(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 will explore the connections between works of postmodernism (in particular, experimental authors such as William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon, and authors explicitly critiquing their own craft, such as Paul Auster), and electronic literature. In doing so, I hope to uncover a richer, more nuanced background for the literary in the traditions/practices of print and oral cultures, rather than in arts where the literary may or may not be present. Literature qua literature is currently present only as a minority element in works claiming the status of electronic literature, and it is therefore unlikely that literary studies will set itself up for reading just this sub-genre within an as yet minority arts practice. Turning to the works of Tom LeClair and Joseph Tabbi, postmodern novels are seen as coming into existence at a time when the world was on the brink of the globalized, world system. LeClair writes of the art of excess, in which the "recognition of radically new and massive information in the world and the impulse to represent this information are. . . the ultimate motives for the art of excess" (48) in postmodern novels. Tabbi, building off of LeClair, understands Gaddis and Pynchon as not only accurately representing a globalized world of excessive information, but also as representing the cognition developing out of this world system. My paper will explore how we can understand our own contemporary world system through works of electronic literature. If postmodern authors turned to their own material supports--the written language marked on a page through the course of a particular writer's thinking--then how are we to understand electronic literature as representing a certain mode of consciousness, especially considering electronic literature's distinct marginalization of the written word? My paper will offer close readings of earlier works of hypertext fiction and new works of electronic literature (published in 2012), in an effort to uncover the uniquely literary accomplishments of chosen texts/authors writing in a medium in which the literary is not always evidently manifest.