The E-Literary World and the Social

The E-Literary World and the Social

2013-12-01

According to Janez Strehovec, e-literature operates on the model of post-Fordist immaterial production. He argues it’s precisely because “a part of contemporary art (especially the new media one and e-literature) is crossing into the service sector of (new) networked economy in the post-industrial, information, spectacle-  and software society” that e-literature needs to cultivate its own autonomous context.

E-Literary World and the Service of E-Literature

It often seems that autopoiesis and self-reference play a crucial role in the basic understanding of e-literature, which the established scholarship (e.g. e-literary criticism) considers first and foremost in terms of its new media specificity. This practice is distinctly contextualized and embedded in contemporary society and its paradigm shifts. In the present time, defined by capitalism, which does not leave anything outside of its influence, there is also no point in leaving the e-literary text outside, i.e. without any references to “the social” and to theories that deal with new social and cultural paradigms. The challenge of broader social theory application in this field is therefore the current topic of interest in this essay. To emphasize the specificity of an e-literary piece (as a performance, event, procedure, program, ride, textual instrument) directs us to its materiality, which is a very historical, changeable category. The requirements for full autonomy of this field as separated from the social (the claim of modernist aesthetics), have passed. Today we recognize that software is also a cultural and social tool (Galloway, 2012). In this essay, we are going to discuss some key theoretical notions on the issue of “the social” at the present time and their application in the field of e-literature.

When the e-literary text is integrated into a broader social context by means of recent social networks, artistic platforms, globalization, and software culture, we may begin to understand (and explain) its specificity by concepts that are not strictly related to e-literary theory and e-criticism. These extend into other fields, especially in the economic, new media-theoretical, sociological, and political. Such a turn towards life, body, political, gender, and mode of production has not been alien also to some authors of e-literature and their pieces (e. g. in Alan Sondheim’s practice of “wryting,” in Francesca da Rimini’s Dollspace, Natalie Bookchin’s The Intruder, Sandy Baldwin’s New Word Order: Basra, John Cayley’s Writing to be Found – to list only some historical examples).

Beyond the Autonomy of Art and Literature

The concept of artistic autonomy - i.e., that the field of art and literature cannot be simply deduced from the basic principles of a given social reality and it cannot be explained by them - impacted the understanding of European modernist art in the twentieth century. Art and literature is one thing, but social reality with its historical variables is something entirely different – this was the basic standpoint of most of the aestheticians and theorists of modernist art. This standpoint was also acceptable to the artists and theorists of art in the countries of (European) Socialism, who appealed to artistic autonomy especially when they defended their different, dissident views, which departed from the dominant interpretations and expectations as regards to the content and the functioning of art.

When we encounter such a view today, we can understand it as markedly historical and changeable. The historical Avant-gardes and Neo-Avant-gardes of the twentieth century presupposed the implosion of the artistic in the social. American pop artists did not find it difficult to say “yes” to the iconography of popular culture of that time (for example Andy Warhol’s pieces from sixties). The concept of artistic autonomy was also alien to some artistic traditions in the Far East, which today display an emphasis on “device art” (Kusahara, 2008), hinging upon connecting the aesthetic, the exhibition, and the use value. Today we are also witnessing the boost of artistic activism (from Critical Art Ensemble, Electronic Disturbance Theatre, and The Surveillance Camera Players, to The Yes Men) and hactivism, such that the most striking new media art practices take place at the intersection of new media art, politics, science, software, tactical media, and communication. Finally, the concept of artistic autonomy is far from being close to the understanding of the field that occupies the center of our attention. E-literature is increasingly defined through the use of new media and technologies, while at the same time – and this is one of the key points of this text – it is also increasingly and ever more explicitly embedded in the world of new social paradigms and contemporary modes of production.

