Hyperrhiz 09: Reviews

Philippe Bootz and Sandy Baldwin, Regards Croisés

Mirona Magearu

University of Maryland, College Park

Philippe Bootz and Sandy Baldwin (eds.), Regards Croisés: Perspectives on Digital Literature. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2010. 128pp.

Regards Croisés: Perspectives on Digital Literature is a thematically complex collection of digital literature essays which draws upon culturally and theoretically diverse references. Eight scholars from France, Spain, Slovenia, Taiwan, Brazil, and The United States bring in significant contributions on literary legacies and trends in digital literacy. The collection's title, roughly translated, "crossed regards," celebrates the intersection of cross-cultural perspectives. According to the back cover synopsis, Regards Croisés captures the "transcontinental practice of digital literature." Indeed, the content of the collection moves beyond the US hypertext tradition which configured itself as the classical model for the emergence of digital literature canon, and unveils critical reflections from the European digital literature discourse. As the co-editor Philippe Bootz sums up, the collection chronicles the hypertext fiction developed in the US, the text generation pioneered in France, and the digital poetry centered on inter-semiotic relationships between media from Brazil (xv). In addition to the already acknowledged contribution à propos the multicultural outlook of digital literature, Regards Croisés is also a valuable reference point in the international evolution and development of digital poetry from historical, cultural, and philosophical viewpoints.

Regards Croisés (2010) is in alignment with other leading US anthologies of digital poetry such as Electronic Literature Collection vol.I (2006), Media Poetry: an International Anthology (2007), and Prehistoric Digital Poetry: an Archeology of Forms, 1959-1995 (2007). Many essays from Regards Croisés provide historical overviews on lines of continuity between digital poetry and traditional experimental poetry from France and Brazil. Along with the oft-cited influence of the Italian Futurist poetry in the conceptual foundation of digital poetry, such considerations complement the literary legacy of this genre. All these collections published in the US between 2006 and 2010 widen the landscape of digital poetry works through the convergence of worldwide perspectives. Thus, in ELC vol.I, the first online anthology with an extensive array of contemporary digital writings, editors and scholars Katherine N. Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland conceive digital poetry broadly. Their inclusive definition allows the integration of pieces made with diverse digital procedures. Similarly, in Media Poetry, the first international anthology of digital poetry, artist and editor Eduardo Kac gathers articles on biopoetry, holopoetry, techno-poetics, and video-poetry. The close readings enhance the interdisc iplinary dimension of digita l poetry in which various fie lds such as theater, music, and art come together. Moreover, in Prehistoric Digital Poetry, the first book on the history of this genre, American scholar Christopher Funkhouser chronicles the genealogy of the multiple forms that digital poetry has taken worldwide. Here, digital poetry as a field surfaces chronologically through analyses of the technological configurations and aesthetic values of the works from 1959 to 1995. Regards Croisés further cultivates this wide-angle approach to digital poetry through the (re)definition of poetry which underlines the intersections between written text and visual imagery and through culturally comprehensive readings of Brazilian and French digital poetry forms.

Thus, in the editorial note, the French scholar Bootz (re)asserts the value of poetry and, implicitly, calls for the (re)conceptualization of digital poetry. He equates "digital" with "digitalism" and (re)positions this genre in the historical context of literary movements in close connection with the "isms" of the 20th century (xvi). According to Bootz, any production which is language-centered is poetic regardless of its deliberate narrative or non-narrative ends. His inquiry into the place of language within literary digital creations unveils that digital poetry does not entail the explicit presence of the written text. It is a theoretical stance which echoes the definition of digital poetry that the Italian video-poet Caterina Davinio articulates in her 2002 anthology, Techno-poesia e realtà` virtuali: storia, teoria, esperienza tra scrittura, visualità e nuovi media. From Davinio's viewpoint, computer poetry resembles with computer graphics because of its constant emphasis on image and digital processing. As the video-artist explicates, digital imaging questions the mysterious substance of language, in which image is language. As a result, images and videos are key features of digital poetry. That is why, in her opinion, digital poetry is video-poetry. Davinio's vision on digital poetry translates the Italian video-art tradition which she continues in her theoretical reflections and technological poetic experimentations. Bootz's brief conceptual consideration complements somehow similar approaches to digital poetry such as Davinio's. As a whole, these critical reflections provide an overview on the European digital poetry discourse: they reflect, connect, and overlap with diverse poetic traditions. In this respect, Bootz could have dedicated more space and in-depth inquiry to his "French" reading of the word etymology.

In "Digital Poetry Beyond the Metaphysics of Projective Saying," Janez Strehovec extends the critical apparatus of digital poetry through the (re)definition of what text is in a digital work. He emphasizes the paradigm change within Internet art from hypertext to software-based language and substantiates digital poetry as "a form of sotware language art" (66), in which the software informs about new modes of experiencing and representing the world in the present Web 2.0 culture. As he explicates, this context of artistic production engages with issues related to globalization, multiculturalism, economy, 9/11. Strehovec then conceives the text on which digital poetry relies as an "experimental artistic environment" (69). Although the scholar details the similarities that digital and print poetry share, he acknowledges the specificity of the new medium and prioritizes it over the characteristics of the print. It is a specificity which heightens the different alterations that the written text goes through when controlled by software. Text does not simply disappear; instead, it adapts to the new media aesthetics: text becomes a network of relations. Strehovec's final statement on digital poetry text as a text-film foreshadows his vision of the field and succintly alludes to the literary avant-garde poetics on the freedom of words from Filippo Marinetti's manifesto (74). The Italian futurist poetics would have deserved a more substantial examination given its historical significance with regard to the emergence of digital poetry.

