The Directory of Digital Writers
What is a literary work in a digital environment? The Canada Research Chair on Digital Textualities is interested in digital literary forms that do not fall within the definition provided by the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). Our approach is based on the desire to make visible and accessible works that are not considered a traditional literary form.
Project leader: Marcello Vitali-Rosati
Project coordinator: Enrico Agostini Marchese
Team: Servanne Monjour, Nicolas Sauret.
Project founded by CFI
Made possible by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Digital Writers Directory was developed within the Canada Research Chair on Digital Textualities and is the result of a research project conducted within the group for years, the Profile Project..
The Canada Research Chair on Digital Textualities is interested in digital literary forms that do not fall within the definition provided by the ELO. The members of this research project therefore adopt an approach based on the desire to make visible and accessible those works that would not otherwise fit into stable categories. This is because they are not, strictly speaking, hypermedia works, but can neither be considered traditional works.
For directories devoted to hypermedia literature (like Québec-based NT2 directed by Bertrand Gervais at UQAM, or ELO’s CELL project), the concept of a work is not problematic because its limits are stable and defined. And yet, the Digital Writers Directory further problematizes our objects of study.
What is a work in a digital environment? In the case of writing experiences online, the question is very complex. The spatial and temporal unity that seems required to be able to speak of a “work” of art—and thus to list the characteristics pertaining to it—is very rare in digital space. Let us take the example of a blog: should we consider it as a work in its totality or should we rather consider each page as a separate work? The question becomes even more complex in the case of site workshops like the Tiers Livre or desordre.net by Philippe de Jonkere, or Liminaire by Pierre Menard, or Petite Racine by Cécile Portier, or the website of Arnaud Maïsetti, to cite just a few examples. If we take the example of Arnaud Maïsetti, it appears that we could consider the entire site as a work (and therefore list all the entire content of the address http://arnaudmaisetti.net/), or take into account only one particular project (like its Journal), or take into account only one particular project (like its journal), or take into account each page (a journal entry, a text from the World Fictions project). Each choice has its limitations. Choosing a very fine granularity indeed allows us to describe relatively stable objects (a page can be changed, but it will be less than the whole site) and to consider them relatively homogeneous (regarding content, styles, form, theme, etc.). On the other hand, this description involves radical selection—because of the quantity of the pages—which is necessarily arbitrary. To take just one example, Arnaud Maïsetti’s website, called Carnets, has 2007 pages; Liminaire has about 2000; Le Tiers Livre has more than 4000 (even less if we rely on the automatic numbering of the CMS Spip that manages the site). It is obviously impossible to list all of these pages. Furthermore, a selection of about 100 pages (a figure which would represent approximately the number of works attributed to a relatively efficient author of the traditional book format) would be completely arbitrary. The choice of selecting projects is also very problematic. Although it would seem that this choice best fits a theoretical definition of a “work” of art, it is very difficult to identify and isolate projects from the rest of the site, as writers often alter, adapt and remodel the layout of their platforms.
Finally, the least problematic choice is to list entire sites and consider the entire site-workshop as a work. One could speak of a "mosaic archive work". But, technically, this still poses problems: what is meant by "site"? All content managed by the same CMS? All content broadcast under the same domain name? The choice we made in our directory is more about reception than about production. So we decide to put in the background the way the content is managed on the production side and we try to differentiate the content from the user experience. Concretely we consider as a singular work all the content that is distributed inside a platform that displays the same menus, the same graphics (or at least a consistent graphics) and that allows in all pages to return to Home Page. If the use of a single CMS is clearly recognizable, the work ends up corresponding to the CMS, but this is not always verifiable. Projects that come out of this framework - even if we can find a link that points to them in another site - are considered as separate works. So, in the case of Petite Racine, we consider the whole site as a work (and so the headings la tête que ça nous fait, dans le viseur, complément d’objets, à mains nues, singeries, depending on the organization of the site in September 2017), but Étant donnée and Traque traces em> (whose link is however in the main site) are considered as separate works, because they are based on a completely separate environment and which has no connection with the petiteracine.net website.
This choice makes it possible to identify workshop sites and to follow the work of a writer. On the other hand, considering these objects as works implies a profound change in our notion of "work": these objects are neither homogeneous nor stable. In the same site, we find news, poems, fragments, photos… and every day content, graphics, formatting… change, sometimes in a radical way.