Familiarizing the Strange

By Innessa Roosen

       Electronic-literature is a literary genre which amplifies the concept of the “ordinary” by digitizing literal artwork and de-familiarizing the conventional reading process. Traditional modes of reading are acquainted with the comfort of passively reading in a private space, while flipping the pages and folding the corners of books. We have developed an intimate and physical relationship to reading. However, our connection to understanding literature is experiencing a major shift as electronic-literature rejuvenates methods of reading. This newly innovated form of literature is no longer restricted to the long tradition of printed text. Thus, transforming the conditioned modes of reading by completely changing how, where and what we read. Electronic-literature falls under unorthodox and experimental perspective, consequently de-familiarizing how we interpret and interact with digital literature.

       The novel and unfamiliar ways in which electronic-literature is communicating literal art are reinventing modes of reading. Katherine Hayles, former faculty director of the Electronic Literature Organization, suggests that electronic-literature embraces the concept of being “born digital”, embracing the computer as medium. While there are many differences between print and digital text, various elements that feed the senses can only be performed digitally. Both context and content have been completely bent to thrive in the abstract and less restricted realm of cyberspace. Suddenly, artists and readers are cast into an innovated, digital playing field, where the use of sonic affect, visual effect, colour, spatial placement, flash media, hypertext and an infinite of possibilities for communicating literal artworks.

       Brian Kim Stefans, one of the many authors of the Electronic Literature Collection, generated digital works that utilize the computer as a medium and an artistic instrument, while embracing the ambience of kinetic poetry. Rather than silently experiencing the climax of a novel, Stefans’ kidnaps the reader into an animated fantasy he calls “The Dreamlife of Letters”. He plays with the concepts of syntax and semantics, by deconstructing language and using flash-media as an expressive tool. Stefans’ work reveals the essence of electronic-literature by crossing the borders of accepted methods of reading, all the while, indulging in unconventional ways of understanding literature and transmitting art.

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