The questions concerning the relationship between literature and social reality were also part of aesthetic debates referring to the notion of realism as a complex and multifaceted (theoretical as well as ideological) movement and “ism.” These debates were split between “the great European literary realism” (Balzac, Tolstoy, Dickens) and the simplifications and biases of socialist realism, which were shaped by the dominant (mainly Soviet) ideology. When contemporary theorists, perhaps nostalgically, recall the debates about realism, we can see that today’s social theories displace realism in the form of mimetic artistic practices – which presuppose the so-called objective reality as the basis of artistic, mainly literary, activities of reflecting and mirroring (György Lukács’s account on realism) – for links between art and social reality that are much more direct. These links are characterized by their abandoning of claims about artistic autonomy, as well as claims about mimesis (imitation, representation, mirroring) as a key function of so-called realistic art and literature. New social theories have arisen that are fundamentally related to the challenges that derive from contemporary cognitive capitalism as a social machine that leaves nothing outside - its accumulation focuses on immaterial contents and its objects transform the subject. These theories are also informed by an understanding of immaterial and precarious labor, which encroaches upon the individual’s 24-hour rhythm of life.

In order to come closer to e-literature and social issues, we need mention two more recent theoretical interventions: Jonathan Beller’s discussion of the cinematic mode of production and Antonio Negri’s analysis of art and immaterial labor. These explore the relationship between art/literature and social reality precisely in the sense that the sphere of art and literature is not about merely replaying the froth of special, aesthetic, and spectacular effects, and even less about artistic imitation or mirroring of reality. On the contrary, the sphere of art and literature involves things that concern not only the narrower field of art theory and literary theory, but also contemporary social life in general. Art and Literature serve as crucial guidance to and an explanation of the key paradigms of contemporary social life.

Between Moving Images and Sequencing of Worker’s Activity on Assembly-Line

Guy Debord’s notion of capital accumulated in images is incorporated in Jonathan Beller’s thinking about cinematic moving images, whose understanding is the key to an analytical approach to new social paradigms and to issues of art and literature in the epoch’s general mode of production. Beller’s The Cinematic Mode of Production (2006) is interested in the history and the aesthetics of cinema (he dedicates some attention to Dziga Vertov and Hollywood); however, he situates the art of moving images and their perception within the context of industrial labor, Taylorism, psychosocial management (Pavlov’s theory) and psychoanalysis. This means that the aesthetics of cinema is displaced by a theory that establishes a fundamental embeddedness of cinema in industrial production, particularly in that segment of industrial production which is defined as a Fordist and Taylorist mode of organizing industrial labor (by means of assembly-line).

Early cinematic montage extended the logic of the assembly-line (the sequencing of discreet, programmatic machine-orchestrated human operations) to the sensorium and brought the industrial revolution to the eye. Cinema welds human sensual activity, what Marx called “sensual labor”, in the context of commodity production, to celluloid. (Beller 9)

This claim articulates an understanding of cinema in the broader context of the industrial revolution. Rather, it is a very specific understanding of cinema, which does not presuppose any reference to or representation/imitation of what transpires in industrial settings. In fact, cinema itself is an abstraction of the process of the assembly line, which, like cinema, presupposes a montage of contents, cuts, interventions into the worker’s movement, and rationalisation of the work process.

Beller’s interpretation of viewing is also far-reaching. Under the paradigm of capital, viewing has become productive labor for the viewers, like workers in the Taylorist organization of industrial production, who perform sequential visual operations on the elements that form moving images. The function of the latter, however, is no longer to represent capital, rather moving images are themselves capital. Images as capital are conceivable within the frame of contemporary social changes, which lead us to the world of immaterial labor. The new role of circulation is essential to the processes of evaluation and to the new dispositif, in which commodities are now constituted, organized, and distributed.

According to Beller, cinema is not only the art genre that fundamentally defined the last century (even in terms of Jameson’s cultural dominant), but also the dominant mode of production. Cinema concerns the industrial revolution and the industrial organization of labor on the assembly line. Capitalism itself is increasingly structured like cinema. We can even observe a continuation of the industrial mode of production in film production:

