Screen vs text
The question I was asked was: “How can digital poetry as language art in digital media deal with the demands to represent and reflect the specific mediality : by working in a “radical“ or “concrete“ way with programming languages and the codes upon which they are based; or by focussing on an aesthetic of the screen which takes the perceptions and activities of the user as its point of departure?”
To try to explain what kind of “specific mediality” implies digital poetry, and more generally digital literature, I would focus my five minute speech on two main points :
The first one is that the screen is not the only media for text in digital literature, a computer indeed is a structure made of three obligatory components which are relatively independent :
• the first one is the heart of the computer, a totally abstract machine which, using different kinds of algorithm, one that can work on any information made of sequences of zeroes and ones. It transforms this information in various ways.
• the second one is the input interface which, depending on the tools used, translate any kind of information in a language that the brain can understand. Input interfaces may be camera, microphones, infrared cells, etc. There is so no limit to varieties of inputs.
• the third one is the output interface which, depending also on the technique used can translate any kind of information produced by the computer brain in information for any kind of media. The screen is one of them, but is only one among many possibilities. And if it is important for digital literature, it is not the only way to mediate digital literature, sound is another very important one but movement can be also one. In that point we reach a deeper question which is : what do we call literature and what do we call poetry. Today the answer is not so easy. But I don’t have time enough to analyse it here.
That point is very important because we have to consider the screen only as one among many other possibilities used to mediate digital literature. In my personal work, I try to explore all these different possibilities. For example, I call interaction the communication between two computers producing both some effects, a text generator working and exchanging information with a music generator to produce something new with or without a screen. That point answers to a part of the question : digital literature is always, but in different ways, related to languages and codes even if that link is not directly used by the writer itself and, for instance in text-generation, it is not so easy to separate the work on natural language of the work on the digital one.
The second main point is that a screen is nothing.
When I said that a screen is nothing I really said “nothing material” : a screen is just the place where at one peculiar moment light may be projected. That seems to be of no importance. On the contrary, it is a fundamental remark, it implies indeed that :
• what imports is not the screen itself which is just a surface used by light at a specific moment and in a specific context, but the light itself and the information it may contain.
• a screen is a virtual space, that really means that everything has the capacity of being a screen : human body, mountains, water, walls, air, clouds... even the sky... and the moon if we had projectors enough powerful.
• a screen is a temporary place, that means that it is naturally not made to keep permanent information.
• a screen can be a place among other to perceive and sometimes experiment interactivity.
These four points can be considered as the basis for an aesthetic of the screen. Indeed they open a great wide range of possibilities : to play with literature as with moving pictures, - films in the best cases, movies in the others - ; to relate literature to time, that is not only to movement, but to time as ever changing infinity of potentialities ; to use literature as a process, as a show, as an environment, as an installation, as an architectural design, etc. ; to use e-literature as a component of other shows, for instance dance, events, theatre, music, etc. In all these cases, the main question is how to keep to literature is own aims, what the aesthetic of literature can bring to theses contexts and what the other way of expressing something bring to literature.
In conclusion, I would insist that the real problem does not concern techniques and media but our conception of literature and maybe, essentially, because poetry is more concerned by forms and more systemic, our modern conception of poetry. In that case indeed, the screen is nothing more than one of the numerous possibilities of outputting literature from the computer and more generally of outputting literature out from six or five centuries of books. I think that the real and interesting problem is what set of really new possibilities computers offer to literature and what kinds of literature can be created from them.