This text was read during the 4th Digital Forum at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2008. Although I do not share all ideas developed here, I have a special fondness for this text, as it was the first essay I wrote about digital literature.
Andrés Bello, the South American linguist and liberator, says in El repertorio Americano: "The foundations on which the whole building of literature and science rests: reading and writing". Reading and writing are the most complex processes of the human being, converting sounds into symbols and arranging them so that they form ideas and daydreams is an admirable process. This point maximum, so far, communication is imberbe since the 132 thousand years of homo sapiens sapiens, just 5, 400 years ago was written in Babylon and 3,800 that the first alphabet appeared. But why did it take so long?
If we analyze the neurological process, where the eye and the brain come together to decipher those strange little pictures that we call words, we notice their complexity. First, a central area of the retina, the fovea, receives the visual information; as it has a narrow visual field and the retina a diameter of .5 millimeters we can only recognize between seven and nine letters at a time. Once it passes through the ocular organ, the region of the left occipito-temporal lobe, located behind the ear, forms the relevant words in mental maps and sounds.
Mental maps are the conversion of signs, indexes and symbols into objects and ideas, as Roy Rappaport clarifies, "humanity is a species that lives and can only live according to meanings that it must invent." Lyrics are conventional brands to represent sounds. Depending on the language, the phoneme changes even if the alphabetic signs are shared with other languages. According to the French scientist Stanilás Dehaene, the different spellings have identical neuronal functions, which means that the reader is the same as the scribe of the Hammurabi Code.
What has changed is not the physiological process, but the relationship around the text of the reader, whether passive, those who enjoy reading without taking it to its maximum consequence, or active, those who analyze texts with zeal, among them the writers and theorists, who from ancient times to the present have attended the literary phenomenon.
In Antiquity and the Western Middle Ages, readers were privileged beings, priests, rulers, aristocrats who could approach a manuscript and apprehend it. It was not read much but it was done carefully and loudly. It is enough to remember the anecdote that Saint Augustine tells in The Confessions. One day, the ecclesiastical hero meets Saint Ambrose reading silently, "his eyes roamed the page and his heart explored the meaning, but his voice remained silent and his tongue still." It was until the ninth century, five hundred years after the Augustinian revelation, that silent reading was common, but it took five centuries for reading to be "democratized". With the arrival of the printing press, the books approached the bourgeoisie and modified the author-text-reader relationship.
Initially the author did not matter so much, then, sometimes, the existence of it was unknown, but as the centuries passed and critical currents were transformed, the biography of the clerk was becoming important until in the nineteenth century the texts were considered a reflection of the experiences of the authors. In the first half of the twentieth, the function of the architect was left behind and the conditioning medium, both the emitter and the receiver, was studied less and less. The text was an autonomous entity of time and space with determining characteristics. One of the most alarming cases of depersonalization is the break, by the structuralists, with the spatio-temporal subjectivity of the artist and the spectator, in trying to convert literary analysis into a scientific object.
The text was everything; the participants were out. The structuralists and semi-critics claimed that it is language that speaks and not the author. I never understood the spontaneous generation of the lexicon. The years passed and the theoreticians of the reception arrived, with what the authorial identity is lost in the text, but humanity gains in the relation with the artistic work. They postulate that we are readers in an environment, there is not the same Quixote for the receivers of the XVII century as for the XXI; aware of this, Pierre Menard rewrites the Cervantes novel. Although, as the Rezeptionsaesthetik clarifies and I agree, it is impossible to reconstruct the past because there is no total empathy that conforms the thought of the modern reader-theoretician with the contemporary to the classic one. But you can not rule out its historical presence and believe that a work is autonomous with an undifferentiated or indifferent reader to the process.
At this moment too many books were printed. Impossible to read. According to the calculation of some idler who wanted to depress us, if we devote our entire life to reading, only to that, we will decipher a little more than five thousand titles, assuming we reach eighty years. And if, as Gabriel Zaid says, every year more than one million books are published, it is impossible for us to read more than two days of editorial production. It's sad, I know. Besides that it is unavoidable to be a great reader or rather a buyer in an excessive way, since to acquire all the books published this year would cost more than 15 million dollars; Fifteen million is a lot of money! On the other hand, the Internet is almost free, and we have, only on the google server, more than 8 billion pages at our disposal. I do not doubt that 90% is trash, but it is the true democratization of the word.
And with that the reader changed. Transformed the idea that for over a thousand years we had the man of letters. No longer looking to be a quiet reader, the other way around, now the end is that while the words jump on the monitor, the music is at full volume - breaking the sentence of Sor Juana "hear me with my eyes because I complain mute" -, in another space the homemade reality show: youtube, on the next page some information center and why not, down, flickering, the conversation with a friend or partner. All while reading the Primero sueño, the work of Kierkegaard or Pascal Quignard. I know it sounds creepy, we, or at least me, are anachronistic.
