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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

The Challenge of Visuality for Electronic Literature

Donna Leishman (Dundee University)

Panel: The Medium
Friday, August 7 • 11:00 - 12:30 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium A)

Whilst there may be aesthetic tropes within digital media, there is no universally accepted authority within contemporary culture nor is there an easy mutual acceptance of what is “right and proper” or indeed legitimate outside the now virtue of being popular and well followed. Indeed the now bodily distanced and disinhibited digital citizen frequently demonstrates a palpable distain for the elite and pretentious (1). Considering this, any community with Literature in its name may have an identity problem; literariness still pertains to an elevated quality of artistic or intellectual merit and is thus counter to popular cultural production. In addition, mainstream culture has successfully commoditized many counter-cultural communities (2). Electronic Literature has arguably not been through such commodification processes, and the question of interest is why not? To that extent this paper seeks to explore possible answers. Investigating the broader shifts towards increased visuality within modern culture (3) the paper will discuss and revisit the discourses on the power structures of the gaze, consider spectatorship’s dominance over readership and interaction and co-creation and the function of the image within contemporary narrative forms inside and outwith Electronic Literature (4). The paper will also consider the politics implied in the move to open access, the fluid distribution of often context-less “images”, how this relates to prior notions of literary publishing, and whether this manifests as an opportunity or a challenge to Electronic Literature’s dissemination. Lastly and toward a conclusion, the paper will propose that if we consider the tradition of literature as one that is driven by the expression of human experience, where in today’s context literary “traditions” are not longer built around specific commonalities of form (i.e. predominately verbal language) but rather subject matter, themes and worldviews then the questions of identity and of “literariness” can evaporate to make space for fuller participation in the ocular freedoms in contemporary culture. 


1. Outside the anti-social policies and politic of 4Chan, Whitney Phillip’s recent work offers a very interesting analysis of contemporary trolling culture and the link to popular press and problematic sensationalism. Whitney Philips. 2011. “LOLing at Tragedy: Facebook Trolls, Memorial Pages (and Resistance to Grief Online),” First Monday 16, no. 12 (December 5). http://firstmonday. org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3168/3115. (date accessed August 31, 2013) and John Suler, “The Online Disinhibition Effect”. 2004. Cyber-Psychology and Behavior .7: 321-326.

2. Consider the music industry’s successful appropriation of the genres of punk, hip-hop, folk or Hollywood and the continued mining of the comic and graphic novel scenes for franchising strategies.

3. Martin Jay. 1988. “Scopic Regimes of Modernity”. In Vision and Visuality, edited by Hal Foster, 2-23. Seattle: Bay Press.

4. Spanning still/static, moving, responsive and performed visual modes, e.g. the rise of audio-visual performance over performed writing.

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