Towards a Digital Epistemology: Printed Texts and the Logic of Electronic Literature

What I tentatively call a "Digital epistemology" is a twofold media archaeological concept, on the one hand it defines a historical notion, or – with Kittler – a discursive network. By this I mean that texts and artworks produced during the post-war digital era in many ways could be said to reproduce a digital logic, whether or not they are digital-born, and whether or not they orchestrate, or address, a digital logic on a formal as well as thematic level. In short: a novel need not be about computers to be an expression of the digital epistemology. On the other hand, and consequently, Digital epistemology could be said to define a set of literary and aesthetic practices from almost any point in history, in any medium. This understanding of the concept suggests that digital logic actually could predate digital technology, and thus could be found in texts and artworks all through history (a suggestion, though, I will not fully explore in this presentation…). By studying contemporary electronic texts against the backdrop of earlier print-based strategies, it is possible to not only better analyze what is new in electronic literature, (- to address for example, the question of what constitutes the concept of text in electronic literature) but also how the perspective of digital technology could encourage new theoretical questions to address earlier literary practices. In this paper, then, I will take an experimental novel from the Swedish literary Avant-Garde in the 1960’s as a point of departure for a reflection on textual strategies that are derived from a computerized, or digital, logic (i.e. one of many possible expressions of a digital epistemology). The Swedish author/critic Torsten Ekbom’s novel – or, according to its pretext, »Prose Machine» – Signalspelet [The Game of Signals] 1965 simulates a text that is being produced by a computer that has been programmed with simple text fragments (mainly derived from W. E. Johns Biggles, Secret Agent). These fragments somehow, slowly and not without technical failures, are organized into something that remotely resemble fiction. »The Game of Signals» is, of course, a very explicit expression of a Digital epistemology and could be said to predate the logic of digital culture. From a media archaeological perspective then, Ekbom’s experiment provides an »anachronistic» tool for approaching the »literariness» of electronic texts of the present date. Furthermore, we will see how the logic of certain electronic texts may shed light on literary strategies predating digital culture by decades and centuries.

Conference_year: 
2013