual text work in English and Catalan, and was first shown at the E-poetry conference at the University of Barcelona, May 2009. The text is drawn partly from the translation into Catalan of one of my early children’s novels, La Freda ha perdut la veu. (Alfreda Abbot's Lost Voice OUP), hence the title of the piece. The English text is taken from a translation of Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. Translation is being used here for its explanatory force in relation to both digital text and performance writing. The paper has two objectives. The first is to give a clear example of the way in which practice and theory, or rather practice-as-research, can exist as a symbiotic relationship – each benefiting and illuminating the other. The second is to propose and map out an area of potential further research into the discursive positioning of electronic literature/digital writing within Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of minorisation as articulated by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in his book, Deleuze and Style. The conference itself was organised by Dr Maria Mencia and the keynote was given by Jay David Bolter, Wesley Chair of New Media and a professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the author among other things of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, a highly influential critical text of electronic literature.

3 citations

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TL;DR: In this article, the authors explore the connections between cinema art and electronic literature, with a particular focus on computation as an extension of cinema-writing, and present strategies for a computational cinema that welcomes chance operations into the process of signification; that seeks an "outside" within narrative composition and authorial intent.
Abstract: Computational cinema, the digital manipulation of pixels, frames, shots and sequences, is a catch-all term for the many ways digital technology can affect cinema as a system of expression. If a movie scene calls for a snowstorm, CGI can be employed to create an idealized snowstorm. Computation in this sense is used to efficiently control contingencies (weather) and direct the intentions of “the writing” or preconceived idea. But computation can also create new contingencies that add to the camera’s already complex presentation of the world. Multimedia hypertext and interactive cinema, generative and recombinant video, datamoshing and databending all introduce forms of indeterminacy into digital cinema. As digital writing becomes even more cinematic and immersive, it is important to revisit the roots of cinema art and seek its relation both to writing and the world. The ideal of “cinema-writing,” or cinecriture in the French cinema context, is one that takes the machine seriously as a tool to bring the world into thought and thought out onto the world. Cinema and writing together, as imagined by the art’s earliest practitioners and theorists, is a way to harness the camera’s unique indexicality; to extend its spatio-temporal reach and direct its signification towards narrative, but also to benefit from its dispersed realism, its opacity and its potential to escape thought and narrative closure altogether. In this paper, I explore affiliations between cinema art and electronic literature, with a particular focus on computation as an extension of cinema-writing. Through examples of cinematic electronic literature, as well as film and video art, I will present strategies for a computational cinema that welcomes chance operations into the process of signification; that seeks an “outside” within (and beside) narrative composition and authorial intent.

2 citations


Cites background from "Towards a tension-based definition ..."

  • ...…a work of digital writing: the tension between media types and platforms, the tension between semiotic forms (text, image, sound, video), the tension between computer programming and writing, and the aesthetic tension between “material actions and the revelation of meaning” (Bouchardon, 2017: 10)....

    [...]

Book ChapterDOI
01 Jan 2021
TL;DR: In this paper, the authors define digital literature on the Russian-language Internet as a broad variety of phenomena, from online libraries to writers' blogs, from hypertext to Internet memes.
Abstract: Digital literature on the Russian-language Internet includes a broad variety of phenomena, from online libraries to writers’ blogs, from hypertext to Internet memes. The chapter begins by clarifying the terms “digital literature” and “Runet,” drawing on a functional understanding of literature in the tradition of Russian Formalism. It embeds Runet literary studies into global contexts and gives an overview of essential phenomena (hypertext, fan fiction, blogging) and narratives. It analyzes local discourses, which, in turn, attempt to make sense of global communication technologies, for example, by conceptualizing digital self-publishing as samizdat, that is, the historical phenomenon of clandestine underground publication in the post-Stalin Soviet Union. The chapter concludes with an overview of research approaches and methods, both qualitative and quantitative, and of the challenges that future analysis will face.