And that happens when the Internet user wants to concentrate, because if he wants to read something accessible and why not, disperse, it reaches the point that Borges missed, reading as a labyrinth, with innumerable paths laden with symbols that materialize in an endless moment, as he recounts in The Garden of Forking Paths, "how a book can be infinite. I did not conjecture another procedure than that of a cyclic, circular volume. A volume whose last page was identical to the first, with the possibility of continuing indefinitely. " But the end is not a circular book but a multiple book, as Umberto Eco says "... a work of art, complete and closed form in its perfectly calibrated organism perfection, is also open, possibility of being interpreted in a thousand different ways without its irreproducible singularity being thereby altered. " On the Internet we speak of an infinity of books, of a Babylonian library with multiple readers, which means that the conjunctions are endless. Example is wikipedia, where each text takes you to another text and, at the same time, each word becomes an entry that refers you to another and thus ad infinitum. I do not know if they have ever done it, I do, being all day jumping from one page to another, fulfilling the philosophical idea that every day we will learn something and take it to a claustrophobic exponentiality. Until it is ten o'clock at night, and what started as a brief review of the newspapers, ends with more than 100 pages consulted, a movie, discs and millions of bits derived from the name of an artist who died in a distant town of what was the Soviet Union. This transformation involves a passive process of reading and writing, because the new library of Babel allows you to erase, strike and replace words that you do not consider appropriate. If you think that Shakespeare was wrong, in addition to having an egocentric problem, you can update his emblematic dialogue in Hamlet with a disintegration on current consumerism. As in the novel by Italo Calvino If on a winter's night a traveler ..., it passes from a reader to a reader as a new creator.
And this change breaks the Borgesian phrase about humans who prided themselves more on their readings than on their creatures. Nowadays, people do not value themselves for what they read but for what they write, not always for aesthetic purposes but for social purposes.
If we start from the sentence of Clarice Lispector, "writing is trying to understand, is trying to reproduce the irreproducible is to feel until the end the feeling that would be something only vague and suffocating." We understand why people write blogs, forums, chats, personal pages, encyclopedias, facebook, among many spaces. Suffice it to say that there are more than 150 million blogs, and increasing, because two are generated every second. That is to say that the million books per year is a tiny number for textophiles.
The transformation of the reader is becoming a new path of creation, forming patterns to follow in the texts for literary purposes.
A couple of months ago, the Spanish writer Vicente Verdú published in El País, what he called the "Rules for the survival of the novel", a poetic treatise on what 21st century literature should be. Recapitulating its decalogue, we see that the elements proposed as the new literary conception developed more than fifty years ago. For example, literature must be non-transferable to other arts, suffice it to see the monumental failure of films based on masterpieces. It stipulates that the taste for reading will be obtained not from the plot artifice but from the tasting of the text; conception that the Generation of Half a Century developed in the sixties. The force will not be in the structure or catharsis will be sought, where is the work of great builders such as Mario Vargas Llosa, or Julio Cortázar and Hemingway who sought to win by knock out. Shortly after, he argues that "the fragmentation of the stories, with annotations and mental intervals, tends to copy (lo) the blog and the omnipresent fragmented communication"; what would Virginia Woolf and her lady Dalloway say, besides that they would not know the word blog. Continues with the fifth section, the development of a book will not obey a hegemonic storyline but spinning experiences; We can talk about Juan Rulfo or Sherwood Anderson and his Winserburg, Ohio. The beauty of literature will be language, to tell stories there are better media such as film, television and the Internet; Can I refer back to the Casa del Lago group? The eighth and ninth points are unified in an important element, so that fantasize if the reality always surpasses the fiction, therefore it must be written in the first person of the singular. The tenth point is undeniable but not innovative: all works must have some element of humor.
I think that expanding 80% of your statements is pointless. What he proposes has already been developed, and being parricide prevents evolution.
There is an element in which I would like to dwell, in the experiential need for writing. Currently, the idea of the verisimilitude of fantasy for truth, the real, is discarded. But the truth in electronic texts is far from the Kantian attribute; in fact, it borders on the pathetic lie. Suffice it to put two examples.
