Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature

Critical Writing

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2008
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CC Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
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Abstract (in English): 

Too often the discourse surrounding contemporary digital art and electronic literature treats these artifacts as if the most compelling aspects about them are their novelty, their very newness. One need look no further than the theme of the 2007 Digital Arts and Culture Conference, ‘The Future of Digital Media Culture’, to see this. Because our orientation is always forward towards the future, we are inclined toward a kind of myopia, and reluctance to look at the new through the lens of the past. With this orientation, there is furthermore a danger of placing too high a value on novelty at the expense of other aesthetic and ideological criteria. We see this in new media art discourse again and again. Turf wars regularly take place over ‘firstness’ – which designer was the first to use this technique, who was the first to integrate this type of programming into a new media artwork, etc. We are clearly in the midst of a global communication revolution that has changed the practice of daily life in far-reaching ways, and it is important to recognize, identify, and contemplate those aspects of our culture that are changing so rapidly. In the field of electronic literature, it is important to identify and analyze the media-specific aspects of individual works, to think about what in their formal nature as digital objects produced on and for the computer and/or network distinguishes them from literary objects produced in the past. In our rush towards these new horizons however we need also to look at electronic literature in the contexts not only of the history of computing and digital culture, but also in the context of the art and literary movements from which they emerge and with which they are in conversation. In this essay and in future work, I will argue that electronic literature can be best understood as a polyglot literary and artistic avant-garde movement that owes a great deal technically, aesthetically, and ideologically to various avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, beginning with Dada.

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In the field of electronic literature, it is important to identify and analyze the media-specific aspects of individual works, to think about what in their formal nature as digital objects produced on and for the computer and/or network distinguishes them from literary objects produced in the past. In our rush towards these new horizons however we need also to look at electronic literature in the contexts not only of the history of computing and digital culture, but also in the context of the art and literary movements from which they emerge and with which they are in conversation.

Beyond the creation of any single technique, the most important thing that the digital artists and authors of the future might learn from the Dada is their very willingness to experiment, to create objects and experiences that may bring nothing for years, or alternatively, may inspire other artists a century hence.

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Record posted by: 
Patricia Tomaszek