Over the last two decades, many recent forms of electronic literature have revealed a strong aptitude for hypertextuality and hypermediality. Meanwhile, we have assisted to the progressive emergence of innovative examples of print fiction that may be defined as «writing machines»,1 because they strive to incorporate the aesthetics and the symbolic forms of the electronic media. These kinds of narrative are often characterised by an "autopoietic" potentiality, since they often tend to include a multiplicity of media sources while preserving the autonomy of their literary function. As Joseph Tabbi observes: «Defining the literary as a self-organizing composition, or poiesis, is not to close off the literary field; instead, by creating new distinctions such a definition can actually facilitate literary interactions with the media environment».2 At the same time, some examples of print and electronic 'writing machines' are also characterized by an «exopoietic function». As the philosopher John Nolt points out (in the disciplinary context of the environmental ethics): «In exopoiesis, an organism functions not for its own benefit, but rather for the benefit of something related to it, to which it is therefore of instrumental value».3 Applying this concept to the literary field, the aim of this article is to analyse the structures and the fruition of four recent novels, in order to understand how the electronic environment promotes a complex relationship between exopoiesis and literariness. William Gibson's novels "Pattern Recognition" (2003) and "Spook Country" (2007) became the core of the projects of some online communities: users begun to build online databases by annotating the various narrative segments, in order to link them to other online searchable resources. These images, videos, and texts are indirectly related to the literary plot, being at the same time independent from it. Similarly, "Flight Paths" (2007) is an electronic «networked novel» that was developed by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph alongside a related hypermedial database containing images, videos, newspaper articles and other texts, which may be continuously updated by the readers. Finally, the verse novel "Only Revolutions" (2006) was written by Mark Z. Danielewski with the help of a well established group of readers involved in his online forum, in order to discuss the various aspects of the novel and to suggest possible connections to other material. In all these cases, the reading of the literary work seems to be perceived as not sufficient in itself and it requires the support of a parallel electronic environment, such as a database or a forum. Moreover, the authors purposefully prearranged the structural and poetic nature of their works to promote an exopoietic non-autonomy of the literary text, the fragments of the latter being exploited in order to become part of non-literary fluxes of online information. These works are not only «distributed narratives»,4 which spread themselves across different media platforms and authorial voices, but they are also novels whose reading engenders a problematization of many of the most relevant aspects that usually define the literariness of a text, like its «open» nature and the the logic of «possible worlds» that were discussed by Umberto Eco and other scholars in the fields of semiotics and narratology.5 The exopoietic function of literary works in electronic environments may be a proper field of analysis to understand how it is possible to conceive literature as a process that runs along with other information strategies.1 See N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines, Cambridge (MA) - London: The MIT Press, 2002, p. 112. 2 Joseph Tabbi, Cognitive Fictions, Minneapolis - London: University of Minnesota Press, c2002, p. 8. 3 John Nolt, "The Move from Is to Good in Environmental Ethics," in «Philosophy Publications and Other Works» Vol. 31, 2009, pp. 135-154; p. 149. Web. 29-07-2011. . 4 See Jill Walker, “Distributed Narratives. Telling Stories Across Networks,” Presented at AoIR 5.0, Brighton, September 21, 2004 by Dr. Jill Walker, Dept. of Humanistic Informatics, University of Bergen. Web. 12-10-2010. . 5 See: Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, London: Macmillan, 1984, p. 18; The Open Work, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984, pp. 3-24; On Literature, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005 pp. 14-15; Cesare Segre, Introduction to the Analysis of the Literary Text, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.
Exopoiesis and literariness in the works of William Gibson, Mark Z. Danielewski, Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph