Remediation and Reinvention: Literature, Science, and Media Machines

When: November 7, 14:00-16:00
Where: University of Amsterdam, Bijzondere Collecties, Nina van Leerzaal

Organized by Kiene Brillenburg Wurth

Unless explicitly indicated otherwise, all NICA activities are open to research master and PhD students as well as staff members. Please register for this event by emailing us at NICA.


14.00-14.45: Jan Hein Hoogstad (UvA): # Lost and Found in Space

15.00-15.45: Jessica Pressman (San Diego): Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media

16.00-16.45: Yra van Dijk (UvA): Picking Up the Pieces: Representation of History in European Digital Literature

17.00-17.45: Kiene Brillenburg Wurth (UU): Literature and the Posthuman in the Information Age: Thanatography


Jan Hein Hoogstad: # Lost and Found in Space
Whereas science fiction repeatedly reminds us that it is easy to get lost in outer space, history teaches that the galaxy can provide directions too. In a not too distant past, stars and constellations were commonly used as navigational tools. Moreover, their orientational powers were not limited to space, but extended to life in general. Old stellar maps testify to this nearly forgotten age in which astronomy and astrology were inextricably linked. In modernity, however, the heavens above no longer orient us. Real stars were replaced by artificial ones (in the form of GPS satellites) to provide sailors with an improved sense of direction, and astrology has been completely demoted as a way to avoid getting lost in life. In this presentation, I analyze these galactic transformations on the basis of their medial representations: stellar maps and planetariums. The history of galactic navigation can roughly be divided into five phases: two-dimensional maps (1), mechanical clockworks (2) and installations (3), followed by analogue (4) and digital projections (5). Although it may seem as if these developments mark a clear progression in scope, knowledge and accuracy, this presumed continuity is in fact deceptive. Through a reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘To the Planetarium’, Martin Heidegger’s ‘The Age of the World Picture’, and Friedrich Kittler’s ‘The World of the Symbolic, A World of the Machine’, I argue that these different medial representations correspond to incompatible practices of (dis)orientation. Stellar maps and planetariums do not simply represent outer space, they all construct their own unique universe in which one can get lost and/or found.

Jessica Pressman: Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media
A prominent strategy in electronic literature is the appropriation and adaptation — the “remediation”— of literary modernism. Across narrative genres and programming platforms, I identify a sub-set of electronic literature that shares a strategy of appropriating, adapting, and alluding to the poetics, politics, and seminal texts of literary modernism. These works claim a canonical literary heritage that validates their own formal experimentation and authorizes the challenge they pose to mainstream digital literature. The works I call “digital modernist” confront our expectations about electronic literature: they resist the extensive and expected possibilities of their medium— navigation, accessibility, and interactivity— in favor of foregrounding text, typography, and difficulty in narrative. In so doing, they reinscribe a focus on the “literary” into our digital culture and online reading practices. This book examines how and why experimental electronic literature returns to the cultural principles and poetic practices of modernism as a means to “MAKE IT NEW” in new media.

Yra van Dijk: Picking Up the Pieces: Representation of History in European Digital Literature
The beginning of the 21st century is marked by a surge of novels and poems testifying, documenting, narrating the past- both on personal, familial levels as on regional and national levels. Sebalds Austerlitz, Hemons The Lazarus Project and Orhan Pamuks Istanbul are examples that spring to mind. This documentary turn in literature may be seen as a reaction to the ephemerity and a-historicity of popular culture (Green, Hartog), and literature struggles to engage with tradition and to show resistance to that amnesia.This does not lead to straightforward historical non-fiction, though; many of these contemporary documentary works are a hybrid of the archival, the personal, the historical and the subjective. The refusal to present a total image of history is even more explicit in work that is digitally born. Digital literature about history always reflects on the fragmentary and subjective aspect of the historical narrative, and this fragmentarity is reflected in its form. Materials from visual or aural media are remediated in the work, thus preserving and transmitting collective constructions of history. The documented fragments are only loosely ‘framed’ by the digital work- the fragments functioning differently from the rest of the work. Incorporating this material is a way of overcoming the discursive distance from the real- bringing the reader closer to what Marianne Hirsch called ‘trauma-fragments’: pieces of reality that are not framed by a master-narrative, thus expressing the impossibility of closure. Thus, digital literature reflects not only on history but also on the role of technology and its power to store and endlessly reproduce optical, visual and acoustic data, and what that will mean to collective and personal memory. In this paper, ‘documentary’ digital works in Dutch, French and English will be analyzed. On the base of this analysis, it will be argued that European digital literature on history foregrounds a tension between the immediacy of the historical reality on the one hand, and the distance of that historical reality on the other. Through remediation of material, the real is more tangible than ever, whereas history as a master-narrative is forever out of reach.

