Giorgio Agamben has identified the “State of Exception” as the emergent principle of governance for the 21st Century. To summarize Agamben’s argument, alongside the emergence of modern theories of governance (democratic societies with defined human rights), a state of permanent emergency has been declared in response to the various threats (terrorism, ecological disasters, migration, etc.) that have enabled an exception to the rule to persist as the emerging norm. Parallel to this crisis in politics, there is the increasing currency of the term emergence in literary criticism, media theory, and cultural studies to describe the general state of change. Increasingly, this term is used to describe change as a benign and specifically digital determinism. This paper will consider electronic literature as both a laboratory for formal innovation and a site of critique. Specifically, this paper will take into account the relationship between literacy, law, literature and criticism and will rely upon readings of relevant works, like Pullinger and Joseph’s Flight Paths, Baldwin’s New Word Order, and Marino’s Show of Hands, works that deal with dislocation, interruption, and other states of exception.
Literature in a State of Emergency