“Electronic Literature Experimentalism beyond the Great Divide. A Latin American Perspective” presents the text of Claudia Kozak’s keynote for the 2018 ELO conference. By beginning with various tensions, such as the tension between the occasionally excessive tendencies of a rigorously experimental avant-garde to reach a narrow audience and linking this to the often limited audience of e-lit, Kozak expertly historicizes the avant-gardes of the twentieth century—especially by building on the work of Susan Buck-Morss, Peter Bürger, and Andreas Huyssen—in order to not only show the extent to which e-lit remains entrenched in an experimental context, which is relatively common knowledge, but to argue for a possible extension of e-lit into a wider marketplace if it embraces some of the aspects of another “experimental” mode, namely fan fiction.
To that end, Kozak is interested in imagining “alternative ways of producing and experiencing e-lit” by considering the ways that postmodern experimentalism can be framed as “experimentalism + mass culture” and she does this by looking at case studies of experimental and conceptual writing, such as the example of Manuel Puig’s Boquitas pintadas. Un folletín (1969) or Heartbreak Tango. A Serial and Pablo Katchadjian’s El Aleph engordado (2009) or The Fattened Aleph, which is a reworking or conceptual experiment with Jorge Luis Borges’s 1945 short story “The Aleph” that saw a court case with several appeals against Katchadjian amidst claims of plagiarism. Kozak frames Katchadjian’s experiment with Borges in the context of conceptual writing (popularized and made infamous by Kenneth Goldsmith) and argues for an e-lit that collides “uncreative writing, conceptual writing, flarf, spam, generative poetry and any other language experimentation more or less related to appropriationism.”
However, to this list of already varied and different modes of writing and traditions, Kozak adds fan fiction—she even calls for an “experimental digital fanfic”—in a potentially fruitful collision of conceptual writing and fan fiction. In one of the key insights of her keynote, Kozak insists that the gulf between e-lit, which has a “relative invisibility” for “larger audiences” and fan fiction, which enjoys large audiences can be reconfigured. She claims that “if we think of the distance between them not quite as a gap but instead, as a threshold,” then “productive exchanges between them come to the fore.” Kozak’s essay presents some of the important groundwork that will lead to a transformation of this gap into a threshold and opens up a new potential avenue for e-lit to retain its experimental heritage while reaching broader audiences.
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