Cinema as a process, a complex of movement, bodies, and consciousness, which I will refer to as cinematic process, becomes the dominant mode of production itself. Not all production passes through cinema in the institutional sense, but global production is organized as cinema is. Consciousness is dominated by the organization of movement – the organization of materials produces affect. In the cinematic organization of global production and reproduction, this logic will be interiorized in, and as, the postmodern to the extent that for the postmodern sensorium the world is a world of images. Cinema provides the architectonics of the logistics of perception for capital. Indeed, it represents their fusion. Hence, the cinematic has been machining the postmodern for nearly a century. In this sense, we can say that during the twentieth century, much of the world is literally in cinema, much in the way that the futurists intended to put the spectator inside the painting. (109)

Beller emphasizes the duality of cinema, that is, cinema as cinema and cinema as capital, which can be seen as a theoretical tool that can be used in other fields as well. Of course, Guy Debord’s The Society of Spectacle already established the duality of image as image and image as commodity, spectacle as the ecstasy of aesthetic effects and spectacle as a social relation.

The paradigm of cinema is not alien to the theoreticians of new media art and e-literature. Beller’s notion that “much of the world is literally in cinema” is valuable in a significant part of e-literature. Referring to Brechtian epic theatre, Walter Benjamin claims that Brecht approaches the theater in a cinematic way. Similary, the author of this paper has argued that kinetic (animated) poetry as an e-textual practice based on moving words-images-virtual bodies might be explained better by applying film theory than by traditional literary scholarship (Strehovec, 2010: 81). Animated electronic poetry is a kind of textuality for which the temporal grammar as well as cinematic mode of organization of words-images are essential. Suddenly features relating to editing - as well as qualities like before, after, not-yet, no-more, later - need to be taken into consideration. One example of an e-literary text that fits the paradigm of cinema is J. R. Carpenter’s work Along the Briny Beach. This is based on a poetry generator that gradually loads verses from the top to the bottom, doing so in an even rhythm so that the reader can apprehend the text with no trouble.

Alongside the text (let us call it the basic text) rendered along a vertical axis, there is also a moving text on three levels which enters the basic, generated text from the right and is spelled out in three sizes approaching at varying speeds. They are moving textual and pictorial films, which approach horizontally from the right and which must be read and viewed in order to gain an impression of this poem-event’s content, that is to say, the content of a cinematic poem with an emphasis on the temporal dimension.

In the World of Immaterial Labor and Performance

The shift away from the understanding of art and literature through their representational function and towards interpretations on the basis of their position within a general mode of production is a concern shared by Antonio Negri, who co-authored (with Michael Hardt) theoretical blockbusters such as Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth. His 2001 book Art and Multitude raises the question of art in the context of so-called immaterial labor, biopolitics, and cognitive capitalism. Negri argues the following:

My point is simply that artistic activity always exists within a specific mode of production, and that it reproduces it – or, more exactly, that it produces it and contests it, that it suffers it and destroys it. Artistic activity is a mode – a singular form – of labor power. It is no accident that all the products of artistic activity can so easily turn into commodities … (Negri 108).

When we speak of art as commodity, we are thus dealing with a special kind of production, exchange, market, and capitalism. Negri believes that

one can in fact trace a correspondence (rough, of course, but nonetheless real) between the various periods of artistic activity (what one might call the “style” and the “poetics” of art) on the one hand, and the forms of capitalist production and organization of labor on the other. (102)

The challenge facing contemporary art theory is thus to understand art on the basis of a specific mode of production (as far as contemporary art is concerned, the capitalist or, in Beller’s words, the cinematic mode of production). By contrast contemporary social theory is also faced with a challenge: of analyzing and reflecting upon what happens to a specific historical mode of production once it is interiorized by art (which, however, also defies it, evades it and departs from it).

Namely, to understand art on the basis of a specific mode of production and the processes of commodification certainly does not produce a “lack,” which would automatically subsume this field - the actual artistic activity - as not essential under the dominant mode of production. If we consider Beller’s and Negri’s theoretical insights, we can see that what, at first sight, might seem like a “lack” is in fact a “surplus” of sorts, namely: the distinctiveness of artistic activity, which can also be paradigmatic of a general mode of production in a given period. In a similar way, when explaining the specificities of immaterial labor, Paolo Virno used the example of the so-called reproductive artists, as follows:

Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity which finds its own fulfilment (that is, its own purpose) in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a “finished product,” or into an object which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience. An activity without an end product: the performance of a pianist or of a dancer does not leave us with a defined object distinguishable from the performance itself, capable of continuing after the performance has ended. An activity which requires the presence of others: the performance makes sense only if it is seen or heard. (Virno 52)

Nowadays, we can observe a noticeable increase in activities that leave nothing material behind, especially no so-called material products. On the contrary, everything essential, everything that defines them, is determined by the activity embedded in the event. This event, however, must be public. To put it simply, it requires the presence of others who see and hear it. A number of such activities are taking place in new media art with “would-be-works” of art that are emphatically post-objective and immaterial. The key things in new media art happen at the level of performance, acting, and software.

The arguments that labor is becoming more and more abstract, as is capitalism, and also that immaterial labor produces only immaterial products, have become truisms by now, which is why the important contribution of Negri’s text lies in the recognition of a certain contradiction, which now accompanies immaterial labor as well as the general processes of abstraction and dematerialization. Despite the fact that immaterial processes are increasingly a part of our reality and our lives are progressively more determined by numerous abstractions, intellectual services, and immaterial data (just think about financial markets and abstract evaluations of derivatives, that is, financial instruments, which dictate the “economy of artifacts” and has advantage over it), there is a growing correlation between these processes, on the one hand, and very material processes and contents, on the other. These material processes and contents are forcefully surfacing in contemporary productions and they question the self-evident purity of the immaterial sphere. Negri writes:

[T]o speak today of “immaterial labor” no longer means speaking of abstraction, but, on the contrary, of a real plunge into the concrete, into matter. So, what we are dealing with here is no longer spirituality and vision from afar, but an immersion amidst bodies, in other words an expression of flesh. Immaterial labour makes material products, commodities and communication. It is socially organized through linguistic, cooperative, electronic and digital networks, which are all extremely material, and it takes place through types of association – and movements – which are multitudinarian. Therefore we are dealing here with an immateriality which is very full of flesh, very mobile and very flexible: an ensemble of bodies. (Negri 107)

This view can be polemically situated in the context of digital culture, which was hailed in cyberpunk literature and cinema as emphatically anti-corporeal and platonic. By contrast, today’s view of digital culture (with augmented reality as a complex intertwining of the actual and the virtual) shows that the opposite process is more apposite. We see a derealization in relation to the digital image, namely, a process of realization in newly discovered bodies, which form relations to new generations of technological devices, particularly interfaces. In the present institution of the humanities, the stress is laid on embodied media in terms that “the biological and the digital domains are no longer rendered ontologically distinct, but instead are said to inhere in each other; the biological ‘informs’ the digital, just as the digital ‘corporealizes’ the biological” (Thacker 7). If we consider the technology of virtual reality, for instance, we can see that its popular interface, the “data glove,” has aroused interest in the human hand, the fingers and the palm and the tactile feedback, which is related precisely to the materiality and the anatomy of the hand and its components. If we consider contemporary art, we see that it has long been exposing, questioning, and wondering about precisely the investment of bodies – often naked and vulnerable bodies in extreme situations – in the art of performance.

Capitalism equals abstraction and dematerialization, a shift towards images, logotypes, the cinematic mode of production, spectacle, and skilfully constructed worlds. Art has found a role in capitalism, in the following sense, according to Negri:

artistic development has transformed into corporeal figures the abstraction of the social relations in which we exist; and it has given importance to the vitality of flesh – through images which move and flow, in a process of continuous transformation. From Bacon to Warhol or Park Yong, the artist imagines, within a thick space, an indistinct magma; and he fearlessly considers the prospect of a world freed of its internal architecture. Henceforth, artistic development takes place in biopolitical terms as much as in immaterial terms. (Negri 107-108)

Since the paradigm shift from mimesis to poiesis, that is, from the imitative to the constructive and productive function, we have witnessed the entry of art and literature into the biosphere. The key movements in this area are explicit bioart (e. g. Eduardo Kac’s projects), as well as contemporary performance art, which increasingly explores the body brutally exposed in barely imaginable situations (particularly examples include feminists in the tradition from Marina Abramović, Carolee Schneemann and Valie Export to contemporary artists, such as Ann Liv Young):