Two essays heighten the cultural visibility of digital poetry. In "How to Read Words in Digital Literature," Alckmar Luiz dos Santos contends that digital poetry originates in the Brazilian concrete poetry from which it inherited the scarcity of verbal elements or the "rhetoric of brevity," to use his phrasing. According to him, unlike earlier poets who relied on written words and, sometimes, on "concrete" images in order to generate images, digital poets use a machine to create images. Luiz dos Santos epitomizes his viewpoint with a comparative analysis of the first and later works of the video- poet E. M. de Melo e Castro which transition from words to images, from word processing to image processing. His observation unveils that the image goes through a process of digital elaboration in a physical and literal sense. In this way, Luiz dos Santos conceives digital poetry as an investigation of, about, and through language within a digital semiotic system. His key argument is that digital poetry gains coherence when it bridges the gap between visual imagery and written text. Equally significant is Luiz dos Santos's reading of Xavier Malbreil' and Gerard Dalmon's Book of The Dead which calls attention to a "multiple-spaces setting": space of creation, space of mediation, and space of insertion. This array of writing spaces engaged in the creation, emergence, and reading of a digital work invites further speculation on how digital poetry makes use of its space and how this space affects digital poetry as well. From this viewpoint, Luiz dos Santos's essay provokes broader questions vis-à-vis the form and function of space in digital poetry.

Alexandra Saemmer's essay "Textual Material in the Digital Medium," draws on examples which belong to the French digital culture. Saemmer argues that on the screen, words and images share plastic qualities and exist in, what she calls, "semantic proximity" (95). Her compelling example refers to the common tendencies that students at University of Lyons 2 have when they are asked to read text paired with animations. Initially, students have an incomplete grasp of the material and are reluctant to decipher its meaning. However, they become more receptive when text is combined with images. The image-text combination emulates their video-game playing habits and makes the material appealing to them. Only now students engage with the material: they understand, value, and experiment with the "graphic and plastic dimensions of the text" (94). All these critical reflections on digital poetry provide cultural insights on the present forms that this genre takes in the digital literature landscape, and reflect the philosophical concerns which emerge out of these close readings.

In other essays the exploration of digital literature genres relies significantly on specific critical theories and programming languages. For instance, in "The Unsatisfied Reading," Bootz employs an intricate web of theoretically dense connections in order to discuss the distant and the near modalities of reading through the lenses of Walter Benjamin's and Mario Costa's theories. From his viewpoint, the computer program is endowed with "a certain expressive responsibility" (16). The program generates visible signs and performs results. It also represents the work, but does not convey a total perspective of it. At the same time, other representations of the work emerge in the running process of the computer program. Such moments or "transitoires observables" (trans. "transient observable states"), in Bootz's words, remind us of the sophisticated reading modalities that digital works entail as well as of the readers' difficulty in obtaining a totalizing view. In another essay, "Agents Provocateurs," Camille Paloque-Berges relies on Roman Jakobson's and Claude Shannon's early information theories and unveils how language is part of a larger networked communication system. She references the "codeworks" digital art movement from the 1990s which consists in the creation of emails with text similar to spam emails. These "codeworks" creators describe themselves as "Spam Artists" (29). Her main focus is on the creative experimental poetics which emerges out of "a confrontation" between such actors and network (27). Shuen-shing Lee's essay, "Speak, Memory: Simulation and Satire in Reagan Library" investigates the language principles within the text generator Reagan Library. Although his close reading of the hypertext fiction writer Stuart Moulthrop's work details the spaces of the Library in the interactive environment, the scholar envisions a reader who has already experienced the work and is also familiar with Hayles's critical reading of it. Eugenio Tiselli's essay conceives programming languages as "narrative motors" which process the text input from a computer user based on a set of rules established by the programmer. He discusses how digital writers utilized these "narrative motors" in order to create the automatic generation of poetry and other combinatory language practices ("Narrative Motors" 5). Because all these essays touch upon cultural readings of digital compositions which belong to distinct traditions, they could have offered a more comprehensive contextualization of the specific aesthetic theories and art movements on which these works rely.

Regards Croisés is a valuable collection of digital poetry essays which configures a culturally diverse history of this genre. Its references to innovative print-based poetry and other linguistic traditions expand the international historical framework of digital poetry in order for future works to be contextualized within a wider creative legacy. In addition, the collection crosses over cultural legacies, critical perceptions, and digital genres at the same time. This cultural cross-examination of styles, themes, and technologies restates digital literature as an international endeavor and legitimizes its evolution globally.

Works Cited

Davinio, Caterina. Tecno-poesia e realtà virtuali storia, teoria, esperienze tra scrittura, visualità e nuovi media. Mantova: Editoriale Sometti, 2002.

Funkhouser, T. Christopher. Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archeology of Forms, 1959-1995. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2007.

Hayles, N. Katherine, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland, eds. Electronic Literature Collection (volume I). Oct. 2006. «http://collection.eliterature.org/1».

Kac, Eduardo, ed. Media Poetry: an International Anthology. Bristol: Intellect, 2007.

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