Electronic Literature- A Slave to the A Priority of Grand Narration?


I enjoyed Drucker’s article on the Poetics of Electronic Textuality- it effectively summarized many of the works I was exposed to in a class on Digital Literature. One of the collections of the works we analysed can be found here-


I found it interesting that many of the works illustrates the notions of Speculative Computing and Temporal Modelling.There are also examples of all 3 forms of creating electronic literature- hypertext, dynamic/kinetic manipulation and display, and programmable texts.

Highlighting the “contrast between the supposed linearity of print forms and the multi-linear hyper-textual forms of digital materials”, Drucker also restates McGann’s point that works of imagination “are not information structures”, “yet, to make them functional within digital formats, they are often treated as if they were”. However, this rhetoric seems trapped within the same structure of a priori knowledge it seeks to refute. Instead, we might find comfort in understanding that a digital production is not one that needs to fit into a grand narrative, but could be a standalone, autonomous reference, even extension of the work of art itself. As with any work that is adapted, translated, or simply a denomination of the “original” work, it is inspired by a precedent. Yet, the necessity of preserving or reproducing its original should be removed- it won’t be the same, but that’s also because it has a different purpose to serve; an alternative space to fit in and a new way of relating to others.



To illustrate my point, take the work “Ah” for example. Ah deconstructs the notion of run-on lines- the words scroll from right to left on the screen, much like updates about the stock markets on the bottom of television screens airing broadcast news. It appears to focus on an internal reconstruction, or a manipulation within the discipline of word and writing itself. In doing so, it comes to embody movement and sound to create story space. Words and letters run over/ fall over/ overlap one another in what seems like an uncontrollable stream of consciousness or thought- consistent only in its unpredictability. Even letters composing an individual word seem to break off and diffuse itself into other words, making for a very literally intratextual experience.

Further, shape and form appears to be completely abandoned as we can no longer rely on natural language structure to determine meaning. The slow, steady velocity of word movement literally mimic a constant stream of water, while the overlaps result in a stream of consciousness like inconstancy that does not permit anticipation or revisiting. In this way, the structure of the work reinforces the very images of sound and water that it refers to. Yet, it ironically is incapable of communicating meaning as it forgoes grammatical coherence to appeal to these physical entities. This central paradox highlights the very way in which we engage with the world- our attempts to understand and psychologically translate your phenomenological experience. We find sense drawn out from one part of a sentence, and we use understanding of structure from the previous moment to build understanding on the sentence arrangement of the next present moment. Ah in itself is therefore a constant experiment in building our own mental language with which to confront the world.

Rather than be upset at the work for bastardizing the meaning of run on lines, or neglecting  represent the essence of any precedent well, we must take into account what the work itself achieves and its “untapped potential for critical and creative investigation”. Removed from what Oscar Wilde would call the “shackles of verisimilitude”, we can then enjoy these works and interpret them without the sanction of Derrida’s critical distance or the counter-productive circularity of a priori knowledge that grand narratives seeks to perpetuate.