One Saturday night, two strangers are immersed in the chats looking to break the loneliness and create a profile, as in the loves by mail of the forties. Suppose Man of 32 years, single, independent, manager of important transnational company, good looking with athletic body and diverse hobbies; he likes children, caring for the elderly, cooking and musicals. She: Single young woman looking for a man that meets her expectations (until now I do not know any that do not); attractive, lives alone and likes football. Enchanted, they decide to get to know each other in a public space and after twenty minutes of searching among the passers-by someone who brings together the mentioned clichés, a gargantuan man and a woman who meets the requirements of Oliverio Girondo, except for flying, they realize that the fantasy is sweeter than reality.
On the other hand, e-literature has hundreds of examples. Celebrations are the blogs that the Argentine writer Hernán Casciari has written, such as Yo y mi garrote, for the Spanish newspaper mentioned. Real-time blog of a psychopath who, after murdering his father, is cloistered in an asylum in Barcelona; there, the doctor asks him to write a diary, with the determinism of everyday life, to heal his emotional wounds. For six months, people read, commented and applauded the daily annotations that this man published - in the first person and with attachment to reality, to follow the postures of Verdú - until the fact was unmasked and some forgave the fictitious plan; others felt cheated.
An example of fidelity, is the blog "My war. Killing time in Iraq", where the American soldier Colby Buzzel tells his anecdotes of war from a tent. The blog, which was a media success and was published in print, won the first Blooker prize in 2007, the only international prize for blogbooks.
Some netizens believe that the lyrics tend to lie or flat, so they make up the narratopedia, the multimedia creation where words are mixed with audiovisual languages -either the insertion of images, videos, music files, among other hypertext links- , so that the closeness with the narrator-character is greater. For example, Casciari hired an actor to appear in the "experiental" recordings of the schizophrenic.
But certain wreaders or literary writers, who seek hyperrealism, not satisfied with these options have formed other mechanisms, so that their work is considered truthful, like the temporal transformation. As Verdú clarified, they no longer seek space-time breaks, they are more detached from ellipses, and they advocate immediacy, an effect that Tristam Shandy predicted without success, trying to write at the same time that he lived. In Sterne's novel, the problem is that he writes his memoirs a hundred times slower than he lived them and that he could never finish them because life runs faster than writing.
Wreaders seek to capture the moment, example is the "novel" published by the Finnish writer Hannu Luntiala structured with a thousand messages written in SMS format, with the style of cellular messages, in code and with grammatical errors. Others, considered writing and publishing in real time, one hour for five consecutive nights. As the result was very brief, they decided to publish fragments of a novel for two months; This revealing idea, as described by some Internet users, was developed two centuries ago under the nickname of "novela de folletín" and had as maximum exponents Dickens, Victor Hugo and in Mexico Manuel Payno.
On the Internet, the use of time does not follow the literary evolution of the printed story, but advocating the postmodern fracture they return to classicism. Modernity, and especially the twentieth century, was the greatest formal break in literature and, above all, in the use of the psyche of the characters, inheritors of the Freudian transformations, and time, the successor of the relativist theory of Einstein, because not being linear, narrations do not have to be. As Bourneuf dictates, writers "[...] place greater emphasis on the moment than on the duration; time is no longer a river or a mythical circle, but a mirror broken into a thousand pieces or microscopic fragments. "On the Internet, unlike modern stories, they do not start in media res or at the end of the" second act ", but return to the mythical time of fairy tales and they discard the use of analepsis and prolepsis, which detracts from the story and the characters.
They justify it by avoiding fiction and characters. The e-literature seeks truthfulness through absolute subjectivity; we only know the perspective of the character-narrator. Therefore, the strength of a digital narrative lies in the descriptive details, especially those that represent the place and time of the narrative. They follow Goethe's principle: be a local writer to become universal; but you must always be a universal reader.
The current literature that advocates autobiography should realize that the reader seeks the vital multiplicity that reaches with books. The Kafkaesque metamorphosis is more credible than the recount of the damages that some ex-presidents tend to publish. But let's face it, it's an element of the current creative transformation.
However, not all advocate literary yoiism, some seek the counterpart, ie the nullity of the author. In the 1967 essay, Cybernetics and Ghosts. Notes on the narrative as a combinatorial process, Italo Calvino proposes that the literary author can be eliminated as a subject and reduced to a series of functions that a programmed machine would perform with a combinatorial effect of language. Thirty years later, there is still no capable apparatus but people have generated works where the author vanishes. Think of ghost writers, not in the elusive sense of Bruno Traven or J.D. Salinger, but a group that seeks the anonymity of its creators, such as the Italian narrators who have published three collective novels, in the previous decade under the name of Luther Blissett and today as Wu Ming (which in Chinese means "without a name"). Or the wikinovelas where a writer proposes an argument or a first chapter and thousands of hands develop the following.