We are no longer going towards postmodernity. Or rather, we have gone beyond all the “post,” we are in contemporaneity, and contemporaneity has further deepened the transformation of labor. Labor – which, as we have seen, was immaterial, cognitive and affective – is in the process of transforming itself into bios, into biopolitical labor, into activity which reproduces forms of life. From now on it has new properties. It is with these properties that I would like to conclude. (Ibid. 115)

This notion entails a revision of and a supplement to the almost oversimplified view in common parlance that immaterial labour produces immaterial products; but it is important that this view was articulated (and expounded upon) at the basis of the author’s reflection on art. It seems that art is not some kind of froth or a second-rate field; rather, it can serve as a laboratory for experiencing the key contents that concern our understanding of the present (including the individual and his or her work).

Beller’s and Negri’s texts prove that contemporary social theory can benefit from a more detailed analysis of what transpires in contemporary art. A part of global production and even of the economy of perceptual operations, according to Beller’s theory, is in cinema, that is, it participates in the cinematic mode of production; however, the whole “package” of immaterial labor, i.e. of immaterial products and services, was already anticipated in the artistic dematerialization of the object in various avant-garde practices (particularly those associated with Marcel Duchamp, conceptual art, and performance art). A glance at contemporary art can even be challenging and productive for contemporary political theory (e.g. subversive affirmation, hactivism, activism), while contemporary artists - including new media ones - can gain a lot from a dialogue between their practices and contemporary social theories. Also a glimpse at e-literature reveals that this is a biopolitical activity which demonstrates striking forms of hybridization of language and bodies, occuring in the textual events organized as the performance (e.g. within events of reading and performing of e-poetry).

Abstract Ornamental Movements in Straight Lines and Loops

Contemporary art, and particularly new media art and e-literature that manifests itself in the globalized world of new social and cultural paradigms, often plays across other social fields. One of new media artists that tries to consider her artistic practice as embedded in the present world of post-Fordist labor and social networking is Natalie Bookchin, particularly with her piece The Mass Ornament. In conversation with Rhizome.org, she very precisely located the theoretical underpinnings of that art project in the world of immaterial and post-Fordist labor, and thus also defined her relationship to Siegfried Kracauer’s historical text on mass ornament as a crucial reference for her “YouTube” project.

According to Kane: “As the Tiller Girls dance embodied characteristics of Fordism and Taylorism, the YouTube dance, with its emphasis on the individual, the home, and individuated and internalized production, embodies key characteristics of our economic situation of post-Fordism” (2009). Both the spectacular dance of the Tiller Girls in the stadium (which Kracauer refers to in his seminal text, and the private dance of the YouTube dancers in front of webcams, internalize foundational paradigms of contemporary society. The former deals with artistic references to mega-events, large-scale serial factory production, the logic of machines and the conveyor belt, while the latter confronts us with a much more flexible and individualized action, which frequently takes place in the home and whose machinery is no longer mechanical but increasingly digital. “The YouTube dancer alone in her room, performing a dance routine that is both extremely private and extraordinarily public is, in its own way, a perfect expression of our age” (ibid.). The video included in this project has lost its autonomy and only appears as part of a social and cultural context that overdetermines the choreography of bodies and their media-proliferated practices. Her installation also hinges on the technological basis of the YouTube portal, which offers links from one video to a different, similar video (these appear off to the right) and thus addresses the culture of video distribution, where one video can trigger a veritable chain reaction of numerous manipulations (mixes, remixes, copies, variations, modifications, etc). Bookchin’s project is embedded in a culture of social networks and their media, and attempts to critically illuminate the numerous variations and antagonisms that accompany the post-Fordist mass ornament.

Her piece is without a doubt a manipulation that can be located in the core of today’s media-proliferated mass culture of remixes, machinima and mash-ups. We are faced with a situation similar to that of the Tiller Girls, where dancers lack a view of the whole; the dancers who entered Bookchin’s Mass Ornament from this or that place did not know that their dances would contribute to a whole. On the one hand, the dancers express anonymity and privacy, voices and choreography from below; on the other hand, their private dance have already been mediated and influenced by popular culture, the stars and trends dictated by the market.

