Simanowski: When Literature goes Multimedia

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The growth of digital literature in Germany is in part due to the "Pegasus" competition for digital literature organised by the newspaper "DIE ZEIT" and IBM from 1996 to 1998. The first two competitions explicitly favoured the word and rejected multimedial projects already by limiting applications to 200 KB. The third competition dropped the limitation and honoured two hypermedial works, one of which, "Consolation of Images", I have discussed. It is characteristic of the German digital literature scene that pure hypertext, as we know it from Eastgate Systems' writers, never really developed. Instead there are mainly two types of digital writing in Germany: one favours interactivity, the other the multimedia power of the digital realm. 

The earlier derives from the ideology of collaboration, the latter from the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the Wagnerian "total art work". One could call the former a "social sculpture", referring to Josephy Beuys' concept of art, the latter a "multilingual sculpture", since it employs the language of words, images, sound and time. To some extent both provide an aesthetics of event and spectacle. Collaborations are mostly interesting and enjoyable only if one is part of them. Being in the play compensates for the mediocre quality, which remains a problem for those who only watch the play. Multimedial works, on the other hand, are often driven by fancy surprise effects. The umbrella term may be digital animation, but with collaborations, users are animated i.e. actived as participants, whereas in multimedia images are animated so that they move and blink and change. 

In both cases one might say: the more animation the more one can neglegt substance and semantics. However, as I have argued, animation and visualisation do not necessarily have to suck the substance out of the work, reducing it to Robert Coover's surface spectacle. There can be substance behind spectacle, the attraction of technical aesthetics can be combined with the attraction of deeper meaning. The task of the author should be to facilitate this oscillation between the technical and semantical level. The task of the reader is to think twice in order to comprehend and acknowledge the author's intention.

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