Hyperrhiz 16: Essays
New Media Cultures. The Creative Potential of the Hispanic Digital Literature
Ana Cuquerella Jiménez-Díaz
Villanueva University Madrid
The main objective of this essay has been to add the Hispanic digital literature link to the history of Hispanic literature chain. Literary works created in the digital environment amended many resources, memes and rhetorical figures inherited from analogue literature, in the same way that printed literature did with previous traditions stored in manuscripts, scrolls and even oral literature. Emerging technologies offer possibilities advocated by analogue authors which have now acquired a corporeal nature. The literacy of these works produced for the electronic medium resides in the remediation of printed literature and its adaptation to the new electronic framework until they reach hypermedia.
I have sought to emphasize throughout this study that the frameworks within digital literary works provide these creations with properties that characterize them as works of digital literature. In addition, and based on the discovery, selection and reading of these texts, I propose an open representation of Hispanic literary digital works based on their specific characteristics (Globalization + Localization).
The final part of this essay will be in physical form, the Ciberia digital literature repository, a project conceived and developed by several members of the research group of the Faculty of Philology at UCM and Spanish and European Literature Text to Hypertext (LEETHI). Ciberia is a body of works of digital literature in Spanish with a number of exportable metadata through the CELL Consortium on Electronic Literature. In this way, the creation and analysis of electronic literature in Spanish can receive greater global visibility.
As far as possible, this essay aims to showcase the prolific experimentation work and research that many artists from all over the world are undertaking. Many of them are fully aware of their role as pioneers, discovering different techniques and ways of artistic expression through new media. They are willing to collaborate and share their experiences with researchers and specialists alike. We are witnessing the beginnings of a new kind of literature in which the groundwork is being laid for the future. After around twenty years of digital literature, we begin the development of working models of operation through established works and authors.
Throughout this study we will endeavor to unravel the new reality of digital literature, study its features and some of the possibilities it offers, be present as we recreate works of literary heritage and contemplate building the foundations of a global digital literature. All this will be achieved through specific examples of digital works in different languages and from different cultures, but always with special emphasis on Spanish digital literature.
Digital Literature as Global Literature. Positioning of Digital Literature in Spanish.
The life of man and his mental structure is the food for literary material. The vision of the world held by each group of humans, its cerebral conception of reality is what literature collates over the course of time. The three principal players of Sociological Literature, Georg Lukács, Lucien Goldmann and Mijail Bajtín coincide in stating that in literature, critical and systematic assessments are made of the conceptions of the world. Lukács himself states that “la poesía representa las conexiones últimas entre el hombre, el destino y el mundo, y sin duda ha nacido de la correspondiente profunda toma de posición” (1971:183). This can be translated as “Poetry represents the ultimate connections between man, destiny and the world and without any doubt was born out of the corresponding deeply thought out stance”. On the other hand, it is a fact that the Society of the 21st Century is progressively changing its structures towards a global society brought about the enormous improvements in communications, particularly those related to the digital revolution. Taking this conception of literature as a a baseline with respect to the world, these changes will be taken into account and affect literature in the digital era. One of the evolutions brought about by this hyperconnectivity is globalization.
1. Heading Toward a Global Literature
The concept of globalization as defined by the sociologist Anthony Giddens in his work Sociology (1997) is based on the interdependence between countries both in the social as well as political and economic aspects. Our world is changing, according to Giddens, into a single and generally common social system.
Another prestigious sociologist, Arjun Appandurai in his publication La Modernidad Desbordada (2001) links the globalization process with the emergence of a new form of subjectivity: the relentless feeling of change and instability to our cultural role models and closest traditions. Appandurai indicates that our cultural models require adjustments because our conceptions of community, place and heritage have lost their isomorphism. Recent anthropological studies have therefore discarded cultural substance as something geographically pinpointed, which in the past enabled boundaries and holistic differences to be established (2001: 46). Instead, the aforementioned author proposes a new understanding of cultural configurations: without boundaries, structures or regular patterns in a Euclidean sense.
Fernando Cabo and María de Cabreiro in their book Manual de teoría de la literatura present globalization as way of thinking and seeing the world that emphasizes on fluidity and the ever greater interconnectivity without losing sight of tensions and conflicts as one of the everlasting building blocks of of culture (2006: 128).
Prior to the introduction of the phenomenon of global literature and cultural globalization, it is important to mention world literature or Weltliteratur that was started by Goethe. The main idea is that each and every national literature shares its own vision of human nature when coming into contact with other views that are then considered, included and enrich the national literature. This enables a debate surrounding the different conception of literature to take place. Damián Leandro Sarro states in his article “La Webliteratur de Goethe: una reflexión sobre literatura comparada” (that can be translated as “Goethe‟s Weliteratur: a reflection on compared literature”) published in Espéculo (nº36, 2006) that there are three possibles interpretations to the term. The first is the theoretical attempt to identify a global literary baseline that represents the base for all other specific literature. The concept of world literature is also used to make reference to canonic works or the entire set of world recognized works that are studied in many universities. Lastly, the meaning closest to what was expressed by Goethe1 would be the capacity to capture and introduce other cultural and literary traditions into other literary communities. This is defined by Prawer2 in his chapter “¿Qué es literatura comparada?” (1998: 25) - meaning “What is comparative literature?”, as “the exchange between the different literatures that takes place alongside and completes commercial traffic and barter”. The perspective on the meaning of the term offered by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado in “Hijos de Metapa; un recorrido conceptual de la literatura mundial (a manera de introducción)” (that can be translated as Sons of Metapa; a conceptual tour of world literature (as an introduction)) is also interesting:
Para Goethe, la literatura mundial se compone de un conjunto de prácticas y valores que, en trascendencia de las fronteras nacionales, permiten concebir al ejercicio de la literatura como una suerte de ágora trasnacional (2006: 10)
This can translate as:
For Goethe, world literature is made up of a set of values and practices that enable to conceive literature as a destiny for transnational forum.