Kiene Brillenburg Wurth: Literature and the Posthuman in the Information Age: Thanatography
In this paper, I explore thanatography (literally: death-writing) in the light of posthumanism and our current information age. I aim to show how thanatographic writing reveals deep-seated anxieties about storage, retrieval, memory and forgetting in the information age: the age of digital technology that enables us to write ourselves outside of ourselves in cybernetic networks. Indeed, as I will point out, in the last decade there have been numerous scientific projects geared towards the development of digital ghosts — memory systems accompanying our entire lives in the future — that will survive us after death as a digital double, extending our personal identities as mnemonic constellations. What do these modes of self-survival tell us about personal identity in the digital age? In how far has personal identity become a posthuman identity, and what is the nature of this identity? I explore this triple question on the basis of a literary text on amnesia and repetition and on a digital text on death: Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005) and Alistair Gentry’s A Hundred Black Boxes (2004)

About the Speakers

Jan Hein Hoogstad  is assistant professor in Comparative Literature and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. In the fall of 2008, he was a visiting professor at the English Department of the University of Minnesota. In 2007 and 2008, Jan Hein was affiliated to the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht as a postdoctoral researcher, where he worked on a project called Intellectual Image. Before, he wrote his dissertation Time Tracks at the department of Philosophy of the University of Utrecht, and Media Theory and Cultural Studies at the Humboldt-University in Berlin. Jan Hein has published on Prince, Marvin Gaye, Gilles Deleuze, Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Kittler, Ralph Ellison, Michel Foucault, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He is currently working on a research project called Medial Operations and a website with the same title, as well as co-editing a volume called Pluralizing Rhythm.

Jessica Pressman: I am a scholar of 20th and 21st-century American literature. My work examines how technologies affect our understanding of aesthetics and reading practices. I pursue these  connections across literary and artistic experiments from the 20th and 21st centuries and across media forms. For the last four years, I was privileged to be Assistant Professor of English at Yale University. I recently moved, with my family, back to my hometown in San Diego. After many years away, I am happy to be here, grateful to be a Visiting Scholar in the Literature Department at UCSD and a Lecturer in Sixth College’s Culture, Art, and Technology Program at UCSD, and I am honored to hold an ACLS Collaborative Fellowship for 2012-2013. I am finishing three books, all under contract with university presses:
 Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media reads contemporary works of digital literature in relation to literary modernism (Oxford UP); Close Reading Electronic Literature, a Case Study of William Poundstone’s “Project for the Tachistoscope: [Bottomless Pit]” (Iowa Press UP), with Mark C. Marino and Jeremy Douglass, presents a case study of collaborative interpretation for digital poetics and digital humanities scholarship by weaving together three radically different methodological approaches—close reading onscreen aesthetics, critical code studies, and data visualizations– into a close reading of a single born-digital literary work; and the volume, co-edited with N. Katherine Hayles, Making, Critique: A New Paradigm for the Humanities (Minnesota UP), collects essays by a wide variety of scholars who analyze text across diverse media formats and historical periods to argue that literary criticism should reconsider how the study of text is a study of media. I’ve also started a new book project, Bookishness, which focuses on how 21st-century literature and literary culture—both in print and online— responds to the threat of an increasingly paperless and multimodal society.

Yra van Dijk: 
I both teach and do research in contemporary Dutch literature. My focus lies on materiality, media and memory, both in digital literature and in print. The new BA-module ‘text and media’ is a reflection of this focus, as are my recent publications in Word and Image and the Dutch Journal of Literature. In the Research project Literature and Media in the Netherlands (1820-2010) I collaborate with Yasco Horsman (University of Leiden) on a more historical stance of the relation between literature, technology and culture. 

A second line of interest is the contemporary novel, in teaching (‘The ethics of Art’), newspaper reviews and publications on the work of Arnon Grunberg. Part of this line of research are The edited volumes Reconsidering Postmodernism (2011) and Draden in het donker. Intertekstualiteit in theorie en praktijk (With Maarten De Pourcq en Carl de Strycker. Vantilt, 2012, forthcoming).

Kiene Brillenburg Wurth is associate professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Utrecht and project leader of the VIDI-project Back to the Book (2011-2016) funded by the Dutch Research Council. During the academic year 2010-2011, she was a visiting scholar at Harvard University with the Department of Comparative Literature. Kiene’s research focuses on: literature and (new) media; music; aesthetic theory; intermediality in the modern and post-modern ages. Kiene is the author of Musically Sublime. Infinity, Indeterminacy, Irresolvability (Fordham UP, 2009), and (with Ann Rigney) Het leven van teksten. Een Inleiding in de literatuurwetenschap (Amsterdam UP, 2006, 2008) used throughout the Netherlands. She is editor of Between Page and Screen: Remaking Literature Through Cinema and Cyberspace (Fordham 2012) and, with Sander van Maas, of Liminal Auralities (under contract with Fordham). She is preparing a monograph Back to the Book, on the reinvention of the literary as a book- and paper-based medium (2014), as well as a special issue on intermedial satire entitled The Masks of Satire. She has published widely in peer reviewed journals and volumes. Kiene teaches MA courses on literature and digitality, and BA courses on literary theory and intermediality (literature, film, and music).