That plan is so vast that the contribution of each writer is infinitesimal. At first it was believed that Tlön was a mere chaos, an irresponsible license of the imagination; now it is known that it is a cosmos (...) (Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius)
Borges published this in 1941. Almost seventy years passed so that the Penguin publishing house formed the wikinovela Hundred penguins, with the idea that millions of readers write -only 250 characters per person-, edit and make up a monumental novel; the idea has been broken into more than 50 characters and several intertwined novels. This mixture of novels with several hands and exquisite corpse, had a greater impact when the American novelist John Updike, at the request of Amazon.com, wrote on the net the beginning and the end of Murder makes the magazine, the readers co-wrote it during a month. Other wikinovelas have had as unifiers spaces and times, seeking that among thousands of Internet users can create a Balzacian series or books like La vie mode d'emploi by George Perec.
This genre has not developed as strongly as blognovels, because it tends to become a chaotic network or a workshop where the teacher is the editor or in this case the moderator. Censorship is not lexical, but to narrow the story, because one of the foundations of digital literature is the use of a "real" language, ie without literary embellishments. It is necessary that someone build a structure like The Holy Bible or The 1001 nights, so that multiplicity conforms with the genius that literature deserves.
The multiplicity of writing is given in the infinity of possible readings. The real wikinovelas should not be just a product of many hands, but first and foremost a labyrinth with thousands of fruitful paths, where the reader gets the title of creator not by writing but by accommodating the fragments and having a unique and unrepeatable piece. Claro anticipate is seen in French poetry, with Stéphane Mallarmé or Raymond Quenau, among others. Quenau, member of the Oulipo, made his cent mille milliards de poèmes with ten sonnets of catroce verses each one that can be accommodated to the will of the reader. Read all the combinations, it would take a patient reader about 200 million years. This was in 1961, so nobody has proven this theory. In narrative, both Rayuela de Cortázar and L 'amour absolu by Alfred Jarry, contain multiple readings, which transform the story depending on how they are read. Flaubert or Goethe, I do not remember now, clarified that wisdom could be achieved if we read carefully five or six masterpieces; How great would be a work that could be read in infinite ways. The absolute novel that stalked Novalis. Contrary to patience, it is the abuse of time the obsession of today's man. Speed is one of the elements that postmodernism seeks with determination that, as Italo Calvino clarifies in Six Memos for the Next Millennium,
The rapidity and the conciseness of the style please because they present to the spirit a multitude of simultaneous ideas, in succession so rapid that they seem simultaneous, and make the spirit float in such an abundance of thoughts or images and spiritual sensations, that this one is not capable of covering them. each and every one fully, or does not have time to remain idle and deprived of sensations. The strength of the poetic style, which is largely one with speed, is not pleasant but for these effects, and does not consist of anything else.
Internet is the ideal space for this, but although the technologies advance, most readers prefer the speed generated by the visual sweep provided by the text and not the static retinal of the video.
Speed must be one of the fundamental elements of the new literature, but I do not consider the real word new, because if we go back, we will arrive at one of the best stories that have never been written, an anecdote that symbolizes the greatest literary concretion. It is from Anton Chékhov and he says "A man, in Monte Carlo, goes to the casino, earns a million, returns home, commits suicide". Great. It is the example of rapidity that the current literature has not been able to achieve. And is that contrary to what generates reading, digital creation has tried to encompass and not to specify. We must fragment, a multiple novel must be open, simultaneous, with thousands of voices to be deciphered, with hundreds of hands that explain the same number of worlds and that through language, or plural if they decide to use multimedia elements, they are unified in a globalizing story.
Now I had in my hands a vast methodical fragment of the total history of an unknown planet, with its architectures and its decks, with the dread of its mythologies and the rumor of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and their fish, with their algebra and fire, with their theological and metaphysical controversy. All articulated, coherent, without visible doctrinal purpose or parodic tone. (Borges, Tlön, uqbar, Orbis Tertius)
The latest literature must be multiple, allowing the reader to find the uniqueness and at the same time the whole. For this, it will be based on the works that transformed literature, in the refined language that generates speed and lightness, as Calvino requested, in the proper use of alternative tools and in the conjunction of style and structure that are the basis of books that have transformed humanity.
It is true that there are still thousands of stories to tell, hundreds of pages to write, but the homocentrism of the blogger, the disparity of the wikinovela and the gaps generated by breaking with tradition make electronic literature a boring, unsuccessful pastime and all a temporary waste if we want to read more than two thousand books in our life. But it is not a pessimistic matter, in some monitor the great novel is being created, based on the polyfunctional language, that vindicates this new artistic genre and avoids that it be labeled only as a literary subgenre.