Globalization once applied to literature and coupled with the changes initiated by the digital media shows digital literature as a common area (“transnational forum” as M. Sánchez Prado3 refers to it) in which it is impossible to distinguish between our own and other work. This happens as a result of space and time barriers becoming obsolete and the means that enable us to perceive the world are available to everyone.4 However, one of the features observed together with globalization is conflict between local and global values, in particular those associated to cultural aspects. The proliferation of nano communities linked to topical blogs are an example of such conflicts. One way or another, human beings feel the need to present endemic specificities that distinguish them in spite of the fact that they might be interacting in a “classroom with no walls” (McLuhan: 1974), in a communicative space not exempt from its cultural and linguistic barriers. Using the terminology developed by Appandurai, it can be concluded that global digital literature is polytypic as it is able to show features common the world over as well as specific local traits that arise from the previous cultural traditions endemic to each community. The most interesting aspect of the metaphor used by Appandurai to account for the cultural overlaps and similarities is that it reflects graphically the dynamics of cultural norms that are no longer considered stable but variable.
The concept of globalization implies on the one hand changes in national literary communities and on the other the disappearance of other imagined communities 5 linked to the more traditional disciplines, including also the loss of the differentiation established between epistemological fields. Knowledge is overlapping and interrelated, as will become evident in the chapter on the digital canon.
Authors like Vannevar Bush (1945) in his memo and Ted Nelson (1974) in hypertext, went beyond data storage or word processing. They even suggested that texts could be made accessible universally, in open files, etc. Paul Otlet, in 1934, had indicated in his Traité de documentation the idea of connecting people with libraries around the world using screens and telephony, in this manner forecasting the advent of the network super highway. For him, every work was only a part or a chapter of a universal work. Rather than the sum or accumulation of writings and works of the world, his concept of universal access to literature was laid on the potential for every reader not only to have access to everything published but also on the possibility of being able to contribute with his own point of view.
These approaches predicted the construction of a global literature as defined by David Damrosch (2003: 281): “is not an infinite ungraspable canon of works but rather a mode of circulation and of reading; a form of detached engagements with worlds beyond our own place and time”. Circulation of literature. Easy, open access with no apparent barriers (with the exception of a connection to the Net using the appropriate device). Worlds “beyond” (our frontiers) that are now within reach and devoid of space and time limitations. As a result, we could now be immersed in the beginning of new form of culture. Joseph Tabbi in his article “Electronic Literature as World Literature; or, The Universality of Writing under Constraint” (2010: 20) describes digital literature as a worldwide emerging literature (“the idea that writing produced in new media might in fact be an emerging world literature”). According to Tabbi, the globalization of literature would be based on the fact that we live in a global environment in which literary material is neither finished nor closed:
In reception media such as Otlet’s universal book and the Internet, documents and imaginative discourses are not given as ends in themselves but as material to be reworked, relocated, and remixed. (2010: 22)
Tabbi does not consider world literature to be an opportunity to read more works or include a wider range of authors but as a redistribution of concepts and a new way to conceive the conditions of literary writing that offers a collaborative workspace where the works of any author can reach an increasingly wider audience. The conception of a global literature would therefore be underpinned by new workspaces for writing, as well as the interconnectivity and communication between writers and readers or other writers, the hybridization of elements (introduction of transnational elements) and finally collaborative writing without restriction.
The French philosopher Pierre Lévy describes cultural evolution as a succession of three phases in his article “Inteligencia colectiva: por una antropología del ciberespacio” (2004) - that can be translated as “Collective Intelligence: an anthropology of cyberspace”. The first is when man lived in small closed societies with an oral culture where it was possible to know everything without any kind of universality. A new totalizing universality appears with the invention of writing: culture remained fixed (“semantic closure” as denominated by Lévy) in a specific space, normally supported by the required authority. Cyberwriting brings about the globalization of societies and allows for a universality without any totalitarianism. Nothing is fixed nor static… everything is interconnected.
The universal trait of this culture and of its literature is neither global nor universal because of its meaning (one meaning, one approach) but because of its accessibility and general interaction by anyone with a connection to Internet. In spite of this possibility of global accessibility, literature does not always reach a large audience. Begoña Require, Miriam Llamas and Amelia Sanz express this opinion in the congress “Locating the Text” International Digital Literature Events (Paris, 23-28 September 2013): “[…] We could easily miss a lot of local production hidden in the deep web. Moreover, the possibility of global access does not necessarily mean global consumption”. In spite of this, the authors insist on the fact that digital literature is born with the idea of being made available for universal access, “these models are born with a desire for circulation”.
This universal media is not totalizing as Lévy indicates, “its collective knowledge becomes materialized in a big multidimensional electronic image that is in constant metamorphosis, buffeted and changed at the rate of inventions, of discovery, nearly alive” (2004). Buffeted and changed by the rate of mutual contacts, we could add. What is universal is not totalitarian nor totalizing but cyberspace presents the opportunity to include what is personal and local as Lévy indicates in Cyberculture. The culture of a digital society, “The globalized interconnection appears as a new form of everything universal […] which is not the same one as in static writing. (2007, 91-92).
