By Collier Nogues
1. Welcome to HKU’s School of English! Can you describe the focus of your postdoctoral research here at HKU? What are the project’s scope and goals, and who are your collaborators (if any)?
LG: Thanks for the opportunity and it is an honor to join HKU. After quite a bit of search in the HK area, I was absolutely delighted to read the announcement for the Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Practices of Literary Culture. Having devoted a great deal of my research to emerging literary practices which fall just outside the canonical – specifically to the niche area of electronic literature, its theory and practice – it was the first position I encountered that truly fit my own research goals.
When they spoke of “literary cultures,” the scholars who put this project together, Dr. Otto Heim (PI), Dr. Page Richards, and Dr. Frederick Blumberg (Co-Is), meant the study of “text as a material thing that emerges from contexts of creativity, then circulates and performs as a causal agent in the social and political world.” The call emphasized scholarship covering peripheral works, which is to say literary objects and cultural artifacts that, for one reason or another, have been overlooked by mainstream scholarship. The theory and practice of electronic literature fit that description, commenting on and reflecting upon our relationship with those technologies which have come to occupy our hyper-connected everyday-worlds. How do new material supports “remediate” older forms of knowledge acquisition or previous materialities of communication? What can we learn from new methodologies/politics of reading and writing which now enlist humans and machines? How can literary theory add to the understanding of text which circulates in networked environments? These are some of the questions which guide my research.
While it is largely recognized that digital technologies have generated substantial transformations in everyday life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, relatively little has been written on the effects of a progressively technologized cultural sphere on the institutions of art and literature. By tackling networked text, both literary (electronic literature) and para-literary (text produced in social media and other online platforms), my purpose is to broaden the understanding of current cultural and literary phenomena as they emerge in digital media.
One of the main objectives of my doctoral research was to approximate German theorist Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s aesthetics of “presence” (here understood as the “other” of meaning) to the recent phenomenon of electronic literature (digitally-born literary objects spanning from hypertexts of the 1980s to contemporary interactive immersive textual installations). I argued that because works of electronic literature tend to reflect on the medium of their inscription, often celebrating technique over legibility and interactivity over interpretation, they fall under what has been called the non-hermeneutic field.
The current project extends the logic of presence to three additional areas: non-literary networked text such as the automated autobiographies in Facebook’s Timeline feature, networked writing cultures such as Twitter literature, and contemporary print-media novels on the issues of presence and social media, such as Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013) and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (2013).
In practical terms, the idea is to contribute to the School of English’s research profile in a variety of ways. Publications being the main focus, I am now involved in writing an article which problematizes the relationship between text produced in digital environments and literary theory. In fact, I extend an invitation to your readers to stop by at our seminar series on October 29 when I’ll be presenting a preliminary version of that paper. I am also pleased to announce I will be co-editing a new issue of the online journal, Dictung-Digital (http://www.dichtung-digital.de/en) to appear early 2016 covering the proceedings from the latest Electronic Literature Organization conference held in Bergen last summer.
2. How does that work grow out of your previous research? For example, you created the Brazilian Electronic Research Collection while you were the Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Culture at the University of Bergen. Are these two projects related?
In many regards, my postdoctoral work has already been an expansion on the topics I addressed as a doctoral candidate. My PhD dissertation, “Digital Literature: Theoretical and Aesthetic Reflections” (PUC-Rio, 2011), dealt with the relatively recent phenomenon of digital/electronic literature—i.e. literature that is created and meant to be experienced within a digital environment. It addressed digital literary artifacts through the lens of contemporary cultural and aesthetic theory, grappling with such themes as the history of writing (writing as technology), remediation, materiality of communication, the post-human turn, interactivity and performativity as well as engaging with what can be characterized as post-hermeneutic criticism.
You mention the Brazilian Collection, well, my work in the ELMCIP Knowledge Base gave me a chance to reflect on advantages and perils of computational approaches to literary studies. The output of the research, an electronic literary database (arguably a new system of bibliographical indexation), also brought me closer to the evolving field of the Digital Humanities, affording me the opportunity to take part in various international conferences in South America, Europe and now in Asia. In these analyses, I take my curatorial work in the ELMCIP Knowledge Base as a point of departure for examining common practices in the Digital Humanities, such as distant reading and algorithmic criticism.
My recent investigation at State University of Rio de Janeiro utilized literary and cultural theory to thematize dominant trends in cyberculture. By examining emerging and remediated writing practices (i.e. the culture of “sharing” as well as the imperative of “writing into being” in social networks), I elaborate on shifting cultural trends such as voyeurism/exhibitionism, silence/noise, solitude/loneliness, privatization of public space and transnational identity construction.
The idea behind the work at HKU naturally grows out of all these avenues. Though the main focus continues to be electronic literature, the current project extends the theoretical tools I used before to non-literary networked text and contemporary print-media novels.
3. It seems Hong Kong is quite fortunate to be a center of digital literature production and digital aesthetics scholarship: City U’s School of Creative Media has Jhave Johnston, Roberto Simanowski, Dan Howe, and many others. The arts venue Videotage is another local resource. Do you think that Hong Kong is particularly well-suited for this kind of artistic production and scholarship?
I think that HK is a global city at the cutting edge of technology. In that sense it is only natural that digital arts and literature would find a home here. With respect to the names you mention which incidentally include my husband and two friends (but the list goes on), I think their presence in HK confirms a great effort on the part of CityU’s School of Creative Media and its dean, Jeffrey Shaw, to create a hub for media arts here in HK.
4. Are there Hong Kong resources and/or events in the field of digital literature and aesthetics our readers may not know about, but should?
I am still getting familiar with HK resources, but there are a few places online I would definitely recommend. The ELMCIP Knowledge Base (http://elmcip.net/), the Electronic Literature Directory (http://directory.eliterature.org/), dichtung-digital (http://www.dichtung-digital.de/en), the Consortium on Electronic Literature (http://cellproject.net/) , The Electronic Book Review (http://www.electronicbookreview.com/), I Love E-Poetry (http://iloveepoetry.com/), the Electronic Literature Organization website (http://eliterature.org/) and the Media Archeology Lab (http://mediaarchaeologylab.com/) are tremendous, if not obligatory, resources for anybody interested in the field of electronic literature. Apart from that I’d say individual artist and scholar websites are extremely helpful. A few names to Google in addition to the ones mentioned in your question: John Cayley, Mark Marino, Jessica Pressman, Katherine Hayles, Rita Raley, Scott Rettberg, Jill Walker Rettberg, Patricia Tomaszek, Lori Emerson, Amaranth Borsuk, Samantha Gorman, Joseph Tabbi, Leonardo Flores, Dene Grigar, Nick Montfort, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Natalia Fedorova, Elisabeth Nesheim, Alvaro Seiça, Rui Torres, Manuel Portella, Jim Andrews, Jacob Garbe, Jeremy Douglas, and many others.
5. Can you point our readers to some of your favorite examples of digital literature available online, if they’d like to explore further?
Documentation and archiving are still huge issues with electronic art and literature, which is why resources such as the ELMCIP knowledge Base and the ELD are truly invaluable. Some of my all-time favorites include Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s Listening Post, Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv’s Text Rain, John Cayley’s Overboard, Eduardo Kac’s Genesis, Julius Popp’s Bit.Fall and Bruno Nadeau and Jason Lewis’s Still Standing.
6. Do you have any advice for our Research Postgraduates?
It’s difficult to give advice except to say stay true to your research interests and be ready to fight for them. And as with anything in life, luck helps too.