Hispanic Legacies in Electronic Literature: The Trace of Experimental Writing in Spain and Latin America

The first AAHD Digital Humanities conference is taking place in Buenos Aires on November 17-19. The occasion is special for a number of reasons, most importantly for me because—although I didn’t get to go—the wonderful Alex Saum-Pascual will be debuting our E-Lit exhibit project Hispanic Legacies in Electronic Literature: The Trace of Experimental Writing in Spain and Latin America. Presenting this project for the first time in Argentina is meaningful in several ways for us. First of all, there is a long tradition of E-Lit creative production, perhaps best exemplified in the Northern hemisphere by María Uribe’s extremely well known and widely exhibited Anipoemas and Tipoemas. And secondly, Buenos Aires has been the stage of important, pioneering E-Lit projects since 2004 like Ludión (latin american exploratory of poetic/politic technologies) directed by Claudia Kozak that constitute the background of our work. Further, Buenos Aires will host the 2015 E-Poetry festival, and thus has become a central stage to talk about projects such as mine and Alex’s.

Hispanic Legacies will take place at the University of Berkeley in the Spring 2016 and bring to a close a series of collaborations that are in the making with Hermeneia in Barcelona and lleom in Mexico City looking into specific aspects of E-Lit in distinct social, literary, and scholarly contexts in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. In that sense, even though we come from those contexts, Hispanic Legacies is tightly linked to the North American context in which Alex and I work as well as to its long and deep tradition of E-Lit creation and scholarly explorations. The objective of Hispanic Legacies is to reposition the place of Spanish (and Portuguese) language experimentalism as alternative and/or analogous origins of E-Lit practices commonly framed by Northerly models. After all, as Alex wrote elsewhere, the origin of the project was the DHSI2014 course ““Electronic Literature: Research and Practice.” Thus, the exhibit has a self-reflexive component regarding the place of Latin American and Iberian electronic literatures within the North American (academic) geography and seeks to offer a retrospective look capable of opening new and richer takes on the field.

With this in mind, Hispanic Legacies continues, expands, and dialogues with previous E-Lit exhibits that have taken place in the US such as Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms that took place at the Library of Congress in 2013, as well as the MLA 2012, 2013, and 2014 exhibits. In her curatorial statement of the exhibit at the Library of Congress and following the work of Eduardo Kac and C.T. Funkhouser, Dene Grigar proposed “that electronic literature is a natural outgrowth of literary experimentation and human expression with roots in print literary forms and, so, constitutes an organic form generating from the dynamic human spirit that is evolving, will continue to evolve through time and medium.” Our exhibit incorporates this and further proposes E-Lit works as an ideal locus to observe individual materializations of the literary that have manifested analogously regardless of language and geography in the last century. Questions that we seek to explore include: In which cases can we observe a dynamic of influence or a deliberate dialogue between E-Lit works and the historic avant-garde? What specific media conditions may have led to the creation of “proto-electronic” works and how do they resemble other (E-Lit) media landscapes? Are works from the historic avant-garde and E-Lit analogous, asynchronic, individual materializations of the literary? And finally, what is the role of our historical/archaeological critical eye in these theorizations?

In order to explore this, Hispanic Legacies will offer a wealth of resources such as print books, artist books, and other material artifacts along with a selection of electronic literary works in Spanish, English, and some Portuguese. However, rather than offering a lineal history of the development of E-Lit from the historical avant-garde, the exhibit relies on a dynamic of productive juxtaposition. The selection of works will be divided into four thematic-material sections. The first one will focus on labyrinth and endless writing, randomness, and infinite combinations. Section two will be devoted to allegorical representations, circular time and simultaneity. Section number three will look into materializations of concretism and generativism. And, finally, the fourth section will bring to the fore pre- and post- digital material tensions in the literary.

We hope Hispanic Legacies will contribute to highlight the relevance of the Iberoamerican literary traditions in current theorizations about media and literature. Further, the focus of the exhibit’s sections proposes a look into the historical avant-garde and E-lit that does not depend on technological developments alone, but, above all, on literary and philosophical concerns that have recurred at different times and under particular media conditions.

More soon…

My Week With The Thing The Book

I will say this about The Thing The Book: it is very bookish. That is, postdigitally bookish.

I spent a week with Jonn Herschend & Will Rogan’s collection The Thing The Book (TTTB). I carried it in my backpack. I recognized its smell every time I opened it. I didn’t like the smell. I read the essays in it. I stared for hours at the wonderful plates and illustrations. I toyed with the inner flipbooks. I laughed at all the meta games. I examined every little detail as I felt compelled by the book. Adjacently (?), I used it as a coaster, to write down a phone number, to hold my window open, to flatten a red maple leaf, to lift my laptop by an extra two centimeters during a skype meeting, and to carry documents I didn’t want to get wrinkled.

The Thing The Book holding my window open

The Thing The Book holding my window open.

I loved carrying TTTB around in a way that reminded me how I loved carrying books in the 90’s—that is, before I had a cellphone or a laptop—that is, with a solid awareness of its presence, of the book as company. When I closed TTTB this morning, having examined—I think—everything I could, I was left asking myself what else can I do with it? A feeling akin to letting go of a favorite story after reaching the last page.

It would seem that TTTB has managed to touch on every possible element of what a print book is (has been) or what a print book can do or be used for. But I wonder if that feeling of incompleteness I got when I was done with it, a reluctance towards the book’s finitude point towards the opposite. I could easily blame this feeling on the (let’s call it) “digital” expectation that “devices” get updated, that functionalities are enhanced/improved/diversified by new apps and so forth. It is also true that the digital has filtered through our reading and writing practices—even of the most bookish books. But, on some level, it seems to me that the array of TTTB’s material/cognitive qualities—pretty much unthinkable for any “regular” book—is actually (maybe unwillingly) remediating the multifunctionality of tablets and smartphones into print. By highlighting an enormous catalogue of print books’ material affordances that remembers the all-in-one-ness rhetoric of digital devices—complemented with a clear nostalgic take on the current place of books regarding e-books and other digital reading interfaces—TTTB showcases the extent to which it is a product of a postdigital consciousness. In its extreme bookishness lies the digital dimension of TTTB.