2. Common Features of Global Digital Literature
With the short history of global digital literature in mind, there are a series of generally widespread patterns to the works that be can be identified irrespective of their language of origin. This also tends to be true in the case of traditional literature, although the removal of space and time barriers has brought about a wide scale universalization of the common features. The imagined community idealized by Internet producers and readers of digital literature takes place in a new virtual environment. The factors that make possible this reality (rupture of space and time barriers, intercommunicativity, cooperative/collaborative writing, the reworking of existing material, hypercommunicativity, free and instant publication of material, hypermedia, the integration of knowledge and styles, etc.) provide the backdrop of global digital literature. This is made possible by authors, readers, followers, programers, designers, etc. who tend to consider themselves part of a group. They participate in specialized blogs, organize and take part in congresses, seminars and activities that revolve around these works, are active in forums, share “tweets”, etc. Their hallmarks are different from those of other global literatures. The change of physical supports implies much more than that, as indicated by writer and investigator Jaime A. Rodriguez in his article “Sueños digitales de un escritor: la convergencia digital al servicio del ejercicio literario” (2009) - that can be translated as “Digital dreams of a writer: digital convergence at the service of the digital exercise”, it is a radical change in how we represent each other and also how we affirm ourselves. Perhaps this is because the themes that are repeated and shared by each user with Internet access. It is similar with aesthetics and taste as well. In a world with no barriers, the concerns become repetitive albeit laced with certain local flavor depending on the cultural background of every author. They include the extent of how far the outreach of this external contact that potentially becomes unlimited; the search for intimate communications becomes impossible in the maremagnum of Internet; the sensation of being incapable of real communication in spite of the ease of access to social networks or other online life even for those born in the digital era (digital natives). Other common features are the anguish of feeling caught in a machine and the loss of control over our real existence; repetitive global themes that could be included in digital literature of any nation; science fiction scenes in a reality that has to be rebuilt, terror, noticing that man is capable of any atrocity, the adult comic that includes high quality material, the graphic novel with hybrid texts as well as interactive fiction (in the shape of role plays) that entice the reader/user/author to take part in the game as one more character etc. are only a few examples of this literature of global reach that the Internet has made possible.
In conclusion, it is possible to identify a series of recurrent genres in global digital literature that are born from the fruits of hybridization, the miscegenation of video games, the comics, the graphic novel and the graphs (pictorial writing) in movement as semantic material.
3. Recurrent Thematic Areas
Literature itself is creating a common workspace for digital literature. It is created without space and time barriers that are rooted in the fact that we all perceive reality using the same means. It is also true that many of these themes also can be found in printed literary works. The means that have coexisted in different eras influence each other and are subject to interrelation. These themes tend to be repeated on a more regular basis in digital literature as not only do these reflect the technical capacity to reflect these mechanically, but also how these can be perceived with the use of examples. After reading numerous digital works from different parts of the world, a common denominator can be perceived: similar anxieties appears over and over again in many digital pieces of work. This article will concentrate on one of the most representative examples in Spanish, although there are many that exist in the digital literature produced in almost all languages.
3.1. The Human Being Incapable of Controlling Time
Time has always been one of the essential elements in all literary works, irrespective of the era when it is set. However, this concept of time becomes more fragmentary and vulnerable in digital literature. It is associated mainly with psychological time rather more than chronological time, in spite of the fact that explicit references are made to the seconds hand, and to a countdown that illustrates the ever continuing movement that steadily reflects the line of life.
Time is also associated with one of the themes that distresses man today: the loss of control over our own existence and the feeling of neither leading nor living our life. The work (in particular the machine within it) controls reading times and the reader cannot hold it back. In some cases, it is possible to see the timer in video games that controls how long the player may have to complete the objectives of their game. Once this time has gone by, the message Game Over is displayed on the screen and the results are saved. Perhaps this is a metaphoric way of making reference to real life in which the human being is limited to a set amount of time (unknown to the user) that is imposed on him and that cannot be dramatically modified even though the user may attempt to fight against this.
However, the single element that influences digital literature is not so much the brevity of life but the lack of control over it. To take this one step further, it is worrying that the reins are in the hands of the machine. In countless works, it is possible to find androids and other machines controlling man… or it is man that becomes an automaton himself, with the help of a hybrid.
One example of digital literature in Spanish that deals with this topic is the poem Ara us prec6 (Now I ask of you) written by Teresa Martín Ezama in 2010. Her poem is a piece of work the reading of which is similar to the memory. A fragmented memory, limited and visual.
