This is going to be a modest attempt at blogging in English (I warn you, it might be continued, at least sometimes). Actually it has started as an idea to write a short blog post sharing a few thoughts after the excellent international conference but now it turns out I’m well into 1330-word long post and haven’t even touched on the thoughts noted during the panels and performances I have attended 🙂 So, #ELO2015, part 1.
Do not expect, however, the official report of any sort – as I said, I just want to share some impressions from the awesome scholarly event. (Thank you, Kathi Inman Berens for accepting my request to use your photos from the event – more to see as Flickr album). Here’s Kathi’s Storif-ied report from the conference. Also, Anastasia Salter published another report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I’m writing in English not so much out of vanity, hoping to find a global audience (and vain we, as academics, can be! 🙂 as rather for entirely different reason: to keep the inspirations, thought and ideas flow, in accordance with the general mood of Electronic Literature Organisation Conferences. I’ve attended two of them so far: the one in 2013 in Paris and now, two years later in Bergen (I missed the one in Milwaukee, USA in 2014 though). The two events were hosted in completely different environments: one being THE city, imbued with all the rich narrative textures accumulated through time and materialized in various media, another – a compact, scenic, very walkable town squeezed between the coast and the mountains, offering both the breath of fresh air and a glimpse into several layers of history from the ancient Vikings through Hanzeatic world of networked economy and culture to the cutting-edge new technology hot spot (one can easily notice Tesla’s car outlet on the way from the airport).
As far apart as Paris and Bergen seem to be, both conferences had at least one thing in common: the attitude. The group of people attending these conferences (and, I dare to say, the scene of e-lit in general) is probably the most supportive, hospitable and welcoming I’ve encountered so far. Considering how often the opening remark at the various presentation gets crafted into something of a warning: “I’m not really into e-literature”, this is also probably the most open-minded audience of scholars and media practitioners in the academic world. On the other hand, due to many reasons, the very category of e-literature keeps stirring controversy and discussion, of which we’ve been reminded during the opening keynote lectures by Espen Aarseth and Stuart Moulthrop. Aarseth questioned (in a somewhat provocative way) the notion of e-literature itself, stating for example that games could be considered its most important form. Regarding the number of interactive multi- and transmedia e-lit installations, it is a good point. Actually, as my field of research is mostly media art, I frame the considerable body of e-lit work as such, therefore sometimes the discussion focusing too much on “literariness” or grounded in the heavily text-based thinking seems to miss the point. When, for example, Stuart Moulthrop elaborated on movement from text to context, I couldn’t help but think: what if discriminating between both is not easy or even possible? Especially in the environment of corporate networked media when business decisions strongly affect the way we access the content? And what about the whole school of thought represented by Stanley Fish and his deconstruction of text/context divide? What about paratextuality? (following simultaneously #ELO2015 on Twitter I could see that similar questions bothered also others in the hall). During the panel I was moderating on the same day, Hybrid Books, Augmented Artists’ Books, Touch Literatury and Interactivity, Kathi Inman Berens provided an interesting example of how difficult discriminating between text and context can be in today’s ecosystem of corporate media when she demonstrated how e-lit’s alleged obsolescense can actually be linked to planned obsolescence, in-built in the whole range of Apple’s mobile devices. Kathi explained how adapting Steve Tomasula’s TOC to iPad prevents the audience from reaching out to its original version designed for the older OS (her presentation was based on the chapter published in this collection). On the other hand, combining “the old” and “the new” (I’m always wary of using such adjectives when media technolgies are concerned, following the Lisa Gitelman’s books on the subject of new media and the whole endeavour of remediation theory) can bring about an extremely interesting and inspiring way of inquiry – Søren Pold proved the method is fruitful when (referring to Ink After Print literary platform and installation) he showed how “combinations of books, screens and online media related to a post-digital media reflexivity” (I’m quoting from ELO2015 catalogue). By the way, I think it is exactly such reflexivity which keeps popping out now and then when we discuss current media ecology so it deserves even more attention.
