A critique of Third Generation, web based electronic literature from a first generation maker and author of "The Moving Word" (2000), Janez Strehovic.
Image from Olia Lialina's Ann Karenin Goes to Paradise
This is a reposte to Leo Flores's Third Generation Electronic Literature, an ebr essay that has challenged several discussions on paradigm shifts of e-lit (the most recent being Alex Saum-Pasqual's essay Is Third Generation Literature Postweb Literature? And Why Should We Care?). The "generation" issue of e-lit is already an historical one, and it has stimulated my first steps in the research of this field, which I consider as thoroughly intertwined with the (new) media art, including the net art, and with a cinematic turn.
1)New-generation e-literature, expression techno-literature, and web literary projects were first mentioned in my paper Text as Virtual Reality presented at the first Digital Arts and Culture conference that took place from 26th to 28th of November, 1998 in Bergen, Norway. I have mentioned that “cybernetic literature on web sites is undoubtedly expanding avant-garde and experimental forms of literature (visual and concrete poetry and experimental prose), but its inquiries are especially relevant for aesthetics (particularly of electronic art). Basic concepts like interactivity and total immersion get new encouragement from the web media. When mentioning web literature, we have to state the fact that it includes a new generation of literature, made in web medium. So we can place its projects between second order techno-literatures; as into the first generation obviously belongs the influential, for literary theory very challenging form of hyperfiction, written/computed by Michael Joyce and some more important successors of that tradition (Stuart Moulthrop, Shelley Jackson, Carolyn Guyer). In order not to mention second order techno-literatures only on abstract level, let us for information, mention some more characteristic works of web-literatures: Stuart Moulthrop's Hegirascope (version 2), Mark Amerika's Grammatron, Diane Reed Slatery's Alfaweb, Komninos Zervos homepage Cyberpoetry, Jacques Servin's Beast, Olia Lialina's Ann Karenin Goes to Paradise, Juliet Martin's Can You See Me Through The Computer, Shelley Jackson's My Body, Anne Joelle's The Confessional, C.Can's & R.Allalouf's Keywords, K. Mork's & S. Stenslie's Solve et Coagula.” The key ideas of this paper had been also included in my essay The Moving Word, published in Cybertext Yearbook 2000, pp.100-116.
2) A discussion on the third generation of e-literature is intertwined with criteria that are outside (cyber)literariness in terms of more literary content and procedures shaping the specificity of e-literature. Rather than considering literary, as-if literary, or postliterary devices, the classification of several e-lit generations emphasizes smart technology (and its procedures), which shapes the production and dissemination of textual services and apps embedded in social media. A Google machine can be found at the center, which generates the artificial life of self-referential loops between textual datascapes on the one hand and metadata, meta-algorithms, metabots, and metainterfaces on the other. And there are spatial (Foucault), performative (Fischer-Lichte), and cinematic (Benjamin, Deleuze, Virilio, Beller) turns that significantly impact the e-literary by opening the new dispositif involving both the e-text and the e-author, as someone who, in making an e-piece, might also deploy new mobile devices like action cameras and drones. In a paradigm of visual cogito (I record, therefore I am) the e-poem as a cinematic and networked text is written down, shared, and shot.
This classification means that e-lit is considered a derivative of media technology–based novelties such as hypertext, web plug-ins (e.g., applied in Java, Shockwave, and Flash Poetry), and (in the third-generation case) social media apps. In this vein, one can discuss the fourth, fifth, and further generations of e-lit that can unfortunately have loose and vain concepts like the third. This classification is accepted in e-lit scholarship as not questionable enough because of its links with the born-digital criterion. However, born-digital textual practice is always contextualized, deployed within interactions with nonliterary content, and embedded into society. The point of born digital might be in its interactions with the born social, born corporeal, born economical, and born (post)political although such interactions appear to be alien to those theoreticians and practitioners of e-lit who are too frequently afficionados of spectacular and high-tech advancements and who are not aware of the possible role of e-literature in social criticism. They also admire all machine-generated realities under the posthuman perspective and support smart machine as a rival of the corporeal literary author in writing process.Today, the community of born-digital writers and theoreticians perpetuate a deep faith in the promises of technological advancements at the expense of more critical and dystopian attitude to the high-tech issues that are at play in contemporary media art and its criticism. Unlike e-literature, new media art and its hacktivism (e.g. the recent drone art projects) contribute new devices and tactics to civil society (and to the social citizen science); issues of aesthetics are pushed aside in media art situated beyond the technopositivist ideology.
Unfortunately, the significant part of digerati are not familiar with the procedures that demonstrate the malfunction and the role of high technology in the present world of social inequality. It seems that in McDonaldized societies where the individuals are unable to look the Negative in the face, the principles of blood and soil (Ger. Blut und Boden) that are well-known in German national socialism give way to technological advancements deployed in the spectacular SF world of posthuman and AI-generated entities. More about it in my book Contemporary Art Impacts on Scientific, Social, and Cultural Paradigms: Emerging Research and Opportunities (Hershey, PA, 2020).