As the reader moves the mouse cursor down the scroll bar, the verses of the story narrated in shreds will appear and then slowly will become dissipated, in the same way that our brain erases our memories. Although the reader is able to move up and down this time bar, every text is only available for a limited timeframe as it disappears once seen. Sounds appear under the text in compass with the poem. And at times, pieces from old films in English. Intuitively, the smoke from a cigarette can be felt, much in the style of Casablanca. A veiled dialog between machine and reader begins to take place (“Y mientras lees esto, eres parte de nosotros” - that can be translated as “whilst you read this, you are part of us”). The machine seems to entice the reader into taking part by indicating if he wishes to continue or stop. This occurs in the same way as the colorful words in the hypertextual poem VeloCity7 (2000-2002) written by Tina Escaja appeared to be drawing their hand out to the reader through the screen and invite him to discover the mysteries that are hidden within. The palm of an open hand that sometimes draws on a dark screen is sensed. The reader is enticed and feels that time drifts away like water and sand. “Nuestra sombra no es más que un poco de tiempo, nada más que un poco de aire y de polvo” (translated “Our shadow is little more that a bit of time, nothing more than dust and air”). The aesthetics of the shades of grey, our volatility reflected by dissipating windows, sounds of the past, in appearance ghostlike… all are means that are used several times over by authors in different countries to achieve one same objective: bring to light the anxiety the human being feels about his incapacity to control the passage of time and the reality of their life.
3.2. The Human Being, Prisoner of Virtual Reality and Possessed by the Machine
In digital literature, the machine becomes one more character. It plays with the readers or responds to them. The computer “becomes” literature by means of its operating system, the methods of communication of the characters, the dialogs, all of which take place in computerized environments such as chats, mails, blogs etc. At times, the machine itself becomes an author or a half-god that controls the virtual reality in which we are immersed and from which it is difficult to escape. We are incapable of discerning what is and is not virtual. The eyes of the reader are being shown imagined universes, often a virtual world transmitted in such a plausible way that it becomes another reality in which we become submersed and possessed. The reader is overcome by the screen in the same way as cavalry novels took over the mind of Alonso Quijano. In these literary works, the machine is one more actor that influences the plot. The human being feels that he is no longer holding the reins of his own existence and that he are falling into a web that takes over from him.
This underlying message is clearly apparent in Nada tiene sentido 8 (Nothing makes sense). This work was developed as a year end project for the nonlinear writing course given by José Luis Orihuela in the Faculty of Communications at the Universidad de Navarra. It was created by Isabel Ara and Iñaqui Lorenzo in 2002 as a type of digital diary in which the narrator seeks for help from different character by means of the computer. The hero explains that he is locked up in his minute flat, in which the door and the window are sealed shut. He has no phone and his only possible means of communication is using a computer. The plot slowly reveals the identity of man suffering from schizophrenia who is losing his mind and control over himself. The computer and the messages that are presented reflects this person’s incoherence. Is this perhaps mirroring today‟s human being who can lose the notion of what is real as a result of the possibilities offered by Internet and the social networks? Our fictitious alter ego that we only display in the cybernetic showcase? Could it become more real than the one that gets dressed every morning and goes out to work?
3.3. Communication Versus Solipsism
With the continuing development and wide propagation of new technologies, the human being is presented with a big range of communication tools. Often, these new means facilitate intimate communications of the individual to unknown groups that lead to the creation of networks of virtual relations. Speaking through a computer can be easier than face to face. This phenomenon can be observed by the proliferation of groups of users in social networks, the nano communities, who only have as a common link the use of Internet, such as forums, blogs, groups in social networks etc. Paula Sibilia names this fact (of intimacy being broadcast to followers) as “extimidad” (2009:303), translated as “extimacy”. However, this hypercommunicativity is often transformed into the most overwhelming solitude. The hundred or thousands of so called friends that are added to one’s profile are in their majority virtual acquaintances that do not have any kind of depth.9 The person becomes hit by an even greater perception of isolation. These feelings are then expressed in global digital literature. The solipsism that is caused by solitary confinement in the society of the media is an undercurrent that can be found in a multitude of digital works. So much so, that it has become one of the plot lines that is most widespread, perhaps mirroring the latent concerns about our cybernetic society that is still being created.
Mitos muertos y suicidas10 (2005) is a hypertextual story by Marta Jacarilla the content of which is organized in three independent columns that can then be manipulated at the user‟s whim. In addition to this, they are linked to pop-up windows that display small notes or post-it with other phrases that sometimes contrast with the contents of the previous message. The story, however, is so captivating that the reader continues to open up the links.
The plot is made up of three stories of desperate people that have decided to commit suicide. The tone is intimate and even poetic.The underlying message is that people are too busy to notice the suffering and solitude of those closest to them. Appearances tend to be misleading. Those of us that appear to be happiest or be most successful have been found on occasions to hide their despair behind a mask.
3.4. Apocalyptic Vision and Willingness To Build A New Era
Katherine Hayles heralded the luck of being human “hybrided” with machines (supported by machines). The hypotheses supported by the posthumanist currents about the appearance of a new prototype of human being have provoked much debate and thought about the promises offered by technology. Humanity is on the verge of taking a big evolutionary step thanks to technology that can present several options that can on the one hand frighten us or on the other hand offer hope for the future. Posthumanism considers that human beings are able to be joined or articulated with intelligent machines. In the posthuman, Hayles indicates that there are no fundamental differences between bodily existence and computer simulation, the cybernetic mechanisms and the biological organism:
The posthuman view configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines. In the posthuman, there are no essential differences between bobily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals. (1999:3)
Posthumanism11 considers man to be technical equipment y believes that the new technologies can encourage communal reflexion not only human, but also in conjunction with machines and the ecologic environment. The idea of a possible future alternatives for the human being are also present in digital literature. It is not unusual to find a vision of a world that has been destroyed and requires reconstruction. At times science fiction makes its appearance with the introduction of extraterrestrial characters, cyborgs, ghostly space sets, mutants, all the consequence of a long predicted extreme pollution etc. Occasionally, the proposed reconstruction after the devastation is apparently utopian and perfect, controlled by artificial intelligences capable of correcting the mistakes of human minds. On other occasions, the scene shown to the reader is bleak and arid, populated by non humans who dominate and abuse people.
