Textual Environments

Monograph in progress

General Description: This project identifies a phenomenon in electronic literature (e-lit) I typify as a “textual environment”: works made up of several material components, usually print and digital but sound and visual media are not uncommon. Because of their material architecture, these works require specific infrastructural conditions and the unfolding of several practices or protocols for their reading. Similarly, due to their distributed architecture, these works rely either on computational ways of linking its material components like augmented reality in the most recent works, or on establishing a script for the reader to go back and forth between them in the older ones. The range of interactions and reading conditions embedded in these works, I argue, constitute a carefully delineated media-textual environment. The significance of examining these works is manifold. Firstly, they reveal the complexity and intricacy of the literary and publishing media ecology countering simplistic page-screen dyads. Further, they allow us to study the modification of the practices and protocols associated with each of its material components: print objects are not self-sufficient and translatable outside of the digital realm, computational devices are rendered useless without input from print materials. Moreover, these works’ distributed architecture constitutes a radically contemporary media genre of e-lit forced to change in accordance to digital media cycles of obsolescence. And finally, textual environments require and create highly specific reading conditions layered across their material components. Even when these works are highly experimental, the specific conditions of each one constitute a laboratory to investigate contemporary changing reading and writing practices.

In “TXTual Practice,” her study of public interactive text installations, Rita Raley articulates a notion of text as “the whole of the event, its physical, logical, and conceptual architecture; the enactment and experience; its temporal structures; and associated social and juridical protocols” (2013: 21). Even though Raley’s conceptualization of TXTual Practice comes from large scale, social, and collaborative textual events like Text Rain, Urban Diary and City Speak, the general framework of text as event, enactment, and experience offers a productive basis to think about smaller scale works like those I identify as Textual Environments which nonetheless provide, borrowing Raley’s words, an “expanded textual practice” (8). Therefore, I argue that a textual environment is an instance of said expanded practice; one that emerges out of a particular multimaterial configuration. Multimateriality should be understood as the bringing together of different media and/or interfaces that guide specific reading conditions, and which cannot be broken down into its individual components without crippling the configuration of the work. Over the basis of its multimateriality, a textual environment produces a layered reading experience as each medium invites its own reading practice. The specific reading conditions created by a textual environment is the sum of them all.

Textual environments are embedded within a larger media ecology straightforwardly characterized by the “interactions of communications media, technology, technique, and processes with human feeling, thought, value, and behavior” (Nystrom n/p). Nonetheless, a textual environment has a delineated context that draws from the larger media ecology of its protocols, but pushes away conventional uses of media, or in Davin Heckman’s words “the defaults,” to operate under its own logic and aesthetics. Ultimately, a textual environment produces its own meaning-making logic and it confronts the reader with specific, unfamiliar uses of familiar media objects. In that way, the contours of a textual environment modify the “protocols” and “structures of communication,” as Lisa Gitelman calls them in Always Already New (2006), of each material media component. Nevertheless, as an emergent phenomenon, the configuration of a textual environment is provisional and so are its enactment and its experience.  In textual environments like the works that will be examined, the space created by the multiplicity of media reveals and collapses the writing systems of each into an emerging single one.

Corpus in development (suggestions and additions welcome):

Augmented Reality

  • Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse. Between Page and Screen
  • Aaron Reed and Jacob Garbe. Ice-Bound
  • Caitlin Fisher. Circle

iPad or Web application

  • Kate Durbin, Amaranth Borsuk, and Ian Hatcher, Abra
  • Stephanie Strickland, Cinthya Lawson, M.D. Coverley, and Ian Hatcher. Vniverse, V : Errand, Losing L’una/ WaveSon.nets, Losing L’una/WaveTercets.

CD Rom

  • Belén Gache. El libro del fin del mundo
  • Stephanie Strickland. Zone : Zero
  • Oni Buchanan. Mandrake Vehicles / Spring

Floppy Disk

  • Paul Zelevanski. The Case for the Burial of Ancestors. Books I, II, III.ç

Not a case of words: Textual Environments and Multimateriality in Between Page and Screen,” my article advancing research for this project is available at the Electronic Book Review.

%d bloggers like this: