David Thomas Henry Wright
David Thomas Henry Wright
Electronic or digital literature refers to literary works that are ‘native to the digital environment’ (Rettberg 2019: 6). In a simpler sense, electronic or digital literature is defined by its ‘unprintability’ and its reliance on computer code to exist. Additionally, Bell et al (2010) pose that electronic literature can be defined as works that are ‘written for and read on a computer screen that pursues its verbal, discursive and/or conceptual complexity through the digital medium, and would lose something of its aesthetic and semiotic function if it were removed from that medium.’
On June 11, 2020, the inaugural issue of The Digital Review was released (it should be noted that I, the author of this paper, am a co-editor of this publication). This journal, a sibling publication to the electronic book review, is dedicated to the ‘preservation and publication of innovative, born-digital essays’. This issue included two reviews of two separate works of electronic literature: a review of The Pleasure of the Coast by J.R. Carpenter, titled The Pleasure of the Infinite: An (In)finite Review of The Pleasure of the Coast by JR Carpenter by DTH Wright (myself); and a review of Blocked In by Anastasia Salter and John Murray, titled Playing the Hard Questions: A Twine Review of Blocked In by Anastasia Salter and John Murray by Caleb Andrew Milligan. These reviews are not simply text reviews. Rather, they are works that engage with the works’ digital formats, interfaces, and code as part of their critique. In the same way filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard implemented the ‘essay film’, so too do these works implement a born-digital critique.
J.R. Carpenter’s The Pleasure of the Coast (2019), offered in both English and French, appropriates, exaggerates, détournes, corrects, and corrupts text from Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text (1973), Beautemps-Beaupré’s Introduction to the Practice of Nautical Surveying and the Construction of Sea-Charts (1808), and Jean Giraudoux’s Suzanne et le Pacific (1921). The work is presented in five sections: ‘the infinite coast’, ‘the technical coast’, ‘the incremental coast’, ‘the grammatical coast’, and ‘the route of La Recherche’. The review of Carpenter’s work, The Pleasure of the Infinite, adopts the code used by Carpenter for the section ‘the infinite coast’. Within this scrolling, ‘infinite’, decentred form, the review is positioned. In so doing, the review explores and reflects not only on the work, but engages with the work on the its own terms.
Blocked In (2019) by Anastasia Salter and John Murray, explores in the language and artistic value of video games by representing this ‘debate through the fusion of two competing aesthetic genres: the hypertextual Twine game, and the traditional arcade platformer.’ The work ends with a challenge to the reader to not only be an active participant in the work, but to create their own. In his review of Salter and Murray’s ‘game essay’, Milligan also engages with Twine, a free open-source software for making interactive fiction. He concludes that to fully appreciate and critique the work, one must engage with the formats and interfaces.
Using these two digital reviews as examples, this paper proposes a model for reviewing and engaging with works of born-digital literature. Unlike typical reviews or papers, it poses that it is not enough to merely reflect and theorise the work without also engaging with its form and code makeup. This academic process is understood as a form of ‘practice-led research’ as defined by Smith and Dean (2009). Additionally, the method of engaging with and remaking the code and form of the work in question is regarded as an example of ‘third generation electronic literature’ as defined by Flores (2019). This paper also addresses the potential problems with doing so: notably, copyright issues.
Bell, Alice, et al. 2010 ‘A [S]creed for Digital Fiction’, Electronic Book Review, 7 March, at https://electronicbookreview.com/essay/a-screed-for-digital-fiction/ (accessed 6 July 2020).
Carpenter, J.R. 2019 ‘The Pleasure of the Coast’, Luckysoap, at http://luckysoap.com/pleasurecoast/en/technicalcoast.html (accessed 6 July 2020).
Flores, Leonardo 2019 ‘Third Generation Electronic Literature’, Electronic Book Review, 7 April, at https://electronicbookreview.com/essay/third-generation-electronic-literature/ (accessed 6 July 2020).
Milligan, Caleb Andrew 2020 ‘Playing the Hard Questions: A Twine Review of Blocked In by Anastasia Salter and John Murray’, The Digital Review, 11 June, at https://thedigitalreview.com/issue00/hard-questions/index.html (accessed 6 July 2020).
Rettberg, Scott 2019 Electronic Literature, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Salter, Anastasia and Murray, John 2019 ‘Blocked In’, Hyperrhiz, 21, at http://hyperrhiz.io/hyperrhiz21/games/5-blocked-in.html (accessed 6 July 2020).
Smith, Hazel and Dean, Roger 2009 Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Luers, Will [Ed] 2020 The Digital Review, at https://thedigitalreview.com/about.html (accessed 6 July 2020).
Wright, David Thomas Henry 2020 ‘The Pleasure of the Infinite: An (In)finite Review of The Pleasure of the Coast by JR Carpenter’, The Digital Review, 11 June, at https://thedigitalreview.com/issue00/pleasure-of-the-infinite/index.html (accessed 6 July 2020).