5000 palabras12 (2011) is an example of this. Created by Isaías Herrero, it is a hypermedia fiction that combines stories, computer generated poetry, collaborative poetry, audio, visual, word games etc. All this agglutinated material is centered around a common plot, namely the life of humans in a dehumanized, computerized universe full of automatons.
As soon as one enters into the work, you are made aware of a disorderly and chaotic countdown and we are immersed into a strange and fascinating world. Each read is different, as the screens and records are modified and as such it is impossible to build an orderly full picture of the work, as we are accustomed to do when reading traditional literature.
On the left hand column of the home page, we can find five red points, the first three being the key to have access to the content. The other two provide us with information about the structure and organization to the full work, although it is only a illusion as the book appears to be encoded. The last red point, “exit”, takes us to the final report that the machine prepares about our reading. It is not a conventional report. We are provided with the time of our access to the website, it also provides information on our route through the book inserting encrypted messages not exempt from contents.
In each section, we can find keywords in English that provide semantic clues on the contents: naked, loop, etc. The first three red points open the door to three types of content:
- Xanadú: a text in the shape of a scroll tells us about the revolution of the machines, outcast cyborgs that circulate around the streets. In the texts, that are continually moving around the screen and are difficult to keep still, there are links in red that are preceded by an “at” sign that takes us to a real webpage where will find semantic content related to the plot. For instance, an article on automatons.
- Editable: inside the papers of old telegrams, text messages are unfolded. When the user clicks on them, these generate others in the same track. The phrase make sense but those that appear when clicking on them do not have any connection between them. We are facing, for all intents and purposes a program that generates random combination of sentences with meaning.
- Teleport: this section is a store of images of all types: static, with pictures o in movement, videos. There are seven numbered white circles… however these become many more as there are more and more that appear on screen to the extent that the reader does not know the real number.
We can discover a multitude of virtual spaces within these records. It is an adventure to wander around them all and in a majority of them, the reader/spectator will respond with emotion, triggered by a carefully selected set of images that will provoke a feeling of abandonment. Music is an important part of this experience, as it a convincing accompaniment to the forcefulness of the images. It is an ambitious work that contains a large amount of content to explore and achieves with success its main objective which is to submerge the reader into a fictitious world and once there, to move him.
3.5. Terror and Cruelty: the Human Being is Capable of Everything and Literature Conveys This
Terror and cruelty are themes that can be found repetitively in digital literature. Terror tends to come together with violence; obscene violence. A violence that the reader may decide to use or not. On occasions we can see an executor exerting physical punishment to the characters. The level of realism achieved by these approximations to human evil is startling. Given the high interaction between the reader and the work facilitated by modern technologies, the reader does not view passively a sinister scene but occasionally actively takes part in it. The work itself provokes him, humiliates him - “¿acaso eres un cobarde?”13 (“are you a coward?”).
We can cite as proof of this Hazlo,14 a short fictional hypertextual tale published by Santiago Eximeno in December of 2011. It is a terror story for adults. Its presentation is austere, the cruelty and horror being conveyed through the careful use of words. The reader is obliged to interact, which makes the experience of reading this book hard and harsh. The interaction is limited, but obliges the reader to select one of two paths that are presented on every page. As a result, this work is not considered a complete interactive fiction but has been qualified as hypertextual narration.
However, the global nature of digital literature is not based on only a series of themes that appear on repeated occasions in these works, but also in features that are inherent to it irrespective of the origin of the creator(s). It is possible to pinpoint a set of characteristics that allow a piece to be considered digital literature. The hybridization of genres, active participation on the part of the reader in the creation and imbrication of texts and images into an interactive story are the main ones. This type of literature is representative of a mix of styles, genres and knowledge. It is literature that brings together image, sound, movement and prose. It is often a mélange of several elements. And usually generated by a set of authors that come from different disciplines.
4. Hybridization of Genres
The sum total of these characteristics results in the advent of new literary tendencies that encourage and accentuate these properties. These different discursive forms are grafted and encourage dialog between one another to enhance their meanings and offer new literary products that cannot exist outside the digital environment. A few of these new forms that can be found in digital creations the world over are detailed in this section. A Spanish digital literary work is presented as part of this.
4.1. Inverse Ekphrasis or the Manipulation of Signs in its Material Dimension
Image and scriptures have experienced cross-contamination over the course of the history of man. In poetry, the spatial organization of the verses and strophes have attempted to reproduce in its pattern the prosodic features of oral language (speech). The vanguardists of the beginning of the 20th Century experimented extensively the different manners of physically positioning the words on the page in order to provide new forms loaded with content. At present, the new technologies have enabled the supply of tools for creators that allow to put into practice the free expression of letters and symbols in movement.
Digital literature makes extensive use of inverse ekphrasis. Instead of representing verbally a visual work, it resorts to painting with words. Poet and painter are the makers of images and the writer on occasions will make use of symbols to draw poems. The malleability of orthography is used to produce works where the graphic image and its meaning are used to enhance their message. At times, sound is introduced. The symbol becomes artistic material. This is a technique that has already been used throughout literature but modern technology makes it more accessible and is well received by a reader accustomed to visual arts. In Spanish, the work of the mathematician Santiago Ortiz Árboles de texto (Trees of text) offers a clear example of this. It consists of a program that generates fractal calligrams automatically. At first, the poem is shown in a traditional format but after some time during which we can read it, the text is reorganized independently to create a tree shape that crosses the screen. It starts with poems of different authors and its destructuring into an image is anecdotic. It is, however, an interesting mathematical study of the distribution of words. The following screenshot captures the moment of the disintegration of the written poem and the formation of the tree based on the method of Santiago Ortiz:
4.2. Irruption of Comic Strips and Graphic Novels in Digital Literature
A graphic novel is a comic strip that takes the format of a book and tackles serious topics. These adult cartoons appear regularly in digital literature in many languages. It is a genre in which drawings and texts are combined to convey a plot… it also fits in very well in the digital media. Almost all the graphic novels and digital cartoons include unique elements/materials that were impossible to use in printed text. At times, digital literature uses labels of a classical cartoon strip in the development of its plot as a literary resource. They tend to introduce sound, music and even soundtracks. Sometimes a video. Nearly always, they give the reader the possibility of interacting with blogs, forums o social networks. In addition, there are many paths that can be used to explore the book.
The topics that are discussed are varied: madness and the absurd, existentialist themes, oneiric adventures or in fantastic universes, murders etc. The manners these resources are used vary. In some creations, characters of classic cartoons are used, modifying of course the textual contents, whilst on other occasions, the characters act on stage act as though they are in a theatre. They gain movements, noises. Other works combine longer passages of text with the graphics. However, it is clear that in all of them, the relevance of communication using drawings is one of the main features.
To discuss and present a Spanish digital work, this article will discuss Tiempo de héroes.15 It is a project that uses the novel of Daniel Estorach Hoy me ha pasado algo muy bestia (2012) that translates as Today something beastly has happened to me. It consists in the creation of graphic novels published as episodes, prepared in collaboration with different authors, illustrators and composers. It can be read in a lineal manner - as the chapters are ordered chronologically in days - following the point of view of one of the characters that can be found scattered around the “heroes” or in the screen “villains” or finally read the text from the perspective of one of the authors. The plot takes place over the course of several stories and is centered on the experiences of the characters. Each story crosses the path of other characters. The complete plot creates the novel denominated río in Spanish. The project makes great usage of the possibilities offered by multimedia technologies. In each of the chapters, illustrations can be found in the type of comics, a soundtrack, videos, games as well as the connection to social networks (Facebook and Twitter) etc.
4.3. Osmosis Between Videogames and Literature: Interactive Fiction
Digital literature in itself is playful, performative, invites the reader-player to take part. In addition, there are several forms of literary creations that have appeared that include elements and resources from video games that have had an important influence on digital literature. One of the forms is interactive fiction. This can be defined as the literary narrations that make use of the structure and the style of computer games. They are literature, not just games, in spite of the fact that they make use of resources made for these. In interactive fiction, the plots tend to be elaborate and require more thought and normally are of a more emotional nature and nicer aesthetics that the video games themselves. The games and literature coexist and are two separate things, although they share a common element, the narration.
The article written by Susana Pajares Tosca, “Ludology Meets Hypertext” that is part of the book supervised by Dolores Romero and Amelia Sanz Literatures in the Digital Era: Theory and Praxis published in 2007 is very interesting. Susana Pajares indicates that the first attempts of theorizing about video games came from literature. These initial approximations of the study of computer games made use of literary descriptive models and were considered cultural objects.
Katherine Hayles, in her clarifying essay “Electronic Literature: What is it?” (2007), refers to interactive fiction (discussed in due course with examples) as a genre that is closest to video games when she lists the different types of genres of electronic literature. She also indicates that the frontier between the two is often blurred. She emphasizes that in spite of the fact that the frontier between some digital literature creations and some computer games is confusing, there are clearly differentiating factors that are principally based in the predominant nature of the game or the narration. Literature takes from the world of video games some elements that are used as creative literary resources and also have a perfect fit with the new parameters of digital literature. In these works, interactivity shines more than in any other type of electronic literary work. The story cannot progress without the intervention of the users. There is a program in existence (parser16) that requires the player not only to take decisions about following specific links, but obliges him to execute commands and ask questions. The reader gets converted in interactor.17 However, they are not video games because the central part of is the text, the story and the way it is told. The aesthetic use of language prevails over the game.
Literature is still the centre of a great deal of experimenting. 20th Century vanguardists were prolific in their creations using games as the starting point. In these literary works, the primary objective is not to win a prize, points, a ranking or the reader/user overcoming the different challenges set by the machines as is the case in video games, but for the author to include a meaningful message full of aesthetic content that becomes the focal point of the production, although the reader on some occasions may be especially active and convert himself into a “cocreator”. We could be facing the remediation of the video game in the literary world.
A special mention is going to be made to the Spanish example El codex del peregrino18 which is a work directed at a young reader. It consists of a literary game designed by the Centro de Innovación Experimental del Conocimiento de la Universidad Francisco de Vitoria. It is a conversational adventure in which the reader must take decisions on how the story should continue. The reader must find clues, play mini games and complete scenes with the information provided. Three dimensional images are shown to the reader. The adventure is set on the Camino de Santiago. The main character, Norberto de Bricasard hides his past and a secret. The reader must help him reach Santiago as well as from St Jean Pied, confronting the Dark Knight. The young main character has lost his memory and is found wounded in the middle of the Camino de Santiago. He slowly sets about discovering his identity as he moves forward in his adventure and overcomes the different challenges.
