How do we read a dynamic and shapeshifting surface that demands rapid shifts of attention and multiple reading strategies? Meaning, even when considered as arbitrarily related to form, has been studied as if it was inscribed in a stable and neutral surface. However, digital texts are, from the computer processor to the screen, ever-changing artifacts. Besides that, a digital text can assume the contours of a movie, a game or the pages of a book. Shapeshifting is the ability of a creature to change its form. While reading a mutating text, the reader’s attention and approach also shifts. In order to address these texts, one needs to take into account digital materiality, multimodality and the cognitive and physical tasks performed by the reader. The way meaning emerges is a key element in this research project. The term “shapeshifting” will be applied to the production and reception of meaning, which is constantly being deferred or delayed in digital transient texts. Likewise, electronic literature can be described as a rapidly changing field. Digital media invite experimentation, and thus allow the creation of new types of texts. However, because they often emerge in response to new technology, digital works are being permanently subjected to obsolescence or dispersal across the web. There are several institutions, as for example ELO (Electronic Literature Organization) and ELMCIP (Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice), working to find new ways to deal with electronic literature’s constant metamorphosis. By using the concept of “shapeshifting”, I will track several turning points in the history of electronic literature and propose a general perspective from which to view such field.
Special thanks to Professor John Bateman for believing in this project and for accepting to be my host professor. Dr. Janina Wildfeuer and Dr. Ognyan Seizov, thank you for your support and friendship. My thanks also go to BITT amazing team and all the people and institutions involved.
Photo: 200 Castles (2014-), Caitlin Fisher, Exhibition “Language and the Interface“, May 2015, Universidade de Coimbra.