In my earlier research, I have drafted a theory of literary communication using programmable and networked media based on Actor-Network Theory (e.g., “Reassembling the Literary: Toward a Theoretical Framework for Literary Communication in Computer-Based Media”, in Beyond the Screen: Transformations of Literary Structures, Interfaces and Genres, eds. Jörgen Schäfer and Peter Gendolla, pp. 25-70). In this optic, the conceptions of “actor-networks”, or more precisely, the conceptions of distributed agencies and of chains of translations between human and non-human actors provide us with a framework that helps to relate human dispositions and corporeal activities, variable activity roles of human actors in the literary system (as “author”, “editor”, “reader”, etc.), changing media technologies and various literary procedures. The semantic field of “nets” and “networks” acquires a special significance because it stresses the uncertainty about sources of action.
It goes without saying that “electronic literature is situated as an intermedial field of practice between literature, computation, visual and performance art”, as the conference organizers argue appropriately. This does neither mean that literature as a specific medium of expression has come to an end nor that digital media are not suited for literary communication. However, what is still needed is a theory of literature as well as analytical methods that are able to conceive of and to observe “open” and unfinished processes between humans and non-humans that only lead to ephemeral materializations on displays instead of works as “closed” materialized objects. Using approaches from STS, Semiotics and Media Studies as well as from Literary Studies, the proposed paper aims at replacing notions of the “work” with an awareness of the local and temporal emergence of specific material-discursive reconfigurations “for another first next time”. Karen Barad’s elaboration of “posthumanist performativity” suggests that writing and reading practices should be regarded as entangled by a web of “non-human” material-discursive practices (cf. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28.3 (2003), pp. 801-831).
In literary projects such as Stephanie Strickland et al.’s slippingglimpse, John Cayley and Daniel Howe’s The Readers Project, Michael Mateas’s and Andrew Stern’s Façade or Caitlin Fisher’s Andromeda, to name a few, a congealing of physical, semiological, technological etc. agencies can be analyzed in action. Here, subjectivity does not only refer to the experiences of the human recipients, but also to that of the machines, which recursively observe their own operations (cf. Francisco J. Ricardo, The Engagement Aesthetic: Experiencing New Media Art Through Critique). Therefore I propose not to define “the literary” as a special domain but as a “very peculiar movement of re-association and reassembling” (Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, p. 7). I will try to identify particular poetic effects of the brief moment of a network’s “becoming-literary”. From there on, the decisive questions of literary studies need to be brought up again and partially revised:
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