In the past fifty years, digital technology has transformed many aspects of culture, including the production and study of literature. In this course, we’ll think about ways the digital affects the literary by studying three main clusters:
- Literature that anticipates or responds to the rise of digital technology. We’ll read short texts by E.M. Forster, Vannevar Bush, and Jorge Luis Borges that seem to anticipate aspects of digital technology and Internet culture, and then we’ll read three novels from the era of pervasive computing that has developed since the late 1970s: William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), M.T. Anderson’s young-adult novel Feed (2002), and G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen (2012).
- New digitally-enabled literary forms and genres. Especially since the 1980s, authors have been experimenting with ways that digital mediation, computation, interactivity, and multimedia can reshape the reader’s experience of literature. We’ll read, play with, and think about electronic literature, including hypertext novels and digital poetry. We’ll also think about conceptual writing and “uncreative writing,” in which writers redirect language from the Internet for their own purposes.
- Digital methods for studying literature. Since Roberto Busa began digitizing and searching Saint Thomas Aquinas’s corpus of texts in 1946, scholars have been exploring ways computers can help ask traditional questions of literary scholarship better, or ways computers can help ask questions that would not be possible without them. In this class, we’ll read some recent work in the digital humanities. Even more, however, we will do digital humanities.
Some scholars and teachers propose strong distinctions between these three clusters, but I believe that thinking through a variety of ways that digital technologies affect literature and literary studies together will help offer a sense of the overarching possibilities and problems of “the digital” conceived widely.
This course assumes that the digital has changed and will change literature and literary studies in ways we have and have not yet recognized. I also assume the course itself to be a bit experimental–if we find, in the course of the semester, that certain aspects of the course aren’t working, or that one cluster of focus demands more attention than the others, we will collaboratively rethink the remainder of the syllabus and schedule.