(Electronic) Literature and the (Post)human Condition

Electronic literature exists in a perpetual state of flux, due to its reliance on digital technology; with the rapid progression of processing power and graphical abilities, electronic literature swiftly moved from a reliance on the written word into a more diverse, multi-modal form of digital arts practice. The literariness of early electronic literature is manifest: the work was primarily textual, the centrality of reading paramount. The current crop of electronic literature--with its audio-visual, multimodal nature--calls into question the literariness of this work, however, as is evidenced by this year's call for papers. I propose that this ambiguity as regards literariness and written textuality in electronic literature disadvantages the field, in both academic circles and in the search for a wider reading audience. If electronic literature as field is to assert and validate its position within the greater literary tradition, links between electronic literature and past literary achievements need to be uncovered and illuminated.  In this paper, I would like to turn the attention of the electronic literature community to the philosophical and theoretical framework of posthumanism, as it is deployed by both Cary Wolfe and Katherine Hayles. Posthumanism can be brought upon electronic literature in a manner of ways. Firstly, posthumanism can be used as a theoretical framework for understanding how electronic literature as a genre operates as a system, implicated and imbricated within the greater system of literature in a historical sense. Following Wolfe’s lead, systems theory will be used to draw borders and boundaries for electronic literature, just as Wolfe argues for a more defined conception of animal studies. It is my contention that this necessary defining of the field will lead to more productive engagement with literature departments, leading to a greater reading audience.  Secondly, posthumanism as a philosophical undertaking seeks to challenge the conception of the autonomous liberal subject as defined by humanism in the Enlightenment era. I argue that this autonomous subject is intricately connected to the novel; not only is the novel seen as a definitive, autonomous object, but for much of its history the novel has been used to perpetuate the autonomous liberal subject. Works of modernism and postmodernism finally challenged this notion of subjectivity, dovetailing with critical theories of poststructuralism and deconstruction. Posthumanism, growing out of work in deconstruction and postmodern theory, can help us make connections between electronic literature and previous movements in the literary tradition.   Finally, posthumanism can be employed as a theoretical framework for understanding works of individual creativity, as another tool of literary criticism. Ultimately, posthumanism as literary criticism has mostly lent itself to use with works of electronic literature which are concerned themselves with issues of technology and the human body, the rights of animals, and matters of ecological importance. Can posthumanism be used as criticism for any and all works of literature? 

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2013
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