Literature and new media


Desktop poems – I downloaded an app to my laptop and made poetry…

Just finished watching ‘Ordkraft’ on DR K about the linkage of literature and new media. It was very interesting and especially relevant for me because this is exactly what I am studying this semester. This whole area is so fascinating and there is so much going on right now that challenges the boundaries of literature, how we understand literature, both as authors, critics, readers, the whole of literary industry.
Klaus Rothstein interviewed author Merete Pryds Helle and scholar Stefan Kjerkegaard about the subject, and they talked about the traditional book versus the digital one, the author and reader relationship and what types of pro’s and con’s are associated with this new media for literature to expand into.
Merete Pryds Helle is a Danish author of an iPad-novel called Begravelsen that will be released later this year. It is based on 8 obituaries and has over 40.000 possible combinations of being read, thus playing with the progression in storytelling, giving the reader the option herself to choose how and what one wants to read. She said that she believes that she relinquishes authority over her text more in this app than with the traditional novel. Her notion of the function of literature gave the impression that she is very reader-oriented and has given a lot of thought into how the digital aspects of her story plays out. She also said she wants to be able to expand the field wherein literature can operate and is driven by curiosity towards the electronic devices that surround her. She has previously written a SMS-story, where the reader signs up to get a story in multiple text-messages on her phone. Other takes are the exploration of poetry on Twitter and Facebook-novels. Helle talked about how new media could assist literature in fusing the intimate and public spheres, so that literature on the phone or on a tablet/laptop would move the notion of when and where literature is to be used/consumed/read/acted on.

One of the things I am very interested in and study is the field of the reader – the how’s and why’s of reader meets text – when there is a notion of literature moving in a wholly new direction. In its novelty the medium runs the risk of eclipsing literature to perform its own song and dance making literature play second fiddle; when that happens literature cannot be said to occupy the site of a new medium in a beneficial collaboration. But slowly we are beginning to understand what the digital realm has to offer when we see it as nothing more or less than a partner. It is undeniable that a very big hindrance for the reader is in fact the media in which new literature is written; many readers will simply not have the adequate skills or knowledge of digital media to make use of it. So there is the possibility that there is forming an information gap between those who can and those who can’t follow this progression. I must admit that a lot of the stuff I have been introduced to this semester is all new to me – somehow, much of the “new” electronic literature and experimental literature I now browse (and may I say, absolutely fascinates and engages me) through has flown right under my radar most of the time (either when I have not realized its claim to novelty or just not engaged in it). For myself I apologise that. But then again, with all the information overflow that has characterised communications of sorts, it is sadly to be expected if you are not specifically looking for it. There needs to be more noise about this field without a doubt, because a non-progressive literature is an antiquated literature dripping with nostalgia without the ability to move or shake anything or anyone.

Back in the interview Klaus Rothstein talks to Stefan Kjerkegaard from the University of Aarhus. One of the things he pointed out was that good literature takes into account the media it occupies, whether it be the traditional book or an app on your tablet. The possibilities from a readers point of view have been largely opened up with these new emerging forms. Going back to the applicability or user friendly aspect of digital literature one of the positive aspects is that there is a whole new readership out there that could get excited about literature in a way traditional books wouldn’t have inspired them to be. When you look at it that way you both have the readers you might loose because of the shift in media, but also of the possibility of a new reader whose consciousness is built up and around the workings of digital apps and electronic gadgets. However, he also empasised the importance of not forgetting literature as we know it from paper based books, which is made up of the reader’s imaginative space with characters, plot development etc., and this active participation by the reader gives life to the book on the readers terms. Modern culture is very visual and when new media is used in relation to literature it can also yield a dull reader, one who does not have to imagine the space or flow of the text, because it is already laid out in front of her.
If you didn’t catch Ordkraft this evening have no fear, re-runs are on April 2nd, 3rd and 8th – and here is a link to Ordkrafts website.

Further readings (in no particular order):

Interview with Merete Pryds Helle in Politiken (in Danish)
Electronic literature: What is it? (1st chapter in N. Katherine Hayes’ Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the literary)
Electronic, conceptual, visual, concrete, structural literature, literature, literature (entry on literature in new media on
Screening the page/Paging the screen (article by Marjorie Perloff on digital poetics)
Twelve Blue by Michael Joyce (hypertext that requires new interactions on the part of the reader)
This is not a poem by Alan Bigelow (Flash poetry including audio, text and video)
SENGHOR ON THE ROCKS by Christoph Benda (novel with online satellite imagery – the reader follows the journey’s action on a map)
epiphanies by Cristophe Bruno (Google Poetry – you type, it answers in related terms based on google searches)
UbuWeb (a massive database filled to the brim with avantgarde literature, music, film etc.)
Uforståelighed som æstetisk strategi: Marianne Ølholm (In Danish. English title: Illegibility as aesthetic strategy. Lend it or buy it, either way it is a very good introduction to different theories on postmodern experimental literature and reader-response).

Last, but not least: have fun, explore, don’t be discouraged if things don’t make sense (sometimes that is the whole point of someone’s project), read about the works and projects, open your mind to new impulses and play your way through the net. You just might find your next true love.


  1. Reply
    alan bigelow 02/04/2011

    Nice post, and thanks, too, for the mention. It is much appreciated!

  2. Reply
    Tina 15/05/2011

    Kanst tú leggja fyrilesturin hjá tær á blogguna?
    Hevði ordiliga gjarna vilja lisið/sæð hann.


    • Reply
      Penciltwister 15/05/2011

      Hann fer at verða útgivin í heyst saman við øllum hinum uppløgunum. So tit fáa øll eitt eintak 🙂

  3. Reply

    […] (winner of the Nordic Council’s Literature Award 2011), Merete Pryds Helle (mentioned here) and so on and so on. I am planning on live-tweeting and blogging my way through the weekend, you […]

Leave a Reply