Therefore, in a similar way I’ve had some doubts about the otherwise very catchy Moulthrop’s formula that “remediation is never to have to say sorry for destroying literature in the name of >> the future of literature<<“. Of course the notion of remediation has been discussed, criticized (for many good reasons) and defended from almost every angle possible. But all doubts aside, to me the theory of remediation has always been a way to say that what we are dealing with is not the linear teleology of “progressing” (or “regressing” for that matter) media technologies but rather that it is the complex process of mutual transformations and contingent materializations of the creative process temporarily embodied as media. Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska in their Life After New Media.Mediation as a Vital Process offer an interesting account of procesual thinking about media and this procesual thinking is why they advocate using the term mediation instead. Maybe this is why Espen Aarseth’s stance that all our discussions are not so much about digital/non-digital as they are about “politics of funcionality” has struck me as really insightful.
On the other hand, any frictions coming from the clash of paradigms might be very refreshing and rewarding as they broaden the scope of interrogations concerning the positions, attitudes and perspectives usually employed while encountering the work of e-lit. For somebody like me, primarily interested in media theory and media art, such discussions are often much more fruitful and inspiring than the ones I witness and participate in during (new) media art festivals and media theory conferences (I have already mentioned that I usually utter the “new media” phrase with caution, haven’t I?).
It was practically impossible to digest all of the awesomeness of ELO 2015 – simply because of the obvious physical and mental constraints (sometime during the second day upon arrival I became dizzy, disoriented and numb to the extent that I was walking down the street without really knowing where I am, how I got there and where I’m heading – and I wasn’t even partying the evening before). Talan Memmott has captured the feeling in the short post at the ELO2015 FB’s event’s wall, saying that the conference was “simultaneously restorative and exhausting”. But precisly because our days were packed up to the physical limits and beyond, the creative process has been invigorated and sped up. It had a lot to do with the transversality of the space we were experiencing. Mornings and early afternoons were slightly more theory-oriented and consisted of classic presentation and discussion panels, late afternoons and evenings were designed as artists’ showcases. The numbers are seldom (contrary to common belief) self-explaining but one cannot ignore the fact that during 3-day long conference we had a chance to see 5 exhibitions and 2 performance evenings, not to mention papers, “lightning talks”, artists presentation, all fascinating conversations going on during lunch and coffe breaks. It was massive indeed! After all, the conference program and catalogue edited by Anne Karhio, Lucas Ramada Prieto and Scott Rettberg counts 273 pages!.
So what follows in the next sentence is my take on “dispersed agency”. It wasn’t actually me, distinct, individual self who was thinking, posing questions and working to find out the answers: this was the act of plugging in into communal flow that has been initiated and maintained by the scholars, media practitioners, the artists, machines and materials comprising the installations, clouds in the sky over the city, the sounds of rain drops falling on the rooftop windows of our hotel room at night and all the body movements back and forth across the city and beyond (both expereinced and imagined). The notion of dispersed agency was employed by Simon Biggs during his presentation on the extremely inspiring performances: Bodytext, Tower and Crosstalk, first of which was also performed on the evening show. To me it is as a perfect example of agency distributed between human, machine and code. On the more mundane human level, ELO2015 community was as heterogenous as possible: 40% of artists and speakers were women and we came from 27 countries in the world (you can see the diversity growing between 2002-2014 at a blog post by Jill Walker Rettberg, informed by the research done by Daniela Ørvik from University of Bergen). NB: In terms of knowledge base, the wall of FB event is worthy to check out for all kinds of contacts, resources and information on ELO2015.
Next: about encounters, performances, flows and thoughts and what conference banquets are for (at awesome conferences as compared to banquet life at the average ones).
And I was supposed to write a book. Look, what I am doing instead. Am I just procrastinating again?