Text and Internext: the Literary Shift to Fluid texts and its Effect in Contemporary Fiction
[TPL’S NOTE: This is an extract from the paper given by the author at the Hybrid Storyspaces conference at Cornell University, May 1, 2010. You can read the complete document in our References section.]
WHAT IS LITERATURE NOW?
In the same way that for artists such as Philippe Parreno an exhibition is no longer the logical and only end of the creative process, the publication of the literary work in the form of a book is just one of the many possible “happy endings” available for writing these days. Phenomena such as blogs, e-literature, text processors and digital readers allow writers to express themselves in new ways which are now making the old concepts of text, writing, authorship and distribution shake. But also the main field, Literature itself, is experiencing deep changes. Katherine Hayles (2009:3) reminds us that, for the committee of the Electronic Literature Organization, the definition of what can be tagged with the term “electronic literature” is broad: “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer”. For Hayles, “although tautology is usually regarded as a cardinal sin by definition writers, in this case the tautology seems appropriate” (íbidem). One of the problems we are left with is that today all forms of electronic and traditional literature use computers in many steps of the creation, design, editing and / or publication processes. In fact, as stated by digital artist Eduardo Kac, our ‘connected condition’, the “broadband network ubiquity (the eventual ability to process and exchange messages in any media anywhere) […] will undoubtedly contribute to expand the poet’s creative media and will affect the writing/reading process in stimulating ways” (Kac 2007:8).
All these changes have to do not only with what relates to the writing of the books, they are also operating in the minds of readers. In this regard, Gregory L. Ulmer explained (2003) that the common reader has the temptation of reading the screen as if it were a page. Our question is now: have common readers begun to read the page as if it were a screen? I believe the answer is yes. A number of writers have been preparing us during the last centuries for these new perspectives: Lawrence Sterne with “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy” (1759-1767), Mallarmé with “Un coup de dés”, Apollinaire and his calligrammes, Julio Cortázar and the comics inserted in “Fantomas”, Octavio Paz and his “Topoems”, the Brazilian and Swiss concrete poets, W. G. Sebald and David Eggers with the photographs interspersed in their novels, and so forth. Images have never been strangers to fiction readers, and now even dynamic images can be an integral part of the same vision of the world and the arts, part of the same Weltanschauung.
For us, the information is a continuum, and literature is in itself a form of information. Roy Ascott coined the concept of ‘aesthetics of communication’, highlighting that the communication process itself has acquired aesthetic value and inviting us to think that shared information is a breeding ground for new ways of creation, a new Art and a new Fiction. First, we have to focus on what Literature and information have in common: the fluidity of discourse, the liquid stream of sounds and words that inform the current of our voice, the river in movement of the communicated thoughts. This stream can be shared. We can displace it; move it from one person to another, from writer to reader. This is something we’ve always been doing, historically, but today we have the means to put it in motion in many fantastic new ways. Literary information can be metaphorically and literally scrolled, in printed, compressed or virtual form. As Terranova points out, electronic resources can help us in this new movement: “This feature of the Net space, movement, permanent divergence, differentiation, is what makes electronic textuality unstable and fluctuating, subjected to the dynamics of open physical systems” (Terranova 2006:143). We can hence rethink the notion of text, which have always been imbibed with a subconscious element of written or printed formats, and create a new word to which the idea of movement would be consubstantial. We posit to talk of the ‘internext’ —text + internet—, the text plus its possibilities for travelling, being shared or transferred. The internext as a fluid textual concept.
My novel “Alba Cromm” was published in Spain in 2002. From my point of view, the significance of a novel lies currently in the diversity and profundity of the questions it raises. In “Alba Cromm” I tried to look into (and, by extension, to ask my readers): when does a 21st century novel finish, in its final words, in the paratexts? Does it die at the conclusion of the story? Does it finish on the Web? The answer in this case is obviously the last one: the “novel” is not the “book” anymore, the work exceeds these formats. The characters in “Alba Cromm” have their own blogs, which were started in 2005, years before the novel appeared, and they also had previous and anonymous lives. “Alba Cromm” is a cross-media narrative, and it’s a good Internext example: it preexisted on line, it later flowed into a printed book maintaining its virtual essence and currently it is being prepared to be a digital text for eBook. The eponymous main character, “Alba Cromm”, has a blog but also a diary, a paper journal which I wrote longhand in a notebook and is partially reproduced in the novel (p. 140). This duplicity web / printed version is perhaps the less important aspect of “Alba Cromm”. The novel is not exactly written, rather than designed because it’s incorporated into the lay-out of a magazine, “UpMan”, a fictional magazine for males, and shows all the usual features of that kind of publication: cover, logo, diverse sections and many examples of false advertisements. Some of these visual elements are of my own; other were designed by me and developed by Caravan Communication, the studio which did also collaborate on the lay-outs of my personal website and blog.