It is possible to state that we are experiencing the birth of a global literature in the sense expressed by Damrosch and by Tabbi: it is a new way of getting closer to the world and communication that is growing without any spatial and time barriers and can reach any type of receiver. It is also possible to identify universal patterns that are repeated in the digital literature that converts it in global literature. The global virtual space itself is built on part of the collective imaginary of digital literature.
From our perspective, all these themes that constitute part of the global nature of digital literature can be seen as different sides of the same prism. Today‟s person appears to be shaken by the vertiginous rate of the changes in the area of communications. Much of this progress is felt to be positive and unpredictable: Internet, interconnectivity, the immediateness of information, the breaking down of space and time barriers, universal access to information etc. The new media allow unknown people to get in touch, share life experiences and emotions irrespective of the geographical distance, in spite of the fact that may have lived at different times/eras and may be of very different ages. However, these positive features can be perceived as threats in other areas: hypercommunicativity derives into isolation, in the frustration of not being able to express one‟s feelings face to face and in metaphors that are examples of the despair that the writer would like to publish, but whose chosen words do not allow him to convey what he feels and thinks.
The development of artificial intelligence, of machines that are capable of thinking faster than humans, that are able to create artistic products that up to now were only reserved to human understanding, that could replace man in his professional environment provokes in him a feeling of panic when looking at the near future. Perhaps man is not measuring the consequences of his own creations.
Other signs of this progressive dehumanization that he is sensing is the loss of his capacity for compassion. He is changing into an intelligent beast that can enjoy the pain and anguish suffered by others. Anguish that is thought and “machined” in the shape of a video game. Other beings, real or virtual (the frontier is becoming blurred) are dolls, puppets that react to his instructions, to his inputs. Toys that can be broken at his whim and enjoyment.
The perception of fragmentary time, psychological, chaotic at times and the torment provoked by its pressure on our lives would betray yet another symptom of a general sense of loss of control. The structures that in the past had provided security and stability to the human are now broken. Postmodernism has issued its own death certificate. Yet nobody has been capable of setting new foundation rules on which to build new structures that allow man to control this situation. Time is a variable that has escaped his grasp but also oppresses him. A feeling that everything is happening so quickly that he is no longer capable of assimilating it or adapt himself as moments afterwards, reality has changed once again.
As in the case of any era, literature collates and reflects the concerns of mankind. The difference in the digital era is that the space and time barriers have disappeared. Whatever has happened in any remote part of the world is known nearly instantly in all parts of the world. The reality of the human being is more global than ever before and because of this the themes and concerns that become literary demonstrations become numerous. Literature has become the owner of the new technology, not only as a container of analogue traditional literary productions, but also a means to investigate unaccountable possibilities for rhetoric, aesthetics that the media makes possible: reflect, communicate, and convey human feelings.
The works of this literature investigate ways of actively involving the reader. A type of open and unfinished textuality that is more suited to juxtaposing and fragmentarianism that is bringing its own version of literary resources, experimenting with other paths in order to convey meanings. The word becomes a material resource to draw images (Árboles de textos - text trees - by Santiago Ortiz), the images drawn using words loaded with meaning (El rumor de los álamos by Óscar Martín Centeno), not just simple graphical instruments with aesthetic value. The noise of the signs become music and the music amplifies the message of the text (Memories del asesino by Consuegra “Monster”, Berdei and Valencia). The reader is a cocreator with the writer by selecting the reading paths (Basta con abrir las puertas de un hotel by Domenico Chiappe) or building parts of an ephemeral and changeable work (Last performance by Judd Morrisey).
The reader opens the doors of his e-mail or his social networks, undressing his reality to convert himself into a virtual character of a work (The Fugue Book by Toni Ferret), allowing his physical image to be kidnapped by the webcam and included in the final result (Loss of Grasp by Serge Boucharon), building a piece of the dome with his words - for a few minutes. Let‟s not forget that time in this situation only follows its own norms (Last Performance de Judd Morrisey), literally drawing with its fingers the hidden message in the chaos of the screen (Loss of Grasp/Las casas perdidas19/Don Quixote.20
In digital literature, references about reflexion on the literary fact can be found regularly, be it about the creation in itself or the search to participate or collaborate with others in its creation as a means of communicating. We have many examples at hand where the themes that surround the work is precisely this, the investigation of the literary act as a communicative deed.21 Metaliterary reflexions are the testimony of the footprints of active cultural memory and also feed the new literature.
A series of common characteristics can be found to be part of the digital literature produced in any language. Digital literature written in Spanish fits in perfectly with the set of artistic creations as part of a global movement. Another of the essential characteristics of this global literature is the possibility of recombining and reworking the materials into new formats. Examples of these in which the whole work consists in reworking of another analogue traditional work are Góngora Wordtoys22 by Belén Gache, or Don Quixote for iPad. On other occasions, one verse is sufficient as a starting point to build our digital creation (Ara vus prec) or well known phrases by known writers and thinkers are inserted to support the post-it of suicidal and desperate people that are escaping from a reality in which communication seems impossible (Mitos muertos y suicidas). These resources of the active and dynamic cultural memory foment new formats and are adjusted to the concerns of the new generations. In this way they become attractive works to digital natives. In this sense, digital literature is disguised as a local phenomenon taking over and inheriting traits from traditional literature.
