Figures in the Interface
Comparative Methods in the Study of Digital Literature

by John Zuern

This paper, which is part of the collection of essays Reading Moving Letters (see introduction) reflects on what the emerging field of digital literature studies and the more established (but continually evolving) discipline of comparative literature might contribute to one another in terms of defining concepts and methods of literary analysis. My discussion is guided by the tentative proposition that the vexed status of the "national language" for comparative literature can be seen as analogous to the status of the "digital" for scholars undertaking research on computer-based literary texts. Aiming to overcome the ideological strictures of nationalism, many present-day comparatists are returning to the old question "what is literature?" and are placing renewed emphasis on the role of figurative language as a defining feature of literary texts and, consequently, as the appropriate focus of comparative textual analysis. Should scholarship in electronic literature head in a similar direction and cultivate skepticism about the essentialism of the digital, opening up greater possibilities for comparative work across literary media? In support of an affirmative answer to this question, the essay undertakes a detailed comparative analysis of Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Herbst" ("Autumn") and American artist Rudy Lemcke's digital video poem "The Uninvited."

1. Reading Digital Literature
2. Comparative Literature’s Defense of the Figure
3. Rilke’s “Autumn” and Lemcke’s “The Uninvited”
4. Conclusion

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