1 citations

References
More filters
Journal ArticleDOI

1,749 citations


"Towards a tension-based definition ..." refers background or methods in this paper

  • ...12Lev Manovich already emphasized variability as an important characteristic of new media (Manovich, 2001)....

    [...]

  • ...Towards a Tension-Based Definition of Digital Literature 7 (Manovich, 2001)....

    [...]

  • ...See N. Katherine Hayles in Electronic Literature: New Horizons of the Literary pp. 57-8. http://scholarworks.rit.edu/jcws/vol2/iss1/6 Towards a Tension-Based Definition of Digital Literature 7 (Manovich, 2001)....

    [...]

Book
01 Mar 2008
TL;DR: The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1 as mentioned in this paper is a collection of sixty new and recent works of electronic literature with keyword index, authors' notes, and editorial headnotes, along with a website offering resources for teachers and students.
Abstract: A visible presence for some two decades, electronic literature has already produced many works that deserve the rigorous scrutiny critics have long practiced with print literature. Only now, however, with "Electronic Literature" by N. Katherine Hayles, do we have the first systematic survey of the field and an analysis of its importance, breadth, and wide-ranging implications for literary study.Hayles' book is designed to help electronic literature move into the classroom. Her systematic survey of the field addresses its major genres, the challenges it poses to traditional literary theory, and the complex and compelling issues at stake. She develops a theoretical framework for understanding how electronic literature both draws on the print tradition and requires new reading and interpretive strategies. Grounding her approach in the evolutionary dynamic between humans and technology, Hayles argues that neither the body nor the machine should be given absolute theoretical priority. Rather, she focuses on the interconnections between embodied writers and users and the intelligent machines that perform electronic texts.Through close readings of important works, Hayles demonstrates that a new mode of narration is emerging that differs significantly from previous models. Key to her argument is the observation that almost all contemporary literature has its genesis as electronic files, so that print becomes a specific mode for electronic text rather than an entirely different medium. Hayles illustrates the implications of this condition with three contemporary novels that bear the mark of the digital.Included with the book is a CD, "The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1", containing sixty new and recent works of electronic literature with keyword index, authors' notes, and editorial headnotes. Representing multiple modalities of electronic writing - hypertext fiction, kinetic poetry, generative and combinatory forms, network writing, codework, 3D, narrative animations, installation pieces, and Flash poetry - the ELC 1 encompasses comparatively low-tech work alongside heavily coded pieces. Complementing the text and the CD-ROM is a website offering resources for teachers and students, including sample syllabi, original essays, author biographies, and useful links. Together, the three elements provide an exceptional pedagogical opportunity.

282 citations


"Towards a tension-based definition ..." refers background in this paper

  • ...The first criterion for defining digital literature, which the majority of researchers agree on, is that of “digital born literature” (Hayles, 2008)....

    [...]

  • ...How can digital literature5 be defined? The first criterion for defining digital literature, which the majority of researchers agree on, is that of “digital born literature” (Hayles, 2008)....

    [...]

01 Jan 1999

39 citations


"Towards a tension-based definition ..." refers background in this paper

  • ...In this creation by Fletcher, the tension on the programmed writing raises the question of “architextual writing” (Jeanneret & Souchier, 1999).10 Jeanneret and Souchier refer to certain software programs as “architexts” (after Genette), meaning that we are writing with forms already written by…...

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Book
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28 citations


"Towards a tension-based definition ..." refers background in this paper

  • ...There is a tension here between the materiality of the object and the revelation of meaning, between materiality and transcendence, which is the characteristic of the aesthetic experience (Olivesi, 2012)....

    [...]

Book ChapterDOI
31 Jan 2010

11 citations


"Towards a tension-based definition ..." refers methods in this paper

  • ...Noah Wardrip-Fruin defines a work of digital literature as “a literary work that requires the digital computation performed by [...] computers” (Wardrip-Fruin, 2010)....

    [...]