Report from the Future II: Montreal’s Literary Avant-garde

I’m new to this brave new world of digital writing, but not completely new. Digital writing has long been part of the Blue Metropolis festival. My former colleague there, Eve Pariseau, is one of the people who introduced me to writing that was even more avant-garde five or six years ago than it is today. Another colleague, Alice van der Klei herself – who has a doctorate in hypertext in literature and was communications director at Blue Metropolis for a spell -- played a big role in educating me.

I am aware of the work of Bertrand Gervais, the real name of the gentleman in the unserious hat who was introduced as Eric Lint at the beginning of the bleuOrange event link. He is in facta writer and a serious scholar at the real Université du Québec à Montreal (UQÀM), where he is director of the Laboratoire NT2 (that stands for Nouvelles technologies, nouvelles textualités) and of Figura, Centre de recherche sur le texte et l’imaginaire.

The bleuOrange event was organized as part of the9th International Conference on Word and Image Studies, L'imaginaire / The Imaginary. And yes, you read that right. That is the 9th such conference. And this stuff has a history that goes back decades, even if it has yet to come to a literary event near you.

I took advantage of a workshop on digital writing offered during the 2011 Blue Metropolis festival. The workshop leader was Kate Pullinger, the only winner of a Governor General’s Award (in 2009, for the historical novel The Mistress of Nothing) to be internationally recognized for such digital work as Flight Paths and Inanimate Alice.

(Why should it be surprising that the digital wonderland is full of Alices?)

There is, in short, an entire world here, a kind of parallel literary universe, and I have been aware of it and increasingly interested in its potential ever since I learned that a work of electronic literature is an entirely different kind of creation from a short story written on Word or posted on a website.

The bleuOrange event, which concluded the Imaginaire conference, is a superb showcase for this work. More than that, though, it is a vivid reminder of the literary sensibility demonstrated by its most talented practitioners.

And then there’s its popular appeal, especially to young people who seldom attend more traditional literary events – and who seldom write material that can be appreciated without an internet connection.

It's fun to feel the buzz of the bleuOrange crowd, but you don’t have to attend an event in person, and you may not often have a chance to do so. You do need to be online, with a screen, a sound card, speakers, and a keyboard. This is work you won’t find it in a bookcase, and you may not even find it mentioned in the books section of a printed newspaper. (Which is just another reason to follow this blog.)

So how to find out more? Follow the links in this post, for a start. Sign up for one of the online magazines (like bleuOrange) specializing in this kind of work. There are several terms in current use, variously defined -- new media writing, transliteracy, hypertext, littérature hypermédiatique, electronic literature (or e-lit) among them – and a number of research groups as well as a vast number of websites: Electronic Literature Organization 1 and 2; Hyperrhiz, the peer-reviewed online journal specializing in new media criticism and net art;and The New River, a journal of digital writing and art. 

Lots to explore on the web, in other words; these are, after all, people who are at home online.

Linda Leith

© Linda Leith 2011


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