Digital literature seeks the participation of a reader who is no longer passive and becomes one of the main characters, co-author, secondary character in the story and the screen. At times, he is another character inside and out of the work because the frontiers of reality have disappeared. Many of these creations result in nano communities or large social networks in which the members join, feel and become part of a project, of a story, common to all these members. Photographers, musicians, writers, engineers, designers, mathematicians and programmers join forces to shape the ideas of one or several people. The collective nature of the digital work is a global feature that becomes much larger in the Spanish environment, perhaps because it is a feature of this culture.
We are witnesses of the first literary works of a literature without frontiers in which the creators and readers know they are immersed in a new global reality: the virtual world behind our screens is contagious and communicates in an osmotic fashion the rest of the information. At the heart of the LEETHI group of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, we have created as a group of investigators that have been working since 2013 on setting up a repository of works of digital literature in Spanish called Ciberia. Currently it holds seventy works and has been exported to CELL. This in itself, constitutes an example of globalization of this literature through sharing metadata that facilitate the exchange and the will to promote universal access to this literature.
- It can be deduced from what was explained by his disciple Eckermann, J.P.: Conversaciones con Goethe, a book that compiles a set of discussions that took place in the last years of the life of his teacher.
- Included in the book Orientaciones en literatura comparada compiled by Doctora Romero López.
- M. Sánchez Prado (2006: 10).
- Although it is true that these means could be within reach of everyone, they are not as yet. In many parts of the world that are not fully developed, access to the Internet is still nonexistent. Illiteracy or language barriers also restrict this so-called universal access.
- The term was introduced in 1983 by Benedict Anderson in his work Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. In 1991 he reedited it and added new chapters. The last revision dates to 2010. Imagined Communities are not based on the face to face interaction of their members. The members of an Imagined Community see themselves as part of a group. Anderson considers that nations are imagined political communities: “an imagined political community - and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (1991: 224).
- http://www.hidrophone.com/ara.html. Accessed March 2015.
- http://www.uvm.edu/~tescaja/poemas/hyperpoemas/velocity.htm. Accessed: 24 April 2015.
- www.unav.es/digilab/proyectosenl/2002/nada_tiene_sentido/ . Accessed: 13 April 2015.
- In the collective novel, rewritten by the students by the students of the Facultad de Filología de la UCM, La Venus digital, one of its stories speaks clearly about this feeling: “No conozco amigos, aunque mis redes sociales luchen por disentir” (“I don‟t have any friends, although my social networks struggle to tell me the contrary”) are the words of the main character, Lina, in the story in chapter XVII. http://venusdigital.wordpress.com/. Accessed 27 August 2014.
- http://www.marlajacarilla.es/MITOS/PAGE/index.html#. Accessed 4 April 2015.
- The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk is one of the representatives. Some works on this line of thoughts in Spanish are: Jesús Ballesteros, Encarnación Fernández (2007): Biotecnología y posthumanismo. Madrid, Aranzadi. Adolfo Vasques Rocca (2005). “Peter Sloterdijk; El post-humanismo: sus fuentes teológicas y sus medios técnicos”. Revista Observaciones filosóficas. http://www.observacionesfilosoficas.net/posthumanismo.html. Accessed 4 April 2015.
- http://www.elevenkosmos.net/5000palabras/5KP1.html. Accessed 28 March 2015.
- This sentence appears in the work of the Spaniard Santiago Eximeno, Hazlo.
- http://www.eximeno.com/hazlo.html. Accessed 12 April 2014.
- http://www.tiempo-de-heroes.com/. Accessed 5 April 2015.
- Terminology introduced by Nick Monfort in 2003 in his study Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction.
- Terminology also attributed to Nick Monfort (2003).
- https://itunes.apple.com/es/app/id525697120. Accessed 22 April 2015.
- Las casas perdidas was created for iPad by Xavi Serrat (text), Anna Obon (illustrations) and Dani Alegret (music). La Tortuga Casiopea. This work will be analyzed in this thesis in the chapter on digital literature for children. in this work, the sense of touch is necessary to unveil the significance of what is hidden in the houses that are shown to us. With the use of a touch screen, the reader must activate different elements that contribute to the comprehension of the message.
- This work was developed as an App for iPad. The interaction of the child with the touch screen is necessary to understand the meaning of reworking of the classic novel of Cervantes.
- Velocity by Tina Escaja could be put forward as a paradigm. The machine, the word that is highlighted in color invites the reader to continue investigating deeper into the meaning. ¡Más respeto que soy tu madre! (http://mujergorda.bitacoras.com/, Accessed 26 November 2013) of the Argentinean Casciari is a blognovel in which the metaliterary is present as a style resource as a metaphor and a wink to the reader. On many occasions, the writer plays by adopting different roles: that of Mirta Bertotti (the administertor of the blog and protagonist of the story who entices the reader with its simplicity and tenderness), of Borjamari, owner of the funeral services that acts as a counterpoint and who doubts of the truthfulness of the diary, the administrators of Bitacoras.com as people immersed in the plot and of Casciari himself. The reciting machines in El idioma de los pájaros by Belén Gache or the talking faces by Gustavo Romano in IP-Poetry are also a reflexion on the capability to communicate and move through the use of words. Los graphic signs or the sounds, without a reader that unravels its deepest meaning become dehumanized empty noises.
- http://belengache.net/gongorawordtoys/. Accessed 6 June 2014.