Kracauer’s classic cultural theory essay states: “The hands in the factory correspond to the legs of the Tiller Girls” (79). This theoretical point is central, as the dancers involved in the ornamental, desexualized, and highly abstract dance of the mass spectacle (ranging from the rituals of the Third Reich to more contemporary versions such as former Yugoslav Tito’s Youth Relay and North Korean Kim Il Sung’s ceremonies) do not reflect anything; rather, they work hand in hand with the workers behind the factory assembly line, whose movements are trained and adapted to machines in Taylorist fashion. There is a smooth transition between dancers and workers, similar to that of the organization of moving cinematic images (as claimed by Jonathan Beller). Thus, there is not only a correspondence between cinema and industrial production behind the conveyor belt, but also between industrial production and dance, as the latter is staged at events of the mass spectacle. The Tiller Girls’ movements form geometric shapes characterized by their abstractness (that is, derealised of embodiment and sexuality). They play out in ornaments, which are also present in the circular capitalist movements of loops that characteristically demonstrate this type of drive. The Tiller Girls dance with parts of bodies that seem emphatically isolated. Their choreography is a symptom of capitalism itself. The dance ornament demands the subjugation of body parts to more complex patterns, such as a row of lines, which no one dancer can perceive. The dance movements of each individual dancer were thus interpreted only as functional parts of a system, just as a worker’s hand in Taylorist organized labor behind the conveyor belt.

“The ornament is an end in itself,” (76) writes Kracauer, and thus directs our attention to the vacuum-like expanse of ornamental forms that empty all substance of its contents. Since the matter at hand can only be truly perceived from the air, “the ornament resembles aerial photographs of landscapes and cities” (77). When dealing with ornamental patterns, we can only make them out in images “from above,” for example, the images that were transmitted by the top-most video cameras at the JLA Stadium in Belgrade during the spectacles of the Youth Relay ceremony. This “above” is indeed fitting when speaking of those things produced by global capitalism, the war machine and mass culture. The lens of the “smart bomb eye” of guided missiles, relayed during the first Gulf War to television screens during CNN’s breaking news, has become acceptable for such arrangements.

We are dealing with abstraction (of straight lines, loops, repeating forms, the reduction of contents to highly economical and palatable signifiers), which is inherent to both capitalism and post-Fordist production (especially to Taylorist production). The latter has undergone certain changes in the post-Fordist paradigm, yet much of its cultural contents is still overdetermined by the social and ideological system. Abstraction could also become a legitimate yardstick for numerous theoretical and critical approaches to new media art and e-literature, whose contents are frequently, markedly abstract in the sense that they are preoccupied with forms, software advances, and smart technologies. Faced with today’s production in this field, we often find that it revolves around artists’ and literati’ explanations and statements, and even theoretical texts from this field are more often than not mere explanations of art works rather than critiques comparing and evaluating them in relation to other similar art and literary projects. It is often all about e-literary texts as textscapes based on a pure play of abstract verbal and non-verbal signifiers at the expense of richer linguistic content and the ambiguity of language. When we talk about the possible aims of e-literature critique, the exaggerations of some e-literati “textual ornaments” in terms of a pure play with attractive formal components (and the exaggeration in special effects) should be considered as the target of such an endeavor.

On the Service of New Media Art and E-Literature

Both new media art and e-literature are embedded in the today’s reality and its fundamental social and cultural paradigm shifts, which may be described as a transition from industrial society to post-industrial (and informational), from labour in material production to immaterial work, from factory to corporation, from material product to logo, from an artefact economy to an economy of the performative, from production to prosumption (the consumer is addressed, one’s feedback is considered), from an economy of products to an economy of experiences and adventures, from linguistic and discursive to biological and political, from an aesthetic culture to culture as an economics of spectacular events, and from literary culture to the culture of algorithms and processing.

