Digital literature is enjoying profitable and exciting times, made possible by emerging trends in digital publishing, as well as a growing enthusiasm on behalf of readers, publishers and authors for all forms of digital literary productions. These new players, who often come from traditional publishing, are discovering with great interest the literary and creative potential offered by touchscreen mobile devices. They are also exploring emerging new ways of writing and conceiving literary objects designed to be read on tablets, defined as “digital books”.
While homothetic books for e-readers such as .pdf and .epub files only imitate the characteristics of paper books, digital books conceived as “augmented” or “enhanced” combine text, sounds, and fixed or animated images in order to create a heterogenous work meant to be read, watched, handled, listened to and experimented with.
The contents of such digital books and the forms they can take – augmented fictions, digital artists’ books and exhibition catalogues, etc. – take the reader into account, aim at meeting his/her expectations (Jauss) and come from mainstream considerations, clearly stepping away from the digital literature avant-gardes. The “book object” (Claire Belisle) raises some interesting questions when it is considered alongside the digital. Works created by authors and artists that tackle these issues also try to explore the tensions between printed books, visual book-objects and digital literature.
But should be presume that these works which often are experimental, yet destined to a commercial use, belong to the field of digitial literature as it has previously been defined (ELO, Katherine Hayles, Landow & Bolter, Aarseth)? How should such textual and multimedia productions, conceived especially for digital environments, be defined, if not as digital literature? Is some new field in digital literature materialising?
This paper seeks to examine these tensions as well as to explore how (and when) content designed for digital environments becomes a book. We shall consider the visual stakes of the forms displayed on screen, “down to the last pixel”. We shall also reflect on the characteristics of digital, hypertextual and multimedia reading, looking specifically at a collection of “augmented texts” for tablets and e-readers offered by traditional publishers and collectives: Juliette Mézenc’s Poreuse (Publie.net), Conduit d’aération (Hyperfiction.org collective), Célia Houdart and André Balinger’s Fréquence (P.O.L.), Jules Verne’s Voyage au centre de la terre (l’Apprimerie), the digital catalogue Hopper, d’une fenêtre à l’autre (Réunion des musées nationaux), Thierry Fournier and J. Emil Sennewald’s Flatland catalogue (Pandore Édition), the editions Art, Book, Magazine, together bookstore, library and digital book reader specialized in contemporary art.
Aarseth, Espen J.. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Bélisle, Claire, ed. 2011. Lire dans un monde numérique. Lyon: Presses de l'enssib.
Bélisle, Claire. 2004. La lecture numérique : réalités, enjeux et perspectives. Lyon: Presses de l’enssib.
Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). http://eliterature.org/what-is-e-lit/
Hayles, Catherine. 2007. “Electronic Literature: What is it?” http://eliterature.org/pad/elp.html.
Kittler, Friedrich A.. 1997. Literature Media Information Systems. New York: Routledge.
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