New Media and Literature

CMLIT/ENGL 429, Fall 2012

Technology has always influenced literary form and style at least since Gutenberg. More recently, Kurt Schwitters’ sound poems from the 1920s, Brion Gysin’s cut-ups in the 50s, and Kool Herc’s sampling in the 70s illustrate how artists have continued to reinvent literary form. By rearranging language, text, image, and sound, such multimedia experimentation re-imagines the literary interface. New Media and Literature begins with oral traditions—an early technology of memory—and links narrative and poetic forms to evolving means of replicating and transmitting texts. At the turn of the twentieth century, the works of popular poets like Vachel Lindsay and Paul Laurence Dunbar were widely performed from memory. Some years later, modernists like Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, and Carl Sandburg, began to record their readings. Dadaism and Surrealism also used technology to create “anti-art,” emphasizing randomness, absurdity, and chance. Such artistic movements crystalized around multimedia forms that resisted generic categorization. These experiments influenced later performance art collectives including the Living Theater, Fluxus, and the Black Arts Movement.

Tracing this genealogy prepares us for the second part of the course, devoted to contemporary electronic literature, including digital poetry, hypertext novels, web-based graphic and sound applications, poetry generators, memes, and social media. Gaming is a further literary frontier. Many games are pushing the boundaries of participatory, multi-media art, employing sophisticated narratives, well developed characters, and intricate settings. Traditional terms and concepts from literary studies have become a valuable tool to help understand and critique the politics, culture, and aesthetics of gaming. By casting our gaze backward and then forward, this course investigates the history of multimedia literary art and theorizes the humanities’ digital future.

Anna Everett, Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace
C.T. Funkhouser, New Directions in Digital Poetry
N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic LIterature: New Horizons for the Literary
Tracie Morris, Rhyme Scheme
Borsuk and Bouse, Between Page and Screen (recommended)