Algorithmic culture emphasizes performativity, knowledge, events, software, and perception shaped by the interface. Despite the fact that strong tendencies towards autopoiesis and self-reference can be detected within algorithmic culture, its embeddedness into postindustrial and information society is noticeable as well, which means that parallels can be drawn between its internal processes and the key paradigms of the post-industrial society to which the post-Fordist organization of labor is essential. We have already mentioned Natalie Bookchin’s Mass Ornament as an example of a new media piece that directly refers to the organizational principle of present-day labor. The post-industrial society is a society in which the significance of services (with a great deal of knowledge and skills) is growing, and the shift from artifact to service activity is by no means alien to e-literature, in which a number of readings are organized as new media performances (for instance, on textual instruments), which are arrangements of particular contents in time with the purpose of solving a problem or introducing conflictive state that appears as generators of events. The concepts and qualities that essentially determined literature-as-we-know-it (for instance, metaphysical qualities, literariness, lyrical atmospheres) are no longer in the forefront of e-literature. Instead, there is a growing importance of algorithmic organization, problem thinking, goal-oriented activity, software, interface, networking, gaming, and performance. Such a paradigm’s shift impacts e-literature as a practice, which does not mirror anything (its very nature is not in mimesis, but in poesis).

As a rule, e-writers no longer begin creating a piece after being stimulated by one sensation or another derived from experience (for instance, by means of natural phenomena or social events provoked stimuli); they hardly even use their imagination with matters regarding aesthetics. That which impacts them from the very beginning is the task that is posited to them by language itself, by the politics and the code of the field in which they are involved and addressed by, i.e., e-literature itself and its reader-user. Reading in itself is a task which engages in the co-creation of e-lierature pieces. An example is Rui Torres’ Poemas no meio do caminho (Poems in the middle of the road), a set of combinatory texts programmed to allow the reader to dynamically change the paradigms that feed the original syntax of the poems. The essential part of this e-poem are instructions related to the very procedures of reading in terms of user/reader’s tasks (read, open, combine, interact, recreate, constitute, take apart, and save). The reader is expected to form her own algorithms in order to complete task posited by the e-literary text. Besides altering the poems, the reader is expected to save her versions on a weblog and discuss on it via blogging.

In dealing with Poemas no meio do caminho the reader is faced with various reading possibilities, depending on her navigational decisions. Two versions are available: the horizontal and the vertical. The horizontal version is a 3D panorama, including video that the reader can drag; the vertical version uses html to allow the reader to read and play with the texts in a more conventional and simple way. Torres’s piece could be considered also N the e-literary service that relates to the very act of reading under new media conditions. The user/reader is challenged with various possibilities, and she is expected to experience them within an algorithmically-shaped procedure.

The reader, faced with this piece, is expected to execute various steps in order to experience it as a textual event. At the very beginning of her cognition, perception, and reading, she needs to:

  • Collect the basic sources and paratexts relating to this piece, including author’s statement, various references, and information related to the software applied and to other projects this piece relates to.
  • Bracket the traditional way of approaching the text (horizon of expectations), so that her attitude will also address non-verbal signifiers and software specificity. 
  • Write down the introductory observations comparing other similar pieces of e-literature to the Poemas in order to clarify its basic particularities, as shaped by new media. 
  • Read and view all components of this text at once in their radical difference. Only such an approach to the entire textual sculpture in its discontinuous variety enables participation in the textual event. By contrast, the reader’s concentration on a single textual process checks the experience of the entire textual structure. 
  • Restart this piece several times and reread it to come closer to the meaning and the decoding of visual and temporal grammar. 
  • Read vertical and horizontal versions of the text and search for analogies, collisions, and links between them.

Rather than taking a part in a semantic game of signifiers (basic components of e-literary text), the user/reader is challenged to execute various algorithms and procedures relating to the very code that generates such a digital text, with its literary scripts.The reading tends more and more towards the “not-just-reading” (Strehovec, 2007) as a more corporeal and sophisticated activity that stimulates all the senses, and even provokes motor responses. Such a user/reader’s approach is based on the very nature of digital verbal contents that smoothly co-exist with non-verbal signifiers within the same cultural or artistic arrangements. They might be considered as platforms of relations articulated by signifiers of various origins. We also should not forget the very nature of present reality in terms of its sophisticated mosaic design, which provokes perception as en event strikingly shaped by interfaces. The web as a popular medium is an example of mosaic feature of present cultural contents. The web in has the same paradigmatic role as the MTV music video clip had in the 1980’s. The web site (as a simple platform by which many e-literature pieces are accessed) demonstrates the non-conflicting co-existence of verbal and non-verbal contents, such that the visual (as the privileged feature in postmodern culture) ceases be foregrounded at the expense of the non-verbal signs.

Making E-Literature as Problem-Solving Activity and Research

The control and manipulation of digital words-images-virtual bodies in e-literary pieces belong to the service activity as crucial form of production in postindustrial society (Bell, 1973). The service is based on knowledge and incorporates the basic features of algorithmic, goal-oriented activity through problem-solving, which arrange the procedure in the most economically possible manner. The author of e-literature fundamentally employs control and manipulation of digital words (organizing them in new wholes, in textscapes) is contonually faced with problems. Her creativity involves finding answers and steps for their solving. Her success in accomplishing tasks is not self-evident: sometimes she can not complete them, she is rejected and not in charge. As demonstrated in the previous section of this essay, the reading of e-literature can also be understood as a problem-solving activity. Rather than being a production that objectifies itself in a materially “finished” product, e-literature-making - as embedded in a new condition of immaterial labor - finds its own purpose in problem-solving and research activities, which bring something into the world that is not already there: an alternative mode of “cyber-language” coded in ways that differentiate itself from common use in on-line communication. Rather than describing and prescribing by means of new media shaped textuality, e-literature makes the thoroughly prepared event in a cyberlanguage that diverges from the common uses of such an language within on-line communication. Such activities are embedded in a present condition of post-Fordist labor and in a realm of immaterial production that privileged intellectual and innovative services at the expense of finished material artifacts. New media art and e-literature are more and more about processes, immaterial entities, relations, performances, software, services,and goal-oriented and problem-solving activities. We then encounter art and e-literature that increasingly exceeds the manufacturing of artifacts and cross over to a field that can be called a service of art, which means that a part of contemporary art (especially the new media and e-literary) crosses into the service sector of the (new) networked economy in the post-industrial, informatic, and spectacular, and software society. This does not represents a lack of such an activity, because such a placement is just a starting point for further engagement of new media art and e-literature authors, precisely in finding a kind of surplus in the ironic enstrangement of e-literary projects with regard to the common services in postindustrial society (e.g. the tactics of deploying the malfunctioning of high-tech in net.art).”>By examining some basic concepts of contemporary social theory (e. g. Negri’s account on immaterial work, biopolitics, event, and performance), we have shown that they also operate in the field of new media art and e-literature. In similar fashion, the author of this essay has introduced the concept of the e-literary world as a world in which e-literary pieces exists (Strehovec 2012). He was influenced with Lazzaratto’s claim for the bigger importance of creating the referential world in which the objects and subjects exist than creating the material products themselves: “Language, signs, and images do not represent something, but rather contribute to making it happen. Images, languages and signs are constitutive of reality and not of its representation. (…) The corporation does not generate the object (the commodity), but rather the world in which the object exists. Nor does it generate the subject (worker and consumer), but rather the world in which the subject exists” (Lazzaratto, 2003). Similarly, the e-literary world might be considered as the social context of various institutions, events, researchers, networks, platforms, and publications. For every participant in this field, the collaboration with the e-literary world - in the economy of events, performances, and experiences is essential - for them, is the basic environment from which they get useful feedback that allows them to be noticed. The e-literary world gives them an autonomous context in which their works can be produced, performed, discussed, and valuated. E-literature authors do not create their pieces blindly, for the sake of history, for some future abstract readers-users who will come, or will fail to come, but for a community composed of individuals with names and their institutions. Just to create an e-literary piece is not enough. It is also necessary to present it in the community, find an audience for it, and critics and theorists who will refer to it. Outside of the e-literary world, many e-literary pieces do not have much of a chance..

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